Food & DrinkJK Wine

JK Wine: Pairing with Headscratchers at Cellar Distributing

A hand holds two bottles of wine, both picked up at Cellar Distributing, in front of Hillside Caribbean Cuisine's storefront.
Kara and Jerry’s two selections from a recent outing at Cellar Distributing. (Photo by Kara Daly)

We recently attended a trade show at the Cellar Distributing warehouse in southwest Charlotte, where we encountered two “headscratchers.” Headscratchers, as we define them, are wines that are so curious and interesting that all the other wines (and people) in the room dissipate. They’re the wines that stick with you long after the bottle has been tossed and the dishes dried. 

Our first thinker was an unexpecting blend from a small subregion of Catalonia, in Northeastern Spain, called Prorerra. The wine is a blend of Garnaxta Blanca (which you may also call white Grenache), Picapoll, Macabeu, and Pero Ximénes. The second is a Hungarian red blend of Blaufränkisch and Terán, two grapes you may not have heard of but can be found making waves throughout Central Europe.

What food to pair with these very different wines? Both were aromatic and flavorful in their own right, so what kind of cuisine could match this energy? We’re happy to report that our guess — Caribbean food — proved us right on the money, an example that wine and food pairing is both playful and highly personal. We picked up dinner from the locally loved Hillside Caribbean Cuisine in each Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood. 

2017 Cims De Porrera Priorat Vi de Vila Blanco

When we taste the wine, we’re sure it’s an orange wine (made from fermenting white grapes with their skins). The amber hues, the marmalade flavors, and the slight tannins all point to at least a smidgen of skin contact … right? But we’re stumped by a dusty, oxidized note that makes it clear it intends to be there. We don’t quite understand it, but we think it might play nicely with jerk chicken. 

The wine, on its own, feels like a well-settled home on the first day of spring. A sip takes you into the backyard on the first truly warm day of the year, where the flower buds have just bloomed. Enter jerk chicken, stage left. The heat enunciates the fruit. The floral aromas blossom in the space where the line between smell and taste blurs. The wine fades out the track with a whisper of caramelized sugar, making you glad you ordered candied yams as your side. 

After a little research, our orange-wine theory is corrected by the best supporting grape of this blend: Pero Ximénes. Also called Pedro Ximénez, this southern Spanish grape has a dress in every color and is most commonly found in sherry. To this blend, she is in full androgynous garb, giving a deep orange hue and manzanilla nostalgia. 

Contestant #2: Hegyi-Kaló Szeptember 7

Perhaps the most aromatic red we’ve come across, this wine smells like potpourri, rose petals in tow. The wine, by itself, is a forest nymph — a spirited movement of jammy fruit to sour plum that closes with an aromatic aria. Throughout, it maintains a playful presence akin to root beer; on the nose, sassafras and star anise aromas make you feel like biting into an apple and taking a really long nap. Not a terrible way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. 

With this fantastical wine, we have stew chicken that falls right off the bone and into the passenger seat of this flavor profile. The caramelized sweetness is swept up in the arms of the savory wine — a love affair we can get behind. 

What grapes possess the talent to take us on such a mystical journey? We thought you’d never ask. Blaufränkisch is the one to watch from Austria, related to Gamay, and often playing with notes like herbaceous pepper, bramble, and stewed blackberries. 

Terán is found in Croatia but goes by many names throughout Central and Eastern Europe. You’re most likely to spot her dressed head to toe in tannins, with violets in her hair, the fragrance of smoke and cured meat trailing behind her as she saunters by.

Takeout boxes filled with Caribbean food on a table next to glasses of wine found at Cellar Distributing
Pairing our finds from Cellar Distributing with Hillside Caribbean Cuisine. (Photo by Kara Daly)

If you aren’t familiar with Hungarian wine, consider this your opportunity to be swept away. This one was made in the backyard hillside cellar of a family home in Eger, where the cool earth lends itself well to winemaking throughout Central and Eastern Europe. For red wine, this is a fairytale come true. 

Learning about these two wines has been as enjoyable as drinking them. This is the meaning of a “headscratcher.” Our biggest takeaway: When wine is distracting, pay closer attention.

Cellar Distributing is a small, local, family-owned wholesaler based in Charlotte. Hillside Caribbean Cuisine is a small, locally owned eatery in the Belmont neighborhood that offers dine-in or take-out service. 

Kara Daly is a wine writer and educator who hosts private wine tastings for Charlotte residents. Jerry Chandler is a beverage program consultant for local restaurants by day and a wine bartender by night. JK Wine is the duo’s new Queen City Nerve column, in which they’ll seek out hidden gems in Charlotte’s wine scene and the food that pairs well with each bottle. Follow Kara on IG @wineisconfusing and Jerry @runswithbottles.

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