Go for the Wine, Stay for the Vodka


When you’re looking for an escape from the hectic pace of NYC (which, in case you were unaware, is like running a marathon naked in a blizzard–extremely difficult and damn cold), there’s no better escape than the Deep South, where everything moves nice and slow.  I recently broke out and headed to Charleston, South Carolina for a weekend of family fun–which luckily for me meant a party sponsored by Smirnoff and a family vodka tasting.  God I love these people.

I discovered welcome surprises below the Mason-Dixson line when I visited Irvin House Vineyard, Charleston’s only domestic winery (which doubles as the distillery for the famed and hard to come byFirefly Vodka).  Over  several a few half-pours of wine and a couple shots, I learned the ins and outs of Muscadine Wine…and Sweet Tea Vodka.

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Pulling into the winery’s dirt driveway on Wadmalaw Island, about 20 minutes outside Charleston’s historical center, Spanish Moss-draped trees whispered above us, and gorgeous (if dormant) vines divided the low-country landscape.  Cars hid amongst the giant oaks, stragglers from the Irvin’s ‘Sippin Saturdays’ tour and taste-fest, which features local musicians and food vendors.  Not sure what to expect, I slipped into the barn gone tasting room.

Enter Muscadines, the only grape variety native to the Southeastern US. The tough-skinned grape has been being cultivated since the 1600s, and generally produces sweet dessert wines, although drier varieties exist as well. Although both owners come from farming backgrounds, the Irvin family has only been growing wine since 2000, and uses four types of Muscadine grapes to craft the label’s five varieties.

Here, I tried all five–two whites, two reds, and one blush.  My favorite was the Palmetto, a full-bodied red that was sweet and well rounded.  I think it could go well with soft cheeses or as an after dinner sip. To me, the others Muscadine varieties were too sweet and had an unpleasant aftertaste–like Britney Spears after she lost her virginity. (Luckily, the tasting was only $4.)

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Gateway to the Grapes

After the disappointing–if educational–wine event, I skipped over to Firefly Distillery, a mere twenty steps from the winery.  The two labels even share some equipment!  Known for its elusive Sweet Tea Vodka, Firefly distillery has been beating big names in Vodka including Absolut and Ketel One since its debut.  The signature sweet tea variety is flavored with actual tea leaves and beats a Snapple any day (Note:Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka+Ice=Delicious Danger).

Unbeknownst to me, the company produces rum and bourbon as well–and several flavors of each.  I was lucky enough to taste the nearly everything, in

cluding their line of cordials (think sweet pecan pie and peach cobbler in liquid, alcoholic form) that debuted with

distillery-only sales last weekend.  DELISH!
Overall, my favorites were the lemonade vodka, Skinny Sweet Tea–which uses stevia to cut carbs and sugar calories–and Sweet Tea Bourbon, which I think would make a perfect mint julep during the sultry summer days Charleston is known for.

Charleston Uncorked

Best time to visit: October through April, when temperatures and weather are generally favorable.

Laura Loves: The community atmosphere and wallet-friendly atmosphere at Irvin House Vineyard–a must! Their recipes are great too!

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You won’t get lost around here…I swear.

Don’t miss: North America’s only tea plantation, the historic Fort Sumter and downtown Charleston attractions. (I also Loved the Jame’s Island Festival of Lights!)

Eat this: Shrimp and Grits!–there’s tons of variations on this classic, so there’s something for everyone

Hushpuppies–what’s not to love about fried cornbread?

She-Crab Soup–Clam chowder migrates South, with a distinctive flavor from crab roe.

Watch out for: The summer heat–this is one town I hate visiting in the summer, where temps are often over 100 degrees and the humidity is horrendous.

  • December 21, 2011
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