Swine Make Good BBQ (but Bad Wine): Travels with James and Nick in Search of America’s Finest BBQ

27 Oct

There is something therapeutic about seeing trees and towns and wide blue sky passing by you at 80 miles per hour as you sit in a car, listening to good music, on your way to somewhere.  It is an added bonus when those trees are at that moment when they are still lush but where the leaves are no longer green but various hues of yellow, red, brown, and orange.

Such were the trees on the road on the way to Lexington, North Carolina, whose Barbecue Festival my friend James (of The Eaten Path fame), our friend Nick (of the US Patent and Trademark Office) and I attended this past weekend.


(Thank you to the Lexington BBQ Festival for this poster!)

For those of you who do not know of James by this point, he is one of my good friends from Berkeley who has for the last year called Brooklyn, New York home.  While his more regular contributions to the blogosphere can be seen on The Eaten Path, he also is a huge aficionado of all things barbecued, once spending a few weeks traveling through the Smoky Crescent and eating and observing the best the South had to offer.  It is one of his goals to publish a comprehensive and awesome book on barbecue–a noble goal, indeed.

Thus, when he said there was a barbecue festival in North Carolina I asked if I could go.  I figured I wouldn’t have very many more chances to have a purpose to go to North Carolina, and besides, any reason to get out of DC is reason enough.

James has an excellent post–with pictures!–about our journey, so I won’t try to recreate the wheel.  Suffice it to say that North Carolina BBQ is pork, sometimes cooked over wood, and either sliced or finely chopped, sometimes with the delicious crackling, and served in trays or sandwiches, usually with “red” (BBQ) cole slaw and hush puppies.  The sauce, which arrives sometimes infused in the meat or sometimes on the side, is vinegar-based, unlike the sauce in parts of South Carolina which is predominantly mustard-based.

Some other items of note: we saw a lumberjack contest with three separate events–the chainsaw, the traditional hand-ax, and–get this–the throwing ax!  The throwing ax was crazy.  One of the competitors was an 11-year-old girl.  Seeing her throw that double-bladed ax fifteen or so feet into the center of a banged-up wooden target made me feel sorry for the soldiers of the Union Army.  Another item of note was a series of races involving pigs, Vietnamese potbellied pigs, and billy goats.  Good ole’-fashioned fun if ever I’ve seen it!

thrown ax

(Thanks to James for this picture–note the 11-year-old girl in red and the ax, which you can see at top-center of the picture.)

Keeping with the theme of my blog, however, we did have a few wines, two of which we picked up at the beginning of our journey at a Whole Foods in Virginia:

2008 Borsao Viña Borgia garnacha: I bought a bottle of this for the low price of $6.99 because it has a cool, modern-looking label and is from the man, Jorge Ordoñez, a very well-known and respected importer of Spanish wines.  I’ve had a number of his wines before and they’ve all been great.  This particular one, however, was a wash for me.  It was relatively light and had a LOT of fruit.  I found the tannins to be a bit weak and the acid to be a bit, well, underwhelming.  This wine was unoffensive and still a decent deal for the price.  James and Nick liked it more, calling it “vibrant.”  I think other Ordoñez selections such as the Juan Gil (mourvedre), a powerful and expressive red wine, or the Botani (moscatel seco), a unique and refreshing white, are better examples of his portfolio.

2008 Trapiche malbec: from the Mendoza Valley of Argentina, it clocked in at a price of about $8.00.  James had previously had their pinot noir, which he liked.  This malbec was decent–nothing to write home about, and it didn’t really exude “malbec-ness” to me, but it was drinkable and pretty good with the barbecue from Lexington No. 1 BBQ.  And it was infinitely better than the wine we had opened for that particular meal, a wine that in retrospect showed all the warning signs of a horrible, horrible bottle.

This wine was the 2009 Childress Vineyards Fine Swine Wine, which was 40% syrah blended with cabernet franc and “residual sugar.”  A few things should have alerted me to the possibility that this was going to be bad.  First, the name…?  Granted, it was created specifically for the Lexington Barbecue Festival and for eating with BBQ (this was the second year in a row it was made), but really?  The label boasts a pig stomping grapes in a big wooden vat, which I suppose is another sign.  Also, it’s bottled with “residual sugar,” which isn’t necessarily bad in of itself but is probably going to be bad when the vintage is this year.


(Thanks to The Eaten Path for this great picture!)

James and I each purchased a bottle for $15 from a stand at the festival, where the owner/proprietor of Childress Vineyards, NASCAR driver Richard Childress, was signing bottles.  I was pretty excited–hey, it was a festival!  And hey, I like wine!


I mean, there are probably people who like it.  It did well enough last year that they made it again–500 cases of it–this year.  I’m assuming it probably sold out or is close to sold out.  But it’s just not good wine.  It tastes like jug wine: it’s thin, lacks any semblance of tannin and acid or structure, and is super sweet.  It tastes like Manischewitz, but at least Manischewitz is (1) fuller bodied, so you can fool yourself into thinking it’s almost a dessert wine, and is (2) Kosher.  I would much rather drink Manischewitz, Charles Shaw, or even Franzia.

The winery says it best itself.  Says winemaker Mark Friszolowski: “It’s like sweet tea with a kick.”  A very big, unpleasant kick.

Do not get this wine.  If you should find yourself at the Lexington BBQ Festival, spend the $15 on the delicious North Carolina-style BBQ pork sandwiches, or smoked turkey legs, or deep-fried apple pies, or funnel cakes, or anything else.

That bad wine experience aside, North Carolina was great.  There was so much good food and the trees and countryside were beautiful.  But this is where James and I differ, perhaps.  I like traveling, but at the end of the day, after 1000 miles and countless dirty bathrooms, it is nice to come back and sleep in one’s own bed.  James is still there in North Carolina (Nick and I dropped him off in Raleigh, where he spent a few nights couch surfing) doing more research for his book.  He revels in the journey, in the exploration and the paths–beaten, eaten, and otherwise.


One Response to “Swine Make Good BBQ (but Bad Wine): Travels with James and Nick in Search of America’s Finest BBQ”

  1. James Boo October 28, 2009 at 12:08 am #

    Great post! If there’s one thing I love more than magic, it’s reliving said magic.

    One note: Aside from the stop in Ayden, everything we ate was strictly western in style; eastern Carolina Q more or less rejects the use of ketchup in its sauce. Eastern restaurants more often use the whole hog and serve vinegar based sauce and vinegar/mayo based slaw. It’s a minor distinction (don’t believe the hyped up mythological difference between East and West), but I thought you might want the clarification :]

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