What do you have to do to get a good Chardonnay around here?
Fly across the country for a tasting in Northern California's Napa Valley? Put down a few grand for a trip to St.-Emilion near France's beautiful western coast to savor the intricate flavors of a rich Cabernet?
It turns out neither is necessary for a Maryland-area resident to experience the nuanced delights of oenophilia - the love of wine.
Just drive about 30 miles west from Baltimore into the heart of Carroll County, and you will be greeted by the wonderful taste of fermented grapes at their finest.
Carroll County might not be on the maps of many wine connoisseurs, but it is developing a reputation among people from all walks of life - including those who know and love wine and the wine business - who want to attend a tasting or simply find a place to chat about their beloved libation in the places where it is produced.
Carroll County is home to several vineyards and wineries. One could do worse than spend a lazy spring afternoon on a driving tour of its wine attractions. Just bring a designated driver along to avoid driving between tastings.
Mount Airy's Loew Vineyards, which has been around since 1982, offers a list of estate-bottled wines and weekend tours and tastings.
Elk Run Vineyards on Liberty Road in Mount Airy has $2 wine tastings Tuesdays through Sundays, during which five wines are tasted, according to its Web site.
Wines from Elk Run have won numerous awards, including some from the World Wine Competition and the International Tasters Guild. Their Lord Baltimore Port has been ranked in the top 100 by Wine Spectator magazine.
Cygnus Wine Cellars in downtown Manchester has achieved a strong local reputation, said Warren Westervelt, 60, a Manchester resident and lover of wine who attended a tasting event at Cygnus.
The event was called Cellar Rat Holiday, in honor of a nickname given to men and women who lurk in basement wine cellars trying to create that perfect blend, and it is one of many that Cygnus sponsors every year. Its 30 reservation slots filled quickly, and the clientele ranged in age from professionals in their 20s to retired men and women 60 and older.
The afternoon consisted of a cheese, bread and wine reception showcasing Cygnus' homemade products, including a dry red blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon called 2002 Julian, a crisp fruity 2004 Chardonnay and a light delectable white wine with melon and peach aromas called 2005 Manchester Hall.
Ray Brasfield, the owner of Cygnus, says the operation crushed its first grapes in 1995. It was a licensed and bonded winery by 1996.
Westervelt, who has been coming to Cygnus events for 10 years, said that what he enjoys best about spending a spring afternoon sipping wine and eating sheep's-milk cheddar with Brasfield and other area wine enthusiasts is the fact that he gets a rare chance to "talk with different people and enjoy the wine."
He also says he attended a dinner and wine reception at the Manchester business, where he had his first gourmet five-course meal, an experience he thoroughly recommends, both to experts in wine and to beginners trying to hone their appetites for wine and fine food.
For the person with an interest in wine who is not interested in tastings or vineyard tours, or for a beginning wine drinker who wants to taste for the first time in a more laid-back social setting, the wine festival is a great way to get involved.
And Carroll County is the best place in the area to attend a stellar wine festival, Westervelt says. September's Maryland Wine Festival, which takes place every year at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, attracted 5,000 guests the first year it was held in 1984, and attendance has doubled since then.
The festival offers attendees the chance to taste products of nearly all of Maryland's 26 wineries, hosts two competitions for wineries and boasts a charity bike tour that benefits the American Lung Association.
"The festival is a great place for wineries to showcase their wines," Westervelt said. Which translates into the perfect way for interested parties to taste them.
If you want to experience the Maryland Wine Festival this year, make your way to Westminster on Sept. 15 or 16, or make a weekend of it and go both days. For more information, visit the Maryland Wine Festival site at http:--www.marylandwine.com/mdwinefest.