Central Virginia is a gem of a wine region. Time spent here in search of vinous delights, culinary wonders, hospitality, and American history will not be disappointing.
En route you might stop in at Boxwood in Middleburg and Philip Carter in Hume for a wine tasting. Try the violated, herbaceous 2011 Topiary cabernet franc/merlot blend from Boxwood, or the honey-dewed 2014 Viognier and juicy 2010 Cleve tannat/petit verdot blend from Philip Carter. You can stay at Philip Carter’s Inn at Vineyard Crossing, a beautifully quaint bed-and-breakfast, and have dinner prepared by chef Meredith Bearov. A certified sommelier, she’ll match the perfect wine with her outstanding fare.
Alternatively, spend the night at the historic Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton, where you can take in a play at the American Shakespeare Center, check out the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library, or wander the living history homesteads at the Frontier Culture Museum. Staunton has a well-deserved culinary reputation and The Shack is an interesting example. Don’t be misled by the establishment’s low-key appearance. New York City-expatriate Ian Boden’s inspired cuisine will wow you.
Further into state, the Blue Ridge Mountains play a huge part in this region’s terroir because of granite-based soils. Snuggled up to the slopes of these mountains, the Monticello and Shenandoah Valley American Viticultural Areas are hotbeds of wine production. Historically, Thomas Jefferson spent a long time in Monticello trying to grow European grapes. Over the years many grape varieties, including viognier, chardonnay, vidal blanc, petit mansing, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, tannat, syrah, and norton, have flourished.
In Fishersville, check out Barren Ridge Vineyards. Owners John and Shelby Higgs created the exotic 2013 Viognier and tropical-fruity 2013 Traminette that are mighty tasty. Two delightful producers are located in Crozet: King Family Vineyards and Stinson Vineyards. All King Family wines are superb. The clove-laden 2013 Merlot, smoky 2012 Petit Verdot, Bordeaux-like 2007 Meritage blend, and marmaladen 2013 Lorely are particularly noteworthy. At Stinson, be sure to try their strawberried 2014 Rosé; cedary 2013 Merlot, and peachy vidal blanc-based 2013 Sugar Hollow White.
Charlottesville offers a great dining experience at The Local. Head chef Matthew Hart thoughtfully prepares all meals with flare and gusto. You might want to partake in some of the tasty vinos from Keswick Vineyards in Keswick. The fragrant 2014 V2 viognier/verdelho blend, the smoky 2013 Chardonnay, a honeyed 2013 LVD Viognier, and a watermeloned 2014 Norton Rosé are worth the visit.
You simply must stop at the Barboursville Winery in Barboursville. Owned by the famed Italian producer Zonin, it’s a real treat. Deciding what local wines to try here is hard, as all are excellent. Check out the chocolaty, red Bordeaux-like 2009 Octagon, sandlewooded 2007 Cabernet Franc, stewed-fruited 2008 Merlot Reserve, and savory 2010 Nebbiolo, to name but a few. Be sure to dine at their on-premise Italian restaurant, Palladio. The food is “magnifico.”
Early Mountain Vineyards produces a floral 2009 Trump Rosé and melon-like 2014 Pinot Gris that are well worth the trip. If in the mood for rib-sticking grub, the German-inspired Bavarian Chef is the place to eat. Spend the night at the secluded Rockwood Farm and have the entire cottage to yourself, complete with a swimming pond.
Albemarle County is home to Bluestone Vineyards. Winemaker Lee Hartman has a nice touch with his toasty 2013 Estate Chardonnay, red-berried 2013 Rosé, cassis and licoriced 2010 Meritage, cloven 2012 Houndstooth, and tropical-fruity ice wine-style 2013 Estate Blue Ice.
And, if Rhone-style reds are your passion, be sure to visit Muse Vineyards, where husband-and-wife team Robert Muse and Sally Cowel dish out some real winners. Their barrel-fermented nutty 2013 Roussane and spicy, black-berried, grenache-based 2013 Calliope please visitors, as do their butterscotchy 2013 Chardonnay and fleshy, dark-fruited Bordeaux-style red, Cleo.
Central Virginia is a bit warmer than farther north in the state and benefits from a longer growing season. Generally, wineries at somewhat higher elevations in the region have slightly cooler temperatures, while those lower down or in the valley are warmer. Overall, the humidity is substantial, making grape-growing challenging and resulting in an overall shortage of fruit and slightly higher pricing for wines. If you’re looking for “New World” California-type vinos here, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Styles definitely tend to lean to the “Old World,” with great expressions of their terroir and understated oak treatment.
No question, Central Virginia’s an impressive wine-growing region with tons to offer the consumer. The next time you’re planning a trip to Virginia wine country, consider an overnighter and go a little farther into the state. Great wine, food, scenery, and history await you.
© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2015. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. For more information, visit winedoctor.ca, twitter.com/drwineknow, thewinedoctor.blogspot.com, winedoctor.ca/docs-grapevine, or facebook.com/EdwardDocFinstein?fref=ts.