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VIRGINia 2007
by Darryl Roberts
Magazine Issue: Online Only
TASTING NOTES:

The wine reviews are based on the following scale:

XXX = Exceptionally Cool
XX = Fo' Shizzle (Highly Recommended)
X = Gets It Done (Recommended)

Since this article was a bit delayed in reaching the 'Net, we solicited current vintages from every winery on this trip. If no samples were sent, no recommendations are given.


Image courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Brief history of Virginia wine country: Thomas Jefferson planted grapes. They died. He died. Life went on.

Cold, I know, but there are hundreds of volumes written on the subject so check ‘em out if you want. Call me crazy, but if you come away with anything more substantial than above, I’ll be surprised.

Last time I was in Virginia wine country (around Charlottesville) was in 1993. Wines back then were…, er, to put it politely, they sucked. Horrible. Couldn’t drink ‘em. Okay, maybe one or two weren’t bad.

Over the years, though, a few have caught my attention. A couple reds from Prince Michel. They were actually palatable. Horton made a few good viogniers. (What’s happened to them recently is anyone’s guess. But we’ll get into that later.) A wine here, a wine there.

So when the op arose to visit Virginia again in 2007, I was there. Maybe things were better. Couldn’t be much worse. What the hell. It’s a free trip. Oops, that slipped. Yes, a press trip. Just so you know.

What I forgot about Virginia is how beautiful it is. Living in NOR CAL I’m a bit jaded. But Virginia is spectacularly beautiful. Especially the Blue Ridge Mountains. Gorgeous. Worth the trip alone.

The Jefferson Hotel

We landed in Richmond. I don’t care what your budget is, stay at The Jefferson Hotel. Even if it means hocking jewelry and small children. Absolutely magnificent. I didn’t want to leave. And you really don’t have to if you don’t want to as the hotel hosts two great restaurants: Lemaire, for fine dining; and TJ’s (wanna guess what the initials stand for?) for casual dining. (Two words: Room. Service.) A special note to our vegetarian and vegan friends (listening Angelina?) – TJ’s specializes in vegan fare, and judging by the menu, looks like a place in which even a vegetable-hating person like myself could enjoy a five course meal.

Lunch was hosted by Can Can Brasserie in Carytown (Carytown is the new hot spot in Richmond). Can Can is a raw bar, patisserie, boulangerie, coffee house, breakfast spot and late-night bar, with a focus on modern French cooking. Okay. I stole that from their brochure. It’s an open, high ceiling sort of place. Simple, tasty food and a not-bad all-French wine list. Hey, the French have to sell their wine to someone. Every Friday evening Can Can hosts a free wine tasting of up to four wines, and they offer wine classes throughout the year.

Not sure why, but that evening we were back at Can Can for a wine tasting seminar. I understand the motivation to exploit the fact that you offer wine classes, but doing it for the press seems stupid. Sorry, call me crazy, but it does. Anyway, I survived. Barely.

1 North Belont

We walked from Can Can to 1 North Belmont for dinner. If you have any children left to hock, eat here. Great food. Better presentation and a great wine list. Chef Frits Huntjens focuses on classic French cuisine. His dining room is very intimate yet doesn’t seem crowded when full. It’s a little pricy but so are kids, so…

After dinner they forced us back to The Jefferson Hotel for sleep. Bastards.

Next morning we had a fab breakfast at The Jefferson before taking off for Barboursville Vineyards, about a 1.5 hour drive toward Charlottesville, or, as insiders like me call it, C-Ville. Okay, everyone calls it C-Ville. Big deal.

Just driving through Virginia is awesome, with all of its history, personality and scenic views. Wine? Who needs wine with all of this other stuff going on. Still, can’t survive the morning without a slight buzz, so onward we push.

Barboursville Vineyards

At Barboursville we meet winemaker/general manager Luca Paschina, who gives us a brief tour (better than most, which isn’t saying much, I know, but…) and history of the winery. Barboursville is owned by Zonin, the largest privately-held wine company in Italy. Going against everyone’s advice (and the history of Thomas Jefferson’s failure to grow grape vines in Virginia), Gianni Zonin bought the estate in 1976 and planted vines. Thirty years later they’re still growin’, so Barboursville is doin’ something right.

Barboursville is best known for a wine called Octagon, which is only made in exceptional vintages. It’s a red blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Other wines include Italian varietals such as pinot grigio, barbera and sangiovese, plus they produce the standard “vanilla and chocolate” wines as well. The property hosts a restaurant (Palladio), a Bed & Breakfast (The 1804 Inn) and the remnants of a Thomas Jefferson-designed house. Lotta history here.

Lunch was presented by Palladio’s executive chef Melissa Close, and sommelier Alessandro Medici poured the wines.

X Barboursville
NV Brut Sparkling Wine $15
Prosecco-like in structure and mouthfeel, a nice, soft, floral wine with light minerals and lingering finish.

X Barboursville
2006 Pinot Grigio $15
Floral, citrusy and more Italian-like than pinot gris from this country.

Barboursville
2006 Viognier $22
Not my particular style – light, minerally and a bit sticky on the finish – but if you have an old-world palate you’ll like this wine.

Barboursville
2004 Octagon $40
Very Italian in flavor and structure – more earth, leather, minerals and tobacco than fruit. If you leave it on your counter overnight or for a day or two more fruit emerges, but this is an Italian-style wine for old-world palates.

Lunch was superb. The restaurant makes everything fresh, including pasta made from flour imported directly from Italy. Truly Italian!

On the way out I convinced our driver to detour to Horton Vineyards, which is about five minutes down the road from Barboursville Vineyards. As I mentioned above, I’ve been impressed with some of their viogniers (as many other critics have) and wanted to stop in briefly to see what’s up. Well, let’s just say that my fellow writers won’t be letting me suggest anymore stops. I’m not sure what happened to Horton, but the wines were, er, not good. Sorry. Maybe instead of making 37 different wines Horton should concentrate on, let’s say, five good ones. Just a thought.

Crazy…

Need. More. Food!

NOTE: Now, I know it seems like all we do is eat and drink on these trips. Okay, we do. But there’s a lot of travel time between stops. And, when we visit a winery for a tour, tasting and lunch (hopefully just the tasting and lunch), it’s a four+ hour experience. Just so you don’t think I’m a glutton or anything.

Clifton

Our dinner appointment was at Clifton, a luxury inn just outside Charlottesville, er, C-Ville. Clifton is a member of Relais Chateaux, the world’s most esteemed collection of small hotels. With 18 uniquely decorated rooms offering the warmth of a Virginia bed and breakfast experience with all of the luxury, service and amenities you expect only at the world’s finest small hotels, Clifton also features a great restaurant, offering a tantalizing cross-section of American cuisine, flavored with tastes from around the globe.

Okay, most of that was from their brochure. But it’s true. So why rewrite it.

We did a “chef’s table” dinner, where you sit in the kitchen and watch the chef prepare all of the dishes. This opportunity is available for all diners, you just need to ask in advance to secure the table. I highly recommend it. It’s fascinating to watch the chaos that churns out such wonderful food.

To sum up the dining experience at Clifton: superb! They have a very French-heavy wine list (nothing wrong with that) and a nice cellar of some older California wines, including a 1995 Caymus cab that paired wonderfully with a roasted lamb loin served with one year aged carnaroli rice. The 1983 J. Louis Chave Hermitage, also paired with the lamb, wasn’t too shabby either!

Omni Hotel
more images

Checked into the Omni Hotel in C-Ville. Nice accommodations. All the amenities: pool, restaurant, bed. Nice. And right at the end of the C-Ville “pedestrian mall” (featured above). There’s everything you could ever want to do on the mall, including an ice skating area (had I known I woulda brought my skates). And there are a few, er, a lot of bars in the mall (the University is close). As I have a passion for beer as well, I felt obligated to visit a few before sleep. First stop was Miller’s Downtown. Nothing fancy about Millers, but it had good live music and the prices were pretty reasonable. Second stop… wait. I’m pretty sure I went somewhere else after that…

Pedestrian Mall

Anyway, lots of live music, college-aged kids and all the antics associated with on the mall. And, as I understand it, Dave Matthews got his start in one of these bars. Not sure where I was going with that, but… I’ll think of it.

Sleep. Need sleep.

Next morning we stopped at two places for breakfast: Albemarle Baking Company and Main Street Market. (They’re connected, just not directly.) With my food allergies I can’t really do bakeries/pastry shops very well, but I can do some breads, and the breads at Albemarle Baking Company are superb! Based on my fellow writer’s opinions of the pastries this is a definite stop for breakfast (eat in or take out). It opens at 7am.

feast!

Main Street Market is a collection of food-related stores that specialize in local products. Here’s a brief list of stores:

feast! – local artisanal cheeses, wines, fruits and veggies. Very knowledgeable staff and wide selection of products. I could spend a fortune in this store. Thank God I’m broke.

Gearhart’s Chocolates – handmade chocolates by Tim Gearhart. Since I can’t eat most chocolate I couldn’t partake, but from the “mmms” around me I think it’s very good.

The Organic Butcher – Robert Collins presents local meats. Meat, now there’s something I can eat (except moo-cow).

Milanos – for gelato and coffee.

The Seasonal Cook – Jean Knoor presents kitchen supplies as well as cooking classes. Again, I could spend a fortune in this place.

Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar – offers a menu and wine list that fuses the culinary and viticultural traditions of Italy, Greece, Spain, and the South of France.

Verity Blue – a table/tableware/restaurant featuring hand-made, colorful and artistic wares with a rugged, rustic practicality.

At Main Street Market we were treated to a bevy of local products, ranging from fresh Vintage Virginia Apples to meats to cheeses. My particular faves: an artichoke & fava spread with shaved Manchego and truffle oil (Orzo); and the Cannon Hill Farm breakfast sausage (The Organic Butcher). Again, a lot of stuff there I couldn’t eat, so…

Along with the fare we tasted wines from Gabriele Rausse. Gabriele is one of the founders of the modern Virginia wine industry. In addition to his own label, he presently consults other local wineries as well as oversees the production of wine as well as the care of the restored vineyards at Monticello. Look for his wines in feast!.

Best breakfast yet! (And not just because wine was involved.)

Onward!

Believe it or not, our next stop was for lunch. The destination: Keswick Hall.

Keswick Hall

Keswick Hall at Monticello, an Orient Express Hotel, offers an array of experiences, from fine dining to golf to tennis to spa treatments to swimming and fitness. And don’t let the armed guards at the gate fool you. Although it looks like a private country club, it’s open to the public. (Kidding about the armed guards.)

We dined in Fossett’s, named after Edith Fossett who was Thomas Jefferson’s chief cook at Monticello. It was buffet lunch, very nicely presented with a huge array of items to choose from. The staff was fairly knowledgeable about the food, although not very well versed in the exact ingredients. It took them a while to find out what was in the dishes (‘cause of my allergies), skirting back and forth between the buffet and kitchen. Still, for $19, the buffet is a steal. (And I didn’t get sick, so…)

Blenheim Vineyards

Our afternoon would be spent tasting wine along the South and West portions of the Monticello Wine Trail. Make sure you pick up a Monticello Wine Trail brochure. It’s a must guide to this region. First stop: Blenheim Vineyards. Owned by Dave Matthews (ah, that’s where I was going with that), Blenheim is one of the few wineries along the trail that offers tastings by appointment only. HOWEVER, I forgot to mention above that Blenheim has a satellite tasting room at Keswick Hall in Fossett’s Bar. How convenient.

Blenheim is a pretty cool place to hang out and taste wine. And who knows, maybe Dave, er, Mr. Matthews will make a surprise appearance.

Here’s the lowdown on Blenheim’s wines:

X+ Blenheim
2005 Viognier $25
Pretty fruit flaves, soft acids and a nice lingering finish.

X Blenheim
2005 Chardonnay $14
It’s the typical chard that offers some butter and oak, but the acids and fruit balance manage to save it from being a typical Cal chard.

X+ Blenheim
2005 Chardonnay
Blenheim farm $20
More fruit and crisp, clean acids than the above chard. Nice balance and mouthfeel. The oak becomes heavy on the finish, but it did open up nicely overnight.

Blenheim is noted for their red wines as well, only, they just didn't do it for me. Maybe it’s the vintage(s), but all were kinda stinky, thin and tight. You're on your own for these. If you get the chance to try one, try the petit verdot.

Is it dinner time yet? Yeah, baby!

Okay, let me preface this with I eat a lot of Sushi/Japanese cuisine. Love it. LOVE. IT. Whenever and wherever I can seek out a new Japanese restaurant I do. In a hurry. Which makes my next sentence even more powerful.

TEN

Dinner at TEN, a new “Manhattanesque” Japanese restaurant in the pedestrian mall, is the best Japanese cuisine I’ve ever had. Ever. Period. Chef Bryan Emperor (I know, you were expecting a more “Japanese” name, but wait) is brilliant, a genius, not only in flavor but presentation. How, you say, did he become so talented? Well, Emperor attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and then honed his skills as an apprentice in Japan. He later returned to New York to work at Nobu and Megu, and then later trained under four-star chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kuntz. Before opening TEN, Emperor opened a similar modern Japanese restaurant in Beijing, China.

Yeah, he’s been around.

I can’t write about Emperor’s food because anything I’d say would prove to be a disservice. It’s beyond description. The restaurant itself is very modern: High ceilings, big open bar area and open kitchen. TEN offers a wide selection of Sake, and has an extensive wine list. This is a cool place to hang as well as eat.

I guess all that I can say is that when you’re in C-Ville, go to TEN. Hurry!

Image courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc./Monticello.

Next morning we loaded up the van and headed to Monticello. Home of Thomas Jefferson, this is a must stop for anyone remotely interested in the history of our country. The tour and grounds are extremely impressive, and you’ll be amazed (unless you’re a history buff) how our, er, wait, I have to look this up… third President utilized space in his design of the house.

Lunch!

Kluge Estate

Just down the road from Monticello is Kluge (pronounced clue-gee) Estate. Owned by socialite/philanthropist Patricia Kluge (must be nice) and her husband, William Moses, the estate aspires to stand shoulder to shoulder with any wine company in the world. Hey, that’s what their press briefing said. Anyway…

The tasting room, er, Kluge Estate Farm Shop houses a nice upscale deli-style store, complete wit fresh salads, meats and cheeses. Very tasty. Kluge offers two labels: Albemarle and Kluge Estate.

We ate lunch and tasted with Kristin Moses Murray, director of PR and marketing. Here’s what I liked:

X+ Albemarle
2006 Brut Rose $13
Pretty nose of rose petals and citrus fruit. Crisp, clean and dry on the palate, with a nice lingering finish.

XX Kluge Estate
2004 Blanc de Blanc
“SP” $30
A definite step above the Albemarle sparkler, with richer flaves and fuller body. Slightly tart on the finish.

Now, Kluge is best known for their “New World” red wine, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. At lunch we tasted a 2002 vintage, which I thought was really nice – well-structured, rich, round and a bit heavy in oak but balanced against enough fruit to pull it off. Back in my office, when putting this piece together, they sent a sample of their 2004. The wine was so over-oaked that I couldn’t taste any fruit. So, I guess the best thing to do is look for the 2002, as I can’t recommend the 2004 (at this point). Who knows, maybe it’ll open up in a few years. Maybe not.

We finished with a wine called “CRU,” a fortified aperitif that’s 100 percent chardonnay, naturally sweet and fortified with Virginia-distilled brandy. It spends six months in Jack Daniel’s® barrels.

X Kluge Estate
NV CRU
Melange Nouveau $32
Tough to describe, other than to say it’s nicely balanced, has interesting flaves and a nice lingering finish.

Follow the Monticello Trail. Follow the Monticello Trail.

Oh, for all of you wine geeks, I forget to mention that Kluge Estate retains internationally renowned consultant winemaker Michel Rolland. For the other 99.9 percent of you, if you want to know who Mr. Rolland is rent the DVD “Mondovino.” Enough said.

Anyway…

Jefferson Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards was our next destination. Located on Thomas Jefferson's original 1774 vineyard sites, this winery makes a wide variety of wines, ranging from pinot gris to late harvest vidal blanc to tannat to red Meritage.

If their tasting room is any indication, Jefferson Vineyards is a magnet for young adults. Maybe there’s a college nearby. Maybe it’s their pricing (fairly inexpensive wines). Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting old and EVERYONE looks young. I dunno.

Under the guidance of winemaker Andy Reagan we tasted the following wines:

X Jefferson Vineyards
2006 Viognier $25
Nice citrus, tropical and stone fruit, little Sprite-like, and a smooth lingering finish.

X Jefferson Vineyards
2006 Chardonnay
Reserve $22
About as middle of the road as you can get. Not a bad thing, just a bit short in character.

X Jefferson Vineyards
2005 Estate Reserve $45
A bit tight and firm now but should open up over time. Nice red and black fruit, well-balanced with a decent amount of wood.

L’Etoile Restaurant

Dinner that night was at L’Etoile Restaurant (C-Ville), owned by Mark and Vicky Gresge. For whatever reason I don’t have detailed tasting notes (prolly ‘cause I was having such a good time), but I do remember that the food was very delish. I highly recommend L’Etoile.

A few beers and some live music on the pedestrian mall before sleep time.

King Family Vineyards

Next morning we head toward King Family Vineyards. Owned by David and Ellen King, the winery (and accompanying horse ranch) is tucked up against the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a truly beautiful setting. Wine wise they produce everything from sparkling to the standard whites and reds to a late harvest cab franc. They specialize in private events, and offer some interesting tchotsckes, er, gift items in their tasting room.

King Family Vineyards
2006 Chardonnay $20
A lotta oak for those who want it. Fruit underneath is okay. Not my style, but…

King Family Vineyards
2006 Cabernet Franc $22
Ditto.

Lunch was at La Cucina del Sol, an authentic Mexican restaurant between King Vineyards and our next stop, Veritas Vineyard and Winery. Since my visit, La Cucina del Sol chef Alex Montiel has also opened Brasserie Montiel in C-Ville.

One word of caution about La Cucina del Sol: if you have any food allergies/dietary restrictions, turn and run like the wind. Honestly. They were notified of my allergies before I arrived, I went over my allergies (no eggs or anything from a cow) with them when I arrived, yet in the very first course they served me a salad with a dressing containing egg. I even questioned the wait person as he placed the salad in front of me (this is like the fourth time) before consuming it (which was delish, poison, but delish). Only then did chef Montiel sit down at our table and talk about the first course.

Fellow travel writer: That salad was delicious. Especially the dressing. What’s in it?

(what Darryl hears)

Chef Montiel: Well, I put blah blah blah, then a little blah, then some EGG…

Darryl immediately interrupting: Except in my dressing, right? Right?

Chef Montiel: Ah, oh, that’s right. But it was just a little bit…

Darryl runs to mister bathroom. Sticks mister finger down mister throat. (Lucky for me it was only a small amount. But I still felt the symptoms the rest of the day.)

Now, one mistake is tolerable, but they preceded to do this again two more times. I caught them both times before I actually ate it so no more mister finger visits.

So, even though the food is delish – I recommend: Seafood Ceviche, Calamari Fritos, Mexican Tortilla Soup, Southwestern Salad, Spicy Grilled Shrimp Salad, and the traditional Mexican staples – be very careful if you have allergies and/or restrictions to your diet. Very careful.

Oh, and I should mention that they have a full bar and kid’s menu as well.

Queasily onward.

Veritas Vineyard & Winery

Veritas Vineyard and Winery. This be the place to chill. Great tasting room. Big. Airy. Comfy leather chairs and sofas. Tables for groups. And an upstairs area that you can reserve for larger parties, i.e. corporate lunches, bridal showers, frat meetings. They have a caterer for the food side, and the tasting room staff will actually bring your wine tastes to you should you not be able to get your ass off of the cushy furniture.

First thing I noticed at Veritas was the age of the people. Very young. Early- to late-20s. There were some older farts (like me), too, but this is a popular spot for the college+ crowd.

We met with owners Patricia and Andrew Hodson. Andrew, along with daughter, Emily, are responsible for the winemaking.

The wines at Veritas are equally impressive. Here’s my two cents:

XX Veritas
2005 Mousseux Sparkling Wine $30
Good body, nice, crisp citrus and red fruit flaves in a smooth lingering finish. Little gritty, but very nice.

X Veritas
2006 Sauvignon Blanc $18
Light grass/hay, tart citrus flaves – grapefruit, lemon/lime – floral and a nice lingering finish.

X Veritas
2005 Chardonnay “Saddleback” $18
Light minerals, crisp apples and pears, some honey and a well-balanced finish.

XX+ Veritas
2005 Petit Manseng $25
An icewine-like nose of apricots, honey and peach. Some floral stuff goin’ on, but the quality is in the balance between acids and sugar (1.5% residual). Very nice.

X Veritas
2006 Cabernet Franc $17
Bordering too much oak, this wine is for those who like wood. There’s some nice fruit underneath, but…

X Veritas
2005 Petit Verdot $29
Same as the above. Would like to see less oak and more fruit. Still…

XX Veritas
2005 Othello Port $35/375ml
A Ruby Port – more fruit, less age (tobacco, tea, oxidation), this is a well-made, well-balanced, smooth Port that’s sexy and goes down real easily. Oops, starting to write like I used to.

Oh, if you like big, oaky, buttery chardonnays try their Harlequin Reserve. Not my style, but…

Veritas is a definite stop.

Alllllrighty then. Let’s drink some more wine!

Up the mountain to...

Image courtesy of Wintergreen Resort

Wintergreen Resort is a place I’d love to spend a week at (hint hint). Unfortunately we only got 15 hours, just enough time for a drink overlooking the beautiful golf course, a nice dinner and a good night sleep. However, I did have a chance to snoop around, and the grounds are beautiful. This resort is very children-friendly, and offers an array of activities: snow skiing/boarding, golf, biking, hiking, swimming, tennis, fly fishing, as well as the Adventure Dome, which houses everything a kid (and some of us who still think we’re kids) could want to play, and a fitness center complete with pool, spa and workout machines.

Drinks and dinner at their Devils Grill Restaurant was very nice. Chef Michael Greenstein does a good job delivering tasty cuisine without all of the pretentious overtones. This is a resort, after all, not a dining destination. Did that come out right? Anyway, very nice dinner.

Well, that’s it. There’s a list below of some places that we didn’t get to visit and/or stay at but definitely recommend.

Cheers!

In addition to the above mentioned, here are more places to check out:

Restaurants: Richmond
Acacia - in Carytown; fine dining, excellent chef
Kuba Kuba - in the Fan; not fancy but great Cuban food
Twenty Seven - fine dining in very relaxed atmosphere

Hotels: Richmond
Omni

Wineries: Richmond
There aren't any

Restaurants: Charlottesville
C&O Restaurant - casual fine dining
Fuel Co. - Kluge Estate's restaurant in town, in a gas station, fine dining
Hamilton's - very nice for lunch or dinner
Oxo - very nice fine dining
Zocalo - Latin cuisine and a little less expensive

Hotels: Charlottesville
Budget Inn at the University (inexpensive)
Clifton (expensive)
Fairfield Inn by Marriott (mid-price)
Hampton Inn at the University (mid-price)
Inn at Court Square (mid+ expensive; bed-and-breakfast; convenient location downtown)
Keswick (expensive)

Wineries: Charlottesville (all on the Monticello Wine Trail)
Cardinal Point Winery
First Colony Winery
Oakencroft Winery
White Hall Vineyards
Wintergreen Winery

For more info on C-Ville go to SoVeryVirginia.com.

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