The Northern Neck

The Northern Neck of Virginia constitutes one of the state’s five wine growing regions, and last weekend, we decided to revisit the wineries of the Northern Neck. Our trek included visits to Belle Mount, Athena, and Ingleside. Of these three wineries, Athena is the newest; Ingleside, the oldest and most established. Of course, we brought along our Virginia Passports and garnered three more stickers, and in the process we sampled great wines and met wonderful people who all have a passion for wine.

We first stopped at Belle Mount. Belle Mount now enjoys its second year of business, and an interesting note is its location at a recreation facility called Heritage Park Resort. For those interested in a weekend getaway, the Resort rents cottages, and the setting is woodsy and scenic. Guests can go fishing, hiking, and swimming; they can also accompany the day’s catch with a bottle of Belle Mount’s wine. We visited the tasting room located in the lower level of their Great Hall and sampled Belle Mount’s Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a sweeter red selection, Workboat Red. As always, we brought lunch along with us, and we concluded that the Merlot was the best choice to accompany our deli sandwiches, olive salad and hard cheeses. We settled on a picnic table beneath one of Belle Mount’s large trees and enjoyed our lunch and Merlot. Before we left, we chatted with Ray and Catherine Petrie, Belle Mount’s owners and winemakers. They were very excited about consumer response to their wines, but they did express concern about the distribution law that will take effect on July 1. Belle Mount produces 1000 cases of wine; thus, they would be considered a very small winery. We encourage consumers to visit Belle Mount and support the efforts made by the smaller wineries as they face this difficult transition.

Our second stop on the Northern Neck Trail was the new Athena Winery. Athena opened on Memorial Day weekend, and their tasting room was two week away from completion on the day that we visited for a tasting. Carol and Ruth, two of Athena’s three owners, shared with us their unique story. They and a third friend decided to own a winery; all three are involved in the health industry and were inspired by health industry reports that moderate wine consumption can offer health benefits. The three friends purchased 53 acres of land in the Northern Neck with the intent of planting vines and fourteen acres are now planted. Ruth and Carol cleared land and planted vines themselves; a visit from Hurricane Isabel presented early challenges that they overcame with patience and determination. We can testify that the hard work paid off and was evident in the quality of their wines. Beneath the tent that was Athena’s makeshift tasting room, we sampled their Chardonnay, a Seyval and Vidal Blanc blend known as Athena White, Cabernet Franc, Cabnernet Sauvignon, the rose-styled Nightengale, and the dessert wine, Athena Sweet. Paul decided to enjoy a glass of the Athena White; Warren settled on the Cabernet Franc, and we sat under an umbrella to appreciate these lovely wines. The Athena White can be described as lush with generous citrus and pear aromas and flavors. Refreshing was the word that came to mind. The Cabernet Franc was equally enjoyable, and it exhibited nice raspberry flavors with hints of herb/mint that are trademarks of the Cabernet Franc. Warren purchased a bottle of the Athena White and thought the Nightengale would be perfect for an upcoming Wolftrap outing; a bottle of Nightengale was thus added to his wine rack! Carol and Ruth shared with us that they selected “Athena” because it evoked the image of a strong female; we can attest to the strength of the three females who founded Athena. We know that we will be writing about the medals bestowed upon Athena’s quality wines, and we look forward to a return visit very soon!

Later that day, we paid a visit to Ingleside, and our visit coincided with a jazz and wine event held at the winery. Ingleside can be considered a pioneer in the Virginia wine industry, and it now celebrates its 26th year! On this particular evening, we were able to sample Ingleside’s White label wines as well as the Chesapeake label wines. Our tasting associate was Andrea, and she skillfully guided us through the tasting. Warren’s favorites were the Pinot Grigio and the Chardonnay; Paul favored the Chesapeake Chardonnay, and we both concurred that the Cabernet Sauvignon was the shining star of the white-labeled reds. Andrea offered to take us through a tasting of the Black Label wines, and we eagerly took her up on the offer. We were glad that we did! The black-labeled reds were simply outstanding, and it was here that we tasted the 2002 Cabernet Franc, a white labeled wine produced in limited quantities. Red berries, herbs, and velvety tannins earned this one high marks; in fact, Andrea informed us that the 2002 Cabernet Franc garnered a silver medal in a California competition. However, other standouts awaited out taste buds. The Syrah displayed all of the deep cherry and peppery flavors of the famed Rhone varietal; this one will pair with lamb or a mixed grill of meats. The Petit Verdot also earned our praises. We’ve previously written about Petit Verdot’s potential for the Virginia wine industry, and Ingleside provided an example of this varietal’s potential. Earthy and spicy, the Petit Verdot provides complexity to Bourdeaux blends; however, on its own, Petit Verdot offers its own intensity. Venison, wild boar, and duck would partner nicely, and Warren decided that a bottle of Ingleside’s Petit Verdot needed a new home!

With Andrea’s help, we decided that the Syrah would join us for BBQ and jazz. During our tasting, we chatted with other Ingleside staff members including Linda who shared her interest in European History; she and Warren, also a history buff, enjoyed conversation about the topic. In the process, Andrea invited us to a component tasting to be held at Ingleside the next afternoon with an opportunity to meet the current winemaker, Bill Swain. Andrea confided that she, too, would be at the tasting, and we immediately decided to attend the component tasting. To say that the component tasting was a phenomenal experience would be an understatement; in fact, we’ve decided to create a separate blog article about this experience. Stay tuned!

Our outings at Ingleside concluded our tour of Northern Neck wineries. We were not able to visit Oak Crest, and Hummel is currently not open. However, we do know that three more wineries will open in this region, and they are White Fences Vineyards and Winery, Buena Vista Farm, and Vault Field Vineyards. Our weekend visit to the Northern Neck region affirmed that Virginia’s wine regions produce quality, award- winning wines, and we eagerly anticipate our return to this prolific wine-producing region.

Willowcroft Winery

On Father’s Day Willowcroft Winery offered a barrel tasting that complimented the regular tasting; moreover, we did not have a Passport sticker from Willowcroft. We were determined to take advantage of two opportunities: a) to taste Willowcroft’s wines, and b) to secure another sticker for our passports.

Lew and Amy Parker converted an old horse barn to the winery now known as Willorcroft. Indeed, the facility and its low ceilings reminded us of a horse stable, and it was obvious that the stalls were converted to offices. Cozy and quaint were descriptors that came to mind. Of course, we were interested in Willowcroft’s wines, and they had six wines to taste. A standout was the Traminette, a hybrid that produces a wine very similar to the Gerwurtztraminer; Willowcroft’s Traminette offered nice fruit flavors with a spicy finish; Warren commented that Thanksgiving fare such as herbed turkey would pair quite nicely with the Traminette. (By the way, Willowcroft’s 2004 Traminette won best in show at the Pacific Rim International.) As always, we brought food with us, and our immediate goal was to find a wine to pair with lunch, and lunch items included pork tenderloin, summer sausage, and fresh raspberries. Needless to say, the Cabernet Franc offered itself as the perfect companion to our lunch. The 2002 Franc exhibited nice berry flavors with a smooth finish; it was blended with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Merlot. The Petit Verdot explained the deeper color and complexity of this wine. We purchased a bottle to enjoy with lunch, and it was a fine companion with our fare. We must also comment on the lovely mountain views to be enjoyed at Willowcroft, and despite the very warm and humid afternoon, the shade afforded by the trees on the Willowcroft property was quite a comfort. We also enjoyed the award-winning 2001 Merlot and its black cherry flavors; this one was another blend that included Petit Verdot. (Pay attention to this varietal and its potential for Virginia wines!) Those who enjoy a lighter-styled red wine would be advised to try the Fitzrada’s Reward, and be sure to ask an associate about the story behind this wine!

We must admit that before we enjoyed lunch, we opted for the barrel tasting. As we noted in our series on the winemaking process, barrel tastings offer a glimpse into the future, and we eagerly took advantage of this opportunity offered to us at Willowcroft. In fact, Amy Parker led us through the barrel tasting, and she provided us with a rating sheet upon which we were able to judge the barrel samples based on color, aroma, and taste. The first sample was a Merlot and Chambourcin blend; this was an interesting blend that Paul enjoyed very much. The purplish color associated with Chambourcin was clearly evident as was the cherry flavors associated with merlot. Warren, however, gave high marks to the Petit Verdot. The color and bouquet matched perfectly with the more full-bodied taste, and it provided an example of a well-integrated wine. The barrel tasting also offered sneak previews of upcoming Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. We enjoyed the experience as an educational one, and we anxiously await the finished products that will be bottled at Willowcroft!

After the barrel tasting we enjoyed lunch; however, we did secure stickers for our Passports before we left. We also purchased wine to bring home, and those included the Cabernet Franc and the 2001 Merlot. Visit Willowcroft Winery, and we can promise an enjoyable experience! We had.

Not only did we secure another sticker for our books during our visit to Willowcroft, we also got to sample the upcoming red wines.

Old House and Prince Michel

On this Father’s Day weekend we decided to continue our quest for stickers in the Passport To Virginia Wineries book by going to two other wineries we that had not visited. Therefore, we paid visits to Old House and Prince Michel. In addition to collecting two more stickers, we got to taste some very nice wines!

We had not been to Old House since the fall of 2005 and were looking forward to seeing what new wines they had released as well as tasting some of our old favorites. As we drove in on Corky’s Lane we noticed the vines looked very healthy, and the property looked as Victorian as it did when we last visited. Two other visitors were also there, and we were able to compare our notes with them; we also had some nice conversation with them during our tasting.

We were treated to eight wines, and of the whites, the Clover Hill Vidal was particularly interesting. As many of you know, Vidal is usually a sweeter wine; however, this treatment of the Vidal produces a wine that is akin to a Pinot Grigio. It is fermented in stainless steel, and the flavors of citrus and minerals were quite evident. Our tasting partners were more partial to the Chardonnay, and this one would indeed be a crowd pleaser—nice pear and buttery flavors that are associated with a well made Chardonnay. The oak did not prevail but provided a nice texture. The reds also produced an interesting standout, and that was the anSamradh. One of our comrades recognized the name as Scottish, and the tasting associate confirmed her suspicion! The anSamradh is a blend that include Chambourcin and yes, Vidal Blanc. The result is a red wine that is fruity, accessible, and slightly sweet. The lighter-bodied nature of this one along with the bright fruit flavors would match perfectly with pizza! Serve this one slightly chilled.

We continued to taste the other reds with our eye on what to have with lunch. Warren brought along a roasted pork tenderloin that he had prepared the night before, and he could not resist the fresh raspberries and strawberries now available at the market; so, those came along too! With this in mind, we were eager to sample the 2003 Cabernet Franc, and that is what we ultimately decided to buy to accomany our lunch. Of course, 2003 was a tricky year for wine makers in Virginia due to heavy rains; wet years particularly effect red wine grapes. However, the 2003 Old House Cabernet Franc exhibited characters associated with a nice Cabernet Franc. It had a clear ruby color that suggested a medium-bodied wine; aromas of raspberry with slight hints of pepper were noticeable. In the mouth, raspberry, cherry, and pepper also prevailed; in fact, the fresh raspberries that we brought along seemed to so me alive when paired with this Cabernet Franc. We savored our Cabernet Franc with lunch, and then we bid adieu to our tasting partners as they made their way to another winery. And guess what we did next? We, too, went off to another winery—Prince Michel.

After lunch we headed off to Prince Michel. Prince Michel is a larger winery that produces about 10,000 cases a year. We had frequented Prince Michel several times in the past and always had good experiences. In the process, we became friendly with one of their tasting associates, and we enjoy seeing her each time we visit. This visit was no different, and our favorite tasting associate was there. She told us of all the changes taking place and the new wines we needed to taste. The tasting consisted of 10 or more of their wines. The Pinot Grigio was one of our favorites whites; however, Warren enjoyed the Mt. Juliet Chardonnay. For those who like a full-bodied Chardonnay, this one is excellent. For summer picnics and outdoor concerts, please try Prince Michel’s 2005 Dry Rose. We know what you’re all thinking—White Zinfandel. Unfortunately, White Zin has ruined the reputation for all wines lumped into the rose/blush category; however, there are some excellent dry roses out there, and this is one of them. This blend of Cabernet and Merlot is packed with nice berry flavors and has a lovely, dry finish. Save the White Zin for the hot tub; bring this one along for a nice picnic with BBQ fare, Mexican bean salad, and fresh fruit!

Paul’s favorite red was the Shiraz, and Warren concurred with his high marks on this one. In fact, we even bought a bottle to enjoy with some chocolates on their enclosed patio. Paul brought the rest of the Shiraz home but also bought a bottle of their Merlot and the 2005 Rose. Another noteworthy red is the Symbius—a Bourdeaux-style blend that is more full-bodied. Warren bought a bottle of this one during his last visit to Prince Michel.

As we concluded our tasting and visit, we found out our friendly tasting associate will be leaving Prince Michel to move to California. We were disappointed at this news but wished her well in her future.

We had a wonderful afternoon tasting the different wines from Old House and Prince Michel. The afternoon tastings secured two more stickers for our books and revealed several new Virginia wines that tasted wonderful!

Wine and Swine at Chrysalis

The Passport to Virginia wineries lists all the wine events that take place throughout the year. These events appeal to the wine aficiando of all levels from novice to expert; in fact, these events are fun for those who do not ordinarily drink wine but tag along with friends to enjoy food, music, and well-carted wine. One such event was Chrysalis’ 5th Annual Wine and Swine; we wanted to take advantage of the cool, late spring weather and decided to check in with the Virginia Passport to find a fun, outdoor event that provided food, music, and wine. The Chrysalis event fit the bill; it was held this past Saturday, we decided to attend. We had a blast!

For $50 ($35 for VIP members) we enjoyed southern BBQ provided by Red Hot and Blue, and the menu included beef brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork, and grilled chicken. In addition, we received a souvenir glass to use for the Estate wine tasting. Now we should clarify the term, Estate—these were wines produced with the grapes grown and harvested on the Chrysalis properties. These wines included the award-winning Viognier, the newly released Verdejo, and the Chardonnay. Special attention must be paid to the Norton; Chrysalis considers the Norton to be the premier red wine of Virginia, and Chrysalis’ stated objective is to bring the Norton grape to a position of prominence enjoyed by te Norton arietal in the 19th century. In fact, in 1873, Norton wines produced in the United States received international acclaim in Vienna; however, with the prohibition movement in full swing not long afterward, Norton’s potential was never developed. Chrysalis has successfully returned Norton to it place of prominence, and we gladly tasted the results of this effort.

After the Estate tasting,we enjoyed the BBQ and listened to Billy Clement and The Pickups. Billy Clements and his Pickups returned us to the 1950s, and we heard classic tunes by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Holly. Paul stopped himself from wildy dancing the watusi while Billy serenaded us with these rock classics. With our BBQ lunch, we both decided to pair the BBQ with the 2002 Estate Norton. The raspberry flavors and rustic characteristics of the Norton paired quite nicely with the BBQ; the slight sweetness accompanied the smoky flavors that dominate BBQ, Warren is not a huge fan of Norton, but he had to admit that the Norton was the perfect partner for the barbequed brisket, sausage, and ribs. Paul really enjoyed the Norton enough to have two glasses and even bought a bottle of the 2002 Norton to bring home. Warren opted to have a glass of Chardonnay after lunch, and we both enjoyed the rock-a-billy sounds of Billy Clement and the Pickups.

Ultimately, we decided to taste the Reseve wines. This tasting included all the wines we sampled in the Estate tasting as well as the Reserve wines; some Reserve wines were produced from grapes grown on other properties. The Lockseley-grown wines were featured, and we sampled the Lockseley Norton along with the Petit Verdot and the lovely Albarino, a white wine that will receive special attention in our feature article. Please indulge and taste these wines; Petit Verdot is fast becoming another Virginia specialty. Petit Verdot is used in France to blend their world-famous Bordeauxs, but Petit Verdot on its own can produce an excellent, medium-bodied wine that will conjure dreams of roasted leg of lamb or even veal chops.

Chrysalis’ Wine and Swine was well attended, and we encourage our readers to take advantage of winery events whenever possible. At these events, a full tasting of wines will be offered, and foods served will give even the food and wine pairing novice an idea of how to pair food and wines. If that’s not enough to entice, then at least attend with family/friends to enjoy a lovely late spring afternoon with nice wine and food. You won’t regret the experience.

Pearmund Cellars

On Saturday we opted to miss Vintage Virginia and visit Pearmund Cellars. We have been to Pearmund before but not since the new Passport To Virginia Wineries 2006 book came out. So we decided to pack a lunch, do a tasting and get the sticker for our books.

Since our last visit their tasting menu has changed and some new wines have been released. Among the wines on the tasting list were their new 2005 Riesling and the 2004 Lisa’s Merlot. All of their wines were tasty and lived up to the tasting notes.

For lunch we decided on the 2004 Viognier. As it warmed up in the sun we enjoyed tropical fruity taste more and more. We enjoyed the viognier with ham sandwiches, cheeses and crackers, and almonds. During our lunch the winery dog visited us several times to check out what we were having. He’s such a sweet dog.

Before leaving Pearmund we decided to make some purchases. Paul bought the 2004 Lisa’s Merlot and Warren left with a 2004 Lisa’s Merlot and a bottle of the 2005 Riesling. Both selections are excellent additions to our collections.

Gray Ghost Vidal Blanc

On Memorial Day we went to the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral. While we weren’t visiting a Virginia winery, we were enjoying a Virginia wine. With us we brought a 2005 Vidal Blanc from Gray Ghost.

The Vidal Blanc has a clear, pale yellow complexion; it possesses citrus and pear aromas. On the palate, citrus and melon flavors prevail with subtle hints of peach. It has a tart, crisp finish—somewhat sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. This Vidal Blanc has already won numerous awards including Best in Class at the 2006 LA County Fair International Wine Competition, and it is destined to be a crowd pleaser this summer. It’s a lovely appertif and pairs nicely with spicy mango salsa; other spicy dishes would also be complementary. Feel adventurous and dare to pair this one with blue cheese!

On this particularly warm day, the Vidal Blanc was a perfect companion for our picnic. Fresh mango, strawberries, and light cheeses matched quite well; spicy ham sandwiches on baguettes seasoned with olive oil, cracked pepper, and Italian herbs likewise paired very well. A special mention of the buttery-soft St. Andre cheese should be made; this cheese is a delight, and we brought it along to enjoy with the fruit and wine. On this warm afternoon, the Gray Ghost 2005 Vidal Blanc was cool, crisp and refreshing.