Winery Happenings

As 2015 comes to a close, I wanted to catch up on a couple of celebratory events that occurred at local wineries in the past couple of months. In early November, Old Westminster hosted a “vine” cutting event to celebrate the official opening of its new tasting room; later in the month, Gray Ghost Vineyards held a gala to toast the release of its gold-medal winning 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paul and I try to frequent Maryland wineries when the calendar allows us to do so. One Maryland winery that is always on our must visit list is Old Westminster. We’ve written about this winery in the past and always with glowing remarks. On November 5, Old Westminster cut the vines to open a new tasting room to accommodate the growing crowds that visit the winery. Mother Nature provided a crisp fall afternoon for the ceremony that opened with remarks from Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. Al Spoler, host of the radio program Cellarnotes, continued the accolades first offered by Kevin Atticks. Finally, Drew Baker, vineyard manager and spokesperson for the Baker family, took to the podium to extol the virtues of value added farming and its future in Carroll County, Maryland; he also thanked sister Lisa for her expert winemaking. Drew also acknowledged that the success of Old Westminster was due to a family effort to craft wines in a state that is just appearing on the radar as one that can indeed produce quality wines.
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The Baker family and other guests then cut the “vine” to officially open the tasting room. Guests were then treated to a buffet lunch paired with the winery’s Greenstone, a blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, and Revelry, a red wine blend.

Gray Ghost Vineyards’ fans were excited to celebrate the gala release of the winery’s 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. A reserve cabernet was not produced in 2011 because Cheryl and Al Kellert, owners and winemakers at Gray Ghost, did not feel that the 2011 vintage met the standard for a reserve wine. However, the 2012 vintage was a different story, and the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has already taken a gold medal at a California wine competition. The gala proved to be an wonderful evening with lovely fall table settings providing an elegant atmosphere for the event. Heavy hor d’oeuvres and decadent chocolates paired well with the complex Cabernet Sauvignon and its notes of dark cherry and plum. Silk tannins presented a wine that can be enjoyed now but will be appreciated more if aged for a few years.
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Plan a visit to these local wineries and sample their award-winning wines. Purchase their wines to serve over the holidays or to give as gifts. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Black Friday Shopping

Warren’s parents came in town last weekend to enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend with us. We had a great Thanksgiving day with some wonderful wines. On Black Friday we decided to do some shopping like half of the United States. We visited Gray Ghost Vineyards and Gadino Cellars.
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Our first stop was Gray Ghost Vineyards. As long time readers know, Gray Ghost is one of our absolute favorites. We always get a warm greeting when we enter the tasting room. Every year Warren’s mother brings Al Kellert a pecan pie and this year was no different. Al was very happy to see that pie in her hands.
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After catching up with Amy and Al and Cheryl, we did a tasting of the current line up of wines. We love all the wines at Gray Ghost but of course there are always stand out wines. In my opinion the 2014 Chardonnay is one of the best. It presents tropical flavors with creamy notes and subtle oak notes. My favorite red is the 2013 Ranger Reserve. This is a true Bordeaux blend. I noted lots of dark fruit and coffee notes. The tannins were smooth and nimble. I thought of big red meats and some hard cheeses. I wanted a small chunk of dark chocolate to enjoy with this one. The Petit Verdot was not on the regular tasting but it was another stellar wine.
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After our tasting we enjoyed some lunch nibbles with a bottle of the Ranger Reserve which we thoroughly enjoyed and paired well with our lunch items. Before leaving we purchased our favorites and picked up a case for Warren’s parents. We said our goodbyes knowing we’d be returning in one week for the Holiday Open House on December 5th and 6th.
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Our second stop was Gadino Cellars. We hadn’t been there in a very long time. We began our tasting and then Stephanie entered the tasting room. We always enjoy talking wine with Stephanie. She told us how the 2015 harvest was and what upcoming wines we might want to check out. Gadino is another winery where we enjoy all the wines on the tasting menu. Of course we have our favorites as well. We all really enjoyed the 2014 Pinot Grigio. Light and crisp and reminded us of warm Spring afternoons. We were all also big fans of the 2012 Cabernet Franc Riserva. We noted lots of cherry, spice, and pepper. A classic cab franc from Virginia. After our tasting we each enjoyed a glass of the cab franc on the deck while taking in the last moments of the sunny Friday afternoon.
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What a great way to spend our Black Friday! If you haven’t been to Gray Ghost Vineyards or Gadino Cellars in awhile, plan a trip soon. And when you visit, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Blog Anniversary!

10 Years ago today we began Virginia Wine Time. Since then we’ve posted 914 articles and racked up 602 comments and visited 178 Virginia wineries. We’ve gained more than 5000 followers on Twitter and over 1200 followers on Facebook. We thank you all for sticking with us all these years.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary we went to Eno Wine Bar to attend the tasting of the Breaux Vineyards Eno Cuvee’ Meritage. Winemaker Heather Munden was there to talk about the wine. We had a great time chatting with her about what’s going on at Breaux. We really enjoyed the Eno Meritage. If you get to Eno, be sure to ask for a glass. You won’t be disappointed.

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In the months to come we plan to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the blog with special posts. Return often to keep up with the posts.

Thank you for all the love over the years!

Warren and Paul

Wine Kegs? Whaaaat?

Yes, wine kegs. Wine tanks, or wine that is stored and then poured out of keg-like containers, appear to be a small yet growing phenomena in local restaurants and wineries.

We went no farther than nearby Chef Geoff’s restaurant on New Mexico Ave. in Washington DC to taste wines poured out of a device that looks no different than a line up of beers streamed out of a keg. Wines on tap included chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir, and malbec. Of course, I had to sample at least one of these and tasted the chardonnay. I will admit that my note taking on the chardonnay was a bit sketchy——I was using the phone as opposed to my tried and true quill and parchment; however, I do think that this was a Chef Geoff’s private label chardonnay with the grapes sourced from Edna Valley in California. My impressions? I was pleasantly surprised. It was a fruit-forward wine with a lovely palate of pear, apple and subtle citrus notes to make for a fresh, crisp pour. Versatile too—-enjoy with white wine-friendly foods or on its own while chatting with friends at the bar. I also sampled the pinot noir on a second occasion; of course, I was wearing a disguise so that the bartender would not recognize me and then confuse me for a food/wine critic. Not really—-it was my Halloween costume. Anyway, the pinot noir was likewise fruity and enjoyable; I sipped it with a side of potato fries but would have appreciated it by itself while glancing at the tennis match being shown on the TV above the bar.
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So some technical details that I gleaned from my conversation with the bartender and some brief online research. The wine tanks are chilled with white wines kept at 46 degrees (F) and red wines at 56 degrees (F). Furthermore, wine tanks can store up to 26 cases of wine. However, might wine snobs balk at such a concept? According to Geoff Tracy, owner and chef at Chef Geoff’s, consumers have responded in a positive manner to wines poured from the tanks. And for those who want wine by the glass at a restaurant, the wine keg might be the way to go. Tracy’s reasoning for taking this direction made perfect sense to me. Opening bottled wines to pour by the glass require maintenance that includes storing at the right temperature and then dumping wines that have gone over the hill after being opened for a while. Another hazard includes the expensive risk of opening wines that may be corked or tainted in some other way. Steel tanks allows for the restauranteur to maintain wines at their proper temperatures and eliminate such hazards as unpleasant oxidation. This can occur if wines are kept open for too long. For the consumer who wants to enjoy wine by the glass, these wines are well crafted,fresh,and always ready to enjoy.
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At least two local wineries are likewise tapping into this concept. Winemaker Kirsty Harmon offers growlers of wine to consumers who visit Blenheim Vineyards. A white and red blend are both offered from a tap; customers simply buy the bottle and have it filled from the tap. When the bottle is empty, he/she can return to the winery with the bottle to have it refilled. My impressions? Much like my experience at Chef Geoff’s. Both of the growler blends were fresh and versatile. I particularly enjoyed the white with its floral notes and fruity palate; a nice mouth feel made for a deck sipper or a food-friendly wine. Why offer growlers at a winery? In my conversation with Kirsty, she seemed to second Geoff Tracy’s opinions about maintenance but added another dimension. There is an earth-friendly component to the growler idea that means fewer bottles and enclosures being purchased and then thrown away. Michael Shaps is another winemaker who also serves a growler, and I sampled the rose on tap. It was quite nice, and I ended up enjoying a glass after my tasting at the winery this past summer.
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Wines on tap? Don’t discount them. Taste for yourself before you turn your nose at them. Why not visit the establishments mentioned in this post? Of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Newbies (or new to us)

We are always eager to try wines at new (or newer wineries); however, it can be difficult to keep up with all of the new wineries that are opening in Virginia. We do our best, though, and we did sample the offerings at a new establishment called Terra Nebulo and a relative newcomer Winery 32. Winery 32 opened about a year ago.

Terra Nebulo: The name is Latin for “land of the rascals”, but owners Michael and Cheryl Morrison are anything but rascals. The winery is located west of Waterford and opened earlier in the fall. Tastings were being held on the ground level of the three story facility which appeared to still be in construction. Randy Philips, winemaker at Cave Ridge, is the winemaker here. Of the three white wines, the floral-scented Riesling was my favorite. It presented elements of soft peach and melon and paired well with the spicy peanuts offered to us by Cheryl Morrison. Paul favorited the unique Traminette Slightly Sparkling with its yeasty nose and effervescent palate. Serve as an aperitif with cheeses! The Chambourcin was a fruity pleaser with raspberry notes and earthy aromas; this should serve well as a versatile, every day wine. Now that fall is here, heavier menus might pair better with the Blended Red, a mix of Cabernet Franc (60%), Petit Verdot (20%), and Cahmbourcin (20%). Aromas of smoke, tobacco, and dark berries give way to a fruity palate of dark cherry, blackberry, and currants. A hint of spice finishes things off. Heavy cheeses, dark chocolates, or cigars might beg for the Chambourcin, Port Style. This one is aged for a year in oak barrels and then finished in used bourbon casks to impart the aromas and flavors that one would indeed experience from a port wine.

Oh—-why “land of the rascals?” According to the website, they were “the rapscallions and ne’er-do-wells famed for plundering travelers in Colonial Virginia along the old Carolina Road…” However, Michael and Cheryl are very friendly and eager to chat about wine, food and history. We enjoyed a glass of our favorites and from the tasting room beheld the lovely landscape that the “rapscallions” terrorized in a time gone by.

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Winery 32: This winery opened in July 2014; therefore, it a winery that is new to us! The vineyard on the 32 acre property is four years old, and the 2015 vintage will be the first to feature grapes produced from the estate vineyard. However, peaches are grown here and they are used to make delicious fruit wines. Gloria’s Sunshine Light Peach is blended with Vidal Blanc to produce a light, fruity wine that is surprising not overly peachy! The other wine to feature the Gloria peach is the Gloria Peach Dessert Wine, a heavier wine that I found intriguing as a dessert option. It might also pair well with a savory cheese; I enjoyed it with the white chocolate chip offered to us at the tasting bar. The 2013 Chardonnay was also well-crafted and presented elements of pear, apple and subtle spice. Neutral french oak barrels imparted a fuller mouth feel without the overly-oaken impression that can left by new oak barrels. The 2011 Cabernet Franc can be described as a lighter-bodied sipper destined to be enjoyed with light fare. Blended with a bit of Tannat, its bramble berry and herbs notes make for a wine that can be enjoyed on its own. Winemaker Michael Moosher is also a chef, and the winery offers a daily lunch menu to enjoy along with the wines.

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We enjoy following up with newer wineries to chart their success, and we know that we will return to Terra Nebulo and Winery 32 to see how thing progress. In the meantime, be sure to schedule your own visit to these wineries and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

New Directions at Casanel Vineyards and Winery

Casanel Vineyards and Winery had fallen off our radar over the past few years, but our friend and Casanel wine educator Kathy Lang Wiedemann convinced us that it was time for us to revisit the winery. We recently did just that and met with owner Katie DeSouza for a tasting of Casanel’s premiere wines; along the way, we learned of new changes at Casanel that has put the vineyards and winery on track to produce some wonderful wines.
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Casanel Vineyards and Winery opened a new and more spacious tasting room since our last visit, and we were impressed with its wood floors and airy atmosphere. It is here where tasters can sample the Casanel vintages under the more familiar Casanel label. The older facility is now being used to taste the premiere wines, and these bear a cleaner, more elegant label. These were the most evident signs that a different yet better direction was being undertaken at Casanel. Katie De Souza, daughter of Casanel’s founders Nelson and Casey DeSouza, has taken on a more prominent role in managing both the vineyards and winemaking, and it was Katie who conducted our tasting. Katie explained to us that her decision to lead Casanel Vineyards and Winery in a different direction was taken after consultation with renowned viticulturist Lucie Morton who advised Katie to make needed improvements in the vineyards’ management. In addition, Katie has been learning the craft of wine making under the tutelage of French native Katell Griaud who has previously worked for Kluge Estate and then Trump Winery.
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Proof is always in the pudding—-or the wine glass in this case, and after our tasting, I concluded that the new course taken by Casanel Vineyards and Winery has produced excellent results. All seven of the premiere wines that we tasted were clean and well crafted. My particular favorites included the 2014 Ellianna, a crisp Pinot Gris that was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. It’s soft peach notes and subtle mineral element made for a refreshing pour that seemed perfect for enjoyment on a warm day. I also gave two thumbs up for the 2014 Chardonnay which is a blend of three styles—-stainless steel, neutral French oak barrels, and new French oak barrels. Pear and citrus elements prevailed with an acidic mid palate and toasty finish that suggested a food-friendly wine. In fact, I served this one with crab cakes and roasted summer squash at a recent dinner party! The 2013 Petit Verdot earned my nod for favorite red wine; this too was the product of a blend of wines aged in neutral and newer French oak barrels. An initial licorice note was then followed by aromas and flavors of dark currants and plum; a lingering finish made for a more complex wine. An extra treat was a taste of the smoky 2013 Carmenere with its fruit forward palate and whiffs of violet and tobacco on the nose. This is a limited production wine and available only to the wine club members.
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Enhancing the tasting experience was a portfolio that presented each wine being tasted; in addition to descriptions of each varietal, technical details such as harvest date and ph levels are included. This encourages the customer to develop a conversation with the tasting associate about the wines; of course, we always ask questions, and the portfolio provided us with a wealth of information about the wines that we tasted.
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After our tasting, we lingered for a while in the new tasting room and enjoyed a glass of the 2014 Ellianna. We took in the gorgeous vineyard landscapes while sipping and nibbling on cheese and baguette. We know that we will return to Casanel Vineyards and Winery soon. Plan your own visit to Casanel Vineyards and Winery and be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Ending Our Celebration Weekend

So this will be the last post about our celebration weekend in the Monticello area. Here I will give our perspectives on wines tasted at Gabriele Rausse Winery. Keswick Vineyards, and King Family Vineyards. Our focus at these wineries remained the same——wines to enjoy during the summer.

Gabriele Rausse Winery: We were very excited to finally taste a full line up of Gabriele Rausse wines. This was made possible due to the opening of a tasting room by Rausse! Gabriele Rausse has a long history in the Virginia winemaking industry starting back in the early 1980s, and his reputation for crafting excellent wines is well known. Our favorites of the ten wines that we tasted included the Pinot Grigio 2013 with its elements of soft peach and wet stone; I was more intrigued, though, with the Rousanne 2012 that was fermented and aged in French oak barrels. Its floral and spice notes were complemented by citrus flavors and a fuller mouth feel. Seafood, poultry or pork topped with a cream sauce should play well with this one. With grilled fare, it might be hard to beat the Cabernet Franc 2013 with its bright berry notes and subtle spice on the finish. I had an eye toward the colder months ahead along with the heartier menus that follow and made certain to purchase the more complex Nebbiolo 2012. As we sipped through our tasting, we enjoyed the woodsy views offered by the quaint tasting room that was obviously designed to blend in with forested surroundings.
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Keswick Vineyards: It’s always a pleasure to see winemaker Stephen Barnard at Keswick Vineyards. Stephen offered us sneak samples of evolving 2013 and 2014 vintages from the barrels. This included the 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, the 2014 Pinot Gris, 2013 and 2014 Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon then finishing with the Syrah. Alas, I do not have particular tasting notes on these; however, I do recall giving two thumbs up for the Chardonnay Reserve and the Cabernet Sauvignon samples. Rest assured, however, that we will return to Keswick Vineyards in the near future to report on these wines as they are released!
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King Family Vineyards: Another favorite winery and another tasting experience with the winemaker. Mathieu Finot guided us through a tasting of the latest pours at King Family Vineyards. We tend to enjoy all of the wines here, but with a focus on summer, the Crose 2014 is always a winner. This dry rose presents lovely strawberry and melon notes with a refreshing acidity; enjoy on its own, with a picnic, most grilled foods, etc. Dining al fresco with a seafood or poultry dish? Both the Chardonnay 2013 and Viognier 2014 can be recommended. I’m always partial to Chardonnay, and I appreciated the pear and citrus notes with this one; aged for nine moths in French oak barrels with full malolactic fermentation provides a full mouth feel to boot. Paul is a Petit Verdot fan, and the Petit Verdot 2012 was his favorite. Whiffs of violet and incense were complemented with elements of dark berries, plums and spice. Enjoy with heavier grilled steaks or chops or reserve for a later time with leg of lamb.
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Our celebration weekend did indeed come to an end, and along the way we tasted some wonderful wines. Be certain to pay a visit to the wineries mentioned in this post; of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Memberships Have Benefits

Many Virginia wineries offer membership clubs, and readers may wonder if joining these clubs are worth the perks. I belong to three clubs at Virginia wineries, and I can report they are definitely worth a taste (or two.)

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I have fully embraced winemaker Kirsty Harmon’s philosophy of making wines to enjoy now. The Blenheim wine club offers to members a chance to enjoy wines that the general public may not be able to purchase immediately. I get shipments 4 times a year. For example, my spring and summer shipments included (among others) the Red Table Wine NV, the Painted Red 2013, and the Painted White 2013. We recently enjoyed the Painted Red with a meal that featured grilled filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms. Its ripe berry and plum flavors were complemented by spicy elements that paired quite nicely with our meal. Past favorites have included Sauvignon Blanc and Rousanne. Of course, the artist in me always appreciates the painted labels which change with each vintage.
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Breaux Vineyards
This was the first wine club that I joined thanks to wine educator extraordinaire, Silvia Miller. Club members get to enjoy wines that are crafted just for them. My current club favorite is the Stone Barn White 2014; this wine screams summer! Floral notes lead the profile that include citrus elements and wet stone. A refreshing acidity gives way to a surprisingly honeyed finish. Elegant enough to grace a dinner party that includes shellfish but fun on its own with fresh fruit and cheeses. The new members only tasting room is complete and open for business. On a recent visit Bruce Miller poured the club wines for us to taste. It was nice to meet other club members and fun to chat about the current club wines.
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Pollak Vineyards
I have been a Pollak fan for many years now and look forward to my tasting from wine expert, Casey. It’s always nice to enter the tasting room and be recognized. Perks here include 15% discount on all wine purchases, free tasting for me and my guest (usually my spouse), and prerelease on limited production and reserve wines. I recently visited the winery and can attest to the excellence of the Provence style 2014 Rose with its strawberry notes and subtle whiffs of dried herbs. This is a dry rose and its lively acidity demands warm weather and a picnic—we will be bringing this one to a Wolf Trap concert this summer.
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If you’ve ever considered joining a wine club at one of the Virginia wineries, think about looking into one of these. More details about the clubs can be found on their websites. And when you do visit them, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Changes at Virginia Wineworks

Michael Shaps Wineworks announced today (June 12, 2015) that Jake Busching has joined the winery as the new Head Winemaker & General Manager.  Jake Busching comes with 17 years experience and an outstanding reputation in the Virginia wine industry. He most recently held the position of General Manager, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Grace Estate, and prior to that he performed similar roles at Pollak Vineyards and Keswick Vineyards.  Working alongside Jake, our current enologist Joy Ting will take on a more elevated role of Production Manager & Head Enologist.  Joy will work closely with Jake to ensure that the logistics of the production facility and the cellar crew are managed efficiently.  Working directly under Joy, Jessica Trapeni will be our new full time lab technician, performing the daily functions of the laboratory to maintain and ensure our high standard of wine quality.

“I have known Jake both personally and professionally for nearly twenty years in his various roles of vineyard manager and winemaker and am very enthusiastic about the future of our winery” comments owner Michael Shaps. “Jake’s wealth of experience and industry knowledge has already made him a key addition to the Wineworks family. The increasing demand from our custom winemaking clients led us to look for an addition to our team who will fit in with our standards of innovation and exceptional service and quality. I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented team and have the utmost confidence in them.”

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Located just south of Charlottesville, Virginia, Michael Shaps Wineworks is Virginia’s largest custom contract winemaking operation, with a total production reaching 30,000 cases per year with over a dozen clients. Known for his innovation in the industry, Michael Shaps introduced the “bag in a box” to Virginia wine consumers and most recently introduced a refillable wine growler. In addition to the Virginia winery, Michael owns a winery in Burgundy, France (www.maisonshaps.com) and imports these wines to the United States, where they are sold throughout Virginia and in the tasting room at Michael Shaps Wineworks.

Wining and Dining at Williamsburg Winery Pt. 2

So our extraordinary weekend at Williamsburg Winery included a four-course dinner prepared by chef Ika Zaken and held in the Wedmore Place’s Café Provencal. The menu including wine pairings are presented here:

First Course:
Vol-Au-Vent—creamed mushrooms, puff pastry, port reduction
Paired with: 2011 Matthew’s Chardonnay

Second Course:
Monk Fish with artichoke and Winter Green Risotto, snow peas, lobster cream
Paired with: 2013 Viognier (This was my favorite course and pairing of the night.)

Third Course:
Lamb Saddle with cannellini beans, baby kale, roasted tomatoes, lamb jus
Paired with: 2010 Trianon

Fourth Course:
Wild boar, daube provencal with carrots, pearl onions, forest mushroom, butternut squash polenta
Paired with: 2010 Adagio (ok—this ties with the second course as my favorite course and pairing of the night.)

Dessert:
Crème caramel with caramel sauce

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Our appetites were certainly sated after the day’s culinary delights. However, a special word must be mentioned for the Wedmore Place and its wonderful staff. The Wedmore Place took us back to a colonial period but with modern amenities. Our room was decorated with period furnishing and warmed by a fireplace; the bathroom was first rate with refreshingly scented body products. Breakfast was continental style with the world’s fluffiest croissants and a wonderful quiche that complemented fresh-brewed coffee. The Wedmore staff could not have been more polite and accommodating, and we look forward to a future visit to the Wedmore Place.

The 6th Annual Virginia Sparkling Tasting concluded our weekend of food and wine; however, before we left the Williamsburg Winery and Wedmore Place, I made certain to purchase a few bottles of our favorite wines. Looking for a local getaway that includes world-class cuisine, wines, and accommodations? Then plan a visit to Williamsburg Winery and then book a stay at the Wedmore Place. Of course, please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.