Who knew? Virginia has over 230 wineries, and, according to the Virginia Winery Guide 2013 map, is divided into “9 winemaking regions” and features “25 wine trails.” I just went to one winery, but I was duly impressed. A New York area wine lover could do worse than schedule a wine tasting trip to Virginia (and you can visit the house of Thomas Jefferson—founding father AND wine lover—as long as you’re there).
My brother took me to Paradise Springs Winery in the über-cute town of Clifton, Virginia. The winery itself is down a winding country road bordered by beautiful estates and woods, and features a large tasting barn, an old log cabin, and ample outdoor areas where we saw many people picnicking, tossing Frisbees, and just relaxing. Lots of people. Happily, there was room at the long bar in the tasting room, and an attractive and knowledgeable young woman named Kat took care of us. A tasting of seven of their wines cost only $10, and since it was Father’s Day they added a complimentary tasting of Swagger, their Port style wine. Small dishes of round crackers on the bar are there as palate cleansers. They also offer a fairly extensive menu of snacks, including cheeses from $8-$12, but many of the people we saw seemed to have brought their own picnics.
- 2011 Chardonnay $29
For a barrel-fermented chard, this was not overly oaky, with slight aromas of vanilla and apple, and a taste of Granny Smith apple. Very good, either as a sipping wine or with food.
2. 2011 Petit Manseng $27
Kat explains that this is a grape that is often used for dessert wines, but they harvest it early and make a dry style wine with it. My brother and I agree that it is delicious, with some tastes of pineapple and pear, with some citrus zing and a slight strawberry aroma. Kat notes that it would be good with spicy food, a good call. Buyable!
3. 2012 Sommet Blanc $24
This is a blend, 65% Vidal Blanc, 16% Traminette, 14% Riesling, and 5% Chardonnay. Now I’m wishing for a nice bowl of lobster bisque, because this wine would go well with any creamy seafood dish, as it is nicely dry but with plenty of fruit and some aromas of spice and flowers.
4. 2012 Nana’s Rosé $22
Here’s a rosé that could challenge Croteaux, and indeed, Kat tells us that it is a French style rosé, so it is dry and full of flavor from the Merlot grapes from which it is made. Great summer sipper, as I soon prove.
5. 2011 Mélange $27
Another blend, this is their Bordeaux-style wine: 53% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Petit Verdot. We like this one very much, as it has plenty of red berry or cherry fruit, yet enough tannins to be interesting. We learn that the Cabernet Franc grapes are the only ones grown on the winery’s property, with the rest bought from others, such as Chrysalis vineyard. Also buyable.
6. 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $32
Perhaps with more time this wine would be better, but we find it a bit thin, not the rich flavor that is promised by the tasting notes.
7. 2011 Norton $28
My brother is quite eager to have me taste this wine, as the Norton grape is a native Virginia grape, once cultivated by Thomas Jefferson himself. Thinking of Concord grapes, I’m expecting this to be too sweet and, though it is somewhat “jammy,” it is also good. Kat says it is great to make mulled wine with this in the winter. A mineral aroma precedes some sour cherry flavors, with a bit of a not unpleasant vegetable after taste.
8. Swagger, Edition I $39
Get out the cigars and the small glasses, send the ladies to the parlor, it’s time for that after dinner sip of port! J.K. But this is a very nice Port-style wine, again not too sweet but, after being aged 17 months in Virginia bourbon barrels, full of all sorts of deep flavors.
My brother and I each opt to buy a bottle of the Petit Manseng and the Mélange. Must be something genetic. Then we each get a glass so we can sit outside and sip and chat. I opt for the rosé ($7 for a glass), and find that it does indeed hold up well over the course of a full glass. Unfortunately, the young man playing guitar is not nearly as talented as the wine. Afterwards, we walk up the road and hike down to Bull Run—yes, the actual stream that was the site of a Civil War battle!
Later that evening, my brother opens a bottle of Horton Vineyards Norton wine, and I like that even better than Paradise Springs’ version.
Reasons to visit: You’re in Virginia and you want to try a winery; you’ve hiked the trail to Bull Run and you need some refreshment after your hike; you live in Washington, D.C. and this is the closest winery to the city; plenty of nice wines to try; picnic areas and a family atmosphere; Petit Manseng and Mélange and the chance to try the Norton (nothing to do with Jackie Gleason) grape.
One correction, ~ Thomas Jefferson never experienced the Norton grape, but it is well possible that his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph did since there are records showing grape vines from Prince Nursery on Long Island possibly being sent to Monticello. Thomas Jefferson died in 1826 and the Norton vine was not discovered by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton until 1823 or a couple years later. All of this is well chronicled in Todd Kliman’s book, The Wild Vine, noting the development of the Norton grape. Today there are 270 Norton wineries in 25 states. Most Norton wines benefit from five or more additional years of storage in bottle. Upon opening, be sure to let your Norton wine breathe for 40 minutes or longer.
Thanks so much for the additional information! Sometimes it is hard to separate history from legend.