Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sideways in Virginia

Last weekend I toured Virginia's fast-growing wine country (along with the Mrs. and another couple). And while it is no Napa, the trip was well worth it and comes highly recommended for those readers in the Washington area. Rustic Middleburg, where we stayed, is only an hour or so from the city and a world away with its verdant hills and valleys. We made four stops, each with its distinct flavor:

1. Naked Mountain, deep in the Blue Ridge, provided some of the best views and the most casual atmosphere. We simply walked up to the counter and the bottles were laid out before us. The riesling was exceptionally crisp, though they are better known for their buttery chardonnays. (Some are aged in oak, others in steel.) Best of all, there is no tasting fee.

2. They say CHRYSalis, I say ChrySALis, either way, this winery was the most elaborate, a genuine dog-and-pony show complete with headset-equipped coordinators who told us where to go and how much for the tasting. ($10 gets you the entire estate and vintage wine collection to sample, totalling 13 different types.) I recommend the AlbariƱo, a Spanish white varietal, as well as Sarah's Patio Red, served chilled and slightly spritzed--an excellent wine to drink when the heat index is 110. Bonus: You get to keep the glasses.

3. Amid the Hunt Country you will fine a mom-and-pop winery called Swedenburg. Juanita and Wayne Swedenburg must be in their 70s but their efforts to bring their wines to all Americans are relentless. In fact, Juanita actually took her case right up to the Supreme Court and won. Sort of. There are still myriad arcane rules dating from Prohibition that make interstate wine-selling difficult, but with Juanita's crusade, some of those barriers have been removed. A good thing, for no one should be kept from their Pinot Noir, a not-too-complex Burgundy with a spicy aroma.

4. Piedmont Vineyards is one of the more popular wineries in the state and touts an impressive selection, including dessert and peach wines. For the last seven years, Piedmont has been ruled by a middle-aged German couple from Munich. The Herr is no-nonsense and very serious. The Frau is slender and elegant, the type that wears a body suit with nothing underneath. Not that I noticed. They don't actually have much in the way of rieslings though the Herr recommends the Lake Champlain region of Upstate New York. They've also heard the Swedenburgs are weak in their old age and may be ripe for an annexation. (I'm kidding!)

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