Northern Virginia Wine Tasting

View from Barrel Oak Winery
View from Barrel Oak Winery

Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure to taste some Northern Virginia wines with winemaker extraordinaire and dear friend, Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines. Regardless of our wine preferences, it was an eye-opening learning experience. I learned how far I have come in my pursuit of wine knowledge when I found myself able to truly discuss wines with Cynthia. We had some great discussions in the wineries as well as in the car. What we discussed in the car, stays in the car, because that’s how we roll. <wink>

Our Host, Harrison, at Barrel Oak Winery
Our Host, Harrison, at Barrel Oak Winery

Secondly, I learned that although nature is a powerful determining factor in a vintage’s resulting grapes, the winemaker can make choices that can push a weak vintage’s grapes into a better end product than nature itself originally offered. I learned this as we tasted through the 2011 vintage wine offerings from multiple wineries. The 2011 vintage was very wet, which diluted some of the color of the red wines made from black-skinned grapes. From winery to winery, we saw how each winemaker’s touch rendered the red wines from this vintage. There were some astounding differences in color, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.

Outside Tasting Bar at Barrel Oak Winery

Two of the wineries we visited were very different with regard to their business models. The first winery we visited was Barrel Oak Winery. The tasting bar attendant turned out to be a friend of mine who used to pour at Inari Wines. Small world, yes? We tasted through 16 wines, from sweet to dry, whites, a rosé, and reds made of native, hybrid, and vinifera grapes. The atmosphere of the winery is lively. It’s both family- and pet-friendly, and allows you to bring your own food, so there were lots of families having picnics accompanied by Barrel Oak’s wines. There’s a tasting room and a tasting bar outside, along with a large patio. I noticed most of the younger adults were drinking wines by the glass, also for sale, at the outside bar. The owner, Brian Roeder, told us the winery is open late on weekends and that they see around 1000 visitors per day during peak summer weekends. Barrel Oak is a nice place to spend a day socializing, eating, and drinking with family, friends, and your four-legged family members.

The View at Delaplane Cellars
The View at Delaplane Cellars

Another winery we visited was Delaplane Cellars, which is a small production, boutique winery that focuses on creating fine wine in Virginia. As per their website,

Because we are a small boutique winery that focuses on creating great wines and a positive customer experience, we cannot accommodate groups over six, buses or limousines at any time. In addition, although we do allow picnics on the winery grounds we do not allow outside food in the tasting room. This is a smoke free farm and we ask that if you must smoke please do so in the designated area at the top of the hill behind the winery. We also ask that animals do not enter the tasting room or terrace and remain on a leash at all times.

Black Walnut Door and White Oak Floors at Delaplane Cellars
Black Walnut Door and White Oak Floors at Delaplane Cellars

Inside the tasting room, there was a musician playing music in the background while small parties of two to four enjoyed quiet conversation over wine tastings or wine by the glass. The décor was elegant and refined, the view spectacular. I was particularly impressed with the black walnut tasting bar and doors, as well as the white oak floors. Our tasting with Carol was very enjoyable. We shared our stories of how we progressed from our former careers to our current wine careers. It was the quintessential girlfriend tasting experience. We tasted six wines at Delaplane: a Chardonnay, a Rosé, a Merlot, and three Bordeaux-style red blends. (Delaplane also makes a 100% Cabernet Franc, which was sold out already.) I purchased a bottle of the Cinq³ (a blend of five reds, third vintage), as I was particularly intrigued by the addition of the estate-grown Tannat to the blend. I plan to taste this wine more carefully at a later date.

The Red Wines at Delaplane Cellars
The Red Wines at Delaplane Cellars

In spite of the overcast skies and occasional rain as our day came to a close, visiting Northern Virginia wineries was an excellent way to spend a Saturday. There’s nothing more fun and inspiring to a wine geek like me than tasting and discussing wine with a winemaker of Cynthia’s knowledge and passion.

Omni Richmond Hotel: More than my home away from home

Home is not where you live, but where they understand you. ~ Christian Morganstern

Executive Chef Dale Ford and Food and Beverage Director Shawn Jernigan
Executive Chef Dale Ford and Food and Beverage Director Shawn Jernigan

I love to feel like I’m at home wherever I am. I also love to seek out new experiences and enjoy local food and drink along the way. When I plan travel, I search for an experience, a place where I feel comfortable. When in Richmond, Virginia, look no further than Omni Richmond Hotel.

Last week I returned to my home away from home and what a homecoming it was! The Omni team prepared for me a stay to remember: a room on the 19th floor with a gorgeous view of downtown Richmond, as well as an amazing food and wine tasting with Executive Chef Dale Ford and Food and Beverage Director Shawn Jernigan. Dale and Shawn are not new to the Omni family, but they’ve only been at the Omni Richmond Hotel for about four months. In that short time, they’ve made significant changes to the food and beverage offerings, including the incorporation of more fresh, local foods and Virginia wine.

2006 Prince Michel Viognier
2006 Prince Michel Viognier

I was treated to a tasting of the new food and wine offerings: shrimp and Anson Mills grits (made with milk, not water) paired with 2006 Prince Michel Viognier; flatbread pizza made with Hanover County, Virginia tomatoes and fresh mozzarella; biscuits made with Kite’s Ham and sorrel from Manakintowne Farms paired with Prince Michel Merlot; bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with Everona Dairy sheep’s milk cheese paired with 2011 White Hall Vineyards Cabernet Franc; and strawberries every way imaginable paired with 2010 James River Cellars Chardonel.

My review of the pairings

Shrimp and Anson Mills grits
Shrimp and Anson Mills grits

Shrimp and grits with Prince Michel Viogner: Truth be told, I couldn’t get enough of the grits. They were by far the best grits I’ve had in my entire life. The shrimp and creaminess of the grits paired perfectly with the tropical fruit and coconut flavors of the Viognier.

Ham biscuits with Prince Michel Merlot: What a near perfect combination! It doesn’t get much better than thick, salty, country ham and a very berry, spicy Merlot.

Kite's Ham Biscuits
Kite’s Ham Biscuits

Bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed figs with White Hall Vineyards Cabernet Franc: I don’t usually eat figs, but Dale had me at bacon…and sheep’s milk cheese. I loved the fatty, salty bacon and nutty, creamy cheese with the dark berry and pepper flavors of the Cab Franc.

2011 White Hall Vineyards Cab Franc
2011 White Hall Vineyards Cab Franc

Strawberries and James River Cellars Chardonel: For those who may not know, Chardonel is a hybrid grape that is a cross between Seyval and Chardonnay. We tasted the Chardonel without food earlier in the tasting and it was a bit sweet for my preference. We tried it again with the strawberries and interestingly, the pairing worked, perhaps because of the wine’s off-dry fruitiness.