Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Notaviva – Music to Virginia Wine

We recently visited Notaviva Vineyards. This is one of those wineries that, for me, is more about atmosphere and ambiance than it is about the wines. If you are in the mood to spend some time listening to good music in beautiful surroundings drinking wine, this is as good a place as any. Notaviva prides itself on its ability to pair wines with music, and the live music that they have on weekends does a nice job of creating the right atmosphere. I like their dedication to adding an aural element to wine. Wine is such a sensual experience – from looking at the glass to smelling it to get a sense of what lays ahead to tasting it to savoring it, wine rewards those who use their senses. Notaviva adds music to this dynamic. I am glad that they have done so. Their staff is extremely friendly and helpful, which also helps with the overall experience. Music, wine and a friendly staff make Notaviva a great place to spend
an afternoon.

As for their wines, the best of their offerings is their 2008 Vincero Viognier. Not to sound too much like a broken record on this blog, but Viognier really likes growing in Virginia, and Virginia wineries can do amazing things with this grape. Notaviva’s Viognier is aged in stainless steel casks, which gives it a light, crisp flavor that accentuates this wine’s mellow pear and kiwi undertones. Try it with grilled shrimp seasoned with Old Bay, or even sautéed rockfish cooked in sage butter. The texture and flavor of either dish will go well with this Viognier’s mellow, sweet flavor.

Notaviva’s 2008 "Celtico" Chambourcin is an interesting, if not entirely impressive red. It has plenty of tannins, with a smokiness that makes this wine a good fit for foods cooked on a grill – from burgers to steak. Basically, this is a red that should go with meat. Grilled meat. Preferably with a spicy dry rub or sauce. Open up a bottle with dinner and finish it off with some dark chocolate for dessert and you will have a well-paired meal. I say it is slightly unimpressive, though, for the fact that for as much smokiness and tannins as it has, that is basically it. There are some whiffs of raspberries, but not many. And with a smokiness that permeates everything from first smell to last sip, there doesn’t seem to be much room for any other flavors to distinguish themselves.

What Notaviva tries to do, and does well, is add a musical dimension to wine. From the names of their wines, to the diverse varieties of music played in their tasting room, to the owner’s own musical backgrounds and the musical paraphernalia that adorns the walls of their winery, it is obvious that Notaviva was opened so that the owners could pursue their two passions: music and wine. They have created a great atmosphere and make some decent wines in the process.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Visit to Paradise Springs

I have said a lot about Paradise Springs in the past – about their battle with Fairfax County, about finally being able to open, and the quality wines that they produce. From what I was told on my most recent trip, the winery is doing great. They are doing so well,in fact, that they cannot accommodate all the groups that want to pay them a visit, which is a great problem to have. Although they are still new, Paradise Springs can do wine tastings well – they were able to accommodate a group of 50 of us without making us feel crowded, cluttered or rushed. We arrived before they opened, and even after their doors swung open for other people, the personal attention never wavered. In fact, I got the sense that the only reason our group left the winery at all is because we had a lunch and two more wineries to get to during the day. Otherwise, everybody would have been happy to stay put, drinking and buying wine and learning about the winery’s history – both recent (as a winery) and historic (as the land has been in the proprietor’s family for generations).

I have mentioned in the past Paradise Spring’s 2008 Viognier and their 2008 Cabernet Franc. I will add to this their Cabernet Sauvignon. While not as thick, bold and aromatic of Napa cabs, it is good for a Virginia Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a little thin, but still has a nice aroma to it – with hints of blackberries, currants and chocolate – with a nice raspberry taste on the finish. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon that goes down smooth, albeit with less body than I usually like. It is a drinkable wine, though at $32 is a bit overpriced. In terms of white wine, I would stick with their Viogniers and stay away from their Chardonnays, which get into the bad habit of spending too much time fermenting in oak, overpowering any other flavors other than firewood that would be present in the wine. That said, their Vidal Blanc, while not quite as intricate as their Viognier, is a very nice, fruit-filled wine with a sweetness that is well-balanced against spicier, heavier foods.

The first time I went to Paradise Springs, it was cold and snowy. The last time I was there, it was warm, sunny and crowded. It is great to see a winery that fought so hard to open its doors continue to grow its base of fans and supporters, as well as expanding the number of wineries in Virginia that are producing interesting wines.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Springing Back into Virginia’s Wineries

Recently, I have been asking a lot of people about Virginia wines and as I mentioned in a previous post, the reputation of Virginia wines continues to grow. The word has made it out to some California wineries that Virginia is not just making alcohol-laden grape juice anymore. And as this article points out, California is slowly but surely accepting its Eastern cousin as a producer of quality wine. Even the staid, old school publications like Travel and Leisure have sung the praises of Virginia wine country.

But enough of lead-in on how great Virginia wines are. I wouldn’t have started this blog unless I thought Virginia produced some good, albeit underrated, wines. And, of course, Virginia wineries are easy to get to from Washington, DC. Thanks to Caitlin organizing a wine tour for a group she plans a lot of events for, we got to three Virginia wineries recently, got to taste many different offerings and generally had a great time. Each winery will have its own entry – as there were some complaints that the last post on the Charleston Wine and Food Festival was way too long. I agree, so here is an overview, followed by individual posts in the coming days.

We visited three different wineries with a group of about 50 people. Starting with Paradise Springs Winery in Fairfax, VA. I have written about them in the past, and am glad that the winery continues to do well and play host to many people on the weekends. In fact, they are doing so well that they have to turn away some groups. It is well worth it to call in advance and pay them a visit. The land, the history and the wines make the quick trip to this winery well worth it.

Next on our itinerary was Notaviva Vineyards. Their motto is: “Wine Paired with Music. Pour. Listen. Believe.” My PR antennae are not quite sure what it is we are being asked to believe in…wine?...music?...both? I love how they emphasize pairing music with wine. Wine is supposed to be a sensory experience that incorporates sight, smell and taste. Why not add sound to enhance the experience? It helps that the staff is one of the friendliest and enthusiastic around. I got the sense that everybody working at Notaviva really loves what they do, where they do it, and how they do it. Being surrounded all day with friendly people, good wine and great music is not the worst job in the world. It helps that all this wine and music and friendliness is offered up to visitors in a space that was featured on HGTV’s Dream Home series.

The final winery that we visited was Hiddencroft Vineyards. Hiddencroft prides itself on being the “northernmost winery in Virginia.” This was my first time to this winery, and I enjoyed it. The owner was very knowledgeable, and you could tell that she took great pride in the wine that she produced – and got excited telling others about it. The grounds and the winery itself are beautiful. The inside could use a bit of help aesthetically. The best way to describe the inside is “winery dorm room chic.” There was plenty going on, but no real rhyme or reason to it. I like to think it is because they put more of their effort and energy into the wines that they make rather than their surroundings, and that could be the taste after trying some of their wines.

Click here to View Larger Map, and see where the three wineries are located!

But you will have to check back to find out more about Hiddencroft’s wines, as well as those from Notaviva and Paradise Springs. Hopefully this overview will give you some ideas on what to do next time you have a free weekend and the desire to get out to some of the region’s wineries.