Tuesday, June 14, 2011

City-Slicker Bloggers Visit The Plains in Northern Virginia for a Taste of Vintage Ridge

The first Sunday of June, our little group of bloggers and non-bloggers eagerly found our way to Vintage Ridge Vineyards in The Planes of Northern Virginia for an educational wine tasting and food pairing experience. Harness Your Kim Chi and Wine Josh both led the way out of the Washington DC metropolitan area to the depths of the commonwealth countryside. It was an early morning but everyone seemed awake, ready for something new.

The welcoming party of farm dogs huddled around Josh's legs sniffing and licking his toes and fingers. The day was overcast but I knew the clouds would break and we'd get a little sunshine. The vineyard opened up with rows of grapevines basking in the morning sunlight. We made our way to the tasting area tucked away behind a barn at the top of the property.

The hosts brought us to our table outside overlooking the breathless landscape of Piedmont region at the lee of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sun was just starting to come out. We couldn't have asked for a better day to sip wine outside.

For $18 ($14 with a Wine Club membership), guests are treated to five Vintage Ridge wines and a harem of tasty bites. Folks could also simply receive the wine tasting without the food for $10. To me, the cost seemed entirely reasonable.

Winetrailtraveler.com, who did a very nice write up, visited this enterprise headed by a retired husband-and-wife team and revealed a secret behind the overall theme and design:
"The reference on the back of the bottle is attributed to the myth of The Merry Maidens in England. According to legend, 19 maidens were turned into stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday. Vintage Ridge wishes to free the maidens by showing them dancing on the wine bottles..."
In fact, greeting you inside a very open and naturally lit tasting room are paintings and large metal drums. The figures in the paintings seemed to look either like dancing maidens, troubadours or jesters. Clearly, Vintage Ridge likes to keep these dancing images close to their wine wherever it's stored, almost as if to keep that spirit close by.

Virginia and Josh lead the wine talk. I took interest in the conversation. And it evoked my appreciation for being with people on the same frequency of booze-speak. Here and there I absorbed bits of information that altered my understanding of some aspect of wine culture. I thought to myself, this group clearly has an admirable passion for the vine because who else would randomly get together just to carry on as we were. And we were carrying-on quite a bit.

Servers attended to the group, pouring a few ounces of wine while they explained the characteristics of the drink and pairing. The first tasting featured Vintage Ridge’s 2009 Maiden Voyage which was a nice play on the aforementioned Merry Maiden theme. The name also felt appropriate in light of this being my own "maiden voyage" to a vineyard. 

This white wine blend had a crisp and delightfully acidic fruit profile. I got a ripeness and soothing nose. I was already excited about where we were going with all of this.

I took a bite of a grilled onion and bacon crostini. The combination was good and I went for more. And I (a grown-ass man) had to be reminded to leave food for the other wines.

For the next tasting I sipped the 2008 Merlot. It was fruity in the flavor and peppery in the nose. I munched on another fresh crostini draped with a roll of prosciutto topped with a dab of strawberry whole fruit jam. The strawberry finish of the Merlot perfectly accompanied the jam. The pairing of pork with the Merlot also made for a tasty combination.

Our hosts returned with a 2007 Syrah. This wine seemed to be the most balanced of the experience with spicy and dark fruit notes. The flavors fit well with the spicy pecans in front of us. They brought a warm nuttiness, dark chocolaty-ness, even smokiness to the wine.

We ate little cuts of savory salami with spicy mustard. I sank my teeth into one of the dates fleeced in smooth, milky-white goat cheese and almost melted in my seat. And if the dates weren’t your thing, there was a side of manchego cheese slices with a spicy plum chutney to enjoy.

The next wine was another first for me. They served a 2007 Cabernet Franc. I got the taste of raspberries and plums. I paired this wine with that mustard-dipped salami and then finished off with that delicious manchego cheese. The manchego brought a delightful creaminess to it.

One half of Vintage Ridge’s husband-wife ownership, Bill Edmunds, strolled by and visited the table with a little curiosity and conversation. He seemed like a great guy and took pleasure talking to folks who seemed so loudly interested in the product of his hard work. I could see Josh's eyes and how much he wanted to follow Bill around like a one of their farm dogs. He just wanted to absorb as much as he could (Josh did eventually corner the poor guy before we left).

Bill wished us well and we turned our attention to the 2009 Summer Night. Light and easy, this wine had a noticeable pear profile to it. The date complimented the sweetness of the wine. I popped a few spicy pecans into my mouth altering the flavor a little further. By now, I was simply adding a new bite to taste a little different flavor with the vino.

When we finished, everyone at the table all agreed that we could go for more food and drink. So we bought a bottle of the 2008 Petit Verdot with another assortment platter of cheeses, chevre devils and finger foods. The carnival of savory and sweet began all over again.

I waded into this wine. It had a lot to work with on the tongue, was chewy and got a little more interesting with each sip as it opened up. Is Petit Verdot a perfect grape for Virginia's countryside? Vintage Ridge certainly believes so and doesn't let you down with their proof of concept. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

Throughout the day I thought of Harness Your Kim Chi's trip to Napa Valley in California. More importantly, I thought how much I'd like to experience Napa now that I was having a picturesque Virginia wine visit. And yet, with as much as I felt I learned, I became all too aware of how little I still really knew about the grape. But then again, isn't that the way a majority of people feel about it? 

We all seemed to be glad that the desire for a relaxed winery experience was realized. Looking to Kristin Murphy, who had suggested this particular winery, we expressed our graditude. Kristin was betting we’d love the encounter as much as she had and she was right. In addition, incidentally, to making great winery recommendations, Kristin also writes a blog called The Wrath of Demeter which focuses on climate change (go check it out).

We savored the final few ounces of the bottle between us, purchased a few extra bottles for the road, and debated about a run to Middleburg for a tasting-room crawl. Meanwhile, Josh had cornered poor Bill. 

In the end, myself and half of the group split up to experience Middleburg. But we were definitely going to miss Vintage Ridge. It was a proper launch pad for a summer focused on wine and helped expand my knowledge by, hopefully, at least one more notch.

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