Magic Moments 101

As a follow-up to the prior "theoretical" part, I want to give you four simple ideas for a food and wine tasting that demonstrate acidity in action. We are going for similarity (Tart + Tart = Pavlovian response), or opposition (as in “opposites attract” -- like buttery luxurious cheese and intense, vervy and highly acidic Champagne).

Besides being perfect tools for "wine ed", these yummy appetizers are great for entertaining. So if you are not a wine guy/gal, you can still enjoy the canapes!

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese

RamekinSimple but brilliant! The quickest "party trick" for this pairing involves stuffing golden pappadews straight out of the jar with fresh goat cheese.

PeppadewsYou also can use goat cheese in a tart or frittata, and I especially like using individual-size ramekins for an intimate get-together. All you need to do is mix together the cheese, green pepper, chives, a couple of eggs, a little cream, pop the ramekin in the oven, and you are done. Or try the pure, unadulterated chevre on a bed of greens with a simple vinaigrette dressing (if you can, make it with Meyer lemon juice and good quality olive oil). Try these little treats with a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France (a Sancerre or Quincy). Another crisp Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., from New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) will also work nicely.

Note: if you choose to play with a Sancerre AND a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc (there's a thought!), you will undoubtedly observe the stylistic differences between the two Worlds (subtle, lean and minerally vs. in-your-face and fruit-forward).

Champagne and popcorn/sea salt potato chips/triple cream brie

Don't worry if buying caviar is out of your reach; there are plenty of other fantastic and inexpensive ways to enjoy a sparkler. Pair French Champagne or another sparkler (Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, Alsatian Cremant d'Alsace, etc. ) with popcorn, sea salt potato chips, and a decadent triple-cream brie (such as Brillat-Saverin or Pierre Robert from Fromagerie Rouzaire, Rouge et Noir from Marin in California, or perhaps a Canadian Goat Triple Cream from Woolwich Dairy). Goat BrieYou can typically find those at a Whole Foods store; or better yet, look for them at a nice specialty cheese shop such as Cheesetique in Old Town Alexandria, or Arrowine in Arlington (I highly recommend either one).

Italian Barbera with oven roasted tomatoes

Vertical tartletSlice cherry tomatoes in half, and roast in the oven for 10 minutes (line a baking dish with foil, pre-heat the oven to 400F, season with olive oil, salt and pepper). They are perfect for making super fast canapes by piling the tomatoes into phyllo cups (I prefer Athens Mini Fillo Shells), with a little bit of good quality feta (French, Bulgarian,Greek, etc.), and popping them into a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, right before you are ready to serve.

The bright acidity in Barbera -- the quintessential red grape of northern Italy -- is just one of the things that I love about it. Its natural acidity, combined with its ripe red and berry fruit flavors, gives it a wonderful versatility, and makes it a great match for the bright, tangy flavors in our appetizer.

Pinot Noir with mushrooms

I love mushrooms as much as I love Pinot Noir-- it's an earthy match made in heaven!

Here is a great opportunity to put those phyllo cups to work once again. This time, we will fill them with mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of thyme and sour cream. I really like the deluxe "exotic" mushroom packs that you can buy at Whole Foods (crimini mushrooms, or baby bellas, would work just fine). Grate a bit of Pecorino sheep's milk cheese on top (I prefer "genuine" Sini Fulvi DOP Pecorino Romano, from Italy's Lazio region). It is salty, intense, and pleasantly briny, and just like phyllo cups, it's a staple in my kitchen. A couple of minutes in the toaster oven, and they are ready to be served. The pairing works, first of all, because of their shared earthiness, as it always translates directly into food and wine pairing affinity. On top of that, the acidity in the Pinot Noir cuts the richness of sour cream like a knife, and is complimented nicely by the saltiness in the Pecorino.

Buon appetito!


Hello! My Name Is Pinot Noir

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be a little bit less afraid of wine, this post is for you. You should also keep reading if you are stuck in a rut, afraid of leaving your cozy oenophilic comfort zone. Do you always find yourself asking for a glass of California Cab (or Zinfandel, or Pinot Grigio - insert your default choice here)? There is an amazing world out there waiting to be explored!

A big part of the fun is getting to know the grape personalities. Spicy, brooding, animalistic Syrah; juicy, fun Grenache; flowery, sensual Viognier… I am personally very fond of Pinot Noir, - the fickle, elegant grape with fantastic food affinity and beguiling aromatics, which comes to the pinnacle of its expression in Burgundy, France.

Old vinesJust like with learning a new language, there are some basics that you need to get out of the way first, such as the framework for explaining what you like or do not like about a certain wine. Even more importantly for foodies, you will need it to understand and describe the relationship between food and wine. Let’s take a look at a couple of those concepts.


Washington-20120116-00676I think of acidity as a flavor sparkplug. Ever thought about why you put lime and lemon juice on your food and even in your beer? It is the so-called “strategic” use of acidity: it makes food taste better, more focused. That is precisely why restauranteurs love crisp, clean, acidic wines. Acidity in wine helps to stimulate your appetite by setting your digestion into motion and it also helps to break down the fattiness in the food you eat (the same way we use the acidity in vinegar or citrus to marinate different foods). It creates a magic chain reaction of wanting a little more food, then a little more wine, then a little more food… you get the idea. It is useful to remember that higher acidity is typically found in wines that come from a cooler climate, as grapes do not get physiologically mature as quickly and do not get as ripe as in the warmer parts of the world.

New World vs. Old World

The term "New World" wine is used, quite literally, to describe wines from New World wine producing countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, etc. If we look at the statistics of what people are drinking in this country, we will see that sales of reds are dominated by bigger, fruit-forward wines that taste of sweet oak and ripe fruit. Whites include plush Chardonnays and other wines that tend to have a touch of sweetness to them. In general, the New World is dominated by international varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.).

Old-World wine-making has a different philosophy: it is about subtle, earthy, mineral flavors that make one focus more on the place where the wine was made, and less on the grape. Terroir is a word that gets thrown around a lot (and also happens to be the name of my favorite wine bar in NYC :-)); it is used to describe the unmistakable sense of “placeness”, unique soil composition, climate, etc. of the wine’s birthplace.

There are definitely proponents of both styles out there as demonstrated by global wine sales. Neither one is necessarily more valid than the other; it is a matter of individual taste. I personally have a preference for European wines for several reasons. First, because I like my wines “lean and mean” (as opposed to the “friendly”, easy-to-quaff wines of the New World). Second, because I find a great deal more values in the $12-20 price range among European wines (which is what I typically spend on a bottle of wine, and I always look for more flavor bang for my buck). And last but not least, because oaky, alcoholic, and fruity New World wines are on average less food-friendly and versatile; it is hard for them to stand up to the more zingy, complex flavors I enjoy so much. On the other hand, I find that earthy, highly acidic Old-World wines set me up for a high pleasure payoff with a wider variety of foods.


Depending on your personality, feel free to dive in and enjoy the wild ride, or build a solid wine foundation step by step:

  • You should consider taking a class at the Capital Wine School.Too few people know that they have the expertise of Master of Wine Jay Youmans right here in DC (Master Sommelier and Master of Wine are the two highest and most recognized certifications in the world. The "Wine Basics" and the "Essential Wine Tasting Skills" classes are perfect if you are looking for "the big picture" perspective. Jay's classes are fun, informal, and unpretentious.
  • Most quality restaurants understand that the dining experience is incomplete without wine, and work hard to create food & wine pairing “magic moments”. Part of that process is putting together an exciting but reasonably priced wine list and training the staff to be able to pass the excitement on to the consumer. Cork, Grapeseed, and Dino are just a few of my local favorites that boast nice by-the-glass programs (and offer other formats such as flights, 3oz pours, wine madness) that make it easy for anyone to try something new without taking out a second mortgage.
  • For “do-it-yourselfers”, I recommend two of my favorite wine books written by women who are incredibly passionate about wine and equally passionate about sharing their wine knowledge. “Wine Bible” by Karen McNeal is a collection of compelling stories about grapes, winemakers, and terroirs. “Great Tastes Made Simple” by Andrea Immer contains practical advice on how to get started with food & wine tastings at home. Both were extremely inspirational for me, as I was getting started in the wine world, and I had the privilege of meeting both of them in person at Saveur Magazine events. (Actually, one of the biggest inspirations was Andrea Immer’s son Lucas who asked his Mom for smoked duck for his 8th birthday :-)).

My last piece of advice to you: whatever mode of exploration you end up choosing, remember not to take wine too seriously. Cheers!

WineP.S. Be sure to check out Magic Moments 101 for some food & wine tasting ideas!

A Trip to St. Michaels: Local Beer and Wine on Maryland's Eastern Shore

BREWERYFRONT1 After a long and arduous summer of work and family obligations, Eliza and I found ourselves with an oh-so-rare free weekend recently. On an only moderately planned "whim" (which is as whimmy as we get these days), we took a trip to St. Michaels, a small resort community on Maryland's Eastern Shore, or, the Riviera of the Chesapeake! Or something! Located about an hour's drive down the shore from Annapolis, St. Michaels has all the trappings of your usual sleepy bay-side tourist town; antique shops, cafes, purveyors of $200 critter pants and... a winery and a microbrewery? Hells yes, they do.

BREWERYFRONT2 On Route 33, right at the beginning of town in the "Old Mill Complex" reside St. Michaels Winery and Eastern Shore Brewing. Though unaffiliated, the two work in tandem as the perfect one-stop-shop for the vacationing lover of local fermented treats. Sticking by the old axiom "Beer before Wine, your Feeling Fine; Wine before Beer, towards This you Shouldn't Steer," we visited the latter first.

BREWERYPADDLE1 It's no coincidence that these two establishments find themselves so close together; Adrian and Lori Moritz, avid homebrewers from upstate NY, founded the Eastern Shore Brewing right next door to the young winery in 2008, rightfully thinking it a perfect complement. Using their two sizable fermenters, Eastern Shore puts out about 450 gallons of beer every 10 days, according to The Star Democrat.

BREWERYBAR3 The tasting room is an unpretentious, sparsely furnished space featuring an eclectic selection of tables and seats, and, why not, a number of trophy animal heads. The wood and marble bar featured five brews on draught for sampling: The Lighthause Ale, Duck Duck Goose Porter, Magic Hefeweizen, St. Michaels Ale, and Knot-So Pale Ale IPA. $8.95 gets you a five ounce pour of each of the beers, which equates to a little over two full beers, which ain't too shabby.

BREWERYBEERS1 All in all, the beers tasted of pretty high quality, with a propensity towards cleaner, crisper, dryer flavors. The St. Michaels Ale (which, unbeknownst to me, I had sampled earlier at a local crab smashery) is a fantastic session beer with low alcohol (5.2%), and just a hint of hops. The Magic Hefe, though not my bushel of BREWERYBAR2 crabs, is a great example of the style, with just the right amount of banana and yeasty flavors. Far and away the best of the bunch was the Porter, which had a classic British porter texture, a hint of hops, a slight note of burnt coffee, and a pleasing, dry finish. This is just the perfect local brew to have in oyster country.

Unfortunately, licensing does not allow Eastern Shore to sell by the pint -- they do, however, sell all their beers by the six-pack, and will gladly let you pick and choose your sampler, even to include 5 pours of the same. Though production on this stuff is far too low to make it to this area, the barman told me they sell heavily up and down the shore and have recently made inroads across the bridge, so who knows what the future holds?

MICHAELSSIGN1 A quick stumble behind the brewery is St. Michaels Winery. Founded in 2005, the winery uses a combination of local and Cali grown grapes, which they vinify on premise into a staggering number of wines -- 19 in total were available the day we visited!

MIACHELSOUTSIDE1 The big, barn-like structure houses a small four-seater bar and a half dozen or so tables, situated in a quaint, high-ceilinged, nautically themed room. Though it took a bit longer than we would have liked to be seated, the staff was lovely, and the wait gave us plenty of time to plan our tastings. As I said before, St. Michaels has almost 20 wines available to try, ranging from well-known French varietals like Pinot Grigio and Syrah, to more obscure native varietals and hybrids like Niagra, Seyval and Concord. Unlike some wineries I have visited, they make it pretty simple for you, offering up everything for $1 a taste.

MICHAELSBAR2 My experience with Maryland wines, previously limited to a handful of fruit wines, was greatly expanded that day, and what I found was generally pleasant. The 2007 Chenin Blanc -- made from grapes from Lodi, California -- had some nice floral notes, and ample acidity. The Sangiovese, made from local grapes, was also amply acidic, with the high MICHAELSAWARDS1 cherry notes of a light Chianti. We brought home a bottle of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which had great balance, and pleasing, tropical fruit notes. I wish I had had a chance to try more of the native grape wines, but what we had were generally quite good. Prices were pretty high at $16 to $35 a bottle, but that is not unexpected of a small winery that, because of Maryland's draconian wine-shipping laws, must rely almost exclusively on on-site purchases.

MICHALESFERMENTERS1 An interesting side note on both locations is that they were MUCH more free and open with their production space that any other brewery or winery I have ever visited. Eastern Shore's brewing tanks are right there to see and touch, and the winery staff were more than happy for their patrons to wander about their facilities, completely unsupervised! Maybe its a function of looser health codes, but I like to believe it is indicative of the laid back, relaxed atmosphere of the place. The Eastern Shore is a beautiful place to spend a long weekend, particularly for that leisurely attitude. Though I don't think Eastern Shore Brewery and St. Michaels constitute in and of themselves enough to draw a visit, they certainly make for a fun stop while you're there.

Eastern Shore Brewing Company
605 S Talbot St
St Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-8010

St. Michaels Winery
605 South Talbot Street, #6
St. Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-0808



Recession Refreshment: Alandra Tinto e Branco

Whoa. Last week was a rough one for the ol' economy, huh? And things were looking so good for awhile there... Sorry your houses are worthless and your retirements' are shot and you don't have jobs, America. How about a cheap drink? Don't reach for the Night Train just yet; I got another pair of great ones for ya.

So I love Portuguese Wines. And fortunately for me, no one else does! For a country that has historically been in the top 10 by production and acreage under vine, Vinho Verde notwithstanding, Portugal is pretty poorly represented on American shelves. This is partly because of Port, of course; the vast amount of Portugal's exports consist of these big beautiful fortified wines. The Portuguese also consume an incredible amount of their own wine. When I was over there, it was pretty well impossible to find a bottle of wine that wasn't home grown. But really, the demand is just not there, which absolutely sucks for selection, but is a boon for pricing.

AlandraWHITE The large Portuguese wine firm Esperao produces a fine range of wines, and I just recently came across their value brand, Alandra, at Potomac Wine and Spirits. Alandra is apparently named for a Moorish princess, with whom a Portguese governor was in love, and the flowers she gave him when they parted ways forever.... or something. It's quite confusing. Esporao's website is really poorly translated, and this ancient, convoluted love story (you can read the rest here) is pretty much all the information they are willing to give up about these wines.

I tried Googling "Alandra," and all I got was an online hen-party shop in Great Britian ("Racing Willies"?! Ack!). Lets just assume that both the red and the white are made with the usual array of unpronouncable native varietals, and take the back label's word that they are "made with love and with yearning, smooth and eternal like the nameless flower which blooms every year in memory of an eternal love."

The Alandra white pours a pale straw yellow with green accents. Lemon and lime notes dominate the nose, with a slightly grassy tinge, and a hint of something creamy. Lots of yellow fruit like apple, pear and pineapple on the front of this very lightly sweet, slightly effervescent wine, which has a surprisingly round and creamy texture. The finish is slightly woody and dry, with a nice acidic citrus zing.

AlandraRED The Alandra red has a beautiful deep, opaque garnet color. The nose is characteristically meaty and gamey, but also redolent of cinnamon and dried berries; very concentrated, and almost port-like. More concentrated berries on the palate with a bit of a musky note. The wine has a quite a bit of tannin considering its light frame, and plenty of tangy acid on the finish.

Both wines are unusually complex, particular given their respective prices, with the red running $5.99 a bottle, and the white an amazing $4.99! American's have grown accustomed to their cheap wines being fruity and sweet, but bland. If you want something a bit more interesting in your everyday drinker, check these iconoclasts out. I know they are carried by Potomac Wine and Spirits, but if you have a favorite local retailer, have them check out the importer Aidil Wines & Liquors, and see what they can do.

Three Fox Vineyard: Great Wines and Atmosphere in Delaplane

 Back in the early 2000Logos, Holli and John Todhunter were scoping out Delaplane, Virginia in hopes of opening their own winery. After several trips to Italy and southern France, they'd developed a love of the wines and the lifestyles they'd seen, and wanted to bring some of that to Northern Virginia. While visiting one particular plot of land just off Rt. 66, Holli spotted three foxes bounding over the verdant hills. That sealed the deal and settled the name; Three Fox Vineyards was born.

3FoxOutside1 Cute story, huh? It's fitting, as Three Fox is a really cute winery. Just a mile off of 66 at exit 23, the winery's barn-like tasting room is set amongst rolling hills, littered with well-manicured shrubs, umbrella-shaded tables and statuary. About 10 acres of land are under vine on the fifty acre estate, where they grow local favorites Viognier and Cabernet Franc, along with three native Italian varietals, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Most of the winery's small production comes from these vines, which they supplement with a little bit of Chardonnay, Vidal and Chambourcin from other local growers.

3FoxInside Inside, the tasting room is a small, comfortable, two-room affair, decked out in the usual array of winery knickknacks, with an unsurprising vulpine bent. Being nice and early, we had the place nearly to ourselves, so we had the unusual luxury of a private, leisurely tasting.

3FoxFoxes Three Fox offers a diverse, very reasonably prices selection of tasting options. At the time of our visit, 11 wines were up for sampling, for the meager price of $6.00, with the option of keeping it all red or white for only $3.00. On top of that, Three Fox also featured a "Guest Wine," the always fabulous Thibaut - Janisson Sparkling Chardonnay from down Monticello way, for $2.00.

3FoxTastingBar Across the board, the wines we sampled that morning were quite good, particularly the estate grown selections. The La Boheme Viognier 2009 ($25 / bottle) was dry and light for the type, with nice light peach fruit, and a mild minerality. The Calabrese Pinot Grigio 2009 ($23) was revelatory, showing good fruit and a nutty finish, and an unexpected depth for a grape that doesn't usually perform so well in Virginia. The range of dry, Sangiovese based reds ran the gamut from light and cherry accented to rich and gamey, displaying the full range of another rare grape in the Commonwealth. Most impressive of all was the 2008 Piedmontese Nebbiolo ($29). This noble Italian varietal does not often perform well off it's native soil, but Three Fox did a fantastic job, creating a well structured, spicy wine with lots of dark cherry, earth and tar.

3FoxPotty Along with the great wines, we had a wonderful time talking to the attendant, who was very sweet and quite knowledgeable. It also must be noted that, though there are no indoor facilities available to the public, Three Fox has the cleanest and most lavishly decorated port-a-johns I have ever seen, which you may note at left.

The winery offers a selection of meats and cheeses for picnicking on the grounds, and all the wines are available by the glass -- we weren't able to hang out on this trip, but given the quality of the wines, I would gladly stop back for a glass or two in the future. The Todhunters are planning to plant another three acres in the coming years, and up production to 5000 cases annually. As of now, the wines are only available at a handful of locations, and through their online store, but hopefully that will soon change.

Three Fox Vineyards
10100 Three Fox Lane
Delaplane, Virginia 20144


Tasting Room Hours
Thurs, Fri, Sat and Mon: 11am - 5pm
Sun: Noon-5:00pm

Potomac Point Winery of Stafford, VA

POTOMACOUTSIDE1 As I am sure you are all aware, I-95 is a horrid, horrid bitch of a road. Traveling back up from visiting my brother in Richmond last Sunday (welcome to Virginia, James and Christine!), we'd hit a couple nasty backups, but it was pretty much smooth sailing until Exit 148, when we saw a nasty bit of business looming. On a whim, I took a hard right off the highway in pursuit of Potomac Point Winery, whose sign I'd seen a couple clicks back, rightfully thinking that a couple glasses of wine beat the hell out of sitting in traffic for a half hour.

POTOMACBAR Beyond the one on the highway, signage is a bit sparse on the six-mile journey to the three year-old winery, and we promptly lost ourselves on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; if you plan to visit, make sure you actually, like, know the address. After a bit of GPSing, we arrived at the tasting room, a large, pretty, white stone and brick structure set high on a hill, amongst some small vineyards and well manicured shrubberies. The inside is open and comfortable, with very high ceilings, the usual array of knick-knacks adorning the walls and alcoves, and a large, island-style, marble-topped tasting bar in the center. Amenities include an olive oil tasting bar, courtesy of Stella Cadente, a dim, dark wood accented lounge, a patio bistro, and even a children's playroom (a brilliant idea, left un-photographed cuz I'm too pretty for jail). Overall, very pleasant in that slightly cheesy, faux-continental sort of way that tasting rooms have.

  Potomac Point offerPOTOMACOILs three tasting options, ranging from $5 to $10 per person, each including a souvenir glass and free access to the bread and infused oil's at the olive oil bar; not too shabby! At the host's suggestion, we opted for the whole shebang, and made our way to the bar.

After the fact, I read a few reviews online that gave PP less than stellar points in the service department, which I can totally corroborate. For all the six or seven employees wandering around the place, there was only one attending to the 10 or so customers at the bar. Several staffers were screwing around just next to us, and the two women at the cashier's stand were comPOTOMACPAINTINGpletely unoccupied, while the poor girl serving us and all the other tasters did double-duty, also being the service bartender for the bistro. She eventually got a little relief, but in any case it took us nearly an hour to taste through, and we got little attention or info. Bad show, there.

  The wines were... dry. "Dryness" in a wine is a reflection of it's residual sugar; that is, the amount of sugar that is not convertePOTOMACVINEYARDd into alcohol by the yeast during fermentation. The actual experience of dryness is relative; a heavy Chardonnay could have a good amount of sugar in it, but have enough in the alcohol, acid, and flavor department to still taste "dry." Potomac Point lists the residual sugar content of each of it's wines on the tasting sheet -- most are categorized simply as "Dry." This is a bit of an understatement: the "Dry" wines seemed to have no  residual sugar whatsoever, which worked to their detriment.

POTOMACPORCH1The La Belle Vie Rose 2009 ($18.99), made from Syrah (a rather rare find in VA), was lightly fruity and drinkable, and the Reserve Chardonnay 2008 ($21.99) was a good bet if you like 'em oaky. The rest of the whites were harsh and bland -- the 2008 Chardonnay ($16.99) overly lemony, the Virginia favorite Viognier 2008 ($21.99) was downright sour, and the usually light and flowery Traminette 2008 ($18.99) was flat and oily. 

As for thPOTOMACPORCH2e reds, the "Chianti-style" 2009 Abbinato ($16.99) was pleasant and far more balanced than most of the offerings, and the 2007 Heritage ($26.99) Bordeaux blend had pretty good fruit and acid, but the 2008 Merlot, Cab Franc, and Norton each left a lot to be desired. The winery offered a couple sweet wines that hit the spot, but most of the others were very disappointing. All of the really poor performers were from the 2008 vintage, so I'll give PP the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a rough year for growers, and they purchased some real under-ripe grapes -- I certainly can't imagine them surviving these past three years if that level of quality as the standard.

POTOMACGLASS Afterward, we retired to the patio for the obligatory glass of pink wine. The bistro was serving, and the food looked pretty good, but we'd filled up on bread and olive oil, and took a pass. Looking out over the grounds through the patio's wrought iron fencing was lovely, and the rose made a nice compliment to the late afternoon sun. Being a unique, convenient rest stop off of Satan's own highway, I could definitely see myself visiting Potomac Point again -- but with Pearmund, La Grange and Paradise Springs closer in to the west, I am pretty sure I wouldn't make it a destination.

Potomac Point Winery
275 Decatur Road
Stafford, VA‎ 22554
(540) 446-2266‎
Directions and Hours

Paradise Springs: Fairfax County has a Winery!

  ParadiseOutside2 Last weekend I took a trip out Route 50 with a buddy of mine to visit Chrysalis Vineyards, one of my all time favorites, out in Middleburg, VA. The wines were good, as always... but that's not the story. While sipping a glass of rose out on the patio, I flipped through the new 2010 Virginia Winery Guide, and saw a new little dot in the Northern Virginia Region marked Paradise Springs. "Holy Crap," I exclaimed, "Fairfax has a winery!" Seeing as how we were wild and crazy guys out on a manly adventure, we promptly downed our sweet pink wine and hit the road.

Paradise Springs is on the outskirts of the tiny village of Clifton, just northeast of Manassas. Clifton itself is such an odd little place; driving through toParadiseoutside1wn on Route 645 is like passing through an upscale Mayberry, with its general store and wooden churches, interspersed with Victorian manors and high end eateries, like Trummer's On Main. We headed through town and south, past newer mansions that would give those by Great Falls a run for their money, and down a winding one lane road to a sizable log cabin that was our destination.

  As we would ParadiseBack1soon learn, the cabin is an early 19th century construction built on a property that has been in the owners' family since the early 1700's. In 1955 the cabin was refurbished by a protege of famed architect Frank Llyod Wright for use as a summer home. Jane Kincheloe and her son Kirk Wiles inherited the property some years ago, and in 2007 followed through on a long discussed family plan to turn the 36 acre estate into a farm winery. Though the wines are all presently made offsite, Paradise Valley just broke ground on their own winemaking facilities this past Saturday, which they hope to have up and running by year's end.

ParadiseInside2 The property itself is very pretty. Picnic tables litter a rustically manicured, hilly yard, bordered by forest on all sides. When we arrived, a band was finishing their set under a  white awning set just below a field of young grapevines. Inside, several people mingled in the comfortable, warm wood-accented and richly appointed kitchen area that serves as the winery's gift shop. The tasting room is in the basement; a super-cool, very low-ceilinged space evocative of the cellar of a French chateau. 

PV offers up a selection of eight wines -- four reds, three whites and a rose -- for the reasonable tasting fee of $7.00. Since their own vines are so young at this point, wines are made from grapes purchased ParadiseInside from a wide variety of locations around Virginia, and made by a team of consultant winemakers, including Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars and The Winery at LaGrange. The wines are not cheap, ranging from $21 to $32 per bottle, but they are nearly all excellent. Though the Nana's Rose ($23) was a little sulpheric and kinda grapey, and the Vidal Blanc ($23) kinda bland, the rest were solid. Most displayed characteristics I've learned to be typical of Pearmund's wines; dry, balanced, and light on fruit and oak. The 2008 Viognier ($27) was classic Virginia, with a full body, mild oak influence, good acid, and soft pear and apricot fruit. The 2008 Cabernet Franc ($22) is aged in locally sourced oak, is a light and soft example of the type, with mild plum fruit, and just a bit of tannin on the finish. The 2008 Norton ($29) was hands down the finest of the lot. Though the most noble of American varietals, Norton still often comes off gamey or foxy; not so PV's, which has great balance, rich dark berry and earth flavors, and a lengthy finish, implying years of potential aging in bottle.

ParadiseBottle All the wines are available by the glass ($6-$8), and I am told there is light fair to be had, though I regret to say I didn't find it in my short stay. Almost worth the price of tasting is the rather large, high quality sampling glass that comes free with the sampling fee.

It was nice to discover that Fairfax's first winery seems to be a winner. The wines are really great, but of such low production that I doubt you'll see them much outside the tasting room, and the aforementioned Trummer's On Main. I look forward to seeing what they do when they get their vines start producing and the winery up and running.

Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road
Clifton Virginia 20124
Tasting Room Hours:
Apr-Dec -- Wed through Sun, 11am - 7pm
Jan-Mar -- Sat & Sun, 11am - 6pm

Recession Refreshment: Jo Pithon 'Les Pepinieres' 2005

Schneiders Schneider's of Capitol Hill is a great shop, and they do a fabulous job in all departments. What endears them most to my heart is their fantastic selection of closeouts. Schneider's provides a great service to the wine drinking public by investing thousands of dollars in good but unpopular wines that distributors are keen to unload, and then selling them for a song. Not that they are saints or anything -- I am sure they make a healthy profit, but hey, I usually end up happy in the end. I'm afraid that my latest find, the Jo Pithon Les Pepinieres '05, though tasty, is a little bittersweet.

Jo Pithon, owner of the eponymous estate, is a really nice guy. I met him several times over the years at the wine shop, when he was visiting town for trade shows. Jo is a big, open, genial man, and he sports a pair of the most kick-ass mutton chops you've ever seen. Most importantly, he was willing to field questions from a 23 year old kid without rolling his eyes, which is not something that can be said of all producers. Jo made many great wines at his estate in Anjou out of the native Chenin Blanc, but they were always a bit pricey. Imagine my surprise last week when I saw the previously mentioned Pepinieres, normally a $25 wine, stamped at a mere $9.99. When I asked the staff about this, I learned the sad news that Pithon had lost his investors, and that the brand is no more. Being shocked and saddened by the news, I picked up several bottles to assuage my grief.

Pithon1 The Pepinieres is a little on the old side (as is often the case with these sorts of closeouts), but that works towards it's advantage. The wine pours a pretty, clear, goldenrod yellow. The nose is has a pleasant nutty quality, along with melon and pear, and a rich, old whisky quality. The attack is surprisingly steely for a five year old wine, carrying with it flavors of raisins, butter, stones, and honey. A full, straw and lemon flavored middle leads to a dry, lemony, and slightly acetic finish. The combination of high acidity and rich, old-wine flavors make this wine very versatile. Try it with cold pasta, fried fish, or as an accompaniment to cheese and charcuterie.

Again, this wine used to sell for about $25, and despite the extra age, is still quite the bargain at $9.99. Schneider's had about 40 cases left as of last Friday, so don't expect it to last long. As is the case with any older white wine, you have to expect a few off bottles; though, I am happy to say all three that I purchased were quite satisfactory.

I am sorry to have heard that Jo Pithon has fallen on hard times, and sincerely hope he soon gets himself back in the game. In the meantime, at least I have a good white wine with which to welcome the warmer weather.

The House of Independent Producers: Viva la ScoREVOLuTion!

INDMER1 Confession: I sometimes buy wines because I like the label. Not 'label' in the sense of the producer, but the actual paper on the front of the bottle. I know, I should know better, but some are so very, very shiny! Usually the actual wine is just kinda 'meh,' and sometimes I end up with a (well deserved) polished turd. Every once in awhile, though, the method yields a winner.

Wandering around Wagshal's the other day, this guy pictured at left jumped out from amongst the domestic Merlots. Look at that label! Its like a gothic parody of an old school Bordeaux bottle, complete with blood vomiting roosters, for chrissakes -- If Tim Burton designed a wine label, this is what it would look like. While nowhere on the label does it actually say who makes it, the back sports a compelling mission statement:

To capture terrior in its most raw form and to preserve the integrity of the wine world by rebelling against the 100 point rating system. A wine of sustainable and environmentally friendly farming. No advertising.

Below this, in bold black and red, a call to arms:Scoreve
This is just my kind of iconoclasm. I absolutely loath the 100 point system, and whoever this producer was, I could tell he felt similarly. Sold! I picked up the 2007 Merlot, and its sister 2007 Chardonnay, for $12.99 and $13.99, respectively.

INDCHARD It took a surprising amount of research to figure out who actually makes this stuff. Independent Producers appears to be the pet project of Christophe Hedges, Sales & Marketing head of Washington State's biggest winemaker, Hedges Family Estate. About five years ago, HFE stopped sending their wines to the big magazines for review, rightfully asserting (in this writer's opinion) that the assignment of numbers to wine is both absurd and detrimental. Christophe, a self described 'hipster,' and former score junkie, is very vocal on the subject on the Netterwebs: check out his delightfully bizarre Xtranormal video on the subject here (careful, it is frakkin' NSFW). This brand is the culmination of his philosophy, and is unabashed in its message.

In addition to the heretical appeal, these wines are also pretty drinkable, both displaying those cold-climate characteristics that make Washington State wines so appealing. The Merlot is mouth filling and round, with lots of chocolate and raspberries on the nose, and a dark and dirty, dry, smooth-tannined finish. The Chardonnay is nice and steely, with subtle notes of pineapple and pear; though a little low in acid for my taste, it made a fine compliment to my dinner salad with balsamic and oil. Anyhow, I give them both a solid 92...

Just kidding.

I am pretty sure these wines are new to the area, so it might be some time before they are commonly available. As I said, I got mine from Wagshal's, and I will update here as I spot them around town. If you have a good relationship with your retailer, tell him to contact Roanoke Valley Wine Company, who I believe represents the brand throughout the region. And if you try them and like them, tell a friend, as the ScoREVOLuTION will not be advertised.

Recession Refreshment: Capestrano Montepulciano; and, Mark your Calendar for 'Fresh'

Capestrano I've touted the qualities of Montepulciano in the past. Whether your looking for a weeknight quaffer or an elegant accompaniment to a special meal, for foolproof, food-friendly, good value red wine, nothing beats it. Though it comes in a range of styles from brooding to fruity, Montepulciano is almost always approachable, and in my experience, universally good. Seriously, I have tried hundreds of these wines over the years, and excepting corked and cooked bottles, I can't think of a single one I didn't enjoy! If you are like me and like your wines funky, undervalued and high in acid, pick a bottle at random, and I doubt you'll be disappointed. 'Course, that doesn't mean that some aren't better than others, and I want to share a real beauty I picked up last week: the Capestrano Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007.

The wine pours a pretty dark ruby with purplish overtones. The nose is complicated and musky, with lavish notes of cinnamon, mint, cedar, and gamy meat. Lots of black cherry and sour raspberry fruit dominate the front palate of this dry, medium bodied, high-acid red. Dark chocolate and more tangy red fruit appear in the middle, along with the spicy flavors of green pepper and orange rind. More raspberry on the finish, along with the flavors of apple skins and a bit of bitter tea leaves. This is an ideal wine for grilled meats, particularly lamb, and would also match well with all sorts of red sauces. Thanks to its ample acidity, the Capestrano would also work surprisingly well with your heavier fishes, such as salmon or tuna. I picked this one up at Dixie Liquor for a mere $10.99, and have also seen it at Watergate Wine and Spirits. Though not everywhere yet, this one is distributed locally by Country Vintner — one of the bigger guys in town — so it should be easy enough for your favorite retailer to order. If you are looking for a nice drinker to get you through the winter, but also keeping an eye towards grilling season, get yourself a case of this versatile winner.

Fresh Bit of a gearshift here, but I recently found out about a potentially interesting event to you locavores out there. National Geographic has been running a series of lectures, concerts and films called National Geographic Live. Amongst their features on polygamists, primates, pirates, and more, NG will also be airing Fresh, on March 17th. A celebration of those trying to re-invent our food industry, Fresh may be taken as a positive counterpoint to last year's Food Inc, focusing on a practical vision of a sustainable future. Stick around after the 72 minute feature for a discussion with filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes, Ann Yonkers of FRESHFARM Markets, and local food celeb Joel Salatin.