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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Rambling Around the Blue Ridge

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we visit three Virginia wineries nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Visiting a winery is one of those great simple pleasures that puts you back in contact with the facts that wine is an agricultural product and that real people work hard to tend vines, harvest grapes, bottle and market a product. Returning to North Carolina from Upstate New York over the weekend, we jumped off I-81 for a couple of hours to visit three Virgina wineries located among the Blue Ridge Mountains not far from Route 151. The setting was spectacular as were a number of the wines.

The Virginia wineries we visited all offered free pours of multiple wines. You could also purchase a bottle or a glass of your favorite and enjoy the wine right on site with a million dollar view of the surrounding vistas.

Our first stop was Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton. Veritas offered pours of some classic varietals. We found the Veritas 2004 Merlot to be soft and fruity, with a subtle hint of smoke that made the wine very attractive. The 2004 Claret was an attractive blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc had a crisp apple citrus tone, while the 2005 Harlequin Chardonnay Reserve was a pale golden color with nice pear and apple tones. The Chardonnay was produced from 100 percent Virginia grapes and aged in both French and American oak barrels. The hit of our visit to Veritas was the 2005 Kenmar, a wine perfect for after a meal. There were nice honey and rose elements to the wine, which sells for $50 for a 375 milliliter.

Our next stop was a few miles uphill at Afton Mountain Vineyards. Because we faced a bit of a time crunch and wanted to try to squeeze in one more vineyard, we stuck to the whites at Afton Mountain. The 2004 Tete de Cuvee Brut Sparkling Wine had a nice dry bite with a sharp fruit tone. The Afton 2005 Estate Bottled Chardonnay was aged on French oak and had very nice character. The Alsace-style 2006 Gewurztraminer has just 0.03 percent residual sugar and shows plenty of spice and fruit. Afton's 2006 Kilaurwen Vineyards Riesling was crisp and fruity, with 2.5 percent residual sugar. On the sweet end of the scale, but still very drinkable, was Afton Mountain White, a blend of vidal blanc, chardonnay and riesling grapes that comes in at 4.5 percent residual sugar.

We changed things up for our final stop, hitting Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery in Nellysford. Hill Top is run by the Allen family and produces "True to the Fruit" wines and mead. No grapes are used at Hill Top. During our tasting we tried Virginia Plum Wine, Mountain Apple Wine, Cranberry Table Wine, Little Heeler Blueberry Dessert Wine, Sweet Cherry and two versions of Rock River Cyser, a dry and semi dry. We also got to sample a refreshing Sangria made using the Plum wine as the base, with obvious notes of strawberries and other ingredients in a secret family recipe. These are fun wines that are great for the deck at the end of a hot day or to switch things up on your friends during a meal. We found the Sweet Cherry, made from two different types of Virginia cherries, and the Little Heeler to be our favorites of the visit.

Our quick visit to the area south of Charlottesville convinced us that we need to explore more of Virginia's wineries. It is certainly an up and coming area that will be an important part of the American wine scene in the coming years.

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