Virginia wine country revisited: Where to sip this fall

To use a wine term, a year can dramatically alter the terroir in Virginia wine country. This year, the landscape boasts not just cabernet franc, but also a new brewery and formal tasting at the historic home of a late Supreme Court chief justice. Longtime wineries have expanded their tasting rooms and newer ones are offering pairings beyond the standard baguette and cheese.

Fall is a prime time to visit, as a wash of oranges, yellows and reds sweeps over the landscape and grape-harvest season gets underway. Vineyards will be bustling with activity, and the weather will allow for long picnics and games of Frisbee in the rolling hills.

Consider this your wine-country compass, pointing the way to new features as well as established wineries.

Stops to make along the way | Photos: A spin through Virginia's wine country

 
 
1

Corcoran Brewing Company

14635 Corky's Farm Lane, Waterford, VA 20197  | 540-882-9073  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: This new, laid-back brewery provides an inspired palate cleanser near wine-soaked Purcellville.

Until recently, Jim Corcoran's wife, Lori, was the one with the offbeat hobby, aging cabernet franc, viognier and limoncello-infused petit manseng on their sunny estate just outside Purcellville. But in 2010, Jim planted hops next to Lori's grapevines and indulged a passion of his own: beer. Corcoran Brewing Co. opened last year in a rust-colored barn around the bend from the Corcoran Vineyards tasting room, and for now, it is one of Virginia wine country's best-kept secrets.

A Saturday visit means you might meet Corcoran's friendly, mustachioed brewer, Kevin Bills. On Sundays, you might find assistant brewer Brian Spak behind the bar chatting up guests about the offerings, including the LoCo, an English-style I.P.A., or the somewhat-sweet Round Hill Root Beer, brewed with wintergreen, vanilla, honey and sarsaparilla. (A favorite, the Padawan Pumpkin, will be available in October.)

The brewery isn't yet using the more than a dozen hop varieties grown on-site, and production isn't high enough for wide distribution, so you must visit to taste Corcoran's beers (though restaurants including Fire Works Pizza in Leesburg and Magnolias at the Mill in Purcellville will soon carry them). In July, the tasting room began serving pints, providing all the more reason to camp out on the patio and sup on superlative brisket sandwiches or pastrami on rye ($8-$10) served by the on-site barbecue stand, Monk's BBQ. Owner Brian "Monk" Jenkins works the wines and beers into his bevy of rich barbecue sauces (the blackberry whiskey is to die for) and supplements the smoky meats with a handful of tempting sides, including smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese, hush puppy-style fried pickles and slaw.

Tasting, $7; pints, $5-$6.

2

North Gate Vineyard

16031 Hillsboro Rd., Purcellville, VA 20132  | 540-668-6248  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: A pristine tasting room offers a break from the swirl-sniff-sip routine with chocolate truffle pairings.

Every winery has its charms. This sparkling tasting room is not only vast and bright, thanks to large windows overlooking the vines, but is also also green. Mark and Vicki Fedor were the winemakers for nearby Corcoran, but after 2007 turned their attention to making small batches of their own wines (try the petit verdot, the winery's estate-grown, award-winning offering). In 2011, the Fedors opened North Gate on a quiet plot where they had been nurturing vines. The tasting room was built to green specifications, with a bartop made of recycled wine bottles and electricity generated in-house.

What makes a tasting here stand out? For a $5, you can add three artful truffles from Frederick's the Perfect Truffle to your wine tasting. Each confection has been picked by Vicki Fedor and the chocolatier to match the wines. Recently, the pairings included such sweet finds as a speckled white-chocolate ganache truffle heady with vanilla bean (paired with the winery's 2011 viognier), and a tart, cherry-puree-filled dark chocolate (matched with a 2009 Meritage).

Tasting, $5; with chocolate pairing, $10.

3

Doukenie Winery

14727 Mountain Rd., Purcellville, VA 20132  | 540-668-6464  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: Savvy wine pourers and picnic tables amid the vines make this a winery where you'll want to grab a glass and linger.

You likely won't encounter a bored wine pourer at Doukenie; every staffer has a wine buff's enthusiasm (their name tags all read "wine educator"). So go ahead, ask about the extensive mix of wines produced here, 90 percent of which are made with grapes grown on the estate. The red wines shine. Like many Virginia wineries, Doukenie has had success with dry cabernet franc, though the "Zeus" blend of merlot, tannat and petit verdot is a stunner, too.

If you've already visited Doukenie, it might be time to return: In 2011, the winery nearly doubled the size of its tasting room and added a pretty patio, setting the stage for events such as the bistro nights, when the winery has music and, occasionally, a pizza maker, and guests can buy wines by the glass. (The bistro events take place each Friday through the end of September). Outside, the picturesque patio with a view of a small pond and the picnic tables scattered among the vines are sure to be popular spots as the colors turn.

Tasting, $8.

4

The Boxwood Winery

2042 Burrland Lane, Middleburg, VA 20117  | 540-687-8778  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: For serious sippers, this locale offers a chance to experience a unique tasting at a long-closed estate.

This summer, just a few winding roads from Middleburg's quaint main drag, the familial estate and vineyard of John Kent Cooke (son of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke) quietly opened its gates for the first time.

Sipping Boxwood wines used to be a strictly off-site affair (the winery owns the popular chainlet the Tasting Room, with locations in Reston, Chevy Chase and National Harbor). But in June, Boxwood began allowing drop-in visitors on weekends. Unlike most busy wineries, there's an undiscovered quality to Boxwood, where the stone-and-steel tasting room remains sanctuarylike. Though a tasting offers just five wines (loaded, notably, with dry, smoky reds and one popular rose), stick around to take in the jaw-dropping architecture, which brings to mind an ultramodern interpretation of a barn. Circular motifs extend from the tasting counter to the wine cave, where the barrels seem to float in the darkness in a ring formation. Neither the production facility nor the cave is open to the public, but it's still fun to peek in through the glass wall.

Tasting, $10.

5

Barrel Oak Winery

3623 Grove Lane, Delaplane , VA 20144  | 540-364-6402  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: Kids and dogs are welcome here, making this one of the more hectic tasting rooms. For those looking for something more intimate, head next door for a new wine-pairing event that's for adults only.

On a Saturday, the tasting room at Barrel Oak can feel like a zoo, and not by accident. The dog-friendly winery is one of the few to welcome pups into its airy tasting barn, and guests take full advantage. Recently, one could find the tasting room teeming with cocker spaniels, poodles, a hulking Burmese mountain dog, a dachshund and a mutt in a baby carriage. And speaking of baby carriages, in 2012, the four-year-old winery was named the nation's most kid-friendly winery by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.(The tasting room has a candy jar, and out back, kids can play with a box of toys and a sandpit.)

But the attendants at Barrel Oak never seem to lose their cool, thoughtfully explaining the wines and steering guests toward the more sophisticated offerings. Tasters have three options: a flight of the five sweet "BOW" wines, including a strawberry-scented rose and the Chocolate Lab, a fruity Chambourcin infused with cocoa nibs; the five sophisticated "WOW" wines, which include a sunny reserve viognier and cabernet sauvignon; or both.

Barrel Oak also has added an exclusive-feeling event to its roster, aimed at oenophiles looking for something grander than a typical tasting. In July, the winery began hosting formal seated tastings with food pairings at the adjacent Oak Hill Estate, a historic home that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, belonged to Chief Justice John Marshall and his family. It marks the first time that the home has opened to the public. Reservations are required for the weekend tastings, and guests can choose their own price range ($25 to $75 a person, through Oct. 28; www.experienceoakhill.com). The tastings include hearty pours of wines from Barrel Oak and wineries from across the globe; each flight kicks off with sparkling wine and ends with a sip of Madeira, a favorite of Marshall's.

Tasting, $6 for the BOW or WOW; $10 for both. Guests may also taste any three wines for free.

6

Linden Vineyards

3708 Harrels Corner Rd., Linden, VA 22642  | 540-364-1997  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: A quiet temple of winemaking, this winery is ideal for those serious about learning.

The boom in Virginia wine tourism the past five years hasn't changed Linden Vineyards much. The winery, firmly planted at the edge of Hardscrabble Mountain since the 1980s, has never been keen on festivals, picnickers or anyone but serious wine fans. But for those curious about what Virginia wines can be, Linden - one of the state's most esteemed wineries - is a worthy stop. Highlights include the beautiful deck, which is open to the public only on weekdays (it's so lovely, it's worth playing hooky from work). If you visit on a weekend, go for the hourly reserve-cellar tastings, which provide a glimpse of a variety of the vineyard's vintages. It makes for a fun comparison, considering how weather and other factors can change, say, a rose or a seyval, from year to year.

Tasting, $5; reserve tasting (offered on weekends on the hour between noon and 4 p.m.), $15.

7

Desert Rose Ranch and Winery

13726 Hume Rd., Hume, VA 22642  | 540-635-3200  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: Quirky wines match a quirky back story. Desert Rose is the latest pursuit of a worldly government worker turned well-regarded horse trainer.

Many wineries reflect the passions and pasts of their owners in the names of wines or trinkets on the wall. For the story of Desert Rose owner Bob Claymier, just look at the bar, where every imaginable foreign currency is embedded, mementos from the far-flung places his career with the CIA took him. After retiring, Claymier had settled into life as a rancher, but in 2011, the horse trainer and his wife, Linda, added "winemakers" to their resumes.

A sense of humor finds its way into their wines, which include "R.E.D.," a Chambourcin named for the 2010 movie about former black-ops in their golden years, and "Ole Moo Moo," an off-dry white blend of viognier and vidal blanc that takes its name from the ranch's sole cow. With a pond and log-cabin feel, the estate alone makes Desert Rose worth a visit, but the chatty attendants also are great resources on the wines.

There is one snag to getting to Desert Rose. Ignore your GPS to avoid driving several miles on frustratingly bumpy gravel roads. As you leave Linden Vineyards, return to John Marshall Highway and travel east to Leeds Manor Road. This will lead you to the rural ranch far faster.

Tasting, $5; reserve tasting, $7.

8

Naked Mountain Vineyard

2747 Leeds Manor Road, Markham, VA 22643  | 540-364-1609  |  Web site »

Tasting notes: Twenty-something owners have upped the fun factor since buying this 30-plus-year-old vineyard.

Never mind the funny name; this winery reflects the newcomers' impact on Virginia wines. In 2010, Randy and Meagan Morgan, who are in their late 20s, visited Naked Mountain, a Fauquier winery whose wines were served in the White House under presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. The couple were smitten, and when they learned the winery was for sale, they snapped it up. Since then, they have slowly remade the three-decade-old winery in their own vision, enlisting a new winemaker and adding a greater diversity of wines.

It's all about appealing to a broader range of wine drinker, particularly young oenophiles not unlike themselves, says Randy Morgan, explaining why Naked Mountain has added a Beaujolais-style, light-bodied red and a few dry reds. The older vintages are still available for those who want to take home some of those award-winning offerings. And to get a better sense of the current winemaking style and the older vintages, try a reserve tasting.

Tasting, $5; reserve tasting, $10.

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