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. On the subject of baby carriages, in 2012, the four-year-old winery was also named the nation's most kid-friendly winery by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. (The tasting room has a jar of candies, and out back, kids will find a box of toys and a sandpit to play in.)
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 drier "WOW" wines, which include
a sunny reserve viognier and cabernet sauvignon; or both. (There is one more option, wherein guests can choose up to three wines to taste for free.)
Barrel Oak also has added an exclusive-feeling event to its roster, aimed at oenophiles looking for something grander than the usual tasting. Last month, the winery began hosting formal seated tastings and food pairings at the adjacent Oak Hill Estate, a historic home that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, belonged to Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall (it's the first time the home has been 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, 2012). The tastings not only include wines from Barrel Oak and from wineries across the globe, but also heartier pours, with each flight kicking off with sparkling wine and ending with a sip of the Portuguese wine madeira.
-- Lavanya Ramanathan (Aug. 17, 2012)