Do a wine tasting with this guide to Virginia wines

Virginia and wine have a long history, dating back to the pre-Nation days of Thomas Jefferson and others. Only recently, however, has the Commonwealth once again become famous for wine, beginning to attract tourists in much the same way as Sonoma and the Texas Hill Country.

No, Virginia doesn’t boast sheer numbers of wineries like states like Washington and California do, but it’s home to a rapidly growing scene. And with 8 AVAs and over 250 wineries, the scene is both respectable and varied. In short, Virginia should be a state you now associate with quality wine, whether it’s a Bordeaux-style red blend or a compelling white like Petit Manseng.

One of the best reasons to experience Virginia wine right now is that it’s still figuring out what it is. The quality has been on the rise here for several years now, but since the winemakers still have a good grasp of the climate and soil types, many interesting experiments are underway. This results in a one-of-a-kind tasting experience for consumers. Better you can say you did it before the fame set in, which is almost surely on the way.

It’s a scenic atmosphere, with varied terrain and welcoming labels eager to show off and show you what they’ve been up to. America’s oldest grape variety, Norton, was born here and turns out to be more than just a breakfast juice grape. There are great versions of old vintages like Chardonnay and Merlot as well as distinctive versions of lesser-known wines like Viognier or Petit Verdot. As the trade group, Virginia Wine puts it, the scene is located halfway between California and Europe and embodies that space – “like perfect spoken French with a slight southern streak.”

Here are the wineries and tasting rooms you should frequent in Virginia, play a few places to eat and stay if you decide to extend your visit. If you can’t get there in person, look for these names at your local bottle store or see if they can ship directly to your home country.

King Family Vineyards

King Family Vineyards.

Located in the Monticello AVA near Charlottesville (and Jefferson’s former haunt), King Family Vineyards was first planted in 1998. Since then, the label has become known for its lovely Cab Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and even some sparkling wines. Increasingly, the cellar is producing inventive nuggets in small cuvées, such as a recent skin-fermented Viognier with lots of structure. A number of tasting options are available, including a foray into the estate’s rows of vines and production facility.

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Michael Shaps Vineyard

Michael Shaps Wineworks.
Facebook/Michael Shaps Wineworks

Michael Shaps is one of those names on the contemporary Virginia wine tour that everyone in the area knows. He is one of the most decorated winemakers in the state and was trained in Burgundy, where he continues to run a twin winery. In its Virginia outpost, you’ll find elegant blends and memorable versions of varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Tannat, and more, including some dessert wines. There are two places in Charlottesville where visitors can take home his local work, as well as some of the wines he made overseas or enjoyed and imported.

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First mountain vineyards

First mountain vineyards.

Located in Madison, Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Early Mountain Vineyards offers a great insight into the Virginia wine scene. In addition to its own esteemed line of wines, the brand, launched by former America Online executives, offers a Best in State program that showcases wineries and producers from across the Commonwealth. Visitors will be amazed by the ambiance in addition to the wines, as the tasting room is one of the most welcoming in the country. Look for large quantities of wines like Chardonnay, Cab Franc and Rosé.

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868 Estate vineyards

868 Estate vineyards.
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Located in the Northern Virginia town of Purcellville, 868 Estate Vineyards is part of the Loudoun County Wine Trail. The decade-old project is set in 120 acres of biodiverse forests, vineyards, orchards and gardens. The estate offers a host of bites to pair with the wines, from snacks and flatbreads to weekend starters. Look for the Italian-style dessert wine called Passito, as well as Chardonnays made from both steel and wood, and fairly rare wines like Chambourcin, a Franco-American hybrid.

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skylight survey

Lightwell survey wines.
Facebook/Lightwell poll

Cool kids drink Lightwell Survey wines and it’s really no wonder. It all takes place in an old mill in Waynesboro, where clever blends and unique offerings like rosé wine made from grapes like Vidal Blanc and Blaufränkisch and others are poured. Tastings are intimate, allowing you to get a sense of the unique blends and understand the label’s rather daring approach. It’s at stops like this that you likely witness the future of Virginia’s wine scene, poured right into your glass.

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Beyond wine

Charlottesville is a great option for a long weekend in wine country, as more than 40 labels operate in and around the city. You can stay at a working winery in places like Glass House or Meriwether Springs, which even has its own brewery. There are pastoral joys around every corner in this part of Virginia, as it is home to a thriving orchard and farming scene.

For food, eat in the heart of the Monticello Wine Trail at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards. In town, there’s no shortage of great options, from trattorias like Tavola to Feast!, for great lunch options. Locals love southern cuisine at Whiskey Jar as well as the aptly named Local, with an ever-changing menu. Stop by Tillman’s for a good old-fashioned wine and cheese pairing. Start the day off right with a hearty breakfast at Blue Moon Diner.

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About Irene J. O'Donnell

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