Exploring Northern Virginia wine country, a destination for weddings and wine lovers

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Frank Piaskowy/Hoosier Wineaux

Last month, Barb and I found ourselves in Leesburg, Virginia, attending a wedding. Located 33 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., Leesburg is the seat of Loudoun County government.

The area has established a reputation for destination weddings. In 2013, there were more than 2,500 weddings held in the county.

During our extended weekend stay, we discovered numerous local attractions including idyllic woodlands and rolling hills, meticulously maintained horse farms, farm to table restaurants satisfying “locavore” appetites, early American historical sites/trails and a vibrant wine country.

I took the opportunity to visit three wineries suggested by a friend.

My first stop was Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, where owner and winemaker Lew Parker prides himself on not succumbing to the vineyard wedding craze and remains focused solely on wine. The winery is the oldest in the county, having been established in the early 1980s.

An oaked Albarino that had muted acidity but a creamy texture really caught my attention. The other wine of particular note was a chardonnay aged in neutral oak. It retained body and acidity without sacrificing the fruit flavors.

Either of these wines suggested a pairing with heavier fish (swordfish or halibut) or lightly spiced white meats. I walked away with a mixed case including three bottles of the winery’s off-dry Rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Petit Manseng.

The next day I visited Tarara Winery (that’s Ararat spelled backwards). I was told that the owner’s wife suggested the name because the 475-acre property had frequently flooded from the Potomac River that borders to the east.

Jordan Harris is the winemaker, who demonstrates an adventurous spirit in his “Social Secret” proprietary white and red wines. The fruit is sourced from two vineyards in the Monticello AVA.

The white blend consisted of Rkatsiteli and Chardonnay. I suspect seafood or herbed chicken would pair well. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat composed the red blend, which calls for pork or lamb.

Later that afternoon, Fabbioli Cellars was my final and most unique wine experience. Again, there were unconventional blends in addition to interesting food pairings. It was explained to me that the wine and food pairings rotate monthly and represent a collaboration between all staff members, although winemaker Doug Fabbioli has the final word.

June happened to be a very playful month with the pairings using many familiar ingredients from the kitchen. The prior month had focused on barbecue pairings. Doug likes to say he takes a “Chateau le Garage” approach at his winery. Seven wines in the following order were presented for a $15 fee.

  • Una Pera (100 percent Asian pear wine) with caramelized onion dip and frito crisp
  • Chardonnay with red chili and chive cream cheese on a lime tortilla
  • Paco Rojo (a blend of Syrah, Vidal Blanc, Zinfandel) with roasted chicken breast topped with smoky barbecue aioli
  • Padrino (a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) with spinach artichoke dip and bacon on a saltine
  • Fratelli (Cabernet Sauvignon) with Kielbasa with horseradish and ale spread
  • Raspberry Merlot (5 percent residual sugar) with a lemon brownie
  • Royality (16.5 percent alcohol, port style blend of Chambourcin, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon) with orange creamsicle truffle

I was so taken with the Paco Rojo that I purchased a case to serve at my son’s wedding later that week in D.C. It paired well with the Tuscan chicken and red pepper/mango relish.

While “Virginia is for lovers”, I would add that Virginia has appeal to wine lovers as well.

Vignettes:

  • The 24th annual Indy International Wine Competition take place July 29 to 31, 2015, in the north ballroom of the Union Building at the Purdue University West Lafayette. Virginia wines are typically among entries.
  • While California is responsible for more than 88 percent of the annual U.S. wine production, Virginia ranks sixth behind Washington, New York, Oregon and Texas.
  • Virginia’s wine industry can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson, who many consider America’s first fine wine connoisseur.
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