Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fredericksburg: Wine About History

There are plenty of reasons to visit Fredericksburg, especially in the fall, when the downtown streets are covered in orange, amber and red leaves: Visiting old (and haunted) shops, dining along the Rappahannock River, touring battlefields in town and outside of town, and an interesting cluster of wineries stretching north, west and southwest of town.

Your biggest challenge would be getting to "Fred" (as locals call it). It's not as easy for folks in Northern Virginia to trek down to Fredericksburg as it was twenty, or even ten, years ago. The traffic-clogged exurbs now extend to Fred, and beyond, so I-95 and U.S. Route 1 are likely to be slow-moving, or even stop and go, unless you leave very late Friday night and drop anchor at one of the many motels (basic to luxurious) dotting the interchanges around Fred. If you live anywhere west of DC, we suggest taking the Warrenton route - follow U.S. 17 or state highway 3 near Culpeper over to Fred.

Should you decide to take the Warrenton/Culpeper route, there are a few wineries along the way as you cut eastward to Fred. The first stop is one of our very favorites in the state, Rogers Ford Farm Winery, an absolutely charming, family-owned and operated boutique winery located on the banks of the Rappahannock (it's much narrower west of Fredericksburg), and on the edge of a wildlife preserve. Rogers Ford offers an intimate tasting experience and a peaceful deck overlooking their vineyards and the expansive property. Their reds are bold and delicious, and their whites tend to be on the slightly sweet side. In the end, they offer something for everyone. Our favorite reds: Virginia Red Select (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat) and Chloe Cabernet (several wines are named after children in the family of the owners). Whites range from the nearly off-dry Jacob Christopher Chardonnay to the sweet First Frost Vidal. Their rosé is a bit sweeter than other Virginia rosés we've had, and would fare better chilled in warmer weather.

Continuing on U.S. highway 17 eastbound, as the traffic lights around Fred begin to increase, make the left turn to Hartwood Winery. Like Rogers Ford, Hartwood is modest in size but big on variety and quality. They're one of the original Virginia wineries and offer great selection at good prices. The tasting room is typical Virginia - quaint but bustling. Rappahannock Red is their "fun" wine; aged in steel and a great everyday table wine. On the more mature end of the spectrum, they offer a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as whites from semi-sweet to bone dry.

The south/southwest of Fredericksburg, approaching Lake Anna, offers two unique wineries that are staples at festivals held throughout the year: Lake Anna Winery and Mattaponi Winery. Lake Anna is the older of the two, like Hartwood and Rogers Ford Winery, one of the Commonwealth's originals. Located about three miles from Lake Anna itself, this winery has a pleasant tasting room and ample spots for a picnic. This is also one of the few Virginia wineries with an online ordering section of their website. Like Hartwood, Laka Anna has a wine for nearly every palate. Their Merlot was our favorite red and their barrel select chardonnay was the white that we took home. They also have several sweet wines, and a special label wine that emphasize the Civil War battlefield and Fredericksburg proximity of this winery.

Mattaponi Winery is the epitome of rustic. Named after the Virginia river (which in turn was named after an Indian tribe), the tasting room is located in an irresistible cabin, and Indian motifs are in spades. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon stood out as their excellent full-bodied reds. They have several sweeter wines as well, and are probably the only winery in Virginia working with both Concord and Niagara grapes. Also three non grape wines worth noting: Blueberry, blackberry and chocolate strawberry (not a misprint!)

After a night in Fredericksburg, relax the next day at Potomac Point Vineyard, one of the largest and most elaborate locations in Virginia. Located north of Fred in Stafford County, the Potomac River is not in eyeshot of the winery, but you'll be too engrossed in this location to notice. Think Italian villa. The winery is about as big as an entire villa. They double as a bistro, so expect a crowd. However there are several rooms (with fireplaces) to drink away the fall and winter blues, as well as a courtyard patio for warmer days. Their wine list is impressive. Norton, Merlot, and Petit Verdot stood out among the reds. The chardonnay was our favorite white. This location is quite unlike the others on this list - Potomac Point is bustling and commercial. But not without its own charms.

Pick your battlefield (Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg) and pick your winery (or wineries), and wine about history this weekend!

Rogers Ford Winery
Hartwood Winery
Lake Anna Winery
Mattaponi Winery
Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery

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