Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Village Wine Stop #4: Sperryville

If you've made the trek to Skyline Drive or Luray Caverns, most likely you've driven through Sperryville, a picturesque village on U.S. highway 211. Located at the base of the mountain you'll drive up after entering Shenandoah National Park (longtime Virginia residents may remember the Panorama cafeteria-style restaurant near the Skyline Drive interchange), Sperryville and its historic district is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Register of Historic Places.

And yes, several vineyards with incredible views are not far away. U.S. highway 211, past Warrenton, will soon be "one winery after another" (similar to Sonoma and Napa), at the rate the wineries are opening. Sperryville is usually mentioned in the same breath as "Little" Washington, Virginia, a yippie-dominated village with a swank inn that needs no introduction.

After exploring Sperryville on foot for an hour, drive south of the village on route 231 (about 12 miles) to the village (more of a crossroads) of Etlan. Follow signs (or your map) to DuCard Vineyards. This "green" winery (in terms of the environment, not the wine or the experience of the winemakers) is another in a series of newer Virginia locations that utilizes sustainable practices in its operation to keep it "off the grid" as much as possible. The first thing many people notice are the solar panels on the tasting room roof. The wine isn't too shabby either. The Viognier is a dry winner, with a slight nuance of honeysuckle and apricot. Our favorite red is Popham Run Red (named after the creek that flows through the property), a rich blend that would be perfect with a steak cooked on charcoal (not gas grill---charcoal).

There are old apple trees on the property that still bear fruit (an apple orchard called this spot home many years ago). But as of this writing, there is no apple wine offered...maybe in a few years, after the owners master grapes, they'll take a crack at the steadily growing apple wine and hard cider market in Virginia.

Doubling back towards Sperryville on route 231, the next winery is about ten minutes from DuCard--Sharp Rock Vineyards. This is the oldest winery in the Sperryville area, and is so close to Old Rag Mountain you can practically touch it. The tasting room is a lot more rustic than DuCard, with a tight tasting room, but you will have a memorable exchange with one of the owners (the owners are a husband and wife team) - ask Jimm about the old winery/mead operation Smokehouse Winery, which used to exist up the road from Sharp Rock, of if you encounter Kathy, ask her about her animated neighbor and her chickens.

The wines are exceptional, and well priced. The chardonnay is unoaked and delicious, especially slightly chilled. Other perfect summer picnic winners are the Sauvignon Blanc and their two ros├ęs. Snag a spot by the Hughes River (you'll cross it a few times during your drive) and cue up the John Denver. Almost Heaven should be the name of one of their wines. (And if you drink too much, they have a guest cottage overlooking the stream you can book for the night, provided it hasn't been is a popular spot).

The next two wineries are east of Sperryville, heading back towards Warrenton. Gadino Cellars, about a mile off route 211, is a family-friendly, Italian-themed location with views of rolling foothills and meadows (it's hard to believe the spot is only a mile away from a busy U.S. highway). Every now and then you may hear the rumblings of motorcycles on their way to Skyline Drive, but don't let that distort your experience here. There is a wine for everyone here: Dry, semi dry, sweet, dessert. Pinot Grigio was our favorite white, and for more picnic sipping, Sunset and Moonrise (a table white and red) are perfect. By far the best red we've had here is their Imagine, a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Zesty and delicious, and further proof that Virginia has come a long way with their reds.

The final stop is Narmada Winery, also off 211 on the way back to Warrenton, which has been open for about two years now, and promises a cultural experience as well as a wine experience. The winery is owned and operated by an Indian family who frequently pair their tastings with savory food from their country. Chambourcin rules supreme here: Reds named "Midnight," "Reflection," and "Primita" are three examples of how versatile this Virginia favorite is. Narmada also offers several red blends, all on the hearty side. And what would go well with a curry infused dish? One of their whites, particularly the off-dry or off-sweet options: "Lotus" or "Dream" (try them chilled).

There are a few other locations off 211 you may have time to wander into, or visit the next day if you're well off enough to check in to the Inn at Little Washington: The new Little Washington Winery (offering wines from Virginia, as well as other "new" wine states like Idaho), Grey Ghost Vineyards, and Unicorn Winery. And if you have a designated driver, you can always return to Sperryville and Skyline Drive for some "Virginia Mountain High" life.

DuCard Vineyards
Sharp Rock Vineyards
Gadino Cellars
Narmada Winery
Little Washington Winery
Grey Ghost Vineyards
Unicorn Winery

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