Monday, December 28, 2015

In Praise of Wine Clubs

As the Notebook "wines" down another year, we thought a shout-out to Virginia's wine clubs was in order. We're here to plug the three wine clubs we belong to (alas, our respective day job salaries do not allow for more than three). But we are very much interested in feedback from other VAVINO fans and their wine club experiences.

Frequent visitors to Virginia wineries should pick at least 1 or 2 winery clubs to join. Typically, one receives free tastings (for up to 2, 3, or even 4 people), "members only" bottle releases, invitations to members' only events, and many other perks. The price schedules of the wine clubs vary from winery to winery, but the "Joining Fee" that so many wineries in the state required once upon a time seems to be a thing of the past, as the number of wineries in Virginia grows.

Pick a winery(s) near your home, for obvious reasons. Although most wine clubs in the state will ship your order (presuming you're a Virginia resident), driving to the winery to pick up your orders is cheaper and gives you an excuse to visit, even during the off-months (January through March). Plus you get those free wine tastings and the VIP treatment.

Here are the three current wine clubs the Notebook are members of:

Fox Meadow Winery "The Friends of Foxes":
This was the first wine club we joined in the state, way back in 2007 (a long time ago, in Virginia winery terms). Back then, most Virginia wineries had a "Joining Fee," which required a payment up front to join the club. With the number of competitors in the Virginia wine industry now, these joining fees seem to be a thing of the past, although Fox Meadow still mentions their "Initiation Fee" on their website. Fox Meadow Winery is a perfect spot for a "daycation;" an easy drive from the DC area (just be sure to leave your home before 11 AM during the busy wine hopping months, April through November), but far enough away (and deep in the mountains) to feel like you're really getting away from it all.

What you get:
-Two bottles of hand-picked vintages (not a bum note in the winery) every two months.
-Free tastings for two people.
-Special "library tastings" for you and your guest (and sometimes all of the visitors who are tasting at the bar when you are tasting, making you a wine hero for the afternoon).
-Invitations to special members only events, such as the Summer Solstice party, where the winery is open for members only until 9:00 PM.
-15% discount on all bottles and 20% discount on cases.
-Use of the Members Only wood stove room, which adjoins the main tasting room.
-Members can bring their own food into the winery (although we usually end up getting their Amish-made cheeses sold in the tasting room).

Willowcroft Winery "Press-tige" Wine Club:
Willowcroft is closer to DC than Fox Meadow (about 10 minutes south of Leesburg), which makes Willowcroft an easy getaway for an impromptu winery visit. The winery is located on a peak of the Blue Ridge foothills, and affords a western view of the Loudoun Valley (on a clear day, you can see Bluemont Winery on the other side of the valley). The tasting room is the epitome of rustic, inside a historic barn. The loft on the second floor of the barn is a recent upgrade and allows Willowcroft to be enjoyed in all seasons, versus just the spring, summer and fall months.

What you get:
-Two bottles of hand-picked wine every two months, with the option to swap a selected bottle for another one (regardless of the price). This is a particularly nice feature as Willowcroft offers many different wine styles, including a few in the off-dry and off-sweet category (which is not the Notebook's favorite style of wine).
-Complimentary tastings for two people, or two free glasses of wine, per visit. The tastings are very generous and usually include more than the typical allotment of wines.
-Invitations to special members-only evening events held February through December.
-15% discount on all bottles and 20% discount on cases.
-Exclusive reserving rights for the barn loft, if you plan to bring a group of wine lovers to Willowcroft.

North Gate Vineyard Trellis Club:
North Gate Vineyard is the youngest of the three wineries discussed in this post. Located in western Loudoun County, between Purcellville and Hillsboro, the eco-friendly winery offers a relaxing patio facing a pine forest, a wood burning fireplace (which shares a chimney with the gas fireplace inside the tasting room), weekend entertainment, and unique wines. The tastings may be paired with hand-made chocolates for an additional fee. This wine club is ideal for those who can't make it out to the Virginia wineries as often as they'd like, due to their quarterly wine release schedule.

What you get:
-3 bottles of wine every 3 months, chosen by the winemakers (although, as the case with Willowcroft, members can swap out a bottle for a different varietal if they care to).
-Free tastings for two people per visit.
-Once per quarter, a complimentary group tasting for the member and up to three guests.
-15% discount on all bottles and 20% discount on cases.
-Invitations to members-only events, such as release parties held in the wine cellar.
-Advanced access to first release of certain wines, specialty club wines, unique reserve wines, and the ability to purchase limited quantity wines.

We would love to hear from other Virginia winery club members, although we could stretch our wallets even more if some of the other wine clubs sound just too good to pass up.


Friday, December 11, 2015


As the blogmasters were DJs in a previous life, we met many winery owners in Virginia over the last ten years as we marketed our side business. So we thought now would be an appropriate time to mix tunes with grapes. This is part 2 of our analysis of what we believe are the best albums of the classic rock and roll era (generally considered to be the mid '60s to the mid '90s). If you want to get caught up on 100 through 76, click here. And we will suggest a Virginia winery/wine to experience while listening to this album (bonus points for vinyl). The matches have been carefully selected.

Part 2: 75 to 51

75. Gaucho/Steely Dan (1980)
Gaucho, the final album in Steely Dan's classic period (1973 to 1980), was over three years in the making, quite a change from the early days of The Dan, when they put an album out every year between 1972 and 1977. Perfectionist Dan took center stage, which remains the case for Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and their solo efforts that would follow. This album also took the longest to remaster when the Dan’s 1972 through 1980 output were remastered on CD in the late 1990s. The craftsmanship shows on every track, particularly the three hits (“Hey Nineteen;” only the Dan could get away with a chorus in a Top Ten single that mentions a certain herb and a brand of tequila; “Babylon Sisters;” and “Time Out of Mind,” featuring a zesty guitar solo from fellow master of bitter lyrics, Mark Knopfler).
Suggested wine pairing: Sunset Hills Vineyard (which as of print date does not offer a cherry wine or kirschwasser, both mentioned prominently on this album…..) Rosé.

74. Silk Degrees/Boz Scaggs (1976)
"Razz" (a mixture of rock and jazz) found its roots in the music of mid 1970s Steely Dan, as well as the mid-decade offerings of the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Toto, Chicago, and Boz Scaggs. This genre is also known as "Yacht Rock," thanks to a series of hilarious YouTube videos. Silk Degrees, a magnificently-arranged album, stayed in the Top 100 Album chart for over two years (the last single from the album, “Lido Shuffle,” was released nearly a full year after the album came out). The unabashed Philly Soul tribute album that preceded this album, Slow Dancer, nearly made the 100 as well. Crank this album and prepare to be transported.
Suggested music and wine pairing: Notaviva Vineyards Ottantotto Viognier.

73. Exodus/Bob Marley (1977)
If you must own one reggae record, and one Bob Marley record, it must be Exodus. Marley brought reggae into mainstream acceptance, and the classic tracks from this album still resonate today: “One Love,” “Three Little Birds,” “Jamming,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Natural Mystic.” The sound of his native island spills into the grooves; a remarkable feat seeing how the album was recorded in the UK.
Suggested wine pairing: Chatham Vineyards Late Harvest Red Dessert wine.

72. Volume I/Traveling Wilburys (1988)
The band and album that started as a gag turned into one of the most fun, best sounding, and most successful, albums of the late 1980s. The Wilburys were an alter-ego, a’la "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", for George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne of ELO, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and session percussionist Jim Keltner. The group originally came together to record a B-side to a George Harrison solo single from his 1987 album Cloud Nine. The magic came together, and Volume I was born. Sadly Orbison died shortly after the album’s release; his soaring vocals on “Not Alone Anymore” from this album top nearly everything on his last solo record, Mystery Girl. The surviving ‘Burys (plus George’s son Dhani) came back in 1990 with “Volume 3.” The lack of Volume 2 was part of the gag.
Suggested wine pairing: Cardinal Point Winery Quattro white.

71. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle/Bruce Springsteen (1973)
Greetings from Asbury Park, the Boss’s other album of 1973, usually receives more acclaim, as it introduced the world to this working class hero from the Garden State. But The Wild, the Innocent….. is wilder, more experimental, and set the stage for his marathon live shows (the album gave its name to Bruce’s band, after all). Epic rockers like “Kitty’s Back” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” quickly became show staples, and the album closer “New York Serenade” remains one of Bruce’s most achingly beautiful recordings.
Suggested wine pairing: Blenheim Vineyards Merlot.

70. Bryter Layter/Nick Drake (1970)
Nick Drake released only three major label records during his sadly short life; all made an impact on the introspective songwriters of the early ‘70s, particularly Elton John, whose two 1971 albums (Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water) were affectionate Drake tributes. The middle of his three legendary albums (the others being 1969’s Five Leaves Left and 1972’s Pink Moon), this one is his most accessible. The use of several of its songs in movies over the last 15 years, ranging from Serendipity to Garden State, is proof of this, and Drake’s timelessness.
Suggested wine pairing: The Hague Winery Chardonel.

69. Year of the Cat/Al Stewart (1976)
Abbey Road and Pink Floyd sound engineer Alan Parsons teamed up with Scottish songsmith Al Stewart for a series of ear-candy pop records in the mid to late ‘70s. Year of the Cat is the best-known and most commercially successful of these albums. The commercial success of this album can be attributed to the title cut, a 6-minute plus single which joins Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as the lush FM radio anthems of the late ‘70s. The rest of the album is just as elegantly crafted and enchanting as the single, particularly the minor hit “On the Border” and the Cat Stevens-like “Midas Shadow.” If you’re only familiar with Al Stewart from hearing “The Year of the Cat,” you are in for a treat.
Suggested wine pairing: Hiddencroft Vineyards Traminette

68. America/America (1972)
One of the most underrated debuts in rock history, this album and band is best-known for their Neil Young sound-alike tune “A Horse with No Name,” which replaced Neil’s “Heart of Gold” at number one in the Billboard Singles chart in the early spring of 1972. The trio was also inspired by the dueling guitar work of Young’s occasional collaborators Crosby, Stills and Nash (listen to the juicy interplay of the opening track, “Riverside,” and the vocals of “Children;” CSNY homages to the max). “Sand Man” was written as a statement against the Vietnam occupation, but has a new meaning in post 9/11-America. Their second album Homecoming improved on this sound and offered tighter tracks, but the ramshackle spirit of the first album makes it a worthy addition to the Top 100.
Suggested wine pairing: Bluemont Vineyard “The Pig” Norton.

67. Temple of Low Men/Crowded House (1988)
The second album from New Zealand’s answer to the Beatles was a darker, moodier work than their eponymous 1986 debut album. Ex Split Enz leader Neil Finn tackled romantic and political issues with this album, and much to Capitol Records’ dismay, no singles in the order of “Don’t Dream it’s Over” or “Something So Strong” (the two big hits from their first album) were to be found here. Instead, eccentric tracks such as punkish “Kill Eye” and the Richard Thompson collaboration “Sister Madly,” and two haunting ballads as singles, which barely dented the charts in late 1988: “Better Be Home Soon” and “Into Temptation.” Their second album was a sign of things to come with their ‘90s output (both as a group, and the Finn Brothers albums).
Suggested wine pairing: Grayhaven Winery Touriga.

66. Learning to Crawl/Pretenders (1984)
“Back on the Chain Gang” was a Top Ten single over a year before the album it was extracted from was released; Chrissie Hynde and company were grappling with the drug overdose deaths of two original members, and most of the remaining tracks from the albums were appropriately edgier and angry, despite the pop sheen of the third single from the album, “Show Me.” “Middle of the Road” and “Time the Avenger” are perfect New Wave/rock blends as anything from their more-acclaimed first album; Hynde reflects on the plight of the Midwest middle class and motherhood with semi-autobiographical tunes such like “My City Was Gone,” “Thumbelina,” and “Watching the Clothes;” and the last track is a holiday tune (“2000 Miles”) that is sweet but not cloying. God forbid Chrissie be cloying.
Suggested wine pairing: 8 Chains North Winery Furnace Mountain Red.

65. Brothers and Sisters/Allman Brothers Band (1973)
The amazing thing about the Allman Brothers’ breakthrough album is that it gives the listener a real feel for being at a live show (just as Bruce’s The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle does), without surrendering its impeccable production sound. This is the Allmans album that every music fan must own (though some critics will say 1971’s At Fillmore East is their essential album). “Ramblin’ Man” and the 7-minute plus instrumental workout “Jessica” became FM radio standards for most of the ‘70s, and “Southbound” and “Pony Boy” are pure blues jams.
Suggested wine pairing: We have to give this one to Creeks Edge Winery, Merlot if only because one of their frequent live solo musician offers “Jessica” by the “Almond” Brothers on his playlist, which was typed out by his pre-teen daughter (she gets an “A” for effort).

64. Eldorado/Electric Light Orchestra (1974)
ELO started their winning streak of blissful Beatles-esque pop albums and singles with Eldorado. The closest thing Jeff Lynne and company did to a rock opera, the dream-like spirit of the album was nearly equaled with their later albums (particularly A New World Record, which came out two years later). The band made it abundantly clear with this record that they were obsessed with the Beatles; George Harrison must have approved and hired Lynne to produce his 1987 comeback album, Cloud Nine.
Suggested wine pairing: Vault Field Vineyards Vidal Blanc.

63. Beggars Banquet/Rolling Stones (1968)
The Stones gave up the LSD-inspired experimentation of their previous album (Their Satanic Majesties Request) for down and dirty rock and roll, the first in their string of landmark albums recorded at the height of their artistic career. Brian Jones, despite his rapidly deteriorating health (and state of mind), contributed arguably his finest work on the slide guitar masterpiece “No Expectations,” and their fascination with American blues is felt in nearly every track. More from the Glimmer Twins to come….
Suggested wine pairing: Blue Ridge Vineyard Big Bear Red.

62. Zenyatta Mondatta/The Police (1980)
The Police’s third album is timeless. While Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity sold more copies in 1981 and 1983, both albums contain tracks that are horribly dated (or, in the case of “Mother,” just horrible). This is not the case with Zenyatta Mondatta. Sting’s writing matures, and lyrics to his songs are quoted by both other musicians and even politicians today. They didn’t surrender the punk-meets-reggae vibe of their first two albums; they simply put a radio-friendly sheen over it. And they were rewarded with their first two Top Ten tunes (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da”).
Suggested wine pairing: Chester Gap Cellars Viognier Reserve.

61. Astral Weeks/Van Morrison (1968)
The album many people still call Van Morrison’s greatest recording, this one barely made a dent in the charts or on U.S. (and UK) radio when first released. Morrison’s improvisational style was groundbreaking at the time; he basically told his studio musicians to play whatever comes to mind. Honest and elegant, vivid and beautiful, with a touch of late '60s psychedelia.
Suggested wine pairing: Two Twisted Posts Winery Chardonnay.

60. Nilsson Schmilsson/Harry Nilsson (1971)
The most successful album in the resumé of the artist who was called “the four Beatles, all wrapped into one man.” Nilsson was a brilliant computer programmer in the mid '60s who was blessed with pristine vocal cords. His earlier albums were whimsical works of art which caught the attention of not only John, Paul, George and Ringo, but contemporaries like Brian Wilson and Randy Newman as well. Harry takes you on a ride with this album—a ride that is heartbreaking, joyous, painful, funny, and tragic. Just as he lived his too-short life.
Suggested wine pairing: Peaks of Otter Winery Vino Colada (put the vino in the coconut and drink it all up...)

59. Sail Away/Randy Newman (1972)
Speaking of Randy Newman….Harry Nilsson cut an entire album of Newman songs in 1970. Newman examines (and critiques) America as a whole with this record (he would zone in on the American South two years later with Good Old Boys). The title track sums his cynicism up: “In America you'll get food to eat…..Won't have to run through the jungle…..And scuff up your feet…..You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day….It's great to be an American.” And those are just the opening lines – it gets more honest (painfully honest) from there. The title track opens the record, and for the next 40 minutes, we’re in NewmanWorld: Dancing bears, songs about sudden stardom, earnest religious songs, tributes to his father, not one but two somber songs dedicated to cities in Ohio, and “Political Science,” with lyrics that are more relevant now than they were in 1972.
Suggested wine pairing: Saudé Creek Vineyards Pamunkey Fall.

58. Kick/INXS (1987)
INXS enjoyed superstar success on the wave of this album, which spent two years in the Top 100 Album chart and spun off four Top Ten singles. “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation” and “Never Tear Us Apart” still sound fresh today, which can’t be said about all radio hits of the era. Michael Hutchence was a dynamic front man, and the whole band merged rock with horn-fueled swing. At the time, even Keith Richards claimed the band was one of the best on the planet. There will never be another band quite like them, despite their efforts to reinvent themselves post-Hutchence (who committed suicide in 1997).
Suggested wine pairing: Cross Keys Vineyards Joy Red.

57. Chicago VII/Chicago (1974)
Chicago suffered in their later incarnations from overproduced sheen and schmaltz, which nonetheless proved enormously successful on the radio. But the 1969 to 1974-era Chicago was their classic period, before Peter Cetera hijacked the band with his borderline cheese pop songs, some of which were good (“If You Leave Me Now”), and others not-so-good (the perennial wedding favorite “You’re the Inspiration”). Their seventh album lands in our top 100 because it is a perfect representation of their classic period. A double album where the vocals don’t come in until the third song on side 2, the band jams before settling into the Chicago vocals we’re accustomed to (“Life Saver,” “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long,” “Call on Me,” “Song of the Evergreens” and “Wishing You Were Here,” featuring the Beach Boys on background vocals, being the key tracks). The album is an insanely fun listening experience.
Suggested wine pairing: Three Fox Vineyards Volpe Sangiovese.

56. Automatic for the People/R.E.M. (1992)
The college radio darlings turned a corner when they signed with Warner Brothers records in 1988. College bars and small venues became stadium shows. Their third record for the label was recorded while 1991's Out of Time was still in the upper tiers of the Album Chart. And those expecting “Losing My Religion” or “Shiny Happy People,” part two, were in for quite a shock. “Drive,” “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts” were unlike anything the band recorded before: Moody, distant, and not immediately accessible. The songs, and the album, have endured and are more popular now than anything from Out of Time, including arguably "Losing My Religion." While the middle section of the record runs out of steam a bit, they rebound in a major way with the final two tracks on the album (the beguiling “Nightswimming” and the soothing “Find the River”).
Suggested wine pairing: Stone Mountain Vineyards Bacon Hollow Sunset.

55. Comes a Time/Neil Young (1978)
As any music fan knows well by now, there are two sides to Neil Young. The Godfather of Grunge, who continually tests the sonic limits of guitar rock (even after his brain surgery in the mid ‘00s). And the softer, quieter, folksy Neil, which is where Comes a Time comfortably fits. With backing vocals from the late Nicolette Larson, this is as close to a pure country album as Neil ever cut. The original version of “Lotta Love” appears here (Larson would have her own hit with it a year later). And the title track is one that the Notebook played at countless weddings during our DJ days – a real treat for the new couples. Timeless.
Suggested wine pairing: Michael Shaps Wineworks Tannat.

54. Tupelo Honey/Van Morrison (1971)
Our favorite Van Morrison album, this one kicks off with one of his signature tunes, “Wild Night,” and then progresses into a folk/country album that set the tone for other artists, particularly Neil Young. The album’s centerpieces are two magnificent love songs, “You’re My Woman” and the title track, which are as good as anything from Astral Weeks and Moondance. Absolutely underrated.
Suggested wine pairing: Hunters Run Wine Barn Todds Red Dessert Wine.

53. Seventh Sojourn/Moody Blues (1972)
The Moody Blues boasted an incredible album output from 1967 to 1972. As the title indicates, this is their seventh offering during this period. Days of Future Passed or In Search of the Lost Chord usually get mentioned as their finest records, but we feel this was the pinnacle of the first chapter in the Moodies’ catalog. Justin Hayward, the romantic of the band, contributes “New Horizons” and “Land of Make Believe,” two enchanted pieces that became FM radio hits, and John Lodge, usually the heavier-sounding of the band’s leaders, offered two more Moody standards, “Isn’t Life Strange” and “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band).” You really can’t go wrong with any Moody Blues album (even Octave), but this is their most uniformly great recording.
Suggested wine pairing: DuCard Vineyards Popham Run Red.

52. Still Crazy After All These Years/Paul Simon (1975)
Paul’s third solo album, a Grammy favorite the year it was released. While we’d rather forget the image of him singing the title track dressed as a turkey on “Saturday Night Live,” the album is arguably his most personal, his “relationship record.” Only Paul Simon could compose a love song about sharing a winter cold (“I Do it for Your Love”), or comparing the cycle of life to a baseball game (“Night Game”). “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is the track most people know from this album, with borderline-silly name dropping lyrics that do not speak for the poignancy and depth of the rest of the album.
Suggested wine pairing: Zephaniah Farm Vineyard Chambourcin.

51. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/Genesis (1974)
The last and finest of the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums, Lamb….is a double disk concept record that traces the life and times of a Puerto Rican refugee living in New York City, who gets sucked into the drug world. Gabriel’s lyrics can be oblique at times (so much that even his band mates were mystified about what was going on), but the band (particularly Gabriel, who was warming up for his solo career) takes the listener on quite a journey, as the best double albums can do. The first album (or CD) contains more radio-friendly material (the title cut, the cheerfully perverse “Counting Out Time,” and the engaging “Carpet Crawlers”). The second album sounds more like the soundtrack to an urban horror film, which was the whole point.
Suggested wine pairing: Winery at LaGrange (preferably heard in their low-ceiling basement tasting room for a real mind-blowing experience) Cuvee Blanc. here for 50 through 26...............