We drove off into the Virginia countryside. There are few cities from which such thriving wine making is as accessible as Virginia is from Washington, DC. Urbanity melts so quickly into rolling hills, quiet roundabouts, villages cropped in by forests, and -- within the hour -- the pastoral beauty of horse country. Stone walls and split rail fences hem in the road as if they were as much at work keeping automobiles out as they are keeping horses in. It's one of those stretches of highway with a vineyard around each bend, up each hill, down in each little valley and hollow.
Hunter's Head Tavern is just a bit up the road, but today we're turning into Greenhill Winery & Vineyards in the town of Middleburg. You'd be forgiven thinking that it is larger than it is when driving up. They've done a splendid job of creating something that is both expansive and personal: farm houses spread across acres, stately and stone walled next to the pond yet intimate in their myriad little tasting rooms, open fields, open skies stretching out to the thick tree line along the opposite side of the vineyard.
Then there is the barrel room, a cathedral of wine where barrels are stacked five and six high to form a broad aisle under the tall vaulted wood ceilings from which lamps hang and twinkle. Light shines in through the large round window in the apse, bathing the would be altar in a yellow glow that falls like a spirit upon barrels encircling the center as an ambulatory, years-old witness to the quiet aging that is done here. It's neither a catehdral nor church of any kind, but I would seriously consider getting married in that cellar.
The porch of the main house is less majestic, but equally captivating for its simple charm, a place you'd spend the day letting warm summer breeze pass over you, food from the kitchen fill you, wine delight you. Of note is their sparkling, a Chardonnay made in the classic style of a French blanc de blanc. We'd not ever suggest growing Chardonnay grapes in Virginia, but this rare (for the Commonwealth) sparkling wine makes excellent use of them and is alone reason enough for any wine lover within two hours to join the club here.
The rest of their lineup is quite compelling, too. Our tasting notes are below. Cheers!
2016 Blanc de Blancs
A sparkling wine made in the traditional method, this Chardonnay from Grennhill's French fourth-generation winemaker is surprisingly always vintage (i.e. always bottled with a vintage year attached). Pale straw colored in the glass, the peach, tropical fruit, banana, and a little mango in the nose foretells a great first sip. The palate is rounded out with notes of lemon zest, mango, pineapple, and a tart effervescence. Really excellent, particularly by standards of a state that produces so little sparkling wine.
Greenhill represents Virginia's leading white grape quite well (we've not yet tried their Cabernet Franc). Nose or ripe honey dew, peach, and a sensation we'd describe as the "bottom of a fruit salad" belies a floral touch that is normally more assertive in Viognier. This wine looks in the glass a lot like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and possesses some similar acidity and grassiness when drunk. You'll otherwise taste nice fruit and floral notes that reminded us of a dry Vidal Blanc. Serve this cold in the summer.
Made from the same grapes as their Blanc de Blancs, this still Chardonnay is likewise produced in a French style. We found the savory briny and salt water notes in the nose to be a welcome departure, and good swirling in the glass starts to kick up lemon butter that many might associate with eating lobster. Mouth feel is very creamy and oddly buttery given there is no oak aging here. Think lemon square and lemon curd on the palate.
Named for the "study of being", Greenhill evidently believes that this 100% Chambourcin is an appropriate compliment to those long nights spent drinking wine and contemplating the world. As we'd expect with a good Virginia Chambourcin, the nose is distinctly that of baking spice and then -- oddly -- a pile of wet sticks. Actually we find the nose to be more refined than most other Chambourcins with which we are familiar. Cinnimon stick, smooth cheery in the mouth, and sour cherries in the aftertaste finish off a wine that is happily unencumbered by the overt Christmas in a bottle phenomonon that befalls a great many other wines made from this same varietal.
From the study of being to superstition, this bottle is primarily Syrah at about 58%, but is blended with about 32% Cabernet Franc, and punctuated by 5% each of Mourvèdre and Tannat... though it looks like a Cab Franc in the glass, with a nose of forest floor and baking space. Otherwise expect a complex wine of muted fruitiness, dried plum and cherry, habanero and hot spice in the finish.
2017 Seyval Blanc
Residual sugar at about 1.5% makes this Greenhill's dessert wine entry. White peach, pear, and honeysuckle combine with a bit of petrol in the nose, before giving way to a lovely palate that is happily not to sweet, like a well done Riesling or Gewürztraminer - though lacking the minerality of both. It falls a little flat in complexity, though we're OK with that as that's not what this wine is for.