Yes, it’s cold outside. But while the vines at Orange County’s wineries have gone dormant for the winter, the tasting rooms are warm, cozy and dressed up for the holidays, making this a wonderful time for a wine excursion.
What is a Winter Wine?
In general, winter wines tend to be more complex, full-bodied reds that pair well with heartier dishes. And, of course, sparkling wines add merriment to any holiday celebration. That said, life is too short to drink wine you don’t like, so visit these Orange County wineries and do a tasting before buying a bottle to enjoy by the fire:
Honah Lee’s quaint tasting room shares space with BerryWood Crafters, so you can pick up baked goods, sauces and even jewelry with the wine. Honah Lee bottles their own wine along with that of various other vineyards.
Their recommended winter white is the Honah Lee Petit Manseng. It’s oaked, giving it a warm body, with a lingering candy-like flavor. The taste has many layers, just like the outfit you might wear to a vineyard in wintertime. For a winter red, try Honah Lee’s Captain. It’s dark red and peppery with notes of tobacco and wild berries – perfect for a blustery day – and it pairs well with almost anything.
Down the road, Horton Vineyards looks like a castle, but its tasting room feels more like a farmers market. There’s an array of goods from local artisans, from bird feeders to cookbooks.
Horton bottles a delicious and attractive Nebbiolo Rosé in the winter, which pairs perfectly with a spicy dish, or with something Asian-inspired. Meanwhile, their pride and joy is their award-winning Vintage Port, boasting an 18% alcohol content. Talk about warming you up on a snowy day! The Vintage Port is also used in a Dark Chocolate Almond Port Toffee from local chocolatier Cocoa & Spice. It’s exclusively available at Horton Vineyards, so pick it up with a bottle of Port to enjoy as a romantic after-dinner treat.
Earning a special spot for producing the only Grenache (2010) in Virginia (and promptly sold out), Reynard Florence is a gorgeous, efficient and friendly vineyard. Roe and Dee, the vineyard’s founders, plotted the land thoughtfully. They value quality over quantity, so they train their vines to curve for maximum sunlight and, consequently, sugary grapes.
Their featured grape, Petite Manseng, is currently only available by the bottle, but it’s a limited production, so take a chance and take it home! The Petite Manseng has a lengthy finish and pairs well with rich and spicy foods. And of course, Grenache is always a treat in Virginia, where the humidity provides a tough environment for the varietal.
No visit to Orange County would be complete without a stop at Barboursville Vineyards, a gorgeous 18th-century estate that offers a tasting of 17 wines for a mere $10, including a variety of excellent winter wines. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, visit the on-site Palladio Restaurant where the sommelier will be happy to help match the seasonal dishes with the best wines Barboursville has to offer. If you’d rather just take a bottle of wine to go, you can always count on their famous Octagon blend, a red wine with a highly distinctive character.
Speaking of taking a bottle to go, “picnic vineyard” Chateau MerrillAnne offers a selection of delicious country wines throughout the winter – available for purchase by appointment only. Winter favorites include their 2017 Founded 1734, a red wine with layers of fresh dark fruit and subtle spice notes, and their 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, a medium-bodied red with rich fruit flavors highlighted by notes of leather and smoke. This wine pairs will with red meats, grilled foods, and dark chocolate. Chateau MerrillAnne reopens with regular hours in March.
So be sure to experience the unique charms of winery hopping in the winter. Don’t let the cold keep you out of Orange County’s fabulous vineyards!