It’s freezing cold and the vines are brown and craggy, but with cozy tasting rooms and warm welcomes, you don’t have to miss out on Virginia’s phenomenal wine scene just because it’s winter.
What is a Winter Wine?
In general, “winter wine” is just what you’d expect—heavy and warm. The wines you crave in the summer are generally crisp, refreshing, and served chilled; the wines you choose in winter should be just the opposite: full bodied and complex. That said, life is too short to drink wine you don’t like, so it’s always a good idea to visit local wineries and do a tasting before buying a bottle to enjoy by the fire. Remember, the staff are there to teach and help grow your interest in wine. No one will judge you on your taste!
Lucky for you, Orange County is ripe with wine opportunities.
Honah Lee Vineyard: Gordonsville, VA
Though their vineyard spans 34 acres, Honah Lee’s quaint tasting room is small enough that you might miss it. Don’t be fooled by the unimposing size, though, they share space with BerryWood Crafters, allowing customers to pick up baked goods, sauces, and even jewelry with the wine. Honah Lee bottles their own wine along with that of five other vineyards: Gabriele Rausse, Michael Shaps, Well Hung Vineyard, Narmada, and BlueStone Vineyard.
Their recommended winter white is the Honah Lee 2015 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 February. For a winter red, try Honah Lee’s Meritage, a go-to for wine lovers of all kinds. The Meritage is peppery and has a robust finish—perfect for a blustery day. It pairs well with almost anything!
While trying Honah Lee’s wine selection, sample the BerryWood jams. The jams are homemade and boast unique flavors, including garlic, jalapeño, and pepper jellies. Even the traditional jams, like raspberry and blueberry, have an added spice component that takes the flavor to the next level.
Horton Vineyard: Gordonsville, VA
Down the road is Horton Vineyard, which looks like a castle and might make you feel like you’re in Game of Thrones. Despite the grandeur of the building, Horton’s tasting room feels more like a farmer’s market, with an array of exclusive goods from local artisans, from bird feeders to cookbooks. The recycling spirit is also evident in the tasting room—the bar is a repurposed bowling alley floor, while their wine bottles are reused to package soaps and scrubs.
Traditionally associated with summer, Horton bottles a delicious and attractive Nebbiolo Rosé in the winter while the reds continue to age. The 2016 Nebbiolo came off the vine in October and will be available in early spring. In the meantime, try the 2015 Nebbiolo with a spicy dish, or with something Asian-inspired. It’s nice to take a break from hearty stews and Cabernet Sauvignons every now and then.
Horton Vineyard’s pride and joy is their Port, an award-winning wine boasting an 18% alcohol content. Talk about warming you up on a snowy day! Horton is one of the only wineries in Virginia that can say they make Port! Their port is also used in a Dark Chocolate Almond Port Toffee from local chocolatier, Cocoa & Spice. The dessert is exclusively available at Horton, so pick it up with a bottle of Port to enjoy as a romantic after-dinner treat.
Horton also offers a myriad of wine-tasting events, from cooking classes to spa days to special deals on National Drink Wine Day (February 18). Check their calendar to RSVP for upcoming events.
Reynard Florence Vineyard: Barboursville, VA
Earning a special spot for producing the only Grenache (2010) in Virginia (and promptly selling 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 risk 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.
Barboursville Vineyard: Barboursville, VA
And of course, no visit to Orange County would be complete without a stop at Barboursville Vineyard, a gorgeous 18th century estate that offers a generous tasting of 20 wines for a mere $7. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, visit the on-site Palladio Restaurant where sommelier Alessandro will be happy to help match the seasonal dishes with the best wines Barboursville has to offer. Foodies can celebrate winter’s most romantic holiday with Palladio’s five-course Valentine’s feast, featuring a wine pairing at each round. If you’d rather just take a bottle of wine to go, you can always count on the famous Octagon blend, a red wine with a highly distinctive character.
Chateau MerrillAnne: Orange, VA
Speaking of taking a bottle to go, “picnic vineyard” Chateau MerrillAnne offers a selection of delicious country wines throughout winter—available for purchase by appointment only. Call ahead to pick up their 2014 Governor Spotswood Bordeaux blend, aged in toasted French oak, or the 2015 Palace Red for a crowd-pleasing blend that pairs well with lamb. Chateau MerrillAnne reopens for regular hours beginning March 3.
So let it be known: winery hopping is just as enjoyable in the winter as it is in any other season. Don’t let the cold keep you out of Orange County’s vineyards!