On Saturday April 14th several Virginia wineries participated in the inaugural Reston Great Grapes wine festival. The day was overcast with scattered showers which, although a little nuisance, kept the crowd lighter than expected. This allowed attendees to sample wines without waiting in long lines – the usual case at these events. The organizers of Great Grapes arranged quality musical acts that performed throughout the day. The Martha Bassett Band was a real surprise and the Kelly Bell Band, although late, gave their usual outstanding performance. This year we started a new policy, where we only taste only one type of wine at these festivals. In the past, many of the wines seemed to blend together and it was difficult to appraise a wine after going from dry->sweet or white->red for each winery.
Today we decided upon dry reds (once again) and there were many excellent offerings. The first tent we visited was for Cave Ridge Vineyard, a new winery located near Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley. At today’s event they were pouring a Riesling, Viognier, Traminette, and luckily, one red wine: Chambourcin. This is a dry medium bodied wine with nice cherry flavors; light tannins provide a smooth finish. A good start to the day. Next we proceeded to Veramar’s tent, hoping beyond expectations that their Norton would be available. Nope. Instead, they were pouring their Chianti-style Rooster Red and a new release, Red Chicken. I’ll have to contact the winery to determine what grapes produced the wine, but this was another nice medium bodied wine – full of berry flavors and a slight spicy finish. At $14, this is a reasonably priced wine.
From Veramar, we moved to the upper level and found the star of the day, Lake Anna Winery. Located in Spotsylvania County, a few miles away from Lake Anna, the winery has been operating for over twenty years making wine primarily from traditional vinifera grapes. We were informed by Will, one of their charismatic volunteers, that Lake Anna either grows all their grapes or sources from surrounding vineyards. And in most cases, these vineyards grow solely for Lake Anna. Today we tasted their Spotsylvania Claret, Totally Red, 2003 Merlot, and 2003 Cabernet Franc. Each of these wines was awarded medals at the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, with the Spotsylvania Claret winning a Gold medal. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Touriga, and Petite Verdot. It is made slightly dry with a little acidity at the finish and is the winery’s most popular wine. The Totally Red is similar (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Touriga, and Chambourcin) - a littler drier and fuller. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were even drier and fuller, both had strong berry flavors and smooth finishes. Of the two, I preferred the Cab Franc; this is an excellent wine and if not for Horton’s Tannat, my favorite of the festival. We decided to setup camp next to Lake Anna’s tent on a hill overlooking the lower section and stage. Throughout the day we couldn’t notice that the largest crowds surrounded Lake Anna’s tent. Was it the perfect location or good wine? Probably a little of both, but we returned for the wines.
After watching the Martha Bassett Band perform their last few songs, we moved on to the rest of the wineries encamped on the upper level. We liked North Mountain Vineyard’s Chambourcin which is a full-bodied red which won a Silver medal at the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. We didn’t stay long, attracted by the thought of tasting Horton Vineyard’s wines in the next tent. Horton was pouring a few red wines, and we overlooked their Norton (see a description of this wine in the Wine 101 section) in order to concentrate on their Cabernet Franc and Tannat. The Cabernet Franc is a gold medal wine, with a full cherry flavor and slightly spicy finish. It was very comparable to Lake Anna’s version. The Tannat was amazing. It is as dry as the Cab Franc, but with a much spicier finish. It also has a uniqueness that you won’t find in the standard Virginian red wine. It wasn’t until I was home and researched the wine did I find that it is a star. In the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, it was not only awarded a Gold medal, but it won the Best of Red award; i.e. in 2006 it is considered Virginia’s best red wine. No kidding. We also tried Horton’s port offerings since it’s hard to resist dessert wines, and at least they were red. We preferred the Jamestown Commerative Courage port styled wine, a blend of Tourica Nacional, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It is full bodied and seems to have more flavor than their Vintage Port.
We decided to have a little fun and try our luck at Peaks of Otter Winery, which specializes in fruit wine and other interesting concoctions. We started with our favorite, the slightly sweet Plumlicous. We were then talked into trying the “Chili Dawg” - 97% apple 3% chili pepper wine, plus a shot of cheese wiz. Then, peer pressure forced us to “Kiss the Devil” or in order words, try their super hot – pepper wine made from 30 varieties of peppers. I needed a chaser of the Mountain Grape sweet concord to wash away the burn. It was readily apparent that Peaks of Otter is a fun group to hang with.
Before settling in to watch the Kelly Bell Band, we stopped to try Le Mousseux, a sparkling Virginia cider from La Provençale Cellars. The cider is a blend of several types of apples including Macintosh, Jonathan, and Granny Smith. Not only is the cider awesome, but is a great idea to provide a non-alcoholic beverage so that children can feel like they are participating in the tasting. We hope to see Le Mousseux offered at future festivals.
In sum, despite the weather this was a great event. Not only were there excellent wines, food and music, but it was located minutes from our back door. Hopefully the low turnout will not discourage the organizers from producing a similar event next year.