Want more wine? Check out our article, "Raising the Bar: Best Wine Bars in Washington, DC."
Barboursville—a Disneyland for oenophiles—
On a busy Saturday in a cozy tasting room in Virginia, I set out to become a wine groupie.
A friend and I were sipping a Seyval when a more portly, less twinkly Mr. Big type told us we should try the Seyval at another winery down the road, which he assured us was far drier. That prompted a twentysomething woman behind us to say she couldn’t disagree more. A winery two counties away, she swore, made the best Seyval.
It wasn’t long before a small group of strangers had gathered to swap best-of, worst-of wine stories. I must have looked puzzled by their passion. The woman laughed and said, “We’re wine groupies. Welcome to the club.”
By the end of the day, I was, if not a veritable wine groupie, a wannabe. I went home determined to discover the best vineyards to visit in Virginia and Maryland.
I talked to sommeliers, restaurateurs, and winemakers as well as friends who like winetasting. I was looking for good wine but also vineyards that offered visitors a beautiful setting and a fun experience. I wound up with a list of suggestions that spanned from farmland outside Charlottesville to the banks of the Eastern Shore. I visited nearly three dozen.
In the end, I came up with these four itineraries for winetasting.
While the recommended wineries in the itineraries are near one another, in some cases a drive between two can be as much as half an hour. But along the way, you may see other wineries or a charming town or lovely vista that tempts you off the road. That’s the idea. These trips—be they for the day or weekend—are meant as an introduction to a wine region and all it offers.
Before you go, bear in mind a few things. Most wineries charge a tasting fee, typically $3 to $10, although many include a souvenir glass. The listings that follow note when fees are higher or lower than the norm.
Most wineries sell cheese and crackers if you’re feeling peckish, but you’ll do better if you plan ahead and order a picnic from a nearby market. Wineries generally have ample grounds with picnic tables; some provide cozy indoor spots where you can eat on chilly days. All will sell you a bottle of wine, and many now sell wine by the glass to round out your meal.
Because tasting a little wine here and a little wine there can add up, it’s a good idea to have a designated driver or to hire a car to take you around. The inns and hotels mentioned here can help you find a driver. For day trips from Washington, contact a sedan or limo service. In Virginia, try Fairfax Limo (703-229-5057; fairfax-limo.com) or Harvest Limousine (703-606-4598; harvestlimo.com); in Maryland, Link Sedan & Limousine (888-325-4668; linksedan.com).
French and Italian Grapes and Fine Fare
Loudoun, Prince William, and Fauquier counties are home to some of the area’s best wineries.
Linden Vineyards, a darling of wine critics, lives up to its reputation. Try an herby Petit Verdot aged in oak for 20 months, and the unusual Petit Manseng, a late-harvest wine made from grapes grown on a slope at the top of the vineyard. Daily tastings are free, but only club members—those who buy a case of wine a year—are admitted to the deck and grounds on Saturdays and Sundays. On weekends, all visitors can do the $12 reserve-cellar tastings, conducted every 45 minutes. 3708 Harrels Corner Rd., Linden; 540-364-1997; lindenvineyards.com. April through November, Wednesday through Sunday 11 to 5; December through March, Saturday and Sunday 11 to 5.
Perhaps you’ve seen the drink naked bumper stickers. The name Naked Mountain Winery may draw people in, but it’s the drop-dead view from the foot of the Blue Ridge and the signature Black Label Chardonnay, aged in French oak, that keep them coming back. This small winery has a comfy tasting room with a fireplace, but if the weather’s nice, head out to the deck or the edge of the koi pond for fresh mountain air. 2747 Leeds Manor Rd. (Rt. 688), Markham; 540-364-1609; nakedmtnwinery.com. Daily 11 to 5.
Next head to Three Fox Vineyard, a good place to unpack a picnic. There are picnic tables and even hammocks nestled along a creek. Many visitors spend the day on the 50-acre property—wandering the gardens, playing bocce, or sipping wine on the tented terrace. Try the dry Northern Italian–style “Rose,” a newcomer, and the Volpe Sangiovese, an award-winning Italian blend. 10100 Three Fox La., Delaplane; 540-364-6073; threefoxvineyards.com. Thursday through Monday 11 to 5.
A day trip to this region is easy from Washington, but consider staying overnight at the country-chic L’Auberge Provençale. You’ll dine on French specialties including mussels with Pernod and fennel courtesy of owner/chef Alain Borel, who hails from Avignon. The inn’s restaurant has a sophisticated wine list that spans the globe from Bordeaux to Napa to, yes, Virginia, courtesy of Alain’s American-born wife, Celeste. White Post; 540- 837-1375; laubergeprovencale.com. Rooms from $195, prix-fixe dinner $90.
More winetasting can be done on your way home. Head east on Route 50, where you can stop at Market Salamander in Middleburg. Grab coffee and a picnic at this epicurean fantasy brought to you by chef Todd Gray of Equinox and Sheila Johnson, cofounder of BET. If you call ahead, the market will design a picnic based on wineries you’re visiting. You can’t go wrong with selections such as buttermilk-brined and fennel-rubbed rotisserie chicken and duck confit with haricots verts (prices from $6). 200 W. Washington St., Middleburg; 540-687-8011; market-salamander.com/va. Daily 11 to 7.