Virginia is where we first fell in love with wine and for us the wines from this region will always be the standard to which all other wines are compared. We travel down to the Charlottesville area about twice a year (it’s roughly a four hour drive for us), and almost always in mid-November. This year we changed up our route a little bit. Normally, we get within 30 minutes of Charlottesville before stopping for our first tasting. But we’ll pass signs for an ever-growing number of wineries along the way. So, for this trip we decided to try a few further north first.
Our first stop was Gray Ghost Vineyards, which is about an hour west of Washington, D.C. We honestly didn’t know much about the winery – it was simply well-located along our route. But, we are so happy we stopped there. The weather wasn’t the best, as the east coast had just gotten unexpectedly hit with a November snow storm, but we arrived just after they opened, so we had the tasting room to ourselves. The staff was super friendly and more than willing to take the time to talk with us about the wines and the area.
The tasting list here was deep and had something for everyone. German varietals are hit-and-miss this far south, but Gray Ghost succeeded with a Reisling and a Gewürztraminer. The Gewürz was exceptional – floral and “herby” with only the slightest hint of sweetness on the back end. Their Chardonnay was a perfect balance of fruit and wood, with neither overpowering the other. Seyval Blanc is a popular northeast wine, and Gray Ghost’s was crisp and bold, and one of the best we’ve ever tasted! The Cabernet Franc was atypically deep and jammy, and a great red for both of us (we usually agree on whites, but one of us prefers reds light and fruity, while the other likes them dark and peppery).
Less than five minutes from Gray Ghost is Narmada Winery, which immediately became one of our required stops for all future Virginia trips. The tasting room is gorgeous, with a breathtaking view of the vines and a small pond. Again, due to weather and timing, we had the run of the tasting room. In fact, our tasting was interrupted by the owner/winemaker herself! We talked with her for almost an hour while sampling several wines that weren’t even on the tasting list.
At most wineries we enjoy a tasting, buy some bottles and then move on. But there are some where we just want to set up camp and absorb the ambiance. We are already making plans to come back to Narmada in the summer, so that we can better explore the grounds and relax on the porch for an afternoon.
The owners of Narmada are from India and they have a distinct approach to winemaking that we’ve never experienced before. Averaging between $20 and $40, the wines here a slightly more expensive than those of other regional wineries, but don’t let that turn you away. We tasted things here that absolutely astounded us and that we may never taste anywhere else again. Here we had our first ever Chardonel – made from a hybrid of Chardonnay and Seyval grapes – which was fruity and lightly oaked and simply amazing. Another wonderful first for us was the Tannat, a deep, hearty red from a grape that is traditionally used for blending, but is now becoming a popular stand-alone varietal. But what really blew us away was Narmada’s Merlot, a cherry and dark chocolate experience that may well be the best Merlot we’ve ever tasted, not just along the east coast but from anywhere we’ve tasted before.
And for Lunch…
One of the reasons we altered our route was so that we could visit Griffin Tavern and Restaurant. We had learned through the Internet that this English pub served local Virginia wines, which was perfect for us. The fish and chips and mojo burger were just what we needed for the two-hour drive down to Charlottesville. We also tried two great wines from nearby Rappahannock Cellars: a white blend and a Meritage (a classic red blend). Needless to say, we now have o visit Rappahannock Cellars directly on our next visit to the area.
- We can’t say this often enough – get out of your comfort zone and try something new. It’s a big world and it’s full of great wines!
- Gray Ghost is a great stop for a group with different tastes – something dry, something sweet, something light, something rich, and everything in between.
- Narmada is a top-tier winery with unique wines, a beautiful tasting area and amazing views. A must-do, even with above average pricing.
- Visit Griffin Tavern for an affordable, hearty, pub-style meal and access to some more local wines.