Day three started out brisk and sunny, and pretty much stayed that way. We started early because our third required stop was almost an hour away, and after these last two tastings and lunch, we had a long drive back home. Thankfully we had planned ahead and brought breakfast fixings with us to our AirBNB.
A few years ago, while tasting at nearby Blenheim Vineyards (sorry, we didn’t have time to get back there this time) we sampled – and purchased – a few wines by Gabriele Rausse, who we were unfamiliar with at that time. We recall being impressed, but also confused as to why these wines were being sold at an seemingly unaffiliated winery. Apparently, Rausse is one of the leading vintners in Virginia who had a hand in making wines at a number of Virginia wineries over the last few decades.
We were warned that the Gabriele Rausse Winery tasting room was easy to miss, with only a small “open” sign hanging from some old farm equipment at the end of a dirt driveway. The tasting room is in a small cabin surrounded by woods. Inside is an eclectic mix of decorations and vinyl records. The wines are served by the glass or bottle, and tastings can include food pairings (or you can order a plate from a small menu). The style of wine here can be best described as “classic.” It’s obvious the Rausse holds true to European traditions with his winemaking. These wines would fit comfortably on any wine list at any top-rated restaurant in the world.
Our tasting included nine wines, each generously poured (translation: we took our time there, while sampling the bread and olive oil provided). This included the only sparkling wine of our weekend, the 2018 Chasselas Doré Sparkling, which was very dry but still lightly fruity, a great wine for brunch. When our server saw how much we enjoyed the pleasantly oaked 2017 Chard, he gave us a taste of the Chardonnay Reserve, which had a far more pronounced – and far tastier – oakiness. Unlike most East Coast Merlots, Rausse’s was a rich, opaque red that was the perfectly balance of dry and jammy.
The third of our three required Virginia wineries (which is now up to four, after discovering Narmada two days ago) is Michael Shaps Wineworks. Although there is now a spacious tasting room, when we first visited Wineworks ten years ago the tasting area was inside the barrel room, with a sheet of plywood across two barrels for a bar. Like Rausse, Shaps is a big player in the Virginia wine scene. He provides a unique experience that further proves (to us, anyway) the true value of East Coast wines. This is due to the two tasting lists offered here, one of Virginia made Wineworks wines, and one from the Maison Shaps winery in France. Both are crafted by the same person, but with amazingly different results.
That said, although the French wines were superb, we without-a-doubt preferred the Virginia varietals. We appreciate the boldness of the VA wines and the risks taken to set them apart from other wines, both local and European. Maybe we’re biased towards home grown wines, or maybe our pallets have been defined by our experience with East Coast wine. Whichever it is, we know what we like, and we know what we love.
We knew that the Shaps Viognier was going to be great, but we were still blow away by its vibrant flowery fruitiness. There is also a boxed Viognier available that is no less wonderful (and yes, boxed wines can be great). The Chardonnay was an exquisite combination of apply tartness and toasted vanilla. A white blend, the Odette is crisp and lightly fruity with tropical notes. If a dry white wine could be described as “heavy” and “rich,” then Shaps Petit Manseng is it. The Cabernet Franc was simply amazing – we left with multiple bottles. It was oaky and smoky, with a gentle berry finish and very light tannins (that bitterness at the end that makes your tongue feel parched). Dry, peppery and with stronger tannins, the Petit Verdot was one of the best we’ve ever had.
And for lunch… whiskey?
So, this was unplanned, and actually took us well out of our way, but when another wine tasting couple at Shaps told us where they were going for lunch, we just had to tag along (we emphasized we were totally not stalking them, but were intrigued by this ranch that was known for whiskey and beef). The Ragged Branch Distillery makes “Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey-Wheated and Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey-Rye,” and serves mixed cocktails made from these spirits. We aren’t big bourbon drinkers, but we were hooked when we heard that they also sell (and serve) “bourbon beef” – ground beef and steaks from cattle fed with the residual mash from the distillation process.
The menu is limited to a single item, which changes periodically (weekly, we believe). After our tasting we each thoroughly enjoyed three savory beef tacos with fresh fixings and a whiskey bourbon cocktail. The view was amazing – the tasting room overlooked rolling fields rising up into the wooded hills. This certainly wasn’t what we had intended to do for lunch, but it was one of those random opportunities that we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves, and wouldn’t have missed for the world.
- Gabriele Rausse wines are locally grown and traditionally made. Visit if your enjoy the classic European style. This is a great stop for lunch, too.
- Michael Shaps has two wine lists – Virginia’s Wineworks and France’s Maison Shaps. Compare the two and decide for yourself.
- Visit Ragged Branch for a new experience, especially if you’re a bourbon-drinking carnivore, or at least willing to try something different.