Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Lazy Sideways Sunday

As we were driving along back country roads on Sunday afternoon, it struck me what a wonderful day we were having. We had just left Chrysalis Vineyards and made our way back into Middleburg and had turned off on a side road looking for the Boxwood Winery. The GPS wasn't working and we found ourselves meandering about some beautiful farm country when it struck me: Ann had put the soundtrack of the movie Sideways in the CD player. How appropriate for a cruise through Virginia wine country on a spectacular day!

The day started early. Trying to beat the heat, I hit the back yard around 8am (thank you dogs for letting me sleep until then!) and put in 2-1/2 hours of gardening. Ann joined in a little while later. It's quite the chore trying to grow things in solid shale that was scraped bare by the contractor who then just threw sod on top of the shale. After getting a lot of work done, I sat in the shade and started putting together a plan for the remainder of that gorgeous day.

Ever since Boxwood announced a month ago that they would be opening to the public, we had wanted to get over there and see their state-of-the-art winery. So, that had me thinking in the direction of Middleburg. I thought we might go to the east side of Middleburg and visit Chrysalis, then start heading back towards Winchester and perhaps stop at Swedenburg and say hi to Marc before touring Boxwood. By then, we'd be good and hungry and could stop at Hunter's Head for a late lunch before heading to Berryville to pick Carter up from his father.

Breakfast of Champions: Pluots and Porchetta

The plan having come together, we hit the shower and then the restaurant to grab the camera and a quick bite to eat. No wine tasting on an empty stomach! We each grabbed a pluot and a slice of my porchetta, cured Berkshire pork loin stuffed with black garlic and fennel sausage that I made from the loin trimmings. Ann couldn't resist the temptation to snap a photo of me tasting tasty salted pig parts while wearing my shirt that says "tasty salted pig parts."

Tasty Salted Pig Parts Indeed!

Camera in hand and stomachs sated, we started off on the leisurely drive out route 50 through horse country to Middleburg and Chrysalis. I was surprised to see that there is a new vineyard going in just west of Chrysalis on the north side of the highway, a vineyard called Cana. Wineries seem to be popping up everywhere these days, a good sign for the industry even if it will be 5-7 years before this new winery comes on line with its own grapes.

Entry Portico at Chrysalis Vineyards

Outdoor Tasting; Norton Vines in Background

Tastings at Chrysalis are held outdoors in nice weather under canopies like the one above. We did the reserve tasting of 12 wines. We weren't wild about any of the reds, but of the reds, the Norton and the Norton reserve were the best of the bunch. I'm not crazy about the flavor or the abundant acidity of Norton; it's just not a grape that appeals to me. The other reds, such as Petit Verdot and Tannat, seem like they were abused during pressing: the tannins are way out of balance. Perhaps new winemaker Alan Kinne is turning things around: his whites seem much better than those of his predecessor (who is now at Swedenburg). Of the whites, the 2011 Albariño and 2011 Viognier are both pretty good. The Viognier in particular is much, much better than the overoaked and overwrought Viogniers that Chrysalis had been making previously.

From Chrysalis, we headed back to Middleburg and as you read already, starting poking about back roads looking for Boxwood. I decided not to stop at Swedenburg in part because three wineries is one too many in a day and I really wanted to see Boxwood. The first thing I noticed at Boxwood is how immaculate everything is, from the boxwoods outside the tasting room to the grounds and the gleaming stainless steel in the winery.

The Chai, from the Outside
Tastings are Outside at Boxwood in the Courtyard
We sat out in the courtyard where we were quickly joined by manager Amanda Galanis whom we haven't seen since the Linden barrel tasting back in April. We tasted the current roster of wines: rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Boxwood, Cabernet Franc-dominant Topiary, and their blend of leftovers and declassified wines, Trellis. I had tasted all these wines about 6 weeks ago and they have all come around very nicely. I'd happily drink any of them.

Feeling No Pain!

Detritus from our Debauchery
We like the Cab Franc-Based Topiary
After we drank a bottle of Topiary and ate some cheese and salame, Amanda gave a quick tour of the facility. It is hard not to be impressed at this Rolls Royce of wineries and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of stainless steel.

From the Catwalk above the Fermenters
The Barrel Cave
Ann, Reflected on the Side of the Bottling Line
In the very dim light, I really couldn't shoot the barrel cave without a tripod. All the barrels are in a single layer in concentric circles around the center of the round room. Reluctantly leaving the delightfully cold winery and heading back out into the muggy June weather, we had to take our leave of Boxwood to keep on schedule to get Carter. Boxwood is definitely on our very short list of wineries whose wines are worthy of return visits.

I had worked up a pretty good hunger by the time we reached the Hunter's Head Tavern in Upperville. A pluot, a slice of porchetta, and a few nibbles of cheese and sausage do not fortify an Ed. I was ready for a burger and so was Ann. I have bought Ayrshire beef for the restaurant for a good while in the past and was always having to fight the Hunter's Head for the prime cuts, so I know how good their beef is.

Hunter's Head Tavern, Upperville
We Ate Inside; Too Muggy Outside
We ordered our burgers with Stilton at the bar along with a plate of delicious calamari that was delivered almost instantly. We were going to order wine, but the selection wasn't great and when in a pub, beer is the order of the day. I had a Bass Ale and Ann had a Lindeman's Pêche Lambic which I've never seen on tap before. There were a couple of let downs with our lunch. The lettuce (radichetta?) garnishing the calamari should have been thrown out days before. As for the burgers, Ann's first was ordered medium rare and was delivered well done. The server cheerfully and quickly replaced it though. My rare burger was great. But the Stilton on the burgers wasn't really Stilton; it was some very dry, crumbly white paste inexpensive blue. Real Stilton is soft and moist and noticeably golden with an inimitable flavor. If you say you are going to put Stilton on your burger, by God, you ought to put Stilton on it. Still, the burgers were really good and we're happy we stopped.

Leaning Against the Phone Booth
We wrapped up our little tour by driving back through Millwood and Boyce on our way to Berryville to get Carter. What a great day for a drive, a little Virginia wine, and a burger!

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