About two weeks ago, I was invited out with other food and drink industry types to come for a special wine tasting at the Angus Barn. It was the second event in a tour promoting Virginian wares to their neighbor to the south: us. The first was a Virginian wine and food event at Fullsteam the previous afternoon, but I was unable to make both events in two days. When in doubt, choose the complimentary tasting!
The Angus Barn is one of the most popular restaurants in the area for the steakhouse crowd and the established Triangle politicos. This event was hosted by Barbara Ensrud, a well-known wine writer for her website Be Wine Wise and her long, acclaimed career in the field.
It was a cozy setup with mostly winemakers and winery owners doing the pours. They were stationed in a small room at the back of the empty restaurant.
I slowly made my way through the group, starting with the enthusiastic owner of Democracy Vineyards, Jim. They were one of the youngest wineries at the tasting, opening up about three years ago. Most of the wineries represented had been around for about 10 years, but some had much longer histories than that, bordering on 30 years or more of winemaking. I spent a good amount of time talking with the lovely women of Foggy Ridge Cider, watching the charismatic wine pourer for Barboursville with fascination, and telling the wine pourer from Chateau Morrisette how much I loved their blushing dog rosé a few years back. Turns out all of Chateau Morrisette’s wines bear the image of the family’s black dogs.
A few of the wines stood out for my palette, which of course, may bear no resemblance to yours and tends to prefer blends for easy drinking. Chateau Morrisette had the perfect one for that, the Black Dog semi-dry red table wine. It’s on the left in the previous picture and is exceptionally smooth with strong chocolate, raspberry, and cherry notes. Smells sweet but tastes dry, and it is a cabernet franc and petit verdot blend.
At Barboursville’s table, the nebbiolo stood out to me, a wine varietal not often grown outside of Italy. It is very dry and has an interesting flavor profile, likely because I’m unfamiliar with it. The White Hall Soliterre also drew my attention with its strong notes of apple, and the Rosemont Kilravock impressed me with its blend of bordeaux varietals. The merlot in it smoothes out the rough edges of the rest of the wines in the blend, and there’s a pleasant blueberry juiciness to it.
Ingleside’s Petit Verdot 2007 drew my attention for being a petit grape that does not taste too bright for its own good. Michael Shaps had a couple of great options, too, most notably his Meritage, a blend of petit verdot, merlot, and cabernet franc that I found smoky, leathery, and alluring. He also sampled Virginia Wineworks’ wines in a box, talking up the quality of this newer generation of boxed wines. I thought the cabernet franc was simple, fruity, and refreshing. It would be easy to lose your troubles in it.
What tasting all those wines taught me is that Virginian winemakers do a great job producing blends that are layered yet smooth, making for lovely table wines. I also learned that not all petit varietals have fruit that tastes too tight for me (I’m looking at you, petit syrah). The petit verdot proved that bottle after bottle.
They are making delicious cider, and if all you drink is Woodchuck, folks, you really need to branch out and try cider made by people who know what they are doing. The difference is staggering. I think they are all worth trying, though I would recommend the Serious Cider’s crisper and stronger profile over the more mellow First Fruit. Their Handmade shares more in common structurally with wine than beer, and is very intriguing after trying the first two.
Their two dessert ciders, the Pippin Gold and the Pippin Black, are blended with Virginian apply brandy. Both are absolutely delicious, though the Black pairs somewhat better with food and has a woodier taste to it.
Lastly, there were Virginian lamb ribs and Virginian cheeses on hand to refresh our taste buds as we made our way through the stations.
Of course there was also the Angus Barns standard pimento, cheddar, and blue cheeses served with their crackers and deli slices, which are probably my favorite part of a meal at their establishment. The Virginian cheeses were very good, especially the softer white cheese, and I was amazed at the lamb short ribs, which are pictured in the last photo. I’m not normally a fan of lamb, but these were so tender, it was impossible not to eat two.
And is always the case with foodie events in the Triangle, the best part is getting to meet people whose work I’ve been following and admiring for a while. I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy McDermitt, author of many cookbooks with Asian and Southern bents, and Arturo Ciompi, present wine contributor to Durham Magazine. I also enjoyed meeting Sasha Travers, a local restaurant and gourmet foods marketer, and Phillip Zucchino, owner of The Wine Feed, an online wine retailer based in Raleigh. Thank you to the Angus Barn for putting on this invite, to Polished Pig Media for inviting me out, and to the fantastic winemakers who made the trip. I know I learned a thing or two about Virginian wines I won’t forget soon!