When I first visited Barboursville Vineyards, I had no idea their wines could be so good. I also didn’t know their restaurant Palladio was said to be “One of the finest and most authentic Italian restaurants in the United States.” according to John Mariani, the esteemed food critic. By the time I left Barboursville there was no doubt in my mind I had just experienced one of the most all-encompassing quality wine delights of my life!
Barboursville is the former hometown of James Barbour, governor of Virginia, friend of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the magnificent home of James Barbour was designed by Thomas Jefferson. Fire destroyed the mansion on Christmas day of 1884, but the striking ruins stand vigil as a reminder of this 18th governor of Virginia. The setting is reminiscent of a small Italian or French village with a vineyard, ruins, and cottages dotting the landscape.
A long family history
Modern day visitors are wowed by the wine, food, and westward views of the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. To sip a glass of wine on the tasting room’s patio looking out on these blue mountains is truly heaven on earth. It’s no accident that Barboursville Vineyards is so successful. Owned by Gianni Zonin whose family has a long history of Italian winemaking, success was inevitable. In 1990, Zonin asked Luca Paschina to come to Virginia and interview for the job of winemaker and manager. After stints in Napa and New York’s Finger Lakes region, Luca was ready to take the reins of a new and bold winemaking endeavor.
Not that winemaking was unknown in Virginia thanks to the third president of the United States – Thomas Jefferson was convinced someday Virginia would take its spot on the world stage of wine. Many brave pioneers of winemaking gave it a try over the two centuries after Thomas Jefferson had experimented in grape growing and wine production in the early 1800s. The wait was worth it, for Barboursville and others are making their dedication and quality wines known to the world.
There was much work to be done when Luca took the reins of the vineyard. Most vines were ripped out, and Nebbiolo and Muscat grapes were planted. By 1997 the first batch of world-class wines was making its way into the tasting room and customers’ homes. The Octagon series was gaining recognition as one of the best red wine blends in Virginia. Commanding prices of upwards to $280+ per bottle this is a special occasion wine for most customers. It’s not unusual to see Octagon competing with Napa, Sonoma, and European wines on the lists of many Washington DC restaurants. For Barboursville wines to be this respected indicates a trip to the winery is a must for wine lovers visiting the region.
A generous sampling
After my first visit, I knew I had to return and try more of their wines, food, and hospitality. A tasting fee of $7 for a Tuscan Room sampling is reasonable considering I was able to taste twenty wines. I worked my way through the whites, rosé, and reds before ending up at the dessert wines. My head was spinning from trying to reason how these wines could be so good. The Barboursville Sauvignon Blanc is from New Zealand vines and delivers a crisp, fragrant wine without seeming to dump a whole pineapple, kiwi, and passion fruit punch that some of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs can have.
The initial trip was my first time sampling Vermentino, a delicious white wine well known in Italy. Fermented in stainless steel for seven to eight months, Vermentino is a perfect wine to pair with seafood. It can stand up to blackened redfish or enhance a grilled Alaskan salmon fillet. With a dry and luscious minerality, Vermentino would also pair well with Manchego cheese or Petit Basque. Though not usually a fan of dessert wines, Barbourville’s Paxxito (Malvaxia) is impressive. With more gold medal awards than this column has room to mention, I highly recommend sampling and buying this sweet winner.
On the weekends visitors can relax in Library 1821 where highly praised wines from the past are made available. Paired with culinary offerings and starting at $25 guests are sheltered from the occasional exuberance of the Tuscan Room. A special outdoor area allows guests to gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah and succumb to the spell of great wine and views. On a recent visit, a flight of Octagon wines from 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013 vintages wowed me. Each weekend brings out new offerings and will tempt you to take a few of these gems home.
If you are lucky enough to get lunch or dinner reservations and can partake of the wine pairing, this combo is hard to beat anywhere in the US. To take full advantage of the wine pairing lunch or dinner, it’s best to stay onsite at the 1804 Inn and Cottages. The inn, a classic Georgian villa, predates the mansion by a generation. Staying at the inn or cottages allows guests to take their time and enjoy the grounds thoroughly.
No room at the inn
However, on busy weekends the inn and cottages can be fully booked as we found out on a recent trip. Don’t worry, for the Uphill House Bed and Breakfast can fill the void and is only two miles away. Since you won’t want to drive to Palladio’s wine paired lunch or dinner from the Uphill House B&B, Central Virginia Wine Tours can provide transportation if needed.
Not everyone can take the time to visit Barboursville Vineyards. They are two hours by car from Washington DC or 75 minutes from Richmond. Barboursville Vineyards has an online wine shop for customers to order from their nineteen types of wine. The winery only ships to seventeen states, lucky for me that Maryland is one of them. If your state is not on the list Barboursville ships to, you might have to ask your local restaurant or wine shop to stock their wines.
Barboursville wines that have scored into the 90 point range by Robert Parker are no fluke. Food and Wine Magazine named Palladio among America’s best vineyard restaurants. Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Central Virginia’s wine region as one of the top ten in the world! The secret is out. Now is the time to start planning your trip to this corner of Central Virginia’s exciting wine region.
If You Go
Barboursville Vineyards www.bbvwine.com
Central Virginia Wine Tours http://centralvirginiawinetours.com
Uphill House Bed and Breakfast http://www.uphillhousebandb.com