Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A little wine for now

Saturday morning, L and I decided to take advantage of a sunny, cool day and hit a few of the wineries out near Charlottesville. We had hit wineries out near Crozet and Afton earlier in January and had tried unsuccessfully to hit a few wineries on the Northern neck early in February.

We plotted the trip carefully—follow a rural route out to Barboursville, then make a circuit of a couple before looping back on I-64. Between Barboursville and Gordonsville, we skipped Horton; the quality of their wines has dropped significantly since the cut the Devil's bargain and started focusing on sweet wines and big events like the Mardi Gras celebration they were running that afternoon. Instead, we headed straight for Barboursville.

Virginia wineries fall into a few tiers. First are the serious wineries that have a real focus and sophistication on the wines they produce. Barboursville falls into this category. Unlike the younger wineries who use their location and/or their architecture as a selling point, Barboursville puts its focus squarely on the wines. (Sure, the location is spectacular and the restaurant and Shakespeare in the castle ruins are nice parts of the experience, but they aren't positioned as the main draw.) And the wines are impressive.

Highlights included a very nice Sangiovese, a Barbera, the Cab Sauvignon, the Nebbiolo, and their Octagon blend. I liked the Cab Franc and Viognier as well, but L wasn't sold on those. We considered picking up a couple of bottles, but in the end just opted for a bottle of the Cab. There were, after all, a few wineries left to go.

By now, it was lunch time. Unfortunately, the restaurant was completely booked up, and we hadn't seen any of the little caf├ęs we'd hoped for in town. The hostess recommended a stop along Route 20 heading south to Charlottesville. We lit out in search of Grand Junction, and nearly missed the place as we came over a hill and around a bend.

To call Grand Junction quirky would be an understatement. The one-room general store and lunch counter offered everything from batteries to local eggs to boxes of pad thai to lollipops and toys. And Vicky, who was holding down the fort, seemed to be just a neighbor or friend who'd popped in to take care of things. She was casual and friendly as she put together our sandwiches. Unfortunately, the menu was light on vegetarian options. L opted for the one veggie sandwich on the menu, and asked for a few minor substitutions. Somehow, this resulted in a turkey and mozzarella sandwich. When we pointed out the problem, Vicky was apologetic and offered us a couple pieces of cake as an apology after she pulled together the correct sandwich.

While Grand Junction won't win any great culinary awards, the food hit the spot and the price was more-than-reasonable. It was like eating in someone's living room, a throwback to a time when the corner store was more than just an anachronism. In the end, we also found that it pays to get to know locals — Vicky filled us in on a shortcut over the mountain to Keswick Vineyards, our next stop.