You may have explored the Virginia Wine Trail, but if you want a meal with your wine, you can sample area selections at a few choice restaurants around Charlottesville. Here are some must-visit places for great food and wine pairings.
Wine and brine
Start your food and wine crawl with some raw oysters at Public Fish & Oyster. “My go-to pairing with oysters is Thibaut-Janisson sparkling chardonnay,” says owner Daniel Kaufman. “It has a biscuity-lemony quality and acts in many ways as a mignonette, cutting through the salinity and adding to the briny goodness.” If you’re not in the mood for bubbles, try the Veritas Sauvignon Blanc by the glass. It’s one of his most popular wines and also pairs great with oysters.
You can find Thibaut-Janisson bubbly on Fossett’s wine list at Keswick Hall, too, where sommelier Melissa Boardman will deftly pop the cork to pair the sparkling wine perfectly with the patio view (and maybe the Eastern Virginia crab cakes, too).
Honor the past
Make your way to downtown’s storied C&O, which recently celebrated 40 years. In addition to its rich history, it was one of the first local restaurants to strongly feature Virginia wine, starting in the 1980s under former wine director Elaine Futhey. A team of merry oenophiles, led by Sarah Thackeray, carries the torch today, and continues to honor local wines.
“I’m digging the 2014 Madeleine’s Chardonnay from Breaux Vineyards,” says C&O manager Jenn Lockwood. “Its crisp finish is great with our monkfish entrée.”
The American wine list at The Ivy Inn has featured Virginia wines since 1995. Wine director Farrell Vangelopoulos has carried Barboursville Vineyards and White Hall Vineyards since the beginning, and she has witnessed the scope of local wines grow to include a wide variety of wineries and grape varieties.
“Michael Shaps, Early Mountain Vineyards, Blenheim, Lovingston and King Family Vineyards are other very popular wines on our list,” Vangelopoulos says. “One of my new favorites is Barren Ridge Touriga. It has a great mouth feel and body for a Virginia red and is priced affordably.” And, it would be delicious with The Ivy Inn’s mustard-herb-crusted rack of lamb.
For a crash course in Virginia wine, head to Parallel 38, where you will find one of the widest selections of Virginia wines by the glass. Out of its 150 glass pours, 12 are local. The restaurant is also forging ahead in the keg-wine category (yes, that is a thing) and carries four Virginia wines on tap, including Early Mountain Rosé and Blenheim Chardonnay.
Sommelier and owner Justin Ross has a few personal favorites. “I’m a big fan of Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc with our roasted pork belly,” Ross says. “The acidity cuts through the Autumn Olive Farm pork belly fat, the earthiness in the wine complements the cipollini onion with the dish and the sumac spices make a bright citrus note jump off the palate.”
In chorus with several other wine directors around town, Ross is also a fan of the Pinot Noir from Ankida Ridge: “It’s out of this world.” He suggests trying it with Parallel’s mushroom flatbread pizza with Bear Dog Farms mushrooms, sweet onion, feta, fines herbs and balsamic vinegar. “The combination of the earthy mushrooms and sweet onions pair well with the acid and forest-floor aromas in the Pinot Noir,” he says.
Charlottesville has a wealth of places to make a nice wine-and-cheese match. Visit Stinson Vineyards’ tasting room, nestled on a historic property in Crozet, for a bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc and see what local cheeses are in the fridge. If you’re near downtown, stop by Timbercreek Market for cheesemonger Nadjeeb Chouaf’s recommendation with a bottle of Blenheim Chardonnay, or see what Sara Adduci at Feast! has behind her cheese counter. At The Local, pair the cheese platter with a bottle of Pollak Vineyards Petit Verdot or Horton Vineyards Norton.
The final stop
Top off your local wine tour with dessert at Fleurie, where pastry chef Serge Torres makes a molten mango cake that begs for a glass of Linden Vineyards’ late harvest Petit Manseng. [Full disclosure: This author writes the Fleurie wine list, raids the dessert station at Fleurie several times a week and is on a mission to get more people drinking Petit Manseng.] Petit Manseng has loads of natural acidity and grows extremely well in Virginia’s various climates. Harvested late, its color turns to gold and its aromas go from tart pineapple to candied peach, but the acid remains and highlights the brightness of the mango coulis you’ll find hidden inside of Torres’ molten treat. Talk about a sweet finish.
Erin Scala is the sommelier at Fleurie and Petit Pois. She holds the Diploma of Wines & Spirits, is a Certified Sake Specialist and writes about beverages on her blog, thinking-drinking.com.
The evolving picture
Local wine professionals have noticed a change in drinking habits as Virginia wine trails become more popular. At Foods of All Nations, Virginia wines account for about 10 percent of the selection, and wine director Tom Walters has built up a steady clientele of local wine enthusiasts. “The people who want to buy local,” he says, “always buy local.” His top-selling local wines are Barboursville Vineyards Pinot Grigio and White Hall Vineyards Chardonnay.
On the restaurant side of things, there is a much different reception to Virginia wines than when C&O’s Elaine Futhey first started putting them on wine lists in the 1980s. “Since I’ve opened,” Parallel 38 owner Justin Ross says, “more people ask for local wines. I’d say that about 85 percent of people from out of town are asking for something local to start out with,” and part of this trend can point to Virginia wine’s increasing importance in the United States wine market.
“There are some great wineries around here getting national press, like Early Mountain,” Ross notes. (Early Mountain Vineyards recently won the distinction of No. 1 Tasting Room in the nation by USA Today.)
As vibrant local wine trails increase enthusiasm for Virginia wines in area restaurants, and as wine professionals increasingly look to local wineries to fill key areas of their wine list, endless opportunities unfold to eat and drink local in the Charlottesville dining scene.—E.S.