What sort of idiot leaves for a long weekend of opera and wine and forgets her camera? I'll give you one guess!
Mitchell and I have traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, for a number of summers for open-air opera at the Ashlawn-Highland estate near Monticello. It was the home of James Monroe and just up the road from Mr. Jefferson's estate. Somehow, I don't see them hanging over the back fence comparing notes on crop rotation, but I do imagine them visiting back and forth with a glass of wine and a leg of mutton. Today Ashlawn-Highland is owned by the College of William and Mary (which is located 120 miles away in Williamsburg) and the opera has grown too large for the outdoor venue. Last summer it moved to downtown Charlottesville into the lovely restored Paramount Theater which is located on the downtown pedestrian mall.
The Paramount opened in 1931 and for forty years was a mainstay of downtown movies, until closing in 1974. Its Greek Revival style has been restored both inside and out during a 10-year project that was completed in 2004. Its main hall is octagonal - which is unusual for movie theaters, but excellent for proscenium theater because it creates a space that is wider than deep so that the performers' voices carry well in the space. It is ideal for opera.
Our weekend was two evening performances of Ashlawn-Highland Opera - Don Giovanni and Brigadoon - two lovely dinners on the mall, and wine tasting at four local wineries! The singers were unusually good this year and the acting better than some years, so we thoroughly enjoyed the cultural part of our journey. Good dinners and great wine completed the city part of our trip.
The most fun, of course, was the wine tasting. Now, we enjoy a good wine with dinner (or without) but don't pretend to know much about wine. By doing a formal tasting - ok, four - we learned a lot about the wines (some of it we might remember) and are starting to know why we like, or don't like, certain wines. I pretty much prefer the lighter, sweeter, fruitier white wines, while Mitchell can go a bit drier and likes some of the heavier reds. We visited two wineries last trip, and four more this time, so here's my summary in case you are in the area and want to sample a little vino.
First Colony Winery - We were the first to arrive on Saturday morning, so we had the tasting room to ourselves. A very knowledgeable young woman took us thru twelve wines from dry whites, to dry reds and ending with sweet and dessert wines. We particularly liked a rose' they make that is a "red wine made in the style of a white wine". Several places told us this same thing about rose' vines. I think that the Mateus of my youth has matured into many interesting "real" wines. (The folks at Mateus certainly consider their product to be a real wine, but it was what we drank in college when we didn't want beer! and not as interesting as the new rose's - as best I can tell.) One term I heard a lot was "fruit front". The First Colony 2008 Zephyr was a sweeter white wine that when I tasted it was immediately "fruit front". I could taste peaches and orange and pineapple on my lips and the tip of my tongue - neat! I'm learning to taste wine! We bought a variety of four bottles and moved on to lunch at Pee Wee's Pit BBQ.
Blenheim Winery - We spent our Saturday afternoon at this lovely winery. Altho there were lots of people there when we arrived, the wine person spent a lot of time with us and we learned some more. Although we only bought two bottles of white here, we liked them enough that we also bought two glasses of wine and sat for a couple of hours on their deck reading, drinking and generally enjoying the day. They have a large deck and encourage folks to picnic there. This is also the winery that is owned by Dave Matthews - yes, that one. He has designed the labels and done some of the artwork himself, so there is an extra feeling of fun here. It was probably our favorite place to visit.
Burnley Vineyards - This was an interesting visit. We were the first people there on Sunday morning - we drink wine on Sunday morning. Doesn't everyone? We were served by the actual owner and wine maker - whose middle name is Daniel, but who never actually introduced himself. Good wine maker, not really sociable? As more people showed up, he opened up a little and talked more - maybe got into his tasting persona? - and we ended up loving his wines. We bought a whole case from him, including four bottles of his table wines - a drier white and a drier rose' made from chamborcin grapes - I loved the taste even tho it is drier than I usually like. We also got four bottles of dessert wine - red and white with chocolate - and then four bottles of his fun wines - two red, two white for deck sipping.
Horton Winery - A real old timer in Virginia wineries and a very different experience. They have this huge long list of wines and you tell them which ones you want to taste. Help! If we knew which ones we liked, we'd just order them! Even with our newly acquired knowledge, we weren't ready for this. We told the server that we liked the sweeter wines and she suggested a couple that we did like and bought. We also got a red - Cabernet Franc Reserve - as a gift for a friend. We both really liked the taste and the server assured us that it was not like merlot, which our friend doesn't like. The treasure here was another dessert wine that tastes like chocolate!
In case you are not familiar with the piedmont region of Virginia, you need to know that it's rolling foothills, full of two-lane winding roads. In other words, if you are going to two wineries in one day, you need lunch in between. I'm just saying...
On Saturday we drove to a little town called Fishersville, which is right on the James River, where we found Pee Wee's Pit BBQ. Virginia doesn't really have a unique barbecue style like some other southern places - North Carolina, Memphis, Texas, southern, etc. - so most restaurants do whatever the owner likes and then provide sauces so that you can adjust the flavor to your taste. This was good BBQ and good sides in a cute little mom and pop restaurant. Unlike many BBQ places, it was not completely filled with pig decorations, but they did have a nice greeter at the door.
Sunday we went a little different direction. We were in Gordonsville, Virginia, and had lunch at Tolliver House - lovely little lunch shop that was serving brunch and sandwiches. A good lunch and a good choice if you are in the area.
Virginia wines are a good thing. Look for them at a wine shop near you!
*Pictures are from my cell phone, except the Paramount Theater which I borrowed from them.
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