FOOD & WINE- The Wine List

Look out California, your days as the heart of America's wine country might be numbered.

That's what some are saying about the booming Virginia wine industry. According to the Virginia Wineries Association, the more than 260 wineries in the Commonwealth produce over 750,000 gallons of wine a year!

But it's not just quantity that's caught the wine world's attention. Virginia wines are winning awards galore in national and international competitions, and some of those gold- and silver-medal bottles come from right here in Central Virginia. 

Cleanse your palate and gas up your car, because there's plenty of tasting to be done in our own backyard.

Afton Mountain Vineyards - Located on a beautiful spread in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, this mom and pop vineyard makes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, a "Sweet Afton" dessert wine and, (yes, Sideways fans) one of the area's only Pinot Noirs. Given its mountain location, the view ain't bad either. W-Sun,10am-6pm for most of the year. 540-456-8667.

Autumn Hill Vineyards/Blue Ridge Winery - Established in 1979, Autumn Hill calls itself "Virginia's Home of Serious Red Wine." But those who prefer whites should have no fear. In addition to such reds as Merlot and a "Horizon Rouge" Bordeaux-style blend, they also offer Chardonnay and Viognier. Open only for special events on a weekend in April and October 14-15 and 21-22, 2006 for the 20th annual barrel tasting. 985-6100.

Barboursville Vineyards - Growing grapes on the estate with Thomas Jefferson's Historic Landmark Ruins, this is one of Virginia's most acclaimed wineries, racking up awards from all over the country for wines young and old. Both Classic and Reserve selections are available. Open 10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun. 540-832-7572.

Blenheim Vineyards - This vineyard's biggest boast– aside from the fact that it's owned by Dave Matthews– is Brad McCarthy, one of Virginia's leading winemakers. In addition to three types of Chardonnay, they also make Merlot, Meritage, and Petit Verdot. Don't expect to just pull up and grab a glass, though. Tours and tastings are by appointment only. 293-5366.

Burnley Vineyards - This family-owned and -operated winery is one of the oldest in the area. They offer several varieties of "Rivanna" blends in addition to more traditional wines. It's not a bad place to end an exhausting day of tasting, as the owners offer a guest house that sleeps four. Open daily 11am-5pm all year. 540-832-2828.

Cardinal Point Vineyard & Winery - Here you can take in views of the Rockfish Gap, Skyline Drive, and the Blue Ridge Parkway while sampling a bottle of white, a bottle of red, and perhaps a bottle of rosé (made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes). Open daily year-round 11am-5:30pm. 540-456-8400.

Christensen Ridge - Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Vidal grapes cover 200 acres. A five-bedroom main house and a three-story log cabin are available for lodging. Open weekends 11am-5pm for most of the year. 540-923-4800.

Cooper Vineyards - This Louisa vintner has racked up medals galore from wine festivals across the country for everything from Merlot to a blend called Coopertage Blanc. All wines are aged in French Oak barrels with the exception of their Norton wine (made from a native Virginia grape) which is aged in oak from right here in the Commonwealth. Open 11am-5pm, daily in April-December, just on weekends January-March.

DelFosse Vineyards and Winery - Having planted their first grapes in 2000, this Nelson County winery is the newest in Central Virginia. Their vineyards of 10 kinds of varietal grapes are planted in the European "terraced" style, one of the only such vineyards in the Commonwealth. Their first wines have come out in the last few years and include international gold medal-winning bottles of Chardonnay and a blend called Cuvee Laurent. Open Wed-Sun 11am-5pm year-round. 263-6100.

First Colony Winery - With all due respect to fiddlers on roofs everywhere, this place is all about Old World tradition! Complete with a winemaker from France, First Colony has transplanted the craft from the Loire Valley to just east of the Shenandoah Valley. The wine list includes several dry whites, reds and a "Sweet Sherando" off-dry blend. Open 11am-5pm daily year-round. 979-7105.

Gabriele Rausse Winery - This winery is mostly a small, private venture, and while it's not open to the public, you can find Rausse himself at various wine festivals and at his day job as Associate Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello. Offerings include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and two kinds of Chardonnay, all available in the Charlottesville area. 296-5328.

Green Springs Winery at Gioiosa Vineyards - With the help of Gabriele Rausse, the owners of this Louisa spread started up their winery 10 years ago and put out their first vintages in 2004: Rosé, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Open 11am-6pm Thurs-Sun or by appointment. 540-967-9463.

Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery - As the name suggests, there are very few grapes to be found here. Instead, the wines are made almost exclusively from sweeter fruits like blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and the house specialty, blackberries. They also make mead, perfect for your next Renaissance faire or jousting match. Open year-round, Wed-Sat 11am-5pm (9am-5pm in August, during berry season) and 1pm-5pm Sun. 361-1266.

Horton Cellars Winery - Whether you're talking about their annual pig roast, their six varieties of fruit wine, or their "Dom Virginion"– purportedly the world's first and only sparkling Viognier– this Orange County vineyard is far from traditional. But after they won gold medals in several competitions across the country, nobody seems to be complaining. Open 10am-5pm daily year-round. 540-832-7440.

Jefferson Vineyards - This vintner borrows the name of Virginia's most famous wine connoisseur with good reason. The land where they grow their grapes is the site of Mr. Jefferson's original 1774 vineyard, a mile south of Monticello. In "truly fulfilling Jefferson's vision," they make a wide variety of red and white wines and two "Jefferson's Own" blends. Open 11am-5pm daily year-round. 977-3042 or 1-800-272-3042.

Keswick Vineyards - Located on the Edgewood Estate in the eastern part of Albemarle Coutny, Keswick has a decidedly narrow focus, offering only seven different kinds of wine. The lack of quantity doesn't appear to have hurt the quality, however. Their 2002 Viognier Estate Reserve was voted "Best White Wine in America" at an Atlanta competition. Tasting room open daily 3pm-11pm. 244-3341.

King Family Vineyards - This Crozet spread is home to the Roseland Polo Field, where diehard fans and curious newcomers can watch this English pastime every Sunday. Oh, and they also make wine. Look for Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc in addition to several blends and four bottles of Michael Shaps brand wines, named for the winemaker they share with DelFosse and Keswick Vineyards. Open 9am-5pm daily year-round. 823-7800.

Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard - With a view looking down on Monticello, this Carter's Mountain vineyard makes wine with a decidedly nontraditional bent. Aside from a sparkling Chardonnay, all of their wines are blends made from 50 acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay grapes. Open Mon 11am-4pm, Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm year-round. 977-3895.

Mountain Cove Vineyards & Wine Garden - While Al Weed might be better known now as a Congressional hopeful, he also happens to be one of the founders of the Old Dominion's experiment with viticulture. His Mountain Cove is Virginia's oldest continually operated winery. This Nelson County vineyard offers a small variety of exclusive blends and sweet wines made from locally grown fruit. Open daily 12pm-6pm March through October and 11am-5pm November through December. 263-5392.

Old House Vineyards - Seventy-five acres of Culpeper real estate and a restored 19th century farmhouse constitute these newer vineyards. Having won awards from domestic and international wine festivals for everything from Chardonnay to a red blend called "an Samhradh," it's an up and comer in the Virginia wine game. Open Mon, Thurs and Fri 1-5 pm, Sat 11am-5pm, and Sun 12pm-5pm or call for an appointment. 540-423-1032.

Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery - Almost literally a stone's throw from the Charlottesville city limits, this is Albemarle County's oldest winery. In spite of its proximity to the hustle and bustle of Hooktown, the location has a country feel complete with a lake and a view of the Blue Ridge. Among the wines are a Virginia State Fair gold medal-winning Seyval Blanc and one of the area's only bottles of Chambourcin. Open 11am-5pm daily for most of the year. 296-4188.

Prince Michel Vineyards - As anybody driving to or from Washington knows, Prince Michel Vineyards are conspicuously located right on Route 29 a few miles south of Culpeper. In addition to area commonalities like Cabernet Franc and Merlot, they make Shiraz, a rare find in Central Virginia. Whether you buy wine made under their Virginia, Madison or Rapidan labels, a portion of your money goes to the Leducq Foundation for cardiovascular research. Open daily 10am-6pm year-round. 540-546-3707.

Rockbridge Vineyard - This is no fly-by-night winery. Owner and winemaker Shepherd Rouse has been serious about his viticulture and his Commonwealth for decades and married his two passions in 1988 when he planted five acres of grapes at his farm in Rockbridge County. Since then, this European-schooled vitner has produced several acclaimed vintages over the years, including three Virginia Governor's Cup winners. Open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun-Mon 12pm-5pm. 1-888-511-9463.

Stone Mountain Vineyards - Inspired by the grapes grown in the mountains on either side of Europe's Rhine River Valley, this vineyard is distinctive for its high elevation (1,700 feet) in relation to the rest of Central Virginia. With only four kinds of wine, including two house blends, it's the only winery in the area with a wine made as "a tribute to moonshiners and the revenue agents who pursued them." Open weekends for most of the year, Fri-Sun 11am-5pm. 990-9463.

Veritas Winery - Latin proverbs aside, the Veritas wine list is indeed true to European tradition, offering wines like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Claret. In-house specialty blends include Kenmar, a fruity dessert wine, and a dark red called Othello. The Afton vineyard also features another one of Virginia's famous exports– there's a stable of horses on site. Open daily 11am-5pm, year round. 540-456-8000.

White Hall Vineyards - This western Albemarle County vineyard boasts several accolade-winning wines, including a national gold medal Cabernet Franc and several state-recognized Chardonnays. For the femme fatale in your life, they make a deep blend called Breakheart Red. Feel free to pack a lunch and picnic under the oak trees. Open W-Sun, 11am-5pm year round. 823-8615.

Wintergreen Vineyard & Winery - After an exhilarating day of skiing (or falling, depending on your proficiency) on the slopes of Wintergreen Resort, you can enjoy a wide range of red and white wines at the nearby vineyard of the same name. Offerings include multiple award-winning varieties of Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and even raspberry wine. Open daily year-round, 10am-5pm in the fall and winter, 10am-6pm when the weather gets warmer. 361-2519.