E ven wine snobs now admit that the Finger Lakes does a mean ice wine and that Long Island produces a number of decent Cab Francs. Next on the East Coast radar? Virginia. It’s been quietly cultivating its grapes since Jefferson’s time, and now, thanks to recent experiments with varietals like Tannat, Petit Verdot, and Chambourcin, and the promising 1998, 2001, and 2005 vintages, the state’s 100 or so wineries deserve closer scrutiny.
Temperatures are about the same in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so a trip won’t get you a reprieve from November’s chill, but there’s still some fall foliage and lots of pure southern-country-valley landscape: sleepy hills, apple orchards, and tidy little chapels. It can be a long highway drive from region to region, so pick one trail and stay there—at least for the day.
Start in Linden, about a 45-minute drive from D.C. The wines at Linden Vineyards (lindenvineyards.com) are some of the most complex and well rounded in the state. Arrive by 11 a.m. on weekends to reserve a special cellar tasting; if there’s a wait, mellow out on the glassed-in porch with a glass of its 2003 Claret ($20) and an artisanal-sausage-and-cheese plate. Next, head east on hilly, relaxing Route 66, hitting newcomer Three Fox Vineyards (threefoxvineyards.com)—try the luscious Il Signor Sangiovese Reserve 2005 ($24) and the Piemontese Nebbiolo 2005 ($28)—and Piedmont Vineyards and Winery (piedmontwines.com), known for its light, food-friendly whites. Pick up a bottle of the sweet, lush Little River White ($13). Spend the night at the quaint Ashby Inn and Restaurant (from $250; 540-592-3900) in nearby Paris. Request a room in the School House building with views of the mountains. For dinner, try the inn’s unfussy, perfectly prepared venison. Nightlife pickings are slim, so best to curl up in front of the fireplace in your room with some dark chocolate and a bottle of Three Fox’s Rosso Dolce Chambourcin 2005 ($28).
In the morning, head south to the Monticello Wine Trail. Make the elegantly lodge-ish Wintergreen Resort (from $130; 800-926-3723) your base; book its highest-elevation villa and wake up surrounded by clouds. First stop: the King Family Vineyards (kingfamilyvineyards.com), where nearly all of the offerings are refined and soft in the mouth; try the Governor’s Cup–winning Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc ($19.95). Go for the Reserve tasting at Veritas Vineyard & Winery (veritaswines .com); make a lunch of the cheese plate and a bottle of lush Vintner’s Reserve ($24.99) on the manicured, gabled lawn. At the Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery (oakencroft .com), focus on the mildly oak-y 2005 Chardonnay Reserve ($20) and the lush 2005 Viognier, which tastes surprisingly (and not unpleasantly) of banana ($20). Finally, head to the easygoing Horton Vineyards (hvwine .com), where you can taste over 30 wines; the ripe Late Harvest Viognier ($16) makes a great hostess gift. Skip the so-so tastings at Barboursville Vineyards (barboursvillewine.com), but pick up a bottle of their revered Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1998 ($65).
At night, order the hanger steak with truffled French fries at Wintergreen’s warm, clubby restaurant, Devils Grill. Or take a break from wine and have a pile of ribs with a beer at Blue Ridge Pig (434-361-1170) down the street. Afterward, head to Charlottesville (about a 30-minute drive) for jazz at Miller’s (where Dave Matthews famously got his start; 434-971-8511) or hit Starr Hill Music Hall (434-977-0017), where biggish indie acts play. Don’t go home without a few bottles of 100 percent Petit Verdot: Local winemakers say it’s the next big thing, and it’ll certainly stump the snob drinkers back home.