Pour out the wine without restraint or stay,
Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,
Pour out to all that wull.
Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599)
I am the first to admit that I like a good glass of wine. Therefore, some weeks back John suggested that we attend the annual Virginia Wine Festival in Leesburg and I agreed that it would be fun to try – so yesterday, after a late breakfast and in a light, chilly drizzle, we set off via the Dulles Greenway. It was a fine drive until we exited the Greenway onto Route 15, where traffic came to a standstill. Not in the other direction, of course; no, just northbound, where we were headed. At first we thought it might be due to the immediate proximity of the Leesburg Premium Outlets, but as those shops receded in the distance, we slowly became reconciled to the fact that all this traffic was, indeed, heading to the Festival. With nothing else to do as traffic crept along, we looked out the windows. There were a lot of large birds circling overhead; we passed a tree where at least a half dozen were crouched. “What are they?” John asked. “Vultures,” I responded. “They’re waiting for exhausted wine seekers to drop by the wayside.”
It took us slightly over an hour to travel slightly under five miles, but at last we turned into the Morven Park Equestrian Center, void of horseflesh for the day. We were directed to park in a meadow (in fact, we were nearly in the shrubbery). From there we had a quarter-mile hike to the entrance to the place, where our wrists were banded with green paper and we were handed a nice little wine glass and a program. The wine glass was a pleasant surprise; we had been expecting a day of plastic cups. The only difficulty was hanging onto the damn things in a crowd. And there was, indeed, a crowd. In the tasting tents, eager tasters pressed forward, glasses extended, to receive anywhere from two tablespoons to a quarter-cup of wine depending on the generosity of the person pouring. Those in the know had clever little lanyards around their neck, designed to cradle their wine glass in an upright position. After pricing these creations at one of the craft booths, we opted just to hold ours.
And so we started tasting. One of the annoyances of the tasting procedure is that many people, after receiving their taste, drink it and then hang out in front of the table, chatting (and usually not about the wine). We saw an awful lot of 20- somethings who were tossing back whatever was available and holding out their glasses for more, regardless of type or color – sort of like the wine version of a collegiate pub crawl. For the $25 admission fee ($20 if you bought your ticket online), it was a pretty good deal if you weren’t picky about what you drank. John isn’t much of a wine drinker and I prefer a robust wine, so we were focused on finding a decent, full-bodied red. As these pictures will attest, we didn’t have a lot of luck. We tasted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Claret and table blends in a vain search for a palatable red. Without exception, they were all wan and lusterless, and most of them had a sour, raw finish.
One thing we did enjoy was a “paid” tasting, provided by Valhalla Wines. For an extra ten bucks apiece, we received the winery’s own generously-sized glass and a sizable pour of their Reserve Tasting Wines – three whites, three reds and two dessert wines. The very first wine was a nice buttery Chardonnay; the rest were good to only okay. We bought a bottle of the Chard and moved on. At the Kluge Estate table we happened on a really pleasant sparkling Blanc de Blancs; we bought two bottles. Between our initial pair of wine glasses, the Valhalla glasses and three bottles of wine, we were well burdened. Fortunately I found an abandoned plastic bag with handles that was sturdy enough to carry some of the load, and onward we went, tasting and tasting.
By the time 5 PM rolled around, I was starting to get a bit buzzed; the bridge of my nose and my upper lip were going numb. We took a break and strolled around some of the craft tables; a lot of it was the same kind of stuff you see at high-end craft shows like Sugarloaf, so we weren’t terribly interested. We thought about having a snack, but all the food tents were shutting down (the day’s event was over at six). Many people were relaxing on the grounds, having brought chairs and blankets, and we saw much evidence of the afternoon’s debauch. We joined the other folks who were headed to their cars. Some were wobbling more than others, there was the occasional mellow whoop, and John kindly returned a cell phone to a woman who had dropped it as she stumblingly entered her car. We got into our car and made our way back out to Route 15, where the traffic was going at a much faster clip than it had earlier (which, based on the condition of some the drivers we saw leaving the Festival, was probably not a good thing). John wanted to try out a restaurant that had been recommended to him, so we stopped at Tony’s New York Pizza in Fair Lakes on our way home. The restaurant was crowded and warm and redolent of garlic, and we absolutely demolished a sausage and black olive pizza. It was a very tasty ending to a really pleasant day.