Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Funday

It was just the right amount of getaway.

A 75-minute drive east until we were surrounded by fields and farms and on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Tail, albeit without the verticality of Charlottesville's wine country.

Turning at a field full of buttercups, we made the left into the Hague Winery, pulling up to the tasting room with a sunny deck full of people with bottles of wine.

Inside, our pourer was full of facts and friendly and we tasted through the seven-bottle list including silver winners at the 2011 Governor's Cup.

When we tasted the 2009 Cab Franc, her honesty came through charmingly. "You could age this if you wanted to, but it's so good now and I don't have the patience."

She conspiratorially told us that the locals liked sweet wine, so what she lacked in patience she more than made up for in observation skills.

Before we left, I told her we were going to the nearby Backdraft to eat and wanted a recommendation.

"Get the fried fish sandwich," the tasting manager interrupted. "It's grouper and it's bigger than the bun."

From what I'd heard, the Backdraft was popular with locals, but when we pulled up, it was just the bartender and her boyfriend drinking a Coke at the bar.

She welcomed us aboard, pleased to hear that we'd already heard good things about the place.

When I asked if the fish sandwich was really the best thing on the menu, she boasted, "Well, yea. We bread all our seafood by hand and we use House-Autry. I use it at home, too. Wouldn't use anything else."

Truth be told, I hadn't heard of it, but I now know it's the choice of southern cooks since 1812.

She asked about our choice for a side, and when I asked if her fries were any good, she said they were crinkle-cut, all I needed to hear.

Nothing, I repeat nothing, could top crinkle-cut fries with a fish sandwich.

The sandwich was as good as promised, perfectly breaded, lightly fried and far bigger than the bun.

I did some chatting with the boyfriend who looked bored once the bar started filling up and his girlfriend got busy.

Telling him we were winery hopping, I asked why the locals didn't do the same.

"It's old hat to them," he said disdainfully.

The sign on the bar advertised "Sunday Funday, 1/2 priced burgers and nachos," but I'm inclined to think that even if I came back on a Sunday, I'd still go for the fish.

Apparently the Backdraft is a hot night spot, too, since we'd just missed the magnificently-named Faron Hamblin, but the mirror promised " 5/17 Lickity Splitz."

I almost want to go back just to hear a band with a name that good.

We didn't linger long at the Backdraft and I told the bartender it was because we had more wineries to hit.

Hearing that Vault Fields was next, she called out, "I love the Conundrum!"

I love that there are three vineyards within spitting distance of each other, making for an easy afternoon's worth of entertainment.

We meandered past a square, light blue building in a field, past a faded pink barn no longer red and a sign advertising "alpaca poop for sale" to our next winery.

Unlike the Hague who grows their grapes but has Michael Shaps make their wine, Vault Fields bottles their own, so walking in we got the true scent of fermenting wine.

Our affable pourer was a pro, glib and savvy, and tickled that the Backdraft barkeep had praised the Conundrum, a white blend.

When I tasted the 2009 Rose, I commented that it would be great with fried chicken and our pourer said, "You should try it with chicken livers! Nothing better!"

This was a man who knew what he was talking about.

My favorite was the 2008 Reserve Red, estate bottled, full-bodied and just the kind of chewy red my friend GB lives for.

And just the kind of wine that would have a wine snob marveling that it was grown on the Northern Neck.

We got directions to General's Ridge Vineyard, a couple of miles away and rambled on.

Unlike the others, they had a big event room with windows on three sides, but we preferred the smaller tasting room next door.

There, the table was made of heavy, old, painted wooden doors removed from the estate's manor house, which, we were told, is rented out to guests.

Just in case a bottle and a bed are what you're craving.

General's Ridge may have had the most acres planted (30) of the wineries we visited, but they were primarily a grape grower for sixteen years, only two years ago deciding to start their own label, coincidentally also made by Michael Shaps.

It was nearing 5:00 so we were the last ones in the tasting room yet our pourer seemed relaxed and not at all eager to get rid of us.

They were the first to have a Pinot Grigio, apparently at the owner's wife's request, and it was a little surprising how well the grape had done in Virginia soil.

Seven wines in, we got to a lovely Petit Verdot, so smooth I asked for seconds.

She finished us off with General's Nightcap, a dessert wine of late harvest Petit Manseng that would get my vote to go with a terribly stinky cheese.

I noticed that they sold food, smoked oysters and cream cheese, a salmon salad, Rose pate, so the kind of stuff that would make a good companion to the wine, especially along about his time in the afternoon's activities. If.

If our next stop hadn't been the Inn at Montross.

It had been years since I'd been there, but all my memories were good and several wineries had recommended its new chef and menu.

We walked up on the porch and were greeted by inn guests in rocking chairs with wine in hand, one of whom all but directed us to order the prime rib because it was amazing.

Inside, we went to the bar area, but sat on a red couch facing the bar instead of on stools.

After standing for three tastings, a couch was just the thing.

The inn's wine list has seven Virginia wines, all from the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, so I gave them high marks.

A+ for effort.

Since we'd yet to have a full glass of wine, we did so here with glasses of the Conundrum and the General's Ridge Chardonnay.

Dinner service had just begun, so we tried some starters to help the wine go down.

A crab Cristo was crabmeat and Boursin on panko-crusted Texas toast, fried and cut into triangles with blueberry jam.

It tasted like crab dip, but made more portable with the bread around it.

The chef stuck her head over the bar to make sure we were enjoying it, something that was never an issue.

Our other choice was shrimp atop creamy grit cakes with a spicy sweet tomato sauce, a dish that worked well with both our wines.

Leaning back on the couch to finish the last of our glasses, we patted ourselves on the back for having made it to three wineries and two restaurants by 6:30.

A full afternoon and nearly full bellies meant technically we could go home now.

Instead we decided what the hell and drove back up the peninsula to Merroir to end the day right.

Since neither of us had ever sat inside the actual bar, that was our destination.

The river was a darker blue than the sky and plenty of people were sitting at picnic tables outside, but we'd done that plenty of times.

In the white, rustic bar, we ordered Wagyu and cheddar sliders and Sausagecraft pork belly sausage, prompting me to label our last meal of the day "hot dogs and hamburgers" when it arrived.

We devoured it with our first non-Virginia wines of the day, but only because we had no choice other than one Barboursville.

Come on, Merroir, give us some local wines to go with your local lambs, clams and oysters.

Honestly, that would be my only complaint after such a pleasurable day spent on the Neck.

It was just too bad that Lickity Splitz wasn't playing tonight or we'd have been heading back to Backdraft any time now.

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