Monday, January 4, 2010

Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery - Charlottesville, VA

Start with a cold, crisp January day in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Go for an hour drive to meet family for a long, leisurely lunch outside of town.  Take note of the signs for vineyards along the drive to Culpeper.  On the way home from lunch, stop at one of the wineries and enjoy a Virginia wine.

This was exactly how my Saturday unfolded over the New Year's holiday.  Charlottesville had recently received a near-record snowfall - up to 24 inches in some of the outlying areas, but mostly 18" - 24" around town.

As we drove into the parking lot of the Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery, there were still spots of snow resident in the yard and throughout the vineyard.  Thankfully, the winery was situated on a slight hill and the wan winter sun had melted most of the snow away by the time we arrived.  Prince Michel had a most impressive public area - it gave the impression that it was rather new.  But Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery has been around for about 26 years.  It's located in Leon, Virginia, about 30 miles outside of Charlottesville.  If it's not the first Virginia winery, it's one of the first.  (Though, now that I write that, I realize that Thomas Jefferson started a vineyard at Monticello many many years ago, so obviously Prince Michel is not the first winery in Virginia.  It is one of the most widely distributed though.)

We entered the winery with the clear intent to enjoy a wine tasting.  I mean seriously, I had just spent more than three hours "reminiscing" with various in-laws, some whom I had only met once in my oh-so-many-years of married life.  I was ready to taste, to savor, to (possibly) get a little buzz even....  And, joy of joys, Prince Michel offered two different wine tastings - one was free and featured their less expensive wines, and the other one was a nominal $1.  After we wandered through their well-appointed gift shop, we scoped out the best spot at the tasting bar and nonchalantly cruised over.  We plopped down our dollar and proceeded to taste wines from both flights.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were several wines from each selection that appealed to me.

As is usual with a wine tasting, we began with their whites.  The first was a completely unremarkable Pinot Grigio, 2008.  I'm still looking for that Pinot Grigio that will make me want to spend money and time on it.
From there we moved on to a very nice 2006 Chardonnay.  It was rich and creamy with a strong vanilla scent.  It would be very nice with rich cheeses.

Their Prince Michel Cabernet Sauvignon is my wine of choice for today though.  On a cold, snowy night, with big snowflakes falling outside, and a warm fire crackling in the fireplace inside, I like to drink a hearty glass of red wine.

I opened this particular bottle last night and enjoyed a couple of glasses over an hour or two.  They were so very good!  Sometimes, I'll enjoy a wine tasting so much, I'll get carried away and buy too many bottles of wine, bring them home and find that when I drink them at home, they're just not the same.  I'm sure a wine expert or a psychiatrist could explain that.

Tonight I am pleased to report that the delicious wine I sampled in Virginia is just as delicious tonight in Ohio.  Their Cabernet is actually mixed with 25% merlot grapes, so it is not a 100% Cab wine.  This lends a smoothness to the Cabernet grape and creates a wine that is nicely layered.  They age the wine in French and American oak barrels for 12 months.  The end result is a brilliant cranberry-toned wine with brown shades around the edges, and a rich, robust combination of plum, cherry and cedar flavors.
I went back for a second sip at the winery and I'm glad I did.  A wine that began with fruity flavors, had a nice earthy finish, very peppery, yet smooth.  And the final flavors you get is a soft vanilla tone with a lingering chocolate undertone.  What started out as a simple Cab/Merlot, ends with a very rich, complicated wine experience.  The flavors you'll experience are influenced by the temperature of the wine in your glass, the ambient temperature of the room you're in and the food you taste with it.  A bottle of their Cabernet retails for just $14.99.  If you're ever in the Charlottesville area, just head out of town on 29 for about 30 miles and it will be on a hill on your left.  Wander in, experience the free or dollar wine tasting, and enjoy.

One last note - they have a great phone number.  800-800-Wine.  (or 540-547-3707)

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