(In the “Trying to catch up on really good blog material I haven’t had time to post” department … )
Virginia wine has gotten some prominent loving recently from two of DC’s top toques.
Robert Wiedmaier, chef-owner of Marcel’s, Brabo, two Brasserie Beck and a few Mussel Bar locations, featured Virginia wines at a week-long “pop up” he did in London, as well as a dinner in honor of the new U.S. ambassador to the Court of Saint James. And José Andrés took a flamboyant tour across Virginia wine country with Food & Wine magazine’s wine editor, Ray Isle, looking for wines for his new restaurant, America Eats, which opened in Tyson’s Corner, Va., in early June.
Remember when, just a few years ago, it seemed like Lee had an easier time crossing the Potomac than Virginia wine? Things are definitely changing.
Wiedmaier previewed his pop-up at Marcel’s in late March, and it was one of the better meals I’ve ever had. He allowed me to interview him in the kitchen beforehand, while he was wearing a GoPro camera to film a video for Jason Tesauro, who emceed the evening. (Luckily, I did not make the final cut, which you can view here.)
Wiedmaier told me he was not new to Virginia wines, though his enthusiasm had really kicked in recently, especially after attending last October’s Virginia Wine Summit in Richmond. He had an interesting perspective on why Virginia is gaining popularity now.
“Ten years ago I wasn’t such a big fan of Virginia wines,” he said. “Back then you had so many other wines emerging from around the world that weren’t Italian and French – you had the whole South African thing going on, and the Australian thing, then Spanish wines went through an explosion. People weren’t thinking about Virginia wines. But in the past four or five years, through blind tastings with Moez (Ben Achour) and Ramon (Narvaez – Wiedmaier’s two sommeliers), I’ve tasted wines that are absolutely delicious, and I thought, My God, that’s a Virginia wine?”
Like many Virginia wine fans, Wiedmaier compared the Old Dominion’s new quality spurt to the frontier spirit of Napa and Sonoma three or four decades ago. He also pointed out that he makes a special effort to source local ingredients for his menus, so featuring local wines makes sense. And he realizes that he doesn’t have to give his entire list over to local wines.
“I’m embracing Virginia wines,” he said. “I like that they’re in my back yard, down the road here…. I’ve already got all the great French, Italian and Spanish wines on my lists, why not have a few great wines that are local? I can have my sommelier walk up to a table of customers from Europe and offer them something different.”
José Andrés and Ray Isle toured several Virginia wineries in early May, and thanks to Twitter those of us not lucky enough to be along for the ride (which reportedly included a helicopter flight from Glen Manor Vineyards to Charlottesville) were at least able to follow along.
Lucas Paya, who was Andrés beverage director before leaving the company in early June, told me that the list at America Eats will feature several Virginia wines.
So I’ll be gearing up to brave the Beltway rush hour traffic and get to Tyson’s soon.