Did you know that Virginia is now the 5th largest wine producing area in the country? If you are visiting from outside of the Washington DC area, then you probably haven’t had many opportunities to sample Virginia wines since very few of the wineries distribute out of state. On the other hand, if you are a local of a certain age—like myself—you may have tried Virginia wines back in the nineties, found them lacking and gave up on them. Either way, I think that the Virginia wines of today are going to surprise you.
There has been a transformation over the last two decades, driven in part by state government support to promote development of the local wine industry. There were only 46 wineries in Virginia in 1995. By 2011, there were over 200 wineries growing more than 2600 acres of grapes. VirginiaWine.org now lists over 250 wineries in the state.
Winemakers have had time to discover which varietals are best adapted to the Virginia climate and many are now producing critically acclaimed wines that can compete with top wine regions around the world.
In 2011, Viogner was officially designated as the state’s signature grape. Viogner makes a full bodied white wine with lots of fruit and floral aromas. For red wines, Cabernet Franc has long been the most successful red grape in Virginia. Petit Verdot also does very well and has been gaining popularity with its bigger, bolder reds.
In recent years, blended wines like Meritage—a Bordeaux-style blend that is required to contain two or more of the red noble Bordeaux varieties—have been dominating the Virginia wine scene. In fact, in the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, Meritage blends won 12 of the 24 gold medals given to red wines.
With the closest wineries only about an hour outside of DC, touring around the Virginia wine country tasting wine is a beautiful way to spend a sunny afternoon. But a wine country tour can be difficult to pull together with DC area traffic congestion and limited lodging options close to the wineries.
Many of the smaller wineries only sell out of their tasting rooms, but the larger ones distribute to local wine shops and restaurants. Top wineries like Barboursville Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards, and Pearmund Cellars are available in restaurants throughout the city. Thibaut-Janisson Winery also has their sparkling wines on several restaurant wine lists.
We’ve compiled a list of restaurants in DC that offer Virginia wines by the glass, so you can do your own wine tasting tour without leaving the city. Please note that wine lists can change frequently depending on availability, so the selection may vary. You may want to call in advance if you are counting on trying a specific wine.
Penn Commons – 700 6th Street N.W., (202) 905-2999
Penn Commons offers one wine in each category: a sparkling “Fizz” from Thibaut-Janisson, the Pearmund Vincroft Vineyard Viognier, and the Breaux Vineyards Cabernet Franc.
Graffiato – 707 6th St N.W., (202) 289-3600
Graffiato’s house wine, the Graffiato Red 1.0, is a Nebbiola produced by Breaux Vineyards. They also have a Rosé Sangiovese Blend from Barboursville.
Oya Restaurant and Lounge – 777 9th Street N.W., (202) 393-1400
Oya pours either full glasses or 2 ounce tastes. The wine list here focuses on Virginia’s white grape varietals, with the Thibaut-Janisson Fizz sparkler, Sauvignon Blanc from Breaux, a barrel aged Viogner from Northgate, and the Sommet from Paradise Springs – a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Are you ready for something sweet? There are two Virginia dessert wines available – the Horton Vineyards XOCO Chocolate wine and a chocolate ice-style wine from Cooper Vineyards called Noche.
Eno Wine Bar – 2810 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., (202) 295-2826
Eno offers a good selection of white wines from Virginia representing four different varietals. They have a Sauvignon Blanc and the “Chere Marie” Vidal Blanc from Breaux Vineyards, along with the Barboursville Viognier and the Paradise Springs Chardonnay. You can also try a Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from Breaux and then a 100% Cabernet Franc from Barboursville.
District Commons – 2200 Washington Circle N.W. (202) 587-8277
Like their Penn Quarter counterpart, District Commons has one wine in each category: a Rosé from Breaux Vineyards, the Afton Cardinal Point Viogner, and the Raphine Rockbridge Meritage.
The Chesapeake Room – 501 8th Street S.E., (202) 543-1445
With the White Hall Vineyards Viogner and Petit Verdot available, you can taste one of each of Virginia’s favorite white and red grape varietals.
Fire Works Pizza – 2350 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington, (703) 527-8700
They offer the Tarrara Almost Unoaked Chardonnay and the Rappahannock Cellars Cabernet Franc, which would go nicely with a pizza.
If you would like to take a few bottles home, here are a few retail shops that carry a good selection of Virginia Wines.
Crystal City Wine Shop – 220 20th St. South Arlington, VA, (703) 414-0777
Calvert Woodley – 4339 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., (202) 966-4400
Modern Liquors. Fine Wines & Spirits -1200 9th St N.W., (202) 289-1414
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill – 300 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., (202) 543-9300
The Wine Specialist – 1133 20th Street N.W., (202) 833-0707