Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The James River Experience

The James River Experience

A few weeks back a few of my friends and I took a trip down to Richmond to spend an afternoon at James River Cellars. I’ve been to festivals and other events at James River, but with booth tastings you really don’t have time to talk to the employees in detail about food and wine.

We arrived a little late in the afternoon, about half an hour before the winery was closing, but at least we weren’t the only group that came in right before they called it a day. James River has a patio where they have events during the warmer months and an upstairs for events when it’s chilly out. For information about their events, visit http://www.jamesrivercellars.com/events.html. Of course, if you are able to visit James River Cellars they’re not shy about sharing their upcoming events in or outside the vineyard.

James River has a wide selection of reasonably priced wines. Most of the reds share common notes of black cherry and spices while the white wines tend to be either buttery or slightly acidic, but there’s something for any wine lover and even a few for those that may not be big wine drinkers. Unfortunately when we visited they were out of my favorite white wine, their Chardonel. It’s a very buttery wine, perfect for picnics or lazy summer afternoons just lounging by the pool. They were, however, expecting the new batch to be ready for the spring, so I’m looking forward to going back next month to pick up a few bottles.

My absolute favorite wine that they make is their Chambourcin. It’s a medium bodied red that’s similar to a port. When you first take a sip it’s full of dark cherry notes, followed by a sweet, almost sugary after taste. I compare the finish to taking a scoop of pure sugar after each sip, although it’s really not what I would consider a “sweet” wine. It’s perfect with soft cheese or fresh berries. The folks at the vineyard recommend trying it mulled, but I have yet to try it that way. At $14 a bottle, it’s well worth picking up a few bottles to keep on hand for any occasion.

They have a Chardonnay and a Reserve Chardonnay, the difference being the aging process. The Chardonnay is aged in stainless steel, so it has a crisper taste than the reserve which has very oaky, almost nutty notes, which comes as no surprise as it is aged in oak barrels. Both are very good and reasonably priced ($16 for the reserve, $12 for the original Chardonnay).

Two other wines to note are their Hanover and Hanover White. The Hanover White is sweet but crisp and great with desserts. The red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Chancellor, which gives it notes of black cherry and currant that make it a tart but satisfying table wine. Both are only $13.

This is definitely a great vineyard to visit since it’s right on the edge of Richmond in Ashland, Virginia. The people are very friendly and knowledgeable about their wine and the gift shop has all sorts of goodies to spend your money on. I picked up “The Wine & Food Matching Wheel,” which has proven to be quite useful. It even has pairings for popcorn (Chardonnay for every day and sparkling wine for special occasions).

All in all it was a good day. Afterwards we went back to my friend’s house with the bottles we had purchased and I made my specialty: Fettuccini Alfredo. The recipe is simple… so simple in fact that sometimes I’ll make it up as I’m going along. Generally I start with half a stick of butter or margarine, 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and ¾ a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese. The key is to use fresh parmesan, otherwise your sauce will come out clumpy. I melt the butter, then heat the cream (don’t let it boil!). Then I slowly add the cheese, stirring the sauce as it melts. Don’t be shy to taste as you add… I’ll usually end up adding a little extra. Once all the cheese has melted, lower the heat and add in whatever seasoning you feel like. To me, garlic and oregano is a must, and to give it a little kick I’ll throw in some red pepper flakes. The sauce should thicken as it stands (once you’ve removed it from the heat) but if you’re like me, I don’t have the patience so I’ll cheat with a pinch of flour. Just toss the sauce with your noodle of choice (and maybe some chicken or shrimp) and your set.

So there you have it, a little bit of wine talk, a little shared recipe, and it only took me a few weeks to get my act together and actually post it. I can only promise that it won’t take as long for my next post assuming my computer doesn’t completely give out on me and that nasty cold doesn’t come back. So thanks for reading and keep checking back!
-Wine Chic

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