Wine Tasting at Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia

Wine Tasting at Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia
Virginia’s Chrysalis Vineyards new tasting room and visitor centre gives a worthy reason to travel to Middleburg, 34 miles west of Washington DC.

The building, of light coloured wood on pale stones, gives the impression of a Swiss mountain chalet. The upper floor, with a balcony offering views far across rolling hills and forests, will soon be equipped with high tech tasting stations where visitors can serve themselves from dispensing machines and use tablets and large screens to learn at their own pace about the wines and see the videos of the winemaker discussing them. Smartcards will be used to buy tasting samples across all wines, or for pre-chosen flights.

My tasting, however, was on the floor below where you stand at a traditional counter while human pourers guide your tastings. Owner Jenni McCloud started me with:

Albariño Verde 2014 - This is Chrysalis’s take on the popular northern Portuguese wine, Vinho Verde – literally ‘green wine’, where green means young. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Chrysalis grows Albariño, known in Portugal as Alvarino, since vineyards in this go-ahead State have tried many varieties to find those most suitable for their tricky growing climate.

Jenni McCloud told me that they’d picked the Albariño early before it was fully ripe and bottled it with a little CO2 to give it the authentic Vinho Verde slight spritz. I found it very fruity and crisp on first taste then seeming to deliver a sweeter finish, yet is has only 2 grams per litre (g/L) of residual sugar (RS) so it is dry, and has a consumer friendly low alcohol of just 10.8% by volume. A wine for summer quaffing on the balcony, or one of the many picnic tables surrounding the visitor centre.

Albariño 2014 - No spritz on this fuller bodied example of the variety. Bone dry with less than 0.5 g/L RS and 13.5% abv. This has spent some time on the lees (dead yeast cells) which adds complexity. A good food wine.

Viognier 2014 - “This is our flagship white wine,” says Jenni. Some examples of this once rare white Rhone variety can be flabby, but not this wine which was dry, full bodied with a core of welcoming acidity. It was fermented and aged in French oak barrels, but its clean fresh fruit flavours are not dominated by wood. 13.6% abv.

Mariposa 2014 - A dry rosé table wine with ripe strawberry flavours and a lingering finish. Dry with enough acidity to match well with charcouterie that Chrysalis’s farm will be producing. This is a blend of Petite Verdot, Nebbiolo and Norton.

Sarah’s Patio White 2014 - A crowd pleaser made in an off-dry style from bought in Vidal Blanc grapes. I found this wine a very pleasant wine for drinking on its own.

Sarah’s Patio Red 2014 - An earlier vintage of this was a surprise hit at a meeting of my tasting group, and their first Norton. This is 100% Norton, whole cluster pressed. It is an intense dark bright red, sweet fruits and well balanced.

Schitz and Giggels 2014 - Supposedly named after two early settlers from Germany, this is a fun off-dry wine with enough RS to welcome you. It’s 100% Norton with about 15% of Sarah’s Patio Red blended in to soften it. Soft and ripe with a kick of acidity on a long finish. “It’s become our top seller, along with Patio Red,” Jenni told me.

Barrel Select Norton 2013 - Aged in barrels made from Virginia oak. A large proportion underwent carbonic maceration. This has high tones and with fresh light fruit flavours and a sweet core is most drinkable.

Estate Bottled Norton 2013 - Ripe attractive fruit up front and fresh berry flavours. There’s 17% Nebbiolo blended in this vintage.

Nebbiolo 2013 - A variety not often found outside its Italian home, and difficult to work with, but Chrysalis has its measure. Quite light bodied with lovely smoky cherry flavours followed by a whack of tannins. “Great with steak,” remarks Jenni and I immediately visualise a juicy New York strip. Regrettably the wine list of the renowned steak house I dine in that evening doesn’t list this or any Virginia wines.

Locksley Reserve 2013 - This wine is the epitome of Virginia Norton and it’s Chrysalis’ flagship red wine. This a serious wine with complex flavours, it’s big but restrained full flavoured with a purity of fruit. There’s a little Tannat and Petite Verdot, says Jenni “to add tannins in the mid palate”. It won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco International Competition. I’m limited by what I can carry and this is the wine I buy to take home.

Chrysalis grow more than 20 different grape varieties and make more wines than I tasted. They also sell grapes to other wineries. They own the world’s largest Norton vineyard and promote the variety as ‘the Real American Grape! ®’

Chrysalis Vineyards’ tasting room is found at the Ag District Centre, 39025 John Mosby Highway, Middleburg. Virginia 20117 (U.S. 50, just west of Aldie). See

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Disclosure: Peter May’s tasting was complimentary. He paid for wine he took away.

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