Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Road Less Traveled (Winery Included) To DC

If you’ve driven to and from Washington DC anytime in recent memory, you know there are good times and bad times for entering and exiting our Nation’s Capital. On Interstate Highway 95, that’s just about any time.

Over the most recent of Christian holidays—Easter—which was also during the most recent of Jewish celebrations—Passover—neither of which is a Federal Holiday, we traveled to Washington for a visit with our daughter who lives there and works, I’m proud to say, for the Democratic National Committee in the finance department which raises money through donations and events.

After several trips there in the past year or so, I knew during the morning, noon and night hours there could be a traffic back-up into Washington that might start as far south as the north side of Richmond, where today’s northern boundary of the Mason-Dixon Line is located. (The southern boundary is along the southeast and southwest coasts of Florida, a story for another time.)

So, after reviewing a map and mentioning to a friend of the coming trip, a road less traveled (by me, anyway) was selected. I-95 and its sister I-295 east of Richmond accommodated us (along with US 64 from Cary to near Rocky Mount) to exit 104, one departure north of the Kings Dominion turnoff. It was a completely different world in rural Virginia than the hustle and bustle and idiot drivers (self included) on one of the most travel tributaries of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. (Did you know that’s the formal name for the Interstate?)

Virginia highway 207 leaves I-95 and angles northeast for a few miles to Bowling Green VA (we took the by-pass) and there connected to US 301, the same 301 that parallels I-95 through southern Virginia, all of North Carolina and parts unknown-and-I’m-not-gonna-look-it-up. From looking at a Virginia map, the plan was to drive US 301 into Maryland via a narrow toll bridge (southbound collection only) and to a spot west of DC, finding a highway to lead us to our appointed battle of site-seeing and spending money on our daughter. The scheduled ETA was 1 p.m. Friday but our flight plan showed an early arrival, around noon. Too early so a side trip was in order.

Can you say “Winery?” Yes, Virginia has bunches and bunches of vineyards and wineries, more than North Carolina and many as good or better than our favorites in the Tar Heel State. We were approaching the section of Virginia known as the Northern Neck, an area visited on a previous jaunt to Fairfax for a party for our son and his bride. And while Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery with a King George address (you gotta love the names of towns in Virginia, most with Revolutionary reference) was already in the GPS system from the earlier Northern Neck tour, a few turns here and there made us realize it had been on the list the last trip but by-passed for time. The hour to spare this travel took us a few miles off US 301 (on the opposite side of the highway from King George proper) and down a couple of dirt roads where we found another delightful and scenic view of vineyards and a quaint cottage used for making, tasting and selling wine.

Oak Crest offers dry and sweet wines, but mostly on the dry side with 100% of specific grapes in most offerings. For instance, in the “white” wines, there’s Symphony Dry and Viognier, two that this non-white wine connoisseur enjoyed. Moonlight Sonata is a German Riesling that came across as sweet but not too so sweet, just enough to enjoy. There are two 100% Cabernet Franc selections: Summer Rose, a rosé, believe it or not, made by leaving the skins with the juice just long enough to develop a light pinkish color; and, Cabernet Franc, the usual rich red-colored wine with a slightly peppery taste. The Summer Rose was on the sweet side with 4% residual sugar; the Cab Franc while good was milder than others of the same I’ve tasted and acquired.

My notes says the 100% Merlot and the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon were just okay, but the Sunset Serenade, a blend of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot (not sure of the percentages) was good enough to make our purchase request. As was a bottle of Ruby, a port-style wine blended of red Bordeaux grapes, a selection with 17% alcohol content and Nice!, as my notes refresh my memory. Oak Crest also has a white port-style wine, Finale, made from 100% symphony grapes. It was, let’s say, interesting.

On the sweet side, Oak Crest produces Summer Medley with a strawberry aroma and after-taste. It was enjoyable and slightly sweet. The Symphony (Sweet) is a Muscat flavored selection that is very sweet. Pucker up!

Oak Crest makes at least four wines from the Symphony grape (Google it if interested to know more.) The last we tasted was Hot Jazz. Here’s what the tasting sheet says: “Made with symphony grapes and less than 1% Jalapeño peppers, this smooth and spicy blend makes a unique and surprisingly pleasant wine. Served chilled with cheese or Mexican or Italian dishes.” We were told the initial taste would be a little bitter as the pepper would really cut the grape flavor and that the spiciness would not hit us for a few moments. All correct. We love spicy food so after a sip and a few passing seconds, we wanted more. It’s that way with spicy food; the more you eat, the more you want. It was so enjoyable, and since Oak Crest only sells its wine on site, we purchased three bottles, along with other favorites and headed back to US 301 and north.

Our original map of US 301 to Maryland 5 to Pennsylvania Avenue was altered when telling the wine server of our trip. She suggested an earlier exit from 301 onto Maryland 228 to Maryland 210, also known as Indian Head Highway. The pavement was mostly four-lane and not congested until we crossed DC’s outer loop (I-495) and entered Washington DC. Indian Head turned into South Capitol Street SE as we raced past the Washington Nationals baseball stadium where a couple of days later President Obama threw out the first pitch of the season. We were soon a block from our one o’clock appointment with our daughter, beginning a weekend of lots of walking, METRO rides, and seeing of sites and interesting places during the peak of Cherry Blossom blooming. More about that in another posting.

The drive to DC took no less than the standard roll up I-95, but with less traffic, a stop at Oak Crest and a different view of Washington as we entered gave us a more enjoyable drive a different look at life around us. I suggest it on your next auto excursion north, even if you’re by-passing DC.

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