As a photojournalist and wine-finder extraordinaire, I tend to crave the visual aspects of a scene rather than critically rating every last sip of wine -- everyone's a critic in their own right, anyway. More often than not, I'm happy with a $6 bottle of wine from the grocery store.
To me, wine tasting is all about the experience, not just using three or four adjectives to describe the flavor of a wine. In fact, the best wine-tasting experience I've ever had was at a winery with less than stellar wine (it didn't make my top five cut). The presentation and customer experience were extraordinary enough to surpass the imperfections of the glass in my hand.
Whether you're a die-hard wine expert who follows your palette or you have a multi-stop winery adventure in mind, the wineries on this list promise something new -- melding tasty wines with an excellent tasting experience.
Read on for my picks for Top 5 Virginia Wineries:
5. Winery at La Grange -- 4970 Antioch Road, Haymarket
The Winery at La Grange reminds me of my favorite coffee shop in D.C. It's small and comfortable, and there's a surprise around every corner of the three-story, 18th-century manor. The country setting is peaceful -- and a sunset wine experience pairs best with their shimmering outdoor walkways. Wine tastings are $13 per person.
What you'll love: The staff telling you all the ghostly experiences that happened in the house (be sure to check out the creepy and equally awesome basement). Supposedly, Mr. Benoni, the previous owner of the house, has a liking for haunting.
4. Otium Cellars -- 18050 Tranquility Road, Purcelleville
This German-inspired, horse-loving winery offers import varieties that offer a look into the Bavarian roots that owner Gerhard Bauer is passionate about. You'll see silos in the distance, along with acres of land under vine while looking out from the outdoor pavilion. It's a great summer destination for an outdoor experience. Wine tastings are $10 per person.
What you'll love: The covered and screened-in pavilion with 360-degree fireplace, and the on-site private equestrian facility that breeds world-class Hanoverians.
3. Doukenie Winery -- 14727 Mountain Road, Hillsboro
Doukenie is a staple for its great grapes and the large crowds it draws. Winemaker Sebastien Marquet is known for his helpfulness in steering winemaker novices in the right direction. The patio is a great landing point when you arrive, especially on weekends when live music plays. Tastings are $10 per person.
What you'll love: The entire scene -- the lake, the silo, the picnic tables and the vines -- make for a great gathering place.
2. Stone Tower Winery -- 19857 Hogback Mountain Road, Leesburg
Stone Tower sits along the rolling hills of Loudoun County's countryside. Owners Mike and Kristi Huber saw a vision for the old farmland and turned it into a beautiful, still vineyard. The interior of the winery boasts a massive dining table in its tasting room. An upstairs event space with twinkling lights and vintage decor serves well for wedding receptions as well.
What you'll love: The outdoor seating overlooks the vast acreage of the old farmland. A massive new tasting room is set to open in a few weeks.
1. Glass House Winery -- 5898 Free Union Road, Free Union
Glass House Winery sits on a piece of land most would wish to call home. Visitors see grape vines glisten in the sun before they enter a very unique tasting room set inside a tropical conservatory, inspired by the owners' time on the coast of Honduras. Outside the greenhouse lies a patio overlooking a private lake and lush yard. Glass House is a destination worthy of a few days' time -- so it helps that they also have a B&B. The spot sits near the Rivanna River for customers hoping to kayak or fish before sipping and tasting.
What you'll love: Owner Michelle makes homemade chocolate treats each week that go along perfectly with their chocolate wine. Plan a stay at the award-winning onsite bed and breakfast, too.
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