From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

From Yuck to Yay! Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

We recently visited Williamsburg, Virginia on an extended weekend. I’ve been to Williamsburg before, so for this trip, we were looking for something new to do. A friend suggested a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery, and that sounded like fun, so we reserved our spots.

NB: I did not tell anyone at the winery that I was a travel blogger, nor did I receive any compensation or promotional consideration. This is my review of my experience, 100% honest.

The History of Williamsburg Winery

Situated just south of the city of Williamsburg, on a plot of land with rolling hills and verdant pastures, lies Williamsburg Winery. In a previous life, the property was a farm initially called “Archer’s Hope” after Gabriel Archer. Mr. Archer was the second in command on the Discovery, one of the three ships that brought English settlers to the area in 1607.

Surveying the North coast of the James River, Captain Archer had identified the site of the farm as his preferred spot for the landing. Captain John Smith overruled him feeling that the adjacent island would provide a more defendable site. In later years, Archer was a fierce critic of Captain John Smith and other leaders, even at one point calling for Smith’s execution.

In a nod to his connection with the land, Williamsburg Winery has named one of their wines after Archer: the Gabriel Archer Reserve. Also on the winery grounds, you can enjoy a meal at the Gabriel Archer Tavern, which offers gourmet fare at reasonable prices.

The Tour of Williamsburg Winery

We had a wonderful tour guide named (I believe) Jack, who had retired from his primary profession and worked part-time as a tour guide for the winery. It was easy to see that he enjoyed what he did, although he joked that he only did the tours as a way to give his wife a break from him being at home all the time.

Jack showed us some of the grapevines and talked about planting and harvesting techniques. He taught us about vertical shoot positioning – where the two main shoots or branches of the grapevine are spread out horizontally to the left and right of the stem to form a T. All other shoots grow up vertically from that point.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - vertical shoot positioning of the grapevines

He told us that in the United States, Virginia is ranked #5 when it comes to wines (after California, Washington, Oregon, and New York).

Jack also explained the differences between how red wines and white wines are made. White grapes go straight to press, and the wine is made in steel tanks from the juice of the grapes. Red grapes are put in tanks and heated to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3-7 days. This process, known as maceration, gives us the flavor, color, and the tannins that come from the grape skins.

Jack also showed us some large concrete eggs that reminded me a little too much of Mork from Ork. (Nanu Nanu. RIP, Robin Williams.) You can see examples of concrete wine eggs here. The shape of the vessel promotes constant movement, which gives the wine a richer flavor. Also, because concrete is somewhat porous, low levels of oxygen can enter through the walls of the egg and improve the flavor of the wine.

And of course, we got to tour the cellar, where we saw row after row of oak barrels. The wine ages in these barrels, and inevitably draws some of its flavor from the wood. The hints of vanilla and notes of spice that you see listed in a wine’s description? They come from the barrel.

wine tasting at williamsburg winery - oak barrels hold red wine in the cellar

Barrels, we learned, are quite expensive, and can only be used for a maximum of 4-5 years. With each use of an oak barrel, it loses some of its ability to add to the flavor of the wine. The amount of oxygen that transports through the wood of the barrel also diminishes over time.

The Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery

Finally, it was time to try some of the wines that we had learned so much about. We had booked the Reserve Tasting, which was a selection of nine different wines (3 white, 5 red, and 1 dessert), served with four types of cheese: Brie, Manchego, Maple Smoked Cheddar, and Stilton.

the reserve wine tasting at williamsburg winery included a selection of cheeses which complemented the wines

If, like me, you are rather inexperienced at wine tastings and/or every time you’ve tried wine you’ve thought, “Yuck. Why do people like this stuff so much?” then I’m going to let you in on a secret. A little bit of cheese can make a world of difference. Seriously!

Jack explained that when pairing wines with cheese, it is best to pair the milder tasting wines with milder cheeses, and strongly flavored wines with stronger cheeses. You do not want the wine to overpower the cheese, or vice versa.

Pouring red wine at a wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery

With each wine he poured, I took a small sip, and to be honest, I didn’t care for the wine very much. Then I took a bite of cheese, followed by another sip. That second sip of wine was amazing! This happened every single time, without exception.

They gave us a cheat sheet that listed the wines we were tasting, with descriptions of each and prices on the back. We sampled:

  • Wessex Hundred Viognier – 2018
  • Virginia Petit Manseng – 2018
  • Wessex Hundred Chardonnay – 2018
  • Merlot Reserve – 2017
  • Virginia Trianon (77% Cabernet Franc, 23% Petit Verdot) – 2017
  • Gabriel Archer Reserve (40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot) – 2017
  • Petit Verdot Reserve – 2017
  • Adagio (37% Tannat, 33% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 2017
  • Petit Fleur (515 Vidal Blanc, 25% Muscat, 24% Traminette) – 2018

My favorites were the first three (all white wines), the Merlot, and the Petit Fleur dessert wine because I tend to enjoy sweeter, not-so-dry wines.

The descriptions on the cheat sheet included phrases like “approachable” tannins, earthy character, and “well structured” oak. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what any of that means. But what I can tell you is that the Petit Fleur almost single handedly turned me into a wine aficionado. When I raised the glass to my nose and smelled the Petit Fleur, I said that it smelled like a summer meadow – sunshine and flowers. I enjoyed smelling it as much as I enjoyed drinking it!

In Summary

The Reserve Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery was a great experience! I learned so much about winemaking and discovered that I really can enjoy wine. Even a dry red wine! I’m so glad that we went – it’s really opened up a new world of possibilities for me where wine is concerned!

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Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery
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Wine Tasting at Williamsburg Winery
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I have never liked wine. And I've attended no small amount of wine tastings in an effort to understand why it's so popular. But that all changed when I went to a reserve wine tasting at Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Julie Peters
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