Big Cork Vineyards

The first time I visited Big Cork it was easy to see this was different from the farm-turn-winery setup I usually find in Maryland. With 31 acres of vines and a very modern looking tasting room, they are among not only the most posh wineries in Maryland, but on either side of the Potomac. I hadn’t even tasted the wine, and I was already impressed.

Although open only since Jan 2015, it seems to have avoided the teething problems newer wineries often have. To Big Cork’s credit, they laid down their vines years in advance, so the vast majority of their grapes are estate. They even convinced winemaker Dave Collins to cross the river from Breaux and join them.

The site’s location is no accident. Nestled between the Blue Ridge mountains and another ridgeline, Big Cork enjoys the same favorable growing conditions many of its immediate Virginia neighbors have. To find their vineyard, imagine Loudoun Valley as a wine bottle laying on its side; Hillsborough is the southern base, Breaux and half a dozen wineries form a line in the middle, and on top you’ll find (pun semi-intended) Big Cork.

As befitting a vineyard with about a dozen varietals, the wine list is really diverse. Petit Verdot, Mablec, and Cabernet Franc (Cab Sav is absent) are the flagship reds, but they have lots of company. Lucky for me, Dave allowed me to sample pretty much everything on the menu, and I found several that I seldom or never see elsewhere. A big tasting makes writing notes more challenging…but I think I was up for the task.

For dry whites, Big Cork has the obligatory Viognier (they are next to Virginia after all) – 70% French Oak & the rest steel – which tasted of honeysuckle and honey. The Sav Blanc was citrusy with more of a melon nose.

For reds, there was a lot to love, and (as a very biased red drinker) the real reason to visit. First up to bat as the Merlot; fruity nose, raspberry palate, light-medium body. Then came the Malbec and the Syrah; the Malbec was somewhat soft and rustic, while the Syrah had a slight pepperiness that would make for a good food wine. Next was the Nebbiolo – bold spicy nose and body, and something I’m sad only a handful of vineyards have.

Rounding out the reds were the Meritage, Barberra, and Petit Verdot. I was surprised by the Meritage; at first I thought it was light and a little spicy, but the fruit came on strong as it spread over my tongue. The Barberra was low in tannins, and likewise was initially strong but softened quickly. But my fav was the 2013 Petit Verdot – not coincidentally the Maryland Governor’s Cup winner – which was much softer and more velvety than I’m accustomed to for this varietal.

While I’m usually not a sweet or desert wine drinker, they had several that pleasantly surprised me. By far most unique wine on the roster was the Russian Kiss; a semi-sweet mix of Muscat Canelli and a Russian hybrid grape of which they are the sole commercial grower in the USA. Rounding out the list was the Vidal Ice made in an ice wine style, and the Black Cap raspberry port style. The Black Cap is very different as ports go, because it didn’t have the overpowering alcohol flavor I usually associate with ports. Think of it as more of a desert wine than port, and something non-port drinkers would likely enjoy.

Big Cork is still growing. While presently they ‘only’ make 4,000 cases/year, the owners plan to eventually produce around 10,000/year. And if they are this good now, I can only imagine what the wines will be like in a few more years. But regardless, I’d be quite content to sit back on one of the couches on the patio and enjoy the Petit Verdot.

Ankida Ridge Vineyards

Ankida is one heck of a road trip. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at 1700 feet it is also one of the highest elevations of any Virginia winery outside Appalachia. Suffice to say, you won’t see many casual tourists here. Pay close attention to the directions they post on their website; GPSs aren’t a lot of help. Then just keep following the road past the ‘end of state maintenance’ and go up…and up…and up…

View from the deck

Initially nobody seemed home, but eventually owner/winemaker Nathan Vrooman heard my car and was kind enough to open the tasting room. As he poured, he gave me the low down on the wines.

The name “Ankida” is Sumerian for ‘where heaven and earth join’. It’s an apt description; the view is magnificent. Nathan’s parents purchased the property without thinking of making it into a vineyard. But when they did plant, they discovered this is one of the best locations in all Virginia for Pinot Noir.

The tasting room is new-ish; his parents were actually in a festival selling their wines. But they do have the occasional event for wine enthusiasts who want to enjoy the view with a good pinot.

What I tried:

Chardonnay: Very good; both toasty and creamy. I can see why this has won so many awards.

2012 Rockbridge Rouge Bordeaux blend: Very earthy

Vin Doux port-style made with Chambourcin: Reminded me more of a tawny port than a ruby port; bought a bottle

“Vert” Vidal Blanc: My notes fail me so I can only assume I neither liked or disliked it, although Vidal Blancs are always a hard sell for me.

Drum roll…

Pinot Noir: Best of the bunch, and some critics would say this is Virginia’s best Pinot. This grape needs a high altitude to grow well, so few VA wineries can do it. But Ankida’s location is perfect for it, and it shows in the results.