Wine & Wanderlust: What I drank in Alexandria, VA

There's nothing like a weekend away with my BFF Susan. We take the last one in January to go play and retreat from our mom duties - a luxury I'm grateful for. Last weekend, inspired by budgetary constraints and a Groupon for a "4-Star Top-Secret Alexandria Hotel," we drove to Virginia.

(Pro-tip for dealing with a Groupon secret hotel: The hotel has probably provided Groupon with a media photo. Copy the photo and do a reverse photo search, and you should be able to determine which hotel it is before purchasing the Groupon.)

Our 4-Star Top-Secret Hotel was The Alexandrian, right in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, a perfect location for not needing to get your car out of the parking garage the entire weekend. We Ubered to our restaurants because I was on the mend from a sprained foot and wearing heels - otherwise everything we did was in easy walking distance.

There are dozens of restaurants and stores along King Street, and we weren't able to get to them all in one Saturday afternoon. A couple of stores to note: The Hour Shop, vintage cocktail and barware that you didn't know you wanted until you walked into the shop - and then you'll want ALL of it; The Lucky Knot, preppy heaven with fabulous dresses and a music soundtrack that keeps you in the store dancing as you shop.

On to what I drank, and where.

Cheesetique: Before we checked into our hotel we stopped by the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria for wine and cheese. Do you know how hard it is to narrow down what you want to eat when everything on the menu contains cheese? I'm thinking you do. We settled for a cheese board with a selection of wedges (including a goat cheese from New Jersey, although I can't remember the dairy) and an order of cheesy arancini .

I ordered a glass of 2016 di Lenardo Gossip Pinot Grigio Ramato. This copper-colored wine from Fruili is made by keeping the must (pressed juice) on the skins for 18 hours before the macerated juice is separated from the skins and kept on the lees until it's bottled. This was a medium bodied wine with peach and raspberry, honeysuckle and a little nutty.

The restaurant classified it as an orange wine, but I've also seen Ramato called a rosé of Pinot Grigio and some say it's its own type of wine altogether. It was more like a rosé than the funkier orange wines I've had. Whatever it is technically, it paired well with the cheese, particularly because it was lightly tannic, and I enjoyed it enough to bring a bottle home with me.

A glorious few hours of rest in our hotel, a few glasses of Prosecco Superiore, and Pink's "The Truth About Love" as our soundtrack for getting ready to go out, and we were off to Vermilion. Here's what you need to know about this restaurant (besides the fact that Barack and Michelle dined there in 2012 for Valentine's Day): The chef knows how to combine flavors and textures. The duck toast with duck rillettes, pickled mustard seeds and herbs was a satisfying combination of savory and crunchy. My pasta with smoked ricotta also combined flavors in an oh-so-pleasurable way.

I loved every bite I had that evening, and those bites were paired with 2014 Foxen Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley (Central Coast, California). Light bodied yet full of flavor, a little barn-yardy and smokey on the nose with flavors of cherry and cranberry. Lovely with dinner. We first asked about a white wine, and a waiter came over with the bottle and opened it - which took us by surprise because we hadn't ordered it. We were assured that if we didn't like it, we could send it back. He was true to his word. He whisked it away and recommended the Pinot. Clearly, Vermilion wants you to enjoy your wine.

After walking around for a few gloriously unseasonably warm hours on Saturday, strolling through the farmers market, watching the sailboats on the Potomac, and popping into stores, we stopped into Sonoma Cellar for a tasting. The photo at the top of the page shows the bottles from the tasting. Here are the quick notes I made while tasting, which are incomplete because we were chatting more than tasting.

  • North Gate 2015 Viognier (Loudon County, VA): pineapple and citrus. Dry. Lightly acidic.

  • Copain 2015 Pinot Noir (Mendocino County): tight, needs to open. Spice. Not a lot on the nose. Susan likes.

  • Bear Flag 2015 Zinfandel (Sonoma): Balanced, juicy, blackberry, brambly. Find and drink again.

  • The Insider 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles): Food wine (don't want to just drink on its own), tannic, fruit forward, blueberry, not overly oaked. Not huge California Cab (which is a complimentary comment)

If you find yourself in Alexandria, stop by Sonoma Cellar. There's a nice selection of wines to choose from and an education to be had if you do a tasting.

I will leave Saturday night's dinner out - it was mostly less than impressive.

We left much of Alexandria unexplored, and I'm sure many good bottles of wine and good restaurants unexplored, too. Just means we need to make our way back to the city another time.

Vermilion restaurant photo credit: Eric Fischer/Flickr

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