To get from Harrisonburg to Northern Virginia, I travel I-81 to I-66. Every time I pass through the Front Royal/Delaplane area, I notice all the vineyards I could be stopping at. One of the vineyards in particular, Barrel Oak Winery, has been mentioned by several friends as a must visit winery. So, while driving home from NoVa one Saturday afternoon, I took a detour on Exit 23 and stopped in.
The place was bursting at the seems. Although part of that was because of two events, it was also just people enjoying the wine and Barrel Oak's amazing outdoor seating areas. You can snack, drink wine, and cozy up by one of the many portable fireplaces. It was a yuppy haven.
The tasting room was so crowded I worried about being able to sneak in. So, I found a couple who was also waiting and stood near them. Then, when it was their turn, I slid in and piggybacked as one of the group.
Barrel Oak has a couple of tasting options. You can do three for free, the "Our BOW Tasting" or the "Our WOW Tasting" for $6, or the full tasting of ten wines for $10. I meant business so I went with the full tasting.
I wasn't a big fan of the whites. The Montand Sparkling was great: little bit of pears, clean flavor, not too sweet, and very crisp and bright. I also enjoyed the BOWHaus White, a mixture of Vidal Blanc and Savignon Blanc. The rest of the whites, though, were just a little too buttery for my taste. In talking to the women beside me about her impressions, she also felt the whites were a little underwhelming.
After trying the Rose, which is very popular, and being again disappointed, I began to feel a little sad that I had chosen poorly on a winery to try. Luckily, the reds were more enjoyable. They didn't blow me away, but they intrigued me. Barrel Oak offers a BOWHaus Red, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. All of them had really great noses that were complex and exciting from scents like chocolate and white pepper. Of the four, my favorite was the Cabernet Franc, which is fermented in French and American Oak. I didn't get the caramelized sugar that the write-up mentions, but I enjoyed the white pepper and nuttiness.
The last wine I tried was the Chocolate Lab, a Port style dessert wine. For me, the problem I had with this was a somewhat silly one between expectation and delivery. If it were not called a Chocolate Wine, I'd have really enjoyed it. It is called "Chocolate Lab" because it is Chambourcin infused with cocoa nibs. For me, though, my associations with chocolate wines are the richer, creamier styles. From the Chocolate Lab I got cherry and coffee and almost a touch of maple, but not much chocolate. I guess Shakespeare is wrong, there is something to a name.
Overall, to me the appeal of Barrel Oak Winery is more in enjoying the atmosphere. Packing a picnic, cozying up by one of the outdoor fire pits, and visiting with friends while taking pleasure in rolling hills and glasses of wine is why it is worth visiting Barrel Oak.