Archive for December, 2009


The Venerable Wineglass

Posted on Dec 23 2009 | By

Take a sip of spring water, iced tea, coke, juice or even beer. Does it matter if your container is a bottle, a cup, a can or a tumbler? Not really. The enjoyment of those beverages will be about the same regardless of the vessel they’re drunk from.

Choose Your Vessel Wisely

Choose Your Vessel Wisely

Now pour quality wine into any of those containers and sip. Wine from a plastic bottle? A coffee mug? A foam cup? An aluminum can?  Ewe.

Not to put too fine a point on the question, but doesn’t wine seemingly desire the comfort of a wine glass to bring forth all its allure? Of course.

Wine glasses today are the culmination of hundreds of years of evolution and range in cost from a few dollars to over a $100 apiece.

From its earliest development as a favored beverage, wine drinkers almost instinctively sought unique containers to sip their precious liquid from. Starting with animal horns and then evolving to receptacles of leather gourds, clay pottery, shaped copper, silver, pewter and gold chalices, wine vessels sought to showcase the special libation contained therein.

In 50 AD, Pliny the Elder, a noted author and scientist of his time, recorded that glass was emerging as the esteemed vessel for holding wine. Glass was one of the most advanced technologies in Roman times and was rare and expensive.

It would be centuries later, however, before the wineglass achieved broad practicable use. The vessel was perfected in Venice, Italy around 1000 AD and two centuries later, Venice had evolved into the glassmaking capital of the known world. Venetian glass artisans slowly spread across Europe introducing the vessel to the rest of the globe.

In early 1600s, commercial glass production exploded in England. English glassblowers perfected a sturdier type of glass and another major wine advancement occurred when the wine bottle began being produced on a wide scale. With the advancement of manufactured glass, both the wine glass and the bottle catapulted wine to greater popularity.

There are three components to a wine glass: the bowl, the stem and the foot. The design evolved to emphasize important aspects of wine enjoyment. The bowl captures the aromatics, and the stem offers an unobstructed view of the liquid while keeping fingerprints and body heat away from the wine. The base provides a sturdy platform upon which the libation can rest without fear of a tumble.

There are four basic designs with many variations; each is shaped to showcase a particular type of wine.

Champagne Glass: Tall, narrow and elegant looking, the shape helps emphasize the bubbles upward circulation, a key element in the visual and tactile enjoyment of a sparkling wine. The narrow bowl also limits air contact, reducing the oxidizing effect while keeping the wine cold, an important characteristic for champagne’s enjoyment.

wine glassesWhite Wine Glass: The design is tall and somewhat narrow with a smaller “tulip” shaped mouth to preserve the crisp, clean flavors of white wines. The shape affords more protection from oxidation and somewhat restricts the ability to swirl, a function less necessary than with reds. The shape of the bowl also directs the wine toward the front of the mouth, enhancing flavor perception.

Red Wine Glass: A larger bowl increases the ratio of wine to air providing for greater aeration and thus oxidation. The wider bowl also facilitates swirling that releases more aromas and flavors and directs the wine to the back and sides of the palate, an area of the mouth better suited to experiencing red wine flavors.

Dessert Wine Glass: This glass is smaller in size so as to direct the wine toward the back of the palate, reducing the sweetness perception, which is greatest at the tip of the tongue. Since these wines are usually higher in alcohol, the smaller size also telegraphs the need to reduce consumption and sip slowly while the dessert is being enjoyed.

The amount of wine poured in a glass should range from one third to one half. Greater amounts reduce the aromatic impact since the bowl does not have sufficient space to retain the easily volatilized aromas.

Most average glasses are made of simple glass. The more expensive vessels are crafted with crystal and are quite thin. The thinner the bowl the more pleasure that can be derived from the wine since there is more wine to mouth contact, lessening the feel of thick glass resting against the lip. Unfortunately, these beautiful, thin and expensive glasses are also very susceptible to breakage. To address this concern, some manufactures today produce elegant glasses fused with super-strong magnesium that create a highly durable, break resistant receptacle.

Unlike commercial wineries, personal glasses should generally be free of designs and etchings to better display the wine.  And, when made of crystal the romantic and gentle “ring” of two glasses meeting in the harmony of a toast brings even further enjoyment to a dining experience. To entertain dinner guests during a lull in the conversation, take a drop of wine and apply it to the rim of a crystal glass. Then firmly rub the entire top edge of the bowl with the tip of your index finger several times. In a moment or two you will hear wine angels softly singing. Sweet.

One of the most well known producers of high quality wine glasses is Riedel. The firm has a storied tradition dating back to its founder, Johann Christoph Riedel, born in 1678 in Northern Europe. For eleven generations his family has produced exceptional, hand blown crystal stemware. The glasses—with dozens of different styles available—are designed to direct wine to specific areas of the mouth and have been proven in blind tastings as having the ability to showcase the best attributes a wine has to offer.

IMG_2054_2Robert M. Parker, Jr., an internationally acclaimed wine critic and also known as the Emperor of Wine states, “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” Of course, that profound experience can cost over $105 per glass, so let’s hope it does take us to places we have never been wine-wise before.

If the expense of investing in quality stemware seems extravagant, consider purchasing a couple of all-purpose, crystal glasses. Such stemware is available beginning in the $15 apiece range. Then, test the impact of your favorite wine in both a simple wine glass and the more expensive crystal one.

Much effort goes into the hunt for a reasonably priced bottle of quality wine. Make certain you are extracting all the pleasures therein by sipping your prize from a quality wine glass.  The vessel matters.


Published in the Culpeper Times December 23, 2009.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

John’s December Pick of the Month

Posted on Dec 23 2009 | By




Northpointe Red


Chateau O'BrianProprietor Howard O’Brien and winemaker Jason Murray have crafted a distinct red blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc and 10% Tannat. The wine opens with a “smell the taste” aroma of cherry, spice and mint and follows on the palate with black cherry, a dash of licorice and a soft spice finish. This fourteen-month French oak aged, rich-bodied red is nicely matched with a winter repast of rosemary lamb chops and rice pilaf. Drink now through 2012.

Chateau O’Brien is located at 3238 Rail Stop Road, Markham, VA, just off I-66 West at Exit 18. The winery, with its eye-catching deck view, is opened Thursday through Monday, 11 AM to 5 PM. (540) 364-6441.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Rebirth of the Orlean Store

Posted on Dec 17 2009 | By

A fading part of Americana is the rural grocery store.

Over the last decade, numerous establishments that had been an integral part of the Virginia landscape have shuttered their doors. Declining business and competition from the major chains have seemingly rendered these stores obsolete.

The loss of small locally owned and operated grocery stores impact rural communities and its citizens in far reaching ways. The demise of these retail outlets can result in a diminution of community contact and spirit. And, in an era when the term “carbon footprint” is constantly invoked, the price for families who can no longer shop locally can be costly in terms of wasted fuel and time.

Orlean Store

Orlean Store

Peter McMurray, the new owner of the Orlean Store, believes such shops can be relevant and profitable if owners listen to their customers and provide a venue for the sale of locally grown products.

Orlean is the quintessential small village situated in the heart of Virginia’s Piedmont country with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town is located about 15 miles northwest of Warrenton and was established in the early 1800s. It was named in honor of Andrew Jackson’s defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.                                                                                                                                 

McMurray is an entrepreneur with a host of successful businesses on his resume’.  Among his more unique ventures was the development of one of the first eCommerce businesses in the country, called PC Flowers. Created in 1989, the business sold flowers nationwide via the embryonic Internet system. He then shifted gears and purchased and operated a major marina located near the Outer Banks in North Carolina. His early career involved stints with IBM and Boeing Computer Services.

In 2002, after selling the marina business and moving to Flint Hill, VA his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After her death, McMurray led a quiet life, looking for an opportunity to express his instinctive drive to own and operate a business.

Brenda & Peter McMurray

Brenda & Peter McMurray

During this period, he also fell in love again. After a courtship of a few years, he married Brenda, who had run a successful grocery store in Manassas. Together they began looking for a business they could build as a team. Enter the Orlean Store.

The Orlean Store is located in a 1850s era building at the corner of Routes 688 and 732 in Fauquier County. The market had served the community for many years but its last owner, feeling the same pressures as many rural groceries, closed the business in the early part of 2009. Peter and Brenda were shown the property a few months later and immediately saw its potential. After an extensive clean up and refurbishing of the premises, they opened for business in June.

                                                                                                                                                                   The community’s response to the new ownership was immediate. In addition to standard grocery items, the market has a deli featuring quarter pound hamburgers, sandwiches, homemade soups, and fresh baked breads and pastries. Custom blended coffee—both brewed and ground—is also available, a particularly attractive draw for the village residents.

“We’ve experienced business growth each month we’ve been opened. We are now generating up to 200 transactions a day,” states McMurray. Realizing the potential for sit-down eating, the store opened a small dining area and a patio for warm weather dining out.

Dining Area

Dining Area

Supporting Virginia food producers is high on McMurray’s agenda. The store features a host of products, including chutney, cheese, roasted coffees, honey, jellies, elderberry drinks, syrups and wines. “Virginia food products are of the highest quality and we are proud to showcase them in our store,” his says. A particularly tasty example of such support is his Wednesday evening wine tastings featuring Virginia wines, plus California and international bottlings.

The community’s embrace of the market’s unique weekly dinners has been particularly gratifying for the McMurrays. The couple knew they did not have the capability to open a full-time restaurant in addition to operating the market. Yet, they wanted to offer their customers a dining out experience. The answer was weekly dinners with a one-menu entrée. “We feature one dish every Thursday such as crab cakes, chili or lasagna and price it from ten to fifteen dollars a plate. A glass of wine runs around five dollars,” he says.



The community response was startling. The first dinner hosted 16 diners. It then jumped to 25, then 40, and then 70. One Thursday in early October saw 92 guests enjoying the crab cake special. If it weren’t for the warm weather and the patio’s availability, the market would have been pressed to handle the crush of diners.

The dinner concept became such a local favorite the dining area was expanded. It is expected dinners will soon be offered two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays. For those interested in a unique dining out excursion, the kitchen opens at 5 PM each Thursday. And while reservations are not accepted, no one has yet been turned away nor had to wait for a seat.

Beyond the sale of food and drink, one of the more important benefits of the market’s rebirth is the installation of functioning gas pumps. The nearest gas station is over five miles away but the previous owner had ceased selling gas due to the expense of replacing the antiquated pumps. McMurray knew the restoration of fuel service would be most welcomed by both residents and visitors. And indeed, it has.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             landscapeOne of the more telling aspects of rebuilding a retail business in a village setting was the decision on how to handle tips. “In the beginning, some customers would leave change on the counter as they purchased their food orders. To neaten things up, I set out a bowl for the tips. But, both Brenda and I were not comfortable with the tip jar concept. Brenda suggested we donate the money to the Orlean Fire Department. It was a great idea. We are now averaging $300 to $500 a month in contributions for the department,” McMurray states proudly.

And whom might the store’s clientele include? “I love our customer mix. We have local farmers, city commuters, estate owners, tradesmen, touring motorcyclists, bicyclists, and visitors enjoying a ride in the country. It’s gratifying to see so many different folks supporting our business,” McMurray states.

All of this begs the question; does the rural grocery store have to be a victim of twenty-first century progress? Or, might its future lie in recognizing what a community wants and then serving those needs.

If you’d like to cast a vote for the future of yesterday, stop by the Orlean Store and grab that gallon of milk, sandwich, cup of coffee or a bottle of wine. Peter and Brenda are waiting to say hello.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Christmas in Little Washington

Posted on Dec 06 2009 | By

Where is the elusive, quintessential American small town located?  Might it be in a quaint Virginia village lying in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with a parade thrown in to seal the deal?   How’d you guess.

LandscapeOn Sunday, December 6, the town of Washington, VA held its 5th annual Christmas parade, replete with the US Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, strutting horses, prancing llamas, tail wagging dogs and their beaming owners, the mayor and his wife riding in a 1926 Cadillac, and floats and children galore. The event was a magical mystery tour.

Even the proprietor of one of the world’s finest restaurants, Chef Patrick O’Connell, owner of the Inn at Little Washington, was seen riding on a float.

Yep, this parade had it all.

LandscapeBut wait, there’s more. Santa was spotted at the town market handing out gifts to children, both naughty and nice. Of course, all children in Rappahannock County are born nice and never change. The event also showcased the county’s artists at the community theatre, where handmade jewelry, dulcimers, ironwork, baskets, pottery, Christmas ornaments and other crafts were for sale.

Rappahannock Cellars was privileged to pour wines at the Artisans’ Market for the event’s attendees.  I shared sips of our Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Meritage to appreciative parade aficionados, and sold bottles of wine to folks realizing they were in need of a libation for their evening meal.IMG_1909

 The Washington Hospitality and Visitors Association sponsored the day’s events. If you are looking for a way to jump-start your Christmas spirit next year, consider attending the town’s annual parade. 

It’s a gift you’ll be giving yourself.



Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Clean As A Whistle

Posted on Dec 02 2009 | By

VOLUNTEER: a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.

As with any dictionary definition, the word is accurately described but leaves us with an image that’s dry as day old toast.

take part…enterprise…undertake…task.


Now, paint a word picture of a mountain trail volunteer: A forest lover who blissfully wanders along an assigned wooded path on a glorious early December afternoon, removing any fallen branches or unruly undergrowth that may slow a passing hiker.

Ahhhh…is that a volunteer or just a lucky guy?  Actually, both.

Intersection of AT & Upper Thornton River Trails

Intersection of AT & Upper Thornton River Trails

Yesterday, I performed one of my more pleasant tasks. I cleared my section of a blue-blazed path, the Upper Thornton River Trail, located in the North District of the Shenandoah National Park. I get to perform this assignment several times a year. And they don’t charge me for the privilege.

The history of the Eastern Seaboard trail systems dates to 1927 when a group of ardent outdoorsmen conceived and created the renowned Appalachian Trail, a 2,175 mile foot path extending from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Today, the gift these trail pioneers gave us is enjoyed by everyone who seeks the beauty, exercise and solace of a walk in the woods. A better antidote to the hectic stress of Twenty-First Century America is hard to find.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Maintenance of the Appalachian Trail, more commonly know as the AT, is divided among thirty volunteer organizations extending its entire length. In Virginia and Maryland the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is responsible for 240 miles of the white-blazed AT and over 700 miles of side trails. The section I maintain, a blue-blazed side trail, is a short, steep accent that connects Skyline Drive with the AT, which runs the ridge of Knob Mountain.

In addition to my trail work, I am fortunate to assist with a civil war cabin restoration project, also sponsored by the PATC. If you are looking for an enjoyable outlet for your volunteer urges, consider joining the over 6,000-member volunteer-based organization. 

Your reward will be the natural highs you’ll experience in preserving our valued mountain hiking trails and its shelter & cabin system.


Categories : HAGARTY TALES