The Wine Festival & Sunset Tour at Mount Vernon. The name suggests elegance and sophistication — like a delicate Pinot Noir, aged to perfection in an oak barrel.
Why, then, did I find myself on Saturday night with a dollop of Easy Cheese between my thumb and forefinger, ready to down a glass of chili-pepper infused apple wine like it was a tequila shooter on Cinco de Mayo?
There were 16 of Virginia’s top wineries at Mount Vernon last weekend, each one offering an array of libations that ranged from the sublime (Tarara Winery’s 2003 Cabernet-Franc Reserve, offering an ocean of soothing tastes in a single sip) to the sublimely ridiculous (Rockbridge’s Jeremiah’s rose red, a.k.a. Kool-Aid for adults).
Each station under the large tent offered the same regimen: pour, swirl, look, smell, taste, savor, smile/frown, ask for another.
That is, until it came time to enter the Wacky Wine World of Peaks of Otter.
The first eye-catcher upon approaching the Bedford vineyard’s table was a blue bottle shaped like a cat, looking very much like a tchotchke your great aunt might have in her living room or a bottle of expensive cologne from the 1970s. Inside was something called “Ras Ma Tas Raspberry” wine, an apple/raspberry combination that immediately stood out on an evening filled with Cabernet Sauvignons that all seemed to be poured from the same boring bottle.
In front of the Peaks of Otter table stood a boisterous gentleman — later identified as a transplanted New Yorker, naturally — playing the dual role of carnival barker and sommelier.
Step right up folks … time for something completely different.
As I hoisted my glass in front of him for a sample of what appeared to be a white zinfandel, I distinctly heard two words leave his mouth: “chili” and “dog.” It was “Chili Dawg” to be exact: a 97% apple wine blended with 3% chili pepper wine.
I had heard of apple wine — I did attend college, and hence had my unfortunate share of Boone’s Farm — but chili pepper wine? I smiled at the thought of Lucille Ball’s feet catching on fire while attempting to stomp out some chili juice on Nick at Nite.
As soon as the wine was poured into my Souvenir Commemorative Glass, the carnival barker asked the several connoisseurs (yeah, right) surrounding him to pause for a moment so he could complete the tasting…with a can of spray-on Easy Cheese.
Going around the circle, he oozed a cracker-sized portion of the yellow stuff on everybody’s drinking hand. With a glass of apple wine in my hand and a wad of processed cheese sprayed near my wrist, I figured this was the closest I’d ever get to the after-party of a Larry the Cable Guy concert.
When everyone had their samples, I took on my usual role of as toastmaster: “OK, on three — one, two, three!” We all took the Easy Cheese in our mouths, and then gulped the wine, sending the strange bedfellows down our gullets.
For me, the taste was distinctive: a blast of pepper ending in a cradle of fruit. The rest of my sample varied from moderate pleasure (“That was interesting”) to utter annoyance (“We need to buy a baguette…now.”)
At an event where $7 got you a platter of fruit and cheese that might have run $2.50 at the local supermarket salad bar, I have to admit that I savored every moment of my spray cheese wine shooter.
And to think: I didn’t even stop to smell the bouquet.
<1b>— Greg Wyshynski