Airlie’s Wine Dinner Featuring Early Mountain Vineyards
On Saturday, I had the chance to experience a hidden gem in Warrenton, VA: Airlie!
Originally a conference center exclusively for government events, Airlie recently opened it’s doors to the public as a gorgeous, secluded spot for weekend getaways complete with top-notch accommodations and gourmet dining. It also happens to be the birthplace of one of my favorite holidays: Earth Day! Back in 1969, Senatory Gaylord Nelson first introduced the idea for the holiday at a conference hosted at Airlie. More on that in a future post…
As an added sustainability bonus, their culinary team has the privilege of working with ingredients that are as local as you can get – they are grown on grounds in the organic garden.
Part of the garden is open to the community, and Airlie regularly invites students and locals to visit and help care for the crops.
It was a beautiful early-spring evening, so we took a stroll around the garden to check it out. While many plants were still in the ground, the hoop house was full of life!
The garden consists of 4 acres of land, and is about as picturesque as you can imagine.
In addition to the crops, it’s also home to a few chickens!
After a quick preview of our dinner (I predicted we might be seeing quite a few greens on the menu!), we strolled through the non-edible formal gardens and made our way to the stately Airlie House, where the main event would be held.
We took a quick look around and found the cozy and inviting library and the elegant garden bistro.
To take advantage of the weather, the staff opened up the rooftop terrace for the reception before dinner. Cue breathtaking riverside views & subsequent selfies:
Then it was time to settle in for dinner, consisting of dishes prepared by Airlie’s culinary team (Culinary Director Jeff Witte and Executive Chef Jeremy Anderson) paired with wines from Early Mountain Vineyards (by Winemaker Steve Monson and Vineyard Manager Jonathan Hollerith).
I’ve been to Early Mountain Vineyards once before and was very impressed with the wines, but I was even more impressed by their viticulture model. They use a holistic approach to pest management, which includes the use of organic tea sprays. I’m looking forward to investigating this German practice and how it fits into their “environmentally benign” growing plan. More on that in a future post as well!
Jeff, Steve and Jonathan guided us through each course and wine pairing:
First up: Airlie’s interpretation of Asparagus Soup. It consisted of a delightfully light and vibrantly green asparagus broth with sustainable salmon wrapped in seaweed, garnished with shaved asparagus, fava beans, endive, spring flowers and fennel fronds. The crunchy textures and bright flavors of the vegetables complemented the smooth soup incredibly well. This was paired with my favorite wine of the evening, the 2014 Rose, which had been released just a few months ago.
This was followed by the Spring Pea Salad (with pea tendrils, radish, spring onions, carrots, garden greens — who guessed it?! — apricot and citrus vinaigrette). This was devoured before I had a chance to snap a picture. Jeff spoke about how greens were one of the few things growing on property at the moment, so he and his team made sure to feature them in this incredibly fresh salad. The Early Mountain Vineyards team gave us the honor of being among the first to sample their yet-to-be-released 2014 Pinot Gris. The crisp, delicate flavors in this white made the greens sing.
The Local Pork Medallion came out next. It was sourced from Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton, one of my favorite local operations, owned and operated by Jesse Straight and his family. Their sustainable practices and humane animal treatment really make a difference in the quality of their meat. The pork was served with braised rhubarb, strawberry chutney, sweet onion, spicy greens and sauce Robert. The sweetness tempered the succulent fat from the pork medallion and made this dish the perfect accompaniment for Early Mountain’s unique and rich Merlot.
The Local Chicken Suprême was also from Whiffletree, and Jeff joked that Suprême is just the fancy French way of saying: chicken with the leg sticking up. It may have sounded fancy, but it tasted rustic and earthy, thanks to a sauce poivrade, braised artichokes, local morels (my weakness), spinach, radicchio and quinoa. It paired beautifully with the Eluvium 2012 from Early Mountain’s clay-rich vineyards.
Dessert is the way to my heart, so I was eagerly awaiting the Spiced Mango Pop. As unusual as it sounds, it did not disappoint. The sorbet popsicle was cold to the touch but warm to the tongue because of the pepper medley (Habanero, Jalapeño and Red Chili). It was served with a curried mango chutney and “melon-herb caviar” (essentially little bubbles of melon-y goodness). Early Mountain Vineyards also finished strong with their Muscat Dolce 2009, which apparently started off as a U-L-O (unidentified liquid object) in a cellar on grounds, but ended up as a smooth masterpiece.
After that incredible evening, we’re already planning our next visit!
If you’re interested in experiencing this for yourself, Airlie’s next Wine Dinner will be on May 30th, featuring wines from Linden Vineyards.