Yesterday, we had a lovely date day up in the Charlottesville area! We have a list of “things to do” before we leave Virginia (tentatively this summer), so we’re trying to knock as much out as possible. On the list were trying the largest producing winery in Virginia and another vineyard that we had only heard good things about. Yesterday morning, we plopped ourselves in the car and off we went across 64 to try and knock these off the list! We started the day eating lunch at a delicious Latino restaurant called Al Carbon, which we highly recommend you try if you’re in the area. Then, we drove up to Keswick Vineyards.

Keswick has absolutely wonderful wines. We had always heard good things about their wine, but had not gone to visit yet. While we had a super chatty hostess, we enjoyed every single wine on their tasting menu and already regret not purchasing any to return home with. Their wines were well-balanced and distinctive and all were attractive to the palette. It’s rare that we find an entire tasting flight that we enjoy (I have a real problem with Chardonnay, which is usually the biggest hold-up with enjoying a tasting), but at Keswick, we genuinely liked everything we tasted. From there, we decided to go a few miles down the road to Castle Hill Cider, a place that originally wasn’t on our “date day” schedule. We are so glad we did! We have never tried such an extensive tasting menu at a cidery, nor had such a well-built tasting flight where each beverage really built off the previous one on the list. While it was crowded and a bit chaotic, we were very happy that we stopped by because we were extremely pleased with everything we tried there!

Feeling good after having two lovely tasting experiences, we swung up to Barboursville Vineyards which holds the title of “largest producing winery” in the state….well, at least it did a few years ago when I gave tours at another winery and spewed that fact. Barboursville was a bit of a manic experience. You pay $7 at the front desk to get a tasting glass and you are challenged to try 19 wines. Will and I both hesitate when we arrive somewhere and are told we have upwards of 20 wines to try…we get a little leary at that point. Compounded with the fact that it was late in the afternoon on a Saturday, everything about Barboursville felt like it was trying too hard – the clientele, the shop, and the wines. We bellied up to bar #1 to sort through our whites and the hostess was clearly in need of a break, as she robotically informed us about what we were going to drink. As a former tour guide/wine hostess, I felt her pain of knowing the primary portion of your audience is not interested in what you have to say. Alas, we were, but the environment killed any real interest! We slowly worked our way around the multiple bars to make our way down the never-ending tasting list (which we declined to complete after we finished the reds…no thanks on likely bad dessert wines), meeting many fascinating (and drunk) people along the way. To me, the crowd felt like a bunch of Northern Virginians who were trying to look fancy by going to a big winery (the dowdy-but-trying clothing choices ID Northern Virginians every time), a bunch of old-money Charlottesville types (with their name brand, perfectly ironed and dyed hair ID them) who picked Barboursville to meet their Northern Virginian friends halfway for a winery, and a bunch of ladies who drink wine to pretend to be fancy instead of enjoying it for the beautifully crafted product it can be. The whole thing was off-putting and none of the wines were memorable, much less extraordinary. As I shared with my mother after the experience, “I’ve had more exciting wines from Trader Joe’s that cost less.” Overall, my old-world, fine-wine loving self was extremely disappointed, but satisfied enough that I tried the experience. I would never return nor recommend the winery to anyone, but at least I can say I’ve been.

Okay, so this food! Perfect for pairing with a white or red wine (hah!), this super easy pasta recipe is the way to go! Fresh tomatoes and basil, combined with a light pasta and parmesan, are the way to go. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my piano students would say!

Cooking Notes: We pretty much followed this recipe as-is, though we were a little more generous with cheese and basil than it originally calls for.

Basil & Cherry Tomato Pasta (adapted from Oh Sweet Basil; serves 4)
1/2 lb. angel hair
2 tbsp olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 lbs. cherry tomatoes
1 cup loosely packed basil, roughly chopped
3/4+ tsp salt
1/2+ cup grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, then add a good helping of salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente or pasta is slightly undercooked. Using tongs, remove the pasta from the water into a colander and reserve the pasta water.

While pasta cooks, add the olive oil to a very large skillet over medium heat. Once oil is warm, add garlic and cook until soft, about 1-2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes and 3/4 tsp salt. Cook for two minutes, then add 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to burst. If they need help bursting (and you only want about half of them to do this), gently push on them using the back of a wooden spoon. Once tomatoes are burst, add the pasta and cook another 2 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the basil and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, tossing to coat. If necessary, add more pasta water. Season with S&P and serve with fresh parmesan and basil on top. Enjoy!

Recipe: Oh Sweet Basil: 20 Minute Cherry Tomato Basil Angel Hair Pasta

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