Alexandria, VA – Traveling one snowy day in February, a mile or so along a bucolic unpaved road off Route 15 just past Leesburg, we came upon Fabbioli Cellars’ rotunda-shaped tasting room set in a white blanketed landscape between the Potomac River and the Blue Ridge. Owners Doug Fabbioli and his wife Colleen Berg are celebrating 20 years since first planting vines on 25-acres of farmland eight miles away in Lucketts.
After ten years in California, the couple returned to Virginia in 1997 to start a vineyard and winery. Doug and Colleen began the search for that little piece of Heaven in Loudoun County. Wine and winemaking flow through Doug’s Italian American veins. In the 1940s and 50s, Doug’s grandfather Leone Fabbioli made wine in the basement of his home in Elmira, New York.
The first vines Doug and Colleen planted 20 years ago were Merlot, with some Petit Verdot for blending. Most winemakers here and in California use Merlot extensively to create Bordeaux-style blends. But when Miles Raymond, the emphatically Merlot-eschewing oenophile in the 2004 hit film Sideway, disparaged Merlot, sales tanked significantly and this erstwhile fashionable vino lost its luster.
Undeterred by unpopular demand, Doug remained steadfast in his commitment to making the classic red blending grape great again in its own right. Fabbioli’s boutique-style winemaking is the essence of careful cultivation and small-batch crushing, blending, and bottling. The Fabbioli Cellars approach is what makes Loudoun vineyards unique. It is at the very heart of the Virginia wine industry’s evolution, making Virginia wines increasingly popular nationally and internationally.
Fabbioli Cellars is also FABBulously fun. Each month they feature a tasting room tribute to an icon of popular culture, film, or literature. Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, and Game of Thrones have all been themes. Staff and customers get into the spirit by wearing costumes while the kitchen conjures up signature pairings of wine and tempting treats for each month’s tasting plates.
What theme is more appropriate for feting Valentines than the star-crossed love story of Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson from the Oscar-sweeping 1997 film Titanic? Winery patrons arrived in film-fan finery, including Fabbiolous mile-wide millinery and spiffy spats. The first-class pairing spared no expense, or calories, on the wine and food pairings:
* NV Raspberry Merlot -~ The Band Played On ~ Dove Dark Chocolate
* NV Perry ~ Iceberg Ahead ~ Vanilla Meringues
* 19 Something White ~ Heart of the Ocean ~ Hero Black Currant Fruit Spread, English Clotted Cream, Digestive Biscuit
* 18 Sangiovese ~ Send Up the Flares ~ Bellavitano Balsamic Fig Chutney, Sea Salt and Olive Crisps
* 17 Carmenere ~ To the Lifeboat ~ London Broil, Bellavitano Pinot Cheese, Bab Ghanoij Dip
* NV Royalty ~ The Stars Above ~ Manchego Mitica Cheese
If steerage is more to your style and budget, every weekend in February, Fabbioli offered Girl Scout cookie pairings for just $5. You might buy a box of Thin Mints there and a bottle to take al fresco while cozying up to a roaring fire pit.
Z~Oenology recommends the Paco Rojo, a raspberry hued, feisty, medium-bodied red blend with notes of black cherry, ripe plum, and licorice. It’s best slightly chilled, which wasn’t a concern at barely 39 degrees outdoors and served with a pail of ice. It was icebergs all around. The firewood valets delivered fresh fuel and stoked the flames frequently while an unobtrusive tasting room concierge checked on your comfort and needs.
On a snowy Valentine’s Day wine tasting at Fabbioli Cellars, indoors or out, they not only had you at hello, they had you at Merlot! And Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Petit Manseng, Barbera, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, and a titanic Tannat! Oh, and yes, Miles, there’s even the “fabb” Bicoastal, a colossal Zinfandel with chops. Sorry, there’s no Pinot, but there is a lot of FABB Merlot!