The Chefs Behind Three of Virginia’s Popular Winery Restaurants

By Matthew Fitzsimmons

The Chefs Behind Three of Virginia’s Popular Winery Restaurants

Julia Child once said, “Wine is meant to be with food – that’s the point of it!” Nobody will argue that wine isn’t wonderful on its own. But if you really want to elevate your experience, it is crucial that you pair your wine with the right dish.

A well designed pairing will either amplify shared flavor compounds to heighten their sensation, or create a contrast of different tastes. There’s a science behind this process. But it’s more than science; pairing wine and food is an art.

Carlisle Bannister of Upper Shirley Vineyards, Daniel Zbiegien of The Farmhouse at Veritas, and Michael Clough of the Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville are among the masters of this art. While Virginia is famous for having around 300 wineries, only a handful provide a full dining experience. For those who wish to experiment with pairing Virginia wine and local dishes, these are the three wineries you should visit.

Upper Shirley Vineyards

Upper Shirley is located along the banks of the James River in a rural area around 30 minutes south-east of Richmond. While most wineries tend to be part of a wine trail, Upper Shirley breaks the model by providing an all-inclusive experience that keeps patrons from needing to go anywhere else.

Executive Chef (and partner) Carlisle Bannister explained, “In order to really capture our market, we thought that having a restaurant would really showcase what we can do culinary. We have beautiful views, award winning wine, all in one place to capture the full experience.”

Upper Shirley Chef Carlisle Bannister

As for his favorite pairings, “My palate has become seasonal. In the wintertime, I love using our rich and tannic tannat and Zachariah red-blend. Pairing those with anything hardy in the winter is super fun and is just a great match. One of my favorite pairings is these with a hearty, fatty ribeye. That’s pretty sexy right there. There isn’t a food on this earth that we couldn’t pair our wines with.”

“In the summertime, I love our chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. The chardonnay has your traditional oaky flavor but is light and crisp. The sauvignon blanc is light, crisp and citrusy. It pairs nicely with lighter fare. And our traditional sparkling blanc de blanc pairs with everything.”

His favorite part of the job? “I have a lot of favorites. Working with my young staff and teaching them, training them, and seeing them grow and become chefs is really fun. And not only do they have the chance to learn and grow I’ve learned almost everything I know from my guys. You learn new things every day.”

The Farmhouse at Veritas

The Farmhouse has long been famous as an upscale bed and breakfast, but over the past few years, word has gotten out about the quality of the restaurant. It first opened for dining in 2015 but has gradually expanded to its present 38 person capacity, serving both visitors and those staying overnight.

Chef Daniel Zbiegien started in 2017 and after a brief stint elsewhere, returned as its head Chef. Daniel approaches wine and food pairings by prioritizing the menu first and finding the right wine to match it with afterwards. While many of the Farmhouse’s pairings are the result of his own experimentation, Daniel credits Veritas’ winemaker Emily Hodson as a great tutor for Virginia wine.

Farmhouse at Veritas Chef Daniel Zbiegien

When asked what his favorite pairings are, Daniel went with a homemade classic. “You can’t live a full life without experiencing variety. A lot of people ask me what my favorite dish is but it’s always changing. But if I had to pick a favorite meal, it may be a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.”

“As for wine, my ‘first favorite’ was viognier, but I also love our petit verdot and cabernet franc. The viognier has soft acid and the weight of the alcohol balances heat, so it’s great with spicy food. I also pair it with burrata dishes, mixed with tomatoes, paprika, and grilled peaches.”

“Our petit verdot is a big red with notes of toasted vanilla beans and blackberry notes; I like pairing it with almonds and duck. But you can never go wrong with a well seared steak.”

“Cabernet franc was my introduction to Virginia reds. It’s very versatile and goes well with duck, sausage, lamb rump and soft cheeses. Spring is a great time to work because so much is coming into season.”

As for Daniel’s favorite part of the job? “Going out into the dining room and talking to the guests. All the chefs at Veritas are very accessible. The interaction with the guests is almost unique to the Guesthouse. Also, the view at the Farmhouse is amazing.”

The Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyard

If there’s a single Virginia winery that needs no introduction, it would be Barboursville. The winery is one of the oldest in the state, and its restaurant the Palladio is a perennial contender in many “Best” lists when it comes to wineries that offer fine dining.

Winemaker and general manager Luca Paschina is a great cook (watch him effortlessly prepare an Italian dish while doing his Tuesday Facebook Live chats) but the role of Executive Chef is held by Michael Clough. Michael started as an intern at the Palladio and rose his way up until reaching his present position in 2020.

Barboursville Chef Michael Clough

While the Palladio’s dishes are inspired by Italy, Michael emphasized that the menu is seasonal. But as Luca explained, “Almost all restaurants claim they are inspired by Italy, but not all of them do it right.”

When it comes to pairing his dishes, Michael designs the menu first. With 18 different wines to choose from, he never has trouble finding the right wine pairing. The real secret to his creations are in the ingredients. “I spend a lot of time researching good ingredients. If you have good ingredients then the food preparation is always a lot easier.”

As for favorite pairings, they have a few favorites. Luca readily claimed, “One of my favorites is nebbiolo and pasta with white truffle – classic! I grew up with it. I also love vermentino with shrimp or soft shell crab, or a light fish like walleye. It’s also good with pasta or an Italian mollusk dish.”

“For dessert, I like to pair our Paxxito (his Virginia Governor’s Cup-winning dessert wine) with savory dishes, like an apple fritter. A wine shouldn’t be sweeter than the dessert. Cheese boards also go well with it.”

What’s Michael’s favorite part of the job? “The creative process. I never tire of experimenting with new ideas.”

Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a wine blogger who has visited almost every one of Virginia’s nearly 300 wineries. Track his progress on https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/

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