The view is spectacular. Ditto the wine. Double ditto the food.

Upper Shirley Vineyards isn’t becoming a destination point. It has become a destination.

Sitting on the banks of the James River, just 25 minutes from downtown Richmond, Tayloe and Suzy Dameron’s creation is a must-visit venue, either for a tasting of Michael Shaps-produced wines or a lunch on the massive porch overlooking the James … or for just a glass of wine while sitting on one of the comfy courtyard couches.

A weekday lunch was the lure recently for five members of our small wine club, but how can you go to a winery and not do a tasting?

We sampled (and salivated over) 12 wines, highlighted by an elegant 2017 viognier, a crisp 2017 sauvignon blanc that was not overpowered by citrus, a lush 2015 petit verdot, a full-bodied 2015 tannat that had tart red fruits, and a 2015 merlot-petit verdot-tannat blend called Zachariah, which had strong tannins and lingering layers of black cherry and plum flavors.

That’s not to slight the other offerings. You can’t go wrong by doing the standard tasting of eight wines for $11, or the reserve tasting of all 12 wines for $16.

Lunch was on the same high level, and the bottle of viognier four of us shared might not have been the perfect pairing, but it seemed perfect to four of us. (Designated driver Julie opted for a burger to go with her water.)

For a guide to which Upper Shirley wine could/should go with each of our five lunches (out of many options), executive chef Carlisle Bannister was asked for his recommendations to accompany his dishes:

The dish: Chesapeake Lump Crab Cakes with sweet corn succotash, lightly dressed greens and remoulade

The wine: “Chardonnay — Light oak on the chardonnay pairs nicely with the classic flavors of our Lump Crab Cake.”

The dish: Shrimp and Grits with Gulf shrimp, andouille sausage, wild mushrooms, blistered tomatoes in savory jus and heirloom red corn grits

The wine: “Sauvignon Blanc — Light crisp and refreshing with grapefruit balancing the spicy andouille and the creaminess from the grits.”

The dish: Grilled Cheese with Edwards country ham, house-made pimento cheese and fig jam garden gazpacho and lightly dressed field greens

The wine: “#2 white (chardonnay, petit manseng, sauvignon blanc blend) — Its off-dry flavor profile pairs with the sweet and savory flavors from the Virginia ham and the fig jam on our grilled cheese.”

The dish: Route 5 Burger made with custom ground brisket, short rib and chuck topped with Applewood smoked bacon, melted American cheese, Vidalia onion and comeback sauce with fries

The wine: “Merlot — Our custom ground beef blend is almost buttery in flavor, and the medium-bodied merlot highlights this rich flavor.”

The dish: Lump crab stack with avocado, garden tomatoes, mango and seasoned Chesapeake lump crab with gazpacho

The wine: “Viognier — It has such a creamy mouthfeel that pairs perfectly with rich lump crab and the spice and acidity from the gazpacho.”

Jack Berninger’s column on wine and spirits appears monthly in Culture. Contact him at

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(1) comment


Upper Shirley is a true gem. The wines are not world class, they pale in comparision to some Virginia wines, the food is truly outstanding. Great burger, shrimp and grits is excellent and I can't wait until winter when hopefully they will bring back the chicken pot pie.

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