Special Tasting at Linden

Winemaker Jim Law held a special release tasting of upcoming wines at Linden. We look forward to attending this annual event, and this year was no exception. Gorgeous spring weather, bursting blossoms, and fluttering birds provided an idyllic setting to boot.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.


The event featured five tasting stations, and the first station was located on the outdoor crush pad and appropriately named First Sip. Chardonnay was the star attraction here, and there were four of them to sip. These included the 2011 and 2010 Avenius Chardonnay followed by the 2011 and 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. The Avenius site is known for its rocky soils and thus produces leaner wines with mineral characteristics; we both agreed that the 2011 better presented these unique qualities of the Avenius vineyard. Shellfish will be perfect with one! The Hardscrabble site with its clay soils produce fuller-bodied wines; of the two, I preferred the 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay with its richer mouth feel.
Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.

Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.


From the white wine station, we moved on to the red wines held in the barrel room. We moved through four tables that presented a total of seven red wines. The first table featured a 2010 Cabernet Franc, and this will be the first time that Law has released a single-varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc in quite some time; however, the 2010 Cabernet Franc proved to be jammier and more muscular than in previous years. Law therefore opted to bottle it on its own. We approved of the decision and enjoyed our sample with a spicy lamb meatball.
Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.

Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.


The other tables provided more opportunities to sample wines from the 2009 and the 2010 vintages. In all cases, we tended to prefer the 2009 pours. The most accessible was the 2009 Boisseau Red, a blend of 43% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, and 26% Petit Verdot. The 2009 Hardscrabble Red proved to be the most complex and was dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (64%) then Merlot (14%) and Petit Verdot (3%). Paul was a big fan of the 2009 Avenius Red with its plum notes and earthy elements.
There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.

There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.


Though we did enjoy the 2009 vintages, it was hard to ignore the potential for the 2010 red wines. The 2010 harvest was best since the heralded 2007 season, and it was telling that Cabernet Sauvignon heavily dominated all of the 2010 blends. I am always a fan of the Hardscrabble reds, and once again the 2010 Hardscrabble Red was my favorite of the still evolving 2010 blends. Remember, though, that the 2009 blend contained 64% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 version? 83% I have no doubt that the 2010 Hardscrabble Red will have great cellaring potential once it is released.

We completed our release tasting and then opted to try the current releases in the tasting room. Here again we were able to taste a contrast of seasons. Law has released a 2011 Red, a bright and light bodied red blend that would be suitable with a pizza, burger, or spicy fare. (I called this one a Beaujolais-style wine due to its soft, fruity nature, but I’m not sure if Jim would consider it a complement.) Anyway, it was the product of a very rainy and difficult year yet it was very quaffable. Be sure to enjoy soon, though. It might be an option for Thanksgiving dinner, too. (Paul ended up buying two bottles!). On the other hand, the 2010 Claret was more complex with smoky notes and ripe dark fruit flavors. Steak on the grill? This would pair nicely. Unlike its younger sibling, this one will be able to hang out on the wine rack for a while.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow


Our tastings were done, and we decided to linger for a while with a glass of our favorites. I savored a glass of the 2009 Hardscrabble Red, and Paul enjoyed a glass of the 2009 Avenius Red. We munched on a smoky gouda cheese, summer sausage, and a baguette, and Paul snapped pictures of barn swallows as they flew back and forth between a dark space beneath the deck and nearby trees.
Chardonnay bud break at Linden.

Chardonnay bud break at Linden.


We enjoyed our special release tasting and made sure to purchase some very special wines. Plan a trip to Linden, and mention that Virginia Wine time sent you.

Bloggers Judge Sparkling Wines

Yes, we are back on track with our regular posts about Virginia wine, and this entry will present the results of a tasting that featured sparkling wines. This has become something of a tradition for Virginia bloggers, and we thank Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like for his continued efforts in putting this contest together. Other Virginia wine bloggers in attendance were VWD and GEG from Swirl Sip Snark, Anthony and Jaymie from Virginia Pour House blog, Megan Headley who writes for CVille Weekly, Allan and Kris from Cellar Blog, and Pia Mara Finkell from The BuzzBin. This year’s tasting was held at Early Mountain Vineyards, and thirteen bubblies were tossed into the ring.
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Of the thirteen, ten were from Virginia, one was from the Finger Lakes, another was from New Mexico, and a final outside entry hailed from Spain.
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The judging was done blind. What were the results? How did Virginia’s sparkling fare? When all was tasted, here is how they ranked:

1. Thibaut-Janisson 2008 Cuvee D’etat: This was also my own personal favorite with nice yeasty notes and elements of apple and pear.
2. Thibaut-Janisson NV Blanc de Chardonnay: This also earned the second spot on my own list.
3. Trump 2008 Blanc de Blanc
4. Thibaut-Janisson NV Fizz: This one earned my third place finish.
5. Veritas NV Scintilla
6. Dr. Frank Winery 2006 Chateau Frank (from the Finger Lakes region)
7. Barboursville NV Brut
8. Prince Michel Winery NV Sparkling Wine
9. Gruet Winery NV: Last year it earned the top spot; I placed this one at #11 on my own scorecard. Off aromas and a flatter palate led to a dramatic fall in the ratings this year.
10. Paradise Springs Winery NV Apres
11. Afton Mountain 2010 Bollicine
12. Horton NV Sparkling Viognier: This one earned my #13 rating. It had no characteristics of a sparkling wine. Not one bubble, and I searched in vain for at least one to dance its way to the top of the glass. It tasted like a flat Viognier, and I do mean flat.
13. Jaume Serra Christalino NV Brut Cava: Off aromas and an odd finish sent this one to the bottom of the rankings. It did bubble, though, and for that reason I gave it an edge over the Horton Sparkling.
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So cheers to Virginia: in particular, kudos to Claude Thibaut-Janisson for his continued excellence in producing premier sparkling wines. Special thanks must be extended to Michelle, Jacob, and the entire Early Mountain team for not only hosting the event at their wonderful facility but also for providing us with the stemware, cheeses, breads and deli meats to nibble as we sipped.
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This is the time of year for graduations, weddings, engagements, and other special events. Celebrate a special occasion with a bottle of sparkling wine from Virginia. The local wine shop may sell the Thibaut-Janisson selections; if not, ask that they do. Mention that Virginia Wine Time recommends them!

Hidden Gem

A few weeks ago, before the Drink Local Wine conference in Baltimore, we were cruising around Loudoun County visiting wineries when we decided to stop at Hiddencroft Vineyards. We hadn’t visited Hiddencroft for quite awhile and things had changed. First of all we noticed they are no longer conducting tastings in winery. They now conduct the tastings in the Dutchman’s Creek tasting house. The tasting house is a 1830s farm house that sits on the property that used to be adjacent to their original property. They acquired the property in 2011 and by Labor Day that year began conducting the tastings there. There are two tasting counters and with rooms on the second floor for larger groups. There is also a deck attached to the house where you can enjoy your wine and nibbles with beautiful views of the vineyard and surrounding property. The day we visited was sunny and warm and the views were wonderful. The deck was hopping with music and lots of visitors enjoying Hiddencroft wine.
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Owner and winemaker Clyde Housel conducted our tasting. We always enjoy tasting with Clyde. He doesn’t mind our numerous questions about the wines, the vineyard, and what’s new. We were able to taste the full lineup of wines and of course a few stood out as our favorites. We began the tasting with the 2011 Chambourcin Rose. We noticed the pretty pink color and notes of melon and spice. This would be a nice summer sipper for picnics and concerts on the lawn at Wolf Trap. Of the white wines our favorite was the 2011 Traminette Dry. It has a floral nose with hints of apple and tropical notes. We enjoyed the apple and white pepper notes on the tongue. There is also a semi-sweet version that would pair well with spicy dishes.

After the whites, we moved on to the lineup of red wines. While we thoroughly enjoyed the non-vintage Cabernet Franc and the Dutchman’s Creek Blend, the standout red was the 2008 Tannat. This red was aged for 42 months on oak. We noted tobacco on the nose with smoke, berries, and a smooth long finish in the mouth. This maybe the best Tannat we’ve tried in the whole state of Virginia. This wine is usually only available to purchase by the bottle but Clyde let us enjoy a glass. We enjoyed the glass on the deck with the other Hiddencroft visitors enjoying the beautiful day. We enjoyed the glass so much, we decided to bring a bottle home with us.
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We simply can’t let so much time pass before our next trip to Hiddencroft Vineyards. It’s a little gem of a winery tucked away in northern Loudoun County that shouldn’t be missed. If you haven’t been to Hiddencroft Vineyards in a while, you need to plan to return. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Drink Local Wine (Continued)

So I left off with the wine media junket arriving at the Waterfront Kitchen in Baltimore for a food and wine dinner. The menu continued with the locavore and locapour theme, and it featured locally grown food and locally produced wines.
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The menu included:

Reception: Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery Blanc de Blancs NV

First Course: Black bass, spring pea risotto, and beurre rose
Paired with Knob Hall Winery Rose 2011

Second Course: Gallentine of Chicken, pork sausage, swiss chard and mushroom jus
Paired with Port of Leonardtown Chambourcin 2010 (my fave on the menu)

Third Course: Roasted lamb rack, black truffle risotto, rosemary essence
Paired with: Basignani Winery Lorenzino Reserve 2005

Dessert: Picholine olive oil cake, vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise
Paired with: Serpent Ridge Vineyard Slither NV

Friday was certainly filled with food and wine. Saturday, though, was the day with panel discussions on the past, present and future of Maryland wine. Four sessions were held on these topics, and session moderators included wine blogger and publisher Carlo di Vito, wine columnist Dave McIntyre, Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, and viticulturist Dr. Joseph Fiola. Panelists included author Maguerite Thomas, chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen, Jade Ostner, director of event for the Maryland Wineries Association, radio host Al Spoler, winemakers Ed Boyce of Black Ankle, Dave Collins of Big Cork, Robert Deford of Boordy, and Tom Shelton of Bordeleau.
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I will not get into the nitty gritty details of each session; however, I will summarize the ten conclusions that I drew from them:

1. Maryland wines were not very good in the 1980s and 1990s; however, they have improved in the past decade. Skilled winemakers and viticulturists such as Lucie Morton have contributed to this.

2. Maryland’s climate shares some characteristics with Virginia and Pennsylvania; the best grape growing regions in the state are those that have higher elevations and rocky, less fertile soils.

3. Warm days and cool nights are ideal during growing season.

4. Best grapes for the state seem to be cabernet franc, chambourcin, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc and albarino with potential for quality chardonnay.

5. The focus especially for red wines should be blends rather than bottling single varietals. This is critical for troublesome years such as 2011.

6. Chambourcin has the potential to be the Norton of Maryland.

7. Maryland’s challenge is not quality but constituency, and winemakers should look to Europe for inspiration since they face similar year-to-year challenges.

8. Tight spacing of vines may be a best practice; this absorbs rain water.

9. Maryland wineries continue to open; 62 are now open for business

10. Consumers must enjoy the wine tasting experience and made aware of improved quality. Maryland Wineries Association will continue awareness programs such as Eat Drink Go Local.

The conference concluded with a twitter taste off that was held at Camden Yards. At least 20 Maryland wineries were on hand to pour their finest wines, and tasters were encouraged to tweet their impressions. The taste off was opened to the public after 4 PM. What were our favorites?
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White Wines:
Black Ankle 2011 Albarino
Old Westminster 2011 Chardonnay
Sugarloaf 2011 Pinot Grigio

Red Wines:
Big Cork 2012 Meritage
Boordy 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve
Black Ankle 2010 Crumbling Rock
Sugarloaf 2010 EVOE!

The ultimate champions of the twitter taste-off were the 2011 Albarino from Black Ankle and the Sugarloaf 2010 EVOE!

Drink Local Wine provided a perfect opportunity for Maryland winemakers to present the best wines, and there was no doubt that Maryland can produce quality wines. Most of our fellow bloggers had never tasted Maryland wines, and I must confess that we have visited only a couple of Maryland wineries. However, that will be changing. We plan to frequent Maryland wineries more often, and we encourage readers to do the same. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.