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.

TasteCamp Day Three

Jim Law of Linden headlined the TasteCamp finale, and he conducted a personal tour of his Hardscrabble site for campers. Jim is something of a god here in Virginia, so this opportunity for campers to meet the man who inspired the sea change in Virginia’s winemaking was truly an incredible experience. Jim’s tour ended with a tasting of his wines, and taste camp ended on the highest note possible.
Taste campers met Jim on a very foggy and chilly morning to tour his Hardscrabble site. Jim has been making wine at the Hardscrabble vineyard since at least 1987, and he began the tour at his block of oldest chardonnay vines; however, lest we think that Jim contently sits on his laurels and lets 25 year- old vines do their thing, campers were informed otherwise. Jim is in the process of renovating and replanting his vineyard so that particular varietals are planted in the most appropriate soils and microclimates. Blocks of merlot are being uprooted and then replanted with chardonnay. Carmenere is being grafted onto merlot to produce more merlot. Poorly performing carmenere will be phased out. New vines will be spaced closer together. Canopy management will change too. A recent trip to Bordeaux vineyards revealed to Jim that merlot grapes actually do not like plentiful sunshine, and overly ripened merlot produces jammy, uninteresting wines associated with the mediocre stuff associated with California. Therefore, Jim will make the necessary adjustments with his merlot vines. What does all of this say about Jim Law? I concluded that Jim stays at the top of his game because he always seeks to improve. Jim constantly referenced his desire to “get better” or “make better wine”; although other area winemakers often acknowledge Jim as their teacher, mentor, or hero, it was obvious to me that Jim still considers himself to be a student. Perhaps it is for this reason that his wines consistently set the bar for quality in Virginia.
Jim then led us to the crush pad for a tasting of his wines. The fog intensified as barn swallows frantically fluttered around, and a Gothic feel permeated the atmosphere as Jim presented his wines. These included the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Harscrabble Chardonnay, 2008 Hardscrabble Red, and 2009 Avenius Red. As the fog encircled us, it was hard to miss Jim’s Old World style of winemaking. Elegant and focused, integrated and balanced—these wines were indeed at the top of the class. It was here that I heard the highest praises of the weekend with one New York camper commenting that Jim’s wines were “world class.”
Reflections: So what did I learn from taste camp? Winemaking is a tough business, and the phrase, “winemaking starts in the vineyard”, may seem cliché, but indeed it is true. The vineyard management alone should frighten off all but the most dedicated and passionate. There are many decisions and tasks involved just with the vineyard management. Which site to select? Which varieties to plant, and then which clones? What about trellising—smart dyson to maximize production? Mow the lawn or let the weeds grow to soak up some unwanted moisture? Pick now or gamble on the weather? Needless to say, there are many more decisions to be made once grapes are harvested and then fermented and aged. Serious winemaking is not for the hobbyist, and even most seasoned veterans must be opened to changes if they wish to constantly raise the quality of their wines.

I also learned that Virginia winemakers are still sorting out what varieties work for Virginia, and this seems to be a site-by-site decision. Jordan Harris will be focusing more on Rhone varieties while Law will intensify his focus on merlot and chardonnay. Doug Fabbioli, the Bootstrapper, will continue to innovate not only with traditional viniferous grapes but also with hybrids (like chambourcin) as well as fruit wines. Ben Renshaw enjoys the challenge of vineyard management and seems to revel in working with a more diverse crop—his favored Tranquility site grows traditional grapes such as cabernet sauvignon while the Goose Creek vineyard located across the road produce German varieties such as lemberger and dornfelder. What was a common thread between all of these winemakers? The sense of passion that even the most oblivious would have noticed.

Buzz: So which wines generated the most buzz? I tried to document as many comments as possible, so it is likely that I missed a few of the hitmakers from the weekend. With that in mind, here is my list of all-stars that generated the most buzz:

2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir
2011 Boxwood Rose
2007 Boxwood Red (actually a split between this and the 2007 Topiary)
2011 Blenheim Rose
2002 Breaux Reserve Merlot
2001/2005 Breaux Nebbiolo
2008 Linden Hardscrabble Red
2009 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay
2010 North Gate Rousanne
2011 Stinson Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Tarara Syrah
2011 Tarara Petit Manseng
2011 White Hall Viognier
2010 Zepahiah Farms Chambourcin Reserve

TasteCamp offered an opportunity for campers to learn (and taste) more about winemaking in Virginia. We thank the TasteCamp organizers for planning this event, and we encourage readers to visit Virginia wineries to sample the latest releases. Create your own buzz (uh-a list of favorite Virginia wines, course). Remember to mention to the winemakers that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Linden Barrel Tasting

The Linden Barrel Tasting is an event that we always mark on our calendars. This year’s tasting featured some white wines from the 2011 vintage, a 2011 Claret, and special releases from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Paired with the wines were delicious treats from the Ashby Inn and Restaurant.

Our tasting started on the right note with a sample of the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc paired with mussels. We’re big fans of the Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, and we were huge fans of this 2011 vintage. Lots of citrus and soft melon notes with a nice acidity made for a refreshing wine that is destined to please summer palates. From there we proceeded to the barrel room where we tasted samples from the 2011 Avenius Chardonnay, the 2011 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, and the 2011 Boisseau Chardonnay. Each offered a unique style—the Avenius presented a Chablis-style wine while the Hardscrabble seemed reminiscent of an Old-World, Burgundian white wine. The Boisseau offering most resembled a New World Chardonnay with a heavier mouth feel and pineapple flavors. All were lovely. Favorites? That might depend on what’s for dinner. Oysters? Avenius. White fish or chicken? Hardscrabble. Anything with a cream sauce? Boisseau.


The 2011 Claret was enjoyed with a sample of specialty sausages from Croftburn Market in Culpeper. Was 2011 the year of dismay for Virginia red wines? This Claret would answer, “No.” Fruity and light bodied, its mix included Merlot (44%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), and Cabernet Franc (20%). I thought that it paired best with the spiciest meat sample, the pepperoni. Like other 2011 red wine samples that we have tasted, I suspect that this 2011 Claret will be enjoyed upon release rather than later.

We moved on to the special release room where we were able to compare and contrast the 2008 and 2009 red blends from the Boisseau, Hardscrabble, and Avenius vineyards. I noted a distinct difference between the vintages that suggested something other than different years or blend composites, and it was in this room that I recorded the quote of the day from Jim Law. When asked about the more fruit-forward style of the 2009 vintages by another taster in the room, Law responded, “I lost the fear of my grapes.” Law explained that he learned from winemakers in Bordeaux that extraction is the ultimate key to crafting good red wine rather than intense ripening in the vineyard. With this lesson learned, Law described the 2009 season as a shift in his own winemaking style. The difference was most evident in the 2009 Hardscrabble Red. The 2008 vintage represented a style that was characteristic of the Hardscrabble wines— very structured with earthier nuances and berry flavors. The 2009 vintage, though, presented layers of fruit at the start with deep plum and dark cherry characteristics. A similar style was evident in the rounder 2009 Boisseau Red in which Merlot dominated (44%), and the Petit Verdot-led 2009 Avenius Red.

The tasting seemed to end too early; however, we took advantage of a nice spring afternoon to sit on the deck with a glass of a favorite Linden wine. Barn swallows fluttered about, and the scent of wisteria wafted from below. It could not have been a more perfect afternoon. Be sure to visit Linden for a tasting of Jim Law’s exquisite wines, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.