One of my favorite things about living in Virginia is the abundance of wineries that seem to be continually increasing in quality. As if drinking local weren’t enough, many Virginia wineries run tasting rooms that are open almost every day of the year except for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. I like wine tasting any day—even on Thanksgiving or Christmas—and in just about any atmosphere, but the Reserve Cellar Tasting at Linden Vineyards stands out as an impressive way to sample the winery’s artisan creations.
The wine and atmosphere at Linden Vineyards is primarily driven by owner and winemaker Jim Law. Law purchased the first land that is now part of Linden in 1983 and has spent the years since then experimenting with grapes and the different soil surrounding the estate. Today he’s one of the most respected winemakers in Virginia and a few sips of his wine make it easy to understand why.
The cellar tasting experience takes place on the weekends at Linden every hour on the hour from 12 to 4 p.m. You sign up when you arrive and $25 gets you a special tasting of reserve and older vintage wines in the actual wine cellar. Because the cellar is small, the number of participants is also limited. The day I chose for this tasting happened to be snowy and slushy, meaning my boyfriend and I had the pleasure of a private cellar tasting.
We arrived, signed up, and were led down a narrow stairway to a candle-lit barrel room with an elegant tasting bar at the center. Our tasting sheets were set up with three pairings. First, we compared and contrasted the 2013 Avenius Chardonnay and 2013 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. The Avenius Chardonnay comes from Avenius Vineyard, which is owned and operated by Linden’s director Shari Avenius. It’s located on a northeast facing slope just one-half mile north of Linden with younger vines that were planted in 1996 and plenty of greenstone and slate in the soil. The Hardscrabble Chardonnay comes from Hardscrabble Vineyard in Fauquier County with a rocky, minerally terroir and vines that average 25 years old.
Tasting the wines side by side provided a study in the different flavors imparted by location, soil and vine age. The Avenius Chardonnay was dry and crisp—more French in style—with green apple and white flower notes that would impress anyone who claims not to like chardonnay based on the heavily oaked versions often found in California. There was a presence of the old French oak this wine was aged in, but it was subtle, adding just a hint of roundness to the bright flavors. The Hardscrabble Chardonnay, which comes from one of the estate’s oldest and most highly respected vineyards, has been repeatedly rated as one of Virginia’s best whites and demonstrated a skilled balance between oak and acidity with tropical fruit and melon flavors on the nose and a lingering vanilla finish. I loved how it demonstrated traditional oak chardonnay flavors, but with a careful quantity of restraint.
Next we compared the 2012 and 2013 Boisseau Red. The Boisseau is a Bordeaux-style blend and each of these vintages contained different percentages of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The 2012 was primarily Cabernet Franc (39%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (32%) with only 6 percent Petit Verdot. As one might expect from a Cabernet Franc-dominant blend, this version was lighter in flavor with notes of ripe red berries and a tannic finish. The 2013 version, in contrast, was 44 percent Petit Verdot and only 14 percent Cabernet Franc. I found this version to be more full bodied and complex with the lingering tannins that make it easy to love or hate Petit Verdot.
For our final duo, we compared the 2008 and 2010 Late Harvest Vidal. Vidal Blanc is a hybrid grape blended from ugni blanc (the grape used to make cognac) and another hybrid, Rayon d’Or. Because of its tolerance for cold weather, it is mostly grown in Canada and some of the East Coast wine regions in the United States like New York and Virginia. It can be used to make dry wines, but in Canada it’s used to produce ice wines and it’s also used for sweeter wines in New York. Virginia produces both dry and sweet versions. The Late Harvest Vidal we sampled is frozen after picking and the grapes are pressed while frozen, producing a sweet, concentrated dessert wine that picks up more honey and spice tones with age.
Tasting the 2008 and 2010 side by side was a good lesson in flavor—the 2008 was mellower with more complex, floral notes, while the 2010 had more concentrated honey flavors. Both were lovely complements to the tangy bite of triple crème blue cheese we were given to sample with it.
Along with the downstairs tasting, Linden visitors are also welcome to go through the upstairs tasting—since we had a full agenda on this particular day, we skipped it, but we did grab a half bottle of the 2012 Hardscrabble Red to take with us. I’d heard this blend made from the best red grapes grown at Hardscrabble Vineyard was a must-try. I’ll report back when I open it!