Virginian Wine Travels: Linden Vineyards

Few places on planet earth make me as happy as Linden Vineyards, in Linden, Virginia.

Tucked off the main thoroughfare, up a steep dirt road and past picturesque farmhouses, the tasting room rises into view, nestled deep in the middle of Linden’s own vineyards. Rows and rows of Chardonnay greet you on your way to park the car, and stretch out in the distance, their canopies reaching toward the sun. On a sunny day, the horizon goes on forever without another structure in sight.

Linden has been growing spectacular Virginia wines for the last thirty years, under the direction of Jim Law. Law has been fostering grapes and mentoring local winemakers for about as long. Jeff White, the winemaker and grower at Glen Manor Vineyards worked at Linden and studied under Law before branching out on his own. Likewise, Rutger de Vink of RdV Vineyards and Jim Dolphin of Delaplane Cellars are quick to call Jim a mentor and friend. Law, it seems, is the Robert Mondavi of Virginia: lending a hand to other growers and promoting the region with his experience and excellence in winemaking.

Jim Law, like his vines, is particular – about how he grows his grapes, and how he showcases the product. There are no limos or buses allowed at Linden – in fact, no groups larger than six. Their beautiful outdoor deck and indoor patio overlooks the vineyards with floor to ceiling windows, but is only reserved for case club members on the weekends.

Don’t think about hosting your wedding or retirement party here. The winery does not rent itself out as a venue. The lack of hustle and bustle allows the countryside tranquility of Linden to settle nicely at the vineyard. But don’t take that tranquility as a sign of complacency. The tasting room (and the vineyards!) practically hum with an intent, earnest focus on the wine.

And Linden is making some wonderful wine.

After our tasting on this visit, we settled on a bottle of the 2012 Chardonnay to sip outside.

(Dogs aren’t allowed on the porch at Linden, but fear not! Picnic blankets are provided so you can sit the grass with your wine and pup.) While I’m usually more a fan of Linden’s reds, this Chardonnay was a star of the tasting – steel aged, crisp and refreshing with notes of green melon and citrus; truly one of the best Chardonnays coming out of Virginia this year. Paired with some local Earthquake cheese and smoked trout (available for purchase at Linden) – well, that’s practically heaven on earth, my friends!

Linden’s reds are also some of the state’s best (and probably why the Clō Wine girls have two cases of Linden sitting pretty in our apartment...). As a rule, no single varietal is made at Linden unless it meets the expectations of Jim Law. Some of the rainier years in Virginia – 2009 and 2011, in particular – saw red blends, instead of single varietals.  That said, their 2011 Red blend is drinking well (44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carmenere), with notes of clay and lavender rounding out the bright red raspberry, pomegranate and red plum. The Red blend has become my go-to pizza wine, or my stand-alone sipper. It’s an easy-drinking crowd pleaser. Likewise, the 2011 Claret is a bolder, more tannic option (44% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc). The Cab Franc gives this wine some tastes of earth and herbs, while the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon mix in some good cherry and plum.

The 2010 vintage was one of the best years Virginia saw recently, and if you can get your hands on some Linden 2010 Petit Verdot, or 2010 Avenius Red, snap them up.

Petit Verdot is hands down one of my favorite single varietal grapes. Used for blending in Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is rarely seen as a single varietal outside Virginia – but Virginia composes this wine beautifully. The 2010, in particular, is quintessential. The wine is velvet and rich with smooth tannins, big black fruit (ripe dark plum, blackberry, even some blueberry) and hints of smoke, leather, fresh thyme and chocolate.

The 2009 Avenius is a star as well. Grown by Shari Avenius, Linden’s director, on her own vineyard, the wine soars with notes of dark fruit and tobacco. The wine itself is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, with percentages changing every year based on the vintage. The 2009 is 62% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 13% Merlot

Also of note is Linden’s 2012 Riesling-Vidal. While I’m a (big) fan of sweet desert wines, I don’t always take to off-dry wines (unless they are from Vouvray, in which case, move over, all the wine is mine). This Riesling-Vidal is an exception. An off-dry blend of 63% Riesling and 37% Vidal, the wine gives me a rush of melon and white peach, orange blossom and a hint of minerality. The reason I like this wine, however, is because of its strong acid profile – unlike a lot of off-dry wines, it doesn’t lay flat on your tongue. It gives the sweetness of the fruit with a little ziiing that makes the experience refreshing (rather than mouth-coating). Sip this guy solo or pair it with some spicy Asian food and you’re in for one happy time.

Do yourself a favor and get yourself to Linden Vineyards. You can thank me later.