What makes a wine tickle the toes? The usual suspects will probably pop up such as balance and finesse. Words like depth and integration take the stage at some point. For me its how all these elements come into play on the palate. The nose is very important with its ability to connect to the olfactory highway but the weight and texture of the palate interacting with the nose job is what really gives me the tickles.
For me it’s that moment when wine washes over your palate and all the receptors of your senses are in harmonial bliss (did I just make up harmonial or is that a real scrabble approved word?). The alcohol is just right and not all up in your grill burning everything in its path. The fruit is present and mingling with others at the party such as tannin and acidity but not letting them take over the conversation. Everything is pretty much seamless. These cohesive melodies comfortably strung together are the makings of poetic wine quotes across time and the reasons wine writers are compelled to wax on and off about a particular bottle. Now That’s interaction, man.
It also comes down to the vineyards and winemaking approach. Notice that vineyard and winemaking are in the same sentence? In the 90’s winemakers were the rock stars. People followed them like the Grateful Dead watching closely what they did in the winery with the media writing about these power houses as a dead head would share an amazing set list (May 8th ’77 at Cornell Brah!). The Vineyard, while considered important, was just off stage left.
Now days we are looking at both the winemaker and the winegrower. They can be the same person or more than one but what we are concerned with and anticipate is the approach from vine to glass. How is the vineyard managed, what’s the soil type of a particular block and how do the elements of such soils express itself in a wine? We are more interested in the passionate people going back to the land and making wine that nature dictates. It’s great ebb from the previous flow. Or is all this just me?
I am thinking about this because my next statement may cause some debate:
Linden Vineyards in Linden Virginia is probably some of the best wine coming out of the United States. There, I said it.
In the 1980’s Jim Law came to Virginia and fell in love with winemaking. He found an abandoned farm in the Hardscrabble country of the Appalachia, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains and made it his home. He planted his first vineyard on that farm and the rest is history. It is all pretty exciting stuff because the hardscrabble land is almost impossible for certain survival crops but the granite-based soils allow for great drainage for grape growing. The vines just have to dig a little deeper to find those nutrients and you have a wonderful symbiotic relationship. It’s a lot harder than it sounds but when you get it right you have what Jim offers: wonderfully terroir driven wines.
Jim keeps his yields low and the unfortunate reality, for now, is that the wine is only available in Virginia. So on our way to Skyline Drive we popped on over to Linden to taste and to buy and hopefully get a chance to talk to the man who makes it all happen.
The tasting room at Linden is a humble representation of the typical architecture of the area with rustic wood floors and exposed wooden pillars holding up the foundation. Log cabins are all the rage in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Driving through this country you will spot a plethora of cabin rental companies where you can have your Hardscrabble experience with all the amenities. Of course this all goes back to the first settlers in the area and what they had to work with to provide shelter for their families but it is big business now. Beyond the tasting bar toward the deck overlooking Hardscrabble vineyards they provide a seating area where you can enjoy their wines and have a slice of local cheese with delectable meats such as venison sausage and take in the scenery.
We were the first ones there and all was quiet. Lovely. As we began tasting a small group came in to join us but that was the extent of the crowd. For a wine geek this is optimal. It’s easier to focus on the wine and you have the full attention of the pourer for brain-picking. The nice lady behind the pour bar greeted us with genuine Virginia hospitality and began to do the rundown. As we were talking I mentioned what I did and she excused herself to go and grab Jim. Excitement flowed through me. I was about to taste wine with the winemaker. It’s always a wine geek’s dream to talk with the one who is in the vineyards and the facilities making magic.
Jim came into the bar area and introduced himself. He is one of the most humble winemakers I have ever met. We said our greetings and made our introductions and proceeded to get nice with nerdy wine info. My wife took it all in stride glass in hand. Jim has three vineyards that he works with and each area has unique and individual soil compositions (remember my previous statement above about the winemaker’s approach). He keeps his yields very low and works very hard to express his local terroir. Yes I said terroir. The word is sometimes over used but in this case it is totally legit. Each wine we tasted form each vineyard was reminiscent of the soil compositions he was talking about.
Starting with a Bordeaux-blend rose (bright, herbal crispness and stupidly awesome balance of fruit and savory) we talked about approach. As I sat and listened to Jim talk about how he goes about choosing vineyard spots and controlling yields and allowing nature to first intervene I realized that this guy was not just some winemaker trying to bring Virginia back on the map this is someone who is here because he understands the land and knows what he can do with it. He has a relationship with the vines and the winemaking process. He is humble yet confidant telling us as he poured that this particular vintage he thought was better that others and so forth. Honesty. Dig it.
I could go into great detail about each and every wine that we tasted with Jim and this would be a novella (its already getting there). So let me speak of the other wines in a bit of a general sense so as to set up the single-vineyard Chardonnay smackdown (ok that statement had a little too much testosterone in it…SMACKDOWN…Really Keith?).
After the savory crisp rose we moved on to other whites he made from a crisp, refreshing, dried fruit and zesty clean Sauvignon Blanc to the wacky, early-ripening, non-EU-approved Seyval Blanc which was crisp with bright acidity and bracing citrus that carried from nose to palate and mingled with a note of savory to a Vidal/Riesling blend taking the best from each varietal and letting them shine in the glass with the crisp natural sugar of the Riesling and the bracing acidity of the original Cognac grape Vidal Blanc.
Most of these whites were from the Hardscrabble vineyard just outside the window and the terroir was singing. I could smell the remnants of granite based soils and feel the bracing acidity as a theme, a backbone if you will, in the wines. The beauty of them was that this acidity was so perfectly balanced with just the right amount of fruit all was in perfect harmony. These wines were…well…tickling my toes.
Then Jim got crazy and damn do I thank him for it. He grows Chardonnay in all three of his vineyards and to express the terroir he bottle a single vineyard Chardonnay from each. It was time to taste the sense of place that Jim Law saw over a decade ago.
Three glasses. Three Chardonnays. Three vineyards: Hardscrabble. Avenius. Boisseau. Let the terroir begin.