The 2010 vintage was unusual along the East Coast, with an early start to the growing season and a long, hot summer, followed by the earliest harvest the region had ever seen. For an area routinely dismissed as unable to ripen grapes, the year was a “California vintage.”
And the vintage is still challenging winemakers.
“The most surprising thing to us this year is that cabernet sauvignon is king,” said Jim Law, owner and winegrower at Linden Vineyards in Linden, Va., near Front Royal. When winemakers say “this year,” they tend to mean the most recent harvest or, at least, the one being featured. Law and I spoke last weekend during Linden’s two-day barrel tasting of the 2010 reds for the winery’s Case Club members.
“We didn’t think it would be that way when we brought the grapes in,” Law explained. “The merlot was so ripe and plush we were certain it would be the star of the vintage. But it was higher in alcohol, and that ended up being a little out of balance.”
As a result, Law favored cabernet sauvignon when forming his blends for the three vineyard-designated red wines. The 2010 Boisseau, from a vineyard owned by Richard Boisseau, who was there to extract samples for the Linden fans who paraded through the modest barrel cellar, was 65 percent cabernet sauvignon and 35 percent merlot. That’s the highest proportion of cabernet sauvignon Law has put into his Boisseau red, which in previous years has favored petit verdot and cabernet franc. This wine was classy, juicy and rich, and while it may pick up some more tannins from barrel aging before it’s released in two years, it seems destined for early enjoyment.
The Hardscrabble 2010, from Law’s own vineyard on the slopes surrounding the winery, was more grippy, with fine tannins that showed structure and hinted at a wine that will continue to improve over the next 10-15 years or more. It was 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot.
The third red, from Linden winery manager Shari Avenius’s vineyard, was a blend of 53 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent merlot and 8 percent petit verdot. Of the three, this was the wine that, for me at least, had not come together yet. (Since it won’t be sold until 2013, that’s not a problem. In fact, it may indicate a liveliness to the wine that will continue even when it has settled down.) The merlot was quite evident on the mid-palate, with plummy fruit.
So if Law was really keen on his merlot at harvest, but not at blending, what did he do with it? It seems that what didn’t go into his vineyard-designated blends became the main component of his Claret, a Bordeaux-style red blend made of juice “declassified” from his vineyard-designated wines. The Claret was not on display last weekend, but given the characteristics of the vintage, it is likely to be a crowd-pleaser.
There were wines for sale, of course. While the three 2010s are already showing their individual terroir despite similar blends, the 2007s and 2008s from each vineyard were also available for tasting and purchase. Law’s purpose here (beyond selling some wine, especially the 2008s, which are new releases) was to showcase vintage variation. While 2007 was a hot year, similar to 2010, producing wines of power and structure (especially the Avenius, in which aromatic petit verdot is tamed by cabernet sauvignon), the 2008s were softer, destined for earlier consumption.
As a winegrower, Law embraces vintage variation, imposed on him and his wines by a growing season’s climate. As consumers, we need to carpe annum, too, and distinguish those wines that will show well with tonight’s dinner from those that may need a few more years to show their true potential.