Wednesday, October 8, 2008


The state has rightfully become known for its floral-scented Viognier and its peppery cabernet franc. But it is also beginning to find its own expression in chardonnay: something in between the oaky, buttery style of California and the taut, mineral voice of Burgundy. There is also an increasingly vocal contingent arguing that petit verdot, typically relegated to a minor role in a Bordeaux blend, may be the Old Dominion's best bet in red wine. And while Virginia might not give Champagne a run for its money, it is producing some enticing sparkling wines.

Linden Vineyards Hardscrabble Chardonnay 2005
** 1/2

The chardonnay vines at Jim Law's original Hardscrabble vineyard, just outside the winery near Front Royal in Fauquier County, range in age from 12 to 21 years. That maturity helps them produce wines with effusive peach and apricot flavors. Barrel fermentation and aging for 10 months in a mixture of new and "seasoned" barrels add heft and spice. The 2006, to be released later this fall, is more austere -- from a more typical, rainier vintage -- and should reward extended aging. Perfect with richer fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel.

Simon N Cellars; available at Arrowine and the Virginia Shop in Virginia and Cowgirl Creamery in the District; and on the list at Bistro Francais and BLT Steak in the District, and at L'Auberge Provencale and the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia.

Michael Shaps Petit Verdot 2005
** 1/2

Michael Shaps is Virginia's leading consulting winemaker, influential in the initial success of many wineries in the Charlottesville area, including Jefferson, King Family, Keswick and newcomers Delfosse and Pollak. Last year he opened Virginia Wineworks, the state's first "custom crush" facility, in Monticello to help start-up wineries that do not yet have their own facilities. His petit verdot (only 75 cases produced) is rich and elegant, with spicy blackberry fruit. Old World in style and weight, enticing on the nose, it makes a strong argument for petit verdot as Virginia's premier red grape. Pair with lighter meat dishes, such as pork, veal or roast chicken.

Country Vintner, available at Curious Grape, Church Street Cellars, Domasoteca and Red, White & Bleu in Virginia; on the list at Proof in the District.

Kluge Estate SP Rosé 2004

Kluge Estate is leading a small number of Virginia wineries that are turning out top-quality sparkling wines using the traditional champagne method. Made primarily with chardonnay, this sparkler gets its rosé hue from about 10 percent pinot noir and offers an enticing floral aroma with the food-friendly refreshing acidity and tight bead of bubbles that champagne lovers crave.

Bacchus; available at Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor and Sherry's Fine Wine & Spirits in the District; on the list at Charlie Palmer Steak and the Morrison-Clark Restaurant in the District and at Lansdowne Resort in Virginia.


Maryland has lagged behind Virginia in the size and reputation of its wine industry, but its top wines are starting to make impressive strides in quality. Maryland's industry has tripled in size this decade, to 36 wineries. Here are three wines -- one from an upstart newcomer and two from familiar names -- that show the state's range. Maryland wines are not widely distributed and are most easily purchased at the winery.

Black Ankle Vineyards "Crumbling Rock" 2006
** 1/2

This fledgling winery hadn't even opened its doors before this initial release started winning acclaim, with a gold medal at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition and best of show at the Maryland Governor's Cup. This Bordeaux-style red blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot makes an ambitious statement, in flavor and in price. Rich, extracted and deep, with silky tannins. Red meat. This is not your father's Maryland wine.

Elk Run Vineyards Gewuerztraminer 2007
* 1/2

From the winery's Cold Friday Vineyard, visible off State Route 26 north of Mount Airy, this wine features classic aromas of litchi and jasmine without going all soapy, as Gewuerz can do. Is it Alsatian, as any grower of this grape aspires to? No. But it's darn nice. The hint of sweetness suggests spicy Asian cuisine or soft, slightly stinky cheeses.

Boordy Vineyards Vidal 2007

Boordy is historically important as the pioneer promoter of French-American hybrid grapes during the 1940s and '50s, which gave modern viticulture its start on the East Coast. This vidal, part of the winery's "Icons of Maryland" series, is zesty with lime and peach flavors and a hint of sweetness that calls for a crab cake, or at least a sunset.


*** Exceptional

** Excellent

* Very good

NOTE: Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through the distributor.

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