Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Linganore Wine Cellars - Swingin’ Blues Wine Festival

Today we attended one of Maryland’s best wine events, Linganore Wine Cellars’ Swingin’ Blues Wine Festival. This event included music by local legends the Kelly Bell Band and The Nighthawks as well as tours of the winery, crafts, seafood, and wine. Linganore is Maryland’s oldest and largest winery, growing from 6,000 bottles in 1976 to 600,000 today. They produce a wide array of wines (31 total), from dry reds – sweet whites – fruit wines. In 2005 their Merlot, made from grapes grown in southern Maryland, won the Governors Cup as the best wine made in the state that year. The Aellen family is also moving into its third generation, as the current winemaker Anthony is starting to pass over tour responsibilities and future winemaking to his daughter.

When we arrived at the festival, we realized we were too late to grab a good seat near the stage. We were already being directed to the back parking lot and we could see a literally a thousand people already picnicking, playing volleyball, and tasting wine. When we entered we stood near the stage to hear the last set of Kelly Bell, and then took the winery tour. The tour is highly recommended; you hear how Linganore started from a home wine making operation with a hand crusher to today’s automated processes. In between Mr. Aellen encourages his audience to drink what they enjoy – you either like a particular wine – or you don’t. The tour ends with a wine tasting in the new Chambourcin Tasting Room with a sampling of several wines not available in the main tasting tent. At this tasting, we tasted for the first time their Chambourcin, Traminette, and May wine. The Chambourcin is a good full bodied dry red wine that has a slightly spicy finish. The fact that Linganore makes a good Chambourcin is not a surprise since the grape thrives in the mid-Atlantic region. The Traminette is a much sweeter white wine that was a favorite at this outdoor event. The wine is also spicy – both in aroma and flavor – as compared to its Gewürztraminer “offspring”. Finally, the May wine was a pleasant surprise. This is a semi-sweet wine (4%RS) flavored with Woodruff. Like the German tradition, this wine is recommended for spring drinking, but like other seasonal wines, is worth drinking whenever.

By this time, the Nighthawks had started playing, so we quickly grabbed a bottle of Terrapin White, an off-dry Riesling and our favorite from Linganore, and found a seat in the terrace adjacent to the old tasting room. The Nighthawks have been a Washington D.C. favorite since the early 1970’s when the band was formed by front man\harmonica player Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery, and joined early on by bass player Jan Zukowski and drummer Pete Ragusa. After Thackery moved on to a successful solo career, Pete Kanaras finally joined the band in 1995 and the same players have been performing over 200 shows a year since. For the rest of the afternoon, the Nighthawks entertained the crowd with their Chicago Blues and James Brown styled soul.

During the Nighthawks session break, we ventured into the grand tasting tent to try their remaining wines. The Black Ravin is a good lighter style dry red wine whereas the Steeple Chase Red is an interesting sweet red wine that has hints of chocolate at the finish. Finally we liked two of their fruit wines; the Strawberry tastes exactly like biting into a large ripe berry, while the Raspberry was a little less pronounced, but more satisfying.

Besides the music and wines, Linganore is a great place to spend an afternoon. The volunteers are extremely friendly and enthusiastic in introducing the visitors to their wines. The Aellen family and staff are also wonderful hosts and provide an excellent service to local music lovers. Linganore has three other festivals this year, including the wildly popular Reggae fest in July; just plan on arriving early to get a good spot under the shady trees.

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