Saturday, January 9, 2016

Linganore Winecellars Barrel Tasting: The Future Looks Bright

This year Linganore Winecellars is celebrating it's 40th anniversary as the winery opened in 1976 after planting their first vines 1972. They relied on Cornell University to help determine which grape varieties to plant and eventually became a test vineyard for their experiential grapes. In 1978 the winery augmented their grape production with fruit wines after a local plum grower lost a verbal contract. Today Linganore is a giant among local wineries producing 155 thousand gallons annually. And they are proud of their upcoming 2016 offerings and organized an industry tasting of these wines in preparation for a similar consumer barrel tasting available this weekend. Mostly known for their festival style and fruit wines, Linganore also produces a wide range of dry and off-dry wines. These wines were the focus of our visit.

Second generation winemaker Anthony Aellen, Marketing Director Jessica Garcia, and a trio of young winemakers led our group on a tasting of several wines fermenting and aging for a future release.  After a brief introduction about the history of the Aellen family and winery (available here) we entered the tank room to sample the off-dry, Cayuga based White Raven. In the past this wine was 100% Cayuga but this year they blended it with 18% Chardonnay which added much needed weight. At .5% R.S., this wine comes off completely dry.  Later in the tasting room we sampled the current release which falls flat in comparison.

We then moved to the barrel room laden with rows of American, French, and even Bulgarian oak barrels. We started with the a sample of the base that will eventually become their méthode champenoise Sparkling Cuvee. The Vignoles grapes were harvested early in order to retain more acids and is currently aging in neutral oak. There is still an element of toastiness that blends with the grape's citrus flavors.  I'm looking forward to seeing this base transition to a sparkling wine. We next tasted what will become their Reserve Chardonnay. This wine will eventually see eight months in oak and we we tasted it half way through the process. It starts with a buttery aroma, but the oak influences fade as the Chardonnay flavors dominate to the finish. Linganore's winemakers are waiting for the oak to integrate in finish and then it's off to bottling. Again, later in the tasting room, we sampled the current 2014 Reserve Chardonnay and it was fantastic. Perhaps the best wine from Linganore that I had tasted - bright fruit, texture, just a little oak presence, and plenty of acids. We concluded our tasting of whites with a Late Harvest Vignoles that is in it's second year in barrel. I was ready to take this home now, layers of creamy lemons unfolded throughout the palate. I wonder where this wine is headed?

Moving to reds, Linganore grows Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even Barbera -- although they usually augment their Barbera with fruit from a grower near Westminster. In 2015 the winery was able to harvest the Chambourcin and Petit Verdot just before a two week rain deluge, but the Cabernet had to wait until after the storms. The Cab and Barbera were still undergoing malolatic fermentation, which all reds undertake in order to reduce their acid levels, so we sampled just the Chambourcin and Petit Verdot. Both of these were from three year old vines producing their first commercial harvest. And they were tasting well, particularly the PV which possessed loads of deep cherry flavors. They may bottle this as a single varietal wine or it may be used to augment the Cabernet in their Red Skins wine. We were also able to sample three dry reds in the bottle which were just waiting on labels before release. Their Bacioni (Italian for "A Big Kiss") is Barbara based and is a fruit forward friendly wine with easy tannins on the finish. And at $15, a great value. The Estate Chambourcin is more complex but still easy on the palate. And the Reserve Cabernet, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, is tasting nicely as well. This is a creamy textured wine with more tannins and acids than the previous two. Nicely done again.

Our last endeavor was to sample their Port styled wines aging in barrel, all fortified with neutral grape spirits. We started with their 2015 Ruby Chambourcin that has been in barrel for only three months. It was big, but aggressive with acids taking over the profile. We then sampled the 2014 Ruby Chambourcin that was entering it's second year in barrel. The contrast showed the benefits of this extra year as the wine was rounder, the caramel flavors more prevalent, and it had a much more pleasant finish. Afterwards Anthony couldn't help himself and indulged us with a barrel tasting of their Black Raspberry port styled wine. He's justly proud of this wine. First you don't find that many black raspberry wines, but also, this wine tastes exactly like the fruit. He and the other winemakers at Linganore are justly proud of their upcoming releases. There's no reason to wait until a music festival. Visit anytime.
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