Great Frogs

Great Frogs is a place I’d had my eye on for a while before I visited. While it’s a legit vineyard, it has a very urban feel to it since it’s literally right outside Annapolis. At over $30 a tasting (online bookings only), I figured it would deliver a different experience than most.

My guests and I were quickly greeted upon our arrival with a seat at the bar. 6 x wines were served, along with small snacks. The tasting room was on the small side, but given it was delivering a more personalized tasting event I don’t see why it needed to be any bigger than it was.

Their wines are mostly if not entirely estate, with 15 x acres under vine (both on this property and others).  While the grapes were the same Bordeaux or hybrid grapes that I’ve been long accustomed to, I was genuinely surprised by what they did with them. Some were very unique blends; others had tasting profiles I never would have expected. Definitely worth a revisit.

What I tried

  • Chardonnay: Toasty, with salted caramel notes. Very nice Chard that I’d happily try again.
  • “Tanyard”: A Vidal/Chambourcin combo that sorta reminded me of rose but wasn’t rose. Fuller bodied than I would have given it credit for.
  • Cab Franc: Some spice but still smooth.
  • Vintner’s Reserve: Bolder red but with a good vanilla nose. Spice and pomegranate notes.
  • Cold Blooded: Made in Minnesota Oak. Earthy nose and on the palate.
  • Atomic 29: Reminded me of cherry soda (in a good way)

Linden Vineyard Evolution Seminar

Linden is one of my favorite wineries in all of Virginia. Not only are the wines outstanding, but it epitomes my favorite parts of the Virginia wine scene. The small, service-focused tasting room. The lack of crowds. The rustic feel. Having the wine maker available to ask questions (when he’s not working the fields). Linden is literally my Virginia wine dream come true.

If you’re reading this, chances are that owner/winemaker Jim Law needs no introduction. But for those who don’t, suffice to say he is one of Virginia’s best and most influential wine makers.

I’ve been here a bunch of times. But today wasn’t just any tasting – it was an “Evolution” seminar, taught by none other than the man himself.

Jim isn’t a talkative guy, but he definitely loves to talk about terroir. Our discussion ranged from how he was introduced to wine, how he picked this location, to the various styles he experimented with. But most of it was about dirt – and the wines that came from it. It was very cool to listen to Jim impart decades of experience and musings.

Linden draws from three vineyards; Hardscrabble, Avenius, and Boisseau. Hardscrabble is his 20 acre estate vineyard, primarily growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but home to several other varietals. Avenius a cooler 5 acre site with a soil composed of shale, granite and greenstone; they have a mix of vinifera but the largest planting is 1.5 acres of sauvignon blanc. Boisseau is the warmest site, its 4 acres likewise a mix. Many of his wines are bottled according the vineyard they came from; it’s not uncommon to have vertical flights of the same varietal but from different vineyards.

The tasting consisted of mostly older vintages, with a handful of newer ones thrown into the mix. What we tried:

2005 “Hardscrabble” Chardonnay: Named after his estate vineyard. It was definitely aging but still drinkable, and had an oddly sweet-ish nose.

2012 Hardscrabble Chardonnay: Creamy, nice acidity

2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. This is one of the wines that Jim is most proud of in his entire history of wine making. Let that sink in. Big mouthfeel, long finish, nice acid. As he said, “This is the Goldilocks of wine”.

1996 Cabernet Sauvignon: Old but still good. Just as interesting was his description of the site location, especially how this particular site needed to restrict water intake.

2001 Reserve (left bank style red blend): Dark cherry, long finish, nice tannin but not overpowering.

2010 Hardscrabble (red blend): Spreads out immediately. Great tannins.

2015 Hardscrabble: Nice balance, long finish, very smooth. One of my favorites

2007 Petit Manseng: A desert wine that was thick and reminded me of lemon and honey. Also excellent.

2014 Petit Manseng: Similar but less thick or sweet

Star in the Valley

I visited Star on the Friday of their soft opening and had a chance to chat with Shane, its wine maker/owner. Google maps wanted to take me to a different road but the signage was spot on so I got there no problem.

The first thing you notice is the amazing view! I love the Shenandoah Valley, but the view from the driveway is especially great. They have some outdoor tables too.

Shane decided he didn’t want to ‘work for the man’ if you will, and had the crazy idea of starting a winery. I can’t imagine the amount of courage it takes to do something like that. But when you find something you love, I guess you just gotta go for it.

Their 7 acres of grapes include Chardonnay, Chardonnel, Cab Franc, Chambourcin and (I think) Petit Verdot. Since they were just getting started, only 5 wines were available.

What I tried:

“Field Star”: Chardonnay and Chardonnel. Clean, nice finish.

Chardonnel: Nice! It came off as somewhat sweet but I think it was just my taste buds fooling me.

Cab Franc: Made with a splash of Petit Verdot. I suspect it was young because I had a note of green pepper but it wasn’t overly so.

Star of the Valley: Cab Franc and Chambourcin blend.

They also had a sparkling but I forgot to take notes!

Mount Ida Farm

Mount Ida amazed me as soon as I visited. Tucked away in the hills south-east of Monticello, it commands a fantastic view of the surrounding farmland. It’s also a brewery, vineyard, wedding destination, and restaurant all on the same premise. “Mt Versatility” might be an apt nickname.

With 18 acres under vine, their wines are almost entirely estate (the remainder are all VA, mostly Monticello AVA). When I visited they were ‘only’ making 8,000-10,000 cases/year, but I’d expect that to rise as more vines mature.

They don’t have an on-site winemaker yet. That said, Joy Ting was an advisor in the wine making. I’ve had Joy’s wines before though, so this is a good thing!

Lucky for me, I planned my lunch here. As you would expect, everything on the menu had a suggested paring – I went with the oysters and Chardonnay, plus the gnocchi. But next time, I think I’ll go for the burger (made with beef from their cattle farm).

Anthony was my main server. For a young guy, this dude was ON POINT with his wines and tasting notes. I mean, future sommelier-level on point. If this is indicative of the level of service you get for your average visit, you’ll be well taken care of.

The wines I had tended towards dry, with only a few semi-sweet in the mix. What I tried:

15 Moonlight (white blend): Grassy notes

15 Blanc to Blanc (sparkling viognier): Very rich

15 Viognier:  Not overly floral; subdued by Viognier standards. Made in steel

14 Rose: Great strawberry color, with strawberry also on the palate. Dry.

15 High Ridge (right bank style I think): Had JUST the right amount of French oak; I really enjoyed this one.

15 Cabernet Sauvignon: Herbaceous nose; baking spices on the palate

15 Chardonnay: Definitely my favorite of the bunch. Went well with the oysters.

16 Petit Verdot: Very smooth. I love PV so it’s hard for me to be impartial towards this grape.

Porty-style: Yummy! 95% tannat

Don’t forget to try the beer, because yes, they have a brewery as well as wines. I especially liked the “Wicket Cool” stout.

Gabrielle Rausse Winery

First off, I have to admit: I’m a Gabrielle fanboy. If you’ve ever read about the namesake of the winery, it’s impossible not to be a fan. An Italian from the Piedmont (French is his first language), Gabrielle immigrated to the States in the 70s and help start Barboursville winery. From there, he mentored more wineries than I’ve been able to keep track of. Suffice to say, he’s called “The Godfather of Virginia Wine” for a reason.

I visited on a Friday afternoon thinking it would be slow, only to be shocked at how busy the tasting room was. There’s a reason – the wines are THAT GOOD. And well-priced. The tasting room is small but super cozy, aided and abetted by a constant supply of fresh bread.

One of his sons was my server – that is, when he wasn’t making pasta. Yeah that’s a thing; from opening till mid-afternoon, they offer a food pairing along with the wine. I’d been there several times and been treated to everything from ravioli, fresh bread & olive oil, artichoke hearts, and potato pie.

The whites tend to be light and crisp and the reds low in tannin. But what surprises me is the variety. While he maintains his own vineyard, Gabrielle sources grapes from all over Virginia. One of his favorite vineyards seems to be Muse (his oldest son is the winemaker), but I’ve seen Gabrielle bring in grapes from Honah Lee, Turk Mountain, Trump & Blenheim.

What I tried:

  • 2017 Rose: Light cherry notes; made with Malbec and Merlot.
  • 2017 Pinot Grigio: Very light and refreshing
  • 2017 Chardonnay. Made in a combo of new & neutral French oak; good and not overpriced.
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc:  Lighter than I expected; made in neutral oak.
  • 2017 Nebbiolo: Had some bite to it, little bit spicy.
  • 2018 Charlsseas Dore: Interesting Swiss grape, which he made into a sparkling.
  • 2017 Malbec: Good but felt a bit rough.

This is not a place for a picnic or to listen to some music – sadly it’s too small for that. Not only that, but the winery is literally closed on Saturdays! But if you simply love good wine in an intimate setting, it’s one of the best places to go in all of Charlottesville.