Monday, October 3, 2011

New England Wine Tasting

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As part of my Drink Local Wine education and an early jump on Regional Wine Week coming up next week I organized (with help from Margot as always) an all New England wine tasting. The tasting featured twenty-two bottles from the six New England states. In organizing it I tried to represent wines of all the types you might typically find in the region, from dry reds and whites to fruit wines, dessert wines, ciders, and mead. I also tried to pick multiple producers from each state, and in a simple sense accessibility of the wines in local shops or those that were shippable from out of state played a key part in which wines were included. I could have ordered more, spent more time looking and had a different lineup, but my gut tells me our experience was well rounded enough not to fuss over such details. There is a listing of all the wines at the very bottom of this post.

We invited our friends Chris & Nancy Obert, the authors of The Next Harvest about the New England wine scene, to join us. They are the only other people I know that have ever surveyed wines from all the New England states in one place before. We also invited friends from many of our past tastings to help us sort out what was going on in the region in 2011.

As we kicked off I asked tasters to keep the question of “Could you adopt a local wine drinking habit based on what you learn today?” in their mind as they worked through the wines. I was curious about this myself, something I hadn’t been able to answer yes to in the past, but have always assumed that the passage of time would impact my future answers.

One point is needs to be made right here. The group found the quality of the wines to be mixed, and I would say as mixed as any batch of regional wines I have ever tried. That excludes the flawed wines as they don’t often get poured by producers who tend to catch the issues first. The feedback is fair based on the experiences folks had and should be taken in the spirit it is being given. All of us sincerely want to support our local producers and know that we need to keep sourcing the wines, tasting them and letting the wineries know how they are doing. How else could they grow to serve the communities they represent?

Which Wines Really Worked For Me?

Chamard Estate Grown Chardonnay (CT) – baked fruits, with whisps of old oak in the nose. Not super fruity, rather focused and dry to a quick exit. It is balanced well and positive attributes all the way around. It has hints of MLF and old oak, but nothing very forward. This is a Chardonnay that I would recommend for an all occasion wine and for decent coverage with food pairings.

Travessia Winery Vidal (MA) – this was one of the few repeat tastes for me. It was sweeter than I recall, but had that mellow perfumed nose and peachy, citrusy finish I recalled from past tastings. Very well put together.

Eden Iced Cider (VT) – this was another repeat for Margot and I, and one of the most important wines we included in the tasting in my opinion. Orange/gold in color this cider pours like light amber syrup when cold. The nuances from the nose full of apples are intoxicating. The intense shot of apples and spice in the mouth is fantastic! So many people commented that they had never had such concentrated apple flavor before and that it was incredible to sip. I would have to agree.

Truro Vineyards Cranberry Red (MA)  – I liked this wine on its own, feeling that the combination of the light red wine base and tart red fruit from the cranberry was perfectly blended. I’ll be sipping on the rest of this watching the Ken Burns Prohibition special on PBS shortly! Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of this bottle when it was full. It is a real shame since it is a beautiful lighthouse shaped bottle.

Candia Vineyards Marquette (NH) – when I bought this wine some time ago I drank one bottle right away. I enjoyed it but don’t recall it grabbing me as much as the tasting pour I had had that led to the purchase. I then forgot about it. The age has helped this wine emerge beautifully. It has a warmth and spiciness to the nose that really drew me in. It has that wildness I often find in the cold-weather-hardy native and hybrid red grapes. I like that, although some people can’t accept it. It is moderately concentrated and dark with solid dark red and purple fruits. The finish is a bit tart and very clean.

Which Wines Did I Hear Positive Feedback About?

Chamard Estate Grown Chardonnay (MA) - clearly this was the standard dry wine everyone like the most. I tasted it after Noel commented on his positive experience and confirmed everything he had said. Everyone we ended up recommending try it had positive feedback as well.

Truro Vineyards Cranberry Red (MA) – Margot mentioned the pleasant tartness, and Lorie (@winingways), Noel & others all commented on how drinkable it was. Missy and Richard blended it with the Tanguay Hard Frost Cider and raved about the result. This wine also shows up again in the next section, but you’ll have to keep read to find out why.

Eden Iced Cider (VT) – this is an exquisite product to be sure, and almost everyone who had it was savoring each sip. I have orders to fulfill when I visit Eden in the wintertime!

Turtle Creek Winery Chardonnay (MA) – quite a few people said that really liked this wine and would no doubt buy it again. It was one that was positive on as well, the dried fruits and spices in the nose were very pleasant.

LaBelle Winery Heirloom Apple & Maple Dessert Wine (NH) – I was very happy to hear so much feedback about the apple wines during the tasting. Amy LaBelle is the only local winemaker that I know that can really make an apple wine versus apple hard cider, flavored or not. They are NOT the same product and apple wine in my experience is harder to make. That’s me, and I’ve tried it. This apple wine infused with maple flavor is a great example of local flavors creating enjoyable sips.

What About The Reds?

The red wines underperformed on the day. We did have the New England Red though. Who makes that wine you ask? Well, not any of the producers, and it didn’t come from any one of the states we tried wines from. It is a blend of wines from producers in four of the six states.

After tasting all the reds the reviews were mixed and not very energetic. Noel suggested the Chamard Vineyards Merlot (MA) had a bit too much acid and that the Boyden Valley Riverbend Red (VT) was too powerful of leafy characteristics. I like a bit of leaf and greens in a red wine and Cabernet Franc immediately came to mind. I noted the depth of color and concentration of the Marquette from Candia Vineyards (NH) and schemed up a blending experiment. A Petit Verdot analog? Perhaps. Our ultimate blend was 10 parts Chamard Merlot and one part each of Boyden Valley Riverbend Red and Candia Marquette. When served it was worth trying the blend as it was and then with a splash of the Truro Vineyards CranberryRed (MA). The whole was definitely more than the sum of the parts, with healthy acidity, a nice dark color and accessible fruits in both the nose and in the mouth. There was also a subtle warmth from oak. The splash of Cranberry Red added bright red fruits and tartness to the finish. I am inclined to believe that I will be making a cranberry wine in this style to both bottle for drinking, but also to reserve for the positive role it appears to play in blending.

While the details are a bit different, I suggested a similar collaborative red blend when I reflected on the red wines I tasted in Virginia. I can’t stress this point enough, blends should be a more critical consideration of wineries in all regions of the world where the winemaking is still in its youth. Blends of both estate grown grapes by one label AND collaborations between wineries throughout entire regions have the potential to channel the very best attributes into wines that capture imaginations and define the wines people come to the region to find.

The Sakonnet Vineyards Claret (RI) red blend didn’t seem to resonate with anyone. Some of the feedback wasn’t worthy of printing here. I personally found that it ended flat and didn’t have enough zip to grab me. I plan to give it a little air, there was little tightness perhaps, and come back to see if there is any change. When contrasted with my own, very young, riff on a Meritage blend the difference was immediately noticed in the expressions of the tasters. Brighter, fruitier and more nuanced was the general response. Noel suggested my blend was likely to shine brighter when repeated in a larger batch with a year in the barrel. I love my wine-making friends!

Problems We Had

Moonlight Meadery Sumptuous – unfortunately this had re-fermented in the bottle and had lost all the sweetness. It was not drinkable and a shame to not have been able to enjoy. We’ve had this mead several times in the past, and this was not it.

Alfalfa Farm Cranberry – this was aged too long, our bad. It was oxidized and without merit for drinking.

Boyden Valley Seyval –there was piney flavor that was very pronounced, and very off-putting. This was untouched after several folks confirmed the finding. Neither Noel or I could figure an angle that would have created this outcome and let it run under the radar.

Willow Spring Seyval  - this wine came off as very light and diluted to several of us. This is not typical to the style at all. A few folks tried it only to confirm this conclusion.

Other Notable Wines

Hopkins Vineyard Night Owl – this is a Vidal based dessert wine that is very much worth a drink. I actually finished it right from the bottle with dessert! It has a wild character in the nose, offers considerable concentration, honey and dried fruits all the way through the tart, sweet finish.

Flag Hill Blueberry – this was very much unlike what many folks expected in a fruit wine. It is medium-dry with a pronounced fruit flavor and clean finish. I don’t often find a blueberry wine I like, and this wine didn’t personally grab me, but I didn’t hear lots of surprise at how it presented itself.

Observations & Follow-up Actions

Maine didn’t show very well in our tasting. With the exception of the Tanguay Hard Frost Cider neither the Kennebec Hard Cider or Cellar Door Viognier garnered much attention. I believe this should be spun as a call to action to source additional wines from Maine to get a better idea of what is offered from the state. Margot and I will be heading up to Maine this coming weekend to do just this.

Eden Orleans Aperitif Wine – this is a new product, an herbed cider wine made to be used as an aperitif or a cocktail mixer. It was very interesting to taste in this way because it gave people the opportunity to explore it. I do honestly believe from my own experience that cocktails with gin, vodka and vermouths are likely to be the best way to apply a wine of this type. Stay tuned for the requisite experiments to be shared here at the Ancient Fire Wine Blog.

Rhode Island didn’t fair too well either. The first wine I ever had from Sakonnet Vineyards, the Eye of the Storm Rose, is still my favorite. We served this as our pre-game wine for early arrivals and during our prep. Positive remarks all around. And while neither the Sakonnet Claret (mentioned above) or Gewurztraminer were highly rated, the later needing some zip to be more stylistically correct, I think some additional exploration in Rhode Island is required.

How About That Local Wine Drinking Habit?

I came away thinking that I was closer to being able to suggest house wines and all-occasion wines from the New England region than I had ever been before. Because I make so much wine, they become my house wines and gifts for others, but I do still buy commercial wines. A few of those I tasted here are likely to make the cut in future buys. Many of my red wine drinking friends answered no to the question, understandable if you read the section above, and I suggested we focus on reds in another round of New England wines in the near future. Some research and sourcing effort might pay off.



Wine List

New Hampshire

Moonlight Meadery Sumptous
Candia Vineyards Marquette
Flag Hill Winery & Distillery Blueberry
LaBelle Winery Apple/Maple


Chamard Vineyards Merlot
Chamard Vineyards Chard
Hopkins Vineyard Night Owl

Rhode lsland

Sakonnet Vineyards EOS
Sakonnet Vineyards Meritage
Sakonnet Vineyards Gewurztraminer


Cellar Door Winery Viognier
Kennebec Hard Cider
Tanguay Hard Frost Cider


Travessia Winery Vidal
Turtle Creek Winery Chard
Willow Spring Seyval
Truro Vineyards Cranberry Red
Alfalfa Farm Winery Cranberry


Boyden Valley Seyval
Boyden Valley Riverbend Red
Eden Iced Cider
Eden Orleans Aperitif Wine

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Todd - Vt Wine Media said...

Thanks for the rundown, and three cheers for Eden. They are seriously doing world class work. Let me know when you are planning on visiting them, maybe I can meet you.
Congrats on the FBZ nomination as well.

richard said...

Jason, looks like you have done some extensive tasting locally! Will be keeping my eye out on your blog