Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day at Dalice Elizabeth Winery

For Mother's Day my family (wife, me, sister-in-law, father, mother, brother) converged on the Dalice Elizabeth Winery in Preston, CT. They are open daily for wine tastings, but check their web site at for specifics before you go.

I was fortunate enough to talk with several of the winery's staff and get some history on the winery that will help explain my impressions of their wines. The wine-making operation has been ongoing for 11 years, but up until October of 2009 it was exclusively a wine-making school, aka ferment-on-premises operation, where groups of people contracted to make wine by the barrel on site and then take it home when it was complete. Last October they officially opened for retail sale, on-site tastings and private wine dinners.

While they train their adolescent Chardonnay vines all grapes for their wines are sourced from California and Washington. They expect to have site grown wines in 3-5 years. Anyone who has ever ventured into wine grape growing knows how much patience is required here.

They offer a range of wines including Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel and a Chardonnay Ice Wine. They also make a Cabernet Franc, but it has sold completely out and won't be available again until next year.

We tasted all of the available wines. A big thank you to Blaze Faillaci for finding an open bottle of the ice wine for us to try some of. It was indeed excellent. John Wilcox got us going with the Chardonnay and explained that they make both an oaked and a stainless steel style. He indicated that we were tasting the oaked version which was aged for six months in American oak. The aroma of this wine was very subtle and I couldn't really define it. The flavors spoke of melon and grapefruit for me, which Margot agreed with. The oak was very slight resulting in a refreshing taste and a smooth, medium finish. We ended up buying a bottle of this to share at the end of our tasting.

Having arrived on Mother's Day I think we might have been interested in more than the winery might have been planning to do for guests, but upon asking if we could get a cheese plate for six it was promptly served and was of excellent quality. The service gets high marks and for a young operation that is a wonderful thing to be able to do. The cheese plate included Parmigianino/Reggiano, blue, goat and cheddar cheeses accompanied by black and green olives, hot peppers, marinated tomatoes, a fresh tomato & green onion salsa and of course crackers. The cheddar cheese intrigued me right off the bat. I knew I had had the specific variety before, but couldn't remember where. As I write this I think it is a Beemster which hails from Holland. I never did ask.

The next wine John served us was the Sangiovese. Fans of Italian wines will know this is a the grape in Chianti as well as one part of the "Super-Tuscan" style wines. The wine was dry and had wood on the nose. I didn't ponder the flavors as I was busy talking and enjoying time with Mom. We were also celebrating my birthday (from the end of April) and my mother had purchased me a Harney's tea sampler containing four Oolong teas and a beautiful white tea pot. I was explaining how I came to know of Oolong tea and how I was going to explore it as part of my sommelier training. Back to the wines.

Blaze took over from here and served us the Syrah next. This wine was lighter than some Syrah's I have had and definitely was not the spicy, super-fruity Shiraz typical of Australia. That should not be taken as anything bad at all. For the sake of an analogy lets take Pinot Noir. Classic French Burgundy is made from this grape and is often a focused and refined example of what you can do with the grape. On the other hand you can get Pinot Noir from California and Washington states that is fruit-fotward, super earthy and full bodied. These are two different wines each with their own merits. I was recovering from eating a hot pepper so I can't say anything about the flavors of this wine. The lightness of it was echoed from around the table so I knew that much was true.

I did find that the Sangiovese and Chardonnay both went well with the cheese and olive selections. I don't think anyone else was specifically considering the pairings so I didn't talk about it much. The goat cheese was very creamy and smooth which was very nice indeed.

The next wine was the Old Vine Zinfandel from grapes sourced from Mendcino, California. From the very first sip I found this wine to have some perceptible sweetness, it made me think of my own Cabernet blend from 2008, an asset for sure. The wine was oaky with dark cherry and plum flavors. Margot also suggested blackberries. The tannins were well balanced and clean, and the finish was smooth. There were hints of hotness, but it didn't linger. This was my favorite wine of the day.

Blaze appeared with a partial bottle of the Chardonnay Ice Wine and all six of us got a small taste. I had never had one of these from the Chardonnay grape and had asserted the flavors might not be bent toward the apricot, peach and honey flavors of the Vidal ice wines I have enjoyed. There were aromas of honey and peach, but the flavors were more of orange and flowers with the honey behind them. With plenty of sweetness this wine could be savored by itself or with a flaky pie or tart containing apples and spice.

Taking the optimistic side of the local wine business I would expect that in the coming years the Dalice Elizabeth Winery will continue to find success. Once the vines on-site start producing they might be able to infuse a sense of place into their wines. Preston, despite being up the road from Foxwoods, is a rural area with farms and lot of trees. With ponds and lakes on, and adjacent to, the property the place is charming. As it is for the other New England wineries I have visited what you can grow locally offers some constraints, but with a sense of place, good service and pride in the craft the results can be very enjoyable.

All the wines are available for retail sale. The Chardonnay goes for $29, the ice wine for $55 for a split. The other wines are similar in price to the Chard.

We also got started on the 2010 Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries program. I was familiar with this program from 2009. If you visit and get your passport stamped at 16 or more of the 30 participating wineries by November 7th you can be entered to win one of several resort trips to Spain. More information can be found at and



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