Brotherhood Winery ~ The Varietal Flight

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

There were a couple surprises awaiting me during my tasting.   I opted for the Varietal Tasting, no surprise to regular readers of Vino Verve, I’m sure, as I’ve made no secret for my definite preference for drier wines.  I also will tend to select wines from local grapes before those with imported grapes, or even imported wines.  The Varietal Tasting menu included 6 wines, and our host threw in an additional seventh wine, the Merlot, because it’s so frequently requested.

The first surprise was waiting for me as I approached the tasting bar, small plastic 1oz cups.  Wine glasses were arranged at the end of the bar, but those were for people who had purchased the tour & tasting glass package.  If you just purchase the tasting, it’s served in small tasting cups.  I’ll admit, it’s practical; given the number of people they must get through there on any given day, trying to track glasses, no less wash them, would be a daunting task.  Still, I wasn’t expecting plastic.  Once the momentary flash of surprise passed, I was fine, but I know a number of people who are very particular about their wine vessels, so I warn you now – if you visit Brotherhood, order the Tasting, Tour & Glass package for $10 if you want to avoid the plastic.

The second surprise came immediately on the heels of the first, as my host for the tasting poured a sample of the Blanc de Blancs Champagne. It’s unusual to find a winery willing to include their sparkling wines on a tasting menu, and very welcome when I do find it.  The Blanc de Blancs is a 100% estate grown wine made from Chardonnay grapes grown in Brotherhood’s vineyards in Hudson, New York.  A Brut-style champagne, the wine is very dry with a nice acid bite to the finish.  There’s a pale hint of fruit in the mouth, perhaps peach, although it was tough to define from just a 1oz sip.  Overall, a nicely balanced sparkling wine which would pair well with sharp cheeses, lobster and other seafood.

First of the tables wines was the Chardonnay.  Made from wines grown in New York state, but not all estate-grown, the Chardonnay is a very nice wine with a soft nose with subtle notes of pear.  In the mouth the wine is very smooth, particularly on the front, with notes of pear and cream.  Medium-bodied, with light acid on the finish, and not heavily oaked, the wine is satisfying in the mouth.  For my palate, this wasn’t crisp enough to be a good “summer sipping wine,” but it  would pair well with lighter foods such as chicken or seafood.

The whites concluded with a back-to-back pairing of a dry and semi-dry Riesling.  The Dry Riesling is a fairly new addition to the Brotherhood lineup.  Light and delicate, the wine has a subtle nose, lightly floral with hints of pear.  In the mouth the wine is crisp yet smooth with notes of pear on the front that provide a softness to balance the acid on the finish.  There are also light grapefruit notes providing a slight tanginess that work well with the softer sweetness of the pear.  This will pair very well with food, and even non-Riesling fans should like it.

The Semi-Dry Riesling is more of a traditional Riesling.  Overall the wine is softer and sweeter with less acid on the finish.  The pear notes are stronger, both in the nose and on the palate, and the tangy grapefruit is much more subdued.   This would be a good sipping wine, and it also would pair well with a wide variety of foods, particularly spicy foods such as Thai or Indian.  I could definitely see pairing this with a really good Indian curry.    It’s also a wine of distinction, having been chosen by President Bill Clinton as the wine to represent New York state in the White House wine cellars during his administration.

The final two wines in the Varietal Tasting are both reds, the Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, as our host informed us many people ask, “but what about Merlot?”  So, he started adding in the Merlot as part of the tasting to round out the reds section of the menu.

Pinot Noir With a dusky, slight jammy nose with notes of dark berries, and cherry, the Pinot was an interesting contrast to the subtler, slightly more floral noses of the whites.  Medium-bodied, the wine has lovely notes of blackberry and dark berries along with an earthiness that keeps it from being overly fruity.  There were also notes of leather and a light pepper finish that provided some heat.   According to our host, the wine ages well for another five years, and I found myself really interested in seeing how it ages.   It’s not a bad wine right now, and I imagine it will really open up and become even more interesting when paired with food, but I found myself more intrigued than captivated by it, intrigued enough to purchase a bottle that I’m going to cellar for a few years and see how it fares.

I tried that once with a couple bottles I had picked up on a trip to Napa.  Kevin, Gretchen and our friends Richard and Charles were also on that trip (it was Richard’s 40th-birthday celebration), and despite our all buying prodigious quantities of wine throughout the trip, there was one winery that everyone but me passed on the purchasing.  I remember Kevin looking at me and asking “why did you bother, they weren’t great?”  And I replied “because I want to see what they’ll be like in a few years.”  I was a true wine neophyte then, and this was a real leap of faith for me, as I didn’t have any experience on which to base my hunch that they could be really interesting.  But my hunch paid off!  I opened them about 4 years later and found them to be rich, velvety, and quite lovely – and the hit of the backyard barbecue I was hosting that evening.  Unfortunately Kevin wasn’t there that evening, so I couldn’t pour him an “I told you so” glass.  Here’s hoping the hunch pays off again.

After the Pinot Noir, we moved on to the “bonus tasting, Brotherhood’s Merlot.  A more full-bodied wine, this is one of the better Merlots I’ve found in the Northeast.  As our host described it, “it goes in smooth; it finishes smooth.”  Made from Long Island grapes, the nose is very strong and jammy with notes of plum and cherry.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth with nice tannins.  Plummy and rich in the mouth, the oaking is not as strong as in the Pinot, providing a light smokiness rather than the stronger leather I found in the Pinot.  Overall a nice wine, and Merlot fans should find this interesting.  As for me, I was still more intrigued by the Pinot.

And last, but never least, the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Like the Merlot, the Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from Long Island grapes.  Made more in a Bordeaux style, rather than the hearty, robust California style, those who prefer California Cabs may be slightly disappointed.  As for me, I found the wine surprisingly interesting, particularly given that I don’t have high expectations of Northeastern Cabernet Sauvignons.  The nose is rich, deep and dark, with notes of plum similar to the Merlot, but less jammy.  In the mouth, the wine starts out with a kick, a light peppery heat on the front which provides a bite which then later smooths out to a plummy finish.  There are subtle notes of leather from the oaking, and the opens up nicely in the mouth.

I went home that afternoon with a bottle of the Dry Riesling for the near future, a bottle of the Pinot Noir to cellar for a few years, and a mental note to come back to sample the Traditional Flight – and the winery tour.

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