There’s More to a New England Autumn Than the Trees

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Fall is a great time to be in New England: the crisp autumn days, the clear blue skies, and the trees decked out in those glorious reds, oranges and golds.  Despite moving here for all of those reasons, I, unlike the hundreds of people who trek north each Fall for long weekends in Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, haven’t really taken advantage of all New England has to offer.  Until now.  I am officially declaring that this Fall I am turning over a new leaf  ~ preferably a red one ~ beginning next weekend with a trip to the Vermont Life Wine & Harvest Festival.

Vermont Life Wine & Food Festival logo courtesy of official festival website

Vermont Life Wine & Harvest Festival logo courtesy of official festival website

Saturday morning should find me heading two hours north to the Mount Snow Valley in southern Vermont for a day-long celebration of all things locavore and locapour, set amid the lush New England countryside.

First stop will be Jacksonville and the “Indigenous Vermonter Breakfast,” which is being served until 11; a plus, as leaf turning doesn’t include hitting the road at the crack of dawn.  I’m not exactly sure what is included in said breakfast, but given that it’s sponsored by Vermont Smoke & Cure, I anticipate an abundance of local hams and sausages, and, of course, the pièce de résistance, Vermont Maple Syrup.  Yum!  As Winnie the Pooh would say, “I have a rumbly in my tumbly” just thinking about it.

After breakfast it’s a short jaunt down the road to Wilmington to work off as many of those breakfast calories as possible touring the Festival grounds.  Sponsored by Vermont Life magazine, the festival is billed as the state’s “Official Wine and Food Festival.”  Now in it’s second year, the festival features wines produced by many of the state’s 20+ wineries, as well as local foods, crafts, music and cooking demonstrations by Vermont chefs.  Later in the afternoon, the nearby Inn at Sawmill Farm is hosting a wine and cheese pairing featuring the wines of Shelburne Farms Vineyards.

At this point, I’ll likely be pointing the car south and heading home, but for those interested in making a night – or a weekend – of it, five local restaurants are hosting Vermont Wine Pairing Dinners.  Ranging between $100 and $120 per person, the dinners feature 3-5 courses paired with carefully selected local wines.

A weekend pass costs $40 and will get you into the Vermont Bluegrass BBQ which kicks off the festival on Friday evening, and into the Festival grounds on both Saturday and Sunday. One-day passes to the BBQ and festival grounds can be purchased for $15.  The Indigenous Vermonter Breakfasts (Saturday and Sunday) and the Vermont Wine & Cheese Reception and the Wine Pairing Dinners (Saturday) require separate admission.

For full details, including links to pre-purchase tickets to any or all of the events, check out the festival website.

Alba Winery ~ The Whites

Alba Vineyards - Tasting Room Entrance / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

A tasting at Alba includes your choice of six or seven of the 18 wines available for tasting: five whites, one blush, three reds, and six dessert wines produced under the Alba Vineyard label, and three reds produced under the Chelsea Cellars label.  Despite the fact that the Chelsea Cellars grapes are picked whole and shipped to New Jersey for pressing, aging and bottling, New Jersey law prohibits the winery from labeling them as Alba Vineyards wines as none of the grapes are grown locally.

I always find it challenging when forced to “choose my own” tasting menu.  On the one hand, and particularly if it’s my first visit to the winery, I want to select a range of wines that showcase the range and depth of the winery’s cellars and the winemaker’s art.  On the other, there are types of wines (blush, semi-sweet) and varietals (pinot grigio, riesling) that are not among my favorites, and I’ll tend to avoid them.   Always gravitating towards those tried and true varietals that I tend to drink more often (cabernet franc, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc) presents the opportunity to specialize at it were – comparing similar wines from winery to winery – but runs the risk of never discovering something new or sampling a local gem.

There’s always the fallback of simply asking the winery staff to select wines for you, but that does take some of the fun out of the experience.

As I’ve come across more and more wineries that allow you to create your own tasting menu, I’ve developed a few simple rules that have stood me in good stead: First, balance the tasting between whites, reds and dessert wines (if the winery produces dessert wines), allowing yourself the chance to sample the winery’s range.

Second, look for pairings or contrasts.  Often wineries will produce different “versions” of the same or similar wines, an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay, for example, or an estate or reserve version of a wine.  Tasting these back-to-back will often prove to be one of the highlights of a winery visit.

Third, look for things that are different, particularly if they are unique to the area or region.  Part of the fun of winery visits and tastings is the chance to try something you’ve never or rarely had, and that you’d be unlikely to try if you had to purchase an entire bottle.

Fourth – CHEAT.  If you’re with friends or in a group, coordinate your tasting selections and pass glasses; the wineries certainly don’t mind, and you get to taste a bigger selection!

Alba Vineyards 2So keeping all that in mind, particularly rule #4, Maree and I made our selections.  We both opted to start the tasting with Alba’s most popular wine…

Mainsail White The Mainsail is described by the winery staff as being “like an everyday Pinot Grigio” in style.  The wine is actually a blend of Cayuga (very popular grape here in the Northeast) and Vidal Blanc with a bit of Riesling thrown in for  the “aroma.”  The lighting in the tasting room is soft and yellow-ish, so it was tough to get an accurate “read” on the color, but in the glass the color appeared pale yellow.  The nose was bright with distinct notes of melon and grapefruit.  In the mouth the wine is light-bodied, with definite grapefruit flavors and a nice balance of acid, particularly on the finish.   This is an easily drinkable wine, and I can see why it is so popular.

In addition to the Mainsail White, Alba has two white “pairs,” a more traditional Riesling and a Dry Riesling, and a Chardonnay and Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay.  Maree opted for the traditional Riesling but took a pass on the Dry Riesling, and in keeping with rule #2, I decided in favor of the Chardonnay/Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay pair.

2005 Riesling While definitely sweeter than the other whites, the Riesling is still tending towards a drier wine.  The nose is sunny, with strong notes of fruit, particularly melon.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and velvety with distinct notes of melon.  Maree also noted honey, although I must admit I didn’t pick that out myself.  A nice wine and one that Riesling fans would definitely enjoy.

2005 Chardonnay The Chardonnay is initially oaked in a combination of French and American barrels and then moved to stainless steel for finishing.  The result is a light-bodied wine which has a very light nose with notes of green apple and grass.  In the mouth, the wine is clean, with crisp notes of apple and just a hint of citrus.  The oak is subtle, providing a touch of vanilla that smooths out the wine for a satisfying finish.

2004 Estate Barrel Reserve Chardonnay In contrast to the Chardonnay, the Estate Barrel Reserve is aged completely in oak and subjected to Sur Lies aging by stirring the wine during fermentation to increase contact with the yeast.   The Estate Barrel Reserve is, as a result, very different from the Chardonnay.  The nose has an earthy smokiness and in the mouth, the wine while smooth and lush, is also very smoky with strong notes of burnt toast.  It’s an interesting contrast with the Chardonnay, but I found the oak to be too overpowering for this to be a really compelling wine.

Alba Winery ~ Finesville (Milford), New Jersey

Marguerite BarrettAlba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

It has become somewhat of a tradition that my summer vacation is deliberately without plans.  Four or five years ago, I found myself thinking frequently – and fondly – of the summers of my childhood: those long, long summers that seemed to last forever…  days, and their wonderful possibilties, stretching endlessly in front of me.  True, I also remember days of endless boredom when it rained, or when friends weren’t home and I was – horrors – forced to spend the entire day with my sisters!

But what I found myself nostalgic for was that sense of time stretching out in front of me.  I suppose as we headed back to school each Fall, we thought to ourselves, “where did the summer go?”  But if we did, it was more with a sense of loss, a letting go of those wonderful few months, and definitely not with the slightly hysterical “Oh My God, it’s September ALREADY?!” which is more often what you hear me saying now.

So in an attempt to slow down life and recapture that long-lost feeling of infinite time, I decided that I would take one week each summer (two, if I could manage it) and make no plans.  That’s not to say I would do nothing, just that I would make no plans other than waking up each day and doing whatever I felt like.

Alba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettWhich brings me to New Jersey.  I knew I wanted to do a couple of day trips during my July vacation week this year, and after my visit to Ventimiglia Vineyard at the end of May, exploring more of New Jersey wine country was at the top of the list.  So Saturday morning of vacation week found me swinging through Jersey City to pick up my friend Maree and heading out to the Musconetcong Valley on the west side of the state.

Our first stop was Alba Winery, New Jersey’s 2009 Winery of the Year.  Founded in 1982, Alba produces 16 wines made from local grapes, and three wines under the label Chelsea Cellars from grapes grown on a Sagmore Valley block they own in Washington state.  The Alba wines have won numerous awards in state and regional competitions, and several wines have won awards in the San Francisco Chronicle and Pacific Rim International competitions.

Alba Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettThe winery is housed in an early 19th-century barn that has been painstakingly retrofitted to include modern winemaking facilities as well as lighting, air conditioning, and other amenities without losing the historic character of the building.  Carved into the side of a hill, with the vineyards ranging up the hillside behind the structure, the winery and tasting rooms have a long and rich history.  Built in 1801, the building at one point housed an ironworks which produced cannonballs for the Union Army during the Civil War.  In later years the property reverted to a dairy farm, and was finally converted in the late 1980s from a working dairy barn to the Alba Vineyards winery.  The result is a series of charming brick and timber rooms that meet all the functional requirements of a working winery while retaining the character and history of the original buildings.

Stop in the gift shop just inside the front door to purchase  a tasting and signature glass before proceeding down the few steps into the oldest part of the barn, the tasting room, a long rectangular-shaped room with the tasting bar stretched along the back wall, and oak barrels stacked to the sides and along the walls.  In addition to offering tastings, the winery also conducts tours and barrel tastings.

A tasting includes your choice of six or seven of the 19 wines, including the three Chelsea Cellars wines.  Guests are strongly encouraged to start with the whites and work their way down the list, but the staff will pour the wines in whatever order the guest requests.  Wines are also available by the glass, and the gift shop has a selection of cigars for those who wish to enjoy them with a glass of the Vintage Port.

The winery is open seven days a week; Sunday through Friday, 11 am – 5 pm, and Saturday 11 am – 6 pm.  They also keep a calendar of special events updated on their website.

Newport Vineyards ~ The Wines

Marguerite BarrettNewport Vineyards / Photo: Christy Sherard
Contributing Writer

Newport Vineyards has an extensive menu of wines, 31 in total; one of the largest selections that I’ve seen yet from a Northeastern regional winery.   The menu begins with 13 whites divided into four categories: dry, no-oak (2), dry, oaked (1), Alsatian Style (6), and the semi-dry (4), before moving into the Rosés (4), the Reds (8), the Dessert Wines, which include a Port and an Ice Wine (4), and finishing with a Brut sparkling wine and a hard apple cider.

A tasting, which runs $9, includes your choice of five wines and allows you to join one of the two daily tours of the winery (1 and 3 pm).  Unfortunately, if you elect not to take the tour or arrive after the tours have finished for the day (as we did), the price still remains $9.  Tastings of the Ice Wine and the Brut will run you an additional $1 each.  Individual glasses of wine can be purchased for $6, although a handful of the premium wines run $8 per glass.

Christy and I took our time studying the menu and selecting our wines, while listening to our hosts explain ad nauseum to a group at the other end of the bar that tastings work best if you start with the whites and move on to the reds.  I’m always amused, and often exasperated, by the people who don’t know what they’re doing – but desperately and often pretentiously pretend that they do.   The winery staff had my sympathy that day; I can only imagine how frustrating it is to watch someone select a fuller-bodied wine like a cabernet franc as their first wine, follow it up with a light-bodied white, and then have to listen to them complain about how the “white tastes funny” – all the while keeping a polite smile on your face.

But eventually the group settled down, and our host wandered over to pour our tasting.  I elected to begin with the one dry, oak-aged white, the

2007 Newport Chardonnay A nice wine, but not one that blew me away.  The color is a very pale yellow, and the nose has light grassy notes with a very light touch of citrus.  A light-bodied wine, in the mouth the flavors are light, clean and smooth with light sweet notes of pear and a touch of lemon on the finish.  The citrus is crisp and balances the smoother, deeper flavors of the pear, and the oak provides a light toastiness.   The tasting notes indicate this would pair well with grilled fish and poultry as well as light cheeses.

2008 Tranquility Next up for me was one of the Alsatian-style wines, a blend of gewurztraminer (34%), muscat ottonel (34%), pinot gris (22%), and riesling (10%).  Like the Newport Chardonnay, Tranquility is also a pale yellow color.  The nose is bright with lovely floral notes and a hint of sweetness from the muscat.  A light-bodied wine, yet fuller than the Chardonnay, Tranquility is a soft dry-style wine with floral notes, low oak, and a touch of sweetness that provides depth and character.  It’s an interesting wine and my favorite of the wines I tasted that afternoon.  Tranquility is a gold medal winner for Best Vinifera Blend at the Atlantic Wine Competition.

Newport Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett2006 Rochambeau Named in honor of Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, the French General who fought with George Washington and helped defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown (1781),  Newport Vineyard’s Rochambeau is a blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon and Landot Noir.   Made in the Bordeaux-style, the wine is medium-bodied, bright and tangy.  The nose has interesting notes of pepper and berries.  In the mouth, the wine is young with a tangy “back” taste and strong berry notes, particularly on the finish.  I tend to prefer stronger, deeper reds, but I was intrigued by this wine and will definitely be giving this another try on my next visit.

2007 Cabernet Franc I have become a real fan of Cabernet Franc, finding it one of the richest most satisfying reds produced here in the Northeast, and even when not touring local wineries am finding myself gravitating towards cabernet francs and zinfandels over my former favorites pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.  Newport Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc didn’t disappoint, but I didn’t find it as strong as the Cabernet Francs from Chamard or Gouveia.  The color is a lovely jewel-tone medium garnet that subtly sparkles in the glass.  The nose is deep and soft with light notes of earth and fruit and just a hint of spice.  A medium-bodied wine, there are soft notes of fruit in the mouth – I detected dark berries and just a hint of cherry brightness.  The finish is clean with lingering notes of pepper that give the wine an interesting character.  Perhaps I had a tasting from a recently opened bottle, but I did feel that the wine needed to breathe longer to display it’s full potential.

2006 Newport Jazz I finished out the afternoon with a dessert wine, a Sauterne-style, late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  Despite my general fondness for dessert wines, this was my least favorite of the afternoon.  A lovely dark gold color, the nose was rich and sweet and held a lot of promise that unfortunately the wine didn’t deliver.  Surprisingly, in the mouth the wine was slightly dry with a sharp finish.  The mouth feel had that silky smoothness that one expects from a dessert wine, but the balance was somehow just “off.”  It may that I had a tasting from a bad bottle, so I will definitely give this another try before writing it off altogether.

Newport Vineyards ~ Middletown, Rhode Island

Marguerite BarrettNewport Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Newport was an impulse.

The first week in August had been extremely difficult at work, and by Saturday morning all I wanted to do was run away.  So, at noon, while sitting in the Wethersfield Diner scarfing down omelets with Christy, I looked across the table and announced, “we’re going to Newport.”

For some time, Newport had been on my list of places to visit, and that day it just seemed like a great place to escape to.   That there are three wineries within 45-minutes of downtown Newport made the destination even more appealing.  Of course that presupposed we would arrive in time to visit the wineries; Newport is just under 3 hours driving time from Hartford, and we didn’t even hit the road until almost 1pm.  But Bacchus was smiling on us that day – traffic was light as we sailed southeast down Route 2 through Connecticut, crossing over onto Aquidneck Island (Newport County) around 3:40 and arriving at our first stop, Newport Vineyards, just after 4:00.  We later made it to Sakonnet Vineyards just in time to catch the 5:30 last call for tastings, but that’s a story for another day.

Newport Vineyards was founded by Captain Richard Alexander, who planted the winery’s first vines in 1977 on the Hopelands Farms estate.  In 1988, Alexander began a partnership with John and Paul Nunes, and together they opened the Vinland Wine Cellars on recently acquired farmland in Middletown just north of Newport.   George Cheif, Newport’s winemaker, also joined the team at this time, pressing his first grapes in 1988.   In 1995, Alexander retired, and John and Paul Nunes, now the sole owners, changed the name to Newport Vineyards.  The team won their first Gold Medal in 1998 for Newport Vineyards’ “Great White,” which to this day remains Newport’s most popular wine, and in 1999, Newport’s Vidal Ice Wine was named one of the United States’ 50 Best.

Newport Vineyards, Perry Farm Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

Newport Vineyards is the largest wine-grape grower in the Northeast with 60 acres spread across three farms: Hopelands Vineyards, the original vineyards, situated on the banks of the Sakonnet River and site of the oldest vines; the Perry Farm Vineyards, acquired in 1988 and site of the winery buildings and tasting room; and Nunes Farm Vineyards, acquired in 2002.  The Nunes Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been in the Nunes family since 1917.  The farm itself dates back to the early 18th century, and the original 1701 farmhouse still stands on the property.

The majority of Newport’s vineyards are located near the center of Aquidneck Island (Newport County), within a few miles of the Atlantic Ocean.  The soil is a silty loam with moderate drainage which retains enough water to help with irrigation in the summer months.  The proximity to the ocean helps mitigate the dangers of fall frosts while being far enough inland to avoid “fog and benefit from the thermal heat off the land.”

The winery buildings are located in a long, single-story building  and share space with several specialty shops including a gourmet bakery, a restaurant, and a toy shop.   The vineyards of the Perry Farm, which were first planted in 1988, surround the back and side of the property extending back to the horizon.  The tasting room is a very large space divided evenly between a gift shop in the front and the tasting room/bar in the back.  In addition to selling wine and the usual assortment of wine coolers, gadgets and t-shirts, Newport Vineyards offers gift baskets and custom wine labels for their wines.

Newport Vineyards Gift Shop and Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite BarrettThe tasting area is dominated by a very large u-shaped bar which looked as if it could easily hold 40 people comfortably.  Wine coolers range along the back wall keeping all the wines at optimum temperature and the staff moves easily back and forth in a practiced dance pouring the various tastings.  There is also an outdoor tasting area with a second bar set up just outside the main tasting room; this may serve to hold overflow and also be used for special events.

The winery is open seven days a week, Monday thru Saturday 10-5, and Sundays 12-5.  Winery tours are hosted each afternoon at 1:00 and 3:00.

New Jersey “Jazz It Up” Festival

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

SEPTEMBER 5TH & 6TH

NEW JERSEY’S “JAZZ IT UP WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL”

Hosted by the Garden State Winegrower’s Association

Allaire Village

Allaire State Park

Farmingdale, NJ

On the grounds of the historic Allaire Village, the Garden State Winegrower’s association is hosting the Jazz It Up Wine and Food Festival over Labor Day weekend.

More than 25 New Jersey wineries will be on hand pouring more than 200 local wines.  Included among the attendees will be Alba Winery, 2009 New Jersey Winery of the Year,  and Governor’s Cup winners Tomasello Winery, Heritage Vineyards, and Pagido Winery.   Featured musical artists include The Gambone Project with Vel Johnson on Saxophone (Saturday) and Jazz in Pastel, a quartet led by Buzz Saylor on drums (Sunday).

Adding to the adventure is the setting, the historic Allaire Village, a 19th-century Industrial Iron-Producing Community.  While sampling the local wines and food festivalgoers can step back in time as they stroll through the village grounds.

The festival runs from 12-5 both Saturday and Sunday; admission is $20, and there is a $5 car park fee.  Farmingdale is roughly 90 minutes from both New York and Philadelphia; detailed directions can be found on the Allaire Village website.

Bishop’s Orchards ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

In addition to the distinction of being the only winery in Connecticut that does not charge a tasting fee, Bishop’s Orchards is the only winery that produces fruit wines exclusively.  The majority of Bishop’s wines are either apple- or pear-based, and all are made from fruit grown in the Bishop orchards in Southeastern Connecticut.   Bishop’s currently produces twelve wines, although the Hard Cider was not available for tasting the day I stopped by; all are pleasant, and most have won awards at either the Big E or the International Wine Competition.  If you are planning a day on the Eastern Wine Trail, don’t skip Bishop’s just because they produce fruit wines.  While I wasn’t converted to a fruit wine “fan,” I enjoyed the tasting and found it an interesting juxtaposition to the more traditional wines of Chamard and Jones which I also visited that afternoon.   Fans of sweeter wines will likely discover a few wines in the Bishop Collection that they find intriguing.

Pearadise The tasting began with a light white wine made from locally-grown Bosc pears.  The color is a very pale straw, and the nose has soft notes of pear.  Pearadise is a dry wine with touches of sweetness from the pear; the finish is crisp and clean.  The tasting notes recommend serving it chilled, and indeed, I’d recommend serving all the Bishop wines chilled.  This would pear nicely with light fruits and cheeses and grilled chicken or fish.

Stone House White Produced by aging in oak, Bishop’s Sweet Apple Cider, this is a light, dry white wine with strong notes of apple and a subtle smokiness from the oak.  The tasting notes indicate that this “reminds one of a Chardonnay” but I found it too light-bodied.  While the notes of apple were strong in both the nose and mouth, I found the wine itself to be a bit weak and slightly watery.   I expected a bit more body and depth from a wine that began as an apple cider.  It could be that I had a tasting from a bad bottle, but this was not one of my favorites.

Celebration Another apple-wine, this one is listed in the tasting notes as “off-dry.”  Celebration had a bit more body and interest than the Stone House White, and the notes of apple, while present and noticeable, are not overpowering.

Happley ImPeared This is a blend 1/2 apple and 1/2 pear.  As with the other wines, Bishop’s ferments apple and pear cider and then combines them to create this wine.  It’s an interesting blend; the slight tartness of the apple provides an interesting contrast to the smooth sweeter pear, and together are more interesting than when standing on their own.  I starred this as one of the more intriguing wines.

Faulkner’s Spiced Apple A semi-dry, apple wine with strong notes of nutmeg and cinnamon in both the nose and mouth.  The wine is made with Bishop’s Orchards mulling spices and would be interesting warmed, or even perhaps further mulled.  The notes of apple are strong yet not overpowering, and blend nicely with the spices.  I enjoyed this wine, but it doesn’t have the depth or body of Digrazia’s Autumn Spice.

Apple Raspberry Blush Another semi-dry wine, the Apple Raspberry blush is a rich pink color, with light notes of berry on the nose.  In the mouth, the flavor of the raspberries is very strong and overpowers the apple.  The presence of the apple is important, however, as it smooths out some of the tartness you sometimes find with raspberry wines.

Amazing Grace This is Bishop’s newest wine, produced and named in honor of their newest grandchild, born about 10 months ago.  A blend of cranberries and apple, the wine is crisp and pleasant.  The nose has lovely notes of tart cranberry, but in the mouth, the cranberry is subtle, and overall the wine is lightly sweet with a smooth finish.  I admit to being very surprised with this wine.  I expected something much sharper and certainly wasn’t expecting to like it.  While not my favorite of the afternoon, it was one of my preferred wines.

Honey Peach Melba This was another pleasant surprise.  With both honey and peach, I expected a very sweet, very rich wine.  Instead what I found was a light-bodied, slightly sweet wine with a nice balance of peach and honey.  The touch of honey tones down the peach flavor and together they blend into a smooth, crisp wine.  This will pair well with fruits, cheeses, and light chicken and pasta dishes.

Blushing Beauty The first thing that strikes you about this wine is the color – it’s a lovely, deep amber color.  Like all the other Bishop wines (with the exception of Amazing Grace which adds a touch of red to the wine for color), the color of the Blushing Beauty is the natural color produced by the fruit.  Also a peach wine, Blushing Beauty is a sweet wine, but not a dessert wine, with light notes of peach in both the nose and the mouth.

Crimson Rose A blend of strawberries and raspberries, this is a sweet dessert wine with strong notes of raspberry in both the nose and mouth.  I found the wine to be too light-bodied for a good dessert wine, while the flavors were nice, it didn’t have that rich depth that makes  a great dessert wine.  However, it was also pointed out that the wine reduces nicely into a syrup for fresh fruit or ice cream, and I found myself more intrigued when I thought of the wine as a sauce component than as a stand-alone dessert wine.

Strawberry Delight I imagine this is one of the more popular of Bishop’s wines, but is was one of my least favorites.  A dessert wine, I found it to be too sweet with a slightly bitter finish.  The strawberry notes are very strong in both the nose and the palate.  I found myself wishing this were a sparkling wine; the effervescence may have provided a depth or a texture that would help balance the sweetness of the strawberries.

Overall I found the Bishop’s Orchards wines interesting.  The pear wines had the most depth and character and rated higher on my list.  Not surprisingly, my least favorites were the berry wines (strawberry and raspberry), and I often found those too sweet and the berry flavors over-powering.  However, I have always preferred drier wines, and those of you who favor the sweeter wines should definitely find some wines of interest among the Bishop’s wine list.


Bishop’s Orchards Winery ~ Guilford, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

When pulling up to Bishop’s Orchards, don’t be put off by the fact that it looks more like a very large farm stand than it does a winery – that, in fact, is exactly what it is.

Six generations of the Bishop family have been farming in southeastern Connecticut since 1871.  They currently have 320 acres under cultivation and produce apples, pears, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, asparagus and other assorted vegetables.  They also produce a large selection of fruit wines and ciders.

The market was first established as a road-side stand in the early 1900’s and over the last century grew into the large farm market that today sits just minutes off of 1-95.  The market features the Bishop’s Orchards produce as well as produce, meats, cheeses, jams, and other foods produced by local farmers.

Making your way through the main grocery/produce area towards the back of the store, you’ll find a large area devoted to the wines.  A long tasting bar runs along the back wall, which features an impressive display of the Bishop’s Orchards wines.  The Tasting Menu is extensive and includes all 12 of Bishop’s wines.  All are fruit wines with 7 of the 12 featuring either apple or pear.  Surprisingly the tasting is free; I believe Bishop’s is the only winery in Connecticut that still offers free tastings.

I know many people, myself included, are not big fans of fruit wines, and I don’t know that the Bishop’s Orchards wines will win converts, but they are all pleasant, not overly sweet wines.  If in the area, the winery is definitely worth a stop.  And if you’re planning to make a day of it – as I did – I recommend planning your stop at Bishop’s Orchards for the middle of the day.  After you finish the tasting, you can cruise the market, pick up a freshly made, locally grown lunch or snack and have an impromptu tailgate party.

Road Trip!

Marguerite BarrettSakonnet Vineyards, Rhode Island / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Summer 2009 has been interesting to say the least. A cold, rainy June and July followed by a hot and muggy August. Hiccups on the career front accompanied by long hours in the office. Unfortunate cancellation of a week’s vacation plans at the end of August.

By midsummer, I was feeling like Boone in Animal House, “Otter, this is ridiculous!”  So what’s a girl to do?

ROAD TRIP!

Mystic Connecticut / Photo: Marguerite BarrettOr to be strictly accurate, road trips.  I decided to eschew traditional stress busters such as exercise and therapy in favor of exploring the Southeastern New England and Warren Hills AVAs.  Armed only with a full tank of gas, a list of wineries, a map, and the ubiquitous debit card, I hit the open roads on random weekends with wine trail buddies Christy Sherard and Maree Prendergast, discovering new wines and new places from Newport, Rhode Island to Rieglesville, Pennsylvania.

There were good wines and great meals, as well as the occasional wrong turn, but most of all, lots of laughs and that great sense of freedom you get from impulsively saying, “let’s get out of here.”Alba Vineyards, New Jersey

I’ve also decided it’s time to mix things up here at Vino Verve – while reliving the adventure of hitting the road without a fully-defined plan.  So rather than organize my posts as I’ve done in the past (chronological order of wineries visited), I’m throwing them all in a soup; one day you might find me in Rhode Island, the next in New Jersey.   I suppose you could say it’s the Vino Verve version of Where’s Waldo?

So I hope you’ll join me here at Vino Verve on Tuesdays and Thursdays through October for the 2009 Win(e)ding Roads Summer Adventure!

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Jones Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite BarrettJones Vineyards
Contributing Writer

First up for the Reds was Jones Winery’s

Ripton Red This is the driest of the Jones Reds, made in a Chianti style from a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes, both brought in from California.  The color is a lovely purply-red, and the color changes slightly from light to dark as it catches the light.  The nose is earthy with with a strong tanginess.  The wine is medium-bodied, smooth, with earthy, slightly smoky notes and a hint of dark cherry which provides light touch of sweetness to balance out the earthiness.  There’s a slight note of spice on the finish.  This is a very versatile red and would pair nicely with a broad range of food.

Next up was Group #5 and my choice of either the First Blush, described as a “pleasingly sweet blush wine created from a blend of CT apples, pears and black currants” or the 2007 Cabernet Franc.  Not being a huge fan of blush wines, I selected the

2007 Cabernet Franc An estate-grown wine, the Cabernet Franc is barrel aged for 12 months in American Oak.  The result is a medium-bodied wine with a bright nose and notes of cherry in both the nose and on the palate.  There’s a nice acid balance to the finish, and the finish lingers pleasantly in the mouth.  An interesting wine, but not as strong a Cab Franc as ones I’ve found at Chamard or Gouveia.  That being said, I suspect the wine will grow more interesting if cellared for a year or two.

After the Cabernet Franc I had my choice of the Strawberry Serenade or the Merlot.  The Strawberry Serenade was described as one of Jones Winery’s signature wines, made from locally grown strawberries; given this, and despite not being a fan of sweet fruit wines, I opted to give the Strawberry Serenade a try.

Strawberry Serenade This is a sparkling wine, with very strong effervescence.  A pale, salmon color, the nose is that lovely, deep, rich strawberry smell you get from fresh-picked strawberries.  Surprisingly, the wine is neither too sweet or too “strawberry.”  The strawberry notes are certainly detectable, but not overpowering, and the wine is drier than I anticipated.  While not one of my favorites, I was pleasantly surprised by this wine.  It would be a great brunch wine for a late spring or summer brunch, and would pair well with fruit and light desserts.

With that I was left with a final choice – this time among the three dessert wines, Blueberry Bliss, Raspberry Rhapsody and Black Currant Bouquet.  I had a tough time deciding.  The Raspberry Rhapsody is an award-winning wine, and this year’s winery logo-glass features a raspberry in honor of the wine.  But the Black Currant Bouquet is more in the style of a Port, which I prefer, and had the added attraction of being a Black Currant Wine, which is not something I come across every day.  I must admit the Blueberry Bliss didn’t make the first cut.

As I was trying to decide, my host for the afternoon took the decision out of my hands and offered to let me try a taste of both the Raspberry Rhapsody and the Black Currant Bouquet.  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I quickly accepted.

Raspberry Rhapsody This is a lovely and interesting wine, and I understand why it won so many medals.  The Raspberry notes are very strong in both the nose and in the mouth, but the rich sweetness of a dessert wine balances those out.  The Raspberry adds a very slight tartness that gives the wine depth and keeps it from becoming cloyingly sweet.  The tasting is paired with a piece of dark chocolate, and the wine changes, getting deeper and more complex with the chocolate.

Black Currant Bouquet This is a full-bodied wine in a Port style, not as sweet as the Raspberry Rhapsody.  The color is a deep plum.  The nose is full but subtle – the black currant is prevalent but there are notes of sweet berries as well.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and rich, with a soft mouth-feel.  On the palate, the flavors blend nicely, just enough sweetness to satisfy but not enough to be overpowering.  This is also paired with chocolate during the tasting, and the chocolate emphasizes the depth and richness of the wine.