Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Miranda Vineyard

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

A scant 2 1/2 miles from Sunset Meadow Vineyard you’ll find the Miranda Vineyard. Leaving Sunset Meadow head South on Route 63 for a 1/4 mile and then turn off and head down backroads to reach Miranda. The Tasting Room is a large renovated 2-story Connecticut Farmhouse, and is fronted by a modern-day version of a classic New England stone fence. The inside is open and airy, with a large bar along the right-hand side of the back wall, and tables and chairs set out on the left side, which also has doors leading out onto a large deck with additional seating for the warmer months.

Tastings at Miranda are $5 and include the glass. When I stopped by about 10 days ago, I was joined at the tasting bar by a party of three couples spending the afternoon touring local wineries and picking up wines for the holidays. The hosts were charming and chatted with us as we worked our way through the tasting. There were five wines on the tasting menu that day:

Woodridge White: This is a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc that is crisp and quite refreshing. It would be a good sipping wine on a summer evening, and would also be nice paired with chicken, fish or a light pasta. The Woodridge White is a 2008 Big E Northeast Gold Medal Award Winner.

Chardonnay: This is a fuller-bodied wine than the Woodridge White. My preference, though, was for the Woodridge White which I found a more interesting wine.

Woodridge Red: This is a nice red table wine; medium-bodied and able to stand up to heavier pasta and light meat dishes. This and the Woodridge White were my two favorites at Miranda. And like the Woodridge White, the Woodridge Red is also a 2008 Big E Northeast Gold Medal Award Winner.

Merlot: For Connecticut this is not a bad Merlot, but it doesn’t have the mellowness of the coastal or Long Island Merlots. I detected hints of licorice which were quite interesting. The tasting includes a dark chocolate truffle, and I must say the chocolate made a difference.

Rose: The tasting ended with a Rose. This is a very nice light Rose, which would be a perfect “sit on the back porch in the heat of the summer” sipping wine. I wasn’t overly impressed with this wine, but then I’m not usually a fan of Rose wines – often finding them sweeter and lighter than I normally like.

My tasting “companions” definitely preferred sweeter wines overall, and all really liked the Rose and the Chardonnay. They were less impressed with the Woodbridge Red and the Merlot, but did admit that they lean towards whites in general.

The first time I visited Miranda Vineyard was this past summer, and it was a very busy Sunday afternoon. There were about 20 people lined up at the bar for tastings, and it got a bit chaotic at times. However, that shouldn’t deter anyone from stopping – if the tasting bar is crowded when you arrive, I recommend grabbing a bottle of either the Woodbridge White or the Woodbridge Red and heading out to the patio to relax and enjoy the sunshine, the views and the wine.

The Joys of Small Package Shops (continued)

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
As I mentioned in my post of 11/20, I’ve been having a great time exploring the small package shops you find in most CT towns. A few weeks ago, I stopped at The Cordial Shoppe in Canaan, CT and picked up several wines from South Africa.
The one I recently finished is the Sebeka 2007 Cabernet Pinotage. This is a smooth full-bodied wine that is quite affordable – under $10 US. The tasting notes indicate both blackberry and red berry notes, and they combine extremely well. The wine is excellent paired with pasta or meat. Definitely worth checking out.
The label features a cheetah and evokes the spirit of Africa and the Serengeti. One of the most delightful surprises of the wine was to find the cork was printed with a leopard print! I’m enough of a geek that I was absolutely delighted to find they carried the cheetah motif onto the cork!

Have I ever mentioned?

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
Has Gretchen ever mentioned she likes French wine?  Hmmm…  I think I may have heard those words mentioned once or twice.
However, I do have to say that Gretchen’s musings yesterday made me stop and think.  While I’m not a complete neophyte in the wine department, I’m not an expert either.  
And to be honest, I’ve never really thought about the idea of “geography” as part of the wine, other than to say that something is from one country or another – or that climate (such as colder vs. warmer climates) can affect the wines.  But Gretchen’s post made me think in a whole new way.
I, too, have a fondness for French wines, but given a choice, Italy is my preferred European region.  Why?  I don’t know – I find Italian wines more interesting than French wines.  But that’s a discussion for another day.  
My point today is that having read “Have I Ever Mentioned” I began thinking…  So tonight when I went to the wine rack to select a new bottle of wine, I deliberately chose an Italian (I’ve been exploring Connecticut, New Zealand and South Africa recently so the only European wines I have in the house currently are Italian).   
I was much more conscious of the bouquet, and for the first time I smelled it – the soil!   There was an earthiness to the bouquet that I recognized but hadn’t realized what it was before.  And as the first sip hit my mouth, I was aware that what I often described inadequately as “dry” was in fact “minerals.”
I’m not educated enough in wines, grapes, etc. to be able to describe it correctly, but that’s o.k.  I learned something today, and even if I can’t explain it, my experience with wine has just become richer.
Salut, Gretchen!

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Sunset Meadow Vineyards
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Heading south on Route 63 from Canaan into Goshen, the Sunset Meadow Vineyards

are on your left. The Tasting Room is a 1-story building with a porch running the length of the front and a large patio area with outdoor seating on the side. Everything about Sunset Meadow is welcoming, from the seasonal decorations on the front porch

to the large open tasting room.

The tasting room itself is paneled in wood with a large bar running along the entire length of the back wall. Comfortable bar stools are spread out across the bar area, and there’s room to accommodate at least 12-15 tasters at a time. Behind the bar, wine racks line the walls, and off to your right French doors lead onto the patio area. A tasting is $6 and includes a Sunset Meadow Vineyards glass for you to take home. The staff is extremely pleasant and will stop and chat. When I stopped by last week, the Tasting Menu consisted of 5 wines:
Riesling – a nice Riesling; crisp with hints of apple. I’m generally not a big fan of Rieslings, and so passed quickly onto the Cayuga White.

Cayuga White – This is a crisp, fruity white that would be great with chicken or fish. I was quite impressed; the wine has a complexity that is interesting in the mouth. The tasting notes indicate grapefruit, melon and peach. I must admit I wasn’t able to discern any specific fruit, but the medley of flavors that balanced nicely, and in the end I find prefer wines that balance to those that have strong notes. The Cayuga was awarded a Bronze Medal in the 2008 International Eastern Wine Competition.

Merlot – I must admit I was less impressed with the Merlot than with the other wines. I’m finding that with respect to reds, Connecticut does better with blended wines. Perhaps it’s the climate, perhaps it’s the soil, but Connecticut Merlots don’t really stand up to the western coastal wines or even those of Long Island. The tasting notes indicate cherry and hints of black pepper and butter. I picked up more of the pepper and less of the cherry, and that could also have influenced my overall opinion of the wine.
Twisted Red – This wine is a blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger and Chambourcin and is aged in French Oak. It’s a full-bodied red, and on tasting my first thought was “Interesting, but probably needs to be aged a bit.” As it turns out, I was right. The tasting notes indicate that while it can be drunk immediately, it can also be saved for a few years. My impression is that if you leave it for a couple years before uncorking, you will a really rich, mellow red. I’ll let you know in a couple of years when I pour the bottle I bought after my tasting. This wine won a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Eastern States Wine Competition (the “BigE”), and was my favorite of all the wines featured in the tasting.

St. Croix – The tasting concluded with the St. Croix, a limited production, full-bodied red. This is an interesting wine: smooth, with a fruity bouquet, I detected notes of spices and pepper, and the wine grew more complex as I sipped. The tasting notes indicate the wine can age up to an additional 4 years, and I think this wine will definitely benefit from waiting a few years before uncorking.
I’ve been to the Sunset Meadow Vineyard Tasting Room twice now, and both times really enjoyed myself. It’s comfortable, with pleasant hosts and good wines. I’m looking forward to returning when the weather gets warmer, buying a couple bottles of wine and sitting on the patio with a few friends watching the sun set over the hills.

Note to Kevin & Gretchen – United has direct flights from O’Hare to Bradley every day!

Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

By: Marguerite Barrett, Contributing Writer

Land of Nod Winery

East Canaan, CT

Slide 1

Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan CT
Photo by Marguerite Barrett

After a several month hiatus, I returned to the CT Wine Trail this summer. My original intent had been to use my home base in central CT as a jumping off point to leisurely explore the entire wine trail over the spring and summer, hitting one winery every other week or so. Unfortunately life intervened as it is wont to do, and it took the arrival of my friend Carol from Texas for a long weekend visit to kick-start my wine trail adventures again.

Carol and I spent a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in late August touring several of the wineries in the northwest corner of CT. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, these are the hills of Litchfield County, which begin in the foothills of the Berkshires (near the Massachusetts border) and wind down through Litchfield and Fairfield counties until you hit the Western end of Long Island Sound. The scenery is exquisite and you travel primarily along state roads through small towns and forests.

Slide 2

Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan CT
Photo by Marguerite Barrett

We began our tour at the Land of Nod winery, one of the newer additions to the CT Wine Trail. Land of Nod is located in East Canaan, CT – in the western CT Highlands, close to the Massachusetts border.

The farm and winery, which is owned by the Adam family, is a National Bicentennial Farm, which means the farm has been in the same family for at least 200 years. Land of Nod bottles red, white and fruit wines. The two reds we tasted, the Cabernet Franc and the Pinot Noir, were both nice table wines. The one white, the Bianca, was a stronger, more complex wine. However the fruit wines, the Raspberry and the Blueberry-Raspberry medley really knocked our socks off.

Slide 3

The Tasting Room; Owner: Bill Adam is behind the counter
Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan CT
Photo by Marguerite Barrett

I am not usually a fan of fruit wines – I often find them too sweet even as dessert wines – however, I fell in love with both of these. Very mellow, sweet but not cloyingly so, both wines would be excellent as aperitifs, dessert wines, paired with light pasta or vegetable dishes or just for sipping. I was so excited by them, I even sent two bottles to Kevin for his birthday – and Kevin generally is less of a fan of fruit wines than I am, a fact of which I am well aware. But lo and behold I got a call a month later from Kevin saying he and Gretchen and finished both the Raspberry and the Blueberry-Raspberry Medley and enjoyed both! I have to say I did respond with an “I told you so!” (ed. Totally true. They were fruity, not cloying, dry even which was a particular surprise. We would certainly enjoy trying them again… hint, hint!)

As much as Carol and I enjoyed the wines, we enjoyed the winery and the tasting even more. We spent almost an hour at Land of Nod hanging out with Bill, the owner, and his son, leisurely sampling his wines and just hanging out and chatting about anything and everything. Carol and Bill traded pictures and stories of their dogs, and Carol also went home with hand-spun yarn from a local farm for a knitting project. Bill and his family are great hosts, the tasting room is comfortable and there’s a small patio area out front if you want to sit, sip and enjoy the scenery.

At the end of our tasting, Bill brought out their new Chocolate-Raspberry fruit wine. It was still being bottled and labeled so it wasn’t available for sale, but he gave us a tasting on the house. My first thought when he introduced it was “Chocolate wine – are you kidding me?” But once tasted, I was a fan. Like the other fruit wines, it is not too sweet, and the chocolate taste is rich without being overpowering. It is currently available for sale, and I’m planning on picking up several bottles to bring to Thanksgiving dinner with my cousins.

If you do get a chance to visit the CT Wine Trail, don’t be deterred by the fact that Land of Nod is up in the corner of the state. It is definitely worth a visit; the drive is gorgeous, and it’s really not that far from other wineries on the list. If you’re coming from the Hartford area, it’s a leisurely 60 minute drive up Route 44. If you’re coming from Fairfield/Litchfield counties, it’s a straight shot up Route 7 – one of the most beautiful areas of Connecticut. And if you can’t make it in person, I strongly recommend you order a couple of bottles of their fruit wines for tasting at home.

Sad News

We at VinoVerve were sad to learn of the passing of David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in Dundee, OR. Mr. Lett died in his home on October 9th surrounded by family. He was 69.

Mr. Lett was a pioneer Oregon winemaker. He was the first to plant pinot noir in the Willamette Valley and the first in the U.S. to plant pinot gris. His 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir won 10th place in the 1979 Wine Olympics in France. He later took a 2nd place award, with the first place going to Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, who was so impressed with Mr. Lett’s work bought land in Oregon and opened Domaine Drouhin Oregon.

The family welcomes condolences and remembrances of the man, known locally as Papa Pinot. They can be sent to:

Diana, Jim and Jason Lett
Post Office Box 697
Dundee, Oregon 97115

or donations can be made in his name to his favorite charities:

1000 Friends of Oregon (land use advocacy)
534 SW Third Avenue, Suite 300
Portland, Oregon 97204
(503) 497-1000

Families United For Independent Living (supports assisted living for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities)
PO Box 473
McMinnville, Oregon 97128 0473

A notation on Eyrie Vineyards website indicates that a memorial service has yet to be scheduled, however in keeping with Mr. Lett’s wishes it will be held AFTER harvest.

Washington’s Second Favorite Crop

Apples of course! I am sure that the Washington Apple Growers Association wouldn’t agree, but then they are probably not hanging around here at VinoVerve either, are they?

Anyway… Here is Rory taking a break from his wine trek to eat an apple and hear about how the cultivation of apples and wine grapes are similar!

Master Sommeliers – Wine Experts, Service Mavens, Blind Tasters

The Court of Master Sommeliers are in Chicago again to test for Certified Sommeliers (12 of 23 passed at the Conrad today, one of them being Rachael Johnson one of the Sommeliers on staff here at The James – Congratulations Rachael!). Tomorrow they will administer the Introductory Course to future Sommelier hopefuls.

Court of Master Sommeliers, have you heard of them? I hadn’t until 2002 when I was hired as a waiter at Blue Fin in New York City’s Times Square. The restaurant wine program was lead by corporate beverage director Greg Harrington, MS. Those last two letter referring to the title ‘Master Sommelier‘. Back then, as I was told, Greg was a pretty big deal. Not only was he one of 50 or 60 Masters in the country, but he also had the record for being the youngest to ever pass the test. Like I said, Greg was a pretty big deal. These days there are almost 100 Master Sommeliers in the US, with 9 newly anointed MS titles going out in 2007 alone. So what does it mean and why is it a big deal?

The Court of Master Sommeliers originated in London (where they take wine very seriously) and an American chapter was initiated in 1977. The goals of the organization include setting a benchmark and awareness of service standards and knowledge in the sales and service sector of the wine industry. Not a bad goal. So what does one need to do to become a Master Sommelier? Let’s just say that its really really hard. Those that even get invited (yes, you have to get invited) to take the MS exam have already passed a series of rigorous tests that include blind tasting 6 wines in 24 minutes, answering detailed questions about obscure wine regions, and exuding graceful and composed service while being harassed by sitting Masters. That process will get you a title of Advanced Sommelier and allow you into the world of eligible Masters candidates.

To become an Advanced Sommelier you must receive sponsorship from an MS, and have also passed the Certified Exam. I passed my Certified last March here in Chicago and will hope to sit for the Advanced in early 2009. Now that Rachael has passed the Certified I have a great study buddy and blind tasting partner.

More on the Court of Master Sommeliers to come…