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

Hopkins Vineyard

The Sweet Wines
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
The normal tasting menu at Hopkins includes one sweet wine, the Night Owl Vidal Blanc.   However for an additional $2.50 you can also include a tasting of the Ice Wine.
Because Hopkins only has two wines in this category, I normally would have grouped these with the Semi-Sweet wines and covered both categories in one post.  However, both Christy and I agreed, hands-down these are the two best wines at Hopkins, and as such deserve their own post.
Night Owl 2007 Vidal Blanc Estate Bottled  This is a Late Harvest dessert wine.  Late Harvest refers to grapes that have been left on the vine longer than normal, being allowed to dehydrate on the vine.  The result is a grape with more concentrated sugars, thus producing sweeter wines.   The Night Owl is a smooth, full-bodied wine that dances across the tongue.  The nose is mellow with hints of apricot, and the wine itself has subtle notes of apricot and hazelnut.   It would pair nicely with a fruit and cheese platter, light desserts, or even serve as the finish to a meal all by itself.
Ice Wine 2006 Estate Bottled  Also made from Vidal Blanc grapes, Ice Wine differs from Late Harvest in that the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine before harvesting, and harvesting is usually done at night or in the very early morning to ensure the grapes remain frozen.  On the day Christy and I stopped by they were getting ready to harvest this year’s crop of Ice Wine grapes starting at 4:00 am the next morning.
Hopkins’s Ice Wine is hands-down my favorite wine not just from Hopkins but on the wine trail to date.  The bouquet is gorgeous, rich, fruity, decadent…  The color is a lovely golden yellow, and, to borrow a phrase from the tasting notes, the wine is “fantastically sweet.”  This wine just melts in your mouth.  It is a beautiful blend of fruit with just a touch of honey.  Absolutely gorgeous. 
Since first being introduced to Ice Wine a number of years ago during a wine trip to the Niagara region in Canada, I’ve been a big fan.  However, not many wine stores carry Ice Wine, and those that do often have a limited selection.  I’ve tried those Ice Wines that I could find with mixed results – all are sweet, but not all have the same body and depth – and in general, have found that I greatly preferred those from the Niagara region.  That is, until Hopkins…  In my opinion, Hopkins’s Ice Wine can hold its own against any of the Niagara wines any day.
Even if you’re not a fan of sweet wines, if you do get to New Preston, CT, don’t pass up the Hopkins Late Harvest or Ice Wine – those two alone are worth the trip!

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

Hopkins Vineyard

The Semi-Sweet Wines
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
After finishing with the dry wines, the tasting moved on to the Semi-Sweet wines.  This category included one cider, one white, one red, and one fruit wine.
Cider  Hopkins Vineyard’s Cider is made from locally grown apples using a traditional English cider yeast.  It’s a good example of a traditional cider – strong notes of apple both in the nose and the taste, and that slightly bitter after-taste that comes with yeast drinks.   The notes of apple are nicely balanced and not overpowering.  This will pair well with hearty food – pub food, if you will – omelettes, sausages, meat pies…   The Cider won a Silver Medal in the International Eastern Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Westwind 2007 Estate Bottled This is a semi-sweet white made from estate-grown Cayuga White grapes.  Cayuga White is native to the northeast, hailing from the New York Finger Lakes area.  The grapes were originally developed in the 50s and first grown commercially in upstate New York in the 1970s.  The Westwind is a nice, light, semi-sweet wine with notes of citrus.  Sipping it, it struck me as a good summer wine – chilled and perfect for lazy summer evenings – and would stand up well to most summer dishes.  Westwind was awarded a Silver Medal in the Big E Wine Competition and the National Women’s Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal in the International Eastern Wine Competition.
Sachem’s Picnic This is a semi-sweet red wine, with a strong, fruity bouquet.  The wine itself is a light-bodied wine, and not one of my favorites.  Our hosts recommended that this be served chilled, and I would agree.  I didn’t find a lot of depth to this wine, and I think chilling it brings out the lightness and fruitiness.  I think it’s well named – this is a good picnic wine for a hot summer afternoon.
Peach Wine  This is a fruit wine made from locally grown peaches.  It has a very light bouquet with a subtle peach aroma that tantalizes rather than overwhelms.  The flavor is delicate and it dances in the mouth.  It has a smooth and mellow finish.  As with the Westwind and Sachem’s Picnic, I think this is a spring/summer wine – it’s too light to stand up to the heartier fare of the autumn/winter seasons.  But, despite not generally being a fan of fruit wines, the Peach Wine was my top pick among the Semi-Sweet wines.

Next up – and next post – we finish with the Sweet Wines!

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

Hopkins Vineyard
The Dry Wines: Whites & Reds

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
On the day we stopped by, the Hopkins Vineyard (HV) tasting selection consisted of 10 wines beginning with five dry wines: three white and two red, four of which are estate bottled.
A note about “Estate Bottled”: Estate Bottled indicates that 100% of the grapes used in the wine were either grown in the winery’s vineyard or in vineyards controlled by the winery. The wine must also be vinified and bottled at that winery. The authors of the Tablas Creek Blog put it best: “it means the winery controls the product from beginning to end.”
The Whites

Chardonnay 2007 Estate Bottled This is a nice Chardonnay, light, fruity, but not too sweet. It would pair nicely with seafood, salads, light pasta dishes… and would also be lovely chilled with fruit and cheese on a summer afternoon. According to the tasting notes, this wine is estate grown and 100% aged in French and American oak barrels. The Chardonnay is a Bronze Medal Winner at both the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competition.
Duet 2007 Estate Bottled The tasting notes indicate “You asked for a low-oak Chardonnay – and here it is!” The Duet is a blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc grapes. The nose is crisp with hints of apple. The wine itself is a crisp, dry white wine with notes of tart apple and a touch of sweetness. It’s a more full-bodied wine than the Chardonnay, and I can see it pairing nicely with Fall dishes – roast chicken and even beef. It would also pair nicely with stronger cheeses. I found this to be a very interesting wine, and my personal favorite among the whites. Duet is a Silver Medal Winner in the Big E Competition and the Tasters Guild International, and a Bronze Medal Winner in the National Women’s Wine Competition.
Vineyard Reserve 2007 Estate Bottled The whites ended with the Vineyard Reserve, a blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc grapes. The bouquet is lovely with strong fruit overtones. The wine is a dry white wine, clean with a really nice finish. I detected strong notes of berries and – maybe – peach. The tasting notes indicate it would pair well with spicier foods such as Thai or Indian. The Vineyard Reserve was awarded a Bronze Medal from the American Wine Society.
The Reds

Cabernet Franc 2006 Estate Bottled This is a medium- to full-bodied wine, dry, with a strong sense of minerals and “earthiness.” I also detected hints of pepper at the end. It’s an interesting wine, and one that I think will grow more interesting if left to sit for a year or so. The wine is punch-cap fermented and aged in Oak Barrels. The Tasting Notes indicate that the Cabernet Franc is one of Hopkins’ signature wines; it is a Silver Medal Winner in the Big E Competition and the Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competition and was awarded a Bronze Medal from the Tasters Guild International and the Tasters Guild Wine Lovers Competition. Despite it’s awards and reputation, I found I wasn’t fond of this wine; the earthiness was too strong perhaps, and it was a bit too dry – even for my taste. It might be worth picking up a bottle, though, and letting it sit for another 12-15 months just to see if it becomes a little mellower with age.
Red Barn Red Hands-down this was my favorite of all the wines in the “dry” category, and Christy and I both marked big stars next to it on our tasting sheets. It’s a medium-bodied red that is rich, smooth, mellow, and has a great finish. It has a nice nose with a deep rich fruit aroma. The Tasting Notes indicate Black Currant, and I while I must admit I don’t think I’ve ever smelled a black currant, I know it’s a “heavier” fruit, and you get that in this wine. The wine is made from what the vintner refers to as a “farm blend” of French-American hybrid grapes and is barrel aged. The Red Barn Red was awarded a Bronze Medal from both the Tasters Guild International and the American Wine Society.
With that we sat back, cleansed our palates and prepared to move on to the Semi-Sweet Wines.

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

Hopkins Vineyard
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Hopkins Vineyard, located in New Preston, CT, sits on the north shore of Lake Waramaug, a short 20 minute drive from Litchfield and the nearby wineries: Haight Brown, Miranda or Sunset Meadow Vineyards.

Even in winter the drive is pretty as you pass through the scenic Litchfield Hills and surrounding farmland on your approach to Lake Waramaug. The lake is named for a Wyantenock Indian Chief, who with his tribe, “made Lake Waramaug their summer residence.”  The lake itself is quite large, and there’s a state park on the Kent, CT side of the lake with areas for camping, boating, and hiking.   Source: CT Department of Environmental Protection, Lake Waramaug State Park

The winery sits slightly off the main road, just behind the Hopkins Inn. The Inn dates back to 1847 and, with 11 guest rooms and 2 apartments all with great views and lake access, it can be a great jumping off point for a weekend on the CT Wine Trail.  
Hopkins Vineyards is part of a family-owned farm founded in 1787 when Elijah Hopkins “returning from the Revolutionary War” began farming on the shores of Lake Waramaug. This is one of Connecticut’s few remaining “Century” farms: farms that have been in the same family for more than 200 years.  The family planted their first vines in 1979 and have been producing wines for the last 30 years.  
The winery is housed in a 19th century barn and is comprised of two floors. On the first floor, the main entrance leads directly into the tasting area; a retail area sits in a large room off to the right. The tasting area is fairly small – there’s a small counter with no stools or chairs that can hold probably 6 people at a time comfortably.  On the day we stopped by one other couple came in shortly after us, and while we weren’t crowded, we would have been hard-pressed to fit more than a few other people at the bar with us.  In the summer, I imagine it can get pretty crowded, and you may be better off heading upstairs to The Hayloft, the first winery-wine bar in Connecticut, to grab a glass or a bottle, relax and enjoy the views.
The retail area features 3-foot high wine racks spreading out along the walls and forming an island in the center of the room. The wines are all carefully organized and arranged, and it’s easy to find the wines you’re looking for.
The winery is available for private parties and also offers vineyard tours.   But we were on a mission – the tasting – and so we quickly settled into the tasting room.  Our hosts that afternoon appeared to be college-age, and while pleasant, they didn’t know much more about the wines than what was listed on the tasting notes, which was a bit of a disappointment. 
On the day we stopped by, the tasting menu included 10 wines separated into three categories: Dry (3 Whites, 2 Reds); Semi-Sweet (4); and Sweet (1).  The tasting was $6.00 and included a Hopkins Vineyard logo glass that you could take with you at the end of the tasting.  For an additional $2.50 we were able to include Hopkins’ Ice Wine as part of the tasting.  Ice Wine is a particular favorite of mine, so we didn’t even hesitate. 
First up – and next post – the Dry Wines.

Better Know An American Viticultural Area: Litchfield, CT

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer

Last month my friend Christy Sherard and I took off one Sunday afternoon for the Litchfield hills and the Haight-Brown and Hopkins wineries.   After leaving the first winery, the Haight-Brown Vineyards, we decided to stop for lunch, so made our way back to the main road and headed into the town of Litchfield, Connecticut.

Founded in 1721, Litchfield is the home of the first law school in the United States, The Litchfield Law School (founded 1784), and an early school for girls, Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy (founded 1791). Through the early 19th century it was one of the largest towns in CT and a commercial center in New England. Source: Litchfield Historical Society

Today the town is a charming example of a classic New England town. 18th and 19th century homes cluster around the center of town, which has been designated a historic district. A small shopping and restaurant district borders The Green, or village square. The town boasts a historical museum, the Tapping Reeves Home/Law School, and a research library.  It’s also located in the center of the Western CT Wine Trail and within easy distance of many of the wineries on the trail.
We stopped for lunch at The Village,
a small restaurant/bar with a distinct pub feel. The building with the wreath in the photo. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed – and the food is excellent. 
I highly recommend the Chili!

Dead Soldiers

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve, Editor

Here are some of the wines that we consumed with our Christmas feast. Before you get too judgemental, there were five adults at dinner and it was a leisurely dinner. Most of the wines that we had were red, including a Tablas Creek Syrah, a Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir (which didn’t get photographed) but also a Riesling from Luxembourg. These wines were drunk with my homemade Turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck and then stuffed into a turkey), salad, scalloped potatoes, Cajun dressing and creamed spinach.

After dinner, it was coffee, a cranberry and orange trifle (made with pannetone) and my homemade liqueur, Fiori di Sicilia…

I hope that your holiday feasts turned out as well!

Happy Holidays!

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

Haight-Brown Vineyards
Fruit, Dessert & After Dinner Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finished with both the Whites and Reds, Christy and I moved on to the Fruits, Dessert & After Dinner wines.  
Honey Nut Apple    First up was the Honey Nut Apple wine.  According to the Tasting Notes, this is one of the most popular wines among regular HB customers.  It’s a good fruit wine, sweet, but not cloyingly so, with nice notes of both apple and honey.
Golden Delight   Golden Delight is a blend of HB’s Seyval Blanc grapes with a “twist of lemon and honey.”  According to the Tasting Notes, it makes a good wine spritzer.  It’s a light-bodied wine, and I definitely think it would be better as a spritzer.  The least impressive of the three fruit wines.
AppleCrannie   This is a seasonal Fall wine made from apples and cranberries.  It has a lovely bouquet and while a bit tart, not surprising given the presence of both apples and cranberries, the flavors are subtle and blend nicely together.  It would be a nice pairing with horsd’oeuvres to start out a holiday meal. All in all a very interesting wine.
Dessert & After Dinner Wines
Apricot Moon   This is a fortified dessert wine that is truly delicious.  The Tasting Notes describe it as a “muscat wine with the essence of apricots.”  It is smooth and silky and really quite delicious.
Media Noche   This is a Spanish-style sherry.  Deeper and richer than the Apricot Moon, it too is smooth, with subtle hints of fruit, and absolutely delicious.  
Unfortunately this concluded our wine tasting.  Overall Christy and I both agreed that the wines were interesting with several standouts – our favorites being the Covertside White, The Apricot Moon and the Media Noche.  We both found the Morning Harvest interesting, although I think I liked it better than she did.  We also had a lot of fun – we really felt comfortable just relaxing and enjoying the wines and the conversation.  At no time did we feel rushed, and it was tempting to just buy a couple of bottles and sit on the sofa in front of the fire for the rest of the afternoon.  However, we had planned to stop at a second winery that day, so we picked up some flyers about upcoming classes and events, and reluctantly bid goodbye to our hosts.  We’ll be watching the event calendar, though, and will definitely be returning to Haight-Brown in the near future.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyards

The Reds
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
One of the nice things about hitting a wine trail in the “off-season” is that you avoid the crowds.  On the day that Christy and I stopped by the Haight-Brown Vineyards, we had the place to ourselves for the first 1/2 of our tasting.  As a result we were able to linger over the wines – and the cheeses – and spend some time chatting with our host.  
Having finished the Whites, we then proceeded to the Reds.  Overall the HB Reds are an interesting mix of wines.  One thing I noted is that they are young wines, and as a result end with a real bite.  When I commented on this to our host, she confirmed they are young wines, but also added that part of what I was tasting were the Marechal Foch grapes which often produce a slightly sour finish.
Picnic Red   The tasting notes describe this as a “light, fruity table wine made from Marechal Foch grapes.”  According to our host it is only fermented for 3 months, and she indicated that they always serve it chilled.  The best way I have to describe it is that I found it to be “thin” – I didn’t find much depth to this wine – and the bite at the end is quite strong. 
Morning Harvest   Interestingly, this is the same formula as the Picnic Red but it’s made “in a different style.”  I definitely tasted the same notes as the Picnic Red, but found this to be a more interesting wine – it had greater depth and complexity than the Picnic Red, and I think if left to age for a while, this could be a very interesting table wine.  Like the Picnic Red, I found it to have that “bite” at the end, which according to our host, is due to the Marechal Foch grapes.  I must say that it’s fascinating to taste the two reds back-to-back; you really taste the difference that fermentation times and blending styles can make to the wines.  
It’s not often that you get a chance to have a tasting experience like this – and if you ever get to the Western CT Highlands, I recommend you stop by HB if for no other reason than to experience the difference between the Picnic Red and Morning Harvest.
Merlot    The Reds section of the tasting concludes with HB’s Merlot.  The Tasting Notes acknowledge that Merlot grapes can be very difficult to grow in the New England climate.  Often you’ll find Merlot blends rather than true Merlots among New England wines.  But this is a true Merlot, although it is lighter than California or even Long Island Merlots.  This wine was paired with the third cheese, a Cana de Cabra cheese from Spain.  
I realize that I (and you) am here because of the wine, but I have to digress and say this cheese is AMAZING!  If you can find some – anywhere – try it.  There’s an interesting depth to the cheese with the flavor growing more intense as you move closer to the rind.  Even more fascinating is that you can actually see that progression when you look at the cheese – it resembles a cross-section of a tree with “rings” – lighter milky color in the center becoming darker as you move closer to the rind.  Truly magnificent cheese.

But back to the wine.  For New England this is not a bad Merlot, but it’s not a great Merlot either.  It definitely benefited from pairing with the cheese, but it’s still a light-bodied and mild wine.   I found myself much more intrigued by the Morning Harvest, despite (or perhaps because of?) the sour note at the end.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyard

The Whites, Blushes & Rosés
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my friend Christy Sherard and I wandered over to Litchfield, CT and the Haight-Brown winery. As we settled in for our tasting, we were presented with a wine list of 13 wines and tasting options that included:
  • $5 – your choice of 8 wines served in a plastic glass. Needless to say that option was quickly dismissed;
  • $7 – your choice of 8 wines served in a HBV wine glass, which you can take with you at the end of the tasting, or
  • $10 – a wine and cheese pairing: your choice of 8 wines served in a HBV wine glass and three cheeses specifically chosen to pair with the wines.
We decided on the wine and cheese pairing and settled in for a leisurely tasting. Haight-Brown produces wines in four categories: Whites, Blushes & Rosés (5), Reds (3), Fruits (3), and Dessert & After Dinner (2). As there were two of us each with a selection of 8 wines, and only 13 wines total, we divided up our selections so that we could cover the entire list between us.

Chardonnay The tasting begins with the Chardonnay. The tasting notes indicate it’s a light dry wine with citrus notes. While I definitely tasted the citrus notes, I found the wine to be a little too acidic for my taste.

Covertside White
Next up on the list is the Covertside White. This wine was paired with a Goat Cheese with Figs from Celebrity Cheeses in Canada. The wine is a blend of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and has a slightly fruity taste. It’s an interesting wine on its own, but paired with the cheese which was slightly sweet and absolutely divine, the wine really came alive. The tasting notes and website indicate this is HB’s most popular white wine – and I believe it. Even without the cheese pairing, it’s a very nice wine.

Barely Blush This blush is a Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch blend. It was paired with a Brillat Savarin cheese from France. I’m not a big fan of Blushes, but this wasn’t bad – it’s drier than many blushes I’ve tried, and I liked it because of that.

Riesling Like the Blush, this Riesling is slightly drier than one normally finds. HB is quite proud of this wine, and even though only one of us had selected the Riesling as part of our tasting (figuring we’d share a single tasting), we were treated to a second glass so we could each have our own tasting. I’ve tried this wine on a previous trip to Haight-Brown, and found I liked it more on the second tasting. I’m still not a huge fan of Rieslings overall, but I think this is a wine that could grow on me.

Pink Cadillac The Whites concluded with the Pink Cadillac, a rosé. The tasting notes indicate that this is made from Seyval Blanc grapes with a touch of California Syrah thrown in for “color and complexity.” I found it to be too light for my tastes, and it’s one of my least favorite of all the HB wines.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyard

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
Last weekend, my friend Christy Sherard and I hopped into the car and headed over to the Western CT Highlands.  I had been telling Christy about my adventures on the CT Wine Trail, and being a recent transplant from Texas, she thought it was a great way to get to see more of her new home state – and an even better idea to spend a Sunday afternoon sampling wine.
If you’ll remember from earlier posts, I began my wine adventures in the northwest corner of the state, and am actually making my way backward down the Western trail.  Having already visited Land of Nod, Sunset Meadow and Miranda, the next winery on the trail is the Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield, CT.
Haight-Brown was established in 1973 and is Connecticut’s first winery.  It’s a scant mile down the road from the town of Litchfield.   The vineyard is approximately 10 acres, and the winery itself sits in what looks to be a chalet-style converted barn.  
The tasting room is one of the most comfortable and welcoming I’ve encountered on the CT Wine Trail.  When you first enter the winery, you’re greeted by a large lobby with information and brochures on the winery, special events and the wine trail itself.  Proceed up a small flight of stairs to enter the tasting room itself. 
At the top of the stairs is a large U-shaped bar with comfortable stools for the tasting.  
To the left of the bar is a large retail area with gifts including cookbooks, candies, and wine-related merchandise.

To the right of the bar is a large and very comfortable seating area.  On the day we stopped by, a fire was burning in the fire place and there was a a relaxed feeling of comfort and welcome pervading the entire room. Beyond the fireplace seating area is a smaller private room which is used for private events, wine tasting classes, or can just be  a place where someone can curl up and enjoy a glass of wine.
Haight-Brown also offers wine classes, special events such as their

 end of month wine, cheese and chocolate pairings; their spring barrel tastings; their Fall Festival, and a host of other special events throughout the year.  Finally, the winery is available for private events and will also produce personalized wines.
But as charmed as we were by the ambience of the tasting room, we were there for the wines.  Next Up: The Whites!