More Lists for Locapours

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Lists 4 LocapoursFor my next installment of Lists for Locapours I am going to tell you about a Chicago restaurant that includes local wines on their list. Naturally, you would assume that this restaurant is of a lower quality.

You would be wrong.

Charlie Trotter’s even has a page on his website dedicated to American wines, stating:

“….By 2001, there were licensed wineries in all 50 states. All these producers have great pride in what they’re cultivating. Thus far, the results are good, with incredible potential in the years to come…..we invite you to enjoy our ongoing search for the quintessential wine produced in each of the 50 states, either from European and native North American grape varieties, or from other fruits. They may be red or white, dry or sweet. This chapter, like winemaking in North America , is a work in progress, and evolution. The search will continue as we cross borders and venture into Canada and Mexico .”

Some of the wines that are included on this list are:

1994 Lynfred Cabernet Sauvignon, from Roselle, Illinois… We have been there!
Hopkins Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Western Connecticut Highlands (VinoVerve has been there!)
Cedar Creek “Semidry” Vidal, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin (VV has been there but I forgot to post it… ugh! But I will soon)
2003 Sakonnet Vidal Blanc, Southeastern New England (from Rhode Island, and yes… we’ve been there!)

So, remember, the next time someone tells you that there are no decent local wines, and they certainly don’t pair in a fine dining environment remind them that Charlie Trotter disagrees.

Viva the Locapour, Charlie!

Connecticut Wine Festival – August 1st and 2nd

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Have you been thinking about trying some Connecticut wines, but are not sure where to start?

Are you interested in being more of a locavore, or rather, locapour?

Or are you simply a fan of Connecticut wines?

If you can answer yes to any – or all – of these, then the

CT Wine Festival Logo / Source: CT Wine Festival Website

is the place for you!

Saturday, August 1st 12-7 and Sunday, August 2nd 12-6, more than 20 Connecticut Wineries will be gathering at the Goshen Fairgrounds.  In addition to the wineries, there will be booths featuring local arts & crafts as well as specialty foods, and local musicians will be performing throughout the day.   This year, the festival also allows purchases of bottles and cases of wine directly from the wineries.

General Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door.  You can also purchase a 2-day pass for $40.   Admission is only $10 for designated drivers and those under 21.  Advance tickets may be purchased onsite at any of the following wineries:

Jones Winery, Shelton, CT
White Silo Winery, Sherman, CT
Hopkins Vineyard, Warren, CT
Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT
Miranda Vineyard, Goshen, CT
Land of Nod, Canaan, CT
Rosedale Farms & Vineyard, Simsbury, CT
Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford, CT
Priam Vineyards, Colchester, CT
Sharpe Hill Vineyard, Pomfret, CT
Jonathan Edwards Winery, North Stonington, CT
Chamard Vineyards, Clinton, CT
Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT

or by calling 860-677-5467 between 9 and 3 Monday-Friday (a 50 cent handling fee will be applied to all phone orders, and phone orders will be accepted until 7.24.09 only.  American Express is not accepted for phone orders).

Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries

Marguerite Barrettpassport2
Contributing Writer

Each year the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council sponsors the Passport program, a contest designed to encourage Nutmeggers and visitors to check out the state’s wineries.  

The contest is simple: pick up a Passport booklet at anyone of Connecticut’s wineries and carry it with you as you explore the wine trail.  At each winery you visit, you collect a “stamp” on that winery’s page in the Passport.  Once you’ve collected a minimum of 14 stamps you can drop your Passport off at any winery to be entered into a drawing for one of 17 great prizes.

This year there are 26 participating wineries, and the contest runs from May 1 to November 8, 2009, plenty of time to collect 14 stamps!.  Prizes include:

First Prize
Trip for two to Spain!  January 31-February 13, 2010
Prize includes:
Roundtrip Airfare for two to Spain and
a 13-night stay at the Benalmadena Palace with great views of the Meditteraneanirst Prize

Second Prize
Also a trip for two to Spain!  February 14-27, 2010
Prize includes:
Roundtrip Airfare for two to Spain and
a 13-night stay at the Benalmadena Palace 

There are also 15 Weekend Getaway Prizes which include a two-night stay at the Courtyard by Marriott, Norwich, Connecticut.

The wineries of the Connecticut Wine Trail are easily accessible from most points within Southern New England (MA, RI, CT), and are also within easy distance of eastern New York, Manhattan, Northeastern New Jersey and Long Island.  If you’re visiting the area and are interested in planning a long wine weekend, there is a ferry that runs between New London, Connecticut (Eastern CT Wine Trail) and the North Fork of Long Island.  It’s a beautiful 90 minute trip across Long Island Sound, and allows you to plan a do-able two-day, two-state wine trip.




Sunset Meadow Vineyards ~ 2009 Spring Barrel Tasting

smv-tasting-roomMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Saturday afternoon, May 9th, I once again headed into the Litchfield Hills, this time for the Sunset Meadow Vineyards (SMV) 2009 Barrel Tasting.  This was the winery’s first barrel tasting, and they hosted a marvelous event, complete with catered hors d’oeuvres, live music and tours of the winery and barrel rooms starting roughly every 30 minutes.

SMV is very much a family operation; co-owners Judy and George Motel were both on hand, greeting everyone, asking questions and making everyone feel welcomed and comfortable.  George, who has an enological degree from University of California, Davis, and is Sunset Meadows’ winemaker, and their son, George, Jr. conducted all the barrel tastings and winery tours.  They run the winery and the vineyards themselves with a staff of about 10.

smv-cayuga-grapevines-beginning-to-budWhen the Motels bought the property about 15 years ago, it was a working farm, complete with cattle and lots of hay.  They farmed the property for the first five years, and about 10 years ago began planting their first vines, choosing Cayuga and St. Croix to begin with because of their hardiness.  The vines did so well that they continued to expand, and now grow Chardonnay and Merlot in addition to the original Cayuyga and St. Croix.  They have about 7,000 vines on 40 acres, and they grow almost all their own grapes on site through sustainable agricultural practices.  All of the vines are hand-pruned and the grapes hand-picked.  They’ve been producing wine for a number of years, but 2008 was the first year for winery sales.

smv-2009-barrel-tastingThe winery buildings are housed in several 19th-century barns; the Tasting Room is the most “authentic” with most of the original wood and beams left intact during the renovation.  The storage room was originally a 19th-century cattle barn, complete with hay-loft, but the Motels gutted and retrofitted it so it better house the tanks and barrels.  But the essential structure of the barn remains and has been worked into the winery design:  the large doors at the back of the barn which would have opened onto a large fenced-in area to help herd the cattle into the barn each evening, has been transformed into a large outdoor patio where the grapes are brought for destemming after harvesting.  From there, the grapes are brought into the storage room to begin fermentation and pressing.

smv-storage-roomAs George related the history of the winery and the process they follow to make their wines, we worked our way through the barrel tastings:

  • The 2008 Cayuga White, which will be bottled in June – light, crisp and refreshing.
  • The 2008 Chardonnay, also scheduled to be bottled in June – this wine is aged in Oak for about 3-4 months giving it a bit more character and body than the Cayuga White.  It also undergoes a second fermentation process, which helps give it more of a buttery flavor.
  • The 2008 St. Croix scheduled to be bottled in April 2010- an interesting wine, still very young it doesn’t yet have the strong fruit notes that are characteristic of a St. Croix, but there’s a smoky mellowness to it that’s really nice.  We contrasted that with the 
  • 2007 St. Croix, which will be bottled this June – the fruitiness and character of the St. Croix are much more prominent in the “older” vintage.
  • The 2008 Red Dawn – a brand new wine, a blend of Merlot and St. Croix, this is scheduled for bottling in April 2010.  A very nice blend, the wine is still young and the additional aging should really bring out the wine’s character.  Definitely one I will be coming back for in Spring 2010.
  • The 2008 Merlot, which will be bottled in April 2010 – a really nice Merlot, smooth, mellow, still very young, but showing a lot of promise.  Another wine I’m making a note to return for in 2010.
  • And last, but not least, a new dessert wine being bottled this summer, the Candy Apple Red – a port-style wine, this wine has a rich sweetness and mellowness that I really liked.

We ended up back outside on the patio, where we helped ourselves to more wine and hors d’oeuvres and settled in to enjoy the weather, the company and the music.  All in all, a great event, and something I hope SMV will make an annual event.


Haight-Brown Vineyards ~ 2009 Spring Barrel Tasting

Haight Brown Winery & Vineyards ~ Litchfield, CT

Haight-Brown Winery

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer


A few weeks ago, on what was finally a beautiful, sunny, Spring afternoon, I headed back into the Western Connecticut Highlands for the Haight-Brown Annual Spring Barrel Tasting.  The sun was shining, the skies were a gorgeous deep blue, and while the trees weren’t quite yet blooming, you could see shoots of spring flowers in front of houses and along the roadsides.  The temperature was also cooperating, being a very mild mid-60s, and I rolled down the windows, cranked up the IPod and enjoyed the drive as much as I did the event.

The tasting was held in the winery’s barrel-aging room, a large room on the ground level.  Haight-Brown ferments only in stainless steel, and there were five large tanks in the main room, and a few others in a smaller back room.   One of the first questions asked by participants, was why HB ferments in stainless steel rather than oak.  The easy answer is because oak is very expensive and you can’t reuse oak barrels indefinitely, meaning you have to invest in new barrels on a fairly regular basis.  But it’s more than the cost – fermenting in stainless steel allows the winemaker to better control the oak in the wine through the introduction of oak chips.  It also allows the winemaker the choice of oaking or not depending on the wine and the effect he (she) is going for.  As I looked around, I also realized that the stainless steel tanks are MUCH larger than oak barrels and can stand vertically, therefore they take much less storage space; something not to be sneezed at, particularly for smaller wineries.

As we settled into our seats, we were greeted by our hosts for the afternoon, Courtney and Tina.   Copies of the afternoon’s tasting menu were passed out, along with large spit buckets, jugs of water, and wine crackers for cleansing our palates.  On the menu for the afternoon were 11 wines: six served from the tank and five served from bottled inventory.  The menu was designed to highlight comparisons between the wines from the tank and their finished product from the bottled inventory.  It was a really interesting contrast…

Litchfield, CT

Litchfield, CT

The wines served from the tank are, obviously, young wines, and all had that “tangy bite” that you often find at the end of young wines, but in several cases I found the wines from the tank more interesting than their bottled “finished” counterparts.  My favorites included:

  • The first wines of the day: the Chardonnay and then the Seyval Blanc directly from the tank.  Both were a pale yellow color, almost a light straw.  Both were crisp and had discernible acidity.  The nose on the Chardonnay was a bit sharp and somewhat tart, while the Seyval Blanc was more grassy.  The Chardonnay had been oaked, the Seyval Blanc remained unoaked, and as a result there were stronger notes of fruit, primarily grapefruit, in the Seyval Blanc.  
  • A tasting of HB’s Covertside White, a Chardonnay-Seyval Blanc blend, immediately followed.  The Covertside White is back-sweetened prior to the bottling process and has 1% added sugar.  Tasting the wine immediately after the unsweetened direct-from-the-tank Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc was a fascinating experience.  The bottled wine was a smoother wine, less acidic and the tartness is gone, eliminated by the back-sweetening and the blending of the two grapes.  There are stronger fruit notes, particularly of grapefruit and melon, than are noticeable in either of the tank wines.

  • At roughly the half-way point, we moved on to the Reds, beginning with a tasting of the Marechal Foch from the tank.  Marechal Foch is generally a tarter grape and can become quite acidic in the grape, with acidity levels sometimes matching sugar levels.  As a result, winemakers will often choose to pick Marechal Foch early and back-sweeten it, rather than letting it sweeten on the vine.  Because of it’s tartness and acidity, Marechal Foch is often used a blending wine, rather than bottled in its own right.

Anticipating a very acidic, very tart, wine, I was quite surprised with the tank sample.  With strong cherry notes in the nose and mouth, the wine had an interesting depth and character that I wasn’t expecting.  Yes, it was tart, but the tartness did not detract from the wine, rather it just simply felt young.  Quite a few of us present mentioned that were pleasantly surprised and quite intrigued by this wine.

Courtney, our host, then went on to say that the winemaker had the same experience.  This year, the winemaker decided to experiment with the Marechal Foch, leaving the skins on overnight during fermentation in an attempt to produce something similar to a light Beaujolais.  They liked the result better than previous vintages and are in the process of bottling the wine under the name Nouveau Foch.  

While not yet ready for sale, we were allowed to sample the Nouveau Foch from the bottle.  A light bodied wine, with a lovely medium garnet color, this was one of my two favorites of the afternoon.  The nose still has strong notes of cherry, but the minerality of the tank wine has been smoothed out.  It’s a nice crisp wine, and not something I would ever have expected from a Marechal Foch.  Courtney advised that we let this one breathe, as it really opens up the longer it’s exposed to air.

This section of the tasting concluded with samples of HB’s Picnic Red and Morning Harvest.  Both wines are the same blend: 90% Marechal Foch/10% De Chaunac, but the Picnic Red is a lighter-bodied off-dry wine and the Morning Harvest a medium-bodied fully dry wine.  Both are also quite different than the Nouveau Foch, providing a very interesting contrast between the four samples.

Farmington River (Connecticut)

Farmington River (Connecticut)

  • The tasting concluded a short-time later with a sample of Muscat from the tank juxtaposed with HB’s Apricot Moon a fortified muscat dessert wine.  Apricot Moon is one of my favorites among the HB inventory, and I’ve written about it at length in a previous post, so I was looking forward to finishing on such a great note.  But as with the Marechal Foch, it was the Muscat that was the star of the pairing – the wine has a lovely nose of apricot, pear and some light floral notes.  In the mouth, it’s soft and sweet, with notes again of both apricot and pear.  The Apricot Moon, which is fortified and was served, post-mixing, directly from the tank, has stronger notes of apricot and the pear and floral notes have largely disappeared.  It’s still a beautiful wine, but most of us present that day felt that HB could very easily bottle the Muscat on its own and have another excellent dessert wine.

As the tasting concluded, we were invited to take a short tour of the vineyards and finish our day in the Tasting Room where we could relax with a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Win(e)ding Roads

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

After four months, I’ve finished – almost – Connecticut’s Western Wine Trail. I began these adventures as a reason to leave the immediate Hartford area and explore more of my new home state. It was actually Gretchen’s suggestion that I start blogging about my adventures on Vino Verve, and along the way, it’s become a fascinating hobby.

It’s also inspired my Vino Verve colleagues to resume traveling their own Win(e)ding Roads, and one of the benefits of our new website is that you can easily follow all our adventures by clicking on the Adventures tab, then selecting Win(e)ding Roads.  

To date, I’ve “explored” eight wineries in the Western Connecticut Highlands AVA: Land of Nod, Miranda, Sunset Meadow, Haight-Brown, Hopkins, Jerram, DiGrazia and McLaughlin.  There are two additional wineries on the trail, White Silo and Jones, but as those are closed until later in the Spring, I’ll have to pick them up later. I’ve met some great people along the way – Bill from Land of Nod, Jim of Jerram Winery, Dee Dee from McLaughlin, and Dr. Paul at DiGrazia Vineyards, who is going to collaborate with Vino Verve on a series about Wine and Health.    

As I look back over my posts, I realize that when I first started these adventures it was largely a travelogue – descriptions of the wineries and the wines, and the areas that produce them. But as I became a more seasoned adventurer, I started to pick up more about the history of the wineries and the vintners who founded them. So now I’m contemplating a companion series to Win(e)ding Roads: “The Winemakers.”  I’ll start with Connecticut, which means I’ll need to return to the wineries I’ve already visited; it’s nice to know there’s an upside to everything

But first up is the Eastern Wine Trail. Part of the Southeastern New England AVA, there are 9 wineries currently listed on the eastern trail, situated primarily along the Connecticut shoreline. And as with the Western Wine Trail adventures, along the way we’ll “Better Know An AVA” and explore the area as well, including the seafront town of Mystic, Connecticut with it’s rich history in the New England whaling trade and its famous pizzaria.

McLaughlin Vineyards – The Reds

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

McLaughlin produces two reds, both fermented in oak barrels:
Merlot We tasted the 2004 vintage; 100% Merlot from grapes obtained from Long Island vineyards, the Merlot is a dry, medium-bodied wine with subtle notes of cherry. The color is a rich red, with a rich and fruity nose. The wine is dry, smooth, and the cherry is very subtle. There is a slight bite at the end, and I anticipate that it will age well. One of the more interesting Merlots I’ve encountered so far on the Connecticut Wine Trail.
Vista Reposa A blend of merlot, syrah and cabernet, this is a beautiful red. The nose is deep and rich with notes of stone fruits, particularly plum. Smooth, dry, with strong notes of oak, the plum provides a depth and richness to the wine that is really interesting. Another one both Christy and I starred as one of our favorites.
As we worked our way through the tasting menu, our host, Dee Dee Morlock, kept us entertained with stories about the vineyard, the wines, and the special events and wine tastings that McLaughlin hosts. One of the stories features the labels for the Vista Amber and the Vista Reposa. Both labels are created from the same painting, which hangs over the cast-iron stove in the main tasting room. The picture, done by a local artist, is of the McLaughlin’s dog, sitting on the stone fence that surrounds the property, overseeing the fields. The dog recently died, and Dee Dee reports that they have seen a definite increase in wildlife; obviously the dog took his responsibilities very seriously.
That brought us to the end of our tasting; we were enjoying ourselves so much that we thought we’d stay, order a glass of wine, and hang out with Dee Dee for a while. Unfortunately, just as we finished our tasting, we were joined by a couple of women who were rather boisterous – overly loud voices, cell phones ringing – it killed the relaxing mood, so we headed off to lunch and the next winery. But not without first signing up for McLaughlin’s Merlot Madness on March 7th!

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

Merlot Madness!

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
So, how did I do? Let’s just say Rory doesn’t have anything to worry about from me anytime soon…
Seriously, though, while I identified two of the wines correctly, one was a complete fluke. The other, though, wasn’t, and I was particularly proud of myself for recognizing this because it was the McLaughlin Merlot. And no, I wasn’t too proud to say I told you so. As soon as I smelled it, I knew it was a Northeastern wine. I don’t know if it’s the soil or or that despite the tempering influence of the ocean, it’s colder here than along the California coast, but there is a brightness and a “tang” to the Long Island/Northeastern grapes, particularly the reds, that is very noticeable. I was proud of myself for recognizing it – and I’ll definitely be doing some more research to figure out exactly what it is that I’m picking up.
As for the others…
Wine #1 with a total of 6 points Lindemans, 2005 – South Africa
Wine #2 with a total of 4 points, and 3 votes for this being the Ringer Ravenswood 2006 – California
Wine #3 with a total of 24 points and the overwhelming favorite of the evening Tilia 2006 – Mendoza, Argentina
Wine #4 with a total of 4 points McLaughlin Vineyards – Connecticut (Long Island Grapes)
Wine #5 with only 1 point and 1 vote for this being the Ringer Chateau de Castelneau 2005 – Bordeaux, France
Wine #6 with a total of 8 points and 3 votes for this being the Ringer (this was the one I suspected was the Ringer) Yellow Tail Reserve 2006 – Southeastern Australia
Even knowing this was the Reserve, I was shocked because I have never been a fan of Yellow Tail Merlot. Just goes to show you can’t judge a wine by its label.

Wine #7 with no points was THE RINGER! Palestra – Portugal. The label says only that it’s made from grapes indigenous to Portugal. None of us were impressed, but also none of us thought this was the ringer.
Wine #8 with a total of 7 points and 4 votes for this being the ringer Casa Lapostolle 2006 – Rapel Valley, Chile. I had guessed this, but it was a total fluke – I was down to two wines I hadn’t selected yet, so I flipped a coin.
Wine #9 with a total of 9 points Chateau Ste Michelle – Columbia Valley, Washington
All in all a very successful evening. As we left, we all signed up for next month’s seminar, The Wines of France

Merlot Madness

Merlot Madness!

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
As Dee Dee poured the first wine of the tasting, we were assured that this was NOT the ringer – other than that, we were on our own (sort of). We took our time with each tasting; Len walked us through each step as a group, so we could compare notes and learn from each other as much as from him.
Wine #1 The color reminded me of ripe figs, that lovely mild garnet color that has both depth and richness. The nose was delicate with notes of cherries, slight acidity and very low oak. In the mouth the wine was light-bodied, but very nice, light notes of cherry and a lovely chocolate smoothness with a nice finish. While not one of my top three favorites of the night, I did like this wine. My guess: Chateau de Castelneau 2005 – Bordeaux, France.
Wine #2 Another garnet colored wine, this one had almost no nose. The notes that were detectable were grass and green pepper but they were extremely light. As with wine #1, the wine is light-bodied, but very dry. I suggested it might be a young wine, and overall I was not impressed. My guess: Lindemans 2005 – South Africa.
Wine #3 This was a beautiful wine. The color was lovely deep plum color, a jewel-tone purple. The nose had notes of cherry, plum and was soft and deep. Slightly dry, this was a medium-bodied wine with lovely notes of cherry and a vanilla caramel from the oak. The wine was also soft and deep on the palate with a very lush “mouth-feel.” I starred this as my #1 favorite of the evening and My guess: Chateau Ste Michelle 2004 – Columbia Valley, Washington.

Wine #4 A lovely deep garnet/medium-ruby color, this is a light-bodied wine. The nose is bright with strong notes of cherry and berry. The cherry is also noticeable in the mouth, and the wine has an earthiness to it which is nice. Others noted green notes – such as green olive – and felt it was a leaner wine than #3, with not as lush a mouth feel. As soon as I smelled the nose I told everyone that I knew this was the McLaughlin Merlot. Not only did I recognize the nose, but there’s a brightness and a bite to the nose of Long Island / New England red grapes that I recognized. No one believed me, so I told them, “you wait and see.” My guess: McLaughlin Vineyards 2004 – Connecticut (from Long Island grapes).
Wine #5 A deep garnet colored wine, the nose had strong green notes – I detected grass. It was a very light-bodied wine, slightly dry, with light notes of oak. Overall I didn’t really like this wine. My guess: Yellow Tail Reserve 2006 – Southeastern Australia

Wine #6 This was a beautiful wine, and my #2 vote for the evening. The color was dense, a deep, deep red, it was too dense to have that jewel tone quality that the ruby color often brings to wine. The nose was lush and soft with strong notes of blackberry and other dark berry fruits. Equally lush in the mouth, the wine was very smooth with notes of caramel and sandalwood with a very slight peppery finish, which I attributed to the sandalwood notes. From the first, I strongly suspected this was the ringer, as it felt heavier and lusher than Merlots, leading me to believe it might be a Syrah. My guess: The Ringer

Wine #7 Deep plum color, with a light nose with slightly grassy notes. This was a medium-bodied, slightly dry wine with delicate herbaceous notes. Not a bad wine, but not one of my favorites of the evening. My guess: Ravenswood 2006 – California

Wine #8 This was a really interesting wine. The color was a deep, deep purple with blue undertones. The nose was deep and smoky with notes of both spice and dark berries. In the mouth, the wine was rich and smooth, with notes of black licorice and dark fruits. A really nice wine. My guess: Casa Lapostolle 2006 – Rapel Valley, Chile

And finally, last but not least…
Wine #9 This was my #3 vote for the evening. A dark red color, the nose had notes of plum and cherry. The wine was smooth with lovely notes of fruit and a really nice finish. Definitely one of my favorites of the evening. My guess: Tilia 2006 – Mendoza, Argentina

As the tasting concluded, Len went through the list wine by wine and had us vote on whether or not it was our #1, #2 or #3 pick. He then assigned points (3 points for a #1 vote, 2 points for a #2 and 1 point for a #3 vote), tabulated them and revealed the winner.
So how did I do? Well, other than a bit Merlot’d out…

Merlot Madness!

McLaughlin Vineyard
Sandy Hook, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

On Saturday, March 7th, 2009, Christy and I headed back to McLaughlin Vineyards with a few friends for McLaughlin’s March event, Merlot Madness! Part wine event, part wine class, this was an evening dedicated to Merlots from all over the world. Hosted by Dee Dee Morlock, General Manager of McLaughlin Winery, the seminar was led by Len Gulino, the Wine Tutor.
Len began studying wine seriously in the 1980s and has studied at The Society of Wine Educators (of which he was a member) and the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. He regularly tours with Vin Martoli of The Tasters’ Guild and is the only person in Connecticut who has qualified as a member of The Century Club (people who have tasted wines from more than 100 different grapes). In 2002, Len turned his expertise into a full-time business and now offers a variety of wine seminars, including a Wine 101 class, in venues across Southwestern Connecticut.
Len structured the Merlot Madness seminar as a blind tasting. Nine wines were featured, all masked in paper bags so we were not influenced by country of origin or vineyard. The seminar kicked off with a brief introduction to the history of Merlot: the most widely planted grape of the Bordeaux region, it is also the “third most planted black variety in France.” Similar in flavor profile to the Cabernet Sauvignon, it tends to be lighter and slightly more herbaceous in both aroma and flavor, and is less acidic, giving it a softer, more lush “mouth-feel.” The source material also provided a list of some of the more commonly noted varietal and processing flavors and aromas in Merlots, including fruit, floral and herbaceous notes as well as flavors associated with degrees of oakiness. (Source: Jim LaMar,
Len then moved on to the five steps of wine-tasting – Color, Swirl, Aroma, Taste, and Savour – and illustrated techniques for getting the most out of each step. The Tasting technique, described by Len as “Slurp and Chew,” was the most interesting and turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. This was my first formal wine tasting seminar, and therefore my first introduction to the “slurp” (aerating the wine in the mouth) and “chew” (ensuring you experience the wine across the entire palate). While I definitely found it easier to identify the flavors and aromas in the wine when I “slurped and chewed,” I actually enjoyed the wine less than when I sipped it and just let it linger in the mouth. It was an interesting exercise, and provided unintended entertainment as watching others attempt to master the “slurp and chew” had everyone laughing hysterically within minutes.
Finally after this introduction to both the grape and the formal steps of wine tasting, we moved on to the main event. The seminar began with an “entrance wine,” the Frontera 2007 from Central Valley, Chile. Already poured when we arrived, we were encouraged to drink it throughout the introduction. This provided us with an initial baseline for Merlot – to help us distinguish some of the grape’s characteristics. We were then given a list of the wines that would be poured that evening including eight Merlots:
  • Lindemans 2005, South Africa
  • Ravenswood 2006, California
  • Yellow Tail Reserve 2006, Southeastern Australia
  • McLaughlin Vineyards 2004, Connecticut
  • Chateau de Castelneau 2005, Bordeaux, France
  • Chateau Ste Michelle 2004, Columbia Valley, Washington
  • Tilia 2006, Mendoza, Argentina
  • Casa Lapostolle 2006, Rapel Valley, Chile

and one ringer, a non-Merlot red.

Our job for the evening was to taste each wine, determine its characteristics and flavors,and attempt to identify each wine as well as finding the ringer. Finally, we were asked to vote for our top three wines, and at the end of the evening Len would unveil the evening’s winning wine based on a tabulation of first, second and third place votes.
With that, Dee Dee began pouring the first wine, and the competition began…