Back at Sweetgrass, I found a place at the bar, perused the Tasting Menu, and despite the urgings of my hosts that afternoon decided to skip a tasting of the gins in favor of tasting all five of Sweetgrass’s wines and the Cranberry Smash. Leading the way was the Blueberry wine, made from some of the 8,000 pounds of Maine Wild Blueberries that Sweetgrass harvests each year.
Blueberry A 100% blueberry wine, aged in French Oak. The color is that beautiful medium/dark bluish-purple of ripe blueberries. The nose has deep smoky notes of blueberry. In the mouth, the wine really surprises – the deep notes of blueberry in the notes are not as prominent in the mouth. Definitely a dry wine, the blueberry essence is quite subdued, present but tantalizing you through hints of blueberry, rather than overpowering your palate. The oaking provides notes of smoke and leather which were very interesting and, for me, very unexpected.
I have cautioned people – and admonished myself – many times in these “pages” about not presuming, not assuming, and keeping an open mind. And yet, I catch myself again and again being surprised, not realizing that I had preconceived ideas of what I would be tasting. And yes, it happened again. While I have learned that I can expect interesting complex fruit wines from the vintners here in the Northeast, I realized that I still expected to find them to be cleaner wines – less or no oaking. The strength of the oaking in this wine really took me by surprise. I also feel it may have overpowered the wine a bit, helping to subdue the blueberry character. My overall impression was that while this isn’t a bad wine by any means, the oaking was too strong for my taste.
Beaujolais Also a 100% blueberry wine made in a Beaujolais style – hence the name – I found this a much more appealing wine than the Blueberry. The color is similar to that of the Blueberry and the nose has lovely notes of fresh blueberries. In the mouth, the wine is much more discernibly blueberry, but the fruit is not overpowering. Still a dry wine, the stronger presence of the fruit provides a light sweetness which gives the wine a light, refreshing character. I definitely preferred this to the previous wine.
Apple Hands down, this was my favorite of the Sweetgrass wine line=up. Made from heirloom New England apple varietals grown at the Sweetgrass Farm, this is crisp and refreshing. The color is a very pale yellow and the nose has lovely notes of apple blossom. In the mouth the wine is crisp and lightly sweet with notes of tarter sweet apples, but without the tartness of Granny Smiths. There’s a nice balance of acid on the finish which balances the fruit’s sweetness and really gives the wine some character in the mouth.
Others agree with my assessment. Not only was it my favorite of the Sweetgrass line-up, but the Apple wine also won a gold medal at the Big E wine competition and was named Best Wine Grown & Produced in Maine. Congratulations to winemaker Keith Bodine!
Cranberry Apple A 50/50 blend of locally grown cranberries and apples, this was another wine that both surprised and intrigued me. The color is a lovely deep rose, not so much a blush as a deep rosy-pink. The nose is soft and fruity with notes of both the cranberries and the apple. In the mouth the wine is sweeter than any of the previous three wines, but balanced with a tart tanginess from the cranberries. I found cranberry to be the dominant note, but it was overly tart – the blending with the apples really softened what could have been a harsher edge from the cranberry, producing a softer, richer more interesting wine.
Peach The wine selection finished with Sweetgrass’s Peach wine. The sweetest of all of the wines, it’s smooth enough to be a light dessert wine as much as a sweet table wine. Generally, I’m not a fan of peaches in anything; I don’t dislike them, but they don’t really do anything for me either. And that apathy, I’ve found, has carried over into wines as well. Sweetgrass’s Peach is a nice wine, a lovely golden color that sparkles in the glass and a surprisingly earthy, somewhat grassy nose. In the mouth the wine is pretty – sweet with subtle notes of peach. There’s a low amount of acid on the finish, just enough to give the wine a bit of depth, but not enough to disrupt the overall smoothness of the wine. While not one of my favorites, I anticipate many people will find this wine quite appealing, particularly people like my friend Cheryl, who prefer their wines smoother.
Cranberry Smash Having made my way through the five table wines, I bypassed the gins and vermouth in favor of sampling the Cranberry Smash, a port-style wine made from a blend of Cranberry wine and Cranberry brandy. Winemaker Keith Bodine described it as “liquid cranberries,” and he wasn’t kidding. In the mouth the wine is lush, rich and sweet – and very cranberry. The cranberry tartness that I didn’t find in the Cranberry Apple was present here, but by fortifying the wine with brandy and producing a port, Bodine has managed to keep the essence of the cranberry – tartness and all – and still produce a sweet, very drinkable wine. As you can probably tell, this also went to the top of my list – as well as coming back home with me for a more leisurely sampling later.
At this point, it was time to pack up and head back to my hotel for the evening. But overall, definitely a very successful first Win(e)ding Road foray into Maine – and one I look forward to repeating again soon.