Win(e)ding Around Northern Illinois – The Valentino Vineyards & Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Valentino VineyardsWhile wandering my Win(e)ding Roads in northern Illinois a while ago, I drove past what appeared to be a vineyard in the suburbs.  Now there are several wineries in the area, but unless they are further out into the exurban area, there are no vineyards associated with them.  They obtain their fruit either by contracting with vineyards for fruit or must.  It took me a bit to track down the vineyard name and website but eventually, I was ready to visit.

When we arrived at the winery we were greeted by the owner and winemaker, Rudolph Valentino DiTommaso who chatted with us about the winery.  Mr. DiTommaso started as a developer who had been making wine for years.  At one point he was speaking with a friend with more wine making experience and wondered what he needed to do to improve his wine.  The answer?  Improve the grapes that he was using.  Using grapes that were available for sale to home winemakers were not the first quality.  Those went to vineyards with their own wineries or were specifically grown for them.  That is when Mr. DiTommaso decided to grow his own grapes.  The remaining land that he originally thought would be used for single family homes were converted into vineyard.

The next interesting part of the Valentino Vineyards are the grapes that they grow.  Traditionally, northern type vineyards grow hybrid or native varietals that can survive our delightful Illinois winters.  This vineyard is growing a good selection of vinifera grapes.  How?  At the end of the season the vines are buried to protect their root system.  This is a time consuming process but can be done at a small operation such as this.  Yes, hybrids are grown as well, so not all the vines need so much tending.

As a result, there are estate grown Chardonnay’s in Illinois.  Wow.  Additionally, they produce fortified wines that are among the most unique that I have tasted.  Missing is the alcoholic sting of a newer port style wine.

The downside to everything? The winery is only open April to December on weekends only.

With spring around the corner? Stop by and visit!

Valentino Vineyards
5175 Aptakisic Road
Long Grove, IL 60047
847.634.2831
April thru December: Monday – Thursday, by appt., Friday, 5pm – 9pm, Saturday, 11am – 5pm, Sunday, 12pm – 4pm

Jerram Winery 1.1.11 ~ The Reds

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

My New Year’s Resolution should have been “don’t procrastinate on filing your Vino Verve posts!”   Although given that it’s not even the end of January and I’m already behind, at least I don’t now feel the guilt of having resoundingly failed at my resolution before the year truly got underway.

So, to catch us up ~ I kicked off the New Year on the Litchfield Winter Wine Trail; first stop Jerram Winery in New Hartford, Connecticut.  Having sampled the available whites, next up were the reds, which I was particularly looking forward to.  My first visit to Jerram was fairly early into my Connecticut Wine Trail adventures.  Jerram was one of the first wineries at which I tried a Marechal Foch wine (as opposed to encountering Marechal Foch as a blending grape), and the Highland Reserve, a Cabernet Franc/Marechal Foch blend was one of my favorites of that visit.  Not having been back in almost two years, I was looking forward to the new vintages.

Before either the Highland Reserve or the Marechal Foch, however, the first red presented was Sil Vous Plait, a 100% Cabernet Franc.  The nose has bright notes of cherry and that flinty, salt-tanginess of the Northeastern Reds.  Medium-bodied, the wine is slightly tart with cherry notes on the front and a lightly smoky finish.  The mouth-feel is soft, and there’s a slight bite towards the back of the tongue that makes the wine feel a bit young.  With Connecticut Cabernet Francs, I’ve found cellaring them for six to nine months and then letting them breathe a bit really mellows them and makes for a much richer wine.

Next up was the Highland Reserve, the Marechal Foch/Cabernet Franc blend.   The nose is softer and more subtle than the Sil Vous Plait, although the cherry notes are still the predominant note.  In the mouth the wine is lightly sweet and fruit forward with bright notes of cherry, which carry through from the front to the back of the tongue.  There are light notes of smoke and leather on the finish, enough to provide a nice balance but not so much that they overwhelm the wine.  Overall a lovely wine.

And last, and certainly not least, my favorite the Marechal Foch. The nose is earthy with notes of grass; a definite surprise after the more strongly cherry noses of the first two wines.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine, like the Highland Reserve, is fruit-forward with notes of cherry, but there are earthy notes as well which keep the wine from the sweeter notes found in the Highland Reserve.  The tanginess and “bite” that is a characteristic of the Marechal Foch grape (or to be more precise the Marechal Foch wines I’ve encountered) is present but not distracting.  The wine is quite smooth and feels more robust and mature than other Marechal Foch wines I’ve tasted.

If anything could be considered Jerram’s “signature” wine, it would be the Marechal Foch.  These are the first vines Jim Jerram planted when he established the vineyards in 1982, and the first wine he produced in 1986.  Over the years he’s expanded to other grapes and wines, but the Marechal Foch maintains a place of prominence in the Jerram Winery lineup.

Better Know An AVA – Lake Michigan Shore

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Continuing my Michigan winery planning I move on to Lake Michigan Shore. Why? Well it contains the Fennville AVA and is the appellation listed on the bottles for the only winery in the Fennville AVA. And frankly, it is the Michigan appellation that is closest to home for me as it takes about 90 minutes (not counting traffic snarls) to enter into Michigan.

Why is this area significant? Well, unlike most northern wine regions, Michigan Shores produces a good number of vitis vinifera grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger, Malbec, Marsanne, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier. The reason? Something we Midwesterners* call “Lake Effect”. The water in the Great Lakes (essentially small fresh water inland seas) moderate the temperatures and the precipitation on lands west of each lake. Temperatures never become as frigid as they would on the east coast of a lake as they do on the west coast. Anyone who has lived in Chicago and Buffalo or Detroit can tell you how they differ (and this blog has a couple of gals who have experienced the difference. Chicago is much colder). This gives the grapes a longer growing season than is experienced in say, Iowa and a couple of weeks makes a big difference. The soils are a relatively uniform throughout the region, consisting of glacial moraines.

In addition to being relative close to home, there are a good number of wineries in the AVA. How many? Well that depends on who you ask and what you count. Why who you ask? Well, the folks at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail list count twelve wineries as members. Me? I count about seventeen. More is better right? Well, that leads to the what you count part, as several of the wineries have multiple tasting rooms. Tasting rooms are great in a pinch, but frankly I prefer going to the winery directly, at least if it is possible. Given the number of beachfront cottages, condos and other casual getaway places in the area, I would have been surprised if there weren’t tasting rooms trying to take advantage of the numbers of summer people.

I am planning to head out on Sunday (barring teen disasters) to visit a couple these wineries. If you have a favorite? Let me know… contact me at gretchen at vinoverve.com

Where should I visit? Email me!

Applewood Winery & Orchard ~ Wines & Ciders

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I was pleasantly surprised by Applewood’s wine list.  Between the name and the extensive apple and pear orchards lining the long driveway, I admit I expected fruit wines and cider.  Instead, I found a rather extensive menu of both grape and fruit wines as well as hard cider.  It made it very tough to pick only five, and I probably spent more time over that menu than any other in quite some time.  But in the end, I settled on my five, making sure to include the cider, and began with the

Seyval Chardonnay The lightest and driest of the Applewood whites, the Seyval Chardonnay is crisp and clean, with a lightly floral nose.  In the mouth, the wine has notes of green pepper with a light pop of acid on the end which helps provide the crispness.  A nice wine that would pair well with lighter foods, salads, grilled chicken or shrimp; it would also stand well on its own as a light sipping wine.

Traminette It’s funny how one good experience with a wine can flip you into a fascination with it.  Because I so enjoyed the Traminette at Northwinds, as soon as I saw it on Applewoods menu I knew it would be one of my five choices that afternoon.  Labeled as an off-dry wine, Applewood’s Traminette has a soft nose with lush notes of apricot.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and rich with strong notes of apricot and a very smooth finish.  While not a sweet wine, the strong notes of apricot do provide a sweetness that earns it the “off-dry” label.    There’s very low acid on the finish, and I found myself missing that – I wanted a bit more of a bite to balance out the smooth sweetness on the front.  That being said, I imagine this would be a really popular wine, particularly with those who tend to shy away from really dry wines, but want something that’s not too sweet.

I evenly split my tasting between two whites and two reds and in between took a quick detour with the Stone Fence Cider.   Hard cider is one of the pleasures of Fall – crisp and tangy, it just pairs perfectly with the cooler evenings and heartier foods of Autumn.  Applewood’s is a nice cider, but it didn’t win me over.  The nose is soft and very subtle, and in the mouth what really hit me was the effervescence.  It almost felt too strong.  The cider has both notes of apple and honey, and while the honey provides a nice touch of smooth sweetness, I felt that it toned down the apple too much.  I was really looking for that crisp apple tang that, to me, is the hallmark of a great cider.  Overall, it’s quite pleasant, just not quite what I was expecting.

OBR After the cider I rinsed my glass and moved on to the reds.  First up was the OBR, which unfortunately I didn’t think to ask what the initials stood for until after I left.  A red blend, the color is a medium purply garnet color.  The nose is rich and deep with strong notes of both smoke and earth.  I expected the earthiness to continue in the mouth, but instead found very bright cherry notes, which were almost too bright for my taste.  The wine also has light tannins and smoother finish than I had anticipated; I found myself wishing for a bit more on the finish, perhaps pepper or leather, something to provide a bit of heat or depth to contrast with the brightness of the fruit on the front.  The Tasting Notes indicate this pairs well with food, particularly recommending lamb.

Now that I’m a few weeks removed from my visit to Applewood, I find myself wondering the extent to which the cider influenced my experience with the OBR.  I always cleanse my palate with wine crackers in between tastings, but it may not have been enough and may have factored into my tasting.  I’ll definitely have to try the OBR next time I’m in the area, and if the experience is different, it may be worth buying a bottle, since there’s only so much one can experience from a 1oz tasting.

Cabernet Franc To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I concluded my tasting with the Cabernet Franc.  One of Applewood’s award winners, this is a very nice wine, and my favorite among the five I sampled that afternoon.  A lovely purply ruby color, the nose has a lovely dusky fruitiness.   In the mouth, this was what I had been looking for in the OBR.  Rich and lush, with light sweet notes of blackberry and black cherry and a warm spice finish with a flash of pepper for heat that settles into the softer, earthier warmth of cumin.  Medium-bodied the wine opens up with each subsequent sip and will do better if allowed to breathe for a good 20-30 minutes before serving.  This should pair well with a variety of meats and heartier foods.

I headed out that afternoon with a bottle of the Cabernet Franc under my arm and a lifetime pass for free wine tastings in my hand.  I also looked into the Wino Club, but Applewood doesn’t ship to Connecticut.  They do ship outside New York, it just depends on the particular state and its distribution laws.  For more on that, check out Gretchen’s posts on the subject, or the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition website (link on the right of this page).

The Wines of Palaia Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Palaia produces 3 whites, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Traminette, 2 white blends, 5 reds, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, DeChaunac and Lemberger, 2 red blends, 1 blush, and, surprisingly, Mead.  All are fermented and aged in stainless steel with French and/or American oak chips added as required.

The Tasting Menu includes 20 wines, with different vintages of several wines being offered.  A tasting, while complimentary, includes your choice of five wines, and I must admit it was tough to select only five.  But with the advice of my host, I finally landed on one white, the Traminette, three reds and the Mead.

2006 Traminette Pale gold in color, the nose is bright with pretty floral notes of citrus and honeysuckle.  In the mouth the wine is very light and crisp with notes of orange blossom and a hint of peach which provides a softness.   There’s a nice acid to the finish which balances the wine.  It’s a good summer wine, crisp and clean, not too heavy; it would pair well with light foods such as salads and seafood.

2006 Cabernet Franc Both the 2006 and the 2007 Cabernet Franc were available on the Tasting Menu that afternoon, so I asked my host if he had to pick only one, which would it be – his answer was swift and sure – the 2006.  Garnet colored, the 2006 Cabernet Franc has a nice nose, with that flinty, salty tanginess I so often find in the Northeastern Reds.  Medium-bodied, the wine is fruity, but not overpowering, with notes of black cherry, some peppery heat, and a hint of chocolate on the finish.

Uva Secca After the Cab Franc, I opted for one of the two red blends, the Uva Secca.  The principal grape is Cabernet Franc, and tasting this back-to-back with the Cabernet Franc is an interesting contrast.  The Uva Secca is slightly sweeter than the Cab Franc, with a softer, less fruity nose.  In the mouth the wine is more subtle, with stronger fruit notes than I found in the previous selection.  It’s also slightly smoother than the Cab Franc, with fewer tannins, and a warm spice finish, cloves perhaps, rather than the sharper heat of pepper.  The wine opens up nicely in the mouth and layers with each sip.  Overall, I really liked this wine, definintely preferring it to the 100% Cab Franc.

Lemberger My third and final red selection was the Lemberger, not a grape I’ve encountered often.  When I first started my win(e)ding road adventures, I tended to stick with what I knew, figuring at least I’d have some frame of reference by which to evaluate the wine.  However, as I’ve spent more time on the road I’ve found myself being more adventurous, trying wines and grapes I don’t encounter as frequently.  Hence, the Lemberger.  Also a garnet color, the nose is dark and dusky, with tantalizing notes of bacon.

Now – that was a first.  Never encountered bacon in a wine before.  But, I agree with Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, bacon does improve just about anything, even wine.  In the mouth the wine is rich, dark and earthy with subtle notes of bacon on the palate as well.  There’s a light smokiness on the finish which complements the earthy bacon.   Medium-bodied with a smooth finish, this is a really interesting wine.  Not sure it will be everyone’s favorite, and I still preferred the Uva Secca, but if you’re ever at Palaia, it’s definitely worth a try.

I reserved the fifth and final spot on my tasting for the Mead.  I had first tried Mead on a trip to Ireland about 6 years ago.  Sweeter than I normally like, I did enjoy it, and usually pick up a bottle around St. Patrick’s Day to round out an irish-themed meal.  It’s not a wine you see often, anywhere, and I usually have to go to a larger wine store to find it.  So, I was truly surprised to see it on the menu here.

As it was being poured, I could already discern differences from the Irish Meads I am used to, beginning with the color which is a very pale straw, almost clear.  Next the nose is much softer and more subtle than the Bunratty Mead I usually drink, with faint notes of honey.  In the mouth, the wine has floral notes, light touches of honey, and a nice acid on the finish to balance the wine.  More delicate than the Irish Meads, it’s not bad.

Dating the Wind

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Speaking of Desert Wind Vineyards, our next wine selection was from their winery. The Desert Wine 2008 Ruah was poured by Amber Fries. If you are confused by Ruah as I was, then I am pleased to tell you that Ruah means wind in Hebrew. This winery is different from the others that we have encountered at the conference in that it is a destination winery. In addition to the tours, tastings and special events that we have come to expect as part of winery, Desert Wind also has dining and accomodations. Each of the four rooms is distinctly decorated in a southwestern theme. The small restaurant, Mojave by Picazo is also southwestern in theme.

Desert Wind Winery
2258 Wine Country Rd.
Prosser, WA 99350
509.786.7277

Greenvale Vineyard ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

We kicked off the tasting with the 2008 Rosecliff Pinot Gris. Like all Greevnale’s wines, the Pinot Gris is estate-grown and these vines are about 10 years old.  The color is a medium yellow-gold, darker and richer than many of the whites I’ve encountered here in New England.  The nose is soft with light notes of honey.  Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the result is a crisp wine that starts cleanly and finishes on subtle notes of green apple.  There’s a nice balance of acid that works well with the tangy slightly sourness of the green apple for a refreshing experience overall.

2007 Chardonnay The Chardonnay, as opposed to the Chardonnay Reserve, is produced from the younger Chardonnay vines, and aged in a combination of French Oak (52%) and Stainless Steel (48%).  The color is a medium yellow, and the nose is soft and creamy with very light floral notes and just a hint of vanilla.  In the mouth the wine is really lovely, soft, smooth and creamy on the front with a light touch of acid on the finish providing a nice balance.  Light citrus notes, primarily lemon, play with notes of creamy butter and vanilla for a rich, satisfying experience.  This will pair very well with a wide variety of foods, but also stand up on it’s own.  Definitely one of the stars of Greenvale’s current line-up.

2007 Chardonnay Select. The Chardonnay Select is made from older Chardonnay vines, planted in 1983.  It’s 100% oak aged, but in older French oak barrels to ensure a softer, more subtle oaking.  The color, while still falling within the medium yellow range, is lighter than the previous two wines, and the nose is earthy with hints of grass.  In the mouth, the wine, while still rich, is much sharper than the Chardonnay.  There are notes of cream and vanilla which indicate it’s moving toward that lushness I found in the Chardonnay, but it’s not there yet.  The citrus notes, again primarily lemon, are stronger in this one as well, although I also detected notes of grass which I didn’t pick up in the Chardonnay.   The acid is also much stronger in the Select than it was in the Chardonnay, and somewhat overpowers the finish.   Given 6-9 months, this will be a really beautiful  wine, but it’s not quite there yet.  That being said, it was educating to taste it now, particularly juxtaposed with the Chardonnay, and be able to see the potential in the wine.  If you’re looking to start a wine collection, I would definitely add this to list of wines to pick up now.

2008 Chardonnay Select.  While this wine is not yet available for sale (although I believe it will be soon), Kristen did have it available for tasting.  Like the 2007 Chardonnay Select, this is produced from the older vines and aged for 9 months in the older French Oak barrels.  Another very interesting contrast to the previous two wines.  The color is deeper and more golden.  The nose is soft, deep and fruity with light citrus notes.  In the mouth, the wine is still young; strong notes of grapefruit and a somewhat strong acid finish combine to produce just a touch of bitterness on the end.  The wine hasn’t yet developed much of the creamy vanilla butteriness I found in the other two Chardonnay’s, but there is a smoothness on the front of the wine that speaks to it’s potential.  Given another year or so in the bottle, I believe this wine will mature and soften into a lovely wine.

2008 Vidal Blanc Grown from Greenvale’s oldest vines, this is another very nice wine, and while not as strong as the Chardonnay, definitely one of the brighter stars on the current Greenvale wine list.  The color is a pale yellow;  the nose is lush and soft with rich notes of apricot.   It has a bit of the vidal lushness that you find so often in the sweeter dessert wines, but the effect isn’t as concentrated.  In the mouth, the wine is more complex than I anticipated with soft, subtle notes of pear on the front which develop into the slight tartness of green apple in the mid-back range of the tongue.  The wine has a nice balance of acid which gives it a really crisp finish, but it never completely loses the faint sweetness from the pear.  This will pair well with seafood, chicken, salads, and spicier foods such as Thai.

Some of Greenvale's vineyards; the Sakonnet River is in the background

The last of the whites was the Skipping Stone White.  A blend of 90% Cayuga and 10% Vidal, from the first encounter this wine was not anything I was expecting.  The color, while still in the yellow rather than straw category, is the lightest of all the whites.   The nose, which I anticipated to be perhaps slightly floral or have citrus notes, smelled like nothing so much as grape jelly.  Yes, you read that right – if I hadn’t been told this was a Cayuga and Vidal blend, the nose would have led me to believe there were Concord grapes here.  The Concord flavors carried over into the mouth as well.  The sweetest of all the whites (although it is still a dry wine), the wine is very juicy on the front with lush notes of grape jelly.  The finish is dry although the acid isn’t as strong in this wine as it was in several of the previous wines.  Kristen told me that this was Greenvale’s most popular wine, and I’m not surprised.  Those who like their wines a bit sweeter will really like this, and I found the Concord grape notes to be quite pleasant once I got over my initial surprise.   Don’t be put off by my Concord-grape description, this is an eminently drinkable wine and will appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers.

The one red available on the menu that afternoon was the 2005 Elms Meritage. A blend of all three of Greenvale’s estate grown red grapes, the Meritage is 60% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The vines are some of their younger ones ranging between 11 and 14 years old.  In addition to the initial aging in French Oak, Greenvale also bottle ages all their reds for an additional 2-3 years.  The nose has that very distinctive New England “twang” or tanginess that I’ve come to know and love.  I mentioned it to Kristen, who agreed, and we spent a delightful few minutes trying to adequately describe it.  I likened it to the tang of salt air in the Fall; she countered with “chalky granite” which I also get.  The word that we eventually came to is flinty, that smell you get from wet rocky soil after a hard rain…

I’m still working on the description.

Back to the wine…  In the mouth the wine is a little like Alice Through the Looking Glass, everything was the opposite of what I expected.  The predominant notes I picked up were pepper and cherry, but the pepper is on the front and the cherry on the finish.  It shook things up in a rather delightful way.  The pepper, while strong, is not overpowering and hits you with a nice sharp kick of heat in the front before really opening up in the mouth.  That initial kick of heat quickly settles down to a warm glow throughout the mouth at which point the fruit starts to pull through.  The finish is smooth with notes of just-ripe cherries.  This wine would be best paired with stronger, heartier meats and cheeses, and Kristen mentioned that when paired with a strong, creamy cheese like a Blue Cheese, the pepper settles down considerably.

Greenvale is also close to releasing their 2006 Cabernet Franc.  All of their wines are produced in limited quantities and that combined with the 2-3 year bottle aging for the reds means they often sell out of their reds well before the next vintage is ready for release.  I’ll definitely be watching their website and planning a return visit once the Cab Franc is released.

The Wines of Northwinds

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The tasting kicked off that afternoon with the Traminette, altogether a very lovely wine and my favorite of the afternoon.  The nose is very aromatic, with strong floral notes – very pretty.   The wine is crisp and refreshing, with very light notes of sweetness from subtle fruit flavors, maybe a hint of peach, that blend well with the floral notes in the nose.  The finish is crisp with a nice balance of acid.  This is a great sipping wine as well as a wine that should pair well with a wide range of foods.  I liked it so much I actually went home with two bottles – unusual for me.

Next up was the Zephyr.  Because this is the one Northwinds wine that uses non-estate grown grapes, this wine must be labeled differently from the others.  What I loved about Northwinds is that they really embraced that regulation, producing a bottle and label that was not only distinct from their other wines, but distinctive in and of itself.  The wine is a blend of their estate-grown Traminette and Sauvignon Blanc brought in from off-site.  The nose still has the pretty, floral characteristics of the Traminette, but it’s tempered by the Sauvignon Blanc, and as a result is not quite as aromatic as the Traminette.  In the mouth the wine is smooth and refreshing, although not as crisp as the Traminette.  There are also some grassy notes in this one which temper the floral notes.  It’s not a bad wine, and a lot of people, including many around me that afternoon who will like this wine very much.  But I found myself definitely preferring the crisper, more aromatic Traminette.

Last up for the whites was the Vidal Blanc.  Darker in color than the previous two which were more of a pale yellow, the Vidal Blanc is more of a light gold color.  The nose is lovely with sweet floral notes of orange blossom and peach.  In the mouth, the Vidal Blanc, like the previous two, tends more towards the floral rather than the fruity, although the flavors are more subtle in the mouth than in the nose.  I definitely picked up the orange of the orange blossom as well as some light grassiness which provided a bit of depth and kept the wine from being sweet.  The finish is fairly smooth with just a light touch of acid.  Not as crisp as the Traminette, I’d be more likely to drink this wine with food rather than on it’s own.  Still, overall a nice wine, and for those who like their whites tending toward the sweet rather than the dry, this is a nice find.

With that we moved on to the single Rosé.  The most distinctive thing about the Rosé is its color, a beautiful amber gold color.  A color one associates more often with late harvest dessert wines, not Rosés, a comment which I blurted out as soon as I saw the wine.  The Rosé is a blend of three table grapes, the Himrod, Vanessa and Jupiter grapes.  The result is not your typical Rosé, and for those, like me, who often shy away from Rosés finding them too light-bodied and, often, too sweet, this one is definitely worth a try.  the nose is soft and fruity, almost like a late harvest nose.   That combined with the unconsciously led me to expect a much sweeter wine than the one I found.  In the mouth, the wine is much drier than I expected, although until I noted my surprise I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was expecting a sweet wine.  There is a light sweetness, but as with the other Northwinds wines, the overall notes are floral rather than fruity, including a hint of peach blossom.  The finish has a pleasant bite of acid, although overall the wine is smooth and rich in the mouth.  Definitely not what I was expecting from a Rosé.

From the Rosê the tasting proceeded to the first of Northwinds two reds, Boreas a blend of Cabernet Franc (85%) and St. Croix (15%), both estate-grown.   Garnet colored, with a dry, dusky nose with subtle notes of black cherry.  In the mouth, the wine echoes the subtle notes of black cherry found in the nose, with a slight smoke from the Hungarian and American oak barrels.  On the lighter side of medium-bodied, I found the wine didn’t really open up in the mouth, although subsequent sips did provide some layering of flavors and smoke.  The wine should pair well with chicken and lighter meats, such as grilled pork, but I don’t feel it’s robust enough to stand up to the heavier meats such as beef, lamb or veal.  I was somewhat disappointed with this wine, really wanting it to open up more in the mouth.

And last, but not least, the tasting concluded with the St. Croix. Dark garnet, with a really nice soft, rich dusky nose with the faintest hints of fruit.  The wine is medium-bodied, smooth and richer than the Boreas, with interesting notes of grass and earth as well as leather from the oaking.  As with the nose, there are  faint notes of dar berries, but the predominant notes are grass and earth.  I definitely preferred this over the Boreas.  This should pair well with a variety of foods.

I went home that afternoon with two bottles of the Traminette – unusual for me to go home only with whites, and with two bottles of anything.  A 1oz sip, while giving you a sense of the wine, isn’t really enough to truly understand the wine.   I really don’t know if I am going to love something until I have the opportunity to linger over a whole glass as well as pair the wine with food.   Therefore, my standard practice is to bring home a single bottle of wines that intrigued me during the tasting.  Depending on the wine, I’ll either put in the cellar (makes that dark back corner of my basement sound so grand to call it a cellar) to sit for a few months up to a year, or put it in the rack to be opened soon.   This gives me the opportunity to better explore the wine before deciding it’s something I want to invest in having on hand.  It’s this practice that turned me into a Cabernet Franc lover.  The first couple times I tried Cab Franc here in Connecticut, I really wasn’t sure, often feeling upon first sip that the wines were pale versions of their more robust Cabernet Sauvignon cousins.   But there was something there that intrigued me, so I brought home a bottle from one or two wineries.  Let them breathe for a good 20-30 minutes after opening, paired them with food, and found a whole new wine to love.  So to go home with two bottles was a definite departure from routine for me, but I really liked that Traminette.

I’ll have to make a mental note to head back in late September to try the Riesling.

The Wines of Saltwater Farm

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

There were probably a good 20-30 people already there when I arrived, hence the lack of available parking.  The wine bar was full with roughly 15 people across, and there were several groups ranged around the wine barrels serving as bar tables scattered throughout the loft area.  Rather than fight my way to the bar, I wandered out onto the deck and enjoyed the views and wait for a space to clear at the bar.   As Saltwater only produces five wines, the wait was less than ten minutes.

Saltwater Farm sits on farmland that dates back to 1653 when Walter Palmer, originally a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, established a 230-acre farm in what is now southeast Connecticut.  Portions of the original farm, including the land encompassing the vineyards, continued to be farmed into the 20th century, until the 1930s when a small airport was opened on the site.  By the early 1950s the airport had closed and the land sat unused until it was purchased in 2001 by Michael Connery, a former partner in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.  Connery restored the airport hangar turning it into the winery and tasting room, and planted 6 varieties of grape, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, on 15 of the farm’s 108 acres.  The winery produces about 20,000 bottles or 1,600 cases a year  split between Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

On the afternoon of my visit, there were five wines available on the tasting menu:

Sauvignon Blanc This is a light, crisp, fruity wine, perfect for a warm summer evening or paired with salads or light pasta dishes.  Straw-colored with a lightly fruit, citrusy nose, the wine is very smooth in the mouth with a nice bit of acid on the finish.  Fruity, but not sweet, the predominant notes are citrus, a hint of grapefruit and lemon, but nothing overpowering.

2006 Chardonnay The tasting menu featured back-to-back tastings of both the 2006 and the 2007 Chardonnay.  The 2006 is a nice wine, more floral than fruity.   Also straw colored, although a bit deeper in color than the Sauvignon Blanc, the nose on the Chardonnay is bright and clean, with floral notes that evoked Spring.  In the mouth, the wine has notes of grass and green pepper.  The descriptor I kept coming back to as I sipped the wine was “clean.”  The earthy notes of grass and green pepper are light and bordering on the floral rather than on the stronger dusky earthiness one sometimes finds.  Also, if the wine is oaked, a question that for some reason either wasn’t answered or I didn’t jot down in my notes, the oak is extremely faint.  The finish is very smooth, with very low acid.

2007 Chardonnay Of the two Chardonnays, my preference was very definitely the 2007.  Similar in color to the 2006, the nose is brighter, earthier, and more interesting.  In the mouth, rather than the grassy, green pepper notes of the 2006, the wine is more citrusy, with bright notes of lemon, and a soft, subtle tartness of grapefruit.  The citrus is not overpowering, and there is still an element of the grass I found in the 2006.   Also “clean” with no, or very low oaking, the 2007 also has a bit more body, which I found I preferred.

Cabernet Franc 100% Cabernet Franc grapes, this is a very nice member of the Connecticut Cabernet Franc family, and my favorite wine of that visit.  A medium garnet color with a lovely, rich, jammy nose, the wine is smooth and earthy.  Despite the jamminess of the nose, the predominant notes on the palate are earthy, although I found myself struggling to identify particular notes.   Underneath the earthiness, however, are very subtle notes of soft dark berries, the presence of which gives the wine depth and richness.   The wine is medium-bodied and while it never really opens in the mouth, it does layer with each subsequent sip and should become a rather interesting wine if one takes the opportunity to drink more than the standard 1oz tasting.  This would pair well with lamb and veal.

Merlot The tasting concluded with the Merlot.  I’ve never been won over by any Northeast Merlot I’ve found.  Even when the vintner is bringing in grapes from California or Oregon, I find the Merlots to be “thinner” and less complex than their Western US or European counterparts.  Saltwater Farm’s Merlot is pretty good for a Northeastern Merlot, but it didn’t win me over either.  A medium purple color with another “jammy” nose, the wine is both earthy and fruity.  The earthiness comes through in an almost dusty way, tempered by notes of black cherry that linger on the roof of the mouth.  Medium-bodied with nice tannins, the wine feels a little sharp, or young, in the mouth.  I suspect some of that will soften with age, and perhaps with extended breathing, but even with that, my preference remains the Cabernet Franc, a much more interesting wine overall.

That concluded the tasting for the afternoon.  I spent a few minutes enjoying the peace of the Zen garden before calling it a day and heading home.

The Wines of Langworthy Farm

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Sitting on the deck overlooking the vineyards - a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon

I had intended to get this posted yesterday but, as usual, life intervened.  Given my track record of late, though, 24 hours delay is rather timely…

I spent a lovely hour with Joe Sharry and six of his wines that beautiful Saturday afternoon.   I had my choice of five of the 10 main wines, and then for an additional $2 each could add either of the limited production wines to my tasting.  After careful perusal of the menu, I opted for 2 whites and 3 reds and Tom encouraged me to also try the red Cuvee, a suggestion I found impossible to resist.

My first selection was the Shelter Harbor Chardonnay.  Pale gold color with a soft, lightly citrus nose.  In the mouth, the wine is dry and buttery with soft tannins on the finish.  The predominant note was grapefruit, but it was light and subtle.  Served chilled, the wine is crisp and refreshing and would work well with seafood, grilled vegetable dishes, or on its own.  A very nice wine.

My next choice was the Winnapaug White Merlot.  I discovered white merlots a few years ago, and have become a real fan, generally preferring them to their red counterpart.  I like the heartier character of the white merlot (as compared to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc) and the often earthy character I find in them.  I also don’t see a lot of them, at least not among local vintners, and so always make a point of trying them when I do.  Langworthy Farm’s White Merlot didn’t wow me, but it also didn’t disappoint.  It’s a pleasant wine, peachy in color with a pretty, slightly floral nose.  In the mouth, however, the wine is more earthy with notes of grass and green pepper, and there’s a slight bitterness on the end that might soften with aging or perhaps more breathing time.  The most interesting thing I found about the wine is that there were no dominant notes throughout – I found myself having to search for the individual notes.  That’s not to say it had no flavor, just that no one note shone through.

With that I rinsed my glass and turned to the reds, bypassing Langworthy Farm’s two Merlots and heading straight to the Charlestown Cabernet Franc.  Aged for 14 months in a combination of French and American oak, the result was one of my favorite of all the wines I tasted that morning.  A lovely purple color with a soft nose with rich notes of cherry, the wine has is dry and earthy, with light notes of pepper and cherry and tobacco on the finish.  In addition to the tobacco notes, the oak provides a light smokiness which I found very interesting.  The Charlestown Cab Franc recently won a medal in the Finger Lakes Regional Wine Competition.

I know many people who aren’t fans of Cabernet Franc, finding the grape and the wines, pale imitators of their more robust Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir cousins.  I, as regular readers of Vino Verve will attest, have become a big fan.  Particularly here in the Northeast, the grapes seem to grow very well and produce some really nice, robust reds.  Not as “big” as a California or European Cabernet Sauvignon, but strong enough to stand up to hearty foods and cold winter evenings.   Langworthy Farm’s Cabernet Franc definitely made it into my collection of Cabernet Francs.

After the Cabernet Franc, I moved on to the Napatree Cabernet Sauvignon.   Aged for more than 12 months in French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the better of it’s kind I’ve found among southern New England wineries.  Like other local wineries, Langworthy Farms brings in their grapes from Long Island; I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone that ours is not a climate conducive to growing Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is a lovely garnet color with a rich plummy nose.  I really loved the nose on this wine.  In the mouth the wine is very smooth; I was a bit surprised at how smooth, as so many of the “bigger” reds I’ve tried here in the northeast have felt “young.”  The wine is lush and rich with strong earthy, grassy notes and notes of leather and smoke from the oak.  I also detected light notes of blackberry which contributed to the overall richness of the wine.  Very nice wine, and one of the better Cabernet Sauvignon’s I’ve had here in Southern New England.

I finished up the main tasting with the Pawcatuck River Red, a stainless-steel fermented blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Not a bad wine, and people who like slightly sweeter, lighter wines should really enjoy this.  But I found it almost too clean, particularly coming after the Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  I missed the smokiness and the earthiness I found in the other two wines.  Garnet colored, with a fruity nose, the Pawcatuck River Red is a fruitier wine with strong notes of cherry and blackberry.   The tasting notes indicate this would be great with pasta and salads, and for a lighter summer red it’s not bad.  However, compared to the other two I found it to be not as complex and interesting.  Perhaps if I had tasted that one first before either the Cab Franc or the Cab Sauvignon, I would have been more impressed.  Still, despite my preference for the other wines, it’s a nice overall table wine, and I think more people will prefer this one to the Cabernet Franc.

Because I was the only guest that morning, I was able to chat with Joe throughout the tasting, learning about the history of the winery, the house/bed & breakfast, and the surrounding area.  Because I usually can only hit the wine trail on the weekends, it’s not often that I have the luxury of having the winemaker all to myself.  So at the end of the tasting, when Joe suggested I try to the Ward 3 Cuvee, his limited production red, I certainly wasn’t going to turn him down.

The Cuvee is a Bordeaux-blend of the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was fascinating to taste this immediately after the Pawcatuck River Red, a blend of the same grapes.  Darker in color, more of a dark garnet, with a strong earthy nose, this is a lovely wine.  Both rich and subtle the flavors and notes of the wine blend together beautifully.  The predominant notes are earthy, almost loamy.  I detected notes of tobacco and leather, and the finish brings forth notes of warm spice, cumin among others.  There are also very soft, subtle fruit notes that provide a depth and richness that opens up the earthiness beautifully.  I also found the wine built over time – each subsequent taste layering on the previous one.  A very impressive wine.

That concluded my tasting for the morning.  There are an additional five wines, 3 whites and 2 reds, on the main tasting menu and a limited production Reserve Chardonnay that I did not have the opportunity to try.  However, there is at least one winery in Southeastern Connecticut still on my list, so I think a return trip to Langworthy Farms to try the rest of the menu will be on the schedule soon.