Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Whites & Blushes

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Savage Oakes has been growing their own grapes since 2002; this is their fifth year producing wines grown from these locally grown grapes.  75% of the fruit they use in their wines is grown on their farm in Union, Maine, making Savage Oakes the largest winery that produces locally grown Maine wines.

This year Savage Oakes co-sponsored, with the Maine Wine Guild, a wine pavilion at the Union Fair, the first ever wine pavilion at a Maine agricultural fair.  Thirteen different wineries participated.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it back up to Maine for the fair, but if any Vino Verve readers attended, I’d love to hear details.   We can even feature you as a guest contributor.

But on to more important things – such as my tasting.  We kicked off with the two whites; first up:

Seyval Blanc Made from 20% locally grown grapes and 80% grapes from the Finger Lakes region in New York, this is a crisp, dry white wine.  Aged in French Oak, the color is a very pale yellow, and the nose is very soft and subtle with just a hint of citrus.  In the mouth the wine is smooth with nice fruity notes of citrus, a hint of lemon, and just a hint of light cream on the finish which balances out the acid on the finish, producing a smoother Seyval than I’ve often experienced.   I liked the wine, but I think I would have liked it with a bit more acid on the finish – somehow it was just a bit too smooth for my taste.

Georges River My favorite among the whites and blushes, no question, this is also one of the two most popular wines Savage Oakes produces.  So popular, it’s already sold out for the 2010 season.   100% locally grown Cayuga, the color is an extremely pale straw, almost clear.  The nose has lovely notes of canteloupe.  In the mouth the wine, which is labeled as off-dry, is just this side of sweet and lightly tangly with soft notes of the melon I picked up in the nose.  There’s a nice bite of acid on the finish which balances the sweetness and keeps the wine from straying into the semi-sweet category.

White Rose The second of Savage Oakes’s two most popular wines, the White Rose is a rosé style wine made from the blue Steuben grape, a grape more often used in juice and jellies than in winemaking.  The first thing you notice about the wine is the color, an extremely pale blush; in fact there’s almost no color.   Not at all what I expected; rosés generally are “pretty in pink,” and the blue steuben grapes certainly leads one to anticipate a darker color.  The nose is rich and fruity, reminiscent of a Vidal nose, with definite notes of apricot.  In the mouth the wine is surprisingly crisp; I say surprisingly because the rich fruitiness of the nose beguiles you into anticipating a lusher, sweeter wine.  It is a sweet wine, but not overly so, with notes of apricot balanced by a light citrus.  It’s a more complex and interesting wine than I anticipated from both the description as well as the nose.  Because I had made some assumptions about the wine based on the grape and the nose, that first sip was a bit like a “gotcha” – and totally fun.  Like the Georges River, the White Rose is also sold out for the season, but I’ll definitely be heading back next Spring for samples of the next vintage.

Daybreak Blush Next up was the Daybreak Blush.  100% locally grown, this is a white Cayuga blended with a touch of Marechal Foch.  Color-wise, this is a much more traditional rosé than the White Rose, with a lovely rose, almost dark pink color.  The nose was soft and subtle with light notes of citrus; not surprising given that this is a Cayuga.  I often find Cayuga to have subtle noses.  In the mouth the wine is sweet with notes of pink grapefruit and just a hint of tartness on the finish.  The tartness, I believe, comes from the Marechal Foch as the wine has just a hint of that “bite” I’ve often found in Marechal Foch.

Vineyard Blues The last of the blushes, the Vineyard Blues is also the first wine on the menu to feature the Savages’ primary crop, Maine Blueberries.  Interestingly, it’s not listed on the website.  Not sure if that means it’s been sold out for a while, or they no longer produce it, but I hope not the latter as I found it the most interesting of the three blush wines.  A lovely rose color, the nose is drier and duskier than any of the previous wines; to my mind it had more in common with a red nose than a white or a blush.  In the mouth the wine is drier than I expected given it’s a white wine blushed with blueberries.  There are light notes of of blueberry, but they are very subtle.  The finish has a slight, very slight, bitterness which is not unpleasant, and a nice balance of acid.  Overall the wine took me by surprise – I was really expecting something much sweeter, and definitely more “blueberry.”  As before, I liked that feeling of “gotcha!”  I didn’t fall in love with this wine immediately, but I found myself intrigued by it – and regret not having brought a bottle home for a further exploration.  I do hope the Vineyard Blues makes it back onto the wine list next year, as I will definitely be back.

That concluded the first half of the tasting – on to the Reds and Dessert wines.  But for those you’ll have to wait until Tuesday…

Spending Time With… Jerram Winery’s Marechal Foch

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Whenever I hit the wine trail, I head out armed with my trusty GPS, a list of wineries, and a cooler with ice packs for the wine I know I’ll be bringing home.   I try to be judicious, don’t want to bankrupt my retirement after all, but there’s only so much you can tell about a wine from a 1oz sip – particularly when it’s tasted in the midst of a number of other 1oz sips that day.  So whenver I find a wine that catches my attention – sometimes it wows me, sometimes I can see potential, and sometimes it’s just different enough from anything else I’ve ever tried – I take a bottle home.  This provides the opportunity to sample the wine in larger portions, pair it with food, and see how it stands up after a day (unless I have guests, it’s usually 2-3 days per bottle of wine).

And though this has been my practice since I started on the wine trail, I’ve never bothered to put my new impressions to paper.  Hence the launch of a new occasional series, “Spending Time With…”, follow-up posts on my impressions of a wine after spending some time with it.  Keeping with the theme and focus of Vino Verve, these will primarily be “local” wines, wines I’ve picked up on my various travels.  That’s not to say that there might not be the occasional post about a wine I picked up in a package store, but here at Vino Verve we like to focus on celebrating local wines, rather than just a running commentary of “what I drank last night.”

I launch the series with Jerram Winery’s Marechal Foch.

I’ve had this bottle about 18 months, having picked it up during my first visit to Jerram just after Christmas 2008.  At the time I was still a newcomer to the  Marechal Foch grape and  wasn’t really sure I was a fan, finding the grape often tart and the wines “young.”  My prior encounters had not left me with an overall great impression of the grape.  However, Jerram’s Marechal Foch caught my attention; it felt more complex than some of the other wines I’d tried, and the cherry notes, while still bright and slightly sour, seemed to make more sense in Jerram’s wine than they had in previous Marechal Foch wines I had tried.  I remember liking all of Jerram’s wines and actually going home with a bottle of each, but the Marechal Foch was one that stood out for me that day.

18 months later, I continue to be impressed.  The wine held up well, smoothing out just a bit.  The fruit notes are a bit stronger than I had noted during my original tasting, but they’re richer as well.  The nose is dusky and earthy and there’s very little hint of the tangy cherry I found in the mouth.  The wine starts out dry and slightly earthy, dusty almost, and then opens up into the bright notes of slightly sour cherries that are so characteristic of Marechal Foch.  The finish is definitely smoother than my first tasting, mellower – the cherry tartness hits the roof of your mouth towards the front, and then the wine mellows as it moves back through the mouth.

I let the wine breathe for about 15 minutes before pouring the first glass, which I had on it’s own.  I then paired a second glass with a grilled steak and beefsteak tomato salad.  The wine held it’s own against the steak, but I don’t know that it was the right pairing, neither seemed to add anything to the other.

I finished the bottle on the second evening, when I paired it with a Greek casserole dish made of beef sauteed in onions, garlic, tomatoes, oregeno and basil pasta, and feta cheese.  The heartier, spicier food was a much better pairing – the cherry notes in the wine became more juicy, and while there’s still that sour tart “bite” that is one of the grape’s hallmarks, it worked really well against the salty brine of the feta cheese.

Overall, a strong Marechal Foch, one I’ll definitely be adding back to my “cellar.”

Jerram Winery is located in New Hartford, Connecticut.  They are open Thursdays through Sundays, 11:00 – 5:00 from May 1st to December 31st.  Their website has a list of locations that sell Jerram’s wines, all local to Central Connecticut.  You may also want to contact the winery to see if they will ship directly.

Road Trip Planning – Alexandria Lakes

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Whhoooa… Back up there partner! I skipped a highlight of Minnesota. Silly me.

That highlight is Minnesota’s only AVA, Alexandria Lakes. The appellation was created in 2005 and is located between Lakes Ida, Carlos, Darling, Alvin and Miltona. (Hey, it is Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, after all)

The AVA is nearly 11,000 acres and home to one winery. Carlos Creek Winery is the largest winery in the State of Minnesota and is located on 160 acres of which 12 acres are planted with vines such as Frontenac, Marechel Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss. They make sixteen wines from their estate grown grapes as well as out of state grapes and juice and six apple wines (there are fifteen acres of apple orchards on the property as well).

Best of all? The winery is just a hop, skip and a jump from the interstate! Hoping that I will get a chance to stop!

Lake Wisconsin AVA

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

You might have thought that I forgot to say much about the Lake Wisconsin AVA. You would be wrong. I wanted to talk about it here.

Why?

Well, it is the only AVA wholly located within the State of Wisconsin (The Upper Mississippi Valley covers four states).

This appellation is smaller than that. It is 28,000 acres as opposed to 29,000 square miles. Currently there is only one winery operating in the AVA and that is the Wollersheim Winery. I mention this, as I have visited its sister winery Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, WI and enjoyed their wines.  The winery produces a number of wines from grapes grown outside of the AVA but also from their own fruit of the Marchel Foch, Millot, St. Pepin and Lacrosse varietals

But there is even more to this appellation and its sole winery. Indeed the first vines planted on the property were placed their by Agoston Haraszthy who later became known as the “Father of California Viticulture”.

In addition to planting the vineyard Haraszthy was also the co-founder of the oldest incorporated village in the state, Sauk City, Wisconsin. Sauk City is also home to the first Culver’s Butter Burger Restaurant (a client of mine from my days as a franchise paralegal) and is the birthplace and childhood home of Jacob Leininkugel of the Lieninkugel Brewing Company.

Hopefully, this will be a stop on the trip.

Alba Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, September 17, 2009.

Both Maree and I prefer reds, so we carefully coordinated our selections to ensure we got to try as many of them as possible.

Under the Alba Vineyards label, the winery produces three reds: Old Mill Red, Chambourcin, and a Pinot Noir.  Unfortunately the Chambourcin was temporarily out of stock, so we each selected one of the other two.

Old Mill Red Described as a “chianti-style” wine, this is a very drinkable, pleasant red table wine.  Made from a blend of Marechal Foch and Chambourcin, with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrown in, the wine is aged in american oak for 8-10 months.  The nose is rich with strong notes of dark berries and plum.  In the mouth there are also discernible notes of plum, and the oak provides a smoky finish.  I felt the wine would definitely benefit if allowed to breathe, as it was there was a sharpness in the mouth that is often found in wines with a strong percentage of Marechal Foch, and that usually mellows when allowed to breathe for 30 minutes or so.

2004 Pinot Noir The vineyard has only recently planted Pinot Noir grapes, and this is one of Alba’s first pressings.  For the 2004 vintage, the grapes came primarily from the New York Finger Lakes area and the Williamette Valley in Oregon.  The wine is a medium-bodied wine, although on the lighter side of medium.  There are lovely notes of cherry both in the nose and in the mouth, and there’s an interesting tanginess at the end.  This struck me as a young wine, and I wasn’t surprised to find that Alba has only just begun working in Pinot Noir.  For a newer wine, it is interesting, though, and I believe future vintages will grow richer and more complex.

Next we proceeded to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah of Chelsea Cellars.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon This was a lovely, very drinkable wine.  Medium-bodied with a soft dark-plum nose, the wine is rich and soft in the mouth.  On the palate the notes of plum are nicely balanced by touches of pepper and spice.  This would pair well with a wide variety of foods and should age well.  Definitely one of my favorites of the afternoon.

2005 Syrah I’ve been gravitating towards Cabernet Franc and Syrah lately, and the Chelsea Cellars Syrah didn’t disappoint.  The color is a dark red/purple – almost plum color.  The nose is smooth and light with notes of both cherry and plum.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine has definite notes of plum and light notes of cherry which give it a brightness and freshness.  The finish is smooth with a nice balance of acid.  While I did like this wine, I definitely preferred the Cabernet, finding it a more interesting and complex wine.

We finished up the tasting with selections from among the Dessert wines.  Maree, who loves blueberries and had never tried blueberry wine, gave that one a whirl.  I, who have been tasting a fair amount of fruit wines lately, went with the Dolcina, an ice-wine style dessert wine.

Blueberry Wine When they say blueberry, they aren’t kidding.  The smell and taste of blueberry is predominant in both the nose and mouth.  Interestingly, though, it’s not overwhelming.  Like their Apple and Raspberry wines, Alba’s Blueberry wine is sweetened solely from the fruit and the result is a flavor that comes very close to blueberries straight from the vine.  It’s a rich, deep flavor that evokes … summer.  This will pair exceptionally well with chocolate or cheesecake as well as with fruit and cheese.  It would also be good sipped on it’s own as an aperitif.  Winner of the 2009 Governor’s Cup for Best Dessert wine.

Dolcina Described as an “ice-wine” style, the grapes are harvested late in the season (but not technically late-harvest) and cyrogenically frozen to produce that rich, velvety sweetness that one finds in ice wines.  The nose has notes of honey and apricot, and the mouth feel is soft and smooth.  In the mouth, the notes apricot and honey blend harmoniously, with neither one being predominant.  Definitely a nice dessert wine, but I found it didn’t have the depth and character of the true Ice Wines of the Niagara region or Germany.