Meadowbrook (Michigan) Wine and Food Festival

Saturday, August 22

Picture perfect weather and a gorgeous location among the lawns and gardens of the Meadowbrook Music Festival north of Detroit, the 2015 Meadowbrook Wine and Food Festival didn’t disappoint… at least not with the wines.

With five large tents housing more than 150 wines from 18 regions and featuring 9 Michigan wineries there was something for everyone.

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I spent my drink tickets principally on the Michigan wines.   As expected I found a few that were sweeter than I prefer but on the whole Michigan made a strong showing.

St. Julian Winery
Late Harvest Riesling
Established shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, St. Julian is one of Michigan’s oldest and most well-known wineries.    The Late Harvest Riesling is a sweet wine yet crisp and very approachable even for those, like me, who prefer dryer table wines.   The wine is smooth on the palate with notes of peach and honey.

Fieldstone Winery
Motor City Dry Red – Syrah
The most “local” of the local wineries pouring at the festival, Fieldstone is located in downtown Rochester Hills, about 30 minutes north of Detroit and a few miles from the festival site.  A local winery in that they make their wines here in southeast Michigan, Fieldstone sources their grapes from “all over,” including bringing the syrah in from California.   A new line, the Motor City Red is lovely: soft, dry and medium-bodied, with notes of black cherry and a pleasant minerally finish.   Locapour purists will argue this doesn’t classify as a local wine, and I agree.  But with results like this I’m more than happy to support local winemakers.

Warner Vineyards Winery
2 Cab Merlot
A Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, this wine has nice notes of dark berries without being overly jammy.    Full-bodied with medium tannins, the wine has a nice, slightly “dusty” finish.

Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
I am a sucker for a good ice wine, and Warner’s didn’t disappoint.    The wine had a silky, rather than satiny, mouth feel and lovely notes of pear and honeysuckle.

Bel Lago
Pinot Noir “North”
Located in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, not far from Traverse City, Bel Lago grows a number of cool climate grapes including Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.    Their Pinot Noir was my choice for pairing with lunch.  Smooth, with soft notes of raspberry and cherry, medium-tannins, and a nice finish.   The wine held up well against the beef brisket BBQ nachos I had for lunch, balancing the smoky sweetness of the BBQ sauce.

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And speaking of food, for a festival advertised as a “Wine and Food Festival,” the food options were very slim.   Kroger, the largest grocery chain in Michigan and a sponsor of the event, had a large tent at the entrance to the event featuring a sampling of standard grocery-store deli fare: Boar’s Head turkey or ham sandwiches, cheese and coleslaw.   There were two food trucks: The Pistons Maplewood BBQ and Chick-A-Dee.    The Maplewood BBQ beef brisket nachos were very good, but there’s no question this is NOT a food festival.

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Seven Lakes Vineyard
Cappricio
I started my day with the Seven Lakes Capriccio, and at the end of the day this remained my favorite of all the wines sampled.    Nice nose with light notes of cherry blossoms.  In the mouth, the wine is juicy rather than jammy with bright notes of cherry.  The finish has a very light pepper which balances the fruitiness, yielding a very nice wine.   Looking forward to opening the bottle I brought home.

Cabernet Franc
I finished out the afternoon with samples of two grapes I had come to love during my time exploring Connecticut Wineries.     Seven Lakes’ Cab Franc was surprisingly earthy – surprising to me who had grown so accustomed to the very fruit-forward cherry I found in Connecticut Cab Francs.   Full-bodied with lovely notes of grass and well-balanced tannins and a smooth finish.

Dizzy Daisy
Marechal Foch
Dizzy Daisy’s Marechal Foch, like the Cab Franc which I sampled shortly afterward, came as a surprise – in this case a shock… it was sweet!    I had my first encounter with Marechal Foch almost seven years ago when I first started traveling the CT Wine Trail.   Finding the grape to come across as very young and green, it took me quite a few samplings before I came to appreciate it, and even longer before I became a fan.   Like so many other CT reds it was very fruit forward, but it was always a dry wine.    As a semi-sweet wine, the fruit notes were much stronger and also smoother than in other Marechal Foch’s I’ve tried.  The additional sugars balanced out the “greenness” I often detected, and as a result I suspect Dizzy Daisy’s is more approachable to a majority of wine drinkers.   But as my preference leans towards dry wines, I found this to be less interesting.

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It’s hard to glean a lot about wines and winemakers from 1 oz samples, especially when you are sampling across a range of wineries.   With people lined up behind you, there’s not much time to chat.  But as a small introduction to the wines of my new home state it was a great afternoon.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Cherry Creek Winery @ The Old Schoolhouse – Brooklyn, MI

After seven years in New England, I relocated to southeast Michigan in December 2014.   Despite having been born and raised in Detroit (proud graduate of Cass Tech High School!), Michigan hasn’t been home for more years than I am willing to admit to.

Relocating in winter while also working 100% from home is not conducive to exploration – my first several months’ experiences were limited to weekly grocery store runs, babysitting for my sister, and an occasional weekend movie with cousins.

So with a few days vacation in late May I decided it was time to learn my new home state of Michigan the way I learned my last – one winery at a time.   With a full tank of gas and a randomly chosen winery on Michigan’s Pioneer Wine Trail, I headed out for what turned out to be an auspicious start to my latest Win(e)ding Roads adventures.

Cherry Creek Winery @ the Old Schoolhouse, Brooklyn, MI

Cherry Creek Winery @ the Old Schoolhouse, Brooklyn, MI

Housed in a beautifully restored 1870s schoolhouse in the heart of the Irish Hills, only a few short miles from the Michigan International Speedway, Cherry Creek Winery and Vineyards is a great find – neither the winery nor the wines disappoint.

Founded more than 15 years ago by Denise and John Burtkas, Cherry Creek Winery has two locations, the original in Albion, MI and the Old Schoolhouse, which opened about 10 years ago.   All wines are 100% Michigan grapes sourced from the Burtkas’s vineyards in southeast Michigan and through partnerships with vineyards along the Lake Michigan coastline.

With a menu that includes reds, whites, rosés and a fruit wine (Michigan Cherry, of course),    picking only five for this first tasting was the hard part…

Wood Duck White (Dry Riesling)
I’ve found myself more interested in Rieslings recently, particularly as I’m finding more local wineries making a dry Riesling, instead of the often too sweet versions that seemed to be everywhere only a few short years ago.

The Wood Duck White is a really nice wine.   Light, crisp, with just a hint of grapefruit on the finish, I found it soft in the mouth and very drinkable.  The fruit and acid are nicely balanced, and the wine has a nice full body which gives it structure.   A great wine for a lazy summer afternoon.

It was one of the bottles I brought home with me, and we uncorked it last night pairing it with grilled Lake Superior whitefish and fresh Michigan corn.   The wine complimented the fish beautifully, and the corn’s sweetness brought out some of the wine’s lightly floral notes.

Gewürztraminer
I loved the nose on this wine – notes of citrus, honeysuckle (perhaps?  I am not as good differentiating florals as I should be), the nose evoked light spring breezes.   In the mouth, the wine was sharp, but not tart, with citrus notes that hit the edges of my tongue.   The wine also evolved in the mouth, starting out smooth and somewhat quiet in the front of the mouth only to open up on the finish.

Tasting Room bar was made from reclaimed wood from the original structure. Jenna, my host for the afternoon, is an enthusiastic ambassador for the winery.

Merlot
Moving on to the Reds, I started with the Merlot, which came highly recommended by my tasting room host, Jenna, as one of her personal favorites.   The nose was fruity, predominately cherry, very reminiscent of the red wines I found in Connecticut (in fact, I once participated in a blind tasting of Merlots at McLaughlin Vineyards in Connecticut and was the only person to correctly identify the McLaughlin Merlot, which I did solely from the nose).

In the mouth, the wine is more subtle than I expected – I think the nose misled me, and I expected a more fruit-forward wine such as the ones I had been drinking in Connecticut.    I found this wine to be more herbaceous than fruity, medium-bodied with mineral notes and an interesting slight chalky finish.

Montage
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chancellor Noir, this was my favorite of the afternoon.    Deeper nose than the Merlot but with similar notes of cherry, the wine is smooth and rich.   In the mouth, the wine has notes of stone fruits but not so strong that the wine becomes “jammy.”   Brought a bottle of this home as well, and am looking forward to opening it later this summer, perhaps paired with grilled steaks or lamb chops.

Frontenac
100% estate grown at the Old Schoolhouse location, the Frontenac was the most interesting wine of my visit.    Served chilled, the wine had strong notes of cranberry – which I admit, I don’t come across often.   Fruit forward with a strong but smooth finish.   The wine wasn’t available for sale the day I was there, but it’s definitely worth a return visit later in the year for another taste.

In addition to the wines, Cherry Creek also has a small gift shop featuring locally made sauces, jams and jellies and a Michigan cherry salsa which is highly addictive!    The winery hosts local musicians from 5-8pm Saturdays through mid-September and will be opening a cafe sometime this summer.   The Burtkas have also recently launched the Grand River Brewery, in Jackson, Michigan featuring local craft beers, handcrafted spirits, and Cherry Creek wines.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Arkansas. Wine.

After years of telling me that they were going to retire to Arkansas, my parents have finally done so.  Kevin and I tried to talk them into moving to Oregon, but they weren’t going for it.

The Arkansas state flag was designed by Willie Kavanaugh Hocker.

The Arkansas state flag was designed by Willie Kavanaugh Hocker.


So, Arkansas it is.  In the middle of the Walmartian capitol.
Luckily, like almost every place in the country, there is wine nearby.  Yup.  wine.  Located in three American Viticultural Areas.  Twenty-four wineries.

California it is not.  But that isn’t a bad thing.  After all, variety is the spice of life.   So what’s the deal with Arkansas wine?
Officially, viticulture began in Arkansas in the 1870s when German and Swiss immigrants settled in Altus, Arkansas.  Unofficially, there was wine in Arkansas before that.  In A Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory During the Year 1819 With Occasional Observation on the Manners of the Aborigines by Thomas Nuttall, F.L.S. (I have no idea what F.L.S. means), the author describes the vineyards and wine encountered along the way.  Tales of wine being produced at local taverns like the Hinderliter Grog Shop in Little Rock circa 1827 are likely to be true.  And prior to American settlement? Well, Arkansas was once officially part of France after all.
In addition to the Altus wineries,  Italian immigrants have made their mark in Arkansas’s wine history.  The city of Tontitown was founded by the followers of Father Pietro Bandini in 1898.  The residents, mostly from northern Italy brought their traditions with them including wine making.  Even today, the sign welcoming you to town features grape vines.  Unfortunately, for most American’s the town is more commonly known as the home as the Duggar family.

What kinds of wines are being produced?  Well, a lot of sweet wines.  Muscadine grapes grow naturally in the state and have long been used  to produce.  Muscadine is a type of grape known as Vitis rotundifolia that is native to the United States.  But Muscadine doesn’t have to produce a sweet wine and there are dry options as well.

Map produced by Gretchen Neuman using a USGS basemap.

Map produced by Gretchen Neuman using a USGS basemap.

Other grapes producing wine in Arkansas include Niagara, Concord and Delaware which are park of the Vitis labrusca family.  French-American Hybrids such as Chambourcin and Vidal are common as is Cynthiana, a Norton clone is thought to be created in the Arkansas. There are even folks producing Chardonnay and Merlot… though most of them get that fruit from California.
There are three viticultural areas in the Arkansas.  Altus is located around the German Swiss town of the same  name in the Boston Mountains.  Altus is the only appellation found completely within the state. Altus is also located within the Arkansas Mountain appellation but extends in the area from Fort Smith to Conway (another place my folks thought about moving to… but thought better of as the town is dry).  Ozark Mountain contains the Altus and Arkansas Mountain regions and is crosses into Missouri and Oklahoma as well.
Getting your hands on Arkansas wine is tricky.  The state does not play well with others, i.e. does not allow direct shipping and because of that can’t ship out of state either.  So you kinda have to go there and taste it there.

But since I am about to be spending more time in the Ozarks, I guess I will have time to explore.

Willamette Valley AVA

It’s Willamette Dammit! And rightfully so, as this appellation is the big daddy of Oregon winemaking. (also, it is pronounced Ora-gun not Or-e-gone. These folks are making you delicious wine. Be respectful of their ways).  Stretching 150 miles north to south and 60 miles wide in some places, this is the home of Pinot.  The climate is perfect for it.  Located in the same latitudes as the vineyards of Alsace and Burgundy with warm dry summers and a cool rainy season all that this viticultural area needed for success was the perfect soil conditions.  And what do you know?  They got them.  Oregon’s Jory soils are located in the foothills of the region are are composed of igneous rocks that were swept through the region thousands of years ago at the time of the Missoula Floods.  The soil is thick, well drained and full of minerally deposits that grapes just love.

While there is a long history of agriculture in the region, viticulture didn’t really take off until the mid to late 1960s  when UC Davis alum Charles Coury, Dick Erath and David Lett found their way up north of California.  From there the industry has grown by leaps and bounds with around 200 wineries and an additionally six new sub-appellations in existence.  And while Pinot Noir is King, it isn’t the only game in town, additionally grown are:

  • Auxerrois
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cascade
  • Chardonnay
  • Dolcetto
  • Gamay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Malbec
  • Marechal Foch
  • Melon
  • Merlot
  • Muller Thurgau
  • Muscat Canelli
  • Muscat Ottonel
  • Nebbiolo
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Tocai Fruiulano
  • Viognier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Walla Walla AVA

A town so nice, they named it twice!

Well, not so much the town in this scenario as the entire appellation. This seems only fair as the this AVA is located in two separate states – Oregon and Washington. The justifications for the establishment of the viticultural area are historic, geologic, geographic and climatic.

Walla Walla translates at “rapid stream” or “many waters” in the Sahaptin language that is shared by the Walla Walla, Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Tenino peoples. Western settlers moved into the area beginning in the 1830s when Marcus and Narcissa Whitman came as missionaries to the Walla Walla people but were murdered by the Cayuse following outbreaks of measles that the indians believed were caused by the whites (they were, but they didn’t do it on purpose as no one was aware of germ theory quite yet).  Viticulture began informally with French fur trappers in the 1840s in an area previously known as Frenchtown, now called Lowden.

The geologic basis of the creation of the appellation is based in part  on the similarity of the river plain of assorted wind blown loess soils well drained by smaller streams that cut through the area.  Being located  between the Cascades and the Blue Mountains along the Washington, Oregon and Idaho border means that the area is blocked from the moderating temperatures nearer the Pacific but also in a rain shadow as well.  This means that the climate is more intense with warmer days with cool evenings and semi-arid which requires irrigation for cultivation.

Modern viticulture (i.e. post-(the dreaded) Prohibition) began with Leonetti Cellars in the 1970s with Woodward Canyon Cellars and L’Ecole 41 coming along in the 1980s .  The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 and amended to extend the territory in 2001.  Varietals produced in the area include:

  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Carmenere
  • Chardonnay
  • Cinsault
  • Counoise
  • Dolcetto
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Marsanne
  • Merlot
  • Mourvedre
  • Nebbiolo
  • Petit Verdot
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Rousanne
  • Sangiovese
  • Semillon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Viognier
Oh, and I have actually been to this viticultural area!  The Wine Bloggers’ Conference in 2010 was in Walla Walla.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Umpqua Valley AVA

One man’s basin is another man’s valley.

The Umpqua is formed by three mountain ranges:  The Cascades, the Coastal Range and he Klamath, but often the area is often known as the 100 valleys of the Umpquas.  The Umpqua River runs through the valley but is no way responsible for the formation of this appellation.  The soils are a diverse mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks with alluvial and clays dominating the valley floor and clays.  In fact, the contains at least 150 separate soil types.  The climate of the region is also varied with the northern areas being cool and  moist, the southern being warm and dry and the central area transitional.

Viticulture has been active since the 1880s when German settlers left California and headed north.  In the modern era winemaking was established in the early 1960s and has grown to at least 60 vineyards and 12 wineries.  The appellation also distinguishes itself by being the first place in the U.S. growing Grüner Veltliner.  Other varietals being produced include:

  • Albariño
  • Baco Noir
  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Dolcetto
  • Gewürztraminers
  • Grenache
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Kadarka
  • Malbec
  • Marechal Foch
  • Merlot
  • Muller Thurgau
  • Muscat Canelli
  • Petite Sirah
  • Pinot gris
  • Pinot noir
  • Pinotage
  • Riesling
  • Roussane
  • Sangiovese
  • Semillon
  • Sauvigon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Tannat
  • Tempranillo
  • Valdiguie
  • Vermentino
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Southern Oregon AVA

While over time the focus has been on smaller and smaller wine regions, in 2004 the TTB went completely the other way, creating a super-AVA in the form of the Southern Oregon AVA. This region consists of the Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate Valleys and Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVAs as well as additional territory linking the regions together. The idea for the super-sized AVA was that of H. Earl Jones of Abacela and his son, associate professor of geography, Gregory V. Jones of Southern Oregon University. (editor’s note: See? I am not the only person with a degree in geography!) They evidence cited to justify the designation includes historical, cultural, climatic, geologic and geographical justifications for the creation of the viticultural area.

Historically, the region has been a wine producing area since the 1850s with modern viticulture restarting in the 1950s. From a cultural perspective, they cite the “physical and cultural” divisions of the state of which Southern Oregon is an example. The region is located south of Eugene to the California border largely within the Umpqua, Rogue, Applegate, Illinois and Bear Creek Valleys. The petition indicates that the soils in the area, while varied are older than those in the Willamette to the north or the coastal zones to the west and contain fewer silts from ancient oceans and lakes. The temperatures in the area are on average the warmest in the state which allows for the cultivation of warmer climate grapes as well as allowing for select microclimates that are perfect for colder acclimated varietals. Additionally, the elevations in the region are higher than the surrounds areas and it receives less rainfall.

The appellations is home to over fifty (50) wineries and produces wines from varietals including:

  • Albarino
  • Bastardo
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay
  • Dolcetto
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Muscat Canelli
  • Petit Verdot
  • Petite Sirah
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sangiovese
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Regional American Wines Celebrated on Today

One of the advantages of “Back to School” time is that, I, your dear editor, regains access to my television (if not my sanity). This means that I get to watch my favorite part of the Today Show, the 4th Hour with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. One of the reasons that it is my favorite is because there is usually liquor involved and often wine. Yesterday Today had Alpana Singh on to pour Regional American wines. Go Alpena and thanks for your support for local American wines from up and coming areas!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Congrats to the wineries and wines featured:

Blue Sky Vineyards 2010 Vignoles (we’ve been there!)
Red Newt Cellars 2010 Riesling
Keswick Vineyards 2009 Estate Reserve Viognier (coming soon!)
Saint Croix Vineyards 2009 La Crescent Dessert Wine
Prairie State Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc (we’ve been there but I can’t find my own link!)
Bedell Cellars 2007 Musée (we’ve been there!)
Hinterland Vineyard 2009 Marquette Reserve
Barboursville Vineyards 2008 Petit Verdot Reserve (we’ve had their wine!)

 

Gretchen Neuman, VinoVerve Editor, September 1, 2011

The Wines of Paradise Hills Vineyard

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

When I first arrived at Paradise Hills Saturday afternoon, the place was hopping – the bar was full of people at various stages of their tasting and a few others were milling around admiring the building and the grounds while waiting for a spot at the bar.   Being in no rush, I just hung back watching the action and listening to the stories being told by the members of the Ruggerio family as they poured the tastings.

But this also gave me the chance to spend a few minutes with Paradise Hills’ winemaker, Margaret Ruggerio, something which I don’t often get a chance to do because I so often visit wineries on the weekend, and the traffic levels usually preclude a leisurely conversation.  But whether I called attention to myself by taking pictures or furiously scribbling notes or whether if not pouring, the family just mingles through the room greeting guests, the end result was a very pleasant 10 minutes chatting with Margaret Ruggerio while waiting for space to open up at the bar.

In addition to talking about the history of the vineyards and the winery as well as her own background, Margaret also talked about her approach to winemaking – in particular her focus on making each of the wines distinct.   I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of this claim; I’ve heard this from other wineries and winemakers, and while wines each have their own character, so often you’ll find a winery producing several wines using the same base grape, and so while there are distinctions, I wouldn’t have said they were distinct.   But with Paradise Hills’ wines, Margaret Ruggerio was not exaggerating.  Each of the wines was quite distinct, beginning with the

Vino Blanco del Paradiso – a crisp, refreshing white table wine that is a blend of Trebbiana grapes imported from Italy and estate-grown Cayuga White.   The nose is very delicate with lightly floral notes of apple blossom and a hint of crisp green apples.   In the mouth the wine is very light on the palate with a subtle grassiness on the front developing into stronger, but not overpowering, notes of grapefruit at the back, and a touch of green apple tart-sweetness on the finish.   The balance is really interesting – the grassy earthiness offset by the fruitiness were a pleasant combination.   This wine definitely benefits from being served chilled, and while I enjoyed the tasting, I think this would be even more interesting when paired with food – say grilled shrimp with just a splash of lemon…

Washington Trail White – named for the “Washington Trail” a historic area of the state through which General Washington and the Continental Army traveled to pick up supplies – and gunpowder – from nearby Durham during the Revolution.  Parts of the trail run directly through the Ruggerio’s property, and they’ve found a number of late Colonial/Revolutionary War-era artifacts which they are will be displaying in the winery.

The wine is a blend of Chardonnay brought in from California and estate-grown Seyval Blanc grapes.   The result is a very smooth, fruit-forward wine with soft notes of pear on the front and brighter notes of citrus on the finish.   The citrus builds as the wine moves to the back of the mouth and then softens on the finish.   Not surprisingly, it was suggested that the wine would pair very well with spicy foods.  Overall a really nice wine, but my favorite among the whites was the estate-grown

Chardonnay – 100% estate grown Chardonnay from the vineyards right outside the winery’s front door, this is a really lovely wine.   Like all of Paradise Hills other wines, the Chardonnay is fermented and aged in stainless steel with any oaking being introduced through chips or staves.    The nose on this wine is gorgeous, rich, soft and fruity with lovely notes of sweet pineapple.   In the mouth the wine is rich and soft with notes of melon on the front and butterscotch on the finish.   One of the things that I found particularly charming was how the butterscotch builds and develops as the warm wines in your mouth – it pulls the wine through palate.    This wine would be great for sipping on its own or paired with a wide variety of food.   As soon as I tasted it, I knew I was going home with a bottle, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it more fully sometime soon.

The last of the four whites, the Cayuga White, is currently sold out, so not available tasting.   So we switched glasses before moving to the Reds.   Yep, you read that right, we switched glasses…  Paradise Hills serves their tastings in “real” wine glasses, not their souvenir glass (which they do have available for purchase for anyone who wants one).  The whites are served in a Bordeaux style glass and the reds in a Pinot Noir style glass – by using these glasses rather than the much smaller-bowled glasses of the typical souvenir wine glass, it’s better for the wine and only enhances the tasting.

The Chardonnay vineyards

Washington Trail Red – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Merlot from Washington and estate-grown Chambourcin, this is an interesting example of the influence of terroir.   While there are few places here in New England that successfully grow Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, when they are grown locally I’ve found the result to be very fruity.   But the California and Washington grapes bring more earthy elements – still fruity with notes of cherry and blackberry, particularly from the Chambourcin, the wine is not as fruit-forward as the more typical New England red.   The nose is subdued with slightly floral notes of cherry blossom.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine has, as mentioned above, discernible notes of cherry and blackberry tempered by a subtle earthiness and a smooth richness that softens the “bite” of the Chambourcin.   A very interesting wine; one I think a lot of people will like.

The last wine of the tasting is the President’s Choice.  Using a recipe that has been passed down for several generations in the Ruggerio family, this was the star of the show for me as well as the couple next to me.   The Chardonnay is described as the winery’s “signature wine” – but the President’s Choice is the family wine.   A full-bodied red, the wine is smooth, rich and very satisfying.   The nose has lovely notes of dark berries and a light earthiness.  Well-balanced, the wine has notes of blackberry at the front developing to notes of mocha on the finish.   One of the most interesting characteristics of the wine is that I found it to linger in the middle of the palate, rather than the back – as if the wine gravitates to that intersection point where the fruit begins to give way to the chocolate…

Unfortunately this wine is not currently available for sale – the Ruggerios kept their first vintages small, producing only 1200 cases of all their wines combined, waiting to see how the wines would be received before committing to larger production.   President’s Choice, not surprisingly, has been exceptionally well-received and they’ve already sold out – and they’ve only been open two months.  They have enough bottles to continue to include the wine in the tasting menu, and they anticipate having the second vintage available in September, at which time they’ll resume sales.   There were several of us at the bar that afternoon who were making notes in our calendars to come back in September!

Jean & Cheryl take note – we definitely need to include this on our next SOTS outing!

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Keeping with their philosophy of promoting local agriculture and husbandry, the Ruggerios help foster the next generation by providing a scholoarship to a graduating senior from the Lyman Hall Agricultural program who is going on to study agriculture or wildlife conservation.   To help fund the scholarship, the family agreed that all tips received from winery guests will be added to the scholarship fund – so if you get a chance to stop by help develop the next generation by leaving a generous tip in the jar!

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Congratulations to the Ruggerio family – Paradise Hills is a great addition to the Connecticut Wine scene, and I look forward to many return visits, as well as enjoying the bottles of Washington Trail White, the Washington Trail Red and the Chardonnay I brought home with me that afternoon.

Diamond Hill Vineyards ~ The Grape Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Diamond Hill produces 10 wines, five grape and five fruit, of which seven were available for tasting on Saturday.   The tasting moves from dry to sweet, which at Diamond Hill means we started with the Pinot Noir.

As I mentioned before I was quite surprised to find that they were able to successfully cultivate Pinot Noir vines, and truthfully I wasn’t expecting much.  Not that I expected it to be bad, but…

 

Pinot Noir 2005 Vintage It’s nice to be proved wrong once in a while.  This is a delightful wine.  The color is a lovely medium-garnet.  The nose is soft with lightly floral notes of cherry blossom.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and lightly fruity with subtle notes of cherry.  It wasn’t the stronger cherry notes I so often find in the cabernet francs, marechal fochs and st. croix wines across the Northeast – here the notes were more delicate; cherry blossom rather than cherry.  The wine is aged in French oak for one year which provides a delicate spiciness with just a hint of heat on the finish.   A really nice wine, and a really nice surprise to find in vineyards so far away from the tempering influence of the Sound.   Kudos to the Berntsons and Diamond Hill for producing a lovely New England Pinot Noir!

Scarlet Run A 100% Merlot wine made from Northeast  grapes, usually brought in from New York, Scarlet Run is not a typical Merlot.  This is a very fruit forward wine with, surprisingly, very discernible notes of strawberry.  I first picked up the strawberry in the nose – not overpowering, but very noticeable.  In the mouth, that first sip is quite a surprise.  Used to denser Merlots with flavors ranging from earthy to darker fruits, I was almost taken aback by the brightness and fruitiness of this wine.  But don’t confuse that with not liking it – I found the wine quite charming and immediately noted it down as a wine that would be going home with me that afternoon.  It’s just not what one expects from a Merlot.

Aged in stainless steel, the wine has a lovely smooth, rich finish, with very light tannins.  Interestingly I didn’t find myself missing the oaking, which I often do in red wines.  With the Scarlet Run, I found I really appreciated the clean finish.  This will pair will a wide variety of foods, particularly beef or lamb.

Steve also pointed out the label, which features a red greyhound silhouette on a black background, and is quite different from Diamond Hill’s other labels.  4 or 5 years ago, the Berntsons adopted a greyhound and now support the Twin River Greyound Adoption society by donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Scarlet Run.   If you do visit the winery, there’s a framed plaque in the room just off the tasting room which features a picture of the Berntson’s dog as well as the story of how they came to adopt her and associate Scarlet Run with greyhound adoption.

Pinot Noir Rosé This is a relatively recent addition to the Diamond Hill line-up.  In 2008, Allan Berntson, Diamond Hill’s winemaker, did a quick crush press of some of estate-grown Pinot Noir grape and produced the first vintage of the Rosé.   The result is a light semi-dry wine with lightly floral notes and a soft, clean finish.  I found the wine to be a bit light for my taste, but it will appeal to many.   The color is very interesting.  When first poured into the glass, it appeared to be a medium-gold color, however, when I held it up over the white counter, I started to see hints of pink, and found the color shifted back and forth between pink and gold depending on how you were holding the glass and how the wine was catching the light.  The nose has lovely floral notes, and in the mouth the wine is very lightly fruity – more fruit blossom than true fruit, I would say.  The wine is unoaked, and has a soft, clean finish with almost no tannins.

River Valley White A blend of Chardonnay and French Colombard, the River Valley White is a semi-dry table wine with lovely notes of buttery apricot.  The color falls in the medium-yellow range, slightly on the lighter side.  The nose is very soft with discreet notes of peach or peach blossom.   Like all of Diamond Hill’s other wines, with the exception of the Pinot Noir, the River Valley White is unoaked, and the result is a clean, crisp wine.  I picked up just a hint of cream along with notes of apricot and a light acid on the finish which balanced the fruit notes and kept the wine from coming across as overly sweet.   This wine will pair well with chicken or pork and would also be very nice on it’s own as an aperitif.

It was just about this point that two other visitors arrived for a tasting of the Pinot and the Merlot.  I used the distraction as an opportunity to take a quick break, looking around the tasting room and gift shop and giving my palate a brief rest before proceeding with the fruit wines.

Look for the Diamond Hill fruit wines on Tuesday, March 15th.