Savino Vineyards Revisited

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I first visited Savino Vineyards in Woodbridge, Connecticut late in the season last year by which time they had already sold out of the Cabernet Franc and the Frontenac.  I made a mental note to return in 2010 to sample the latest vintages of the two wines I missed in 2009.

So, as I left Northwinds Winery, I decided to detour south and stop by Savino to see what they had on the menu this season.  Unfortunately, neither Cabernet Franc or Frontenac are included in this season’s wine list, but I did have the chance to revisit the 2008 Seyval Blanc and the 2007 Merlot as well as sample two new wines, the 2008 St. Croix and the 2008 Merlot.

I also was lucky enough to meet owner and winemaker, Gennaio Savino.  Savino grew up in Italy making wine and returned to the business after he retired.  He planted his first vines about 10 years ago, and today his vineyard encompasses 8 acres and includes Seyval Blanc, St. Croix, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.  All of his wines are produced from estate-grown grapes, although he does bring in a small amount of Merlot from California to blend with his locally-grown Merlot.

2008 Seyval Blanc I first tried the 2008 Seyval Blanc, the only white Savino produces, on my visit last Fall.  At the time I noted that the predominant notes were citrus, particularly grapefruit and were a bit strong.  Over the ensuing 8 months, the wine has mellowed.  Still crisp and tangy with a nice burst of acid on the finish, the citrus notes are softer and a bit lighter.  I still picked up the grapefruit, but it wasn’t as pronounced as before.   On second tasting, I found myself taking to the wine even more than I had previously, and I had enjoyed it on first tasting.   It’s not that often that I take the chance to go back and try the same wine, same vintage, only months later.   Often when I return to a winery, I either want to sample wines I wasn’t able to taste during my previous visit, or try the new vintages.  However, now I’m rethinking that strategy, and will definitely peruse the wine lists with an eye for the chance to revisit a wine I’ve previously tried.

2008 St. Croix The 2007 St. Croix was my favorite of the Savino wines on my first visit.  At the time I had bought a bottle and drank it a few months later, finding it to be a lovely, complex wine that paired very well with the beef I had for dinner that evening.   The 2008, while it didn’t disappoint, didn’t quite live up to my memories of the 2007.  Dark purple in color, with a tangy, fruity nose, the wine is lighter-bodied with an earthy fruitiness and notes of cherry that linger on the lips.    In my notes I likened it to eating just-ripe, just picked cherries.   What made the wine interesting though were the earthy notes, up front I detected notes of soil and grass, and it wasn’t until the finish that I got the cherries.  Again, not a bad wine, but not as strong as the 2007.

2007 Merlot The tasting concluded with back-to-back Merlots, 2007 vs. 2008.  I had sampled the 2007 Merlot on my previous visit, and given my reaction to the Seyval Blanc was very interested to see if I found a similar change in the 2007 Merlot.  Unfortunately not.  The nose is a bit richer, more jammier than I remembered, but in the mouth the strong peppery, slightly bitter notes that I picked up on my previous visit were still present.   It’s not bad for a Connecticut Merlot, which tend to be lighter-bodied and not as smooth as their California or Oregon counterparts, but it still didn’t win me over.

2008 Merlot The 2008, however, was a completely different story.  The difference between the two begins on sight: the color, which in the 2007 is a dark purple, is more of a bright ruby in the 2008.  The nose is much more subtle, duskier and while there are still notes of cherry, it is less jammy than the 2007.  In the mouth the wine is stronger bodied, richer, more lush, with soft deep notes of cherry, warm soft spice rather than the sharp bite of pepper, and a nice light smoke from the oaking.  It’s smooth and opens up nicely in the mouth.  This one could, just possibly, win me over to Connecticut Merlots.

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.

Taylor Brooke Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Much of the art work in the Tasting Room is used in Taylor Brooke's wine labels.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

If you’re a fan of Cabernet Franc, as I have become, or just interested in exploring a bit, and you’re in the southern New England area this season, I recommend making a trek over to Taylor Brooke Winery to check out their last vintage of Cabernet Franc.   After doing a full evaluation of their vineyards, they decided to take out the Cabernet Franc and replace it with Corot Noir, making this the last vintage they will be producing.

The reds section of the tasting menu kicks off with the Cabernet Franc.  Taylor Brooke produces their Cab Franc in the Pinot Noir style, medium bodied and fruity.   The color is a medium ruby.  The nose is lightly earthy with notes of plum.  In the mouth the wine has light cherry notes and a peppery finish.  Upon first taste, the wine feels both young and light, however it does open up with subsequent sips.  It’s not as robust as the Gouveia and Chamard Cabernet Francs, and fans of the more full-bodied reds of California and Oregon will likely not be won over to Connecticut Cabernet Francs here.  However, it’s a nice wine when given a chance, and I anticipate it will improve with a few years of cellaring.

I’m looking forward to Taylor Brooke’s Corot Noir, which they’ll begin producing once they finish the last of the Cabernet Franc.  I’ve not found many Corot Noir wines; Land of Nod is the only other winery that comes to mind that produces a Corot Noir wine; other wineries, I suspect use it primarily for blending.  It’s not a grape I know much about, and it will be interesting to see what Richard Augur does with it.  But more on that in a year or two.

Roseland Red After the Cabernet Franc we moved on to the Roseland Red, a meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.   The Cabernet Franc is from the Taylor Brooke vineyards, and they bring in the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot as juice from California and Oregon.  Made in the Bordeaux-style and aged in Hungarian Oak, this is a really nice wine and my favorite among the Taylor Brooke reds.   Also a medium ruby color, the nose is delicate and lightly fruity – an interesting change from the earthy/floral noses of the whites.   A light/medium bodied wine with both spice and cherry throughout.  The finish is peppery with a hint of smoke and leather from the oak.  The wine opens up over multiple tastings and would pair very well with grilled meats and heavier pasta dishes.

Woostock Valley Red The reds finish with Taylor Brooke’s 100% St. Croix wine.  While St. Croix is grown all over southern New England and is used by many vineyards in blending, this is only the second 100% St. Croix wine that I’ve found in Connecticut, the other being Maugle Sierra’s which I had tried earlier that morning.   If there are other predominately St. Croix wines, they were not called out as such during my tastings.   While fruity, Taylor Brooke’s St. Croix is not as fruity as Maugle Sierra’s; like many of their other wines, there are earthy notes that come through the fruit, possibly the differences in terroir between the northeastern hills and the southeastern shoreline.   The Woodstock Valley Red is garnet colored with a light nose with pleasantly earthy, grassy notes.  In the mouth the wine has bright notes of cherry, although it is not the rich “jammyness” that I found with Maugle Sierra’s.  The finish is slightly spicy; I found it hard to pinpoint what I was picking up.  It’s not pepper, although it has some of the sharpness of pepper.  Indian spices came to mind – perhaps a bit of curry?  Still not sure…  Also aged in Hungarian Oak, the finish is lightly smoky.

With the reds concluded, I rinsed my glass and prepared for the dessert wines.  As regular readers of Vino Verve know, I have a particular weakness for dessert wines.  I love that rich silkiness of a good late harvest or ice wine, and am always on the lookout for new wines to add to my collection.

First up was Taylor Brooke’s Late Harvest Riesling. A pale gold color, the nose is delicate with very discernible notes of apricot.  The mouth feel is silky and lush, and on the palate the wine is smooth and rich with notes of apricot with a honey finish.  There’s a touch of acid on the end which is interesting if unexpected.   During the tasting, Linda Augur serves this with chocolate, and the chocolate definitely smooths out that touch of acid, producing a more satisfying experience.

Chocolate Essence One of Taylor Brooke’s most popular wines, if not the most popular wine, they can’t keep this on the shelves.  From start to finish it takes a minimum of one year to produce Chocolate Essence, which given its popularity means Richard Augur always has this in production.  The wine is a chocolate-infused, port-style wine made from Merlot, which is brought in from Long Island.  They add 20 gallons of brandy to 100 gallons of Merlot and then add cocoa bean essence.  The result is heavenly…  A lovely ruby color which sparkles in the light, the nose has deep rich notes of chocolate, lighter notes of berries and a slight smokiness from the oaking.  In the mouth, the wine has bright cherry notes on the front and soft notes of chocolate throughout.  The chocolate deepens and is stronger on the finish leaving you with the sensation of just having eaten a really good chocolate covered cherry.   It would be excellent on its own, it would pair well with a variety of desserts: fruit and cheese or cheesecake immediately came to mind.  Linda Augur also recommends drizzling it over ice cream in place of chocolate sauce.  Yum!  Once opened it is good for 4-6 months, so you can savor a bottle all summer long.

That concluded the afternoon’s tasting.  I will be heading back soon, though, as the second of their seasonal wines was released last week: the St. Croix Rosé.

The Wines of Maugle Sierra

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I arrived at Maugle Sierra at 10:58 am only to find another car, one with Pennsylvania plates, already there ahead of me.  I was not the only one who decided to hit the road early in an attempt to avoid the Memorial Day crowds.  By the time Paul Maugle had arrived to open the gates just after 11 am, a third car had joined us, and together the 7 of us greeted our host and made our way into the tasting room.

Maugle Sierra produces 7 wines, six of which are available for tasting.  The 7th, the Espiritu de St. Croix, Maugle’s dessert wine, while available for sale, is not included on the tasting menu.

1740 Ledyard House White The tasting begins with what Paul Maugle calls a “naked” Chardonnay.  Almost 100% Chardonnay from grapes brought in from Long Island, Maugle adds a “splash” of Golden Vidal, a locally grown grape.  Cold fermented in stainless steel and never oaked, hence the “naked,” the wine is crisp, light and delicious.   While the soft yellow-y interior lighting made it difficult to fully gauge color, the 1740 Ledyard House White is a pale yellow color.  the nose is crisp and light with notes of citrus, particularly a subtle grapefruit.  In the mouth, the wine is light and delicate with a nice acidity.  Notes of apricot and light melon blend with very subtle citrus notes.  The finish is smooth and quite satisfying.  A nice summer wine that would pair well with fish, salads and lighter grilled chicken dishes, or would be quite nice on it’s own.

1740 Ledyard House Rosé Maugle Sierra presents it’s one rosé in between the two whites.  Produced from St. Croix grapes with a splash of the vidal and cold-fermented, the rosé is a pale golden-pink color which is really lovely in the glass.  The nose is very light with very subtle floral notes.  In the mouth, the wine is lightly sweet with notes of distinct notes of grapefruit and a smooth finish.  Overall, a very pleasant summer wine.

Maugle developed the rosé for Abbott’s in Noank, Connecticut, a restaurant set directly on the waterfront at the mouth of the Mystic River.  Abbott’s specialty is lobsters in the rough, and in season, you can stop by pick up a whole lobster and a bottle of 1740 Ledyard House Rosé and head down to the docks to enjoy a seaside al-fresco dinner.

Ledyard Sunset White The second of Maugle Sierra’s two whites is a Vidal wine, which Paul Maugle describes as “late harvest style.”  While I didn’t find it as sweet as many other late harvest style wines I’ve tried, it was definitely richer and more full-bodied than the Chardonnay or the Rosé, explaining why it’s included after the rosé on the tasting menu.  Aged for one year in French oak, the wine is a light-to-medium gold color with a lovely fruity nose with notes of pear predominating.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and sweet, although not sweet enough to be classed as a dessert wine.  The notes of pear continue to predominate on the palate balanced by a crisp acidity at both the front and the finish which help keep the wine from tipping into the cloyingly sweet category.   Not one of my favorites from the Maugle Sierra menu, but I tend to prefer drier wines in general.  Still, it’s a very nice wine and those who like sweeter table wines should find this one charming.

10-foot high fences are erected around the vineyards to keep out the deer

1740 Ledyard House Red The reds kick off with a Merlot/St. Croix blend.  The Merlot grapes are brought in from Long Island, but the St. Croix is all grown locally on Maugle Sierra land.  Merlots are tough here in the northeast, as regular readers of Vino Verve undoubtedly know.  The grape does not do as well in the colder winters and shorter growing seasons and the result is a wine that is less robust and rich than the Merlots of the west coast.  Most of my friends who I have taken on the Connecticut Wine Trail have been really disappointed with the Merlots.  By blending it with the St. Croix, rather than trying to make a true Merlot, Maugle Sierra produced a very nice wine, combining the richness and fruit of the Merlot, with the robustness of the St. Croix.

The 1740 Ledyard House Red is a medium-bodied garnet-colored wine with a rich fruity nose with notes of cherry and black cherry.  The mouth feel is soft with light tannins and very strong notes of cherry.  After the first sip, Paul Maugle starts handing out the chocolate, which really brings out the tannins, reducing the overall sweetness and evoking a slight smokiness from the oaking.

Ledyard Sunset Red Another St. Croix blend, this time with Cabernet Franc grapes brought in from Massachusetts, the Sunset Red is also a medium-bodied, garnet-colored wine.  The nose is brighter than the House Red, with more of the sea-air-tang I find so often in Northeastern reds and notes of both cherry and plum.  In the mouth, the wine is a bit more traditional than the House Red, and in a blind tasting I probably would pick this one as the Merlot.  Although we know how well I do in blind tastingsThere are very discernible notes of cherry, slight tart which helps balance some of the sweetness.    A nice wine, but my least favorite of the Maugle Sierra Reds.

Last up is Maugle Sierra’s signature wine, the St. Croix.  St. Croix grapes are a hybrid developed in the early 1980s by Elmer Swensen in Osceola, Wisconsin from native and French-America grape stock.  A very hardy grape designed to withstand the cold winters and short growing seasons of the Upper Midwest, St. Croix has migrated east to New England.  You’ll find many, if not most, wineries here in New England grow St. Croix grapes, although most will use them for blending with other, less cold-hardy grapes, to provide more depth and robustness in the wine.  The grape itself is are not overly sweet and the wines they produce often lack tannins, another reason why it is often blended with other grapes during wine production.

St. Croix Paul Maugle describes his wines as “jammy” – and this is the wine that best exemplifies that.  Estate-grown and double-fermented in oak barrels, the St. Croix is a dark purple color with a beautiful soft and subtle nose with light notes of cherry.  In the mouth the wine is soft and silky with almost no tannins.  Lightly sweet from notes of cherry, there is just a touch of bitterness at the end which provides a nice balance.  The fruit notes are rich without being overpowering, and the “jamminess” is the richer flavor of hand-crafted jams made from darker fruits like dark cherries and blackberry. The finish has a bit of heat with notes of pepper.  One of the things I enjoyed most about the wine was the way it opened in the mouth.  Each subsequent sip provided additional depth and complexity and the wine really came alive.

When I had visited back in December with my wine trail buddies, Deb, Cheryl, Jean and Melissa, I was a little nervous about bringing them to Maugle Sierra.  They had not been overly impressed with most of the reds we had sampled on the Western Wine Trail, most of which were produced from lesser-known, colder-climate hybrids, although they really liked the reds of wineries like Jonathan Edwards, whose reds have strong bases of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon brought in from the west coast.  The St. Croix, however, they loved – and I think everyone of us brought home at least one bottle.  High praise, indeed.

That concluded the Maugle Sierra tasting, so I finished up my notes and hit the win(e)ding and winding roads, heading north on Route 169 to Woodstock, Connecticut and Taylor Brooke winery.

The Inevitable Red Hills Map

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I am nothing if not predictable. After discovering that there was a Lake County in California, it was all but certain that I would have to prepare a map of it….

So… Voilà

The Red Hills Lake County is one of five AVAs located in Lake County, California including Clear Lake, High Valley, Benmore Valley and Guenoc Valley. Red Hills is located on the southwestern shore of Clear Lake. It is located at the foot of Mt. Konocti, an extinct volcano between Excelsior Valley, Big Valley and the Mayacamas Mountains. The appellation was designated in 2004 and consists of 31,250 acres of which 3,000 are under cultivation. The soil is volcanic and is full of shards of obsidian that was formed as the magma from the Mt. Konocti cooled quickly due to the waters of the lake. The elevation of the area is betwen 1,400 and 3,000 feet and receives between 25 and 40 inches of rain per year. The region is perfect for Bordeaux and Rhone grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre and Zinfandel.

Wineries and vineyards located within the AVA include:

Sol Rouge
Fortress Vineyards
Ferrel Ranch Vineyard
Red Hills Winery
Obsidian Ridge Vineyard
Fore Family Vineyard
Becht Vineyard
Eden Crest Vineyard
Roumiguiere Vineyards – Red Hills Ranch
Snow Lake Vineyard

More Washington AVAs – Red Mountain

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

At the time of this writing, the Red Mountain AVA is, indeed, the smallest appellation in the State of Washington, although if the trend of designating smaller and smaller sub-regions continues we will eventually have every block of vineyard considered unique.  The appellation is located in both the Yakima and Columbia Valley AVAs in Benton County, Washington between the towns of Benton City and Richland.  This area has 4,040 acres, 600 of which are under cultivation.

Appropriately enough given the name of the appellation, the area is known primarily for its high quality red varietals including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah.  It is believed the quality comes from the Southwest facing slopes which are warmer than typical for the Columbia Valley and cool evenings which preserve the acid levels within the grapes.  Additionally the gravelly soil with high levels of calcium carbonate and acidic soils help to balance the flavors and concentrate the berry flavors of the grapes.  Is this how the mountain got its name?  No.  It is named for the wine red color that the native cheatgrass turns in the spring.

Wine began to be produced on the Mountain in the 1970s with John Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Jim Holmes (now) of Ciel du Chaval.  There are now 13 wineries including:

The total acreage in the AVA under cultivation is 14.85% of the total… imagine the wines that could be produced from 15% or 20%!

Chillin’ at Lake Chelan

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Wine has been produced near Lake Chelan since 1891 by Italian immigrants and that 154 acres were planted as of 1949 only 260 acres are currently under cultivation. There are fifteen wineries in the AVA (with one on the way). Grape varietals grown in the region include Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürtztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The area is unique in the Columbia Valley due to the micro-climate created by the lake which increases the amount of time that fruit stays on the vine. This allows the additional development of complexity building phenols while keeping the sugars and acids in balance. Additionally glaciers on ice-age Lake Chelan left the appellation with a coarse, sandy soil that is full of quartz and mica.

The Lake Chelan AVA is yet another subset of the Columbia Valley and was designated in April of 2009. . The AVA application for Lake Chelan was delayed for several years as Alcohol and Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) froze all petitions due to a controversy related to the Calistoga designation. It was determined that any winery that included the name of the AVA or substantially similar to it must source 85% of its grapes from within the region. This required five wineries in the AVA with “Chelan” in their names to comply with the regulation.

Nothing is ever simple…

Lake Chelan AVA

The Wines of Cassidy Hill Vineyards

Marguerite BarrettCassidy HIll Vineyards (2) / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As we pulled into Cassidy Hill Vineyards that September afternoon, we passed a couple of women who were walking up the road, presumably from nearby homes.  Comfortably ensconced on the porch was a group that also appeared to be local and knew the owners and staff well.  Cassidy Hill is obviously a local favorite, and the mix of “wine trailers” like us and “locals” hanging out for a bit on a Sunday afternoon helped create a very relaxed atmosphere despite the number of people in the Tasting Room that afternoon.  It was a nice contrast to the jostling crowds we had found at the larger wineries in the southeast corner of the state.

We were warmly welcomed as we walked through the door, and the staff immediately presented us with the option of standing at the bar or taking a table.  After opting for a table, the staff came over immediately with glasses, the tasting menu and the first wine of the afternoon…

2008 Riesling Overall a nice Riesling and, surprisingly given how many Connecticut Rieslings have been tending towards the drier range, with the familiar sweetness that I’ve come to expect from Rieslings.  I can best describe the nose as “pretty”: bright, floral with soft notes of melon.  In the mouth the wine is sweet with notes of honeysuckle and a nice balance of acid at the end.  While I’m not generally a big Riesling fan and found some of the drier Connecticut Rieslings more interesting, this is a pleasant wine and would pair well with a wide variety of food.

2007 Chardonnay Cassidy Hill Vineyards produces two Chardonnays; the Reserve Chardonnay (see below) which is oaked, and the Chardonnay which is unoaked.  Described by our host as fruity but dry, this wine had more complexity than I originally anticipated.  Crisp and refreshing, the nose is soft and light with hints of pear and in the mouth has grassy notes with touches of green pepper and pear.  The mouth feel is soft and silky with just a light tartness on the finish which provides a bit of depth.  Overall not a bad wine, and people who prefer “clean” (i.e. unoaked) wines should definitely like this one.  As for me, while I found it interesting, I definitely preferred the Reserve.

Cassidy Hill Vineyards Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

2007 Reserve Chardonnay Like the 2007 Chardonnay, the Reserve Chardonnay has soft notes of pear and a light tartness on the finish, but the oaking provides the additional depth of a buttery richness that balances the fruit nicely.  No one note is overpowering in either the nose or the mouth.  The nose is soft and light with just hints of apple and pear.  In the mouth, the wine is lush with nicely balanced notes of both apple and pear.   The oak is not strong and provides some depth that I felt may have been lacking in the unoaked Chardonnay.

Summer Breeze A blush wine, this is a blend of Cayuga, Vignoles, Trement, Sevyal Blanc and Strawberries – an interesting combination.  Upon hearing the list I was anticipating an overly sweet wine with strong notes of strawberry.  The result, however, was quite surprising.  If you didn’t know the blend included strawberries, you would from the nose, but while the strawberry aroma is distinct, it is not overpowering.  In fact the softness of the nose was one of the first surprises – the strawberry notes are delightful and almost floral in their delicacy.  The next surprise came with the first sip – while sweet the wine isn’t nearly as sweet as I had anticipated.  As with the nose, the strawberries are definitely present, but not overpowering, and there’s a pleasant tartness that balances out the sweetness.   This would be a great picnic or porch wine for a lazy summer afternoon.

Grandview This is the first of the two reds on the tasting menu that afternoon.  Made from estate-grown Chambourcin grapes, this was another wine that took me slightly by surprise.  I haven’t encountered many primarily Chambourcin wines, usually finding Chambourcin as part of a blend.  A medium-bodied wine, the nose is soft and subtle with notes of black currant.  In the mouth the wine is smooth and fruity with notes of black cherries, black currants and a touch of licorice from the oaking.  The finish is soft but there’s a brightness that I’m finding is very common in reds grown from cold-climate varietals and is a bit of the hallmark of northeastern US reds.   It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get the true character of wine from a 1oz tasting, and I was intrigued enough by this one to say that it’s definitely a wine I will be coming back to try again.

Christy Sherard getting a picture of the vineyards; the views from the Tasting Room porch looking out over the vineyards are lovely.

Christy Sherard getting a picture of the vineyards; the views from the Tasting Room porch looking out over the vineyards are lovely.

2008 Merlot In all honesty, I’m always a bit trepidatious about Connecticut Merlots.  Merlot is not a grape that does well in our climate, and even with importing grapes, the results are usually are lighter-bodied and not as complex as the Merlots you’ll find from other, warmer, regions.   Still, for Connecticut Merlots this wasn’t bad.  The nose is dominated by strong notes of pepper.  In the mouth the wine is earthy and spicy, a nice change from the fruitiness that predominates in Connecticut reds.  The tasting notes indicate notes of dark plum and blackberry, and while present, they were very very subtle and balanced by the notes of spice and pepper.  The oak provided notes of smoke and licorice which provided some additional depth.  It’s still a lighter-bodied wine than you’ll find in a west coast Merlot, but it’s an interesting wine, particularly if given time to breathe.

Juicy Merlot

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Everytime I think of the movie, Sideways, I think of this exchange:

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

If Miles had been drinking the Merlot that I had last night, he wouldn’t have complained. It was amazing.

The wine was juicy with balanced, almost understated acidity.  The fruit was jammy but not cloying.  Not at all what I expected from a Merlot.  It tasted like a more mature, blended wine.  The wine was produced by Independent Producers in the Columbia Valley AVA using sustainable agricultural methods.  The wine maker, Christophe Hedges is a scion of the Hedges Family Estate, but has stepped out from the family’s influence to produce this wine.

Independent Producers MerlotHis mission? “To capture terroir in its most raw form and to preserve the integrity of the wine world by rebelling against the 100 point rating system.” Additionally there is no advertising related to the bottle (though I am sure that the distributors take care of this).

Kevin and I were really pleased with this bottle and appreciate trying to get out from under the 100 point systems that designates the palates of a few as superior to rest of us. Drink what you like is our philosophy!

And at $11 it is hard to beat.

I am unable to find a website for the label called Independent Producers.  Their address is:

53511 N. Sunset Road
Benton City, Washington 99320