The Wines of Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery ~ Riesling

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

A few days after finishing Warwick Valley’s Chardonnay, I opened the Riesling.

The color is medium-yellow, and like the Chardonnay a darker, richer color than I often find in the Northeast.   The nose is subdued and earthy, really pleasant and a nice change from the floral and fruity noses I’ve been finding lately.

In the mouth, the wine is richly fruity, not what I expected given the subdued earthiness in the nose.  I definitely picked up notes of pear on the front and green apple, a very tart green apple on the back.  It’s a wonderful combination, starting off soft with the light sweetness of the pear, and then opening up in the mouth to the tart, more robust fruitiness of the apple.

A drier Riesling, this wine stands up nicely on it’s own with a nice bite of acid on the finish providing crispness.  It also pairs really nicely with food and stands up to stronger, spicier flavors.  I paired it with Tuna which worked really well with the tart crispness of the wine.  However, what really surprised me was how it held up against the sharper heat of wasabi.   But instead of clashing, the wasabi brought out more of the pear’s sweetness and helped soften the tartness of the green apple.  As a result the wine felt more full and balanced.

I definitely preferred this to the Chardonnay, and will be picking up a couple more bottles on my next visit.

Brotherhood Winery ~ The Varietal Flight

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

There were a couple surprises awaiting me during my tasting.   I opted for the Varietal Tasting, no surprise to regular readers of Vino Verve, I’m sure, as I’ve made no secret for my definite preference for drier wines.  I also will tend to select wines from local grapes before those with imported grapes, or even imported wines.  The Varietal Tasting menu included 6 wines, and our host threw in an additional seventh wine, the Merlot, because it’s so frequently requested.

The first surprise was waiting for me as I approached the tasting bar, small plastic 1oz cups.  Wine glasses were arranged at the end of the bar, but those were for people who had purchased the tour & tasting glass package.  If you just purchase the tasting, it’s served in small tasting cups.  I’ll admit, it’s practical; given the number of people they must get through there on any given day, trying to track glasses, no less wash them, would be a daunting task.  Still, I wasn’t expecting plastic.  Once the momentary flash of surprise passed, I was fine, but I know a number of people who are very particular about their wine vessels, so I warn you now – if you visit Brotherhood, order the Tasting, Tour & Glass package for $10 if you want to avoid the plastic.

The second surprise came immediately on the heels of the first, as my host for the tasting poured a sample of the Blanc de Blancs Champagne. It’s unusual to find a winery willing to include their sparkling wines on a tasting menu, and very welcome when I do find it.  The Blanc de Blancs is a 100% estate grown wine made from Chardonnay grapes grown in Brotherhood’s vineyards in Hudson, New York.  A Brut-style champagne, the wine is very dry with a nice acid bite to the finish.  There’s a pale hint of fruit in the mouth, perhaps peach, although it was tough to define from just a 1oz sip.  Overall, a nicely balanced sparkling wine which would pair well with sharp cheeses, lobster and other seafood.

First of the tables wines was the Chardonnay.  Made from wines grown in New York state, but not all estate-grown, the Chardonnay is a very nice wine with a soft nose with subtle notes of pear.  In the mouth the wine is very smooth, particularly on the front, with notes of pear and cream.  Medium-bodied, with light acid on the finish, and not heavily oaked, the wine is satisfying in the mouth.  For my palate, this wasn’t crisp enough to be a good “summer sipping wine,” but it  would pair well with lighter foods such as chicken or seafood.

The whites concluded with a back-to-back pairing of a dry and semi-dry Riesling.  The Dry Riesling is a fairly new addition to the Brotherhood lineup.  Light and delicate, the wine has a subtle nose, lightly floral with hints of pear.  In the mouth the wine is crisp yet smooth with notes of pear on the front that provide a softness to balance the acid on the finish.  There are also light grapefruit notes providing a slight tanginess that work well with the softer sweetness of the pear.  This will pair very well with food, and even non-Riesling fans should like it.

The Semi-Dry Riesling is more of a traditional Riesling.  Overall the wine is softer and sweeter with less acid on the finish.  The pear notes are stronger, both in the nose and on the palate, and the tangy grapefruit is much more subdued.   This would be a good sipping wine, and it also would pair well with a wide variety of foods, particularly spicy foods such as Thai or Indian.  I could definitely see pairing this with a really good Indian curry.    It’s also a wine of distinction, having been chosen by President Bill Clinton as the wine to represent New York state in the White House wine cellars during his administration.

The final two wines in the Varietal Tasting are both reds, the Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, as our host informed us many people ask, “but what about Merlot?”  So, he started adding in the Merlot as part of the tasting to round out the reds section of the menu.

Pinot Noir With a dusky, slight jammy nose with notes of dark berries, and cherry, the Pinot was an interesting contrast to the subtler, slightly more floral noses of the whites.  Medium-bodied, the wine has lovely notes of blackberry and dark berries along with an earthiness that keeps it from being overly fruity.  There were also notes of leather and a light pepper finish that provided some heat.   According to our host, the wine ages well for another five years, and I found myself really interested in seeing how it ages.   It’s not a bad wine right now, and I imagine it will really open up and become even more interesting when paired with food, but I found myself more intrigued than captivated by it, intrigued enough to purchase a bottle that I’m going to cellar for a few years and see how it fares.

I tried that once with a couple bottles I had picked up on a trip to Napa.  Kevin, Gretchen and our friends Richard and Charles were also on that trip (it was Richard’s 40th-birthday celebration), and despite our all buying prodigious quantities of wine throughout the trip, there was one winery that everyone but me passed on the purchasing.  I remember Kevin looking at me and asking “why did you bother, they weren’t great?”  And I replied “because I want to see what they’ll be like in a few years.”  I was a true wine neophyte then, and this was a real leap of faith for me, as I didn’t have any experience on which to base my hunch that they could be really interesting.  But my hunch paid off!  I opened them about 4 years later and found them to be rich, velvety, and quite lovely – and the hit of the backyard barbecue I was hosting that evening.  Unfortunately Kevin wasn’t there that evening, so I couldn’t pour him an “I told you so” glass.  Here’s hoping the hunch pays off again.

After the Pinot Noir, we moved on to the “bonus tasting, Brotherhood’s Merlot.  A more full-bodied wine, this is one of the better Merlots I’ve found in the Northeast.  As our host described it, “it goes in smooth; it finishes smooth.”  Made from Long Island grapes, the nose is very strong and jammy with notes of plum and cherry.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth with nice tannins.  Plummy and rich in the mouth, the oaking is not as strong as in the Pinot, providing a light smokiness rather than the stronger leather I found in the Pinot.  Overall a nice wine, and Merlot fans should find this interesting.  As for me, I was still more intrigued by the Pinot.

And last, but never least, the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Like the Merlot, the Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from Long Island grapes.  Made more in a Bordeaux style, rather than the hearty, robust California style, those who prefer California Cabs may be slightly disappointed.  As for me, I found the wine surprisingly interesting, particularly given that I don’t have high expectations of Northeastern Cabernet Sauvignons.  The nose is rich, deep and dark, with notes of plum similar to the Merlot, but less jammy.  In the mouth, the wine starts out with a kick, a light peppery heat on the front which provides a bite which then later smooths out to a plummy finish.  There are subtle notes of leather from the oaking, and the opens up nicely in the mouth.

I went home that afternoon with a bottle of the Dry Riesling for the near future, a bottle of the Pinot Noir to cellar for a few years, and a mental note to come back to sample the Traditional Flight – and the winery tour.

Taylor Brooke Winery ~ The Whites

Winery Co-Owner, Linda Augur in the Tasting Room

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

One of the great things about writing for Vino Verve, other than hitting the road and exploring new wineries, is that I find I’m inspiring others to do the same.  Often it starts with friends joining me on the wine trail and enjoying it so much that they then take others.  Less often, I’ll hear from someone who read one of the posts and said, “you know, I thought I’d give it a try.”  One of my SOTS (Sisters of the Connecticut Wine Trail) buddies, Jean Levesque, dragged her husband out on Memorial Day weekend as well, spending the afternoon at Sharpe Hill.  Tom, her husband, enjoyed himself so much that Jean should have no trouble dragging him out again – in between SOTS excursions, of course.

Taylor Brooke was first discovered by another wine trail buddy, Christy Mangle (formerly Christy Sherard), who with her husband, Jeff, headed over there late last Fall. Their reviews were so glowing that I immediately moved Taylor Brooke to the top of the list of remaining wineries.  Unfortunately, by the time I was able to get there (New Year’s weekend), they were closing down for the season and were really open only for wine sales.  Upon hearing that I had driven over from Hartford, in the snow no less, Linda Augur kindly offered to pour an abbreviated tasting menu for me that afternoon, and I promised to come back for the full experience once they opened again in the Spring.

Which is where I found myself on that beautiful Sunday afternoon over Memorial Day weekend.   Taylor Brooke produces 10 table and dessert wines and five seasonal wines.    The table wines include 4 whites, including one of their fruit-infused Rieslings; 3 reds, and 3 dessert wines.  Guests are invited to taste two wines on the house, and then can select either another six wines (for a total of 8 ) for $4 or the entire menu, including any of the available seasonal wines, for $6.  A logo glass may be purchased for an additional $3.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to sample new wines, I immediately opted for the full tasting menu for $6.

Woodstock Hill White The tasting kicks off with a lovely blend of estate grown Vignoles and Riesling and Connecticut-grown Cayuga White.  Although the Augurs have recently planted Cayuga White themselves, it will be another few years before those grapes are ready for production.  In the meantime, they partner with a nearby vineyard to obtain their Cayuga White grapes.  A pale straw color, the wine has a delicate floral nose with notes of orange blossom.  In the mouth, the wine is crisp but delicate, lightly sweet with floral notes, and just a touch of acid on the finish to provide balance.    This would pair nicely with seafood and summer pasta dishes.

Riesling Next up was the Riesling.  One of Taylor Brooke’s specialties is their Rieslings, producing a number that are infused with fruit essences.  This is a dry Riesling, and one of my favorites among the Taylor Brooke whites, second only to the Green Apple Riesling.  The color is a very light yellow. The nose is light and delicate with notes of grass, in particular that light, fresh early spring grassy smell when the grass is really starting to come up again after the winter.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and smooth with light notes of grass and maybe green pepper.  There’s a slight buttery finish, nothing overwhelming just enough to provide a touch of sweetness and a soft lingering finish.  Overall a very nice wine, and a nice change from the fruitier wines found elsewhere throughout Connecticut.

Traminette Taylor Brooke led by owner and winemaker Richard Augur were among the first to grow Traminette in Connecticut.  The grape is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and Seyval Blanc, created by Cornell University in 1996.  While it has many of the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, the Traminette is particularly suited for the shorter growing seasons and colder climates of the northeast and upper Midwest, and you’ll find Traminette grown in New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, as well as New England.   Taylor Brooke’s Traminette is 100% estate grown.  A pale straw color, with a lovely, slightly earthy nose, the wine is very similar to a Gewurztraminer.  Sweeter than the previous two wines, with floral notes on the palate as well as light touches of peach and honey.  The peach notes really come through at the end and the wine finishes beautifully.  This would pair well with spicier, but not overly heavy food: Thai, for example, or even sushi.

Green Apple Riesling My favorite of the Taylor Brooke whites, this is one of their fruit-infused Rieslings.   Not a blend, the fruit-infused Rieslings are the result of incorporating natural fruit essence (similar in concept to vanilla extract) into 100% Riesling.  The results are very impressive producing wines with deeper, more distinctive fruit notes without creating overly sweet fruit wines.   The notes of Green Apple are distinct in the nose, but gentle – I expected the green apple to be much stronger than it actually was.  The earthy, slightly grassy notes of the Riesling were still present and blended beautifully with the slightly floral tart smell of green apple blossoms.  In the mouth, the wine has many of the hallmarks of the Riesling, drier with lightly grassy notes.  As with the nose, the green apple is distinct but not overwhelming, providing both a light sweetness and a crisp tartness reminiscent of that first bite into a crisp green apple.  The mouth feel is soft and silky and the wine has just enough acid on the finish to provide a nice balance and contrast.  Overall, a very nice wine.

Summer Peach The whites concluded with the first of Taylor Brooke’s seasonal wines, the Summer Peach.  Available May 1st each year, the Summer Peach is one of their more popular wines.  Like all the Rieslings, the color is a pale straw.  The nose is stronger than either the Riesling or the Green Apple Riesling, with very distinct notes of peach.  In the mouth the peach notes are strong, but not too sweet.  Like the Green Apple Riesling, the mouth feel is soft and silky, with a satisfying finish.  The acid provides a very slightly bitter finish which I found to be a bit off-putting; it’s almost as if the strength of the peach notes were leading me to expect more of a dessert wine with a smoother, richer finish.   Still, overall a very nice wine and one that will pair well with a wide variety of late spring/summer dishes, particularly grilled food, seafood and summer pastas.

As that finished the whites, I took a short break, rinsed my glass and prepared for the Reds…

Tip O’Neill Would Enjoy This!

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I love local wine. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t drink wine that is made more than 100 miles away from my home. Why? Well at the moment there are only 37 wineries within that boundary and I don’t love all of them (Though I do love several that I have encountered so far). Plus, I love to explore and tasting new wine and food is like taking a little vacation from your everyday life. I call this seeming paradox the Tip O’Neill Corollary. Why? Well, Tip O’Neil once famously remarked that all politics is local. And the fact of the matter is, that all wine is too. It is local to someone. So I go ahead an enjoy those wines too and sometimes I even write about them.

This last week I tried a Crémant d’Alsace , a sparkling wine from Alsace (home of my Miller ancestors). I had tried still wines from the same House, Gustave Lorentz and had always liked them. So I was really looking forward to tasting this sparkler.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The wine was wonderful with medium sized bubbles and a dry but fruity taste. The varietals used to produce this bottle were Chardonnay 60%, Pinot Blanc 20% and Pinot Noir 20%. The winemakers feel that this provides fruity liveliness (from the Chardonnay), freshness and elegance from the Pinot Blanc and depth and persistance from the Pinot Noir.

In addition to the Crémant, the Maison Lorentz also produces still wines from traditional Alsatian variatels, including several Grand Cru Rieslings, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, several late harvest wines and Eaux-de-Vie, liqueurs and an Alsatian Marc which is a type of grappa made from the skins of Gewurztraminer grapes.

The Crémant and still wines (Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris) are available at my favorite wine shop, Good Grapes. The Crémant is about $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

I Hope There Are No Rattlesnakes In Those Hills

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Located completely within the Columbia Valley AVA and within Benton and Yakima Counties, Rattlesnake Hills is a 16 mile long stretch of territory of basalt mountains. The AVA was created in 2006 but has been under cultivation since 1968 when the Morrison Vineyard was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling for Chateau St. Michelle. Currently there are nearly 30 vineyards in the area some of which can be found here

Grape varietals grown in the hills include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürtztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Petite Sirah, Riesling, Semillion and Viognier.

The AVA is centered around Zillah, Washington. I am hoping given that I will be in Walla Walla which is relatively close by, that I will get to experience the hills for myself. I was especially relieved to learn that the name “rattlesnake” comes from the shape of the hills… and not for any reptilian invaders in the area. I am like Indiana Jones that way. I hate snakes.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

More Washington Places

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I hate this time of year. I can’t hit the road and explore the way I would like to as there are too many things going on here. (Birthdays, Superbowls, etc.) So, instead? I make plans and dream of hitting the road.

And with a trip to Washington State coming up at the end of the June that gives me some time to think about where I will be going. Washington is full of viticultural areas that are mostly part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. I am working on exploring the smaller viticultural areas first.. and began with Walla Walla since that is where I will be visiting.

This time, I am exploring the Yakima Valley. Years ago, Kevin and I drove around parts of Washington State and got pretty close to Yakima. It was an amazing place. Highly irrigated, the area is a fruit belt. Orchards of apples, peaches and even a town called Apricot (which we passed). The rest of the area not being irrigated looks like a moonscape. It is dry and desolate and I was amazed by the difference between the lush valleys and bleak hills.

That being said, the area is home to nearly 50 wineries and has cultivated wine grapes since 1869. The main varietals planted are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Sangiovese, Malbec, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Viognier.

Hopefully, I will be able see some of these wineries on my trip west. Oh, and like my map of of the Central Delaware Valley AVA, I find a recognizable shape in this map. Instead of a dragon, today, I see a whale. In fact, given that I grew up on the East Coast, I see Fudgie The Whale, the beloved ice cream cake shape from Carvel. I won’t test this theory by inverting the shape to see if I can identify the equally beloved Cookie Puss. But you East Coasters will understand my drift….
Yakima Valley 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.

Firelands Wines

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

So after all that discussion of the Ohio and the Firelands, did I finally get around to tasting any wine? Of course I did!

Firelands Tasting RoomI began with the Pinot Grigio, currently the most popular wine according to the ladies in the tasting room. I could taste green apple and grass. It was a little less crisp than some of the pinot grigios than I have had in the past, but this is a good thing… Sometimes, those wines get too bitey and for some reason that makes the hinge of my jaw hurt. (I never said that logic was my strong suit).

Next up was the Riesling. This was advertised as tasting of apples but I thought it had more of a honeyed flavor that reminded me of pears. This is made in what I consider a more traditional style, in that it was semi-sweet. I love the new modern dry Rieslings as well, but there is something to be said for the full, fruity and floral tones of the traditional method.

I even sampled the Gewurztraminer which I had tasted with Henry Bishop, Rory and Kevin (albeit not the same vintage). It is still an excellent blend of tropical fruits and rose petals. The best of two different worlds.

Home Wine Making at FirelandsAdditionally, I tasted both the Pinot Noir (a wine that I have enjoyed from Great Lakes regions, i.e., Niagara Escarpment) and the Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet was herbal and lightly spicy and nicely dry. The Pinot Noir was smoke with anise and cherry.

Additional offerings under the Firelands label include:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Barrel Select Chardonnay
Rose de St. George
Country Estate Red
Walleye White and
Ice Wine

Additional wines from the other Lonz, Inc. labels were available including the Mantey, Dover, Mon Ami and Lonz (from grapes produced on Middle Bass Island). I picked up a Mantey Cream Sherry for my father. He has always been a fan of Ohio sherries and am looking forward to tasting it with it in the near future (most likely Thanksgiving).

Additionally, the winery is a source for homewine makers and sells juice in the autumn (until it runs out).

Sharpe Hill ~ White and Rosé

Marguerite BarrettSharpe Hill, Pomfret, CT / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, October 1, 2009

Christy and I normally head out on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, so being able to go during the week was a bit of a treat.  Normally we head out on the Win(e)ding Roads once a month; we’d love to do more, but what can I say, life intervenes.  And even though Connecticut is a small state, we often are looking at an hour’s drive just to get over to the wine trails – so we generally plan a route that allows us to hit several wineries and get the most of the trip.

But we were on vacation, and this was somewhat spur of the moment.  It was a freebie, if you will, and while we had the address of a second winery plugged into the GPS, as we pulled into Sharpe Hill, it was with a sense of leisure – it didn’t really matter if we decided to stay all day.

The other nice thing about heading out on a weekday is that you encounter far fewer people.  It’s definitely a more pleasant experience when you aren’t trying to jockey for position at the tasting bar or getting elbowed by the guy next to you who has definitely had one (or two or three) too many.

Sharpe Hill Terrace / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

We picked up our glasses and headed out to find seats on the grassy terrace.  There were a few other small groups, but the seats are arranged in small intimate groupings that seat up to 4 people, and we were able to relax and settle into our chosen seats and to some extent feel like we had the place to ourselves.  It was a really nice change from the normal lining-up-at-the bar experience.

We had opted for the full tasting menu – 12 wines including six whites, four reds, and two dessert wines.  First up was a tasting of Connecticut’s best-selling and best-known wine

Ballet of Angels This was not my first encounter with Ballet of Angels.  I had picked up a bottle at a local package store not long after I moved here from Chicago, and had given it as gifts to out-of-state friends.  I even got my cousin Bobbie hooked on it, and brought her a half-case of the wine at Thanksgiving last year.  It is a good wine, but there were several others in the Sharpe Hill line-up that I found myself liking better.   Ballet of Angels is a blend of 10 different grapes, with Viognier the primary grape.  A pale yellow, not quite straw color, the wine has a pleasant, slightly sweet nose with notes of grapefruit.  In the mouth, the wine is crisp, clean and light-bodied with lovely notes of citrus and very clean finish.   While a dry wine, the wine has a brightness that will appeal to even those who prefer sweet wines.

American Chardonnay 2007 Hands-down this was my favorite of the Sharpe Hill whites.  aged in American oak for six-eight months, this is a drier wine than the Ballet of Angels.  Also pale yellow in color, the nose is grassy with a pleasant mustiness from the oak.  The wine has an earthiness that I haven’t found too often in Connecticut wines, they tend more towards the fruity rather than the earthy, but this wine has lovely notes of green pepper which are balanced by a slightly acidic finish.  All in all a very nice wine.

Cuvee Ammi Phillips 2007 This is a limited edition wine, although our host for the afternoon wasn’t sure exactly how many cases they produce each year.  The Ammi Phillips is 100% Chardonnay aged 18 months in brand new French oak barrels.  The result is a richer, deeper and more buttery wine than the American Chardonnay.  The color, while also a pale yellow is a bit deeper than the previous two wines and has some jewel-tone qualities, catching the light nicely.  The nose has lovely notes of butter and smoke, and the wine has a soft, smooth mouth-feel.  The finish has a touch of both sweetness and acid which balance the smoke, producing a very satisfying wine.  That being said, I still preferred the earthiness of the American Chardonnay over the buttery smoothness of the Cuvee.

Sharpe Hill Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite BarrettVineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2007 This was described as a French-style Chardonnay, aged six-eight months in French oak barrels.  Like the American Chardonnay, this wine is more earthy than fruity, with lovely floral and slight grassy notes on the nose and in the mouth.  It’s not as smokey as the Cuvee; a result of being aged in older barrels.  While not a sweet wine, it’s definitely sweeter than either of the other Chardonnays, but finishes with a slight tartness.  This was my least favorite of the Sharpe Hill Chardonnays; I didn’t find it balanced as nicely as either of the other two.

Vineyard Dry Riesling 2008 While generally not a fan of Rieslings, often finding them sweeter than I generally like, there are Rieslings which I have really liked and will stock in my cellar.  Unfortunately this is not one of them.   Described in the tasting notes as having “complex citrus flavors,” I found the flavors to be more overpowering than complex.  Very strong notes of grapefruit are present in both the nose and the mouth, so much so that they overwhelm the wine.   Christy concurred, and we both passed quickly over the Riesling and on to the lone Rosé.

Dry Summer Rosé Made from St. Croix grapes, the Rosé is a lovely soft pale rose color, with a floral, slightly earthy nose.  In the mouth, there are subtle notes of strawberry which give the wine an interesting sweetness before finishing on a slightly tart note.  This, too, wasn’t one of our favorites, although we did like it better than the Riesling.  Christy observed that it seemed watered-down; I don’t know that I felt that, but I did find the wine didn’t have a lot of depth or complexity.

Despite the somewhat disappointing finish with the last two wines in this category, we had really enjoyed the Chardonnays and now cleaned our glasses, sat back and prepared to tackle the reds…