Sakonnet Vineyards ~ the Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite BarrettSakonnet Vineyards, Rhode Island / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Tuesday, October 27th

Looking back over my notes, it appears that Christy and I only selected five wines (2 whites, 2 reds and 1 dessert wine) each, rather than the six we were entitled to.  I’m trying to remember if that’s because we each chose the same wine in two cases – or if we just counted wrong.  Knowing us, it was probably the latter.

Anyway – having finished the whites, we moved on to the Reds.  First up was the

Cock of the Walk Red – Like its counterpart Cock of the Walk White, the tasting notes also describe Cock of the Walk Red as having “lots of ATTITUDE.”  And unlike the white, with the red I did get attitude.  A blend of Lemberger, Cabernet Franc and Chancellor, this is a medium-bodied, fairly complex wine.  The color is a lovely dark plum and the nose has rich notes of plum.  In the mouth the wine opens with notes of spice and a hint of cinnamon and has rich notes of plum and cherries on the finish.  There’s an interesting musty earthiness, particularly on the finish, that gives the wine some character.  It’s a more complex wine than I expected, and Christy and I were divided; I liked it much better than she did.  The one thing we did agree on is that you’re unlikely to be neutral about this wine – you’ll either like it or you won’t.

Petite Red This is a new wine for Sakonnet, released for the first time this year.  A blend of younger estate grapes (interestingly they don’t share the specific varietals), this is a decent table wine.  Red-purple in color, the nose is bright and fruity, and there are bright notes of berries and cherry on the palate.  The Petite Red could pair with a wide variety of food, and would definitely be a”utility-player” wine to keep on hand.

Cabernet Franc 2005 As my regular readers know, I’ve been preferring Cabernet Francs lately.   The grape does well in the colder, northern climes, and the wines produced are dispelling the myth that the Northeast is too cold to produce strong reds.  While I’d probably rank this in the middle of the pack of New England Cab Francs I’ve tasted to date, I did enjoy this wine.  A lovely garnet color that caught the light nicely, the wine has an interesting plum & pepper nose.  In the mouth, the wine has notes of black currants and a touch of grassiness.  The oak brings out notes of musty leather in the nose and an earthiness in the mouth that provides a sharp, dry finish.

Sakonnet Vineyards, Little Compton, RI / Photo: Marguerite BarrettRhode Island Red The final wine we chose was the Rhode Island Red,  which Sakonnet calls “New England’s Signature Red.”   A blend of Cabernet Franc, Chancellor and Lemberger, this, like the Petite Red, is a nice “utility-player” table red, although this is a richer, more complex wine than the Petite Red.  The nose has soft floral notes, and in the mouth there are light notes of blueberry, a touch of grassiness, and a very light toastiness from the oak.

That finished the reds, and we had just enough time to squeeze in one dessert wine each, Christy opted for the

Port 2006 Made from estate-grown Chancellor grapes and aged for two years in American Oak before being fortified with brandy.  The result is a rich port wine, with notes of cherry and a slightly peppery finish.

My choice was a late harvest Vidal Blanc

Sirrius Christy and I both really liked this wine.  The nose was lovely (in my notes I actually underlined lovely several times) with that rich, deep sweetness that you so often get from Vidal Blanc grapes.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and rich, with soft notes of apricot.  Definitely a nice dessert wine, the Sirrius would also be good sipped on its own as an aperitif.

Comparing notes, we both agreed that the three Vidal Blanc wines (Vidal Blanc 2008, Fume Vidal Reserve 2007 and Sirrius) are Sakonnet’s stars and really stood out from the rest of the pack.  With that, we packed up and headed back down the road to Newport and dinner on the water.

Sakonnet Vineyards is located in Little Compton, Rhode Island.  You can find their wines in local package stores and restaurants throughout Rhode Island, or purchase wine directly from the winery or their website.  They offer free shipping on cases over $150 and also offer a Rooster Rewards program in which you earn points towards discounts off future purchases.

Sharpe Hill ~ Reds and Dessert Wines

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

Continued from Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ballet of Angels may be Connecticut’s best-selling wine, but both Christy and I found ourselves much more taken with Sharpe Hill’s reds than with any of their whites.  First up was their best-selling red,

Red Seraph A blend of Merlot and St. Croix, this is a dry medium-bodied wine that will pair well with a wide variety of foods.  The nose is very spicy with notes of pepper and smoke.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth with light smoke and notes of dark stone fruits and a spicy finish.  The Merlot grapes provide body, while the St. Croix provides a crisp bite at the end which gives the wine some interest.  Not my favorite red, but I did like this wine.

Red Seraph 2006 Vintage Merlot Also a blend of Merlot and St. Croix, there is a greater percentage of Merlot in this blend making the wine smoother and richer overall than the Red Seraph.  That being said, this was my least favorite of all of the reds.  Both in the nose and the mouth I detected notes of cherry, although they are more subtle in the mouth than on the nose.  The oak is more subdued producing very light notes of smoke.  It’s not a bad wine, but in general I didn’t find it as complex or interesting as the other reds, particularly the next two…

Cabernet Franc 2006 This and the St. Croix 2006 (see below) were hands-down my two favorite wines of the afternoon.  I have been finding myself drinking a lot of Cabernet Francs lately, and this was one that made it on my list of “wines to come back for.”  Medium-garnet in color, the nose is rich and spicy with interesting notes of tobacco.  The mouth feel is lush and silky, and on the palate the wine is smooth with a smokey spiciness that balanced the light fruit notes of dark berries nicely to produce a wine with interesting character and depth.  Christy starred this as one of her favorites of the afternoon as well.

St. Croix 2006 100% estate grown, the St. Croix is the second of my two favorite wines of the afternoon.  Also a medium garnet color, the St. Croix is a fuller-bodied wine, with a soft, lush mouth feel.  The nose is soft with subtle notes of berries which are also detectable on the palate before the wine finishes with intriguing notes of licorice.  The licorice provides both a bite and a hint of sweetness that made the wine more interesting.  Our host indicated that this wine pairs well with game as well as with more traditional dishes such as beef or lamb.   While I really enjoyed this wine, Christy was less impressed, finding a lot of sediment at the bottom of her glass.

That concluded the reds but not the tasting as we cleaned our glasses and settled in to enjoy dessert in the form of the last two wines on the menu.

Select Late Harvest 2006 An estate wine made from 100% Vignole, this is a really, really nice late harvest wine.  Rich, lush and sweet, the color is a lovely orange-rose color that catches the light nicely.  The nose is subtle with soft notes of fruit which blend nicely in the mouth.  No one fruit note is predominant, and the result is a smooth, balanced wine that would be excellent on it’s own or paired with desserts, cheeses or fruits.

Pontefract 2006 This is a port-style dessert wine with rich notes of chocolate in both the nose and the mouth.  Very smooth, I found it not as rich as other ports and the mouth feel wasn’t quite as lush as I expect.  Made from 100% estate-grown St. Croix grapes, despite being a dessert wine,  the Pontefract retains that interesting final bite that one finds so often with St. Croix.

Both the Select Late Harvest and the Pontefract are produced in more limited quantities and neither are available by the case, and the Pontefract is limited to three bottles per customer.

As the tasting ended, we sat back and took stock of the afternoon: the American Chardonnay and the Cabernet Franc were our favorite white and red, and runners-up in the “wines we’d come back for” category also included the Cuvee, the St. Croix, the Red Seraph and both (or either) of the dessert wines.

All in all one of the more successful – and relaxed – Win(e)ding Road afternoons.

Sharpe Hill vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

Newport Vineyards ~ The Wines

Marguerite BarrettNewport Vineyards / Photo: Christy Sherard
Contributing Writer

Newport Vineyards has an extensive menu of wines, 31 in total; one of the largest selections that I’ve seen yet from a Northeastern regional winery.   The menu begins with 13 whites divided into four categories: dry, no-oak (2), dry, oaked (1), Alsatian Style (6), and the semi-dry (4), before moving into the Rosés (4), the Reds (8), the Dessert Wines, which include a Port and an Ice Wine (4), and finishing with a Brut sparkling wine and a hard apple cider.

A tasting, which runs $9, includes your choice of five wines and allows you to join one of the two daily tours of the winery (1 and 3 pm).  Unfortunately, if you elect not to take the tour or arrive after the tours have finished for the day (as we did), the price still remains $9.  Tastings of the Ice Wine and the Brut will run you an additional $1 each.  Individual glasses of wine can be purchased for $6, although a handful of the premium wines run $8 per glass.

Christy and I took our time studying the menu and selecting our wines, while listening to our hosts explain ad nauseum to a group at the other end of the bar that tastings work best if you start with the whites and move on to the reds.  I’m always amused, and often exasperated, by the people who don’t know what they’re doing – but desperately and often pretentiously pretend that they do.   The winery staff had my sympathy that day; I can only imagine how frustrating it is to watch someone select a fuller-bodied wine like a cabernet franc as their first wine, follow it up with a light-bodied white, and then have to listen to them complain about how the “white tastes funny” – all the while keeping a polite smile on your face.

But eventually the group settled down, and our host wandered over to pour our tasting.  I elected to begin with the one dry, oak-aged white, the

2007 Newport Chardonnay A nice wine, but not one that blew me away.  The color is a very pale yellow, and the nose has light grassy notes with a very light touch of citrus.  A light-bodied wine, in the mouth the flavors are light, clean and smooth with light sweet notes of pear and a touch of lemon on the finish.  The citrus is crisp and balances the smoother, deeper flavors of the pear, and the oak provides a light toastiness.   The tasting notes indicate this would pair well with grilled fish and poultry as well as light cheeses.

2008 Tranquility Next up for me was one of the Alsatian-style wines, a blend of gewurztraminer (34%), muscat ottonel (34%), pinot gris (22%), and riesling (10%).  Like the Newport Chardonnay, Tranquility is also a pale yellow color.  The nose is bright with lovely floral notes and a hint of sweetness from the muscat.  A light-bodied wine, yet fuller than the Chardonnay, Tranquility is a soft dry-style wine with floral notes, low oak, and a touch of sweetness that provides depth and character.  It’s an interesting wine and my favorite of the wines I tasted that afternoon.  Tranquility is a gold medal winner for Best Vinifera Blend at the Atlantic Wine Competition.

Newport Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett2006 Rochambeau Named in honor of Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, the French General who fought with George Washington and helped defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown (1781),  Newport Vineyard’s Rochambeau is a blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon and Landot Noir.   Made in the Bordeaux-style, the wine is medium-bodied, bright and tangy.  The nose has interesting notes of pepper and berries.  In the mouth, the wine is young with a tangy “back” taste and strong berry notes, particularly on the finish.  I tend to prefer stronger, deeper reds, but I was intrigued by this wine and will definitely be giving this another try on my next visit.

2007 Cabernet Franc I have become a real fan of Cabernet Franc, finding it one of the richest most satisfying reds produced here in the Northeast, and even when not touring local wineries am finding myself gravitating towards cabernet francs and zinfandels over my former favorites pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.  Newport Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc didn’t disappoint, but I didn’t find it as strong as the Cabernet Francs from Chamard or Gouveia.  The color is a lovely jewel-tone medium garnet that subtly sparkles in the glass.  The nose is deep and soft with light notes of earth and fruit and just a hint of spice.  A medium-bodied wine, there are soft notes of fruit in the mouth – I detected dark berries and just a hint of cherry brightness.  The finish is clean with lingering notes of pepper that give the wine an interesting character.  Perhaps I had a tasting from a recently opened bottle, but I did feel that the wine needed to breathe longer to display it’s full potential.

2006 Newport Jazz I finished out the afternoon with a dessert wine, a Sauterne-style, late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  Despite my general fondness for dessert wines, this was my least favorite of the afternoon.  A lovely dark gold color, the nose was rich and sweet and held a lot of promise that unfortunately the wine didn’t deliver.  Surprisingly, in the mouth the wine was slightly dry with a sharp finish.  The mouth feel had that silky smoothness that one expects from a dessert wine, but the balance was somehow just “off.”  It may that I had a tasting from a bad bottle, so I will definitely give this another try before writing it off altogether.

Priam Vineyards ~ Reserve Tastings & Dessert Wines (Connecticut)

Priam Vineyards, Colchester, CT

Priam Vineyards, Colchester, CT

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I’ve probably mentioned before that I know many people who won’t even try dessert wines, saying “I don’t like sweet wines.”  I was one of those people for a long time, then I tried Ice Wine and realized that dessert, late harvest and ice wines are a different breed.  Richer and more decadent, the sweetness in a good dessert wine is never cloying, and only enhances the depth and character of the wine.  There are definitely examples of not-so-good dessert wines, but the benefit of a tasting is that you can try many without having to commit to the price of full bottles.  And when you do find a good one, it’s heaven.

Priam produces two excellent Dessert Wines, the Essence of St. Croix and a Late Harvest Riesling.  Both are available on the tasting menu for an additional fee, and I strongly recommend adding them both to your tasting.  

Essence of St. Croix is the 2005 Vineyard Reserve St. Croix pressing.  It’s fashioned as a port-style wine, and aged for two years in oak barrels which help provide the depth, richness and smokiness that give this wine so much character.  The nose has strong notes of spice and smoke and a touch of cherry.  In the mouth, the wine is rich and deep with notes of cherry and blackberry that provide the sweetness one expects of dessert wines.   This was hands-down my favorite wine of the tasting.  This would pair exceptionally well with strong cheeses, perhaps even more so than it would with a sweet dessert.  As with amost all of Priam’s wines, the Essense of St. Croix is a multiple-award winner, garnering A silver Medal in the 2007 Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competition and Bronze Medals in the 2008 and 2002 Amenti Del Vio Internaitonal Wine Competions, and the 2006 Amenti Del Vino-Eastern States Wine Competition and the 2003 International Eastern Wine Competition.

The last wine on the menu that day was the 

Late Harvest Riesling Gary Crump, owner and winemaker, mentioned the Late Harvest Riesling is one of their favorites.  Slightly drier than the Essence of St. Croix, the Riesling has lovely notes of honey, peach and pear in both the nose and the mouth.  A nice level of acidity lends a crispness to the wine which nicely balances the sweetness.  I did like this wine, but not as much as the Essence of St. Croix, which I found to have a bit more depth and character.  But both wines are excellent, and the Late Harvest Riesling would be lovely paired with fruit desserts or paired with chilled cheese and fruit on a hot summer evening.   The Riesling won Gold Medals in the 2008 and 2003 Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competitions, a Silver Medal in the 2006 Amenti Del Vino-Eastern States Wine Competition and Bronze Medals in the 2008 and 207 International Eastern Wine Competitions and the 2004 and 2007 Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competitions.

With that, I ordered a few bottles shipped off to Gretchen and Kevin and grabbed a Westchester Red and a Salmon River White to take home for myself, said my farewells and headed back up Route 2 towards home.

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Hopkins Vineyard

The Sweet Wines
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
The normal tasting menu at Hopkins includes one sweet wine, the Night Owl Vidal Blanc.   However for an additional $2.50 you can also include a tasting of the Ice Wine.
Because Hopkins only has two wines in this category, I normally would have grouped these with the Semi-Sweet wines and covered both categories in one post.  However, both Christy and I agreed, hands-down these are the two best wines at Hopkins, and as such deserve their own post.
Night Owl 2007 Vidal Blanc Estate Bottled  This is a Late Harvest dessert wine.  Late Harvest refers to grapes that have been left on the vine longer than normal, being allowed to dehydrate on the vine.  The result is a grape with more concentrated sugars, thus producing sweeter wines.   The Night Owl is a smooth, full-bodied wine that dances across the tongue.  The nose is mellow with hints of apricot, and the wine itself has subtle notes of apricot and hazelnut.   It would pair nicely with a fruit and cheese platter, light desserts, or even serve as the finish to a meal all by itself.
Ice Wine 2006 Estate Bottled  Also made from Vidal Blanc grapes, Ice Wine differs from Late Harvest in that the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine before harvesting, and harvesting is usually done at night or in the very early morning to ensure the grapes remain frozen.  On the day Christy and I stopped by they were getting ready to harvest this year’s crop of Ice Wine grapes starting at 4:00 am the next morning.
Hopkins’s Ice Wine is hands-down my favorite wine not just from Hopkins but on the wine trail to date.  The bouquet is gorgeous, rich, fruity, decadent…  The color is a lovely golden yellow, and, to borrow a phrase from the tasting notes, the wine is “fantastically sweet.”  This wine just melts in your mouth.  It is a beautiful blend of fruit with just a touch of honey.  Absolutely gorgeous. 
Since first being introduced to Ice Wine a number of years ago during a wine trip to the Niagara region in Canada, I’ve been a big fan.  However, not many wine stores carry Ice Wine, and those that do often have a limited selection.  I’ve tried those Ice Wines that I could find with mixed results – all are sweet, but not all have the same body and depth – and in general, have found that I greatly preferred those from the Niagara region.  That is, until Hopkins…  In my opinion, Hopkins’s Ice Wine can hold its own against any of the Niagara wines any day.
Even if you’re not a fan of sweet wines, if you do get to New Preston, CT, don’t pass up the Hopkins Late Harvest or Ice Wine – those two alone are worth the trip!

What did you drink this weekend?

Oh, I am not going to pretend that this was the only thing that I drank this weekend… after all, my folks were over for about nine hours… but this was the first selection.

The wine, brought by my father, is a blend of 60% Müller-Thurgau and 40% Silvaner and grown in the Nahe wine region.

As a spatlese is “late harvest” many Americans presume that they are dessert wines. But in Germany “late harvest” is a designation of residual sugar in the wine and is actually among the least “sugary” of the German wines. Spatlese wines can actually be sweet or trocken (dry).

The Weinhaus Lang was actually semi-dry and full of fruit. Kevin thought it tasted of warm honey… where I tasted golden delicious apples as well as honey. We paired it a selection of charcuterie which was a perfect match.

Our appetite’s were whetted and ready for more!