Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Reds and Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finished the whites and blushes, next up were the reds and dessert wines.   On the menu that afternoon were four table wines and a dessert wines, opening with

Barn Red 100% Leon Millot, all gorwn locally, and aged in a 50/50 split of French and American oak.  This was my first encounter with Leon Millot, at least as far as I was aware.  The color is a very deep purple, and hte nose is rich, smooth and fruity with discernible notes of cherry.  In the mouth, the cherry is also present but not as strong a presence as in other cold climate red grapes, particularly the Marechal Foch.  The wine is somewhat fruit forward with smooth notes of cherry in the front and finishing with notes of leather in the back.  According to their website, this is Savage Oakes “signature red wine” – and it’s definitely worth a stop, if for no other reason than to add Leon Millot to your list of grapes.

Blue Moon A table wine, Blue Moon is 100% Maine Wild Blueberries and aged in French Oak.   The result is not at at what I expected.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a fruit wine; like many of the fruit winemakers here in the Northeast, the team at Savage Oakes has produced a dry table wine that has a degree of complexity that one doesn’t anticipate in a fruit wine.  The color and the nose are what I expected from a blueberry wine: a lovely deep blue-purple color and a nose that evokes late summer blueberries on the vine – it’s really a lovely nose.  In the mouth, though, the wine really surprises.  Not only drier than I anticipated, the blueberry notes were much more subdued and subtle – they tantalized the palate.  The finish is peppery with light notes of smoke, and the wine built nicely in layers over subsequent sips.  It wasn’t my favorite of Savage Oakes wines by an means, but it was more interesting than I had assumed it would be.

Come Spring Hands-down, my favorite wine of the entire Savage Oakes line-up.  Come Spring is a Beaujolais-style wine made from locally grown Marechal Foch grapes.  I’ve come a long way since my first encounter with Marechal Foch at Haight-Brown winery almost two years ago.  At the time I was put off by the “bite” I found at the end and attributed the brightness to the wine’s being young, rather than it being a characteristic of the grape; definitely was not an initial fan.  However, over time and with more chances to experience the grape, including Haight Brown’s beaujolais-style Nouveau Foch, I have become more and more intrigued.  Savage Oakes Come Spring, obviously, did not disappoint.

The color is a lovely dark purply-ruby.  The nose has the soft cherry notes that are a hallmark of the grape.  And in the mouth, the wine is lush and smooth with the Marcheal Foch bright tangy notes of cherry and notes of pepper and leather finish.

Concord The last of the reds is named, as you can image, from the Concord grapes used in it’s production.  An interesting choice as Concord grapes are used more often jams and juices than in wine.  I found myself approaching the wine with some slight trepidation – while I love lush dessert wines, particularly Ice Wines and Late Harvest Wines, I’m generally not a fan of most sweet or even semi-sweet table wines, and wasn’t too interested in a wine that probably tasted like grape juice.  But I’ve learned never to assume – always to taste.  Rather than being fermented grape juice, the wine is subtle and very much drier than anticipated.

The color is a lovely garnet color, the first surprise, as I half-expected the wine to be a dark purple similar to grape jelly.  The nose was definitely Concord, lightly jammy with lush notes of grape.   In the mouth, the wine has a touch of sweetness (the tasting notes indicate a 1.0% residual sugar) that is not overpowering.  The grape notes are present, but are more reminiscent of fresh grapes than of grape juice or jellies.  There are nice tannins on the finish providing just enough of a bite to give the wine some depth.  Overall, this is a more interesting wine than I, and I expect many people, initially give it credit for.

Blueberry Pi The tasting concluded with another 100% Blueberry wine, this one a dessert wine.  Although not fortified, this is made in the port-style, and fermented to a 17% alcohol content.  Like the Blue Moon, the wine is garnet color.  The nose, interestingly, has very discernible notes of Concord grapes with soft notes of blueberry.  In the mouth, the wine is rich and sweet.  The mouth feel is thick and lush, although not so thick that it coats the mouth.   The blueberry notes are stronger here than with the Blue Moon, but interestingly they pick up more in the back of the mouth than in the front.

In addition to the ten wines on the Tasting Menu, Savage Oakes website lists several other wines in their repertoire, including a recently released Marechal Foch Rosé and three wines which are currently sold out: Sterlingtown, made from Niagara grapes, and two apple wines, Crooked Tree and Apple Wine.

Alba Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, September 17, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop’s Orchards ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

In addition to the distinction of being the only winery in Connecticut that does not charge a tasting fee, Bishop’s Orchards is the only winery that produces fruit wines exclusively.  The majority of Bishop’s wines are either apple- or pear-based, and all are made from fruit grown in the Bishop orchards in Southeastern Connecticut.   Bishop’s currently produces twelve wines, although the Hard Cider was not available for tasting the day I stopped by; all are pleasant, and most have won awards at either the Big E or the International Wine Competition.  If you are planning a day on the Eastern Wine Trail, don’t skip Bishop’s just because they produce fruit wines.  While I wasn’t converted to a fruit wine “fan,” I enjoyed the tasting and found it an interesting juxtaposition to the more traditional wines of Chamard and Jones which I also visited that afternoon.   Fans of sweeter wines will likely discover a few wines in the Bishop Collection that they find intriguing.

Pearadise The tasting began with a light white wine made from locally-grown Bosc pears.  The color is a very pale straw, and the nose has soft notes of pear.  Pearadise is a dry wine with touches of sweetness from the pear; the finish is crisp and clean.  The tasting notes recommend serving it chilled, and indeed, I’d recommend serving all the Bishop wines chilled.  This would pear nicely with light fruits and cheeses and grilled chicken or fish.

Stone House White Produced by aging in oak, Bishop’s Sweet Apple Cider, this is a light, dry white wine with strong notes of apple and a subtle smokiness from the oak.  The tasting notes indicate that this “reminds one of a Chardonnay” but I found it too light-bodied.  While the notes of apple were strong in both the nose and mouth, I found the wine itself to be a bit weak and slightly watery.   I expected a bit more body and depth from a wine that began as an apple cider.  It could be that I had a tasting from a bad bottle, but this was not one of my favorites.

Celebration Another apple-wine, this one is listed in the tasting notes as “off-dry.”  Celebration had a bit more body and interest than the Stone House White, and the notes of apple, while present and noticeable, are not overpowering.

Happley ImPeared This is a blend 1/2 apple and 1/2 pear.  As with the other wines, Bishop’s ferments apple and pear cider and then combines them to create this wine.  It’s an interesting blend; the slight tartness of the apple provides an interesting contrast to the smooth sweeter pear, and together are more interesting than when standing on their own.  I starred this as one of the more intriguing wines.

Faulkner’s Spiced Apple A semi-dry, apple wine with strong notes of nutmeg and cinnamon in both the nose and mouth.  The wine is made with Bishop’s Orchards mulling spices and would be interesting warmed, or even perhaps further mulled.  The notes of apple are strong yet not overpowering, and blend nicely with the spices.  I enjoyed this wine, but it doesn’t have the depth or body of Digrazia’s Autumn Spice.

Apple Raspberry Blush Another semi-dry wine, the Apple Raspberry blush is a rich pink color, with light notes of berry on the nose.  In the mouth, the flavor of the raspberries is very strong and overpowers the apple.  The presence of the apple is important, however, as it smooths out some of the tartness you sometimes find with raspberry wines.

Amazing Grace This is Bishop’s newest wine, produced and named in honor of their newest grandchild, born about 10 months ago.  A blend of cranberries and apple, the wine is crisp and pleasant.  The nose has lovely notes of tart cranberry, but in the mouth, the cranberry is subtle, and overall the wine is lightly sweet with a smooth finish.  I admit to being very surprised with this wine.  I expected something much sharper and certainly wasn’t expecting to like it.  While not my favorite of the afternoon, it was one of my preferred wines.

Honey Peach Melba This was another pleasant surprise.  With both honey and peach, I expected a very sweet, very rich wine.  Instead what I found was a light-bodied, slightly sweet wine with a nice balance of peach and honey.  The touch of honey tones down the peach flavor and together they blend into a smooth, crisp wine.  This will pair well with fruits, cheeses, and light chicken and pasta dishes.

Blushing Beauty The first thing that strikes you about this wine is the color – it’s a lovely, deep amber color.  Like all the other Bishop wines (with the exception of Amazing Grace which adds a touch of red to the wine for color), the color of the Blushing Beauty is the natural color produced by the fruit.  Also a peach wine, Blushing Beauty is a sweet wine, but not a dessert wine, with light notes of peach in both the nose and the mouth.

Crimson Rose A blend of strawberries and raspberries, this is a sweet dessert wine with strong notes of raspberry in both the nose and mouth.  I found the wine to be too light-bodied for a good dessert wine, while the flavors were nice, it didn’t have that rich depth that makes  a great dessert wine.  However, it was also pointed out that the wine reduces nicely into a syrup for fresh fruit or ice cream, and I found myself more intrigued when I thought of the wine as a sauce component than as a stand-alone dessert wine.

Strawberry Delight I imagine this is one of the more popular of Bishop’s wines, but is was one of my least favorites.  A dessert wine, I found it to be too sweet with a slightly bitter finish.  The strawberry notes are very strong in both the nose and the palate.  I found myself wishing this were a sparkling wine; the effervescence may have provided a depth or a texture that would help balance the sweetness of the strawberries.

Overall I found the Bishop’s Orchards wines interesting.  The pear wines had the most depth and character and rated higher on my list.  Not surprisingly, my least favorites were the berry wines (strawberry and raspberry), and I often found those too sweet and the berry flavors over-powering.  However, I have always preferred drier wines, and those of you who favor the sweeter wines should definitely find some wines of interest among the Bishop’s wine list.

Bishop’s Orchards Winery ~ Guilford, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

When pulling up to Bishop’s Orchards, don’t be put off by the fact that it looks more like a very large farm stand than it does a winery – that, in fact, is exactly what it is.

Six generations of the Bishop family have been farming in southeastern Connecticut since 1871.  They currently have 320 acres under cultivation and produce apples, pears, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, asparagus and other assorted vegetables.  They also produce a large selection of fruit wines and ciders.

The market was first established as a road-side stand in the early 1900’s and over the last century grew into the large farm market that today sits just minutes off of 1-95.  The market features the Bishop’s Orchards produce as well as produce, meats, cheeses, jams, and other foods produced by local farmers.

Making your way through the main grocery/produce area towards the back of the store, you’ll find a large area devoted to the wines.  A long tasting bar runs along the back wall, which features an impressive display of the Bishop’s Orchards wines.  The Tasting Menu is extensive and includes all 12 of Bishop’s wines.  All are fruit wines with 7 of the 12 featuring either apple or pear.  Surprisingly the tasting is free; I believe Bishop’s is the only winery in Connecticut that still offers free tastings.

I know many people, myself included, are not big fans of fruit wines, and I don’t know that the Bishop’s Orchards wines will win converts, but they are all pleasant, not overly sweet wines.  If in the area, the winery is definitely worth a stop.  And if you’re planning to make a day of it – as I did – I recommend planning your stop at Bishop’s Orchards for the middle of the day.  After you finish the tasting, you can cruise the market, pick up a freshly made, locally grown lunch or snack and have an impromptu tailgate party.

Jones Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite BarrettJones Vineyards
Contributing Writer

First up for the Reds was Jones Winery’s

Ripton Red This is the driest of the Jones Reds, made in a Chianti style from a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes, both brought in from California.  The color is a lovely purply-red, and the color changes slightly from light to dark as it catches the light.  The nose is earthy with with a strong tanginess.  The wine is medium-bodied, smooth, with earthy, slightly smoky notes and a hint of dark cherry which provides light touch of sweetness to balance out the earthiness.  There’s a slight note of spice on the finish.  This is a very versatile red and would pair nicely with a broad range of food.

Next up was Group #5 and my choice of either the First Blush, described as a “pleasingly sweet blush wine created from a blend of CT apples, pears and black currants” or the 2007 Cabernet Franc.  Not being a huge fan of blush wines, I selected the

2007 Cabernet Franc An estate-grown wine, the Cabernet Franc is barrel aged for 12 months in American Oak.  The result is a medium-bodied wine with a bright nose and notes of cherry in both the nose and on the palate.  There’s a nice acid balance to the finish, and the finish lingers pleasantly in the mouth.  An interesting wine, but not as strong a Cab Franc as ones I’ve found at Chamard or Gouveia.  That being said, I suspect the wine will grow more interesting if cellared for a year or two.

After the Cabernet Franc I had my choice of the Strawberry Serenade or the Merlot.  The Strawberry Serenade was described as one of Jones Winery’s signature wines, made from locally grown strawberries; given this, and despite not being a fan of sweet fruit wines, I opted to give the Strawberry Serenade a try.

Strawberry Serenade This is a sparkling wine, with very strong effervescence.  A pale, salmon color, the nose is that lovely, deep, rich strawberry smell you get from fresh-picked strawberries.  Surprisingly, the wine is neither too sweet or too “strawberry.”  The strawberry notes are certainly detectable, but not overpowering, and the wine is drier than I anticipated.  While not one of my favorites, I was pleasantly surprised by this wine.  It would be a great brunch wine for a late spring or summer brunch, and would pair well with fruit and light desserts.

With that I was left with a final choice – this time among the three dessert wines, Blueberry Bliss, Raspberry Rhapsody and Black Currant Bouquet.  I had a tough time deciding.  The Raspberry Rhapsody is an award-winning wine, and this year’s winery logo-glass features a raspberry in honor of the wine.  But the Black Currant Bouquet is more in the style of a Port, which I prefer, and had the added attraction of being a Black Currant Wine, which is not something I come across every day.  I must admit the Blueberry Bliss didn’t make the first cut.

As I was trying to decide, my host for the afternoon took the decision out of my hands and offered to let me try a taste of both the Raspberry Rhapsody and the Black Currant Bouquet.  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I quickly accepted.

Raspberry Rhapsody This is a lovely and interesting wine, and I understand why it won so many medals.  The Raspberry notes are very strong in both the nose and in the mouth, but the rich sweetness of a dessert wine balances those out.  The Raspberry adds a very slight tartness that gives the wine depth and keeps it from becoming cloyingly sweet.  The tasting is paired with a piece of dark chocolate, and the wine changes, getting deeper and more complex with the chocolate.

Black Currant Bouquet This is a full-bodied wine in a Port style, not as sweet as the Raspberry Rhapsody.  The color is a deep plum.  The nose is full but subtle – the black currant is prevalent but there are notes of sweet berries as well.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and rich, with a soft mouth-feel.  On the palate, the flavors blend nicely, just enough sweetness to satisfy but not enough to be overpowering.  This is also paired with chocolate during the tasting, and the chocolate emphasizes the depth and richness of the wine.

Did You Know?

Thank you Wikipedia!

Being the dork that I am, I look at Wikipedia every day in order to learn interesting and strange items. I know you are SHOCKED! Well, I don’t write for another blog called GastroNerds for nothing!

Here is the tidbit that I picked up yesterday:

… that wine can be made from substances other than grapes, including marijuana?

Oh, all right. I did know one part of that… Yes, wine CAN be made from other substances. Usually fruit or local grains, (although the process for rice wine, or Sake is really more akin to producing beer and in fact Sake makers are called brewers). But I have had my share of apple and cherry wine from Michigan, Illinois and New York. And I knew that there is a winery in Alaska using the local fruits to produce wine.

But marijuana?

The 14 year old boy in me.. that hung out with the guys playing Dungeons and Dragons says, “Excellent!” (naturally, we did not partake of anything so illicit during these D&D matches.. I only had a level 8 Paladin and I had to keep my wits about me).

According to Wikipedia:

The term wine can sometimes include alcoholic beverages that are not grape-based. This can include wines produced from fruits like apples and elderberries, starches like rice, as well as flowers and weeds like dandelion and marijuana.

Now I have had dandelion wine. It is produced from the flowers of the dandelion. It is floral, grassy, a bit astringent and sweet all at the same time. Very wild tasting. I can only imagine how marijuana wine would be made or what it would taste like… But I am sure it would be a very mellow evening.