Spending Time With… Greenvale Vineyard’s 2007 Chardonnay

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Ever since my visit to Greenvale Vineyard outside of Providence, RI last summer, I had been eyeing the 2007 Chardonnay I had brought home.  It was absolutely my favorite wine of the afternoon, and one of those wonderful experiences during tasting when after just one sip you know you’ve found something you really, really like.

I had been “saving” the bottle for a dinner with friends that never materialized and decided that as much as I wanted to introduce the wine to others, there was nothing wrong with being selfish and keeping it all to myself.

The wine was everything I remembered – and more.  But wines usually are – more, that is – when you get a chance to experience more than a 1 oz sample and also pair the wine with food.  The color was that lovely light golden color I remembered – closer to the color of a California Chardonnay rather than the paler whites so predominant throughout the Northeast.  The nose is earthy with grassy notes, and took me back to that warm summer afternoon.

In the mouth the wine is really lovely – smooth and soft with the creamy butteriness I found so enchanting during my first tasting.  There is a nice bite of acid on the finish which keeps the wine from being too soft and buttery.   Over time and subsequent sips, the wine layers in the mouth and I started to pick up tangy notes of grapefruit, particularly in the back of the mouth.  It’s a subtle note, but it gives the wine character.

The first night I drank the wine on its own; the second I paired it with grilled blackened chicken and vegetables.  The wine held up very nicely the second evening, and if anything the fruit notes pulled forward a bit more strongly that second night.  The creaminess of the wine’s oaking paired well with the peppery heat of the chicken, with the pepper cutting through the butter nicely.

People who prefer cleaner, or more lightly oaked Chardonnays may not like this, but fans of the robust California Chardonnays should find a local treat in Greenvale’s Chardonnay.   I’m looking forward to a SOTS (Sisters Of the wine Trail) outing to Providence; I suspect this wine will be a hit with everyone.

Spending Time With… Greenvale Vineyard’s 2008 Vidal Blanc

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I recently pulled out the bottle of Greenvale’s 2008 Vidal Blanc that I brought home from my August visit.   I had been quite impressed with the wine just from the 1 oz tasting I had sampled that afternoon.   My initial impressions were of the 2007 vintage which had soft notes of pear on the front and tart green apple on the back, an overall pleasant and refreshing combination.

Uncorking the 2008, I found myself looking forward to experiencing the differences between the vintages.   The nose retains the touch of lushness that is so often characteristic of vidal blanc wines, and that really comes out in the ice wines or late harvest wines.

In the mouth, the notes of pear are still present on the front, but the sharper, tarter notes in the back had notes of grapefruit as well as green apple.  I paired the wine with a crisp green salad with grilled chicken, and I suspect the citrus vinaigrette brought out some of the grapefruit notes I was picking up.   I did find that salad toned down the acid bite on the finish of the wine, and together the two worked really well.

The wine is nicely fruity, well balanced, crisp and quite refreshing, and I have it on the list to pick up a few more bottles next time I’m in the Newport area.  It stands well on its own, and in addition to pairing it with salads, it should work equally well with grilled shrimp or a spicy chicken stir fry, and I’m looking forward to trying it with my favorite Thai Green Curry.

Greenvale Vineyard ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

We kicked off the tasting with the 2008 Rosecliff Pinot Gris. Like all Greevnale’s wines, the Pinot Gris is estate-grown and these vines are about 10 years old.  The color is a medium yellow-gold, darker and richer than many of the whites I’ve encountered here in New England.  The nose is soft with light notes of honey.  Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the result is a crisp wine that starts cleanly and finishes on subtle notes of green apple.  There’s a nice balance of acid that works well with the tangy slightly sourness of the green apple for a refreshing experience overall.

2007 Chardonnay The Chardonnay, as opposed to the Chardonnay Reserve, is produced from the younger Chardonnay vines, and aged in a combination of French Oak (52%) and Stainless Steel (48%).  The color is a medium yellow, and the nose is soft and creamy with very light floral notes and just a hint of vanilla.  In the mouth the wine is really lovely, soft, smooth and creamy on the front with a light touch of acid on the finish providing a nice balance.  Light citrus notes, primarily lemon, play with notes of creamy butter and vanilla for a rich, satisfying experience.  This will pair very well with a wide variety of foods, but also stand up on it’s own.  Definitely one of the stars of Greenvale’s current line-up.

2007 Chardonnay Select. The Chardonnay Select is made from older Chardonnay vines, planted in 1983.  It’s 100% oak aged, but in older French oak barrels to ensure a softer, more subtle oaking.  The color, while still falling within the medium yellow range, is lighter than the previous two wines, and the nose is earthy with hints of grass.  In the mouth, the wine, while still rich, is much sharper than the Chardonnay.  There are notes of cream and vanilla which indicate it’s moving toward that lushness I found in the Chardonnay, but it’s not there yet.  The citrus notes, again primarily lemon, are stronger in this one as well, although I also detected notes of grass which I didn’t pick up in the Chardonnay.   The acid is also much stronger in the Select than it was in the Chardonnay, and somewhat overpowers the finish.   Given 6-9 months, this will be a really beautiful  wine, but it’s not quite there yet.  That being said, it was educating to taste it now, particularly juxtaposed with the Chardonnay, and be able to see the potential in the wine.  If you’re looking to start a wine collection, I would definitely add this to list of wines to pick up now.

2008 Chardonnay Select.  While this wine is not yet available for sale (although I believe it will be soon), Kristen did have it available for tasting.  Like the 2007 Chardonnay Select, this is produced from the older vines and aged for 9 months in the older French Oak barrels.  Another very interesting contrast to the previous two wines.  The color is deeper and more golden.  The nose is soft, deep and fruity with light citrus notes.  In the mouth, the wine is still young; strong notes of grapefruit and a somewhat strong acid finish combine to produce just a touch of bitterness on the end.  The wine hasn’t yet developed much of the creamy vanilla butteriness I found in the other two Chardonnay’s, but there is a smoothness on the front of the wine that speaks to it’s potential.  Given another year or so in the bottle, I believe this wine will mature and soften into a lovely wine.

2008 Vidal Blanc Grown from Greenvale’s oldest vines, this is another very nice wine, and while not as strong as the Chardonnay, definitely one of the brighter stars on the current Greenvale wine list.  The color is a pale yellow;  the nose is lush and soft with rich notes of apricot.   It has a bit of the vidal lushness that you find so often in the sweeter dessert wines, but the effect isn’t as concentrated.  In the mouth, the wine is more complex than I anticipated with soft, subtle notes of pear on the front which develop into the slight tartness of green apple in the mid-back range of the tongue.  The wine has a nice balance of acid which gives it a really crisp finish, but it never completely loses the faint sweetness from the pear.  This will pair well with seafood, chicken, salads, and spicier foods such as Thai.

Some of Greenvale's vineyards; the Sakonnet River is in the background

The last of the whites was the Skipping Stone White.  A blend of 90% Cayuga and 10% Vidal, from the first encounter this wine was not anything I was expecting.  The color, while still in the yellow rather than straw category, is the lightest of all the whites.   The nose, which I anticipated to be perhaps slightly floral or have citrus notes, smelled like nothing so much as grape jelly.  Yes, you read that right – if I hadn’t been told this was a Cayuga and Vidal blend, the nose would have led me to believe there were Concord grapes here.  The Concord flavors carried over into the mouth as well.  The sweetest of all the whites (although it is still a dry wine), the wine is very juicy on the front with lush notes of grape jelly.  The finish is dry although the acid isn’t as strong in this wine as it was in several of the previous wines.  Kristen told me that this was Greenvale’s most popular wine, and I’m not surprised.  Those who like their wines a bit sweeter will really like this, and I found the Concord grape notes to be quite pleasant once I got over my initial surprise.   Don’t be put off by my Concord-grape description, this is an eminently drinkable wine and will appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers.

The one red available on the menu that afternoon was the 2005 Elms Meritage. A blend of all three of Greenvale’s estate grown red grapes, the Meritage is 60% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The vines are some of their younger ones ranging between 11 and 14 years old.  In addition to the initial aging in French Oak, Greenvale also bottle ages all their reds for an additional 2-3 years.  The nose has that very distinctive New England “twang” or tanginess that I’ve come to know and love.  I mentioned it to Kristen, who agreed, and we spent a delightful few minutes trying to adequately describe it.  I likened it to the tang of salt air in the Fall; she countered with “chalky granite” which I also get.  The word that we eventually came to is flinty, that smell you get from wet rocky soil after a hard rain…

I’m still working on the description.

Back to the wine…  In the mouth the wine is a little like Alice Through the Looking Glass, everything was the opposite of what I expected.  The predominant notes I picked up were pepper and cherry, but the pepper is on the front and the cherry on the finish.  It shook things up in a rather delightful way.  The pepper, while strong, is not overpowering and hits you with a nice sharp kick of heat in the front before really opening up in the mouth.  That initial kick of heat quickly settles down to a warm glow throughout the mouth at which point the fruit starts to pull through.  The finish is smooth with notes of just-ripe cherries.  This wine would be best paired with stronger, heartier meats and cheeses, and Kristen mentioned that when paired with a strong, creamy cheese like a Blue Cheese, the pepper settles down considerably.

Greenvale is also close to releasing their 2006 Cabernet Franc.  All of their wines are produced in limited quantities and that combined with the 2-3 year bottle aging for the reds means they often sell out of their reds well before the next vintage is ready for release.  I’ll definitely be watching their website and planning a return visit once the Cab Franc is released.

Greenvale Vineyard ~ Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

My week’s vacation found me pretty much all over the New England/Northeastern map.  A couple of days traversing the back roads of Connecticut, finishing up the Connecticut Wine Trail, a day in the Hudson River Valley in New York, and two days in Maine.  And, of course, lunch and wine in Newport.

My first visit to Newport was last summer with my erstwhile wine-trail-buddy, Christy.  Completely on a whim, we had hopped in the car and headed east one Saturday afternoon, planning on visiting the three wineries in the Newport area.  Unfortunately the drive took slightly longer than planned and the crowds at Newport Vineyards slowed us down somewhat, so we were only able to fit in two of the three wineries that afternoon.  And if I remember correctly, we squeaked in for the last tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards by the absolute skin of our teeth.  I hadn’t intended to let an entire year pass before I made it back to the third and last winery in the area, Greenvale Vineyards.

But it has actually been a year, almost to the day, since Christy and I made that first trek out to Newport.  I had returned to Newport in December to tour the “cottages” all decked out in their Christmas finery, but I was with my cousins and the schedule was tight as it was, so no side trips that day.

The day turned out to be picture-perfect.  A leisurely two-hour drive from Hartford put me in Newport just about lunch-time.   First, a stroll down America’s Cup avenue with beautiful views of the harbor and ocean on my right and the shops on my left…  Then a stop at the Barking Crab for a wonderful lobster salad BLT for lunch, heavy on the lobster, light on the mayo – just the way I like it…   Finally finished up with a quick stop in a few of the local shops on the way back to the car and it was time to head to the winery.

Greenvale Vineyards is about 6 miles slightly northeast of Newport in Portsmouth.  The farm has been in the Parker family since 1863 operating primarily as a dairy farm until the later 20th century.  Nancy Parker Wilson, Greenvale’s General Manager, is a 5th-generation Parker, and her mother, Nancy Knowles Parker is publisher of three local wine publications, the New England Wine Gazette, the Finger Lakes Wine Gazette, and the Virginia Wine Gazette.

The Parker estate sits along the banks of the Sakonnet River with vineyards running along the slopes up from the river banks.  Greenvale planted their first vines in 1982 and now have 24 acres of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vidal Blanc and Cayuga and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec.  Yes, you read that right, Malbec.  I was surprised as well, not imagining that Malbec would do well in the colder winters and shorter growing seasons of New England.  However, the Newport area is blessed with a micro-climate that is similar to the fields of northern France, as Kristen, my lovely host for the afternoon, informed me.  In addition to the Newport micro-climate, the terroir, slope and drainage of the Greenvale fields are also conducive to growing both Malbec and Merlot.

Speaking of my host, Kristen, she is one of the true gems of Greenvale.  Relaxed, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about wines in general and Greenvale wines in particular, she really made the visit.  As I pulled in another couple were just leaving, and so I had the winery – and Kristen – to myself.  It wasn’t just that she was welcoming, it was more that she was completely comfortable with what she’s doing – she really loves her job and it shows.  She didn’t just pour a tasting, she accompanied me throughout.  We took some time to talk about each wine; she told me her thoughts and was genuinely interested in mine.

Greenvale's Tasting Room is a bright, open, airy space. Kristen, one of the highlights of my visit, is on the right.

Granted, I am often visiting wineries on weekends when things are busy, but so often the staff sort of parrots the tasting notes and then walks away, or doesn’t seem too interested in what you might be picking up in the wines.  I can imagine it could be uncomfortable and awkward, particularly if you are the winemaker, to hear people talk about your wines.   And everyone I’ve met has been very friendly and welcoming.  It’s just that Kristen makes you feel like you’re sitting around talking to a buddy about wine, and that she’d be happy to sit there as long as you wanted to talk about wine – and it made for a very fun afternoon.

All of Greenvale’s wines are estate-grown.  They rent tank space from Newport Vineyards a few miles down the road, but all the grapes are grown on the Greenvale farmland on the banks of the Sakonnet River.  The Tasting Room is in a charming renovated horse stables set about 1/4 mile back from the main road, in the midst of the vineyards.  The long driveway takes you through vineyards and pastures and past a beautiful large New England farmhouse currently occupied by Greenvale’s owner, Nancy Knowles Parker.  At the time it was built, 1865, it was the largest home on the island.  Even though it was later dwarfed by the palatial “cottages” of the Vanderbilts, Astors and others, it is a lovely house and a perfect centerpiece for the estate.

Greenvale currently produces seven wines, five whites and two reds.  Two of the wines, the Rosecliff Pinot Gris and the Elms Meritage are named for two of the mansions owned by the Newport Historical Preservation Society and feature pictures of the homes on their labels.  A portion of the proceeds of each wine goes to the Preservation Society to help with the upkeep of the historic mansions of Newport.

Greenvale is open year-round: April – December Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Winter hours (January-March) are Monday-Saturday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.  Public tours are offered every day at 2:00, and private tours can be arranged with advance notice.   Greenvale often hosts live music and special events, and the site is available for private parties and rentals, check the website for details.

Greenvale Vineyards
582 Wapping Road
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Coming Tuesday, September 24th: Greenvale’s wines…

Better Know an AVA ~ Newport, Rhode Island

Waterfront, Newport Rhode Island

Waterfront, Newport Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I fell in love with Newport on the drive down to the waterfront.  Our plan, if you can call the itinerary we hastily constructed over brunch a mere five hours before a plan, included spending the afternoon touring local wineries and then stopping in Newport for dinner on the waterfront.  At the time all I knew of Newport was that it was seafront town with legendary mansions, the “summer cottages” built by the New York elite at the turn of the 20th century.

Newport was founded in 1639 by a group of eight men after a political falling out with Anne Hutchinson and her followers.  The town was settled on the south side of Aquidneck Island, near the mouth of Narragansett Bay, and throughout the 17th and 18th century the town and its citizens grew prosperous from both the whaling industry and the slave trade.  During the Revolutionary War, French troops under the command of General Rochambeau first landed in America at Newport, and the town served as the French base of operations for the duration of the war.  Today you’ll still see references to Rochambeau throughout the area, and at least one vineyard, Newport Vineyards, has named a wine in his honor.  By the mid-19th century the town was becoming a summer destination for wealthy Americans, including families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors who built the homes that today comprise the Newport Mansions Historic District.

Newport, Rhode Island, Thames Street Shopping District / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

A variety of pubs and restaurants can be found in the side streets off of the main shopping district along Thames Street.

As we drove in though, we weren’t thinking about the mansions, and the Newport we discovered is a charming seaside town with a shoreline shopping and restaurant district that manages to retain the flavor of its New England seaport past without being kitschy.  The downtown waterfront area comprises one of three historic districts within Newport’s boundaries and includes one of the largest concentrations of colonial-era homes left in the country, a charming shopping district which runs along Thames street, and a wide variety of restaurants lining the waterfront.

We parked in one of the lots off of Thames Street and strolled down the brick-paved street, window shopping our way over to Bowen’s Wharf and The Landing restaurant.  Dinner was excellent; we were able to snag seats on the upstairs porch with great views of the water and the “what felt like thousands of” sailboats moored in the harbor.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what Christy had for dinner, but I haven’t forgotten the Lobster Mornay I ordered – delicious! – pasta baked in a rich cheese and cream sauce with nice big chunks of fresh lobster.  Yum!  We lingered over dinner, and as we walked back up Thames street to the car, we discovered that Newport also has a very vibrant nightlife with both bars and restaurants filled to capacity throughout downtown.

The Landing Restaurant, Bowen's Wharf.  Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

The Landing Restaurant, Bowen's Wharf. Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Facing a 2-2.5 hour drive home we decided to skip the bars, grab the car and drive past the mansions on our way out of town.  What didn’t occur to us, but probably should have, is that they are all surrounded by tall (very tall) fences and hedges.  Thinking about it now, I realize of course they have hedges – I’m sure the last thing the Vanderbilts came to Newport for was to mingle with the locals…   What I later learned was that we would have done better if we had walked back to the car along the waterfront as that would have taken us past a large group of historic colonial-era homes.  Not as opulent as the mansions, but equally interesting.  Ah well, just another reason to go back…

What makes Newport noteworthy from a locapour-point-of-view is its location in the heart of the Southeastern New England AVA and the Coastal Wine Trail, making it the perfect base of operations for a long weekend exploring southern New England wine country by day while enjoying the town by night.  The Coastal Wine Trail includes eight wineries stretching along the Rhode Island/Southern Massachusetts coastline from the Langworthy Farms Winery at the Connecticut/Rhode Island border to the Truro Winery on Cape Cod.  But the remaining six wineries are all clustered in the general vicinity of Newport.   And if that were not enough, each Fall the Preservation Society of Newport County hosts the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, allowing you to experience everything Newport has to offer all in one place.

Newport is approximately 3.5 hours from New York, 90 minutes from Boston, and 2.5 hours from Hartford.

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.

Sakonnet Vineyards ~ The Whites

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, October 22nd

Coastline, Newport County.  Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Coastline, Newport County. Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Sakonnet Vineyards falls within the Southeastern New England AVA which starts just south of Boston and runs along the coasts of southeastern Massachusetts, through Rhode Island and into southeastern and central Connecticut.  The region’s climate is similar to some of the cooler wine regions around the world, most notably the Loire Valley in France, and for Rhode Island winemakers in particular, the presence of the Atlantic Ocean coupled with the warmer waters of the Narrangasset Bay provide an ideal micro-climate for grape production.

Sakonnet produces eight whites from predominately Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer grapes. The tasting menu includes all available Sakonnet wines (white, red, and dessert), and you get your choice of up to six.  Having become old hands at this, it took no time at all for Christy and me to build our joint tasting menu, beginning with the

Vidal Blanc 2008 This was my favorite of the Sakonnet whites.  Made from 100% Vidal Blanc grapes aged in stainless steel with no oak, the wine has that lovely “vidal” nose – bright and fruity, with lovely notes of grapefruit.  The wine is smooth, crisp and very refreshing, with notes of grapefruit and a slight sweetness that balances out the grapefruity tartness.  Our host suggested that in addition to pairing with foods, particularly seafood, this is a great wine for use in cooking and recommended using it when cooking scallops.   I don’t eat scallops, but I could definitely see using it in a wine sauce to accompany grilled salmon.

Cock of the Walk White A blend of Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, the tasting notes indicated “apple, melon and ATTITUDE.”  Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling the “attitude.”  Maybe it was the bottle we had, but I found the wine to be very light with no really strong discernible notes.  The nose was pleasant but light, and in the mouth the green apple notes were very subtle.  This is a low oak wine with a very light smokiness.  Christy also found it a bit anemic, and we both agreed the Vidal Blanc had more character and depth.

Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Fume Vidal Reserve 2007 Another very nice wine made again with Vidal Blanc grapes, Sakonnet’s “signature grape.”  Aged in small American and French oak barrels, the Fume Vidal is a drier and more aggressive wine than the Vidal Blanc.  The grapefruit notes in both the nose and the mouth are stronger, and the oak brings out sharper, richer fruit notes with a light toasty finish.  If forced to choose, my preference would be the Vidal Blanc 2008 for it’s crispness, but the Fume Vidal is an interesting wine, and definitely made my list of wines to watch for.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 A pleasant wine, but overall not as interesting and distinctive as the two Vidals.  Barrel fermented and sur lie aged for one year in French Oak, the Reserve Chardonnay has lovely notes of both fruit and floral in the nose and soft notes of melon in the mouth.  The oak provides a light buttery smoothness and subtle notes of honey.  There’s a nice balance of acid to round out the wine and give it depth and interest.

Comparing notes as we rinsed our glasses in preparation for the first of the reds, both Christy and I agreed that the Vidals were definitely the stars among the whites.

The tasting continues Thursday, October 29th with the Sakonnet Reds & Dessert wines.

Sakonnet Vineyards is located in Little Compton, RI
See our 10.22.09 post for information on the winery including tasting room hours, winery tours, and contact information.

Sakonnet Vineyards ~ Little Compton, Rhode Island

Sakonnet Vineyards, LIttle Compton, RI / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I had to laugh at myself as I reached into the pile of notes taken during my Win(e)ding Road adventures over the past few months to pick the winery I’d feature in today’s post.  When I first started on this journey, I was, at best, an occasional contributor, fearing I’d never have enough material to meet a regular posting schedule.  Silly me…  I currently have enough notes to produce posts through early December.  And I still haven’t finished the entire Connecticut Wine Trail…

But the notes – and memory – I pulled out today take me back to that beautiful Saturday afternoon in early August when Christy and I took an impulsive road trip to Newport.  We left late, having only decided on Newport over brunch, and as a result, we pulled into Sakonnet Vineyards with 30 seconds to spare before last call (the tasting room closes at 6, and the last round of tastings is at 5:30).  If truth be told, we probably just missed last call, but the young lady at the register took pity on us and sold us two tastings just under the wire, for which we were cravenly grateful.

Sakonnet Vineyards, Little Compton, RI / Photo:Marguerite BarrettSakonnet Vineyards, named after nearby Sakonnet River, was the first post-prohibition Rhode Island winery.  Founded in 1975 by Jim & Lolly Mitchell, Sakonnet released their first vintage in 1976.   The Mitchells later sold the vineyards and winery to New Yorkers Earl and Susan Samson, who have developed both the wines and the winery into a destination spot for Rhode Island wine.  They currently have 50 acres under cultivation, growing Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Vidal Blanc and produce more than 30,000 cases annually.  They sell many of their wines through the winery and will ship orders providing state laws permit direct-from-winery or out of state shipments.  Sakonnet wines can also be found in package stores and on restaurant lists throughout Newport County and Rhode Island.

Sakonnet Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

The winery and grounds are charming.  The path up from the parking area takes you through a large grassy yard with modern-art sculptures set amid the trees and picnic tables.  Wildflowers blanket the lawn in front of the winery, and bistro tables and chairs are set up under the trees in the front yard and on the back patio for guests who wish to relax and enjoy their wine outside.

The tasting room feels like a large, comfortable pub; a very large rectangular bar, which could easily hold 30+ people, dominates the room.  A large wooden chalkboard sign hanging on the back wall serves as the price list, and the winery staff moves easily through the center of the bar area, pouring tastings or glasses of wine, clearing up, and chatting with the guests.  In addition to tastings and wine sales, Sakonnet also conducts winery tours twice a day.

Sakonnet Vineyards Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

Because we arrived so late in the day – and thanks again to the staff member who took pity on us and sold us the last two tickets for that day’s tastings – we really didn’t have time to linger.   We were given the tasting menu, which includes eight whites, five reds, and three dessert wines, and asked to select up to six wines.   We’ve become old hands at coordinating selections, so it didn’t take us long to make our selections and between us we were able to sample ten of Sakonnet’s sixteen wines.

First up, the whites beginning with the 2008 Vidal Blanc…

Continues on Tuesday, October 27th.

Sakonnet Vineyards
162 West Main Road
Little Compton, Rhode Island 02387
Hours: October – December  11:00 – 5:00, (last call 4:30) seven days a week.  January – March, 11:00 – 5:00 Thursday-Sunday.  On April 1st, they reopen seven days a week.  Winery tours are conducted each day at noon and 3pm

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.

Newport Vineyards ~ Middletown, Rhode Island

Marguerite BarrettNewport Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Newport was an impulse.

The first week in August had been extremely difficult at work, and by Saturday morning all I wanted to do was run away.  So, at noon, while sitting in the Wethersfield Diner scarfing down omelets with Christy, I looked across the table and announced, “we’re going to Newport.”

For some time, Newport had been on my list of places to visit, and that day it just seemed like a great place to escape to.   That there are three wineries within 45-minutes of downtown Newport made the destination even more appealing.  Of course that presupposed we would arrive in time to visit the wineries; Newport is just under 3 hours driving time from Hartford, and we didn’t even hit the road until almost 1pm.  But Bacchus was smiling on us that day – traffic was light as we sailed southeast down Route 2 through Connecticut, crossing over onto Aquidneck Island (Newport County) around 3:40 and arriving at our first stop, Newport Vineyards, just after 4:00.  We later made it to Sakonnet Vineyards just in time to catch the 5:30 last call for tastings, but that’s a story for another day.

Newport Vineyards was founded by Captain Richard Alexander, who planted the winery’s first vines in 1977 on the Hopelands Farms estate.  In 1988, Alexander began a partnership with John and Paul Nunes, and together they opened the Vinland Wine Cellars on recently acquired farmland in Middletown just north of Newport.   George Cheif, Newport’s winemaker, also joined the team at this time, pressing his first grapes in 1988.   In 1995, Alexander retired, and John and Paul Nunes, now the sole owners, changed the name to Newport Vineyards.  The team won their first Gold Medal in 1998 for Newport Vineyards’ “Great White,” which to this day remains Newport’s most popular wine, and in 1999, Newport’s Vidal Ice Wine was named one of the United States’ 50 Best.

Newport Vineyards, Perry Farm Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

Newport Vineyards is the largest wine-grape grower in the Northeast with 60 acres spread across three farms: Hopelands Vineyards, the original vineyards, situated on the banks of the Sakonnet River and site of the oldest vines; the Perry Farm Vineyards, acquired in 1988 and site of the winery buildings and tasting room; and Nunes Farm Vineyards, acquired in 2002.  The Nunes Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been in the Nunes family since 1917.  The farm itself dates back to the early 18th century, and the original 1701 farmhouse still stands on the property.

The majority of Newport’s vineyards are located near the center of Aquidneck Island (Newport County), within a few miles of the Atlantic Ocean.  The soil is a silty loam with moderate drainage which retains enough water to help with irrigation in the summer months.  The proximity to the ocean helps mitigate the dangers of fall frosts while being far enough inland to avoid “fog and benefit from the thermal heat off the land.”

The winery buildings are located in a long, single-story building  and share space with several specialty shops including a gourmet bakery, a restaurant, and a toy shop.   The vineyards of the Perry Farm, which were first planted in 1988, surround the back and side of the property extending back to the horizon.  The tasting room is a very large space divided evenly between a gift shop in the front and the tasting room/bar in the back.  In addition to selling wine and the usual assortment of wine coolers, gadgets and t-shirts, Newport Vineyards offers gift baskets and custom wine labels for their wines.

Newport Vineyards Gift Shop and Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite BarrettThe tasting area is dominated by a very large u-shaped bar which looked as if it could easily hold 40 people comfortably.  Wine coolers range along the back wall keeping all the wines at optimum temperature and the staff moves easily back and forth in a practiced dance pouring the various tastings.  There is also an outdoor tasting area with a second bar set up just outside the main tasting room; this may serve to hold overflow and also be used for special events.

The winery is open seven days a week, Monday thru Saturday 10-5, and Sundays 12-5.  Winery tours are hosted each afternoon at 1:00 and 3:00.