Christmas Wish

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Some place deep inside of each of us, there is a child who is dying to get out and enjoy the holidays with the abandon that we did as kids. At Christmas time, or Hanukah for Rory (Mozel Tov!) we are celebrate traditions that make it easy for us to forget that we still aren’t 12. (though, frankly I would prefer to regress to six, thankyouverymuch) Remember when you thought that the sky was the limit? You could ask for a pony and all the ice cream in the world and were disappointed that you didn’t get it (You were going to give your Daddy all the rum raisin, so you weren’t being selfish)? How long did it take you to lower the expectations on your dreams? Maybe a year, two tops?

This year, I want to re-invigorate my Christmas flight of fancy. I want to dream big again . And I am using the holiday season as a way to exercise this kind of dreaming.

When I grow up I want to be a professional VinoVerver. I want Marguerite and I to be able to devote our time to traveling around the country and visiting wineries. Heck, I would like to visit wineries WITH Marguerite. I would like Marguerite and I to road trip and attend the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Walla Walla, Washington this year too. So here, it goes. My letter to Santa

Santa letter

Avoid the Malls – Spend Black Friday on the New Jersey Wine Trail Instead

Marguerite BarrettThanksgiving
Contributing Writer

November is New Jersey Wine Month, and the local wineries are capping off the month with the Holiday Wine Trail Weekend!  Friday, Saturday, Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (November 27-29), local wineries across the state will be offering tastings, tours, and in many cases special events.  Many of the wineries offer gift baskets and gift certificates so you could also get a lot of your holiday shopping done at the same time.    Who knows?  Maybe it’ll be the start of a new “Win(e)ding Road” holiday tradition…

Personally, I’m liking the idea of winery gift certificates; knock out most of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop!

Holiday Wine Trail Weekend Participating Wineries include:

Alba Vineyard, Milford, NJ     **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Bellview Winery. Landisville, NJ

Brook Hollow Winery, Columbia, NJ

Cape May Winery, Cape May, NJ

Cava Winery & Vineyard, Columbia, NJ

Cream Ridge Winery, Cream Ridge, NJ

Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery, Rio Grande, New Jersey

Hopewell Valley Vineyards, Pennington Vineyards

Laurita Winery,  New Egypt, NJ

Natali Vineyards, Cape May Courthouse, NJ

Plagido’s Winery, Hammonton, NJ

Sharrott Winery, Blue Anchor, NJ

Swansea Vineyards, Shiloh, NJ

Ventimiglia Vineyards, Wantage, NJ       **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Villa Milagro Vineyards, Finesville, NJ   **VINO VERVE VISITED**

Westfall Winery, Montague, NJ

The wineries listed are within a day trip from New York or Philadelphia.  Check out the Garden State Wine Growers’ Association website for wine trail “cluster” suggestions – mini-trails of 4-5 wineries.

Grand Tasting at Quintessa

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

So far it has been a full day of wine. And it isn’t over yet.

After we finished our panel discussion at we head back to Bus #7 and head out to our next destination Quintessa Winery for the Grand Tasting. I have to admit that after all that Cabernet my tastebuds were a little worn out. So I decided to concentrate less on “tasting” and more on enjoying a glass or two of wine.

Roof GardenBusesAs we were walking up to the roof of the cave, I noticed that the facility had (in part) a green roof, specifically a roof top garden. As someone who worked on encouraging roof gardens and other forms of green roofing (please don’t get me started, it ends up being a long a boring conversation about the merits of various roofing products and colors… boring for you at least). When we reached the roof we were greated with a nice cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc (I noticed a pattern here. I Sauvignon Blanc the new Chardonnay?). Naturally I was compelled to take a look at the garden. You would have noticed me. All alone over at the far edge taking pictures of meadow grass. You would have come over, perhaps to see what I was looking at and you probably wouldn’t have noticed anything. But I was happy. And then I took a look at the other side and looked at the buses lined up ready to take us later to dinner too.

Upper level of the caveQuintessa barrelsEventually I headed down into the cave which was cool and dark and lovely after sweating all afternoon. In fact, I am ashamed to say that I was remarkably damp, but quite sober which means that I was burning through any alcohol that I had ingested. Helpful really, as I had more events to attend. The cave contained the winery operations and was almost surreally dark and stainless steel at the first level. In fact, it looked a lot like something out of Blade Runner, without Harrison Ford or any violence, which for me really works out better (the violence part that is… not the Harrison Ford part).

ChurchThe Egg

I descended from the mod level to where the rest of the conference folks were. This level was still very stainless steel in some parts but very wooden in others. I walked down into the show part of the barrel storage where it was even cooler. The centerpiece of this room was almost like a church. Dark, quiet and lit by candles, it inspired awed in all of us that stopped there. I learned from the Wine Bard, Karen Gurney that all of the barrel heads are marked with a series of codes that indicate the location of the forest the oak was harvested from and the amount of toasting on the inside and on the head of the barrel. On the way back, I saw a new type of “barrel” (for lack of a better word). It was steel and concrete and shaped like an egg. If the upper part of the caves was like Blade Runner, this storage unit was definitely out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Grand TastingCave WallBut soon enough I joined the huddled masses, yearning to drink wine. I found that I couldn’t really drag myself to taste more than white wine. So I tried the Chardonnay at the Frank Family Vineyards where they were pouring their wine through a decanting system that looked like the Verso Vino system except that the shape of the receptacle was teardrop.  I haven’t been able to find anything similar on the internet (which is surprising because I usually can find what I mean to).  Next I tried a Schramsberg Brut.  It was lovely and bubbly and soothed my soul.  At this point, I needed to go sit down for a bit.  Since there were no chairs I sat on the ground against the wall that formed the cave and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

Soon, it was time to depart again.  As I made my way back to Bus #7, I wondered what we would encounter next.

Italian Roses

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I love rose wines. I think that isn’t a surprise if you have been reading my posts at all… So I was pleased when I attended the Bottlenotes tasting, Around the World in 80 Sips. There were lots of opportunities to taste roses.

Interestingly there was a table just full of the little beauties. And they were from Italy.

img_0686The first was the 2008 Tesori Lagrein from the Alto Adige region. I thought it was lovely wine crisp with the taste of cherries and almond. The color was less pink and more pale ruby. Unfortunately the table was so crowded that I didn’t get a picture. I looked up the varietal which I was unfamiliar with and found that it is a traditional grape for the Alto Adige and the southern part of the Tyrol (think Geppetto from Pinocchio).

The next was the 2008 Borgo di Colloredo Montepulciano. This wine is named for Gironia which is the location of a battle between the Romans and Sannites who were the native people of the region where it was produced, Biferno Molise. This wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico (which was originally introduced from Greece). The wine was crisp with the taste of strawberries on the nose and tongue.

Finally, we tasted the nonvintage Azienda Agricola La Tordera Rosato Spumante “Cuvee di Gabry”. The color was a pale salmon and tasted of raspberries and pink grapefruit with a sweet finish. The wine is made of 70% Merlot and 30% Incrocio Manzoni which is a blend of black moscato and Raboso Piave.img_0685

After all that pink wine you would think that I would be ready to try something different… but it is summer and I do like the color pink! So you never know.

Stonington Vineyards ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Marguerite BarrettStonington Vineyards Entrance Sign | Photo: Marguerite Barrett

A scant 10 minutes down the road from Mystic sits the 58-acre Stonington Vineyards.  Established in 1987, the winery was constructed a few years later, “incorporating the latest in winemaking technology and the traditional methods of barrel fermentation.”

Turning into the long gravel driveway, we were struck by the charm of the setting.  The winery buildings face a large lawn surrounded by the vineyeards and lush green fields.  A large patio area extends out from the left side of the main building and leads to slightly raised deck with great views of the vineyards and plenty of seating for guests who want to enjoy the beautiful weather and views.

Inside, the Tasting Room was one of the best organized I’ve seen to date.  The entrance leads into a small room which houses the gift shop.  On your left, you’ll find a queue of people picking up glasses and paying for their tastings and purchases.  From there you proceed through an archway into the main Tasting Room, which is a large open space with an L-shaped bar dominating the back right corner.  A few tables and chairs line the outer walls, and on the day we stopped by, there was an exhibit of watercolors done by a local artist lining the walls. 

stonington-wineryThe bar can accomodate 15 people comfortably, and the staff manages the crowds extremely well.  We arrived just after the daily 2:00 tour had concluded so there were quite a few people already at the bar.  After we got our glasses, we were encouraged to take a seat or browse the artwork, but otherwise stay back from the bar until the current group had concluded their tasting.  Once the group finished, the staff tactfully, but firmly, discouraged them from lingering to “chat,” wiped down the bar and invited those of us waiting to step up.  We filled up the available space around the bar quickly, and once we started newcomers were invited to sit and relax until we finished and they would start the next tasting.  

The two-room setup and the rhythm and flow of the the tasting organization reduced the bottlenecks and jockeying for position you often find at other wineries that manage sales directly at the bar.  It was a sharp contrast to the more chaotic setting we found at Jonathan Edwards, and a really good way to do it – if you have the room.

Stonington currently produces six wines, all of which are available for tasting.  They organize the wines into two flights: Flight One, all whites, is $5 per person; Flight Two, one white, one rosé, and one red, is $8 per person, or you can taste all six wines for $10 per person.  If you purchase a case of wine, you’ll become a member of their Cellar Society, which entitles you to extra discounts on future cases and all future tastings will be free.

Not surprisingly, we opted for the full tasting for $10, which began with the 2006 Sheer Chardonnay…

Jonathan Edwards Winery ~ The Reds

Marguerite Barrett

As we rinsed our glasses and cleared our palates, Kylie, our host for the afternoon, began pouring the reds.  First up…

2007 Estate Connecticut Cabernet Franc  The only estate wine currently available, the Cabernet Franc is a nice, medium-bodied red which is eminently drinkable now, or can be aged an additional 3-5 years.  Barrel-aged for one year, the wine has soft notes of blackberry and cherry in the nose.  There’s a lovely soft mouth-feel, with notes of both cherry and blackberry, slight minerality and a soft finish.

2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel  A definite favorite among our group – medium-bodied with strong notes of berry, there are notes of pepper and spice in both the nose and in the mouth, which give this wine an interesting complexity.  Light notes of dark cherry in the mouth provide just a hint of sweetness before ending on a slightly spicy note.  Very interesting wine, and one of my favorites of the afternoon.

2006 Sierra Hills Zinfandel An equally strong wine, it was interesting to pair the two Zinfandels back-to-back.  There are definite notes of clove on the nose, and a while the Sierra Hills was not as fruity as the Napa Valley Zin, it was still smooth, rich and complex.   This would be a great wine for pairing with grilled steak and peppers.

2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon A full-bodied wine, with a strong, earthy nose.  Very spicy, with light notes of chocolate in the mouth.  While I found I preferred the Zinfandels and the Syrahs, I did note this as a wine I would definitely come back for.

2005 Napa Valley Syrah Hands-down my absolute favorite of the afternoon, and one of my favorites along the Connecticut Wine Trail to date.  Barrel-aged for 2 years, this is a deep, rich, full-bodied wine that has lovely notes of dark cherry and blackberry in the nose and mouth.  There are light notes of smoke and leather as well, which give the wine added depth.  This would be a great wine for pairing with hearty Fall or early Spring dishes, and the tasting notes indicate that this “stands up well to dishes with strong flavors such as lamb or duck.”  While definitely drinkable now, this wine can age an additional 8-10 years, and it is definitely worth the investment to cellar a few bottles.

2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah  Grown in the Calistoga region of Napa, this is a dark, rich wine with lovely notes of plum and spice.  Deep, dark, dense color in the glass, the nose is rich and complex with notes of plum and a hint of chocolate.  In the mouth, the wine has an earthiness and minerality which is smoothed out by the notes of plum and dark chocolate.   A lovely wine, but my favorite remains the Napa Valley Syrah.

All in all, a lovely afternoon, and I’ll definitely be returning to Jonathan Edwards, on my own as well as with friends and out-of-town guests.  However, next time, I’ll probably try to time my arrival so as not to coincide with the end of the tour!

Jonathan Edwards Winery ~ The Whites

Marguerite Barrett

Jonathan Edwards’ Full Tasting menu features “all currently available varieties,” which right now include two whites and six reds.  All of the wines are terrific, and I strongly recommend purchasing the full tasting over the Sampler, which, while only $5, limits you to only four wines. 

The tasting begins with the

2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc  Light and crisp, this is very much a summer wine.  The nose has soft notes of citrus and peach, and the wine is crisp and fruity in the mouth.  Both the citrus and peach notes are light, with the citrus being slightly more predominant. The peach provided a hint of sweetness that balanced the wine nicely.  The tasting notes indicate this is a “versatile wine especially enjoyable with goat cheese or fish.”   The reaction among our group was mixed; Jeff liked it, but Christy and I found it a bit too light for our taste.

2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay  This wine was a definite favorite among our group.  Still crisp and refreshing, this is a fuller-bodied white which I found more interesting and complex than the Sauvignon Blanc.  The nose had definite notes of citrus, particularly grapefruit, and some light floral touches.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth and buttery with light notes of lemon and a soft finish.  This would be excellent paired with grilled chicken or fish and fresh spring vegetables.

Jonathan Edwards also produces an Estate Connecticut Gewurztraminer and a Estate Connecticut Chardonnay, both of which are currently sold out and not available for tasting.  However, the winery is selling future orders; visit their website for more information.

Jonathan Edwards Annual Spring Festival

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Expect to be in the Northeast/Southern New England in early June?  If so, consider stopping by Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington, CT for their Annual Spring Festival:

From Andie Martin at Jonathan Edwards Winery

The Details:
Saturday June 6th 12-6pm
Local food vendors, an Artisans tent
and dancing to two bands including Boston’s premier Soul and Funk band Chicken Slacks! 

Admission includes our logo wine glass and a wine tasting voucher.

$15 in advance or $18 at the door. (Kids under 21 free with an adult.)

Tickets are available via our website at or call 860.535.0202

Check the website for more information:

Hope to see you there!

Sunset Meadow Vineyards ~ 2009 Spring Barrel Tasting

smv-tasting-roomMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Saturday afternoon, May 9th, I once again headed into the Litchfield Hills, this time for the Sunset Meadow Vineyards (SMV) 2009 Barrel Tasting.  This was the winery’s first barrel tasting, and they hosted a marvelous event, complete with catered hors d’oeuvres, live music and tours of the winery and barrel rooms starting roughly every 30 minutes.

SMV is very much a family operation; co-owners Judy and George Motel were both on hand, greeting everyone, asking questions and making everyone feel welcomed and comfortable.  George, who has an enological degree from University of California, Davis, and is Sunset Meadows’ winemaker, and their son, George, Jr. conducted all the barrel tastings and winery tours.  They run the winery and the vineyards themselves with a staff of about 10.

smv-cayuga-grapevines-beginning-to-budWhen the Motels bought the property about 15 years ago, it was a working farm, complete with cattle and lots of hay.  They farmed the property for the first five years, and about 10 years ago began planting their first vines, choosing Cayuga and St. Croix to begin with because of their hardiness.  The vines did so well that they continued to expand, and now grow Chardonnay and Merlot in addition to the original Cayuyga and St. Croix.  They have about 7,000 vines on 40 acres, and they grow almost all their own grapes on site through sustainable agricultural practices.  All of the vines are hand-pruned and the grapes hand-picked.  They’ve been producing wine for a number of years, but 2008 was the first year for winery sales.

smv-2009-barrel-tastingThe winery buildings are housed in several 19th-century barns; the Tasting Room is the most “authentic” with most of the original wood and beams left intact during the renovation.  The storage room was originally a 19th-century cattle barn, complete with hay-loft, but the Motels gutted and retrofitted it so it better house the tanks and barrels.  But the essential structure of the barn remains and has been worked into the winery design:  the large doors at the back of the barn which would have opened onto a large fenced-in area to help herd the cattle into the barn each evening, has been transformed into a large outdoor patio where the grapes are brought for destemming after harvesting.  From there, the grapes are brought into the storage room to begin fermentation and pressing.

smv-storage-roomAs George related the history of the winery and the process they follow to make their wines, we worked our way through the barrel tastings:

  • The 2008 Cayuga White, which will be bottled in June – light, crisp and refreshing.
  • The 2008 Chardonnay, also scheduled to be bottled in June – this wine is aged in Oak for about 3-4 months giving it a bit more character and body than the Cayuga White.  It also undergoes a second fermentation process, which helps give it more of a buttery flavor.
  • The 2008 St. Croix scheduled to be bottled in April 2010- an interesting wine, still very young it doesn’t yet have the strong fruit notes that are characteristic of a St. Croix, but there’s a smoky mellowness to it that’s really nice.  We contrasted that with the 
  • 2007 St. Croix, which will be bottled this June – the fruitiness and character of the St. Croix are much more prominent in the “older” vintage.
  • The 2008 Red Dawn – a brand new wine, a blend of Merlot and St. Croix, this is scheduled for bottling in April 2010.  A very nice blend, the wine is still young and the additional aging should really bring out the wine’s character.  Definitely one I will be coming back for in Spring 2010.
  • The 2008 Merlot, which will be bottled in April 2010 – a really nice Merlot, smooth, mellow, still very young, but showing a lot of promise.  Another wine I’m making a note to return for in 2010.
  • And last, but not least, a new dessert wine being bottled this summer, the Candy Apple Red – a port-style wine, this wine has a rich sweetness and mellowness that I really liked.

We ended up back outside on the patio, where we helped ourselves to more wine and hors d’oeuvres and settled in to enjoy the weather, the company and the music.  All in all, a great event, and something I hope SMV will make an annual event.


Haight-Brown Vineyards ~ 2009 Spring Barrel Tasting

Haight Brown Winery & Vineyards ~ Litchfield, CT

Haight-Brown Winery

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer


A few weeks ago, on what was finally a beautiful, sunny, Spring afternoon, I headed back into the Western Connecticut Highlands for the Haight-Brown Annual Spring Barrel Tasting.  The sun was shining, the skies were a gorgeous deep blue, and while the trees weren’t quite yet blooming, you could see shoots of spring flowers in front of houses and along the roadsides.  The temperature was also cooperating, being a very mild mid-60s, and I rolled down the windows, cranked up the IPod and enjoyed the drive as much as I did the event.

The tasting was held in the winery’s barrel-aging room, a large room on the ground level.  Haight-Brown ferments only in stainless steel, and there were five large tanks in the main room, and a few others in a smaller back room.   One of the first questions asked by participants, was why HB ferments in stainless steel rather than oak.  The easy answer is because oak is very expensive and you can’t reuse oak barrels indefinitely, meaning you have to invest in new barrels on a fairly regular basis.  But it’s more than the cost – fermenting in stainless steel allows the winemaker to better control the oak in the wine through the introduction of oak chips.  It also allows the winemaker the choice of oaking or not depending on the wine and the effect he (she) is going for.  As I looked around, I also realized that the stainless steel tanks are MUCH larger than oak barrels and can stand vertically, therefore they take much less storage space; something not to be sneezed at, particularly for smaller wineries.

As we settled into our seats, we were greeted by our hosts for the afternoon, Courtney and Tina.   Copies of the afternoon’s tasting menu were passed out, along with large spit buckets, jugs of water, and wine crackers for cleansing our palates.  On the menu for the afternoon were 11 wines: six served from the tank and five served from bottled inventory.  The menu was designed to highlight comparisons between the wines from the tank and their finished product from the bottled inventory.  It was a really interesting contrast…

Litchfield, CT

Litchfield, CT

The wines served from the tank are, obviously, young wines, and all had that “tangy bite” that you often find at the end of young wines, but in several cases I found the wines from the tank more interesting than their bottled “finished” counterparts.  My favorites included:

  • The first wines of the day: the Chardonnay and then the Seyval Blanc directly from the tank.  Both were a pale yellow color, almost a light straw.  Both were crisp and had discernible acidity.  The nose on the Chardonnay was a bit sharp and somewhat tart, while the Seyval Blanc was more grassy.  The Chardonnay had been oaked, the Seyval Blanc remained unoaked, and as a result there were stronger notes of fruit, primarily grapefruit, in the Seyval Blanc.  
  • A tasting of HB’s Covertside White, a Chardonnay-Seyval Blanc blend, immediately followed.  The Covertside White is back-sweetened prior to the bottling process and has 1% added sugar.  Tasting the wine immediately after the unsweetened direct-from-the-tank Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc was a fascinating experience.  The bottled wine was a smoother wine, less acidic and the tartness is gone, eliminated by the back-sweetening and the blending of the two grapes.  There are stronger fruit notes, particularly of grapefruit and melon, than are noticeable in either of the tank wines.

  • At roughly the half-way point, we moved on to the Reds, beginning with a tasting of the Marechal Foch from the tank.  Marechal Foch is generally a tarter grape and can become quite acidic in the grape, with acidity levels sometimes matching sugar levels.  As a result, winemakers will often choose to pick Marechal Foch early and back-sweeten it, rather than letting it sweeten on the vine.  Because of it’s tartness and acidity, Marechal Foch is often used a blending wine, rather than bottled in its own right.

Anticipating a very acidic, very tart, wine, I was quite surprised with the tank sample.  With strong cherry notes in the nose and mouth, the wine had an interesting depth and character that I wasn’t expecting.  Yes, it was tart, but the tartness did not detract from the wine, rather it just simply felt young.  Quite a few of us present mentioned that were pleasantly surprised and quite intrigued by this wine.

Courtney, our host, then went on to say that the winemaker had the same experience.  This year, the winemaker decided to experiment with the Marechal Foch, leaving the skins on overnight during fermentation in an attempt to produce something similar to a light Beaujolais.  They liked the result better than previous vintages and are in the process of bottling the wine under the name Nouveau Foch.  

While not yet ready for sale, we were allowed to sample the Nouveau Foch from the bottle.  A light bodied wine, with a lovely medium garnet color, this was one of my two favorites of the afternoon.  The nose still has strong notes of cherry, but the minerality of the tank wine has been smoothed out.  It’s a nice crisp wine, and not something I would ever have expected from a Marechal Foch.  Courtney advised that we let this one breathe, as it really opens up the longer it’s exposed to air.

This section of the tasting concluded with samples of HB’s Picnic Red and Morning Harvest.  Both wines are the same blend: 90% Marechal Foch/10% De Chaunac, but the Picnic Red is a lighter-bodied off-dry wine and the Morning Harvest a medium-bodied fully dry wine.  Both are also quite different than the Nouveau Foch, providing a very interesting contrast between the four samples.

Farmington River (Connecticut)

Farmington River (Connecticut)

  • The tasting concluded a short-time later with a sample of Muscat from the tank juxtaposed with HB’s Apricot Moon a fortified muscat dessert wine.  Apricot Moon is one of my favorites among the HB inventory, and I’ve written about it at length in a previous post, so I was looking forward to finishing on such a great note.  But as with the Marechal Foch, it was the Muscat that was the star of the pairing – the wine has a lovely nose of apricot, pear and some light floral notes.  In the mouth, it’s soft and sweet, with notes again of both apricot and pear.  The Apricot Moon, which is fortified and was served, post-mixing, directly from the tank, has stronger notes of apricot and the pear and floral notes have largely disappeared.  It’s still a beautiful wine, but most of us present that day felt that HB could very easily bottle the Muscat on its own and have another excellent dessert wine.

As the tasting concluded, we were invited to take a short tour of the vineyards and finish our day in the Tasting Room where we could relax with a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres.