Barrel Tasting 101

barrel-tastingMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to some friends that I was looking forward to the Spring barrel tastings at the local wineries.  More than one person asked me what was the point of barrel tastings, how did they work, and why would one want to do a barrel tasting as opposed to just stopping by the winery for a regular tasting.

So, before I embark on my barrel tasting adventures, I thought it worth taking a few moments and try my hand at “Barrel Tasting 101” for those unfamiliar with the term, or who, like me, are only just beginning your barrel tasting adventures.

At its most literal, a barrel tasting is exactly what the name implies – a tasting of wine directly from the barrel.  These wines are usually young, and while potable will often require additional aging and/or back-sweetening before they are ready for bottling  Depending on the wine and the winery, the product may be months, and sometimes even years, away from being ready for bottling.

With a barrel tasting you get straight to the essence of the grape – at its heart, what is the wine really all about?  What are the characteristics, flavors, and aromas at the center of the wine?  In some instances the wine may be much less interesting when tasted directly from the barrel before the the wine is “finished.”  In other cases, a barrel-tasting may reveal a more complex wine than originally anticipated.  Winemakers will, by necessity, taste their wines throughout the aging process so they can track the wine’s character and progress and make adjustments as necessary.

For the rest of us, wineries hold special Barrel Tasting events which they open to the public.  Most wineries hold their barrel tastings in the Spring, although some of the larger wineries, particularly in California, will offer special barrel tastings to their wine club members several times a year.  

For the wineries, Barrel Tastings present an opportunity for them to showcase their wines and wineries in a new way and introduce new vintages and wines both to serious collectors and wine afficianados as well as the general public.   The event is usually hosted in the  barrel-aging room, and most also include a tour of the facilities and vineyards.  A special tasting menu is created, which sometimes will include back-to-back tastings of the barrel-wine and the bottled-wine so participants can explore the difference, and food and cheeses are often served to accompany the wines.  

You don’t need to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy a barrel tasting, and in fact, it can be a great way to develop your palate and learn about wines.  You also don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan a trip to California.  Barrel Tasting events usually run about $20 per person, and wineries abound all across America ~ a quick Google search for “barrel tastings” yielded 110,000 results from all over the country – the first five hits included Sonoma County, California; Fredericksburg, VA; and Long Island Wine Country, New York.  A Connecticut winery even made the first 10 results on my search!  If you’re in the Northeast and interested in Connecticut wineries and barrel tastings, check out the Connecticut region page on; I maintain a calendar of barrel tastings and other local winery events there.

Finally, Barrel Tastings can be a great excuse to get out on the road on a weekend afternoon and discover some great wines and wineries right in your own backyard.

Merlot Madness

Merlot Madness!

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
As Dee Dee poured the first wine of the tasting, we were assured that this was NOT the ringer – other than that, we were on our own (sort of). We took our time with each tasting; Len walked us through each step as a group, so we could compare notes and learn from each other as much as from him.
Wine #1 The color reminded me of ripe figs, that lovely mild garnet color that has both depth and richness. The nose was delicate with notes of cherries, slight acidity and very low oak. In the mouth the wine was light-bodied, but very nice, light notes of cherry and a lovely chocolate smoothness with a nice finish. While not one of my top three favorites of the night, I did like this wine. My guess: Chateau de Castelneau 2005 – Bordeaux, France.
Wine #2 Another garnet colored wine, this one had almost no nose. The notes that were detectable were grass and green pepper but they were extremely light. As with wine #1, the wine is light-bodied, but very dry. I suggested it might be a young wine, and overall I was not impressed. My guess: Lindemans 2005 – South Africa.
Wine #3 This was a beautiful wine. The color was lovely deep plum color, a jewel-tone purple. The nose had notes of cherry, plum and was soft and deep. Slightly dry, this was a medium-bodied wine with lovely notes of cherry and a vanilla caramel from the oak. The wine was also soft and deep on the palate with a very lush “mouth-feel.” I starred this as my #1 favorite of the evening and My guess: Chateau Ste Michelle 2004 – Columbia Valley, Washington.

Wine #4 A lovely deep garnet/medium-ruby color, this is a light-bodied wine. The nose is bright with strong notes of cherry and berry. The cherry is also noticeable in the mouth, and the wine has an earthiness to it which is nice. Others noted green notes – such as green olive – and felt it was a leaner wine than #3, with not as lush a mouth feel. As soon as I smelled the nose I told everyone that I knew this was the McLaughlin Merlot. Not only did I recognize the nose, but there’s a brightness and a bite to the nose of Long Island / New England red grapes that I recognized. No one believed me, so I told them, “you wait and see.” My guess: McLaughlin Vineyards 2004 – Connecticut (from Long Island grapes).
Wine #5 A deep garnet colored wine, the nose had strong green notes – I detected grass. It was a very light-bodied wine, slightly dry, with light notes of oak. Overall I didn’t really like this wine. My guess: Yellow Tail Reserve 2006 – Southeastern Australia

Wine #6 This was a beautiful wine, and my #2 vote for the evening. The color was dense, a deep, deep red, it was too dense to have that jewel tone quality that the ruby color often brings to wine. The nose was lush and soft with strong notes of blackberry and other dark berry fruits. Equally lush in the mouth, the wine was very smooth with notes of caramel and sandalwood with a very slight peppery finish, which I attributed to the sandalwood notes. From the first, I strongly suspected this was the ringer, as it felt heavier and lusher than Merlots, leading me to believe it might be a Syrah. My guess: The Ringer

Wine #7 Deep plum color, with a light nose with slightly grassy notes. This was a medium-bodied, slightly dry wine with delicate herbaceous notes. Not a bad wine, but not one of my favorites of the evening. My guess: Ravenswood 2006 – California

Wine #8 This was a really interesting wine. The color was a deep, deep purple with blue undertones. The nose was deep and smoky with notes of both spice and dark berries. In the mouth, the wine was rich and smooth, with notes of black licorice and dark fruits. A really nice wine. My guess: Casa Lapostolle 2006 – Rapel Valley, Chile

And finally, last but not least…
Wine #9 This was my #3 vote for the evening. A dark red color, the nose had notes of plum and cherry. The wine was smooth with lovely notes of fruit and a really nice finish. Definitely one of my favorites of the evening. My guess: Tilia 2006 – Mendoza, Argentina

As the tasting concluded, Len went through the list wine by wine and had us vote on whether or not it was our #1, #2 or #3 pick. He then assigned points (3 points for a #1 vote, 2 points for a #2 and 1 point for a #3 vote), tabulated them and revealed the winner.
So how did I do? Well, other than a bit Merlot’d out…

Enye Tasting

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Enye Distribution Group’s Grand Tasting.

This was exciting because unlike most people who have come to enjoy Spanish wines over the last fews years, I have been drinking them for nearly a decade. I have always found them very quaffable as well as affordable.

Imagine my delight at encountering an entire room of them!

The first wine that I am going to talk about were from Bodegas Eguren. Actually, in all fairness these wines are really from Bodegas Heredad Ugarte which is located in Rioja Alavesa which means that these wines were produced in the Rioja DOC but in land north of the Ebro River in the autonomous Basque regions of Avela.

The wine, like the País Vasco is independent minded. Shiraz is not a grape that one would normally associate with Spain. Yet, here it is blended with the more typical Tempranillo. It tasted of cherries and plums with a nice minerality. It finished fruity with a touch of leather. Not that I actually eat leather… you know…

Anyway, I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of them.

Merlot Madness!

McLaughlin Vineyard
Sandy Hook, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

On Saturday, March 7th, 2009, Christy and I headed back to McLaughlin Vineyards with a few friends for McLaughlin’s March event, Merlot Madness! Part wine event, part wine class, this was an evening dedicated to Merlots from all over the world. Hosted by Dee Dee Morlock, General Manager of McLaughlin Winery, the seminar was led by Len Gulino, the Wine Tutor.
Len began studying wine seriously in the 1980s and has studied at The Society of Wine Educators (of which he was a member) and the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. He regularly tours with Vin Martoli of The Tasters’ Guild and is the only person in Connecticut who has qualified as a member of The Century Club (people who have tasted wines from more than 100 different grapes). In 2002, Len turned his expertise into a full-time business and now offers a variety of wine seminars, including a Wine 101 class, in venues across Southwestern Connecticut.
Len structured the Merlot Madness seminar as a blind tasting. Nine wines were featured, all masked in paper bags so we were not influenced by country of origin or vineyard. The seminar kicked off with a brief introduction to the history of Merlot: the most widely planted grape of the Bordeaux region, it is also the “third most planted black variety in France.” Similar in flavor profile to the Cabernet Sauvignon, it tends to be lighter and slightly more herbaceous in both aroma and flavor, and is less acidic, giving it a softer, more lush “mouth-feel.” The source material also provided a list of some of the more commonly noted varietal and processing flavors and aromas in Merlots, including fruit, floral and herbaceous notes as well as flavors associated with degrees of oakiness. (Source: Jim LaMar,
Len then moved on to the five steps of wine-tasting – Color, Swirl, Aroma, Taste, and Savour – and illustrated techniques for getting the most out of each step. The Tasting technique, described by Len as “Slurp and Chew,” was the most interesting and turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. This was my first formal wine tasting seminar, and therefore my first introduction to the “slurp” (aerating the wine in the mouth) and “chew” (ensuring you experience the wine across the entire palate). While I definitely found it easier to identify the flavors and aromas in the wine when I “slurped and chewed,” I actually enjoyed the wine less than when I sipped it and just let it linger in the mouth. It was an interesting exercise, and provided unintended entertainment as watching others attempt to master the “slurp and chew” had everyone laughing hysterically within minutes.
Finally after this introduction to both the grape and the formal steps of wine tasting, we moved on to the main event. The seminar began with an “entrance wine,” the Frontera 2007 from Central Valley, Chile. Already poured when we arrived, we were encouraged to drink it throughout the introduction. This provided us with an initial baseline for Merlot – to help us distinguish some of the grape’s characteristics. We were then given a list of the wines that would be poured that evening including eight Merlots:
  • Lindemans 2005, South Africa
  • Ravenswood 2006, California
  • Yellow Tail Reserve 2006, Southeastern Australia
  • McLaughlin Vineyards 2004, Connecticut
  • Chateau de Castelneau 2005, Bordeaux, France
  • Chateau Ste Michelle 2004, Columbia Valley, Washington
  • Tilia 2006, Mendoza, Argentina
  • Casa Lapostolle 2006, Rapel Valley, Chile

and one ringer, a non-Merlot red.

Our job for the evening was to taste each wine, determine its characteristics and flavors,and attempt to identify each wine as well as finding the ringer. Finally, we were asked to vote for our top three wines, and at the end of the evening Len would unveil the evening’s winning wine based on a tabulation of first, second and third place votes.
With that, Dee Dee began pouring the first wine, and the competition began…

News from the Northern Illinois Wine Trail

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I am marking my calendar and hoping to see you there!

Amore Vino —
Galena’s Wine Lovers’ Weekend heats up March 26-29, 2009

Four-day event features vintage wine and celebrity chefs

GALENA, ILLINOIS—Four days of fine wine, culinary delight, celebrity chefs, pampering packages and all of the stops Galena can possibly pull out. Galena, Illinois’ Wine Lovers’ Weekend.

Now in its fourth year running, Wine Lovers’ Weekend is a spirited way to warm the winter and add romance—whether it be for vino, gourmet cuisine, or the love for a town with history and character all its own. Newly extended to accommodate even more to do, Wine Lovers’ Weekend begins on Thursday, March 26, 2009 with a Wine Symposium hosted by local and California Winemakers. Wine-inspired dinners, spirit tastings, spa experiences, history tours, cooking demonstrations, and shopping welcome and enchant visitors.

At the heart of the weekend is the Grand Tasting and Wine Auction—which quickly sold out in 2008. This year at the Grand Tasting, choose to sample from 200 varieties of hand-picked wines. Cost is $20 in advance (purchase online: or $25 at the door. Admission provides you with an opportunity to win a wine-themed trip to San Francisco. Additional chances may be purchased for $15 each. Auction items include vintage wines, artwork, large format wine bottles and related items of interest.

Lodging specials and package deals fuel the passion. From keepsake wine glasses to dining packages to pampering in luxurious accommodations and the warmest of hospitality, Galena’s finest provide a variety of options to cater to every taste and budget.

Visit for a detailed listing of extended-weekend activities, links to lodging, and an opportunity to purchase tickets online. Additional area offerings may be found at the Galena / Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s site:

I love going to Galena and can’t wait to see what lodging specials will be offered… Kevin and I have stayed at the Goldmoor in the past which was always lovely.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyards
Fruit, Dessert & After Dinner Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finished with both the Whites and Reds, Christy and I moved on to the Fruits, Dessert & After Dinner wines.  
Honey Nut Apple    First up was the Honey Nut Apple wine.  According to the Tasting Notes, this is one of the most popular wines among regular HB customers.  It’s a good fruit wine, sweet, but not cloyingly so, with nice notes of both apple and honey.
Golden Delight   Golden Delight is a blend of HB’s Seyval Blanc grapes with a “twist of lemon and honey.”  According to the Tasting Notes, it makes a good wine spritzer.  It’s a light-bodied wine, and I definitely think it would be better as a spritzer.  The least impressive of the three fruit wines.
AppleCrannie   This is a seasonal Fall wine made from apples and cranberries.  It has a lovely bouquet and while a bit tart, not surprising given the presence of both apples and cranberries, the flavors are subtle and blend nicely together.  It would be a nice pairing with horsd’oeuvres to start out a holiday meal. All in all a very interesting wine.
Dessert & After Dinner Wines
Apricot Moon   This is a fortified dessert wine that is truly delicious.  The Tasting Notes describe it as a “muscat wine with the essence of apricots.”  It is smooth and silky and really quite delicious.
Media Noche   This is a Spanish-style sherry.  Deeper and richer than the Apricot Moon, it too is smooth, with subtle hints of fruit, and absolutely delicious.  
Unfortunately this concluded our wine tasting.  Overall Christy and I both agreed that the wines were interesting with several standouts – our favorites being the Covertside White, The Apricot Moon and the Media Noche.  We both found the Morning Harvest interesting, although I think I liked it better than she did.  We also had a lot of fun – we really felt comfortable just relaxing and enjoying the wines and the conversation.  At no time did we feel rushed, and it was tempting to just buy a couple of bottles and sit on the sofa in front of the fire for the rest of the afternoon.  However, we had planned to stop at a second winery that day, so we picked up some flyers about upcoming classes and events, and reluctantly bid goodbye to our hosts.  We’ll be watching the event calendar, though, and will definitely be returning to Haight-Brown in the near future.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyards

The Reds
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
One of the nice things about hitting a wine trail in the “off-season” is that you avoid the crowds.  On the day that Christy and I stopped by the Haight-Brown Vineyards, we had the place to ourselves for the first 1/2 of our tasting.  As a result we were able to linger over the wines – and the cheeses – and spend some time chatting with our host.  
Having finished the Whites, we then proceeded to the Reds.  Overall the HB Reds are an interesting mix of wines.  One thing I noted is that they are young wines, and as a result end with a real bite.  When I commented on this to our host, she confirmed they are young wines, but also added that part of what I was tasting were the Marechal Foch grapes which often produce a slightly sour finish.
Picnic Red   The tasting notes describe this as a “light, fruity table wine made from Marechal Foch grapes.”  According to our host it is only fermented for 3 months, and she indicated that they always serve it chilled.  The best way I have to describe it is that I found it to be “thin” – I didn’t find much depth to this wine – and the bite at the end is quite strong. 
Morning Harvest   Interestingly, this is the same formula as the Picnic Red but it’s made “in a different style.”  I definitely tasted the same notes as the Picnic Red, but found this to be a more interesting wine – it had greater depth and complexity than the Picnic Red, and I think if left to age for a while, this could be a very interesting table wine.  Like the Picnic Red, I found it to have that “bite” at the end, which according to our host, is due to the Marechal Foch grapes.  I must say that it’s fascinating to taste the two reds back-to-back; you really taste the difference that fermentation times and blending styles can make to the wines.  
It’s not often that you get a chance to have a tasting experience like this – and if you ever get to the Western CT Highlands, I recommend you stop by HB if for no other reason than to experience the difference between the Picnic Red and Morning Harvest.
Merlot    The Reds section of the tasting concludes with HB’s Merlot.  The Tasting Notes acknowledge that Merlot grapes can be very difficult to grow in the New England climate.  Often you’ll find Merlot blends rather than true Merlots among New England wines.  But this is a true Merlot, although it is lighter than California or even Long Island Merlots.  This wine was paired with the third cheese, a Cana de Cabra cheese from Spain.  
I realize that I (and you) am here because of the wine, but I have to digress and say this cheese is AMAZING!  If you can find some – anywhere – try it.  There’s an interesting depth to the cheese with the flavor growing more intense as you move closer to the rind.  Even more fascinating is that you can actually see that progression when you look at the cheese – it resembles a cross-section of a tree with “rings” – lighter milky color in the center becoming darker as you move closer to the rind.  Truly magnificent cheese.

But back to the wine.  For New England this is not a bad Merlot, but it’s not a great Merlot either.  It definitely benefited from pairing with the cheese, but it’s still a light-bodied and mild wine.   I found myself much more intrigued by the Morning Harvest, despite (or perhaps because of?) the sour note at the end.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyard

The Whites, Blushes & Rosés
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my friend Christy Sherard and I wandered over to Litchfield, CT and the Haight-Brown winery. As we settled in for our tasting, we were presented with a wine list of 13 wines and tasting options that included:
  • $5 – your choice of 8 wines served in a plastic glass. Needless to say that option was quickly dismissed;
  • $7 – your choice of 8 wines served in a HBV wine glass, which you can take with you at the end of the tasting, or
  • $10 – a wine and cheese pairing: your choice of 8 wines served in a HBV wine glass and three cheeses specifically chosen to pair with the wines.
We decided on the wine and cheese pairing and settled in for a leisurely tasting. Haight-Brown produces wines in four categories: Whites, Blushes & Rosés (5), Reds (3), Fruits (3), and Dessert & After Dinner (2). As there were two of us each with a selection of 8 wines, and only 13 wines total, we divided up our selections so that we could cover the entire list between us.

Chardonnay The tasting begins with the Chardonnay. The tasting notes indicate it’s a light dry wine with citrus notes. While I definitely tasted the citrus notes, I found the wine to be a little too acidic for my taste.

Covertside White
Next up on the list is the Covertside White. This wine was paired with a Goat Cheese with Figs from Celebrity Cheeses in Canada. The wine is a blend of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and has a slightly fruity taste. It’s an interesting wine on its own, but paired with the cheese which was slightly sweet and absolutely divine, the wine really came alive. The tasting notes and website indicate this is HB’s most popular white wine – and I believe it. Even without the cheese pairing, it’s a very nice wine.

Barely Blush This blush is a Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch blend. It was paired with a Brillat Savarin cheese from France. I’m not a big fan of Blushes, but this wasn’t bad – it’s drier than many blushes I’ve tried, and I liked it because of that.

Riesling Like the Blush, this Riesling is slightly drier than one normally finds. HB is quite proud of this wine, and even though only one of us had selected the Riesling as part of our tasting (figuring we’d share a single tasting), we were treated to a second glass so we could each have our own tasting. I’ve tried this wine on a previous trip to Haight-Brown, and found I liked it more on the second tasting. I’m still not a huge fan of Rieslings overall, but I think this is a wine that could grow on me.

Pink Cadillac The Whites concluded with the Pink Cadillac, a rosé. The tasting notes indicate that this is made from Seyval Blanc grapes with a touch of California Syrah thrown in for “color and complexity.” I found it to be too light for my tastes, and it’s one of my least favorite of all the HB wines.

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

Haight-Brown Vineyard

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
Last weekend, my friend Christy Sherard and I hopped into the car and headed over to the Western CT Highlands.  I had been telling Christy about my adventures on the CT Wine Trail, and being a recent transplant from Texas, she thought it was a great way to get to see more of her new home state – and an even better idea to spend a Sunday afternoon sampling wine.
If you’ll remember from earlier posts, I began my wine adventures in the northwest corner of the state, and am actually making my way backward down the Western trail.  Having already visited Land of Nod, Sunset Meadow and Miranda, the next winery on the trail is the Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield, CT.
Haight-Brown was established in 1973 and is Connecticut’s first winery.  It’s a scant mile down the road from the town of Litchfield.   The vineyard is approximately 10 acres, and the winery itself sits in what looks to be a chalet-style converted barn.  
The tasting room is one of the most comfortable and welcoming I’ve encountered on the CT Wine Trail.  When you first enter the winery, you’re greeted by a large lobby with information and brochures on the winery, special events and the wine trail itself.  Proceed up a small flight of stairs to enter the tasting room itself. 
At the top of the stairs is a large U-shaped bar with comfortable stools for the tasting.  
To the left of the bar is a large retail area with gifts including cookbooks, candies, and wine-related merchandise.

To the right of the bar is a large and very comfortable seating area.  On the day we stopped by, a fire was burning in the fire place and there was a a relaxed feeling of comfort and welcome pervading the entire room. Beyond the fireplace seating area is a smaller private room which is used for private events, wine tasting classes, or can just be  a place where someone can curl up and enjoy a glass of wine.
Haight-Brown also offers wine classes, special events such as their

 end of month wine, cheese and chocolate pairings; their spring barrel tastings; their Fall Festival, and a host of other special events throughout the year.  Finally, the winery is available for private events and will also produce personalized wines.
But as charmed as we were by the ambience of the tasting room, we were there for the wines.  Next Up: The Whites!

Musings on Taste, Cachet & The Exotic

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
The posts last week about French and Italian wines – while really about “geography” – got me thinking about wine regions, reputation, “cachet,” etc.
I think most Americans have a sense that European wines, particularly French, and to a slightly lesser extent Italian, are the wines with the highest “cachet.” You hear people say “this is a French Bordeaux” or “this is an Italian Chardonnay” with a certain tone (sometimes reverence) in their voice – you don’t often hear people say “this is a California Merlot” in quite the same way.
Granted the Europeans produce excellent wines, and they’ve been doing it longer than just about anyone. And heaven knows France spends enough money, time and energy promoting themselves as the epitome of all things Vino. But I was reminded recently of a conversation I had a number of years ago with a friend of mine, Rodgy Guerrera, who at that time was living in Milan.
Rodgy is truly a citizen of the world – born in South America, her parents are Greek, she lived in something like 8 different countries while growing up, she speaks at least seven languages fluently and can probably get by in several others, and during her career has lived and worked in cities like New York, Paris, Milan, and London.
And yet, several years ago when I packed my bags and headed to Milan for a 2-week stint for a project Rodgy and I were working on, the only thing Rodgy asked me to bring were California wines. Needless to say I was shocked – I think my exact words are “but you live in Italy! Why would you want me to bring you wine?” But the wide variety of California wines that are so readily available to us in grocery stores, liquor stores, restaurants, and which are often quite affordable here – are not as readily available and can be more expensive there.
Rodgy loves wine in general, but particularly California wines. The depth, the fruitiness, the difference in the grape because of climate and soil differences all become “exotic” and special because they are not an everyday experience.
It makes me wonder – how much of a wine’s reputation (or even the reputation of a region) is predicated on it’s foreign-ness?