Taylor Brooke Winery ~ The Whites

Winery Co-Owner, Linda Augur in the Tasting Room

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

One of the great things about writing for Vino Verve, other than hitting the road and exploring new wineries, is that I find I’m inspiring others to do the same.  Often it starts with friends joining me on the wine trail and enjoying it so much that they then take others.  Less often, I’ll hear from someone who read one of the posts and said, “you know, I thought I’d give it a try.”  One of my SOTS (Sisters of the Connecticut Wine Trail) buddies, Jean Levesque, dragged her husband out on Memorial Day weekend as well, spending the afternoon at Sharpe Hill.  Tom, her husband, enjoyed himself so much that Jean should have no trouble dragging him out again – in between SOTS excursions, of course.

Taylor Brooke was first discovered by another wine trail buddy, Christy Mangle (formerly Christy Sherard), who with her husband, Jeff, headed over there late last Fall. Their reviews were so glowing that I immediately moved Taylor Brooke to the top of the list of remaining wineries.  Unfortunately, by the time I was able to get there (New Year’s weekend), they were closing down for the season and were really open only for wine sales.  Upon hearing that I had driven over from Hartford, in the snow no less, Linda Augur kindly offered to pour an abbreviated tasting menu for me that afternoon, and I promised to come back for the full experience once they opened again in the Spring.

Which is where I found myself on that beautiful Sunday afternoon over Memorial Day weekend.   Taylor Brooke produces 10 table and dessert wines and five seasonal wines.    The table wines include 4 whites, including one of their fruit-infused Rieslings; 3 reds, and 3 dessert wines.  Guests are invited to taste two wines on the house, and then can select either another six wines (for a total of 8 ) for $4 or the entire menu, including any of the available seasonal wines, for $6.  A logo glass may be purchased for an additional $3.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to sample new wines, I immediately opted for the full tasting menu for $6.

Woodstock Hill White The tasting kicks off with a lovely blend of estate grown Vignoles and Riesling and Connecticut-grown Cayuga White.  Although the Augurs have recently planted Cayuga White themselves, it will be another few years before those grapes are ready for production.  In the meantime, they partner with a nearby vineyard to obtain their Cayuga White grapes.  A pale straw color, the wine has a delicate floral nose with notes of orange blossom.  In the mouth, the wine is crisp but delicate, lightly sweet with floral notes, and just a touch of acid on the finish to provide balance.    This would pair nicely with seafood and summer pasta dishes.

Riesling Next up was the Riesling.  One of Taylor Brooke’s specialties is their Rieslings, producing a number that are infused with fruit essences.  This is a dry Riesling, and one of my favorites among the Taylor Brooke whites, second only to the Green Apple Riesling.  The color is a very light yellow. The nose is light and delicate with notes of grass, in particular that light, fresh early spring grassy smell when the grass is really starting to come up again after the winter.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and smooth with light notes of grass and maybe green pepper.  There’s a slight buttery finish, nothing overwhelming just enough to provide a touch of sweetness and a soft lingering finish.  Overall a very nice wine, and a nice change from the fruitier wines found elsewhere throughout Connecticut.

Traminette Taylor Brooke led by owner and winemaker Richard Augur were among the first to grow Traminette in Connecticut.  The grape is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and Seyval Blanc, created by Cornell University in 1996.  While it has many of the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, the Traminette is particularly suited for the shorter growing seasons and colder climates of the northeast and upper Midwest, and you’ll find Traminette grown in New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, as well as New England.   Taylor Brooke’s Traminette is 100% estate grown.  A pale straw color, with a lovely, slightly earthy nose, the wine is very similar to a Gewurztraminer.  Sweeter than the previous two wines, with floral notes on the palate as well as light touches of peach and honey.  The peach notes really come through at the end and the wine finishes beautifully.  This would pair well with spicier, but not overly heavy food: Thai, for example, or even sushi.

Green Apple Riesling My favorite of the Taylor Brooke whites, this is one of their fruit-infused Rieslings.   Not a blend, the fruit-infused Rieslings are the result of incorporating natural fruit essence (similar in concept to vanilla extract) into 100% Riesling.  The results are very impressive producing wines with deeper, more distinctive fruit notes without creating overly sweet fruit wines.   The notes of Green Apple are distinct in the nose, but gentle – I expected the green apple to be much stronger than it actually was.  The earthy, slightly grassy notes of the Riesling were still present and blended beautifully with the slightly floral tart smell of green apple blossoms.  In the mouth, the wine has many of the hallmarks of the Riesling, drier with lightly grassy notes.  As with the nose, the green apple is distinct but not overwhelming, providing both a light sweetness and a crisp tartness reminiscent of that first bite into a crisp green apple.  The mouth feel is soft and silky and the wine has just enough acid on the finish to provide a nice balance and contrast.  Overall, a very nice wine.

Summer Peach The whites concluded with the first of Taylor Brooke’s seasonal wines, the Summer Peach.  Available May 1st each year, the Summer Peach is one of their more popular wines.  Like all the Rieslings, the color is a pale straw.  The nose is stronger than either the Riesling or the Green Apple Riesling, with very distinct notes of peach.  In the mouth the peach notes are strong, but not too sweet.  Like the Green Apple Riesling, the mouth feel is soft and silky, with a satisfying finish.  The acid provides a very slightly bitter finish which I found to be a bit off-putting; it’s almost as if the strength of the peach notes were leading me to expect more of a dessert wine with a smoother, richer finish.   Still, overall a very nice wine and one that will pair well with a wide variety of late spring/summer dishes, particularly grilled food, seafood and summer pastas.

As that finished the whites, I took a short break, rinsed my glass and prepared for the Reds…

White Silo Farm & Winery – The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

White Silo has been producing wines for 8 years, and has taken an interesting approach to their wines, creating both a dry and a semi-sweet, which they label “dessert” wines, version of four farm-grown fruits: Rhubarb, Blackberry, Raspberry and Black Currant.  This is the first time I’ve seen any winery create contrasting pairs of all their wines, and it makes for an interesting tasting.

A tasting includes your choice of 5 of the wines.   And, while I had missed Christy’s presence on the drive over, I found myself really regretting that she had been unable to make the trip once I saw the tasting menu.  If she had been with me, we could have coordinated a full tasting menu tasting all pairs (except the Raspberry as they were out of the sweet Raspberry wine that day).  As it was, I settled for a tasting of four of the wines (2 dry, 2 sweet) and a tasting of their Blackberry Sangria.

Dry Wines

Rhubarb I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Rhubarb wine, but this was a pleasant surprise.  The nose is light and floral, and the wine while definitely dry has a light sweetness from the rhubarb which provides some character to the wine.  Both the aroma and taste of the rhubarb are subtle, although there is a very slightly bitter finish to the wine.  I’m not sure if that’s from the fruit or from the dryness of the wine.  It’s not off-putting, but it was present.

Raspberry The first thing I noticed about this wine is the color, a lovely rosy pink color which sparkles in the glass.  The nose has definite notes of raspberry but, like the rhubarb wine, is not overpowering.  In the mouth, the wine has a hint of sweetness from the raspberry, which, again like the rhubarb, is definitely present but not overpowering.  The wine finishes with a light touch of acid, and again, just a slight bitterness.  Having experienced this a second time, I suspect it’s a result of the dryness.

Semi-Sweet (Dessert) Wines

Blackberry A pale ruby color, with a soft nose with light notes of blackberry, the semi-sweet Blackberry is a crisp, pleasant, drinkable wine.  The notes of blackberry are noticeable but not overpowering, and the sweetness is balanced by a nice touch of acid.  I don’t know that I would call this a “dessert” wine, however; it doesn’t have the rich silkiness that I associate with sauternes, late harvest or ice wines, and while sweeter than the dry wines, it is not so sweet that it precludes it from being paired with food.  This would be a great sipping wine for a hot summer afternoon, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that White Silo uses this as the base for their Sangria.

Cassis This is the semi-sweet version of White Silo’s Black Currant wine.  A light garnet color, the nose is soft with notes of black currant and plum.  In the mouth the wine is soft, velvety and rich with notes of black currant and a hint of raspberry, interestingly.  This, more than the Blackberry, struck me as being a dessert wine – the black currants provide a depth and a richness that is very satisfying and would make a great finish to a meal.  White Silo also suggests combining this with Vodka for a Black Currant Martini.

Blackberry Sangria Billed as the “House Specialty” on the tasting notes, White Silo’s Blackberry Sangria is “1 part Dry Rhubarb and 1 part Sweet Blackberry Wine.”  The result was my favorite of the White Silo offerings that afternoon.  An interesting cloudy rose color, the Sangria is a nice blend of both the rhubarb and the blackberry with neither fruit overpowering the other.  Served chilled, this is a very refreshing wine and perfect for a summer afternoon.  White Silo bottles and sells their Blackberry Sangria in a special two-bottle gift pack.

White Silo sells all their wines through their website, and offers a 10% case discount and 1 cent shipping on purchases of 3 or more bottles.

White Silo Farm & Winery ~ Sherman, CT

Marguerite BarrettWhite Silo Farm and Winery / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The White Silo Farm & Winery in Sherman, Connecticut is one that my wine-trail-buddy, Christy Sherard, had been saying she wanted to visit.  The pictures in the Connecticut Wine Trail brochure present a lovely vista of a traditional red barn nestled in among farmland dominated by a large white grain silo, the inspiration for the name.  There was something in the picture that seemed to call to Christy…

Unfortunately the weekend I managed to get out to Sherman, which is pretty much on the New York border in the far west of the state, Christy had other plans.  She’s actually been pretty busy most weekends this Fall and what wine trips she has made are often with her fiancé, Jeff.  We have the best of intentions of heading out together, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.

So one sunny Saturday afternoon I set off for the White Silo Winery – and their annual raspberry festival (my favorite fruit) – alone.

The winery lives up to it’s name – and it’s pictures.  The tasting room is housed in a red barn that sits right next to the namesake white grain silo at the entrance to the property.  The silo is painted a brilliant white and practically sparkles in the sunshine.  Both are situated at the base of a small hill which has tables and benches for picnicking.

All of White Silo’s wines are fruit based, made from the four fruits grown on the farm: raspberry, rhubarb, blackberry and black currant.   The property is surrounded by the fruit fields and raspberry bushes grow right up to the edge of the parking area.

The barn-cum-winery serves as both the tasting room and a gallery for the work of local artists.  The space is open and inviting, and organized to maximize the wall space for the gallery.  A large open bar sits on your left as you enter; the bar should hold between 10 and 12 people comfortably and there is space for tables and chairs for special events or large crowds.  A small gift area in the back features gift boxes of White Silo wines as well as local foods and crafts.

The staff is very welcoming and friendly and go out of their way to make the atmosphere comfortable and inviting for the winery’s guests.   They do a great job of keeping an eye on the guests at the bar and making sure that everyone’s tastings keep moving along, but they are also more than happy to stop and chat about the winery, the area, or whatever you feel like talking about.  When I arrived I was placed next to a small group from New York who were weekending in the area.  One of them manages a gallery in one of the nearby towns, and the conversation quickly turned to some of the local events that weekend, the upcoming opening of a new exhibit at his gallery and general news and gossip about the area.  Everyone was in a relaxed mood and generally enjoying themselves.

White Silo produces eight wines, a dry and a sweet version of wines made from four fruits: rhubarb, blackberry, raspberry and black currant.  A tasting includes your choice of five of the eight wines and as an added bonus, the tasting menu includes recipes for White Silo’s locally famous Blackberry Sangria and “Martini Madness.”

For a review of the wines, check back here at Vino Verve next Tuesday, January 5, 2010.

White Silo is open May through December 11 am – 6 pm on weekends (Fri-Sun) and holidays only or by appointment.

White Silo Winery
32 Route 37 East
Sherman, Connecticut 06784

The Wines of Cassidy Hill Vineyards

Marguerite BarrettCassidy HIll Vineyards (2) / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As we pulled into Cassidy Hill Vineyards that September afternoon, we passed a couple of women who were walking up the road, presumably from nearby homes.  Comfortably ensconced on the porch was a group that also appeared to be local and knew the owners and staff well.  Cassidy Hill is obviously a local favorite, and the mix of “wine trailers” like us and “locals” hanging out for a bit on a Sunday afternoon helped create a very relaxed atmosphere despite the number of people in the Tasting Room that afternoon.  It was a nice contrast to the jostling crowds we had found at the larger wineries in the southeast corner of the state.

We were warmly welcomed as we walked through the door, and the staff immediately presented us with the option of standing at the bar or taking a table.  After opting for a table, the staff came over immediately with glasses, the tasting menu and the first wine of the afternoon…

2008 Riesling Overall a nice Riesling and, surprisingly given how many Connecticut Rieslings have been tending towards the drier range, with the familiar sweetness that I’ve come to expect from Rieslings.  I can best describe the nose as “pretty”: bright, floral with soft notes of melon.  In the mouth the wine is sweet with notes of honeysuckle and a nice balance of acid at the end.  While I’m not generally a big Riesling fan and found some of the drier Connecticut Rieslings more interesting, this is a pleasant wine and would pair well with a wide variety of food.

2007 Chardonnay Cassidy Hill Vineyards produces two Chardonnays; the Reserve Chardonnay (see below) which is oaked, and the Chardonnay which is unoaked.  Described by our host as fruity but dry, this wine had more complexity than I originally anticipated.  Crisp and refreshing, the nose is soft and light with hints of pear and in the mouth has grassy notes with touches of green pepper and pear.  The mouth feel is soft and silky with just a light tartness on the finish which provides a bit of depth.  Overall not a bad wine, and people who prefer “clean” (i.e. unoaked) wines should definitely like this one.  As for me, while I found it interesting, I definitely preferred the Reserve.

Cassidy Hill Vineyards Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

2007 Reserve Chardonnay Like the 2007 Chardonnay, the Reserve Chardonnay has soft notes of pear and a light tartness on the finish, but the oaking provides the additional depth of a buttery richness that balances the fruit nicely.  No one note is overpowering in either the nose or the mouth.  The nose is soft and light with just hints of apple and pear.  In the mouth, the wine is lush with nicely balanced notes of both apple and pear.   The oak is not strong and provides some depth that I felt may have been lacking in the unoaked Chardonnay.

Summer Breeze A blush wine, this is a blend of Cayuga, Vignoles, Trement, Sevyal Blanc and Strawberries – an interesting combination.  Upon hearing the list I was anticipating an overly sweet wine with strong notes of strawberry.  The result, however, was quite surprising.  If you didn’t know the blend included strawberries, you would from the nose, but while the strawberry aroma is distinct, it is not overpowering.  In fact the softness of the nose was one of the first surprises – the strawberry notes are delightful and almost floral in their delicacy.  The next surprise came with the first sip – while sweet the wine isn’t nearly as sweet as I had anticipated.  As with the nose, the strawberries are definitely present, but not overpowering, and there’s a pleasant tartness that balances out the sweetness.   This would be a great picnic or porch wine for a lazy summer afternoon.

Grandview This is the first of the two reds on the tasting menu that afternoon.  Made from estate-grown Chambourcin grapes, this was another wine that took me slightly by surprise.  I haven’t encountered many primarily Chambourcin wines, usually finding Chambourcin as part of a blend.  A medium-bodied wine, the nose is soft and subtle with notes of black currant.  In the mouth the wine is smooth and fruity with notes of black cherries, black currants and a touch of licorice from the oaking.  The finish is soft but there’s a brightness that I’m finding is very common in reds grown from cold-climate varietals and is a bit of the hallmark of northeastern US reds.   It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get the true character of wine from a 1oz tasting, and I was intrigued enough by this one to say that it’s definitely a wine I will be coming back to try again.

Christy Sherard getting a picture of the vineyards; the views from the Tasting Room porch looking out over the vineyards are lovely.

Christy Sherard getting a picture of the vineyards; the views from the Tasting Room porch looking out over the vineyards are lovely.

2008 Merlot In all honesty, I’m always a bit trepidatious about Connecticut Merlots.  Merlot is not a grape that does well in our climate, and even with importing grapes, the results are usually are lighter-bodied and not as complex as the Merlots you’ll find from other, warmer, regions.   Still, for Connecticut Merlots this wasn’t bad.  The nose is dominated by strong notes of pepper.  In the mouth the wine is earthy and spicy, a nice change from the fruitiness that predominates in Connecticut reds.  The tasting notes indicate notes of dark plum and blackberry, and while present, they were very very subtle and balanced by the notes of spice and pepper.  The oak provided notes of smoke and licorice which provided some additional depth.  It’s still a lighter-bodied wine than you’ll find in a west coast Merlot, but it’s an interesting wine, particularly if given time to breathe.

Cassidy Hill Vineyards ~ Coventry, Connecticut

Marguerite BarrettCassidy Hill Vineyard / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finally finished writing up my notes from my various summer excursions, it’s time to turn our attention back to Connecticut.  I’m actually getting very close to completing my tour of Connecticut Wineries.

I started out following the Connecticut Wine Trail – first the wineries of the Western Trail situated primarily in the Litchfield Hills, and then on the Eastern Trail where most of the wineries fall along the coast.  Along the way I discovered that the Connecticut Wine Trail is not comprehensive – in fact, there are about 10 wineries in the state that aren’t listed on the Wine Trail.  Turns out, inclusion on the wine trail requires a monthly membership fee, one which some of the newer and smaller wineries have opted not to pay at this point.

That’s the case for today’s winery, Cassidy Hill Vineyard.  During general conversation, I learned that membership in the Connecticut Wine Trail runs about $200 per month, and in Cassidy Hill’s case, they weren’t yet convinced that the Wine Trail website drove enough extra traffic to member wineries to justify the expense.  All wineries, whether they are part of the Wine Trail or not, are listed as part of the Connecticut Farm Trust and included in the Passport program which the Trust runs every year.  Which also explains why there were more than 30 wineries listed in the 2009 Passport but only 26 listed on the Wine Trail website.

Cassidy Hill Vineyard / Photo: Marguerite BarrettLocated in Coventry, Connecticut – about 20 minutes from Hartford and close to the University of Connecticut’s main campus at Storrs, Cassidy Hill is tucked away down a long country road.  Surrounded by farmland and vineyards, the tasting room and winery is a log-cabin inspired building with a shape that evokes the tobacco barns that still dot the central areas of the state.   A long patio stretches 1/2 way along the front of the building and has outdoor seating for a good 10-15 people.

Inside the space is light and airy with wood-paneled walls, high oak beams along the ceiling and a welcoming mix of comfortable chairs and bistro tables for guests who want to relax and stay awhile.   A large L-shaped bar is tucked into the back corner of the main room; the bar could hold 12-15 people and the tables set up around the room could easily hold another 30 or so.   That afternoon I had managed to entice Christy back onto the wine trail with me, and as we entered we greeted by a very friendly staff who, despite the fact that they were fairly busy that afternoon gave us the option of having our tasting at the bar or at one of the tables.  That was a pleasant surprise – many of the other wineries aren’t able to accomodate tastings at the tables unless the winery is absolutely dead that afternoon.  But not only was it an option, but the staff was able to keep up with the demand and as far as I could see no one had to wait long in between the individual pourings.

The afternoon we visited the tasting menu included 6 wines, 3 whites, 1 blush and 2 reds.  The tasting, which includes all six wines, is $5 and you can purchase the logo glass for an additional $3.  Glasses of wine are $5 and the the winery provides a 10% discount on a case of wine.  For details about the wines we tasted that afternoon, check back here on Christmas Eve.

Christy Sherard picking up a couple bottles of some the afternoon's finds.

Christy Sherard picking up a couple bottles of some the afternoon's finds.

Since we’ve stopped by in early September, they’ve added some new wines to their menu, including a Late Harvest Vidal, and have 3 new wines scheduled for 2010 release.  Definitely worth a trip back, particularly given Coventry is practically my backyard!

If you’re planning a trip to Cassidy Hill, I also recommend a stop at Dmitri’s restaurant, also in Coventry – a Greek-American bistro, it’s quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Connecticut, and they have the best gyros I’ve had outside of Chicago’s Greektown.  If you’re coming from Hartford or points west, Dmitri’s is right on the way.

Look for “The Wines of Cassidy Hill” here at Vino Verve on 12/24.

Cassidy Hill Vineyard
454 Cassidy Hill Road
Coventry, Connecticut 06238
Tasting Room Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Heritage Trail Vineyards ~ The Reds

Marguerite BarrettHeritage Trail Outdoor Patio, Lisbon, CT / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, November 12

Both Christy and I found the reds to be interesting, fruity and quite enjoyable, and we definitely preferred them to the whites.  We also found ourselves somewhat puzzled as to why the staff so preferred the Winthrop White and Sweet Reserve over any of the reds.  But that’s the beauty of a tasting menu; hopefully there’s something for everyone somewhere on the list.

Heritage Trail currently produces three reds, beginning with the

Shetucket Red A blend of Rubiana grape (another grape developed by Cornell University) and Merlot, the Shetucket Red is a surprisingly pleasant drinkable table wine.  Garnet colored, the nose is lovely with rich cherry notes and that “sea-air tang” that I often find in northeastern reds.  Aged for one year in French oak, the wine is on the light side of medium-bodied with subtle notes of cherry and light spice on the end which provides an interesting finish.

Rochambeau Red Heritage Trail’s newest wine – 2007 was the first year produced – the Rochambeau Red is a blend of Villard Noir, Chambourcin, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon fermented in stainless steel for 20 days and then transferred to aged French Oak and racked in American oak.  The result is a lighter-bodied table wine with soft notes of cherry and dark berries and pleasant notes of toast on the finish.

Cabernet Franc The tasting finished with Heritage Trail’s Cabernet Franc.  A deep garnet color, this is a medium-bodied wine with a soft nose with nice notes of cherry.  In the mouth, cherry is again the predominant note with a pleasant vanilla finish from the oak.  This isn’t one of the strongest Cabernet Francs on the Connecticut Wine Trail, but it’s a eminently drinkable wine and my personal favorite of the Heritage Trail wine list.

Having finished up the tastings, we each ordered a glass, me of the Cab Franc and Christy the Shetucket Red and settled back to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of Heritage Trail’s lovely views in the late afternoon summer sun.

Heritage Trail Vineyards ~ The Whites

Marguerite BarrettHeritage Trail Vineyards, Lisbon, CT / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Tuesday, November 10th.

To our surprise, the tastings weren’t presented according to the printed tasting menu, and we actually began with the two sweeter whites before moving on to to the lighter, drier whites.  It was an interesting choice, explained to some degree, by our server’s announcing that the first two she was pouring for us were her favorites among the Heritage Trail wines.  Unfortunately, they weren’t ours.  The first selection was the

Winthrop White.  100% Cayuga estate grapes, the tasting notes indicate that this is Heritage Trail’s “Estate Boutique label.”   It’s a sweeter wine, almost too sweet, but is completely overpowered by the nose which is very earthy and bordering on unpleasant.  As this was our first wine of the tasting, both Christy and I thought the odors were from the glass – as if it had been washed in extremely hard water.  But after surreptitiously sniffing our water glasses, we realized it was the wine.  The nose has a strong, pungent, mustiness which Christy said reminded her of the smell of a manure.  Interestingly, you don’t taste the earthiness; the wine itself is light and sweet.  With a softer – or fruitier – nose, the wine would have been quite pleasant, but we just couldn’t get past the nose.

We quickly moved on to the

Sweet Reserve A blend of 70% Cayuga and 30% Seyval grapes, this, as the name implies, is another sweet wine.  The tasting notes indicate this is a semi-sweet wine, but it more closely resembles a sweet dessert wine.  In the mouth, there are lovely notes of citrus and apricot, although there is a strong citrus/acid bite at the end which was a bit startling.  But as with the Winthrop White, what we tasted was overshadowed by what we smelled: another strong, musty, earthy nose.  Not as pungent as the Winthrop White, we still found the nose unpleasant and had a hard time getting past it to enjoy the wine.

We were thinking about saying something to our server when she returned, particularly given that she had been so enthusiastic about these wines when she poured them.  Perhaps we had gotten tastings from a couple of  bad bottles?  But then we overheard a different server saying to the people next to us who had openly commented on the smell, “oh yes, we get that a lot; people often say they find the nose to be very strong…”  and we realized, no we didn’t get a bad bottle.  But it did make me wonder why they didn’t mention the nose upfront and perhaps explain what it is we were smelling and why…

Heritage Trail Vineyards Cafe, Lisbon, CT / Photo: Marguerite BarrettChristy suggested it might be the grapes – both were predominantely Cayuga.  Maybe the nose was a hallmark of the grapes?  But we’ve both had a number of Cayuga wines at other wineries, and didn’t have this reaction to the nose.  We then started to worry that perhaps this was a hallmark of all the Heritage Trail wines.   Luckily the next wine was much more to our liking…

Quinebaug White Another Cayuga blend, this time with Vidal, the Quinebaug is a light-bodied white wine, drier wine with a touch of sweetness.  The nose is pleasantly earthy, with grassy notes.  In the mouth, the wine has subtle notes of citrus and pear with a crisp finish.    We both liked this wine, although in all honesty, some of what we liked was that it didn’t have the nose of the first two wines.  Finally, we finished up the whites with the

Chardonnay This is an unoaked Chardonnay with a soft, fruity nose with notes of grapefruit.  In the mouth, the wine is smooth with lovely notes of grapefruit and a nice balance of acid at the finish.  Very nice Chardonnay, particularly for those who prefer their Chardonnays without oak.

With the whites behind us, we rinsed our glasses and awaited the Reds…

Continued on Tuesday, November 17th.

Heritage Trail Vineyards ~ Lisbon, Connecticut

Marguerite BarrettHeritage Trail Vineyards, Lisbon, CT / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As Christy and I drove down Route 169 everything seemed vaguely familiar, and I realized that not only had I been to Heritage Trail before, it was the first winery I wrote about for Vino Verve.  I can’t remember why I started the wine trail there in the late Fall of 2007 – or why I didn’t post anything until January 2008 – or why I switched over to the Western Trail on the other side of the state shortly afterwards – but as we pulled into the winery grounds, that first visit almost two years ago came back to me.

Since that visit the winery has acquired new owners, who have expanded the offerings to include a cafe with extensive lunch and dinner menus overseen by Heritage Trail’s Owner and Creative and Culinary Director, Chef Harry Schwartz; his wife Laurie is the winery’s Vintner.

The winery grounds and buildings are largely as I remembered, with the 18th century farmhouse serving as the property’s focal point.   When I first visited, though, the tasting room was in the back of the house – a side door led you into a large sun-room that served as the winery’s tasting room.   With the turnover in ownership, the Schwartz’s have moved the tasting room out of the main house and into the old 18th century barn which they have turned into a combined cafe/tasting room.  The cafe is surprisingly large and can probably seat 20-30 inside, and a large patio and veranda overlooking the expansive lawns and vineyards could hold another 30-4o guests.   They provide full service both inside and outside, even with tastings – a nice change from other wineries that provide patio seating, but don’t serve tastings directly at the tables.

Heritage Trail Vineyards, Lisbon, CT / Photo: Marguerite BarrettThe cafe menu is both varied and extensive and features both a lunch and a dinner menu – another surprise given that this is a relatively small venue.  The food is prepared onsite in the kitchens built into the back of the cafe, and features fresh local produce wherever possible.  In addition to Heritage Trail, the Schwartz’s also own Meadowstone Cheese in Brooklyn, Connecticut, and the cafe menus feature a number of dishes with local Meadowstone cheeses.   Some of the menu highlights include Wasabi Butterflies (fresh goat cheese flavored with wasabi crisp flatbread “wings”), the Lobster BLT, Smoked Chicken Wasabi Goat Cheese Panini, thin and crispy herbed mediterranean pizza with local cheeses, and the homemade gelato.

And, of course, the wines – which is what drew us there that afternoon.  Heritage Trail produces 7 wines, four whites and three reds.  A tasting of all seven wines will run you $7, with an additional $5 if you want to bring home a signature wine glass after your tasting.  Or, if you prefer, you can select the “Grand Pairing for 2” which includes the full tasting menu for two people plus a selection of fresh goat and cow cheeses from Meadowstone Farms.

Christy and I had already stopped for lunch earlier that afternoon, so we opted for a tasting (each) outside on the patio – first up, the Winthrop White…

Continued on November 12th with the Heritage Trail Whites.

Heritage Trail Vineyards
291 N. Burnham Highway
Jewett City, CT 06351

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.