Holmberg Orchards Russet Hard Cider

On occasion I like something other than a glass of wine, sparkling or otherwise and a hard cider fits the bill. What I like about the Holmberg Orchard’s Russet Hard Cider is the tartness as I prefer this over a sweet cider. Sweet ciders have their moments, especially in the summer months when you want to blend it with fresh fruit to make “adult Kool-Aid”. But seeing as this is winter, a cider with a bit more tartness is in order when you’re not in the mood for a glass of wine, champagne, beer, whiskey, scotch, cognac, martini, or any other libation.

What I like about tart ciders is they can be paired with just about any sort of appetizers or snacks. Pretzels are my preferred choice of snacks while watching a good movie, reading a great book, or just hanging around. This particular cider has about 7% alcohol by volume and costs around $9. Obviously this has aromas and flavors of apples and the perfect complement for snacking. Sometimes this is just what the doctor ordered 🙂


Connecticut Wine Festival – 2012

The CT Wine Festival was on the last weekend of July. The witless wine troupe (ah, that would be me & the missus and my sister- and brother-in-laws) started off the morning drive to the Goshen Fairgrounds in Goshen, CT under a partly cloudy sky but soon realized that it was not if it would rain, but when. We were hoping the inevitable dilemma of transparent moist daggers from the heavens would hold off long enough for us to enjoy the 4th annual CT Wine Festival.

The parking lot was as empty as could be, given that the wine festival would not open for another 30 minutes.

We arrived a half hour earlier than expected and you can see that we were among the brave and loyal wine enthusiasts to get a front row parking spot.

This is advantageous strategy on the part of us wine purveyors. You see, we didn’t need to worry about parking in the doldrums of the cheap seats, way back in swamp land, wondering if we would ever find the wine mobile without utilizing the panic button on the key fob.

Umbrella in hand, we marched on to the starting gate (see featured photo) to enter the world of fine wines.  You can see the line forming in anticipation of finding the best wines of the festival. Much to our surprise they opened the gates about 10 minutes before the announced starting times.

Fortunately we arrived early but so did many of the other wine enthusiasts as well but it was not yet to the point where you were four or five deep. So, the process of getting wine samples was still relatively easy to obtain. Here are just a few of the brave wine tasters waiting for samples or those purchasing wine.

Many of you have heard about our Fancy Schmancy Initials Club so, can you spot Sparing Sharon and Cousin Carl?

Once we sampled the wines and made our purchases we found ourselves outside the tasting barns and out in the open where the skies threatened numerous droplets of rain but we were determined to visit the vendors of other products than wine before the wet stuff began. I’m particularly fond of the vendors selling oils and vinegars.

Once we had visited the outside vendors we got back to the car – oh, look at the parking lot now.

So, if you want to park in the front row, get to the wine festival early. Now, the only thing left to do now was stop at Apricot’s restaurant in Farmington to top off a perfect afternoon wine tasting. But outside under the tent the rains finally poured down upon us (sorry no pictures of the rain as the camera was in the car). I have to remember that I have a phone with a camera in it.

If you’re looking for a fun day and want to taste wine from many of the state’s wineries, you’ll surely enjoy this outing. So, put a reminder on your calendar for July 2013 to visit the Connecticut Wine Festival

Bishops Orchard Winery – 2012

Down by the shoreline in Guilford, CT lies the farm market of Bishop’s Orchards and they offer as their tasting flight six circles with two to four wines per circle to choose from. The tasting fee is $6 and includes their signature wine glass. Upon entering the farm market their vision statement is there for all to see.

Then immediately as you look straight ahead there is another sign directing you to the wine bar – ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

The first circle had the Stone House White ($13.50) that had a lot of fruit on the nose with apple being the dominate aroma. This was quite dry and good with apple flavors with a nice degree of tartness. There was a hint of pear on the back palate.

From the second circle I choose their Celebration ($14.50) and this was loaded with apples on both the nose and palate. I found fresh apple pie with cinnamon and sugar on the finish. This was a very decent semi-dry fruit wine.

On to the halfway point of my tasting tour I chose the Hard Cider New England ($9.95). As you would expect apple was found on both the nose and palate. However, I did get a nice effervescence on the mid-palate. With 6% alcohol by volume I almost mistakenly thought of this as a bubbly but the apple finish told me this was a very good hard cider.

Next, I chose the Apple Raspberry Blush ($14.50) and the very first aroma to hit the ‘ol schnozzola was raspberry. Incidentally, on the palate I experienced the same raspberry flavor with a hint of apple.

For circle five, I ended up trying the Honey Peach Melba ($14.50). Definitive peach and honey aroma with hints of floral notes on the nose and maybe a hint of honey-lemon tea too. The flavors were similar to the aromas with a semi-sweet peach finish that went away too quick.

For the last circle I went with the Strawberry Delight ($15.00). A dessert wine with the color of a fine brandy with a distinct strawberry aroma. The flavor was of strawberry which didn’t surprise me but it did exhibit a brandy type finish. It was most unusual and mildly enticing.

Well, I thought I was done with my tasting here but Laurie brought out their Sachem’s Twilight ($22.00) as a bonus tasting. And yes, that’s Laurie getting my surprise wine for an added feature to their selection. I found a medley of peach, pear, and apple on the nose. A pear finish with lots of bubblies. This wasn’t on the tasting menu but was glad they poured this as a special bonus.

Next week – Chamard Vineyards

Arrigoni Winery – 2012

Located on route 66 in Portland, CT I had been by this building a million times. I never really noticed it until now of course. Previously the building held a boutique shop with all sorts of merchandise to purchase. But everything is on sale now as the lady (I apologize for not getting her name) behind the wine bar said they were going to concentrate on running the winery and producing wines. Arrigoni Winery has been open five weeks as of the day I visited on June 8th.

Their tasting fee is $6.95 for five wines and you get to keep the signature souvenir wine glass. I’m wondering what the owners are going to do with the boutique portion of the building. I’m thinking they may put in tables and chairs as they do have a patio out back which I forgot to get a picture of – another wine trip perhaps?

They had three white wines and two reds on their tasting menu. The first one I tried was the River Bend ($15.50). On the nose were tropical fruit and pineapple & melon too. Mostly pineapple on the flavor. I would recommend serving this well-chilled. The Sunset ($15.50) I enjoyed more with pineapple, nectarine, and peach aromas led into fruity orange and pineapple flavors. This was my favorite white here at this winery. The last white wine was a fruit one called Orchard Valley ($14) and as you would expect with an apple wine you experienced apple aromas and flavors, but this did have some tartness to it on the finish which was pleasing.

The red wines were next and the first one was the Driftwood ($15.50) where I found dark red cherry, plum, and pepper on the nose followed by bing cherry, plum, and peppercorn on the palate. The Rosso ($15.50) was a decent red that they offer either at room temperature or you can get it chilled – your choice. I opted for the chilled version. Floral notes on the nose which surprised me with cherry and blackberry flavors. There was something else going on that was pleasant to the palate but I couldn’t pick it out – maybe you can when you visit them.

If you are done for the day you can purchase a bottle on sit out on the patio for the rest of the afternoon or you can purchase wine by the glass for $6.

Next week – Priam Vineyards

Lost Acres Vineyard – 2012

Lost Acres Vineyard is new to the CT Wine Trail Passport this year and their sign indicating where I should go to enjoy a wine tasting is one of the signs I look for.

But let’s back up for a minute so you can see where the tasting room and other wine activities are conducted.

Did you notice the deck on the right side of the barn structure. Looks like a great place to spend an afternoon sipping some wine while admiring the vineyards.

And yes, this is the path leading up to the tasting room where I have never been before but am willing to take the plunge. When I entered, the tasting room was cool as it was becoming warm outside once the sun was intent on staying for awhile.

As you can see there is ample room to accommodate a lot of wine tasters either at the wine bar or in many of the tables that are set up here. Once inside one of the owners, Michelle welcomed me to the vineyard. The tasting fee is $6 including the CT state tax (I always like it when wineries include the tax within the tasting fee) for trying six wines on their menu. Plus you get their signature wine glass too. So, on to the wines and where the fun begins.

First up was their Chardonnay ($14.99) which opened with lemon, melon, and lemongrass aromas leading into citrus and apple flavors. Serve slightly chilled this was a very good wine to start of the tasting venue.

Next, I tried the Wedge White ($13.99) which is a white blend consisting of Cayuga, Chardonnay, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc. I found this wine to have clean crisp citrus aromas and flavors with some good acidity. This would be a great wine to have on their deck enjoying an afternoon with friends.

The next wine on their list was a fruit wine called Old Orchard Apple ($12.99) and as the name suggests you get apple aromas and flavors with a neat little tart apple finish.

The Riesling ($17.99) was next up on the tasting menu and I found lemongrass and fresh cut hay on the nose with a lingering spice cornucopia. This was a really surprising array of aromas and the flavors consisted of sweet apple and pear.

The Rock Wall Red ($15.99) was a blend of Carignane, Gamay, Merlot, and Petit Sirah. This red blend opened with plum, blackberry and jammy aromas. Much the same for the flavors but a nice spice and peppery finish followed leaving a nice mouth-feel on the palate.

The last wine on the list was the Merlot ($13.99). On the nose I found jammy blackberry and wild black cherry and on the palate I found cherry hard candy and plum flavors with a nice complement of pepper. Then I tried a chocolate morsel and this seemed to bring out the plum flavor more and as it turned out the last wine I tasted was my favorite.

If you haven’t stopped here yet, you’ll want to make the trip. One thing that I enjoy so far and I know I’ve only visited two wineries so far but how pleasant and friendly the wine staff and the tasters are so far – let’s hope that the trend continues.

Next week – Arrigoni Winery

Holmberg Orchards & Farm Winery – 2012

Well I’m back on the wine trail again and my first official stop was to Holmberg Orchards & Farm Winery. Their wine menu was limited with four ciders to choose from along with a pear wine and a blueberry wine. Their Vidal Blanc is due out soon so I will have to get back here to try it out as I have been waiting a whole year to sample this wine.

As you can see when I arrived the welcome sign beckoned me to step right up and partake in some libations. As I entered the small building, Jen, the wine staff person cheerily greeted me on a partly sunny day that threatened showers at any moment. She asked if I wanted to try some wines (if she really knew me this would be a rhetorical question) and of course, you know what my answer was 🙂

Inside the tasting room, Holmberg’s can easily accommodate 8-10 wine tasters at a time. It’s fairly cozy inside and when I arrived no other tasters were close at hand. I asked Jen (yes, that’s her crouched down by the wine cooler getting the samples I would be trying) how it was going and she said it was a bit slow with maybe half a dozen tasters had been in so far. Seeing as it was around 3:30 in the afternoon I could understand how quiet of a day she was having. However, I must have been the good luck charm as shortly after I arrived, two young ladies came in. And as I was leaving, five more tasters were en-route to the small shed-like building.

Once in side the tasting room I did notice a bottle with what appeared to have something in it and upon closer examination I noticed a pear growing inside or should I say already grown. As you can see it is grown inside the bottle so pear brandy can be made. The brandy is made by Westford Hill Distillers and is quite unique and a great gift idea. Anyway, Holmberg grows the pears inside the bottle and Westford makes the brandy. I must try this out. But on to the wine tasting.

The first wine I tasted was the Pearfection Pear wine ($12.99) and it opened with pear and fresh cut hay on the nose. A nice pleasant pear taste followed almost like biting into a fresh ripe pear. Jen recommended this wine for seafood dishes. I would tend to agree.

Then I tried the Bleuphoria Blueberry wine ($17.99) and was quite delectable as this wasn’t strong on the blueberry flavor yet you knew this was a blueberry wine and the fruit was balanced on the palate much the same as a young red wine would.

Next up were the four ciders and all were at $7.99 with around 5-7% alcohol by volume. On their tasting menu were the Russet Hard Cider, English Draught Hard Cider, Cortland Hard Cider, and the MacIntosh Hard Cider. All of them portrayed apple aromas and flavors but each one had its own nuances.

The Cortland Hard Cider was the most effervescent reminding you of a bubbly sparkling wine. The MacIntosh Hard Cider was the sweetest of the four ciders I tried. The Russet Hard Cider tastes just like fresh apples in a fall harvest even though it’s still June.

This was my favorite cider from last year and will probably be my favorite this year as well. The English Draught might give the Russet a run for the money. This wine reminded me of apple juice – with a kick, just the thing you need to start your day.

Of course if you decide to call it a day and just want to enjoy the rest of your time sitting near the wine room you can stop in and purchase a bottle of your favorite Holmberg Orchards wine and enjoy the day. You might want to dry off the seats though, unless you’re a frog, in which case you shouldn’t be drinking wine at all.

Next week – Lost Acres Vineyard

Les Trois Emme

I was getting to the end of my day for wine tasting and Les Trois Emme was my last stop of the day. Located in Southwestern Massachusetts in the Berkshires, it was quite a drive from where I had to be for the evening but it was worth the stop. I spent about 2 hours and 15 minutes here and it will go down in my top memorably wine experiences.

When I first walked in this is what caught my eye right off the bat.

Disregard the pad and pen off to the right of the table as this wasn’t supposed to “get in” the picture. (Note to self: Pay more attention to where you place the writing instruments). I immediately enjoyed the color scheme of the purple walls and the green doors. The only thing missing is the black ceiling I remember from my college days.

I was greeted by a lady named Mary Jane and she came right up to me and wanted to know if I’d like to do a wine tasting. You know what my answer was. But before we got to the wine we took a walk in the back where they make and bottle the wines. Although I have been to many of the back rooms and they are all quite similar, it amazes me how each winery I visit, add their own charm to the surroundings.  I must have left my camera out in the tasting room area as I do not have any pictures of where the wine is made. (Note to self: pay more attention to where your camera is).

During my conversation with Mary Jane, she commented that the name of the winery was named after her first three granddaughters – Megan, Madison, and Mary Katherine – hence, Les Trois Emme. Mary Jane, with a pleasing voice, began telling me “stories” about a lot of interesting subjects. I was so mesmerized with the “stories” that I forgot to write them down. (Note to self: pay more attention to capturing the “stories” you hear).

Normally you get around five wines for a $6 fee but somewhere along the line it was decided I would get to taste all of their wines and do the food parings as well. I forgot to write down all of the food I paired with which wines (Note to self: pay more attention to food & wine pairings). About this time Mary Jane’s husband, Wayne (he’s the chemist), came in for a quick visit and we also chatted for a spell – no, I didn’t write what we talked about – yeah, I know “Note to self” time.

Okay, on to the wines I tasted and yes, I did remember to write my impressions of the wine as I tasted each one:

Kiyo’s Sparkling Wine – $20: This was a semi-sweet sparkler made from the Chenin Blanc grape. I found pear with a hint of apple on the nose with pear and apple on the palate. This was a very nice sparkling wine.

Splash of White – $16: A blend of several white wines from French-American hybrids, this opened with an apricot nose. Megan (not one of the granddaughters, but the wine staff and a radio host) gave me a shrimp cake that had sweet potatoes, cumin, and red bell pepper as the ingredients. This went very well with this wine which had a pear flavor.

Cayuga White – $16: This is one of their medal winners and it was predominately pear and apple aromas and flavors. This was paired with a pot sticker (don’t ask for the ingredients as I didn’t write it down).

Nick Jackson Blush – $16: A blend of 90% Cayuga and 10% Marechal Foch produced pear on the nose with red cherry on the palate with a slight peppery finish.

Julia’s Ruby Red – $18: Red berries on the nose and palate, this was served well chilled and had a bit of sweetness to it. This was paired with a quesadilla.

Shiraz-Cabernet – $18: 60% Shiraz and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon began with plum and boysenberry on the nose. On the palate I got plum and black cherry with a slight peppery finish.

Old Vine Zinfandel – $25: On the nose were hints of black and red cherry followed by red cherry and raspberry flavors. I liked this one a lot and was probably my favorite of all the wines.

Malbec – $20: I paired the other half of the quesadilla with this. Raspberry on both the nose and palate with a slight mocha finish.

Cabernet Sauvignon – $22: This had black cherry all over it. Although one dimensional it was quite tasty.

Berkshire Red- $18: This blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec produced mostly black berry fruit aromas and flavors.

Stingy Jack’s Pumpkin Wine- $16: I got pumpkin rind aroma, like when you’re carving a pumpkin for the Trick or Treaters, but not too overpowering. A subtle pumpkin flavor unlike a pumpkin ale which is way too much pumpkin flavor for me. This was a bit softer. It was paired with a warm pumpkin soup and it went very well. The wine complemented the soup tremendously.

Wizard’s Cranberry Wine – $16: A semi-dry wine infused with cranberry, hence you’ll get cranberry on the nose and palate.

As you can see from the above picture is was fairly light when I first arrived, however when I left, darkness had taken over the whiner-mobile. Their wine is made from the grapes that are located on their three acres in the vineyards as well as six acres from the Finger Lakes Region. They produce just over 2500 cases a year and Mary Jane is the taster and when she says says it’s ready, then it gets bottled. I’m going to take her word for it. (Note to self: take time to revisit Les Trois Emme).

Pioneer Valley Vineyard

The drive out to Pioneer Valley Vineyard was indeed, to say the least, a picturesque drive (sorry, didn’t take pictures along the way). It was a quiet drive along the back roads from where I hail to Hatfield, MA and upon arrival at the winery I found there was no tasting fee (see sign) for enjoying their wines.

Now when I first arrived I had thought the winery was through the front door of the white house (I think the flag threw me off),

but quickly realized the tasting room was located in the back of the house.

Now I was on the right track and could only imagine what may lie inside. I have found that many of the New England wineries are converted barns, out-buildings, stables, or any other combination of wood and nails to hold up the roof. So the inside looked like this.

Not a bad beginning to savor the wines I would choose.  I was greeted by Linda (one of the owners) and later Casey joined in the tasting festivities. Prodded by their son Josh (making home made beer for the lot to enjoy) and better half, Jen encouraged Ma & Pa to go into the wine-making business. Casey, being a farmer by trade, agreed and their wines are available October through December on Saturdays and Sundays.

Here are the wines I got to taste on a fairly warm day:

Frontenac Red (dry): This dry red wine is estate grown with blueberry on the nose and black cherry, almond, and pepper flavors followed.

Frontenac red (semi-dry): Same aromas and flavors as the Frontenac Red (dry) but with a bit of sweetness on the back palate.

Tomato Wine: This wasn’t on the tasting menu but they asked if I would like to try it. I didn’t know what to expect so…this was made from 50% Mountain Frost tomatoes and 50% Plum tomatoes. Well, you can definitely smell the tomato on the nose. This semi-dry acidic wine produced a distinctive tomato flavor. This would probably go good with cheese and crackers. Pasta wouldn’t be out of the realm either. I can’t put my finger on it, but I did like this wine.

Blueberry: Locally grown and the aroma and flavor said the same – fresh blueberries.

Raspberry: The only difference between the Blueberry and Raspberry wines should be obvious, but in case you want me to spell it out for you: R-A-S-P-B-E-R-R-Y both on the nose and the palate.

Strawberry: An orangy-peach color yielded strawberry on both the nose and palate – no surprise here.

Cranberry: Made from Cape Cod cranberries I found a nice subtle explosion of cranberry on the nose. This was listed as a sweet wine but thought it more of a semi-sweet one.

Blackberry: This was very nice with a rich dark berry aroma with a black berry flavor and a nice smooth finish.

Well, there you have it. Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…

Mineral Hills Winery

I was able visit only two wineries on this wine trip and this was my second winery of the day. Mineral Hills Winery is located at Godard’s Red Hen Farm and the tasting room looks like a converted apple orchard building. If you look real close and just to the left of the “Open” flag you can see stacks of apples for sale.

But once inside the resemblance stops at the threshold and it opens into their tasting room with many of their products on display. They are members of the Hampden County Beekeepers Association as well as the Massachusetts Farm Winery Association.

When I arrived, one of the owners, Larry was in the back room of which I was able to visit (more on this later in this post).

The tasting fee was $5.10 (including the tax) for any five of their wines and I started my tasting with the following and Larry put out several cheeses for the tasting:

2010 Chardonnay: This opened with floral notes with fruity aromas. Distinctive apple and pear flavors followed.

Seyval Blanc: A white Rose that was slightly sweet with grapefruit on the palate.

Apple Wine: This fruit wine had the aroma and flavor of fresh apples on a dew drenched morn in the apple orchard early in the picking season. Can you see the apples falling from the tree?

Mead (honey wine): This had a nice honey aroma on the nose. Then I tried the honey that produced this mead and then another sip of the mead wine, wow! The first sip of wine was much different after tasting the honey and taking a second sip. And yes I did come home with a bottle of this wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Plenty of fruit on the nose, plum with nuances of earthiness. Plum and black cherry followed on the palate with a hint of mocha on the finish.

Then I tried the barrel tasting of his newest Cabernet Sauvignon and the tasting notes were very similar to the Cabernet Sauvignon and it had an even longer finish with subtle hints of vanilla which complemented the mocha. I can’t wait for this to get bottled in 2012. Note to self: get back to the winery for this wine:)

One of the most exciting aspects of getting to go into the back room is seeing the following…

Yes, these bottles represent the winemaker’s “experiments” and I found that Larry and Sue are very passionate about making wine, being in the wine industry, and learning about wine in general. They were easy to talk to and the four other tasters and I had a great time conversing with both of them in the back room.

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…

Land Of Nod Vineyard & Winery

The Land Of Nod Winery is located in the Northwest hills of Connecticut. It took me an hour and fifty minutes to get there. However, I did go through the back roads and the scenic views were simply gorgeous and I tried to take it all in. Just off the main road you turn onto a small road that reminded me of the roads in Ireland in that there appears to be room for only one and a half cars. I was lucky as the only traffic was me. It was really in the middle of nowhere but hey, what else was there to do but stop in for a wine tasting?

Turning into the small driveway there was a red barn-like structure – what did you expect! Which I have come to realize to be quite the norm for some of the wineries here in Connecticut. But that’s okay as I remember when just about all of Connecticut was farmland, my has it grown!

Okay, back to the winery. The entrance was just to the left of the building and upon entering, it was quite quaint (say that ten times fast or better yet try it after the wine tasting) with something akin to a small boutique shop but the decor worked well for the wine room. The wine bar could easily accommodate a small party with room to spare. The sommelier was very friendly and asked per chance if I was interested in a wine tasting? She doesn’t know me very well does she? So, what was I to say but “Absolutely, bring on the wine glass” which she did and informed me the wine tasting was $3 and I almost fell to the floor but oddly enough the wine bar was just the right height as my elbows were resting on the edge and I was able to maintain my composure. Three bucks! I was floored as this was a really good bargain. Enough about the fee and let’s get to the seven wines they were offering the day I arrived.

Bianca: A light bodied wine with low tannins and acidity, clean and crisp. Pear on the nose and palate with hints of honey. This was well chilled and delectable.

Rose: The color of an opaque rose (the flower that is), this rose had floral notes with a concoction of berries for flavor.

Raspberry Wine: This was made from 100% raspberry juice and you can tell as it was loaded with raspberry on the nose and palate with a touch of sweetness.

Corot Noir: A hybrid cross of the 1970 vines of Seyve and Steuben produced a robust red wine that depicted blackberry and black currant on the nose with a cherry flavor. Nice!

Blueberry-Raspberry Medley: Made from blueberry and raspberry juices and this is just what I got out of it as well. Blueberry and Raspberry on the nose and Raspberry and Blueberry on the palate – sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Wine: You got it – Chocolate and raspberry everywhere. Yeah, couldn’t help it so I bought a bottle.

Peach Wine: What can I say but Peach! Peach! Peach!

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…