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

Haight-Brown Vineyards, Inc.

Well, I was driving to my third winery of the day and as I drove into the Haight-Brown Vineyard grounds I had a tough time getting a parking spot as there must have been 25-30 cars but lo and behold, I found a parking space two-thirds of the way down from whence I came. I decided to take a few pictures before I went in to taste some wines thinking that the wine tasters inside would start to dwindle down before I was ready for the wine tasting experience. H-B Vineyards is listed as Connecticut’s oldest winery.

I wasn’t ready for what I saw as I bounded up a flight of stairs to the tasting room. They had a great looking wine bar area with barstools for about 25 or so tasters and several tables that could seat about another 12-15 wine snobs. Let me get back to what I wasn’t ready for – every barstool, table and chair were completely filled to capacity. So, I figured I would just wait a few minutes and I would browse around the small gift displays that had some delectable looking cheese behind the glass bakery shelves you see in many bakeries. So to say the least I was really looking forward to the tasting I was about to come across. It was nice to see so many young people (24-32 age bracket) in for a tasting. I believe wine has a great future.

After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity turned out to be a 27 minute wait before I sat down for my first taste of wine from this winery. Did I mention I also spent about 10 minutes taking pictures outside? So, what started as an exciting adventure in my quest to visit the 90+ wineries in New England with Connecticut being the first state for me to conquer, my wine experience was going south fast as I waited almost two-thirds of an hour for a taste of the delectable red and white juices.

After being seated the sommelier, Jackie, introduced herself, welcomed me to H-B Vineyards, and asked me which tasting option I would like to do. There were four tastings to choose from. For $8.50 gets you a sampling of the first eight wines on their tasting menu. The second option is for $11 and comes with chocolate, the $13 fee comes with cheese, and the last option for $15 includes all their wines, the chocolate and cheese ensemble. I chose the basic tasting. All of their tasting options comes with their signature glass. You could also add $3 for the dessert wines.

Along with each of the wines, Jackie would explain the complexities of each wine and after the third wine she looked over and said “You’re getting everything I’m saying, aren’t you?” I then explained I write a wine blog and we started to have a conversation, a future story, if you will. We talked about the movie reviews of which she was a fan of foreign, independent, and documentary films. What started as a potential disaster was soon turned back to reality so I could get into “bud break” mode. I was there for about 45 minutes. Jackie was quite pleasant and knowledgeable, not only of H-B wines but of others as well. She made this an enjoyable and memorable wine experience.

So, here are the wines I tasted:

Chardonnay: Aged in steel, I found pear on the nose and a lemony flavor but not overpowering.

Railway White: This was a nice summer wine with aromas and flavors of citrus throughout.

Covertside White: This light, fruity, and crisp wine had lemongrass notes with a melon flavor and a fruity finish.

Riesling: With less than 1% residual sugar this had a floral aroma and indicative of your German Riesling. A good Asian food wine.

Strawberry Bliss: You guessed it, everything strawberry with hints of honeydew melon.

Picnic Red: A full bodied red wine made from the Marechal Foch grape varietal. I got boysenberry, plum, and cherry nuances in the nose and palate. However, there was something else and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was on the tip of my tongue, or at least was on the tip of my tongue. I decided to call Jackie over and explain my dilemma. She simply stated: “Vanilla”, and then it hit me, I smelled and tasted vanilla and this made it a most delectable wine. I really think I’m losing the “schnozzola”! This wine was also served slightly chilled, something I normally don’t do. But I do recommend chilling this per the sommelier.

Morning Harvest: A Malbec and Petit Sirah blend found blackberry on the nose with black curant and cassis. A hint of blueberry rounded out this wine.

Big Red: Dry and oaky, this full bodied red exhibited a black raspberry aroma with cherry and spice flavors. A very smooth peppery finish.

Honey Nut Apple: I didn’t get much on the nose or palate (I’m really losing it), however the finish was like Grandma’s apple pie. Yeah!

And the two dessert wines:

White Harmony: A Port style wine with tropical aromas and mango and honey flavors. A really great white Port.

Rapture: Estate grown Port found wild raspberry, cassis, and mulberry aromas. On the palate I found fresh picked raspberries, blackberry, and pepper flavors. It ended with a pungent Port flavor that makes a Port a Port.

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

 

 

Miranda Vineyard

A short hop from Sunset Meadows, Miranda Vineyard is located just down the street with the iron gates opened to invite you along for a wine tasting event. After you have visited the vineyard just off the parking area and you get ready to enter the tasting room just to the left of the door is an antique wine press greeting you with whispered stories.

Inside the building was a modern decor with a small wine bar that would fit maybe 4-5 tasters although I do not know how comfortable it would be. Off to the right of the wine bar are several tables that fit four each (I guess in waiter/waitress slang is known as a four-top) to accommodate a few small parties.

The tasting fee is $7.00 for seven wines of which you got to pick from eight selections. It would seem to me that they would offer all eight wines for the same tasting fee. You could also taste their white Port style wine for an additional $2. I did and was glad I had done so.

Here are the wines I tried:

Seyval Blanc: This crisp white wine opened with pear, apricot, and nectarine aromas and had a nice pear flavor.

Chardonnay: A much more full bodied white wine produced apricot and peach aromas.  On the palate all I could taste was butternut squash. This truly did not sit well with me at all. This is the first time I have tried any wine that had a butternutty flavor -no, not for me, sorry this wine will not be in my cellar.

Woodridge White: A blend of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and aged in oak for one year revealed a grassy marsh aroma like being close to the ocean with a ripe pear flavor. Again, this did nothing for my palate. Well, on to the next wine.

Cayuga White: Now this was more like it. It started with an apple orchard aroma at around dusk and was followed by apple and pear flavors with a nectarine finish. Oh yeah!

Goshen Farmhouse Red: A garnet colored wine had blackberries on the nose with the same flavor and was very fruity.

Merlot: This was quite a different Merlot than what I’m used to. It started with dark cherry and a hint of fennel on the nose. The palate revealed a forward cherry and licorice flavor which blended well with each other. After consuming a dark chocolate morsel, the licorice seemed to blossom.

Rose: With melon and fresh cut watermelon on the nose, the palate revealed a strawberry finish that had sweetness without being sweet. A nice summer sipping wine.

Vinho Fino: This white Port style wine had an apricot aroma with a peach flavor and a sweet lemony finish. This was the gem of the winery.

 

Connecticut Valley Winery

The day I visited the Connecticut Valley Winery I drove in the driveway to see their winery name emblazoned on the front of the gray building in white letters and what is it I see just below the letters – a tour bus and another van similar to the rental car shuttles parked just in front of the winery entrance. I contemplated as I drove while thinking “quick, turn around and come back another day” but said to myself “remember, it’s the small things in life that are worth living for”.

Plus, as I turned into the driveway there was a great big banner with the words “Grape Vines in Training” on the front side of rows and rows of new grapevines. This had to be a sign that I was destined to stop and face whatever it was inside the tasting room – tour bus or no tour bus – it was karma.

Well, when I walked in all the tables (about five) were completely full seating about twenty tasters sitting by the fireplace although not lit and the wine bar was two deep which meant there were at least sixteen tasters having a lot of fun. Alas, the tour people were everywhere but one of the owners (I recognized him from their website pictures) beckoned for me to join him at the wine bar saying as I approached that he would make room at the end.

Wow, was it a festive mood once I scuttled through the sea of glasses, tables, and chairs with the occupants of the tables getting up and adjusting their seating arrangement so I could get by. Not a bad sort, these tour people. I was beginning to like them as they were jovial and quite pleasant to talk with. They were asking what winery I just came from, how did you like it, where was I going next, etc. Several of them urged me to join them for their next winery stop but knew I was not destined for that trip at this time. So, I respectfully declined and they understood but they wish I would still come along so they could hear more stories about the Wit Is Out wine blog.

Once the tour people were safely tucked away in their coach another one of the owners began pouring the wine for my tasting pleasure. The woman behind the bar reminded me of my own Italian aunts in the way she smiled and used her hands to speak to me. I didn’t get the cost of the wine tasting and in all the fuss they decided not to charge me the tasting fee – karma – catchin’ my drift?

For each of the wines she had a quick memory of how it was made, what the weather was, the day of the week, etc. However, it was her rendition of the black bear that really caught my attention. Seems that awhile back a black bear would visit their Port grapevines and eat at his will when the mood struck him. As the family was unwilling to have the bear killed or trapped they allowed the bear to come and go when he got the urge to eat the Port grapes, hence they named their Port – Black Bear Port. Yes, I bought a bottle for a couple of reasons, one the story intrigued me, the Black Bear Port was really tasty, and I love Port. Karma, what was that about karma?

Here are the wines I tasted while I conversed with the tour people and later alone as they left for another adventure:

Chardonel: This wine opened with melon aromas, was very crisp and abounded with grapefruit on the palate.

Chianti: This is a blend of four grape varietals producing earthy aromas and plentiful on the nose with dark cherry flavors with a plum finish. Not quite the Chiantis from Italy but it’s close. An everyday good table wine.

Ruby Lite: A blend of 60% Chardonel and 40% Chianti and I experienced the aromas and flavors of the Chardonel and Chianti except for the earthy aroma, that wasn’t present. But I did get the melon aroma and cherry flavor but not as pronounced as the Chianti.

Deep Purple: You guessed it, this wine was a deep purple color and had reasonably good clarity. Produced from the Chamborcin grape which not all wine lovers are in love with. I got plum and raisin on the nose with blackberry flavors.

Midnight: Made from the Frontenac grape, this wine produced a boysenberry aroma and pepper and mocha flavors. This wine had nice tannins and good acidity.

Just Peachy: Peaches galore as you would expect from the name. Can’t tell you much more than that – peachy.

Raspberry Delight: Oh yeah! Everything raspberry. A really good dessert wine for after the evening’s meal.

Dolce Vita: Sweetness abounded in this wine with citrus flavors. I wasn’t crazy about this wine but you know me and white wines…

Black Tie Cabernet Franc: This delectable wine had fruity notes with pepper and smoke aromas. On the palate I found a cherry flavor with a hint of chocolate.

Orange Vidal: This wine started with an orange zest aroma. The flavors were tropical and citrus notes – kind of weird, huh? Although this was a decent tasting wine it was not my cup of tea.

Black Bear: This red dessert Port named after the bear noted above had a black currant aroma. The palate however found black cherry and black berry flavors with that pungency of Port I so enjoy. My only regret with this wine is I only bought one bottle. Another wine trip perhaps?

The winery also let me try a Sangria but it wasn’t ready for sale yet. I can’t wait for the release as this wine is laced with brandy, yeah, you read this right. Not like any Sangria I’ve ever had.

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

 

Sharpe Hill Vineyard

I turned into the driveway around 3:30 pm  to visit Sharpe Hill Vineyard and immediately heard the roosters crowing in the background and I decided to just listen to them for a while as I came to realize this would be my last stop of the day and I was certainly going to enjoy the moment.

Making my way across the road to one of their vineyards, still hearing the roosters crowing, I walked along a stone wall and one of the entrances to the vineyards (which were gorgeous by the way) had an ornate iron gate. The stone walls were classic New England boundaries so each farmer knew when he reached the end of his property. It’s remarkable that it was in such good shape as you could tell they had been there for some time.

Back on the winery side of the road to the rock road entrance I was greeted by two large wooden roosters beckoning me to come and try the wines inside. Inside the enormous barn like structure was a very small bar that maybe could fit three tasters. Just beyond the tasting room was a patio with a few tables and chairs. Sharpe Hill also serves dinner for which you usually have to make reservations a month in advance and if you haven’t been here for dinner you’ve missed out. I have been three times and I’ve always had great meals. My quest is to go enough to try all of their menu entrees.

Anyway back in the tasting room. The tasting fee is $7 for five wines or $12 for eleven wines which includes their signature wine glass which is more suited for dessert wines. I have been here several times so I opted for the $7 tasting and tried the following wines.

Ballet of Angels: It’s a crisp, semi-dry white wine that has floral aromas with citrus flavors with a grapefruit finish. This is one of my favorite wines to have with spicy foods. Serve well chilled though.

Cuvee Ammi Philips 2007: Pear and melon notes lead into nice tropical fruit flavors with a hint of lemongrass.

Dry Summer Rose: Both the aroma and flavor hinted of strawberries but not overpowering.

Select Late Harvest: This dessert wine open with pear and apricot aromas and finished with nectarine and pear flavors. Sweet but not excessively sweet. It ended with a hint of honey.

Pontefract 2007: A smooth Port wine with blackberry fruit in the nose and plum and raisin on the palate. Although a good Port I would only want about two to three sips after dinner.

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

DiGrazia Vineyards

Upon first entering DiGrazia Vineyards you are greeted by enormous trees lining the driveway as you view a rustic wine/water tower giving you the sense of the history of wine making. Here I was, excited about embarking on my wine trip. This is the first time I have been to this vineyard and I was pleasantly surprised with my visit.

Just before entering the wine room there is a sitting area under a trellis bearing vines and you can imagine wine making from the beginning of time. I could envision myself relaxing under the trellis having a picnic lunch with some of the delectable wines I was about to encounter.

I really was not prepared for what was about to happen next. Upon entering the tasting room I noticed another couple enjoying the fruits of the vine while speaking with a lady from behind the counter. There was also another gentleman behind the counter and I was greeted with a great smile and a welcome to the winery. He inquired if I was interested in a tasting – what was I to say?

The tasting fee is $6 (did not include a souvenir wine glass) and let’s not forget the State of Connecticut wants to get in the act and has now started taxing the tasting fees with a 6% sales tax. You picked six wines from the fifteen wines listed on their menu (although he did let me try eight of the wines). The tasting room decor was in dark wood giving you a rustic setting with soft lighting and setting the mood for a wine tasting you hope is great.

Anyway, the sommelier behind the counter noticed I had my notebook and asked “Are you a professional wine taster?” With a simple smile I confessed I was a novice tampering with the written word for a wine blog. Well, was I surprised to find out that the gentleman I was speaking with was the owner of the vineyard. Dr. DiGrazia has been interested in wine for many years as he studied in Switzerland.

During our conversation he retold a story of when he spoke at a wine convention in Oakland, CA many years ago. He mentioned in his speech that his winery was capable of producing 1,000 bottles an hour. He was interrupted by one of the members of the audience that remarked “I understand that you are from Connecticut (sounding out each syllable phonetically while emphasizing the last syllable) that the 1,000 bottle an hour for California wineries would be considered an experimental batch of wine with an air of snootiness. All this was being conveyed while I was on a private tour of DiGrazia’s wine room and accessories used to make the delectable wines produced in this small vineyard amongst the many old pictures he had on the wall. You could almost envision working in the fields with a slight wind on a hot, humid day picking grapes that were mature and ready to begin its journey into the fermenting stage.

An hour later I finally left the winery with some memories of a kind soul that made a difference in how I viewed wine and life.  Alas, I had four other wineries to visit but could have easily spent the afternoon listening to his stories. After all, stories are what keep us going. If you haven’t visited DiGrazia you should put this on your list of wineries to visit this year. This was my first visit here but definitely not my last. Now, the wines I tasted…

Winners Cup: This dry Vidal Blanc had great acidity with tart apple and floral notes along with citrus flavors. I would have liked to pair this with shrimp and broccoli over angel hair pesto as I think this would make for a great meal and wine pairing.

Anastasia’s Blush: A rose wine with a lot of sweetness with great floral notes.  Honey-dew melon and cantaloupe dominated this wine. Serve chilled. I could imagine having this on a hot summer night.

Newbury: This red wine opened with raspberry and cherry notes on the nose with an explosion of red berry flavors. Although medium bodied it had a lot more oomph and I would attempt to pair this with grilled lamb or rabbit.

Paragran: A red wine with strong pomegranate aromas just like opening a fresh pomegranate and sticking your ‘ol schnozzola right into it. What a pleasant aroma! I found not only pomegranate flavors but pear as well. I do believe when I open a bottle of this wine there would be no use in re-corking it later as I doubt any wine would be left – and that’s just me drinking it.

White Magnolia: Most of you already know that I’m a fan of ports. Well, my white wine oenophile neophytes, this wine is laced with brandy and I was quite impressed with this. White grape juice aroma and the flavor was quite pleasant with the brandy. I could have this for dessert every evening.

Wild Blue: This wine was also enhanced by brandy and you guessed it – this was everything blueberry with sweetness in the finish.

Blacksmith Port: Ah yes ports, one of my favorite sipping liquids. This had the pungency of ports that I like and a nice long finish.

Signature Blacksmith Port: Just like the Blacksmith Port only intensified. This is a winery -only wine so you have to visit them to buy a bottle. If you’re a port lover this won’t disappoint.

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