Friday, March 6, 2015

Tasting Etiquette: How Not to be a Wine Snob

I am a fairly seasoned wine taster. I haven’t been to Italy or Napa Valley yet, but I have been to wineries in several other places, including Texas, Maine, New York and Canada. Wine tasting is one of my favorite activities and I generally find it very enjoyable. But sometimes, there are wine snobs and pushy people who also decide to go wine tasting on the same day you do. 

2014 Barrel Tasting at Hermit Woods Winery
During a recent trip to a New Hampshire winery, I encountered such guests, which prompted me to write a list of do’s and don’ts. Please read them with a good sense of humor. A glass of wine is also helpful. 

DO ask questions. I’m not a wine expert or a sommelier, and even when I have tried a wine before, I like hearing its description. I like hearing about how it is made, what it pairs with and other essential information. I may even ask some questions myself. I appreciate when other people ask questions too. I like watching others learn more about wine. Please just be aware that the winery employee may have several customers to pour wine for, so be patient and courteous. They are there to help and discuss the wine with you, but when it is busy, they have multiple customers to attend to at the same time. Repeating your question over and over doesn’t mean it will get answered any faster. 

DON’T ask awkward questions like “how much residual sugar is in this?” or ask the winery employee to keep repeating the name of the wine. It’s right on the bottle. 

DO try each wine (within your own and/ or the winery’s sample limits). On the particular day I went, it was quite busy, so I had to wait a few minutes between tastings. But I didn’t mind, because it gave me time to enjoy my company and the wine itself. Wine tasting is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing experience. I dislike feeling rushed. 

DON’T be pushy and impatient. If it’s busy, chances are you will have to wait. Winery employees can only pour so much wine and talk to so many customers at once. They are doing the best they can to give everyone the same great experience. Pushing your way through people to the bar or table is rude, and it doesn’t make the atmosphere pleasant or relaxing. Also, holding out your glass in front of other people isn’t appreciated either. Everyone is waiting for more wine, so please wait your turn. If you’re in a hurry, a busy weekend tasting may not be for you. 

DON’T be overly loud. Remember the “inside voice” we all learned to use in school? Please use it in the winery. I am trying to have a nice relaxing experience, and your yelling doesn’t help. It may be busy and loud due to the crowd, but your voice doesn’t need to rise over everyone else’s. During Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Weekend this past fall, my group visited wineries with some of the same groups of people who seemed to be on the same route. One guest in particular rounded up her group at each winery by yelling loudly. This did not add to the atmosphere, especially when we were in one of the smaller wineries on the circuit. Please be courteous of other visitors. I know we aren’t in a library or anything, but we’re also not in a nightclub. 

Wineries should be places where everyone is welcome, no matter how much they know about wine. One of the things I appreciate most about our New Hampshire wineries is their welcoming atmospheres. I want to enjoy my wine without being elbowed or shoved or having to yell loudly to speak to the person next to me. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Post: Thin Mints & Wine

NOTE: The Hippo has changed how they are doing some things, so some of you Concord area people may not see all of my columns. I am going to do my best to upload them when they are out so you can still read them. 

I realize they have been out for a few weeks, but if some of you still have some Girl Scout cookies left and haven’t devoured them yet, here are some suggested wine, beer and spirit pairings. If you’re going to eat them (because let’s face it-they are irresistible once they are in the house), you might as well pair them with your favorite beverage. Here are suggestions from the experts, along with my own. I am not an expert, but I am offering my suggestions anyway.

If you’re pairing anything with wine, most experts would say start with the lightest and go from there. The same could be said about beer.

COOKIES! Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts

Trefoils (shortbread cookies)

Wine: All of the experts overwhelmingly suggest pairing this basic shortbread cookie with Champagne or a sparkling wine. The rich, buttery taste will pair nicely with the liveliness of the bubbly and bring out the flavors of the wine. I may also try a Vinho Verde since it has some effervescence.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggests the following beers: Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Baltic Porter, Oskar Blues Old Chub. They also suggest an IPA to contrast the buttery biscuit quality of the cookie.

Samoas (cookie with caramel & coconut)

Wine: This is one of my all-time favorite Girl Scout cookies due to its combination of chocolate, coconut and caramel. Huffington Post food suggests pairing this cookie with Port, and I have to agree. The sweetness of the Port pairs nicely with the notes of the cookie, and its smoothness will counter the ever so slight crunch and texture. Moonlight Meadery’s Blissful could also be a great match.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggests a barelywine as a match for this cookie to complement the toasted coconut. Other suggestions include an IPA and coconut porter. Try Squam Brewing’s “The Camp” Barleywine Ale.
Spirit: According to First We Feast, Angel’s Envy Rye is a good match for the Somoa because its brown sugar and cinnamon work well with the coconut in the cookie.

Do-Si-Dos (peanut butter sandwich)

Wine: I like the idea of turning this pairing into a peanut butter and jelly situation. It doesn’t necessarily mean grape jelly, either. To make this happen, you need a fruity, jammy wine. What comes to mind for me is Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, a South African red wine that would go nicely with the peanut butter. Zweigelt, an Austrian red wine, is another suggested pairing because it is light bodied and fruity. This pairing will also create a peanut butter and jelly scenario. Moonlight Meadery’s Coffee in Bed could also make an interesting combination.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggest trying a smoked porter or a coffee stout. I would even venture to try this cookie with Able Ebenezer’s Burn the Ships and see how the smokiness stands up against the peanut butter.

Tagalongs (peanut butter & cookie covered in chocolate)

Wine: According to experts, this cookie goes well with Madeira, or a wine with a hint of fruit and sweetness like a Zinfandel. I would also try it with fruit wines like Sweet Baby Vineyard’s Raspberry Wine or Hermit Woods Winery’s Deep Blue.
Beer: The Beer Chicks offer Wells & Youngs Banana Bread Beer as an ideal pairing. I happen to love this idea because it combines three things I like: bananas, chocolate and peanut butter.
First We Feast suggests Johnny Drum by Willett because it can stand up to the richness of the cookie.

Thin Mints

Wine: I wouldn’t typically drink wine and eat a mint cookie. I like mint foods, but this combination is very odd to me. However, experts suggest Syrah or Port. Their richness can stand up to the chocolate and mint in the cookie.
Beer: A beer pairing I can get behind, and Craft Beer & Brewing suggests a chocolate stout, which I think is a genius idea. A beer with some coffee, chocolate or caramel notes will complement the cookies and its weight will match the cookie crunch. They do point out, however, that these beers tend to have a higher alcohol content so extra cookies may be needed! Try Henniker Brewing Company’s The Roast, a seasonal winter stout with gourmet coffee beans roasted exclusively for by Concord’s own White Mountain Coffee Roasters.
Spirit: First We Feast suggests pairing Thin Mints with Basil Hayden’s because its peppermint notes will complement the cookie.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Newfound Lake Vineyards Open for First Official Season

I’m happy to report that there is a new winery officially open in New Hampshire: Newfound Lake Vineyards in Bristol. As if there weren’t enough reasons to visit the beautiful Newfound Lake area, here is one more.

Owner Heidi von Gotz Cogean held a soft opening last fall and just in time for the Lakes Region’s annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. She had a few wines for tasting and a few other wines in the works, including a Carmenere still aging that Barrel Tasting Weekend attendees could taste.

I visited Newfound Lake Vineyards last September on Heidi’s first ‘official’ night open and was excited to return with my family. The winery is nestled up on a hill off Lake Shore Road near Newfound Lake. It’s cozy and welcoming, just like Heidi. In addition to being a great hostess, she is also very knowledgeable about wine so I enjoy listening to her share her expertise.

Heidi’s ancestors in Germany produced wine for many, many years so winemaking has always been part of her life and opening her own winery is a continuation of that tradition. Like her family generations before her, she is focused on homegrown grapes and is currently growing Edelweiss, La Crescent and Marquette grapes in her vineyard.

 “My cousins said, “You can’t make wine in America,”” she laughed, but clearly she is, and has taken some back to Germany for them to taste. Her mother, despite being in her 80s, is an active part of Newfound Lake Vineyards and even handpicked some of the blueberries used in the wine.

Currently, there are three Newfound Lake Vineyards wines available for tasting: Wild Blue Oak, Carmenere and Pinot Grigio. Fermenting in the winery were cabernet sauvignon and merlot that will become Wicked Good Red, a Bordeaux-style blend that is, as described, wicked good. I tried this blend in the fall and really enjoyed it. It seems others did as well because Heidi completely sold out. She expects to have it ready by August or early fall. (UPDATE: the week after I visited, she released her Sweet Blue)

The Pinot Grigio, made from pinot gris grapes, is an Italian style wine that is bright and crisp with a slight effervescence. What I enjoyed about this wine most is its smoothness and lack of harsh acidity often found in other pinot grigios. This wine should be well chilled before serving. It would be a great pairing with a seafood or pasta dish with creamy sauce.
Any guests who visited the winery during Barrel Tasting Weekend last fall and tried the Carmenere straight out of the barrel can now try the finished product. This wine is dry, smooth and mellow with a subtle hint of pepper. It was aged in French oak to bring out the grapes character and has developed nicely since the fall.

The Wild Blue Oak is a blueberry wine made with local fruit from the Newfound area, hand picked by Heidi’s mom, and berries from Taylor Farm in Alton. This wine is dry and reminiscent of a red wine made from grapes but has a very nice aroma and flavor of blueberries. Also aged in oak, this wine pairs well with game meat, red meat and chocolate.
“Your taste buds change every day,” Heidi said, noting that some wines are better with food to complement a meal. She also recommends cooking with red wine if you have a bottle that has been opened for a while.

In addition to the Wicked Good Red, Heidi is currently working on a few other wines as well. She had one version of rhubarb wine last fall, but is developing a sweeter version. She also hopes to release a sweet blueberry wine and a sweet cranberry wine and an additional Cranberry Bog wine by the fall. She also collected her own sap from her property and said a wine made with maple syrup may be in her future plans.

For now, she is celebrating her first official season and tending to the grapes in her own vineyard, hoping the wildlife won’t disturb them too much. She has been busy producing wine and has the winery fully stocked with cases of wines.

Newfound Lake Vineyards, located at 567 West Shore Road in Bristol, is open until November on Friday evenings from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon-5 p.m. Visit for more information and updates.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hermit Woods Winery's Uncorking

I am a huge fan of New Hampshire wineries so it is always a pleasure to see them grow and prosper. We have already seen LaBelle Winery move into a beautiful new facility in Amherst, which has allowed them to expand not only their space, but offerings, wine dinners, classes and events.

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining the founders of Hermit Woods Winery, formerly of Sanbornton, for their official “Uncorking,” the grand opening of their new winery in downtown Meredith. They worked tirelessly through the winter months to upgrade the old Fermentation Station building that gives them much more room to offer tastings, sell their products and most importantly – produce wine.

“This is really a special day for us,” said Bob Manley, one of Hermit Woods’ founders. “Ken, Chuck and I have worked hard the last 10 months and we are excited to open the doors.”
Manley thanked their family, friends and many others involved in the project. He also noted that the response from other businesses and the Meredith community “has just been fantastic.”

“Most importantly, I want to thank our customers. You have helped make our business a success and supported us from the beginning,” Manley said.

Manley, Ken Hardcastle and Chuck Lawrence started Hermit Woods in 2011 after forming a strong friendship. The original tasting room and wine production space were located in Manley’s home. He joked that he was finally going to be able to have his master bedroom and basement back with the opening of their new Meredith space.

“We had a love of wine and we wanted to produce wine with native fruit from our area in the style of regions from around the world,” Manley said. “Our wine is made with fruits grown right here.”

Hardcastle said they will actually be adding a “fermentable landscape” in front of the winery so they can grow fruit right on site.

Before opening the doors during the official grand opening, all three founders ‘uncorked’ the winery with a giant wine opener and invited guests to head inside.

“We are excited about doing our part in Meredith for Main Street,” Manley said, “and we look forward to being here for a really long time. Please take a sip of wine, wander around and enjoy the place.”

For this special occasion, Chef Kevin Halligan of Local Eatery in Laconia served up a delicious selection of appetizers, made to order on a grill right on the Hermit Woods deck. 

The weather was so great on this day, many guests looked like that had a hard time deciding whether to stay inside and check out the winery or just enjoy the view and sunshine outside from the deck.

Hardcastle, the winery’s head winemaker, gave guests a tour of the winemaking space located in the lower level of the building. Included were some of his test batches, including some yeasts and a day lily wine. A geologist by trade, Hardcastle is constantly experimenting with different yeasts to see what he wants to use in his wines. “Wine is a living thing,” he said.

In addition to their wine, Hermit Woods is partnering with other local businesses like Oglethorpe Fine Arts and Crafts and the Bread Peddler to offer a variety of items for sale in the winery. The space is set-up nicely, with room to sip wine and browse. There is also a nice deck off the front entrance, which will be an ideal place to sit and relax during the summer months.

The winery produces about 30 different wines per year. Their new wines will be released this summer, but during the event guests were able to sample four wines: Three Honey Wine, Red Scare, Maple Blue and Karmin Ayre. I have tried all of these wines before but I never get tired of them; they are all so good. The Maple Blue is the perfect wine for the season because it is actually made with local sap and low bush blueberries.
The winery is currently open on Fridays from 3-6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Beginning in May, nearby Newfound Lake Vineyards in Bristol will also be open, so take a trip to the Lakes Region and make a day of it. Visit for more information.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Survival of the FITtest Challenge

Gather a team of four and test your physical and mental strength during the Survival of the FITtest on May 10 in Chichester. 

I will be there with some gym buddies. This event should be a good time so get some friends together and come out. Plus, you'll get in a good workout while having fun!

This event requires a co-ed team of four participants, to include one woman on each team. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., teams will navigate a 5K course with a variety of physical and mental challenges throughout, and must work together as a cohesive unit to complete the course.

The event will be an all day affair and there will be numerous activities for children, so they are welcome to attend with adult spectators. There will also be music, food, contests and prizes.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Frank Monahan Foundation, which supports local youth and community programs.

Fun Intelligent Training in Concord is hosting this event, but registration is open to all teams of four. Registration is $55 per person until May 4. For more information and to sign-up, visit

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maple Season: Wine & Spirits Made With Maple

(I am a few weeks late sharing this column from the Hippo. But the good news is you can enjoy these maple products past maple season).

It is maple syrup season here in New Hampshire and many sugarhouses recently participated in open house weekend. With the abundance of maple syrup here in New England, it only makes sense that many wine and spirit producers take advantage of this ingredient, incorporating it into their products.

Maple Blue from Hermit Woods Winery
(Photo courtesy of Hermit Woods)
Maple syrup is made when tree sap is boiled and the excess water is removed.  Because it takes 40 parts sap to make one part syrup (or 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup, according to Tap My it is a labor of love, much like wine. A lot of work goes into the little bottle we appreciate when it is time to have pancakes, waffles or even ice cream.

Maple syrup might seem like an unlikely ingredient for wine because it is so sweet, but used thoughtfully during the winemaking process, it can really add depth and even some smokiness.

Ken Hardcastle, winemaker at Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, doesn’t shy away from using different products in his wine and takes advantage of local resources whenever possible. It’s no surprise to me that he found a way to nicely incorporate sap from the trees at their former tasting room site in Sanbornton with some blueberry wine.

The result was a 2012 and 2013 Maple Blue, which are both very similar but the 2013 wine has a slight and subtle sweetness over the 2012 bottle. Both wines are made with 35 percent blueberry wine and 65 percent maple wine. Maple sap from the Sanbornton trees was concentrated over a wood-fired syrup pan during the winemaking process. The result is a wine that resembles a pinot noir, but is bursting with blueberry flavors, a touch of oak and a smokey sweet finish from the syrup.

My mom and I had an opportunity to try the 2013 Maple Blue upon a recent trip to the winery, poured by Ken himself. We could tell he was very proud of this wine and he should be. It is definitely a wine that captures the essence of both ingredients very nicely.

Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee already embraces honey, but has two regular and two seasonal meads made with New Hampshire maple syrup. Their award-winning Sugar Maple is a honey-maple syrup wine also known as an acerglyn, fermented with black tea. Though it sounds sweet, it actually has a low amount of sugar, resulting in a wine that is velvety and buttery (this is sometimes how people describe chardonnay). It can be enjoyed many different ways: iced, chilled, at room temperature, warmed or even mulled. 

Sap House’s Hopped Blueberry Maple is another regular and award-winning mead made from wildflower honey and low bush blueberries with maple syrup added to balance out the fruit and sweetness. Surprisingly, this mead has aromas of grapefruit due to the use of Willamette hops. Enjoy this wine iced, chilled or at room temperature.

The seasonal Peach Maple is a semi-sweet, honey-peach maple syrup wine similar to the Sugar Maple, but with whole peaches added in the winemaking process. This gives it a delicate peach aroma and floral notes of honey. Blackberry Maple, another seasonal, is a semi-sweet mead made with local blackberries. It is aged with Hungarian oak, giving it notes of vanilla, coffee and black pepper. These seasonals are not always available, so if you see one, grab it!

The good news is you do not need to travel all the way to Center Ossipee to enjoy Sap House’s meads. Locally, they are available at Bert’s Better Beers, Candia Road Convenience and Vino Aromas in Manchester, Harvest Market in Bedford, Concord Co-op and Barb’s Beer Emporium in Concord.

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in Lee blends their General Stark Vodka, made from New Hampshire apples, with maple syrup to make their Sugar Maple Liqueur. This liqueur is pretty good any time of the year, but especially great in the spring and fall seasons. You can sip it at room temperature, chill it or add it to an array of beverages like apple cider or tea. You could even try it over vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.

There are a few other ways to enjoy maple. Jim Beam and Crown Royal make maple versions of their whiskey and Knob Creek makes a Smoked Maple Bourbon.

Being able to enjoy real maple syrup will always be one of my favorite things about living in New Hampshire, whether it comes in a jug, wine bottle or glass of mead. Either way, it’s a bottled labor of sweet, old-fashioned love. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Four Guys and Some Beer: The Able Ebenezer Brewing Company

When four guys decided to get together and start their own brewery, the Able Ebenezer Brewing Company was born. That might sound like a huge risk, and no doubt it is, but thankfully, they have the brews to back it up.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the brewery’s first official tasting at the home of Carl Soderberg, one of the Able Ebenezer founders. Here, the brewery is currently in its pilot program phase, with beer currently being made in three to five gallon batches in Soderberg’s garage. Next year, the guys plan to open a tasting room in Merrimack and will be upping production to 310-gallon containers to support growlers and local distribution.
While the guys work on securing everything else needed to move forward from the home brewing to brewery phase, they are putting the finishing touches on four beer recipes and currently have two more “pipeline products” currently in the research and development phase.

“There is a story behind everything we do,” Soderberg said, from the pine tree in the brewery’s logo to the names of the beers themselves.

The brewery was named after Ebenezer Mudgett, a New Hampshire colonist who was involved in the Pine Tree Riot back in 1772. After the British claimed large white pine trees for shipbuilding purposes, several sawmill owners in Goffstown and Weare rebelled, later flying a pine tree flag.

“We liked the local history and the spirit that embodies us,” Soderberg said. “We are able, we want to accomplish things and stand on our own.”

The four founders met on different occasions years ago but came together recently to open the brewery. Zach Rand, nicknamed “the glue that holds the group together” and Jim Wilson met at Plymouth State University, while Rand and brew master Mike Frizzelle met while they were in the same platoon in the Army. Later, Rand and Soderberg met in the Army in a different platoon. Some years later, Rand and Soderberg connected while working at the same company. After discussing the possibility of the brewery, they reconnected with Frizzelle, who recently moved from the West Coast to brew beer in New Hampshire. Rand, Soderberg and Frizzelle all now live in New England, while Wilson, the brewery’s social media and marketing guru, lives in Texas.

Soderberg said they designed their current selections to appeal to a “full spread of tastes.”
The first beer on the tasting menu was Auburn, an Irish red named for the town where it’s currently being made and fashioned after Red Trolley, a beer from California. This beer is smooth and crisp with some subtle sweetness and notes of caramel and honey. It is recommended for brunch but is also a beer for any occasion.

The next beer on the menu, Emma Wood, also has West Coast influences. A Belgian specialty, this beer is a cross between a Belgian white and a hoppy wheat beer and named after a beach in California. As a home brewer, Frizzelle first shared this beer with family on Emma Wood beach.

As a Belgian white fan, I really enjoyed this beer and its flavors of orange and lemon zest. It would also be good with an orange slice.

Next we tried Homecoming, one of the brewery’s pipeline products. This beer is described as a “robust harvest ale.” It is made with real pumpkin but is unlike other pumpkin beers on the market, made with specialty malts, cinnamon, citrus and nutmeg. This beer was a bit too heavy for me, but Oktoberfest fans will love it. One of my friends also suggested trying it with Guinness as a black and tan. It was named not only for the fall season but the homecoming experience of people being home for the holidays like a reunion.

The next beer, named Notorious Offender under its working title, also carried some weight. Described as a “New Hampshire strong ale,” this beer doesn’t really fit into an established category. Frizzelle combined dark malts with a wide array of bittering and aroma hops. The result is a beer that is “intentionally offensive, but strangely fulfilling” according to the brewery description.

Burn the Ships, a smoked India pale ale, is actually the brewery’s heaviest beer, brewed with smoked specialty malt and dry-hopped to give it a unique smoke-filled conclusion. This beer is “surprising as it is revolutionary,” named for the founders’ experience of opening up the brewery and burning their own ships in this endeavor.

“Our ships have been burned,” Soderberg said. “We want our beer to be an experience. It’s something to talk about; there’s a story behind it.”

The final beer we tried was Tabula Rasa, an American Amber style ale that is slightly sweet with caramel, honey and fruit flavors. This beer is “designed to confuse the senses while warming the soul,” according to the brewery. Rand named this beer after a concept from John Locke. Its name means “blank slate,” usually used to describe a birth, when a person is at their freest.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Able Ebenezer beers I tried and think others will really like them too. Once their Merrimack location is open, they will have tastings, tours and growlers available for purchase. They are also hoping to be on tap at several locations around the Manchester area. 

To stay up to date on the brewery’s progress, visit the brewery website at, or follow them at: and on Twitter: @AbleEbBeer.