Thursday, August 29, 2013

Barrel Tasting Weekend: A Look at Last Year

Mark your calendar for this year's Lakes Region Wine Barrel Tasting, October 5-6. This year, Newfound Winery is being added to the list. Here is my column from last year on this fabulous event. For more information on this year's event, read on here. Newfound Lake Vineyards is new this year. 

Our 2012 Barrel Tasting Group
Six Lakes Region wineries recently held a Wine Barrel Tasting Weekend, which is like a regular wine tasting with an added bonus: a chance to try wines right out of barrel while they are still aging. I had been waiting for this weekend for months and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

Because I had already visited five out of the six locations in the past, I was really looking forward to trying some different wines and learning more about the process right from the winemakers.

A group of us piled into my friend’s Jeep and headed out on the tasting trail. Our first stop was Coffin Cellars in Webster, where Tim Austin and his mom and helper Lorna had apple and blackberry wines to taste, in addition to their already bottled raspberry, cranberry pomegranate, jalapeno and lime wines.

The apple wine is made from a sweet blend press of fruit from a local orchard. It is my favorite Coffin Cellars wine to date, with a great balance of tartness and sweetness.
Blackberry is not a new wine for Coffin Cellars, as winemakers Austin, his brother Jamie and father Peter get the berries from their family fields. It is always very popular, as it captures the essence of blackberries in a well-balanced wine that is semi-sweet and delicious.

Our next stop was Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury where husband and wife team Eric and Erin craft an great selection of wines. Erin greeted us downstairs, where we tried carmenere, DeChaunac and syrah right from stainless steel tanks. She reminded us that these wines still have some aging to do and will further develop over time, with some reaching their full potential in another year.
Many of my friends enjoyed the carmenere and syrah, which where both a little bit too dry for my taste, while I really enjoyed the DeChaunac. Even at this step in the process, it was fruit-forward and had a nice berry aroma.
I am never disappointed by Haunting Whispers’ wines and ended up purchasing a bottle of Sunapee Red, a new offering this year. A blend of leon millot and marechal foch grapes, it has an earthy aroma but a tasty, surprising candy apple flavor and smooth finish.
Ken Hardcastle, Hermit Woods Winery
Our third stop was Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton, where we had the chance to taste two Chilean wines directly out of French oak barrels. Ken Hardcastle, one of the Hermit Woods winemakers, was in the downstairs area of the winery giving tastings of the four-month old syrah and carmenere, which will not reach their peak for some years. The wines are barrel aged for four to 20 months, Hardcastle explained, which helps the tannins develop and “marries together nicely” the fruit and oak. Both wines were slightly dry and the syrah had notes of pepper and spice. It will be interesting to try their finished products in the future.
Our last stop on the group tour was Stone Gate Vineyard in Gilford, where Peter Ellis greeted us in the lower level of his winery with samples of young vignoles and frontenac. The vignoles was dry while the frontenac displayed some of its fruit character found in the finished product. Upstairs, when we tried the bottled vignoles, it was fruit forward, with notes of honey and pear.

Kelly & I at Stone Gate Vineyard
I had to purchase a bottle of apple wine, made from a blend of macintosh, macoun and cortland apples from an orchard down the street. It is light and tart, much like the apple wine at Coffin Cellars.

Because our group ran out of time on the first day, my mom and I visited the two remaining wineries on the second day of the event, stopping first at Gilmanton Winery. Here we met winemaker John Jude, a former chemistry teacher originally from California, who works with owner Marshall Bishop to craft the array of Gilmanton wines. He explained the winemaking process, including the different steps red and white wines take from the beginning of production. He also showed us a refractometer and hygrometer, two key winemaking measurement tools that measure the sugar level and the right time to bottle, respectively.

We tried young carmenere and merlot, bottled recently at the winery and varietals that will get better with age. The carmenere was peppery and spicy, with notes of tobacco. The winery’s current carmenere, and the wine Jude said he is very proud of due to its depth and overall character, sold out over the weekend due to its popularity.

I brought home a bottle of Blue Berry Surprise, a wine recently made at the winery from local blueberries. 

Our last stop on the tour was Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee where young entrepreneurs Ash Fischbein and Matt Trahan make a variety of meads, or honey wines. I had never been to Sap House before, but it was definitely worth the trip. The building is beautifully decorated, warm and cozy, and their offerings are unique.

I entered the Meadery thinking I wasn’t going to like anything, but I left with a bottle of their Vanilla Bean Mead, which is sweet and smooth with the finish of cream soda. Trahan also let us try it with hot apple cider and it was a great combination. He said it is probably his favorite Sap House Meadery offering. My mind has definitely been changed.

We tried a traditional honey mead and the sugar maple mead, still going through the barrel aging process. They were stronger than the bottled meads but still very tasty.

This event, which I called ‘Christmas for wine lovers’, was a great experience. Not only did we get to meet all of the winemakers, but we got a better glimpse into all of the hard work it takes to make the finished product we all appreciate so much. 

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