Monday, November 25, 2013

3rd Annual Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Weekend

This past weekend was one of my favorite events: the third annual Lakes Region Barrel Tasting weekend at seven wineries. This gives guests an opportunity to meet the winemakers, take a tour of their winery and taste wines right from the barrel or tank before they are done aging.

On Sunday, several wineries were reporting an outstanding turnout, with attendance numbers way up over last year, even with the weather being less than ideal. I made it to five of the seven wineries this year. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit Newfound Lake Vineyards in Bristol or Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee. I did attend Newfound Lake Vineyards soft opening last weekend and was able to try owner Heidi Cojean’s Wicked Good Red, Sauvignon Blanc and some Carmenere still aging in the barrel. I can’t wait to see what else she produces in the future but I know it’s going to be great. My friend Carol and I had a great visit with her and her family and enjoyed their hospitality. I also heard that Sap House Meadery had their fabulous vanilla bean mead available for tasting, which is perfect during cool fall days.

On Saturday, my mom and I went to Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury. Downstairs in their winemaking area, we tried vignoles that was ready to be bottled and a young syrah. Young marechal foch and carmenere were also available.

Upstairs, we tried their new apple wine, made with cider apples from Apple Hill Farm in Concord. This recipe has some cinnamon added, resulting in apple pie in a bottle. This wine is so delicious. It would be perfect for a cool fall day, warmed in the crockpot.
Another new wine I tried was Misty Bog, a sweet port-style cranberry dessert wine. This wine was intense but delicious, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. It could also be mixed with sparkling wine for a great cocktail.

On Sunday, a group of us planned out our route and headed to Coffin Cellars in Webster first, where we tried a couple of different wines, including their latest batch of cranberry pomegranate from the tank. This has always been one of my favorite Coffin Cellars wines and is currently sold out, but the wine from the tank was delicious.

I highly recommend their kiwi berry wine. It was made in a small batch but it is sweet, fruity and delicious. Get some before it is gone.

Also back in stock is their jalapeno wine. This wine may not be for everyone on its own, but it would be great in a bloody mary.

Our second stop was Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton. First, we headed upstairs where owner Bob Manley told us all about the great wines the winery has made this year. We tried a few 2012 wines, including Kiwi, Knot Mead, Petite Blue and Deep Blue.

The Deep Blue, a port-style blueberry dessert wine was my favorite. It is intense and flavorful. Manley called it a “party in the mouth” and recommended trying it with blueberry pie, vanilla ice cream and a slight drizzle of this wine on top. It is easy to see why this wine received a rave review from a wine expert.

Sadly, the winery sold out of their very popular crabapple wine, but Manley said he was excited for this year’s batch, calling it “the best crabapple yet.”

Downstairs, owner and head winemaker Ken Hardcastle let us sample the 2013 Blue right from the barrel. Once complete, this wine will be a deep, dry red similar to a pinot noir. The skins are left on the blueberries a little bit longer and the oak helps concentrate the flavors. This wine will also age well.

After Hermit Woods Winery, our group headed to Stone Gate Vineyard in Gilford, where Peter Ellis greeted us with a taste of Marechal Foch straight from the tank. Sadly, the winery is closing this month after many great years of winemaking. But, Haunting Whisper Vineyards will make their grapes into wine and Peter and Jane will get a much-deserved break and time with their family.

Our final stop on Sunday was at Gilmanton Winery in Gilmanton. First, we met John Jude, winemaker, where we were able to try peach and blueberry wine right out of the containers that had been going through first fermentation for about two weeks. They were cloudy in color but fruity.

Outside, we tasted a couple other wines including Seyval, Malbec, Graces and the House Wine-an intriguing blend with chocolate flavors.

Overall, this event was an even bigger success than last year. Even unfavorable weather does not keep wine lovers from hitting the trail. 

Thanksgiving Wines

This week one of the most indulgent days for many of us of the year arrives: Thanksgiving. No table is complete without a couple bottles of wine, with red and white choices to keep everyone happy. But you don’t have to stick to those alone.  There are some great fruit wines that pair well with Thanksgiving dinner and many are made right here in New Hampshire with seasonal products.

Cranberry Wine
Cranberry wine, like cranberry sauce, is a great complement to the Thanksgiving meal and with its rich red color, will look very seasonal in your wine glass.
Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown offers two distinctly different cranberry options: CranZeeno and Cranbreez. The CranZeeno is a lighter, fruity wine blend that even non-wine lovers will like. The Cranbreez is much more tart and may bring a slight pucker to your lips. As a great option, the Cranbreez can be mixed with Prosecco, Champagne or sparkling wine to make a festive cocktail.
Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury also offers two cranberry options: a semi-dry cranberry wine and new this year, Misty Bog. The cranberry wine has great fruit flavor and some tartness to it, while the Misty Bog is a sweet, holiday dessert wine. This wine could also be mixed with sparkling wine if you wanted to cut down on the sweetness, or just enjoy it as is as an apertif.
Another option is the cranberry wine from LaBelle Winery in Amherst. This wine is slightly sweet and tart, made with New England cranberries.

Apple Wine
Apples are a fall staple and many wineries take advantage of their abundance, using cider apple varieties from local farms.
Sweet Baby Vineyard in East Kingston offers an apple wine that is semi-sweet, clean and crisp, with a nice balance of acidity. This wine has a velvety texture and is made with local fruit.
Hermit Woods Winery’s Harvest Apple wine, also made with local fruit, is light, crisp and captures the essence of apple juice. Because it pairs well with a variety of foods, it is a good choice for Thanksgiving dinner.
Also supporting a local farm, Coffin Cellars in Webster uses cider apples in their apple wine. This wine is smooth and tangy, with hints of green apple, melon and honeysuckle. Enjoy these wines well chilled, or try apple wine mulled in a crockpot with spices as an extra treat during these colder temperatures.
For something a little different, try Kurt’s Apple Pie from Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry. This is one of their best-selling meads, made from local cider and Madagascar-bourbon vanilla and Vietnamese cinnamon spice. It is like apple pie in a glass and if you don’t want to drink it, try it over vanilla ice cream as a great dessert.

Pumpkin Wine
Pumpkin fans will enjoy Jumpin’ Jacks Pumpkin Dessert Wine from Zorvino Vineyards. The winery staff spends hours working on this wine, cutting up hundreds of pounds of pumpkins by hand. While this wine is more expensive than most, it is only available once a year and combines the best characteristics of pumpkin with mulling spices to create a wine that is rich and almost savory.

Other Recommendations
Some wineries, like Flag Hill Winery in Lee, Sweet Baby Vineyard and LaBelle Winery make apple-cranberry wines. Flag Hill’s is the most tart and sweet, while the other two are semi-dry and have less sweetness.
For a twist on apple wine, try Moonlight Meadery’s Deviant, a sweet melomel (fruit mead) made with apple cider from Sunnycreast Farms in Londonderry. It also has ginger, making slightly sweet and spicy with a lingering finish. It’s also important to note that ginger helps with digestion and stomach aches, so this may be the best post-Thanksgiving choice.
If you have difficulty finding some of these wines, a good standby wine is Chicken & Turkey from the Pairing Collection. This red blend has 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent syrah and 20 percent carignan. This wine has aromas of cherry and tobacco with fruit flavors and a spicy finish. I tried this wine with my Thanksgiving dinner last year and it was a decent match.
Another one of my picks is Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is affordable and less pungent than many sauvignon blancs out there. It has flavors of lemons and limes, with a nice creamy finish.
No matter what you have on your table this holiday, I hope you enjoy it with good wine, good food and the company of family and friends.