2015 CT Specialty Food Association Wine Competition Results

IMG_3349-1On March 24, the CT Specialty Food Association held their annual CT Product Awards Competition, which included Connecticut wine. All wines were required to be made from 100% Connecticut grown fruit. I was pleased to put together an expert panel of wine judges, including several newcomers this year. We spent several hours in each other’s company contemplating 34 Connecticut wines, and engaging in a few lively debates. When the dust settled, some clear winners emerged. Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen had a very strong showing, placing first in 4 categories, and competition newcomer Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston secured a second place finish in the Dry White category.


L to R: Roger Collinge, CSW, Doug Croll, CSW, Renée Allen, CSW, FWS, Ken Turcotte, CSW, WSET Adv. Brad Haywood, WSET Adv.

And the winners are…

2015 Wine Product of the Year

Sunset Meadow Vineyard, Goshen, CT   Blustery Blend, 2014

Wine – Blush

1st Place           Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Sunset Blush, 2013

Wine – Dessert

1st Place           Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, CT   Ice Wine, 2013

*This wine received high enough marks from all of the judges to be placed in the Exceptional category, the highest category in which a wine could place.

2nd Place          Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Midnight Ice, 2013

3rd Place           Jones Winery, Shelton, CT   Seven Generations, NV

Wine – Dry Red

1st Place           Jones Winery, Shelton, CT   Cabernet Franc, 2012

2nd Place          Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   New Dawn, 2012

3rd Place           Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, CT   Lemberger, 2012

Wine – Dry White

1st Place           Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Cayuga White, 2013

2nd Place          Preston Ridge Vineyard, Preston, CT   Estate Vidal Blanc, 2013

3rd Place           Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, CT   Vineyard Reserve, 2013

Wine – Fruit

1st Place           Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT   Celebration, NV

2nd Place          Jones Winery, Shelton, CT   Harvest Time, NV

3rd Place           TIE

Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT   Apple Raspberry Blush, NV

Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Enchanted Apple, 2013

Wine – Fruit/Sparkling

1st Place           Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT   Rubus Nightfall, NV

*This wine received high enough marks from all of the judges to be placed in the Exceptional category, the highest category in which a wine could place.

2nd Place          Holmberg Orchards & Winery, Gales Ferry, CT   Macintosh Hard Cider, 2013

Wine – Other White

1st Place           Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Blustery Blend, 2014

*This wine received high enough marks from all of the judges to be placed in the Exceptional category, the highest category in which a wine could place.

2nd Place          Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Vidal Blanc, 2013

3rd Place           Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, CT   Westwind, 2013

Wine – Rosé

1st Place           Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT   Rosé, 2013

Wine – Sparkling

1st Place           Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, CT   Gold Label Sparkling Wine, NV

2nd Place          Holmberg Orchards & Winery, Gales Ferry, CT   Bubbly Blanc, 2013

The CT Wine Festival at the Durham Fair

Wine Institute of New England 

to present free wine appreciation seminar


The Connecticut Wine Festival at the Durham Fair

Durham Fairgrounds

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

at 2:00 pm

Hands Holding Wine

Summer Breeze, Makes Me Feel Wine…

What better way to spend the first day of summer than sipping the wines of the Southeastern New England AVA at the Coastal Wine Trail's Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival? This event was promised to be the first of several planned this year to celebrate the Southeastern New England AVA's 30th anniversary. The Wine Institute of New England left the familiar surroundings of Connecticut and headed for Westport, Massachusetts to see what the rest of New England was pouring. 

coa_int_logoThe Coastal Wine Trail weaves its way along the Southeastern New England coastline from Connecticut to Cape Cod. Each winery has its own distinct flavors and personality it brings to the trail. In attendance were ten wineries, each offering tastings of 4 wines to ensure there was something for every palate. The wineries pouring were Stonington Vineyards, Coastal Vineyards, Greenvale Vineyards, Langworthy Farm, Newport Vineyards, Running Brook Vineyard & Winery, Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, Travessia Urban Winery, Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod, and Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery.



My invitation included entry to the "Media Tent." Although it may have been the lure of V.I.P. treatment that lulled me in, it was what I found under the tent that kept me there. Along with a small showing of select wines, it was here I found the grape growers and winemakers.

IMG_1144I started off with the 2010 Chardonnay Select from Greenvale Vineyards, a perfect summer sipper. Winemaker Richard Carmichael was on hand to talk about the winery. In addition to three Bordeaux grapes (merlot, malbec and cabernet franc), and two hybrids commonly grown in this region (cayuga and vidal blanc), Greenvale is growing albariño on their 22 acre vineyard. Carmichael explained how this white grape indigenous to northwestern Spain seemed to thrive in the maritime climate at their vineyard in Rhode Island. Albariño grows in Rias Baixas within a region known as "Green Spain" due to its wet, cool climate. Planted 3 years ago, Greenvale's albariño will be making its debut very soon. I can't wait.

IMG_1136 Some cute as heck graphics caught my eye on what looked like a large bottle of beer. It was in fact a beer bottle, but it definitely wasn't beer; it was Farmer's Fizz from Westport Rivers Vineyard. Unlike the original Farmer's Fizz, this newer version of their popular bubbly was produced in the style of a Prosecco. Meaning what? It went through two fermentations, both in the tank (rather than the second one ocurring in the bottle, as in Champagne). Made from 3 chardonnay clones, pinot gris and pinot blanc, it was fizzy, off-dry, refreshing and fun. Grape grower Rob Russell told me that, although they produce excellent examples of several styles of wine, traditional method sparkling wine is the style at which this winery excels. In addition to spotlighting sparklers, Westport puts an emphasis on using estate grown grapes for their wines, the majority of which are dry.*

IMG_1142While enjoying his 100% Estate Grown 2011 Cabernet Franc, I chatted with Dave Nielson, winemaker and owner of Coastal Vineyards. Coastal produces 15 wines from their 8 (soon to be 10) acres of vines, including one from the French-American hybrid, chambourcin. Chambourcin, popular on the East coast, was commercially released in 1963 and is typically used as a blending grape due to its intense color. Chambourcin is resistant to fungal diseases, allowing the grower to use fewer chemicals. Coastal makes a sparkling wine from chardonnay and pinot noir using the traditional, or Champenoise, method. Look for this winery to release a red dessert wine this year.

IMG_1145I was happy to spot a bottle of Stonington Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Franc, one of my favorite Connecticut red wines, poised at the end of the table. Standing next to his creation was Mike McAndrew, grape grower and winemaker at Stonington. Although the winery mainly produces single variety wines a là Burgundy, France, McAndrew revealed that a pinot noir-riesling blend, aptly named "Pink Noir," is joining the lineup. While it may be a break from Stonington's more traditional offerings, it is probably not a bad marketing move. Sales of rosé wines increase every year, with imported rosés experiencing 9 straight years of double digit growth, inlcuding a 39% increase in volume in 2013. Like it or not, pink is still in. I happen to like it. (If you like pink, too, click here to sign up for our upcoming class, Looking at the Wine World Through Rosé Colored Glasses)

IMG_1138IMG_1148There were many other wines being poured that were worth a second sip. The Blessed Blend Limited Edition by Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyard (owned by bangle buff Carolyn Rafaelian of Alex and Ani) was a lively, lip-smacking blend of vidal blanc and chardonnay. I also enjoyed the lineup from Running Brook. The festival coordinators broke the day down into sessions. This was great from the public's perspective as it kept crowding at tables down to a minimum. I am already looking forward to next year's festival. In the meantime, this Connecticut dweller will definitely be hitting the Coastal Wine Trail again this summer. 

To see what else the Coastal Wine Trail has in store to celebrate the Southeastern New England AVA's 30th anniversary, visit their site: CoastalWineTrail

*During my discussion with Mr. Russell, I was persuaded to visit Wesport Rivers Vineyard & Winery after the Festival. Check future posts to read about my experience there.



Wine Myths…Debunked!

Wine Institute of New England


Wine Myths…Debunked!

Is it better to sniff with one nostril or two? Does a screwcap mean it’s a bad wine? If I get headaches when I drink, am I allergic to sulfites? Do all wines need to “breathe?” Join us as we turn the wine world on its head and debunk common wine myths. We will taste several well-regarded wines while we myth-bust.

Thursday, June 19, 2014 from 6:30-8:30 



An Afternoon of Italian Wines

Thank you to everyone who participated in 

That's Amore! The Wines of Italy

We had a full house (actually, full winery) at The Crush Club!

Join us next month for Flights of Whites.


photo 5-10photo 1-14photo 3-14photo 2-14photo 4-10

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The Re(night)cap with Afterword

The nightcaps we posted are good all year long

With any of these you will never go wrong

In case you missed one we’ve reposted them here

With one afterword, coming sometime next year…

imageEpilogue: Oktopusake Premium Junmai Sake, Connecticut

On the rare occasions I’m not drinking wine with sushi, I opt for sake instead. Sake is a perfect pairing with sushi and, since it is a rice wine, I can still call it research. I was very excited to learn that there is a local company working on perfecting their own sake. Oktopusake will soon be offering three varieties of their premium junmai sake to Connecticut consumers: Sun – a traditional dry sake; Moon – an unfiltered version (think milky white and slightly sweet); and Stars – a specialty reserve sake that will be as black as squid ink because it will be tinted with, well…squid ink! We will keep you posted on Oktopusake’s progress and are very much looking forward to seeing this new local product in Connecticut stores and restaurants in 2014.



Re(night)cap: One of the questions I encounter the most as a wine educator is “What’s your favorite wine?” I confess, it’s a question I’ve come to dread because I always feel like I’m disappointing the inquisitor. My answer usually goes something like this: “I don’t really have a favorite. It depends on the day, the time of year, the company in which I find myself, and any gustatory delights with which I may be pairing the wine.”  If really pushed, I’ll tell them that I am a Champagne girl. This seems to provide them with a little more satisfaction. But the truth is my favorite wine changes on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis. And I am always waiting to find my next favorite wine. The beauty of the wine world is that there is always more to explore. So, here I will present a list of my 12 favorite wines right now for drinking and gifting during the holidays, one day at a time for the next 12 days.

A Votre Santé!

For the full list of 12 nightcaps, click here: Nightcap Recap






Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 12th Nightcap

photo-146Nightcap #12: Piper Heidsick Cuvee Rare Brut Millesime 2002, France $145

Christmas is finally upon us and it's time to put a halt to present shopping and cookie swapping, and get to some popping. While I am a big believer in bargain bottles, there are times when splurging is in order. And if you're going to splurge, make sure you do it right. At a recent Champagne tasting I attended in NYC, I had the pleasure of sampling 40 of some of the best Champagnes available at the moment. The offerings spanned a wide range of prices, from under $30 to several hundred. In the mix were such big boys as vintage Krug, Dom Perignon, and Cristal. Many of these coveted sparklers tickled my fancy but, in the end, there were a select few that stood out from the crowd.

Although it might lack the glamour and cache of some of today's trendier wines, Piper Heidsick has, to my mind, always delivered a solid and consistent product. I had wandered away from PH, lured by the call of the boutique Champagnes that are currently under the spotlight. I am happy to have arrived back home just in time to taste the Rare 2002. Industry experts have remarked on Piper Heidsick's improvement in quality over the last several years. If one was in need of proof, Rare 2002 provides it in spades. It is beautifully balanced, possesses great structure and boasts a menagerie of fruits. It provides the perfect measure of toast and a lingering finish that's both elegant and intense. It is a beautiful note on which to end.


Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 6th Nightcap

image_2001250_fullNightcap #6: Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington $15

I know, I know. We're all supposed to eschew merlot ever since seeing Sideways. Well, I refuse. I happen to love this grape and often find the wines more approachable and easier to pair with food. Merlot, in addition to having many of the flavor characteristics of cabernet sauvignon – black cherry, vanilla, mocha – can have the most soothing and enjoyable velvet-like finish. It's my liquid version of comfort food. I will never say no to a merlot from Bordeaux (where there is actually more merlot planted than cabernet sauvignon), but I have found merlot from Washington state to be excellent, and with an affordable price tag. 

In the tradition of Bordeaux, this wine is a blend – merlot (76%), cabernet sauvignon (22%) and cabernet franc (2%). Butch Milbrandt, originally from Oregon, moved to Washington and launched this winery in 2005. Washington is the second largest producer of vinifera wine (think European) in the United States. It is America's primary site for riesling and, although most of the grapes grown are chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, the merlot and shiraz produced here are the wines that actually meet with the highest critical acclaim. So, go on. Try a merlot for just one night. You can go back to being a pinot snob the other 6 days of the week. 


Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 5th Nightcap

Nightcap #5: Onyx Moonshine Secret Stash 2013, Connecticut, USA, price varies

It may not be wine, but we would be remiss not to include a product by this company in our list of worthy nightcaps. Onyx Moonshine is a local success story, and an almost overnight one, at that. The first moonshine to be legally produced and sold in New England, Onyx can now be found on shelves in almost every bar and liquor store in Connecticut. I first discovered this white lightening a year ago at a screening of a documentary about Prohibition in Connecticut where they were pouring drinks made from their moonshine. For an explanation of just what moonshine is and to learn more about their very first product, click here: Connecticut Celebrates the End of Prohibition.

Barrel Aged JPGOnyx prepared for an even bigger celebration of Prohibition Repeal Day this year. On December 5th, Onyx released their newest product, Secret Stash, a charred oak barrel-aged moonshine and Connecticut’s very first whiskey. This firewater is now spreading across Connecticut like wildfire. If you want to catch the craze early on, you will need to hurry. A very limited amount of Secret Stash was produced – 33 barrels to be precise – a tribute to the year that Prohibition was repealed. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle, you can expect to pay in the area of $60 for it, although price varies depending on the retailer. As if its scarcity and sexy name weren't enough, each of the 33 barrels produced has different flavor notes due to the unique nature of each barrel used and the conditions under which it was made. A list of the 33 restaurants and stores carrying the Connecticut-crafted hooch, complete with each barrel's flavor profile, can be found here: Find Secret Stash.
If you miss out on the first run, take heart. Onyx plans to release more of their sneaky pete during the summer of 2014. In the meantime, you can grab one of their other home-brewed products as a gift for that special grog guzzler in your life. Visit Onyx Moonshine.

If you snagged a bottle of Secret Stash, you might want to try this cocktail recipe, provided by Onyx Moonshine:

Onyx Maple Manhattan

2 oz Onyx Barrel Aged Whiskey (Secret Stash)
½ oz Maple Syrup
½ oz Sweet Vermouth
Orange rind, for garnish

Combine Secret Stash, maple syrup, and vermouth in a shaker over ice. Twist the orange rind over the mixture to release the orange oil, then rub the orange rind along the rim of the rocks glass. Shake and strain over an ice sphere.

Where to Find Secret Stash

Read our full story on this product here: Nightcap #5

M&R Liquors
206 Buckland Road, South Windsor
smoke, maple, cigar box
M&R Liquors
2773 Main Street, Glastonbury
smoke, peanut brittle, biscuit
M&R Liquors
120 Tolland Turnpike, Manchester
lemon, straw, sandalwood 
M&R Liquors
214 W Main Street, Avon
charcuterie, truffle, oak
M&R Liquors
838 Farmington Avenue, Farmington
smoke, citrus, truffle
Manchester Wine & Liquors
1010 Tolland Turnpike, Manchester
butterscotch, lemon, charcoal
Market Grille
110 Buckland Hills Dr, Manchester
pear, maple, gingerbread
Oxford Liquors
451 Hartford Road, Manchester
hickory, caramel, bacon
Sav-Rite Liquors
117 Washington Ave, North Haven
roasted corn, cedar, smoke
The Cork Fine Wines & Spirits
1597 E Main Street, Torrington
smoke, fruit wood, marzipan
Bottle Shop of Unionville
20 S Main Street, Unionville
fruit wood, mocha, pastry
Spendless Discount Liquors
210 Spencer Street, Manchester
smoke, cappuccino, wicker
Worldwide Wine & Spirits
480 Queen Street, Southington
lemon, fruit wood, chocolate
krust Pizza Bar
686 Main Street, Middletown
hickory, apple, gingerbread
Stew Leonard’s Newington
3475 Berlin Turnpike, Newington
smoke, nuts, honeycomb
Crazy Bruce’s Liquors
178 Newington Rd, West Hartford
peanut brittle, cappucino, smoke
CT Beverage Mart
3127 Berlin Turnpike, Newington
caramel, espresso, maple
Worldwide Wine Cellar
33a Fieldstone Commons, Tolland
coffee, chocolate, baked fruit
CT Beverage Mart
615 Hartford Road, New Britain
straw, lemon, caramel apple
Broadway Wine & Spirits
71 Broadway, Colchester
lemon, vanilla, smoke
Liquor World
135 West Road, Ellington
caramel, smoke, roast chestnuts
Liquor World
136 Berlin Road, Cromwell
lemon, apple, honeycomb
Putnam Plaza Super Liquors
4 Main Street, East Hartford
maple, cedar, truffle
Town Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Beer
345 Hawley Lane, Stratford
smoke, butter, baked fruit
Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe
2 Willowbrook Road, Cromwell
hickory, apple, chocolate
Crazy Bruce’s Liquors
1224 Farmington Avenue, Bristol
gingerbread, charcoal, sandalwood
Liquor Depot
687 W Main Street, New Britain
maple, carrot cake, mint
Riley’s Liquor Store
320 Hartford Turnpike, Vernon
gingerbread, smoke, truffle
CT Beverage Mart
955 Washington Street, Middletown
butterscotch, herbal, pepper
Amity Wine & Spirit Co.
95 Amity Road, New Haven
citrus, maple, cherry
Wine Cellars 4
68 Farmington Avenue, Farmington
smoke, lemon, pastry
Liquor Super Store
1261 Meriden Road, Wolcott
toast, grilled fruit, vanilla
Maximum Beverage
33 N Main Street, West Hartford
espresso, lemon, roast chestnut