Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 3rd Nightcap

terra-noble-reserva-carmenere-63352-pNightcap #3: Terra Noble Reserva Carmenere 2011, Maule Valley, Chile $12

Carmenère has an interesting history. It was once a regular contributor to the blends of Bordeaux. It's susceptibility to mildew, however, made it the black sheep of the family, being passed up more and more by the Bordelais for the other authorized Bordeaux grapes (including carmenere's father, cabernet franc!). Fortunately for carmenère, it was able to thrive in drier climates and found a new home in Maule Valley, Chile, where plenty of sunshine and summer warmth has brought out the best in this variety. Ironcially, global warming has some Bordeaux grape growers experimenting with their little black sheep once again.

 The grape is dark-skinned, producing deep red wines with good structure, dark berry notes, hints of mocha, and herbaceous overtones. Some have likened the flavors of carmenère to those of Indian spices. After recently tasting a bottle of Terra Noble, I said to myself, "Why aren't I drinking more carmenère?" I have no doubt you will feel the same after tasting this wine, especially at this price point. 

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas

pgpa11_1Nightcap #2:  Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés 2011, Alsace, France $18

Allô Alsace! When Americans think about French wine, Bordeaux comes to most minds. For others, it's Burgundy. And, of course, nothing could be more French than Champagne. It seems like the cool, northeasterly region nestled between the Vosges Mountains and Germany known as Alsace is oft overlooked. But Alsace has exceptional wines, especially if you're a lover of whites, and deserves its due attention. And although one need look no further than the quality of its wine to fall in love with Alsace, this region has endeared itself to me by being home to the very first biodynamic estate in France. It is still a hotbed of organic and biodynamic grape growing today. Domaines Schlumberger practices both organic and biodynamic viticulture, and they plough and work the vineyards with the estate's four horses.

One of my favorite grape varieties from this region is pinot gris. For all you lovers of pinot grigio out there, it is the same grape. What creates the difference in taste, for the most part,  is the soil and the climate. Alsatian pinot gris tends to have more powerful, riper aromatics, and a weightier mouthfeel. This beauty from Domaines Schlumberger is no exception. The warmth of the wine is foretold by its light golden hue (the winemaker compares it to buttercups), while the titillating aromatics announce the lively grapefruit and pear flavors within, and the hint of honey that adds to the slightly creamy mouthfeel. Although historically fermented to dryness, the wines of Alsace today often contain some residual sugar due to the changing climate. This wine has a hint of sweetness to it, which provides the perfect complement to foods with a slight kick to them, such as Thai or Szechuan Chinese. I personally enjoyed it with sushi and would not hesitate to serve it as an apéritif. And who doesn't love the elegance of the flute d'Alsace, the traditional long, tapered green bottle, a reminder of Alsace's Germanic history?

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas

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!

photo-141Nightcap 1: Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura, Jura, France $25

Sparkling wine is appropriate any time of the year, but it's especially welcome during celebrations and holidays. Besides being festive, sparkling wines are made using grapes with high acidity. This acid, as well as the bubbles, helps these wines cut through a myriad of holiday foods, including those with higher salt and/or fat contents, making them excellent mates for varied holiday hors d'oeuvres. 

This delightful sparkling wine made with 100% chardonnay grapes from the L’Etoile region of Jura is made in the same method as Champagne. It shows citrus notes and lively acidity with a lingering touch of toastiness. And oh the bubbles! The icing on the yule log? Nicole Deriaux, granddaughter of the original winemaker and now full time vigneron, practices organic viticulture. L'Etoile means "the star" in French. Quite fitting for this star of a sparkler.


Summer Sparkles at Sunset Meadow Vineyards

Sunset Meadow Vineyards (SMV) in Goshen started summer off with a bang by introducing two new wines to their already impressive lineup. SMV recently took home the 2013 Wine Product of the Year award at the Connecticut Specialty Food Association's 2013 Product Awards Competition for their intoxicating ice wine, Midnight Ice, as well as placed first in the Blush, Dessert and Dry White Wine categories. Always at the top of my list of wineries to watch, I was only too happy to make the trek to Goshen to sample their new offerings. 

RisqueWithLabel-WebSMV Shades of Risqué ~ Since first being introduced to SMV wines, I have wanted to see what talented winemaker, SMV owner George Motel, would do with a sparkling wine. I finally got my wish this year with the introduction of their first sparkling wine, Shades of Risqué, and I was not disappointed. While ultimately it is the quality of the wine that makes or breaks the bottle, it is the bottle itself that first draws us in. The label on the bottle housing this new sparkler is pink and flirtatious, and just begging for attention. Motel never skimps on closures and the long silver foil and black faux mushroom cork topping this bottle are no exception. Opening the bottle may not produce the attention grabbing "pop" often associated with Champagne, but the 2.5 atmospheres of pressure contained within produce a delightfully delicate bubble ballet in the style of an Italian frizzante. In the glass, the elegant elixir just a few shades shy of ruby red sparkles like the arils of a pomegranate. The nose is tickled by a hint of ripe berry aromas that are more fully repeated in the first sip. Flavors of field fresh strawberries are held up by a creamy mousse pillow and linger on the tongue for several pleasurable moments, reminiscent of a bowl of perfectly paired strawberries and cream. As it states on the back of the bottle, "More fruity than sweet, this off-dry wine…(is) equally appropriate as an aperitif or paired with a main course. " I could not have said it better myself. This titillating bubbly is easy to drink and would pair well with many things, including salads, fish and poultry dishes, cheese and charcuterie and, yes, strawberries and cream. Bravo on a sparkling addition to Connecticut wines!


Root63WithLabel-WebSMV Root 63 ~ Wine drinkers unfamiliar with Connecticut wines are often dismissive of them as being overly sweet. While the majority of local wines are not overly sweet, there certainly are many sweet wines to be found. So it is an unusual occurrence to have patrons actually request the production of a sweet wine from a Connecticut winemaker. But request it of SMV they did. The majority of SMV's wines fall into the dry and off-dry categories (perhaps one of the reasons I am such a fan). But when customers of SMV clamored for a sweet red wine, Motel obliged them. Well, semi-obliged. Root 63 is SMV's first semi-sweet red wine that is not a dessert wine. The playful name (SMV is located on Route 63) is appropriate for this rather playful wine which is a proprietary blend of estate-grown red grape varieties. The beautifully designed label includes the Western Connecticut Highlands AVA designation. Although I found the wine to be lacking the complexity characteristic of SMV's dry red wines, Motel's ability to produce a well-balanced wine is evident here, too. The straightforward wine is dark pink, almost mauve, and is pleasantly fruity. Motel suggests serving this wine chilled to 51 degrees. An easy summer sipper, Root 63 will undoubtedly please many palates.

And The Winner Is…

The results of the 12th Annual Connecticut Specialty Food Product Awards Competition were announced this morning. We are pleased to report that Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen, CT was awarded 2013 Wine Product of the Year for their outstanding 2010 Midnight Ice.

"We are proud of our entire staff for all of their efforts and share with them the recognition for this achievement," stated George Motel, owner of Sunset Meadow Vineyards and vice president of the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association. "This is confirmation of the ability to create a quality wine that is also a genuine Connecticut product."

This was only the third year that Connecticut wines were included in what was formerly a food and non-alcoholic beverage competiton. All of the wines submitted were required to be made from 100% Connecticut grown fruit. The Connecticut Specialty Food Association (CSFA) received 28 submissions from 5 wineries.

"We applaud the CSFA for conducting the state's only competition that requires every wine to be made from 100% Connecticut grown fruit," said Motel, "and for recognizing the contribution of those wineries that work to produce these wines."

After participating in the judging last week, Renee B. Allen, director of the Wine Institute of New England, shared the four wines from among her favorites that she picked as likely to appear in the winner's circle. All four of the wines chosen were awarded first place finishes in their respective categories. To read Allen's impressions of these wines, visit

Analiese Paik, founder of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, served as a specialty food judge and was happy to see all of her picks for best products receive an award. For a complete list of food winners from the competition and to read about Paik's favorites, visit  

And the wine winners are…




2013 Wine Product of the Year

Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT

Midnight Ice 2010



Wine – Blush


1st Place             Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, Sunset Blush, 2010

2nd Place            Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Amazing Grace


Wine – Dessert


1st Place             Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, Midnight Ice, 2010


2nd Place            Taylor Brooke Winery, LLC, Woodstock, CT, Corot Noir, 2011


3rd Place             Taylor Brooke Winery, LLC, Woodstock, CT, Woodstock Valley Red, 2010


Wine – Dry Red


1st Place             Jones Winery, Shelton, CT, Cabernet Franc, 2010


2nd Place            Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, St. Croix, 2008


3rd Place             Jonathan Edwards Winery, North Stonington, CT, Cabernet Franc, 2011


Wine – Dry White


1st Place             Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, Cayuga White, 2010


2nd Place            Taylor Brooke Winery, LLC, Woodstock, CT, Wine Dog 1, 2011


3rd Place             Taylor Brooke Winery, LLC, Woodstock, CT, Woodstock Hill White, 2011


Wine – Fruit


1st Place             Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Hyland Red


2nd Place  TIE    Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Celebration

              Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Honey Peach Melba


3rd Place             Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Happily Impeared


Wine – Other White


1st Place             Jones Winery, Shelton, CT, Woodland White, 2011


2nd Place            Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Guilford, CT, Hard Cider – Semi-Sweet


3rd Place             Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, Blustery Blend, 2010


Wine – Rosé


1st Place             Taylor Brooke Winery, LLC, Woodstock, CT, St. Croix Rosé, 2011


2nd Place            Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT, Rosé, 2011


3rd Place             Jones Winery, Shelton, CT, Rosé of Cabernet Franc, 2011


You can visit the Connecticut Food Association at

Judging Connecticut Wines for the CT Specialty Food Association

I had the pleasure again this year of being involved in the Connecticut Specialty Food Association's Product Awards Competition. The competition was held at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville. Although this was the Competition's 12th year, it is only the third year that Connecticut wines have been included in the competition and the judging was intense. A total of 28 wines were submitted by five wineries for judging in seven different categories: dry white, other white, dry red, rose, blush, fruit and dessert. Only wines made from 100% Connecticut grown fruit were allowed to be entered into the competition. 

The wines were blind tasted with only the vintage and fruit or grape variety being revealed. Each wine was judged on its appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish. Judges conducted their individual assessment of a wine and, once all scores and notes had been recorded, some lively discussions ensued. Although the judges were often in agreement, there was some debate over the course of the 3-hour tasting, with each judge having his or her particular favorites. Some general observations were the fact that Connecticut wines continue to improve and that no serious flaws were detected. One judge was particularly excited to award one of the wines he tasted a perfect score. 

The Connectiuct Specialty Food Association is now charged with the task of tallying up the scores and awarding the winners of each category. Once the list comes out, we will publish it here. In the meantime, here are a few of the wines that particularly stood out for me. I would not be suprised to see them in the winner's circle.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Sunset Blush – a delicately sweet wine with hints of citrus, plum and blueberries, this wine earned one of my top scores for both its structure and balance. From first sniff to lingering finish, this wine provides a rewarding experience. 

Jones Winery Cabernet Franc – made from my favorite red grape grown in Connecticut, this dry red wine hit the mark with its earthiness and black cherry notes. Nicely balanced.

Bishops Orchards Winery Hyland Red – made from farm fresh raspberries, this wine captures the essence of the fruit with a journey that begins with heady aromas and sweetness and ends with a pleasant, tangy tartness.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Midnight Ice – one of only two ice wines being made Connecticut, this sweet nectar burst with tropical aromas and flavors like mango and lychee. Perfectly intoxicating.

The Crémant of the Crop

I recently had to face the horrifying self-realization that I am a hoarder. I am not sure of the exact moment I made this realization. That slight tinge of recognition when I saw a few minutes of a reality TV show on the subject? When I started having to ban houseguests from opening certain closets or even bedroom doors? I don’t know. But I buy things I think are wonderful and beautiful and then decide they are so wonderful and beautiful that I can’t possibly sully them with use. And so they sit, in packages, with labels still intact. If I ever mention wanting something in the presence of my mother, she tells me to go shopping in my closet first. She is sure I will find it there, whatever it is. She is usually right.

This hoarding instinct tends to permeate my wine buying habits as well. I find a wine I am incredibly excited about and carefully store it away because I can’t possibly bring myself to drink it and then be faced with the harsh reality that I no longer have it. For a while, I tried purchasing two bottles of every wine that excited me – one for now, one for later – but that got to be expensive. I decided just recently that it was time to start enjoying some of these beautiful and wonderful things before I was no longer around to do so. After all, things happen. And so, this is how on a recent Sunday evening I came to be drinking a delightful wine that had been chilling in my wine refrigerator for longer than I could remember. What had I been waiting for?

The wine was Jean-François Ganevat Crémant du Jura “La Combe” Rotalier, a sparkling wine from the fascinating wine region of Jura in eastern France. Jura, from which the term Jurassic comes, has topography similar to that found millions of years ago with the key soil types being limestone and marlstone. I was incredibly pleased with the wine. Its lovely pale amber hue with delicate bubble ballet immediately belied any notion that this was going to be just another Champagne wannabe. The nose was abundant with fruit. Pears and stone fruits such as peach and apricot flooded my taste buds and then were quickly enveloped by a pronounced biscuitiness that lingered for several glorious moments. It was during one of these moments that I recalled why I had purchased this particular bottle of wine. It was produced using biodynamic agriculture. Jean-François Ganevat converted his family’s estate in Rotalier to biodynamics in 2006 after returning from Burgundy where he spent time in the company of natural wine enthusiasts. Ganevat’s methods include minimal intervention with nature while growing his grapes as well as minimizing intervention in the winemaking process. For example, he limits his use of sulfur to a bare minimum. I have yet to try a biodynamic wine I do not like. This wine was no exception. And that was the most wonderful and beautiful thing of all. 

For Some, Every Day is Earth Day


This month, while contemplating what Earth Day means to different people, I was struck with the notion that, for biodynamic winemakers, every day is Earth Day. This belief was recently demonstrated when I had the pleasure of meeting Johan Reyneke, a biodynamic winemaker from South Africa. In fact, he claimed to be the only biodynamic winemaker in South Africa. I am an advocate of organic, biodynamic and sustainable winemaking and am thrilled when I find people committed to producing products farmed with these methods. What pleased me even more were the wines themselves. Fresh, clean, complex without being aggressive – they were the definition of terroir driven wines.

Johan Reyneke, owner of Reyneke Wines, took over farming activities from his mother in 1998 on their family farm, which faces the historic town of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Reyneke began his vineyard using conventional agricultural methods. He soon moved to organic methods, eventually converting completely to biodynamic farming and winemaking methods. It is his belief that biodynamic principles produce high quality wines that are truly terroir specific. Reyneke’s non-interventionist style of winemaking seems to be paying off. His wines have been warmly received, garnering approval from a wide range of critics including Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.

Mr. Reyneke was pouring two of his wines on the day we met. The first was his 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine had recently received a wine rating of 90 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. I prefer my Sauvignon Blanc to be a bit more subtle than some of the rather aggressive wines coming out of New Zealand that are so popular now. This wine fit the bill perfectly. More mineralic than fruity, it still showed delightful notes of stone fruits, mostly peach, that were well balanced by the light-handed barrel treatment.

The second wine was Reyneke's 2010 Capstone Red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. I confess, I am a big cabernet franc fan. Its rustic earthiness reminiscent of mushrooms, tobacco, and wet forest floor is pleasing to my palate. These traits were detectable in this chewy wine, along with notes of vanilla and espresso, figs and a touch of spice. Enjoyable to drink now, this wine will mellow nicely over the next couple of years.

Before taking my leave, Mr. Reyneke presented me with yet one more thing I found delightful – his calling card. Made by Mr. Reyneke with recycled paper, it is embedded with herb seeds. The writing on the card encourages the holder to plant it and grow herbs that can be enjoyed with Reyneke’s wines. I have been thinking of planting it for a month now but I enjoy seeing it and being reminded to pick up another bottle of his well-crafted wine. 

Organic Wines Were For The Birds

Last month, Audubon Greenwich hosted a farm-to-table wine dinner that was a celebration of organic, biodynamic and sustainably produced food and wine. Chef Marc Alvarez of Bedford Hills, NY created a dizzying array of delectable appetizers, followed by a 3-course gourmet meal. The reception appetizers and three courses were paired with wine by Wine Institute of New England. For those guests who are curious to know a little more about what they drank that night, and for all others who seek to learn about organic, biodynamic and sustainably farmed wines, I have decided to write up my notes from the evening. Cheers!

For the reception, Chef Alvarez treated guests to a delightful selection of canapés that included cheese, vegetables and beef. What to pair with such a broad array of foods? Cava, of course! Sparkling wine creates a festive mood and, being high in acid, helps to cleanse the palate between bites, allowing the taster to fully enjoy the various and distinct flavors.

Albet I Noya Cava NV

I chose Albet I Noya Cava NV Brut Reserva. Cava, Spain’s sparkling answer to Champagne, was first produced in the 1870’s after winemaker Jose Raventos visited France and tried champagne for the first time. Cava is traditionally produced from three native grapes, parellada, xarel-lo and macabeo (also known as viura), although in the ‘80s, other grapes were authorized for cava production, including pinot noir and chardonnay. Although the denominacion de origen for cava is based on method, not location, 95% of cava is produced in Cataluna with San Sadurni de Noya considered cava’s spiritual home. The traditional methode champenoise is followed, although somewhat less rigorous procedures are implemented than those for champagne.

In 1978, Josep Maria Albet I Noya, who was known to be a strict vegetarian, was approached by a Danish company in search of an organic wine producer for the region. After a successful initial wine was produced, Josep Maria embraced organics and converted to a completely organic vineyard. He was the first in Spain to do so. The vines are treated with green compost rather than chemicals, copper hydroxide is used instead of copper sulphate, the vines are managed to produce lower yields and the amount of sulphur dioxide used in the cellar is approximately half that used in conventional winemaking. All of the yeasts used for fermentation are indigenous to the Penedès region. Since 2004, the winery has been slowly increasing its biodynamic treatments.

The degorjat for this cava (the process of removing the lees from the neck of the bottle) is done manually and the date of degorjat is printed on the bottle labels. This is important because ideally cava should be drunk within one year of degorjat. This sparkler showed great acidity with citrus notes, crisp minerality and an overall clean and well-balanced presentation. And as a tribute to Josep Maria, it is vegan.

Roast Pumpkin Soup with Wilted Sage

For the appetizer, a pumpkin soup seasoned with sage, I chose Bonterra Viognier from Mendocino, California. Viognier, native to the Rhone in France, is a heady, succulent, sexy grape. In France it is typically drunk as vins de pays and is often blended with Syrah. In California, this hefty grape is allowed to ripen more fully which results in a dark yellow wine with high alcohol and seductive aromas of apricots, peaches, blossoms, honey and tropical fruit.

Bonterra produces certified organically grown grapes on its 378 acres. Organic since 1987, the vineyard is sustainably maintained incorporating beehives, free range chickens, sheep and bird boxes. This luscious viognier is blended with two other Rhone grapes, rousanne and marsanne, as well as muscat. The result is a rainbow of aromas including peach, honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot and vanilla. This intoxicating wine, which displayed just a hint of oak, was elegantly balanced between crispness and creaminess.

A choice of entrees provided WINE with an opportunity to showcase some additional wines. For the lamb dish, I decided to brave uncharted territory and pair it with a grape that is not well known, but is certainly worthy of great attention – tannat. Tannat, indigenous to Southwest France and one of the oldest varieties in all of France, is one of the four most tannic grapes in the world. This grape is so high in tannins that the procedure of micro-oxygenation was actually invented specifically to tame this grape. It is often blended with varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot to soften its tannins. Tannat was taken to Uruguay in the nineteenth century where it is now flourishing. The difference in climate and terroir produce a grape that, while still in high in tannins, creates wines of superb quality when produced in low yields.

Duo of Lamb with Wild Hive Polenta & Spigarello

I was thrilled to treat the guests to Bodegas Carrau Ysern Tannat from Uruguay, having just met the winemaker, Dr. Francisco Carrau, the week before the event. With roots in Catalonia, Spain dating back to 1752, the Carrau’s moved to Uruguary where they have been at the forefront of innovative winemaking since 1930. Bodegas Carrau was the first to export wines from Uruguay, they introduced the idea of using tannat for top reds in 1973, and in 1997, they built one of the most innovative wineries into the side of a hill to capitalize on low-input winemaking. Bodegas Carrau employs organic and sustainable methods, uses indigenous yeasts and makes some of their wine without the addition of sulfur. Their Ysern Tannat spends 20 months aging in French and American oak and was reminiscent of dried fruit, dark chocolate and oranges. For those of you familiar with Barcelona Restaurant, they have recently added Bodegas Carrau wine to their award-winning wine menu.

Guests who chose the Farro Risotto for their entrée had a choice of red or white wine. For the red, I selected the biodynamic Nuova Cappelleta Barbera del Monferrato Minola. Barbera is the third most planted red grape in Italy after montepulciano and sangiovese. This high acid and richly pigmented grape is native to Piedmont. Sadly, in 1984 there was a methanol scandal that caused people to shy away from this delightful grape for some time. I am glad to see this late-ripening, grape making a well-deserved comeback.

Nuova Cappelleta Barbera del Monferrato Minola

The color alone is a treat and, in fact, the barbera grape is often used to “correct” the color of nebbiolo, the grape used for Barolo. Founded in 1965, the 520-acre estate at Nuova Cappelleta was certified as a biodynamic farm in 1984. The daughter and grandson of the founder hand harvest the grapes and use indigenous yeast for these vegan wines. This reserve wine, which was aged in French oak for twelve months and then in the bottle for another six, was a rich ruby red. 100% barbera, the wine had distinct aromas of vanilla and cinnamon, an excellent structure and was well balanced. I have had the pleasure of tasting their entry-level barbera and highly recommend it, as well.

For those risotto eaters desiring a white wine with their main course, I offered another biodynamic selection, a Domaine de Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris from Alsace. Pinot gris is a mutation of pinot noir. Although native to Burgundy, France, pinot gris is most familiar and revered in Alsace. The grape is known as pinot grigio in Italy, and there is actually more planted in Italy and in Germany than there is in France. In the United States, it is the number one planted white in Oregon, where they produce a style similar to that made in Alsace – high acid, medium to full body, neutral aromas of apple and pear. These wines are generally quite rich, dry and gently perfumed. In 1997, Olivier Humbrecht began his first organic and biodynamic vine trials, receiving biodynamic certification in 2002. M. Humbrecht has stated that his conversion to biodynamic farming was inspired by the effects he perceived from the high quality compost used in this method. The pinot gris had a deep golden color which evinced extra ripeness. The aromatics included cocoa, peach, pear, and some nutty scents. Very complex, the wine was big, bold and firmly acidic with honey, exotic spice and bergamot notes.

To complement the apple tart dessert, I treated guests to a very special dessert wine produced from chenin blanc. Another highly acidic grape, chenin blanc, a native of the Loire, can be long-lived and is used to make wines from dry to sparkling to sweet. This grape is also popular in South Africa where it is often referred to as steen and, in fact, twice as much chenin blanc is planted there than in France. Terroir plays a critical role in the production of wines made from chenin blanc. The dessert wines typically have a concentrated honey flavor with strong dairy tastes, such as clotted cream or sour cream. I was fortunate to obtain an excellent example of this dessert wine from Anjou-Saumur in the Loire, Domaine de Mihoudy. Produced by Cochard et Fils, a sixth generation sustainable winemaking estate, this floral and elegant wine with hints of honey and orange blossoms was the perfect mate to the evening’s final course.

List of Wines with Prices:

Albet I Noya Cava NV, Spain     $20

Bonterra Viognier 2007, California     $13

Bodegas Carrau Ysern Tannat 2005, Uruguay     $16

Nuova Cappelleta Barbera del Monferrato Minola 2006, Italy     $16

Domaine de Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace     $22

Domaine de Mihoudy Chenin Blanc, Anjou-Saumur     $30

Wowed by the West Street Grill

I recently spent a lovely weekend with friends enjoying Connecticut wine and food in Litchfield County, the culmination of which was a multi-course lunch at West Street Grill. Following are our impressions of the food and wine.

By Analiese Paik and Elizabeth Keyser

Wine Review by Renée B. Allen

New restaurants get all the buzz, but on day two of the Litchfield road trip it was easy to pass up the darling of the moment for the real thing: a long-established restaurant that puts care into the entire experience of its guests.

Yes, we’re talking about the West Street Grill in Litchfield. For over 20 years restaurateurs James O’Shea and Charles Kafferman have been serving excellent New American food with a French/Mediterranean influence. A day or weekend trip to Litchfield is not complete without a meal at this iconic restaurant, which is known for being a haunt of many well-known actors and writers. O’Shea was once asked why so many celebrities eat there. “We leave them alone,” he replied. Actually, he takes very good care of his guests and is known for telling a funny story — or two or three.

The black and white photos in the front dining room are from a 1950’s photo collection that are rotated regularly. The old-world feel immediately gives you the impression that they take food and hospitality very seriously.

In the back dining room where renovations are well underway, the Mediterranean style plates decorated with fruited lemon and olive sprigs appeared as the tables were turned for dinner service. The original rattan French bistro chairs are caned in a dark green and ivory open weave, true to the original style, and a perfect match for the restaurant’s awning colors.

The French bistro-inspired atmosphere is inviting, the service is on a professional level rarely seen, but West Street Grill is really about the food. It was one of the earliest proponents of farm-to-table (“before the term was coined,” says O’Shea), and at a recent lunch, the fresh ingredients were the stars in the room. Executive Chef Jimmy Cosgriff is the star in the kitchen.

The West Street Grill picks up fresh tomatoes, basil, blueberries, peaches, lettuces and arugula from local farms. Dean’s Farm Stand in Fall’s Village provides beets, basil, potatoes and some tomatoes. Waldingfield Farm in Washington, a certified organic vegetable farm that grows a variety of heirloom tomatoes, is another source. Milk from local farms is used to make the house ricotta. O’Shea grows some of his own tomatoes, organically of course, as well as rhubarb, lettuces, and large amounts of herbs like lovage, chives, Russian and pineapple sage, lemon balm, tarragon, horseradish, opal shiso and purple basil. “We are heavy chive and basil users,” he said. He buys all his vegetable seedlings from USDA organic grower Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. Honey, maple syrup and some other products come from the farmers’ market. West Street Grill also uses Baldor, which sources from local farms from a 300 mile radius.

Lunch was superb.

W.S.G. Locally Grown Tomato Salad with native basil, fleur de sel and 12 year aged balsamic vinegar

These perfectly ripe tomatoes were a natural starter for a hot day. They were rich in fresh, tomato flavor.

Parmesan Aioli Peasant Bread

Intensely flavorful with a satisfying crunch from the gratin and toasted house-made bread, this has been a house classic since 1990.

Sauteed Spinach

Baby spinach, picked up that morning from a local farm, was wilted and served simply to let the natural flavors shine. It melted like butter in the mouth.

Soup de Poisson, aioli and garden chives

Rich with roasted fish and vegetables, the soup was hearty and was flavored with fennel. It was topped with an understated aioli; a more forceful aioli would have overwhelmed the soup.

Shrimp Tempura

Gulf shrimp were skewered straight and perfectly cooked so they were meltingly tender on the inside, crisp and slightly golden on the outside. They were served with a refreshing salad of Napa cabbage, mango, cilantro, peanuts, Bermuda onion, carrot and pickled ginger along with sweet chili dipping sauce.

Pan Seared Silken Tofu

Triangles of fresh tofu lightly seared and served with wok-seared vegetables seasoned with scallion, cilantro, pickled ginger. The dish was topped with crispy rice noodles with sweet chili sauce.

Fresh, Wild, Day-Boat, Connecticut Fluke with potato puree, braised leeks, lemon caper coulis

The pan-seared fluke (summer flounder) was golden and crisp, yet so tender it was hard to believe it wasn’t breaded. “Nothing comes between a fish and my chef’s pan,” O’Shea told us. Hidden beneath the fish were ribbons of leek. The herbed potato puree was light and delicate, and was accented by the lemon caper coulis. This dishes hit the mark on both flavor and execution.

Moules Frites

The mussels were steamed in a gorgeous broth of garlic, lemon, white wine and tomato. The broth was clean, delicate and well-balanced. The fries were crunchy and delicious, especially when dipped into the saffon-scented aioli.

“Jimmy’s Ravioli” — Homemade Spinach and Gorgonzola Ravioli with garlic, grape tomatoes, basil, grana padano

Two plump pillows of light-as-air ravioli offered the perfect filling-to-dough ratio so the focus was on the filling, rather than the pasta that enrobed it. The filling’s silky smooth texture came from house-made ricotta from local milk, blended with spinach, gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese. A brothy, delicate sauce of fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and grana padano created a very refined ravioli.


A trio of coconut, raspberry and chocolate sorbets was refreshing and bursting with flavor – pieces of coconut, ripe raspberries, dark chocolate with no bitterness. None were overly sweet, which we appreciated.

Wine Review by Renée B. Allen

Casa Julia Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 2010

Our decadent dining experience began with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Casa Julia, a vineyard with a solid, hands-on approach to sustainable agriculture. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past 10 years. Winemakers have been exploring cooler regions in Chile for growing these grapes with phenomenal results. This example from Casa Julia exhibited many of the traits found in these successful plantings. To begin, slightly muted notes of tropical fruits danced on the nose, hinting at the riches to be found within. These tropical notes revealed themselves on the tongue richly, but without the aggression often associated with warmer climate Sauvignon Blancs. The midpalate opened to a wave of citrus which was followed by a crisply acidic and well structured finish. This wine is tailor-made for drinking with seafood and proved a worthy pairing for the Soup de Poisson.

The Vineyard at Strawberry Ridge Ascot Reserve Chardonnay, Western Connecticut Highlands 2008

For our second wine, James O’Shea insisted on what he claimed to be the best wine in Connecticut, the Ascot Reserve Chardonnay from The Vineyard at Strawberry Ridge in Connecticut. The vineyard owners, Robert and Susan Summer, have hired Connecticut vintner Jonathan Edwards to produce this wine. Probably the best traveled wine in Connecticut, from New York to Las Vegas all the way to Macau, the list of venues carrying this limited production wine reads like a celebrity “it” list. The vineyard’s most recent accolade is their production of the wines for the famed Rao’s restaurant in New York. The wine opened with aromas of vanilla, apple and caramel, delicately punctuated with hints of nutmeg. The first fleeting taste to tantalize the tongue was green apple, which quickly yielded to butterscotch on the midpalate from the use of French oak barrels during fermentation. The finish ended with notes of fig and citrus, and tongue-smacking astringency. Although this wine bore little resemblance to the flinty, mineralic, stainless steel fermented Chardonnays most commonly associated with Connecticut, it was an admirable example of the influence the vintner wields over the Chardonnay grape. This wine was a nice complement to the Pan Seared Connecticut Fluke, which might just have been the best fish dish ever to grace this wine taster’s lips.

Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2007

The powerful, classic Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon proved an excellent companion to the Homemade Spinach & Gorgonzola Ravioli. Everything a cab should be, this wine’s bouquet foretold the fruit and spice that awaited the taster. In a beautiful balance of fruit forwardness and medium tannins, black cherry and chocolate, accentuated by pepper, coated the palate, before succumbing to the lingering finish.

West Street Grill

48 West Street, Litchfield, 06759

Reprinted with permission from