Posts Tagged ‘winery’

Soused in SanFran – Part 6: Wine Day. Ugh.

This here is Part Six of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Saturday started bright and early with the arrival of Sissy. She had driven into SFO from whatever God-forsaken wilderness camp she teaches at. Apparently it was snowing there that morning, while the weather in SFO was around 60°. We packed up, since we’d be staying overnight, and headed down the street to Sissy’s Honda CR-V.

Just like Reservoir Dogs. Only not at all.

I was the chauffeur for the day, with the agreement that I wasn’t going to be the driver for beer day. We headed out of the city (SERIOUSLY, gigantic hills) an across some silly bridge that people make a fuss over. The plan was to grab the 101 (in NH it’s called 101, in CA it’s THE 101) north-ish to Sonoma County where we’d be spending the day winery hopping. JJ took over camera duties while I drove (Sissy neglected to tell me until we got there that her left rear tire was practically flat. 12psi isn’t going to cut it) and about an hour later we arrived at destination number one, Rochioli Vineyards & Winery.

OooooOOOOOOoooh! Purty.

My buddy Bybee was working at this place as a harvest intern (grape slave), and it was by coincidence that the Lady Friend chose it as our first stop. However, he was actually down in SFO for the weekend, so we didn’t get to catch up. We went into the tasting room and the girls dove right in. During the chit chat, it was discovered that our server was actually from Marblehead, MA. Interesting. After the tasting, we went outside for some photo ops, and a fluffy cat came ambling up the walkway. Though we all crouched down to pet him, he wasn’t really interested in any of the attention, and proceeded to push his way through the group. Later on, we found him sitting on a table watching us, and he croaked out a few weak grumbles as we walked by. The others thought he was growling, but he just had a gravelly voice, and this time seemed to appreciate the patting I gave him.

Moo cows!

The next stop was Arista Winery, which was a reccomendation from the woman at Rochioli. There was a fire burning in the fireplace, which certainly took the chill off, since it was rather dreary and damp outside. The server here was very friendly and joked around quite a bit making the experience generally more fun. Even though I wasn’t tasting, I enjoyed this place, since they didn’t take themselves quite as seriously as most wineries. Breweries are usually somewhat easy-going but something about wine makes people think it’s deadly important.

Sissy at Arista.

Next up, John Tyler Wines. This place had a German Shepard (I think) that JJ wanted to bring home. I munched on the breadsticks they had just sitting there in wine glasses waiting to be nibbled. It was here that Sissy decided to tell me about the nearly-flat tire. Not tasting the wines really doesn’t give me much to say about these places. This one had more tourist crap for sale than some, but having a pet around is usually good for some points in my book.

Danjur! Poizin!

Armida Winery was our lunch destination, but the tasting was first. I really liked the packaging/label design of these wines… a bit more bold and graphic than the other places, with wax-dipped bottlenecks and skull-and-crossbone logos. The bottles, labeled as “poizin,” come packaged in coffins. Cool. Apparently the name was no joke, as JJ took a sip of the chardonnay, made a face, and declared “This tastes like my ______.” …well, it was a term for a bodily orifice, and not the girly happy one. The other one. The one in the back. I stared at her, unable to speak, as about 37 horribly inappropriate comebacks instantly flashed through my mind, and all jammed trying to get out of my head at the same time. All I managed was “Oh?” She went on to clarify “Not that I KNOW what my *orifice* tastes like. But this wine tastes like my *orifice*” The tastings started catching up with the group at this point, as the Lady Friend and Sissy were talking very animatedly, with hands flailing about, just what you want around glasses of wine. Neither seemed to hear JJ’s revelation, though I found it endlessly amusing. Quote of the day. We ventured outside to a deck overlooking a winery vista, and had a picnic lunch of french bread, cheese, and fruit. It would have been lovely on a nicer day, but the stiff breeze really made it not-so-pleasant.

Pictured: vista.

It started to pour, and we made our way to J Vineyards & Winery. The gps told us to turn left, when it really meant turn right, so we went about three miles in the wrong direction. Lovely. We banged a U-ee and found the place. J is known for their sparkling wines, so I was actually going to join in on the tasting for this one. JJ, however, wasn’t feeling great, (maybe it was the *orifice* wine) and took a time-out in the back seat while the Lady Friend, Sissy, and I dashed from the car to the entrance. Unfortunately, when we got there, a gaggle of screeching harpy women (some sort of bachelorette party) was clustered under the overhang staying dry, while effectively blocking the door from us. These hags were all in their mid-30s and older, but dressed like they were going to the prom. Look missy, your prom was in 1984, it’s time to let it go. I’m guessing they were already a couple wine tastings deep, as their banshee howls pierced my eardrums whenever one of them made an apparently amusing remark and the others showed their amusement with shrieks that woke up every dog in a seven mile radius.

We finally got in and managed to sneak ahead of the spinster brigade. The tasting started upstairs with some sort of, um, white, wine, then proceeded down the hall and over a walkway flanked by rows upon rows of enormous fermenting tanks. There was a… red… wine… at the end there, and we tasted until the seagull screeching women started heading our way. We made a hasty retreat and went downstairs to the main lobby/ giftshop/ tasting area. This is where the sparkling wines were poured, and had a very glitzy looking wall behind the bar with sparkly stones embedded in it. There were three sparklings, though they sold for like $90 per bottle, so we didn’t purchase any. Apparently it’s so expensive because they are aged for like 10 years, and that’s pricey real estate; sitting around taking up space for years and years is a rather large investment for the winery, so they pass the markup onto YOU. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between their $90 bottles and a decent $30 bottle, so I wasn’t too impressed with their setup. It was more showy and touristy than the smaller places we had been visiting that morning. We snuck back to the car and got a pic of a surprised JJ waking up from her nap. She’d do horrible things to me if I published it here, so below is a pretty picture of some grape vines.

Grape vines, as promised.

The final (thankfully) stop of the day was Mauritson Wines, where another buddy of mine, Murs, is also a grape slave. We didn’t discover this until Murs met us later on for dinner. Mauritson was pretty uneventful, as the group started falling apart. I wasn’t tasting, and JJ had thrown in the towel. We amused ourselves by watching the two yellow labs constantly beg for cheese and breadsticks at the bar. They were relentless. The Lady Friend and Sissy did their tasting, and were even considering swinging by ANOTHER winery, but I was kind of done by this point. Six is more than enough, thanks.

So, it was back to “downtown” Healdsburg to check into our motel. JJ was cold and damp, and insisted on cranking the heat up, while I felt like my innards were being slow-roasted, and stripped off as much clothing as was possible in mixed company. We bounced around on the beds a bit, and snacked on some cookies (because being a grownup is AWESOME) before grabbing a cab into the center of town. The original plan was for us to simply walk there, since it was MAYBE a mile away, but the pouring rain made that decision unlikely. The cab came to about $5, and dropped us off at our dinner location, BEAR. REPUBLIC. BREWHOUSE.
Now it’s time for some fun.

‘CuseQuest Part 5: MORE Wine

Oh there was way too much wine fun to put into one post. I’m also trying to mention wine as little as possible, which has been working out quite well so far. Onward to the rest of the day!

This is what the Lakes Region looks like.

Yeah, it’s mostly cornfields. Occasionally a big lake shows up. This was just over the hill from our first stop, Knapp Winery & Vineyard. Happily, they had some critters to chase around: a number of geese, ducks, chickens and a cat. Points for Knapp. Critter count: well, let’s call it 7 so far. I’m not going to include individual ducks and geese. We did our tasting in a warehouse section among stacked the stacked casks. I did actually taste two wines this time, but Knapp also makes several spirits, so that was my focus.

Also pictured, Mama Cat, camera left.
She was viciously passed out several minutes before this until I woke her up with some ear scratching.

Brut sparkling wine.
Chardonnay and Cayuga (naturally) grapes
Nose: Fruity and dry
Taste: Syrupy, cut with a dry, carbonic acid bit. Tasty.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Nose: Whoa. Peppery. Like green bell pepper. Spicy with a touch of “red grape” smell
Taste: Bell pepper. Not much sweetness, but a lot of zip to it.

Brandy 40% abv
Knapp has their own copper pot still (awesome) used to make their spirits. They essentially all start off as grappa, but the brandy is then aged for five years in oak casks. Neato!

Nose: Acetone. Lots of burn, but with a chemical smell. A light toffee undertone.
Taste: Medicinal, with an oaky quality. The sterile alcohol sensation lingers in your mouth. Meh.

Grappa 40% abv
In case you don’t know, grappa is a distilled spirit made from all the “leftover” parts after making wine: stems, seeds, grape skins… it’s all grouped as “pomace.”

Nose: Brown sugar with a hint of maple.
Taste: Wooden, but not oaky. Burnt toffee. Syrupy sweet. Unlike any other grappa I’ve had. Very strange.

Limecello 18% abv
In addition to making a more commonly-found limoncello, Knapp also makes a lime variety. Basically it’s spirit (commonly vodka, though grappa was used in this case) flavored with either lemon (or lime) peels marinated in the spirit, or just straight up citrus juice. They use juice.

Nose: Fresh lemon/limeade
Taste: Citrus tart start, smoother sweet finish. VERY tasty. Want more. NOWS.

Limoncello 18% abv
…and this was the lemon variety. Danny DeVito even makes a brand of this.

Nose: Brighter than the lime version, a higher citrus. More alcohol.
Taste: Lighter, citrus fruit. More of a Pledge Furniture Polish-like fake lemon flavor. Not that I know what Pledge tastes like… I only huff it.

Limoncello with Raspberry Sparkling Wine

This was a suggestion from the server: mix equal parts limoncello with their raspberry sparkling wine for a very summery drink.

Nose: Lemon with juicy raspberry fruit. Makes sense.
Taste: Overly raspberry (prob too much of the rasp. poured in overwhelming the lemon) but very tasty and refreshing. A good summer tipple. Serve VERY cold.

That did it for Knapp. We tormented the various waterfowl for a bit, then headed off to the next stop, Goose Watch Winery. Goose Watch did have some nice views of Cayuga Lake, though I imagine it’s ungodly cold in the winter with the wind whipping across the water. All of their wines are aged in stainless steel, so you don’t get any oaky interference. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable, though it was quite busy, so we didn’t get to really chat much. No critters here, but some of the standout wines were the 2007 Chambourcin which smelled like musty, rotting vegetables, but tasted like dark cassis fruit (very strange) and the Strawberry Splendor, which the server described as “Smuckers in your glass.” I can’t think of a better description. It was very tasty, but a whole glass would prob be a bit much.

From Goose Watch we cruised along the lake to Buttonwood Grove Winery (apparently there is also a Buttonwood Winery in Santa Barbara County, CA). I took a break from the wines at this point, and Lady Friend didn’t really have a great time, as the older woman serving the wines was all bubbles and sunshine for a quartet of 50-somethings beside us, while largely ignoring Lady Friend. After she finished her samples, we checked out the critters lodged here: a Scottish Highland cow (I wonder if he knows how to make Scotch?) and several goats. Critter count: 9 (I’m lumping the goats together as one.)

After a slight revival on my part with the aid of some sugar and caffeine, we were on our way to Cobblestone Farm Winery and Vineyard.

It was purty.

This place was nice. Newer looking, solid interior, simple strong lines, and tasteful lighting, as opposed to the gift shop on steroids look of several other places.

It was also purty inside.

I only had three samples, while Lady Friend went full bore with six. Their 2009 Dry Riesling I found to be very oaky and grape syrupy, the 2009 Riesling (Blue) was juicy apple tart with a nice floral sweet nose, and finished with the very tasty Cobblestone Red, a five grape blend with cherry and sweet stone berry flavors. Yum. I have no idea what Lady Friend was throwing back, but she seemed to be pleased. Not pleased enough to buy anything, however.

Ok. One more. Please let it be just one more.

Swedish Hill Winery. The last wine stop. This one I had actually been looking forward to all day because they had… a miniature donkey!

His name is Doobie and I want to ride him.

Critter Count: 10! Sadly, that’s all Doobie done did. He hung around the middle of the pasture munching grass and keeping a wary eye on us with no intention of coming over. Also, he’s almost exactly the same height as Zero the Massive Mastiff, but with a bigger belly. Zero lets me ride him. Kinda. He gets very confused and tries to back up. He is large but his brain is oh so small.

So. The wines. Um… not too much excitement here. I enjoyed the Sparkling Reisling, which was a bonus pour since another server (not ours) offered it to us after noting to the group to the left that it wasn’t on the regular list, a tip which OUR server didn’t mention. Again, I think we got a dud who either didn’t know or didn’t care to share much information. Other amusing notes: Lady Friend described the Country Concord as smelling “like a juice box with toothpicks” due to its grape juice aroma laced with a wooden tinge. She also noted that the 2007 Cabernet Fran-Lemberger “smells like cardboard boxes,” to which our server (walking by us quickly as was the theme) piped up “Oh, we have boxes if you want a case!” Sorry lady, I think you missed the point. We also felt really rushed here, clearly taking notes and trying to taste the wines with our server either hovering in front of us ready to pour another sample, or zipping by in a blur when we were trying to get her attention.

This really seemed to be the theme of the day. Our suspicions were that most wineries didn’t really have their varsity squad on hand due to the holiday weekend, so the servers were the B team of cranky old ladies with nothing better to do. We felt rushed and ignored most places we went, which was unfortunate because Lady Friend is more than happy to spend hours discussing each wine with the staff. That’s part of the reason we were able to squeeze in so many stops in one afternoon; we didn’t linger anywhere to chit chat or look at touristy souvenirs. The wineries were not terribly friendly environments, and felt almost like a cafeteria where they fill your glass and expect you to drink it quickly and keep the line moving. I understand that there are other people being served, but no place we went was really that busy, so it seemed unnecessary and rude to basically push us out the door, then seem confused when we didn’t buy anything. The wines weren’t great, and we didn’t get a very welcome feeling anywhere we went, especially Swedish Hill where the server asked SEVERAL times “are you done yet?

Maybe that’s why Swedish Hill has a jackass for a mascot.

So, wine day completed (finally), we drove back to Syracuse for dinner and beer shopping at the wonderful Wegmans in Dewitt. Lady Friend had never heard of this glorious place, so it was an adventure. They also have a fantastic craft beer section (in NY you buy beer in supermarkets) and despite the fact that it was about 8pm on Sunday night, we were still allowed to buy alcohol. Yeah, Massachusetts, I’m giving YOU the stink eye. I ended my ‘CuseQuest with the acquisition of some YUENGLING! and several craft bombers. I also scored a sixer of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA, which I have yet to see out here (I have seen the Boont Amber ale and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, in six pack bottles). They also had a mix-and-match six pack section, where you build your own sampler for $10. It was tempting, but there weren’t enough singles that tempted me enough to take advantage of it. As a bonus, I found a fancy new Kuhn Rikon paring knife for cocktail fruit prep that I had wanted for awhile but never ordered. Worked out well, since it was several dollars cheaper at Wegmans and I didn’t have to pay shipping charges. I TOLD you this place was magical. I got my fix of Wegmans pizza and craft beer shopping and we loaded up the trunk with bottles of happiness, heading over to my aunt’s house for the night, resting for the trip home in the morning. One more stop to go before Boston, however…

‘CuseQuest! Part 4: Wine Day

Mama noooooooooo!
Wine day.
No more Beeracuse; time for the Finger Lakes region and many many (many) wineries and vineyards.
What a c-bomb.


Geez. “Compromise” is the c-bomb I was referring to. Stupid compromise. That’s how I talked the Lady Friend into this trip in the first place… there are a silly number of wineries and vineyards scattered around the Finger Lakes, and of course, she loves wine. I… do not. I don’t hate it, but between cocktails, beer and wine, it’s third on the list. Besides, compromising is silly. I should just get my way all the time. Everyone would be much happier that way. Mostly me.

Anyway, we left Syracuse and started driving west on Route 20, a roller coaster road of small mountains and farmland. The Lady Friend had some targets in mind, mostly around Cayuga Lake. Our first stop was Montezuma Winery, located on Rt 20 in Seneca Falls. Heads up: our GPS said it was about three miles farther than it actually was. I’m thinking they know about this, since about 1/4 mile past it, there’s a large sign that proclaims “You just passed Montezuma Winery!” After a semi-legal U-turn, we drove back to the correct spot. When we walked in the place, however, something was instantly wrong.

This is my idea of Hell.

It was horribly touristy and kitchy, as if a Christmas Tree Shop violently vomited after consuming some undercooked poultry. Just… junk. Absolute CRAP. Little cutesy knicknacks everywhere. Holy chazzwazzers. However, in addition to being a winery (not a vineyard… they buy their grapes from elsewhere) they do have a small distillery, and offered a spirit tasting. See how sneaky Lady Friend is? She chose this place on purpose because of that. Wikid smaht.

It’ll take a large amount of liquor to make me ok with this. Also, they were selling Christmas decorations.
In August.

So she chose her wines, and I opted for a tasting of two of the spirits, since they made you pay PER spirit and I had no interest in their honey vodka. Lame. Also, noted on the bottom of the spirit list was a little tagline that read “WARNING: Due to the high percentage of alcohol in spirits, New York State law limits the amount of spirit tastings to three (3) 1/4 oz samples of spirits per person, per day.” Um. Really? You want me to believe that NY State only allows you to have less than one ounce of spirit sample per day? I’m going to call shenanigans on that.

Apple Brandy
Nose: Apple aroma shines through the alcohol burn.
Taste: Sweet apple start. Alcohol wash through the mouth burns away the flavor, but finishes with a tasty, apply finish. Slight syrup mouthfeel.

Queen’s Flight Honey Brandy
Distilled from honey and aged one year in bourbon barrels.
Nose: Honey, caramel sweetness with some vanilla.
Taste: Not as syrupy as expected. Initial alcohol burn evaporates to leave a sticky honey-vanilla bourbony flavor. Tasty and sweet.

So you’ve probably noticed a lot of honey going on, which is a bit odd for a winery. Well, apparently Montezuma started as an apiary, and produced a honey mead for a local Renaissance Fair(e). I guess they decided to go ahead with the wine thing from there. I didn’t get the whole story. The servers weren’t terribly friendly or forthcoming with info at this place, a trend we noticed through the rest of the trip.

Mildly annoyed, we left to grab some lunch, popping over to Bull’s Run Grille & Alehouse. The place was pretty empty when we went in for lunch, and somehow the service still took forever. The food was simple, but tasty, and Lady Friend had a couple glasses of white wine. I took the opportunity to grab a beer that I had never heard of. The waitress did give me a sample to try, which is always a nice touch.

CB’s Caged Alpha Monkey
After doing a bit of digging, I found out that Caged Alpha Monkey is an IPA from Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls, NY, outside of Rochester.

Nose: Hoppy, with some piney sharpness
Taste: Piney hop. Tree sap. East Coast style bitter; not a lot of malt reward.

It was decent. Apparently I drank it too quickly for a picture.

I have no idea how busy this place gets at night, but seems like a good local hangout with nice beers and food. It’s right on the corner next to the bridge; you don’t go in the front, but rather down the steps or ramp on the left to the actual entrance. The old timey guy painted on the wall points the way with his cane. It’s down by the canal/ river/ whatever it is and there’s an outdoor patio. It was another muggy CNY day, so we opted for the air conditioning indoors away from the old, mustachioed, shirtless men drinking by the water. Put some clothes on, Old Man River. Your tan lines are making me lose interest in life. We finished our pizza and drinks, and set off for an afternoon of further wine adventures.

New Bedford

New Bedford, on the south coast of Massachusetts was once one of the most important whaling ports in the world, along with Nantucket. Herman Melville lived and worked in New Bedford, and wrote the novel Moby Dick in the early 1850s. When whaling died out, the town industry turned to textiles and fishing. They… have a whaling museum. That’s about all I know about N’Bedfid (the New England accent pronounces “ford” as “fid,” as in Chelmsfid, Bedfid and Medfid.)

It’s a New Englandy fishing town.

Lady Friend and I parked downtown after our brewery and winery tours, we checked out the Whaling Museum, which was very cool, thanks to a free pass from my coworker. When they kicked us out at 5pm, we set off looking for a good local brewpub or bar for adult beverages and some grub. While wandering down Purchase Street, I noticed a sign for wine tastings. We went in, and it turned out to be a place called Travessia Urban Winery.

Yeah, I didn’t know what an “urban winery” was either. Turns out, they buy local/regional grapes, to blend and ferment them at their facility/storefront in downtown New Bedford. Lady Friend sported me the $3 for the tasting (listed as $5 on the website), and we got three wines: vidal blanc, rosé, and pinot noir.

I didn’t take notes, but my impressions were that the blanc was kind of pear-y and dry, the rosé was GROSS (sour, almost vinegar mouth pucker) and the pinot noir had a lot of cranberry taste to it, almost as if they had cut the wine with Ocean Spray. I actually dumped the rest of my glass of rosé, since it was so bad, before Lady Friend could stop me. She didn’t mind it and would have had my share. Oops. Ironically, the rosé was their “special” wine, and they wouldn’t tell Lady Friend what grapes were in it, saying it was a “proprietary blend, and the only secret they have.” I love when places do that, as if we’re going to go off and make our own wine with their confidential recipe. Lame.

So to get the taste of wine and arrogance out of my mouth, we headed to our original destination, the Pour Farm Tavern. Reviews on Yelp seemed favorable, and once I saw the chalkboard sign out front boasting “twenty-four ice cold draft beers” I got excited. There’s no way that 24 drafts are going to be all macrobrews. It was about 5:15, and the place was empty, so we sat at the bar. I took a look at the beer list, and started to get tingly. All the right names: Bear Republic, Founders, 21st Amendment, Lagunitas, Firestone Walker, Full Sail… wow. A couple of those, like Firestone Walker and 21st Amendment, have only been making their way to the east coast over the past year or two, so to see them on draft is a big deal. However, if you’re a beer-hole like I am, you find yourself in a difficult situation. Despite the fantastic offerings, I had already tried most of the stuff currently on draft, and I wanted something I had never tasted before. Lady Friend had no such problem, and started right away with a 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, which I had tried a sip of at Irish Lad’s last beer night. I didn’t like it so much, but Irish Lad, and now Lady Friend, both thought it was good. I LOVED 21st’s (canned) IPA that Irish Lad had snagged for me last winter.

Finally, after ordering food, I made my choice: a Rapscallion Blessing American Amber Ale, 8% abv. A fruity and slightly malty nose. Taste was malt sweet with a mild bitter. Wheaty taste up front, followed by malt smoothness. It was a good ale. By this time, Lady Friend had already moved on to a Heavy Seas “Red Sky at Night” saison/farmhouse ale, which she found too sweet. I didn’t think it had quite the “earthy” flavors that a farmhouse ale normally would. She finished with a Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale, wanting something a bit less sweet, and seemed satisfied. I went with a half pour of Left Hand’s Milk Stout, 6% abv, with a roasted and vanilla sweet aroma. The taste was roasted, smooth and creamy, like coffee with CREAM, not milk, and a slight hint of bitter spice from the roast. Almost like ice cream. Delicious, and perfect for an after-dinner treat without being syrupy sweet or filling.

The Pour Farm was perfect. When we first sat down, the bartender and I struck up a dialogue and discussed various craft beers. She enjoyed Harpoon’s Rye IPA which we all hated on our last beer night, and gave me a sample to try to change my mind. No dice, chica. I’m sorry I didn’t catch her name, but she was very knowledgeable and friendly, and poured us a couple samples before we made our choices. Unfortunately, her shift ended, and we got stuck with a pair of bartenders who clearly didn’t want to be there. How do you tip in that situation? Do you leave a bigger tip for the first bartender, or does it go to the one who enters the check?

Other than the gratuity dilemma, the food was great, and beer selection VERY impressive. Our first bartender was incredibly helpful, and knew what she was talking about (aside from liking the Harpoon Rye… ugh). With a solid meal in the gullet, it was time for the next target: Rose Alley Ale House.

Wining and Whining

So it’s come to this. A wine post. Yikes. I’ll down a beer, savor a cocktail and wax poetic on the magical properties of a good whiskey, but when it comes to wine… that’s my exit on the highway of booze. However, Lady Friend is a big fan, and chose red zinfandel (I’m told it’s way different than white zin) as her drink of choice. Well, that and lousy mixto/sour mix margaritas, until I showed her what blue agave and fresh lime juice could do. So, on our southerly trip to Just Beer in Westport, MA, we made a visit to the nearby (seriously, less than a mile from the Just Beer brewery) Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery.

Y’all got any purple drank here?

From what we gathered, there were tours and tastings available for $10, including a souvenir wine glass. Lady Friend already has way too many memento wine glasses, hates clutter, and didn’t care to acquire another. We sidled up to the end of the tasting bar, and I’m not sure if we snuck past a bouncer or what, but our tasting was free. Perhaps they hit you with the fee if you take the tour, which we skipped. Anyway, we were about to dive into the tasting when I looked down the bar and saw a familiar face.

Because she’s an eye doctor.
I forget if she’s an optometrist/ ophthalmologist,
and she’ll get growly if I choose the wrong one.

EyeDoc is a mutual friend of mine and Wifey’s (went to college with Wifey) and was doing a tasting with two of her friends. It was the birthday of one of them, and they were taking various winey tours around the area. Introductions were made all ’round, but the sparkling was getting warm and flat, so it was back to the booze.

Westport Rivers makes several sparkling wines, and we started with those. I actually tend to like sparkling/ Champange wines, so that wasn’t too difficult. From there we moved onto several whites, and a syrupy dessert wine. Thoughts:

- 2000 Blanc de Blancs (sparkling)
100% Chardonnay
Nose: Pears. Fruit.
Taste: Sweet syrupy, but cut short with dryness. Yum.

2005 Westport Brut RJR (sparkling)
75% Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay
Nose: Grape. (seriously, like Welch’s grape juice)
Taste: Oakey and syrupy. Grapey finish.

2009 Chardonnay
Nose: Yeasty, like a Belgian beer. Slight pils skunk; wet paper towel, rubber.
Taste: Sour and sticky. Coats the mouth. Gross. Has a sweet finish, which tastes delicious compared to the rest of the mouthful. Ew.

2010 Pinot Noir Rosé
Nose: Slight berry fruit, a hint of raspberry.
Taste: Brief sour start, a touch of vinegar. Sweet berry finish.

2009 Riesling
Nose: Sunblock. Yup.
Taste: Slight syrup. Tasty, and a bit citrusy.

Pineau de Pinot (dessert wine)
Nose: Communion wine. Vermouth. Brandy. Aromatic.
Taste: Thick, syrupy. Imperial stout minus the roasted flavor. Mouth-coating. Wow.

After the tasting, we wandered outside to do a pic for EyeDoc and to poke around the grounds. Lady Friend had made a point to ask if all the grapes are grown on the premises. Apparently, they are.

Can I get a beer?

My impression of the place is that it’s a New England winery desperately trying to LOOK like a winery. The dog and pony show of vineyards, tractors, vine-covered walkways and Saab-driving women in their late 40s who shop at Talbots. It’s faux-quaint. Their cheapest wine is $16/bottle, which is just a bit much for wine that wasn’t great. (They also sell the Just Beer bombers for about $4, which, while not an outrageous price for a bomber, is $1.50 more than what we paid less than a mile away.) I’m sure it’s a popular location for Cape visitors, but it just seemed like they were trying a bit too hard. This is, of course, in contrast with the brewery we had just come from, which had the impression of being very laid-back, honest, and more concerned with substance over style.

Flag Hill Winery

Back in early May, the Lady Friend and I ventured back up to our Moo Hampshire homeland for a Mothers’ Day visit to our respective parental units. It had been a tradition in her family that they do some sort of event and/or dinner on the Saturday preceding Mothers’ Day, rather than the actual acknowledged holiday. She and her sister had previously taken their mother on various wine tastings, and this year it was decided to try out Flag Hill Winery, [somewhat] nearby in Lee, NH.

I had been to Flag Hill before several years ago with some Maine friends. Every fall they hold a “Harvest Fest” where you enter into a lottery to be selected for helping bring in the grape harvest. You show up on a Saturday morning with a pair of clippers, and go to work cutting the grape bunches from the vines row by row by endless row. Around noonish (or whenever the vines have been plucked clean) there’s a meal provided (roasted chicken if I remember correctly), a souvenir wine glass and some wine tastings as payment. Tours are offered, and an opportunity to stomp some grapes. Basically, they get free volunteer labor to bring in the grapes. Worth the experience, but not one I’m likely to repeat. I’d rather brew some beer.

Our visit on this rainy Saturday, however, had a different goal in mind: tastings. Flag Hill offers free tastings of their wine and spirits, or, as we discovered, tastings of the wine OR spirits, not both on the same visit. Lady Friend, Sister and their mother all opted for the wine, while I delved into the liquors and liqueurs. A number of spirits are offered: their flagship General John Stark Vodka, Karner Blue Gin, a relatively new product, Josiah Bartlett Apple Brandy, Graham’s Grappa, and a number of fruit liqueurs, cranberry, blueberry, raspberry, and sugar maple.

I can’t speak for any of the wines, as the womenfolk were busy with that part of the visit, but the spirits were generally quite good. My tasting impressions are as follows:

– General John Stark Vodka: this is a 100% apple vodka, and though it’s supposed to be a neutral spirit, I swore I could smell hints of fresh apple on the nose. There was no such taste in the spirit itself, and the vodka was pure and dry. I’m not a vodka fan, but I found no fault with this one.

– Karner Blue Gin: apparently this is a recent addition to the distillery’s product line. I found it to be light and floral, and generally tasty, despite my rather ambivalent attitude towards gin in general. The squarish bottle was quite nice with a screened blue butterfly on the label.

– Josiah Bartlett Apple Brandy: I have been building an interest in apple brandy/applejack, and tried my hand at freeze-distilling, which didn’t really work out all that well. Applejack had traditionally been freeze-distilled in the colonial days, but Flag Hill uses regular evaporative distillation. This apple brandy was very good, with a dry apple taste and warm brandy finish.

– Graham’s Grappa: I’m not too familiar with tasting grappa/raki, so I don’t have much to compare this to, but it was strong and tasty, though certainly had an alcoholic burn. Apparently “grappa” is now a protected term in Europe (like cognac), and refers to the grape-based beverage produced exclusively in Italy, though in the US it’s a generic title.

– Cranberry: this was excellent. Fresh, tart, cranberry taste which cut through any possible alcohol burn. I should have bought a bottle of this.

– Blueberry: not so excellent. Mild blueberry flavor, but a harsh burn. Tasted like vodka spiked with blueberry flavor, which is essentially what it IS, but that doesn’t mean it has to taste like it.

– Raspberry: good, but a bit too sweet and syrupy. Lady Friend sneaked a taste, and liked it so much that she bought a bottle to use as a substitute for Chambord.

– Sugar Maple: Yikes. Super, cloyingly sweet. Very tasty, but tastes like nothing but sweet mapley sugar syrup. You could put this over ice cream or in place of syrup on pancakes. I would never guess that there was alcohol in it. Delicious.

I’m told the wines were decent, but not great, and none of the womens bought a bottle. Lady Friend’s theory is that most places like this buy grapes from other vineyards to add to their blends. Apparently Flag Hill doesn’t do this, claiming to be the only NH winery to grow all of their grapes on the premises, and the less-than-ideal growing conditions in NH make acceptable, but not outstanding wines. The spirits were all perfectly acceptable to me, and I love collecting bottles that are more unique than the usual mass-produced fare. What would be more interesting: pulling a bottle of Stoli or Gen. John Stark vodka out of the freezer for a round of drinks? It adds more character to a collection, though at a bit of a price premium given that it’s a local, small-batch product. My biggest dismay was the apple brandy, which lists a price of $16.95 for a 750ml on their website, yet at the winery sold for $25. I had planned to purchase a bottle, but felt a bit cheated when the price was that much more than expected. Lame.

Fun fact: Their vodka is named for Revolutionary War General John Stark, famed in NH for penning the state motto “Live free or die: death is not the worst of evils.”

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