A mix of Canadian and international wine reviews…and more!
How to Meet Winemaking Heroes in New Hampshire: Winter Wine Week 2017
The wine industry slows down in the winter a bit. There isn’t much to see at the vineyards. There’s just a bunch of gnarly roots in the ground; it’s pretty desolate. While the vineyards enjoy their solitude, the winemakers and the companies that represent them have more time than during the spring or at harvest to reach out to consumers. Wine competitions, Public/trade show tastings, and other meet and greets are common, but rarely do they last a whole week long.
The event invites locals and visitors to explore and socialize with world renown vignerons in retail outlets, in larger formal tastings, and in local gastronomic hotspots across the state.
New Hampshire’s size is relatively compact – especially to a Canadian tourist, such as myself. I had prepared myself for significant travel time, getting to each place on the itinerary. Traveling from town to town, from the interior to the southern border seemed onerous, but it was extremely well run.
Moreover, for a week-long event it means people across the state can participate locally. Both inside NHLC stores and in select participating restaurants, patrons had the opportunity to meet and taste with winemakers, as they toured across the state. The culmination of the week was a final grand tasting at the Raddison Hotel, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
For the majority of wine week, I spent much of my time in Manchester; a town dominated by charming eighteenth/nineteenth century architecture, carefully preserved, with a veneer of futurism provided by outside investment.
The population of Manchester already swells with tourism. It’s the most populous city in New Hampshire, and tenth in New England.
They’re unabashedly proud of their local history. Along the Merrimack, historical preservation has kept much of the heart of the city as a monument to its past.
It’s a state with very little taxation, so this preservation has mostly come from individual interest and not from a municipally run organization. This interest has been on a local level (through fund raising) and through outside investment. Historic buildings have in some cases become the headquarters for tech startups, such as the old mill-houses along the Merrimack where it reaches Amoskeag falls.
As a quick side-note, part of the entire Wine Week’s intention was to raise money for charity; specifically, the Easterseals New Hampshire. $1.675 Million has been raised since the event’sinception a decade ago.
The week’s events were coordinated by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission; a ‘control state’ monopoly (please save your auditory gasps until the end of the paragraph) whose success lies behind their unique position of low state taxation and background setting as a getaway/stop-over to other vacation spots in the New England area.
People from Massachusetts and other surrounding states make their way to New Hampshire for the selection available at much lower costs than other states with higher tax rates.
In Canada, we enjoy our high taxes on social luxuries. More accurately, we enjoy what they pay for, but we die a little bit inside every time we buy a bottle of wine. That’s beside the point, however.
New Hampshire’s Wine Week a week-long festival showcasing an appreciation of local food and the selection of available fine wine.
While wine events like these are common in many other places, even in the frigid North where I live, these events were more intimate, much larger than average, and provided the opportunity of a “taste and buy.”
A dozen winemakers from California, Oregon, Washington, and abroad were touring local restaurants and retail outlets allowing enthusiasts and those in the industry the chance to interact and enjoy a nice meal paired with their wines.
I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to sit down with: Cristina Mariani-May, of Tuscan legend Banfi, and John Williams of Napa icon, Frog’s Leap.
In the state capital of Concord, we enjoyed a light lunch, while they showcased the product of their labour.
As much as wine experts and enthusiasts love to inflate the celebrity of their favourite winemakers, once you meet them you realize how much you can relate to them.
John Williams lamented always having to be the less famous of celebrity John Williamses.
While Frog’s Leap has always been able to make a solid Cabernet and Zin, but his passion lays behind the Merlot that he’s been producing since 1994, in Rutherford.
Rutherford is well known for dusty soils well suited to Cabernet Sauvignon. John feels that when California’s star rose and all of the attention gravitated towards Cabernet Sauvignon over Merlot, it made it very difficult for winemakers who felt they made particularly distinct Merlot to make a go of it.
Cristina Mariani-May from Banfi contributed a wine for almost every course! Obviously, we had to have Banfi’s amazing Brunello di Montalcino. If you have never heard of Banfi before, this is where the heart of this enormous house lies. They are in a large part responsible for the international reputation that Brunello now enjoys. Chances are at a liquor store near you, you can pick this wine up. It is the ubiquitous Brunello and I can’t say that is something to complain about.
We began with an IGT Vermentino, called La Pettegola; apparently the name of a loud seagull that agglomerate in large gatherings. It’s also apparently a slang term in Italian for how women sound chatting in large groups. The wine is pretty much ideal for kicking off social gatherings.
It was really hard to not discuss politics. I’m going to derail this whole segment just to mention that while I was in New Hampshire, there were televisions, broadcasts and travel bans. Obviously, it would concern anyone, whether they were the ones targeted or not. All I can say is that a little conversation and wine was pretty reassuring.
Our final course was deep fried Oreos (even as someone who grew up on Quebecois cuisine, I have to say that was especially bad for me…) Paired with Brachetto D’Acqui. I am not really one for desserts or pairing sweet desserts with sweet wine. Wine pairing should be about complimenting flavours – contrasting flavours and finding interesting things that are compatible or that compliment one another. Everything considered, the food and wine were both great.
Actually, Brachetto D’Acqui is a lot of fun, if you manage to find it. God bless inexpensive sparkling wine. Brachetto can be different sweetnesses; from pretty dry to juicy and sweet. It often has a lot of bright cherry and strawberry flavours to it. Instead of pairing it with dessert, either have it a dessert with some cut fruit or berries, or maybe put it alongside salty prosciutto.
This gathering was intimate, special, and unique. The main event was what was called “The Winter Wine Spectacular.” There were 1800 wines available at the Radisson’s conference hall. It was pretty impressive. Usually, at one of these events there is a theme based on region. This saw wineries from all over the globe – including the winemakers in person.
This is Michael Davies, of A to Z, in Oregon. What he’s holding is an experimental rose where he has tried growing and incorporating Sangiovese. That would be quite a challenge in Oregon. It’s a finicky grape that likes fewer climates than even Pinot Noir. This wine,though somewhat of a mixed bag, for an experimental wine, was delicious. These are the sort of people you g to these events to meet – the innovators that move the conversation…. Can… Can we all just take a moment to appreciate that mustache?
There is a lot to see and taste at events, like this. sometimes you have to bite off what you can chew. It was pretty dsapointing that I wasn’t able to meet the winemaker from Firesteed, Mondavi, and Erath – all of which were supposedly there. You have to pick your events carefully. I, certainly, have unfinished business and will be back as soon as I can.