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.
I find myself sipping on some prosecco tonight – how about you?
Lately I’ve been having a lot of bubbly and I’m certainly not complaining! Whether it be champagne, prosecco, or cava…I love it all! They all offer different experiences at different price points. I mean we all love champagne, but if you are like me…atleast current me…I can’t afford to spend $100+ a night on this stuff. So what do I do? I turn to other bubbly producing countries to help me out!
Think prosecco if you generally like something on the sweeter side. Think cava if you are looking for tremendous value. Think Canadian sparkling wine if you want to “go local” (if you are a canuck of course lol). There are other countries doing interesting stuff – Australian sparkling shiraz – which is certainly an acquired taste….go explore!
The point is, you don’t always have to spend a lot to get a good bottle of bubbly. $15-25 CAD can get you far. However, if you got money to burn, then go for it!
What bubbly is your go to? Do you only drink it on special occasions? Saturday morning mimosas?
What’s in your glass this evening? Well it doesn’t compare to what I’m having – bold statement, right? Sometimes you just got to be. Like our good friend “007” aka James Bond, tonight I’m having some Bollinger Champagne.
This stuff is soooo goooooood. I must thank my fellow colleague, Greg, for this recommendation. This bubbly is very tasty and features baked apple pie with a nutty finish. At an alcohol level of just 12.5%, this champagne is light and refreshing!
If only I could have this every day…
Have you had Bollinger Champagne before? What was the reason?
Anyways, time to get back to celebrating a special champagne birthday!
Hope you had a great weekend and to all you dad’s out there…hope you are having/had a great day. Cheers to you!
What did you all get up to this past weekend? I had the chance to go to Prince Edward County for the very first time and Wine Cru Reviews co-founder, Greg, was my tour guide/fellow explorer!
“The County”, as it is often referred to, is just outside of Kingston, Ontario and features some of the best wines Ontario has to offer. First stop, was Three Dog Winery. When we arrived to the open concept tasting room, there were a lot of people enjoying chilled rose and white wines on this particularly warm day. We had the opportunity to try several of the wines, and they were all very good. However, the Reiki Off Dry Riesling was a stand out for me – loved this wine. Definitely one of the best spots if you are looking to have some BBQ, live music and a friendly atmosphere.
But before we go any further…
Why did we go to the county this weekend of all weekends? We were invited to attend UnCork Canada – which featured wines from across the nation, coast to coast. The venue was just off main street, in a beautiful historic building called the Crystal Palace. Wines from B.C. to Nova Scotia (and everything in between) were offered for tastings and some were even medal winners from the All Canadian Wine Championships held a week earlier. There was no shortage of wine that’s for sure! To see some of the great pictures from our trip, check out our Instagram page – @winecrureviews
After a couple of hours at the event we decided to venture off and visit some of the wineries while we were in town.
In addition to visiting Three Dog Winery, we visited:
All were very different experiences… the following is the coles notes version of my experience:
Huff was very modern, classy and had some amazing bubbly. TerraCello, is a very rustic and has a very “old world” feeling to it – pizza appears to be their thing. Broken Stone was a great find, and featured some tasty chardonnay. Closson Chase is QUALITY and worth the premium pricing. Lacey Estates, is a great family winery, that has some amazing white wines – especially the 2013 Gewürztraminer!
I had a lot of fun and can’t wait to go back again! There is something for everyone in PEC.
Have you ever been to the county? What wineries did you visit?
What wine are you having? Tonight, I’m having ice water. Sounds boring? Well it is. However, it is very much needed after last night. Let me explain…
The team at Wine Cru Reviews got together and of course wine was involved! Meeting’s are much better with wine. Fact. We had sparkling wine, white wine, red wine and some sake. Don’t worry, we mixed in a lot of food between tastings!
With a lot coming up for us in the next week (website launch, Australian wine tasting, UncorkCanada in Prince Edward County, etc.) we decided to get together to get some work done and have a little bit of a pre-celebration.
Got to love it when work involves trying different wines!
Wine is all about exploring, and there were definitely some new experiences for me with this lineup. I’ve had the sparkling vouvray several times, but everything else was “first time sipping”. In fact, it was the first time I’ve ever had Vranac, Torbato and Sake. Both I loved! Also, the Inniskillin Pinot was pretty special (thanks Greg!).
Have you tried anything new lately?
All this wine talk is making me want to retire the water and get out my corkscrew…
Now this isn’t just “any bottle of wine” to me. This happens to be the first bottle I ever gave to my significant other way back in 2013. To be clear, not the EXACT bottle, but the same producer.
The story goes…*takes a sip
It was her birthday and we were a few weeks into hanging out. At the time she loved to party and have a couple of drinks (mostly beer and whisky) of course. Naturally I headed down to the local liquor store to see if there was something I could find that she might like. Instead of heading to the beer fridge, I made a line for the vintage wine section. Almost instantly THE bottle appeared to me…Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon!
Why Liberty School? It happened to be the street she was living on at the time. Clever right? Well at least I thought so. I gave it to her with a little explanation and she loved it!
Fast forward a few years…
We are still enjoying this wine! Every time we open a bottle we get taken back to that night. The smell, the taste, the memories. The Hope Family and Liberty School will always have a special meaning to us.
Have you had any special memories with a special wine?
I’m constantly adding movies to “my list” on Netflix Canada and there is one you should add to yours – “Decanted” by filmmakers Nicholas Kovacic and Matthew Riggieri.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a winemaker in Napa Valley? The planning of harvest season? The pressure of choosing your brands next wine label and name? This movie puts you in the shoes of those who live the wine life everyday at the vineyard. While this movie might ruin the romance of having your own winery, it is a short education on what it is really like to be a winemaker in one of the best regions in the world.
The following winemakers and wineries are featured: