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.
It gives those present access to exclusive meet and greets with the winemakers, to some of the most revered restaurants in the area, and a chance to taste an enormous array of wines at local NHLC stores as well as at organized semi-formal tastings.
One of the most exclusive group tastings took place along Hooksett Road, next to the Puritan Backroom. This year’s focus was on Cabernet Sauvignon, but the theme changes from year to year.
To a sold out crowd, six industry experts laid out two of their interpretations of Cabernet Sauvignon and its capability for producing one of the world’s most appreciated wines.
The wines were presented in two organized flights of six. The first was a classic and accessible example. The second, generally, a more exclusive wine from the wineries they represented.
His perspective was charming and contrasted the room of native North Americans he shared the dais with.
For most North Americans, the name Margaux conjured up the image of a wine of high esteem – something you look for on a label that guarantees quality and pedigree. Those more familiar with Bordeaux might even understand where it is located on the Left Bank of the Gironde Estuary.
For M. Touton it’s a town near where he grew up and an important part of his childhood.
He proudly told those gathered the story of how one of his ancestors captained the merchant vessel named for Chateau Margaux, which helped deliver the Statue of Liberty to North America in the late nineteenth century.
The two wines he chose to present were both very well known Margaux from the original 1855 classification of top Bordeaux wines. The first was Prieure Lichine 2012 (a fourth growth). The Lichine was dense and weighty, as wines sourced from closer to Cantenac tend to be. The wine was explosively herbal and quite pretty. What is more, it was not harvested overripe to add alcoholic oomph, though it leans towards being a more full bodied classic Margaux.
As it had a chance to open up, the fruit began to come out. There was plenty of red cherry, blackberry, plum, and a mineral texture towards the finish brought it together.
The second was Chateau Du Tertre 1995 (fifth growth), which was more textbook Margaux in that it was an aromatic banquet and delicate.
This wine is past the two decade mark and its age has become apparent. Primary fruit (this is wine enthusiast talk for typical aromas/flavours from the grape varietals that compose a wine wine) are giving way to tertiary character (aromas/flavours that come from age). The youthful cassis and blackberry notes of young Cabernet Sauvignon have begun to transform into a compote of soft red and black fruit. Worn leather, allspice, and pencil shavings make an appearance as well.
The wine was well preserved, though it would probably be wise to drink this one soon (if you managed to snatch it up). Wines aren’t meant to be kept forever! This wine was a rare treat and a smart wine-buying opportunist would snatch this up soon! Give it a good send off with smoked duck and caramelized root vegetables.
It is difficult to follow a legendary region, like Margaux, but Greg Morthole of Rodney Strong bravely pivoted everyone’s imaginations from the historic Old World to the innovations of the New World.
California, Greg reveals, has had back to back warm vintages from 2012 to 2016. 2012 to 2014 were somewhat better than 2015 and 2016. This is in part because of the superior balance the 2012-2014 wines tend to express, but a continuing drought severely affected the yields of 2016.
Greg also explained the strategically planted plots that compose the two Cabs. There are trace amounts of other Bordeaux varietals grown on the plots utilized but the vast majority of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a reason for this.
Sometimes a strange geological feature in a vineyard can create an environmental pocket suitable for Malbec, Merlot, or other blending partners for Cab Sauv.
Certain holdings, like Rockaway Vineyard, have small reserve blocks of Malbec. However, these are in short supply.
Like many wine regions, the AVA (the American appellation’s acronym for American Viticultural Area) only requires the wine be 85% to be named a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. This enables vignerons, like Greg, to use what fruit they have to cultivate a certain reproduceable house style.
The Reserve Cab from Greg is lip-smacking, but dark. Licorice, smoke, plum, black and blue berries. They utilize native yeast to provide a more interesting and complex flavours during fermentation and natural settling (which means no unnecessary sulfites or stabilizing chemicals were used).
The Brothers Cab seems to have been chosen to showcase a very hot site, which delivers extremely generous, extremely full bodied wines with a mouth coating texture. The fruit are dark and delicious and melding pretty well with the oak. There are lots of extroverted flavours here; damson plums, chocolate, blackberry jam, vanilla, and star anise.
Next in line was the truly historic Stag’s Leap, headed by Marcus Notaro. Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap (another Napa vigneron known for their Petit Syrah), this winery was one of the competitors in the “Judgement of Paris,” which saw Californian wine rivaling French wine for the first time.
That was long ago, but Stag’s Leap still carries a lot of weight in reputation.
Their new winemaker, Marcus, came to them in 2013 by way of Chateau St. Michelle; a powerhouse wine company from Washington State. Originally, he had been the winemaker for Col Solare; the collaborative wine-making venture between Chateau St. Michelle and the Antinori family.
Cutting his teeth on Col Solare demonstrated his understanding of balance in high end Bordelais blends.
Washington State is an extremely hot climate with very cool nights. This controls the berry maturation – preserving acidity and aromatics.
The two wines have a simplicity in their vinification process that showcase the soil they’re grown in. Technically, they are executed perfectly.
The Artemis is 98% Cabernet and 1% each Malbec and Merlot. This has a tremendous effect on the texture and colour of the wine, though the percentages are very small.
The wine is youthful and bright, though it has seen over a year and a half in new French and American oak. It absolutely is not weighed down by the oak. It remains vibrant and energetic, with lots of currant and blackberry flavours. The finish has plenty of smoke and ruminating spice.
Any wine labeled ‘Fay’ vineyard belongs to a more prestigious single vineyard series offering glimpses at the expression of the different plots operated on by Marcus and his staff. The famous SLV (Stag’s Leap Vineyard) Cabernet, which turned so many heads at the judgement in Paris also belongs to this series.
The Fay vineyard was recently chosen as the location of their new visitor’s center. If you have visited Stag’s Leap since 2014, chances are you saw the place where this wine was born.
When Lindsay Hoopes began to speak to the crowd, the assumption was that she would explain to us a little bit about her wines and about what makes them special. This she accomplished, but in her own way.
Her story began with her path to becoming a winemaker, which was less linear than someone might expect for a family owned vineyard. Nothing was freely given to her by her father, Spencer Hoopes. She had to earn the responsibility of the winery.
When she was younger, she tried to approach him for a job at the winery and he remained obstinate, pointing at her lack of experience. Resentful and determined, she turned away from wine and became a criminal prosecutor. It was much later that her father passed the reigns to her.
Lindsay’s winery, by far, produced much smaller years compared to the other wineries present that night. Her winery focuses on a small portion of land worked on by hand to produce a singular expressions of Cabernet – every wine sees maximum attention amd effort.
The wines, themselves, ooze black fruit. The oak is very upfront, but balanced. There is a particular fondness for French oak by Hoopes. The wines are dark and glass coating. The first was the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The second wine was specifically from Oakville.
The Napa is more restrained that the massive Oakville. Both are very serious new world styles of Cabernet. They’re soft and generous on the fruit. They’re conspicuously rich and hit close to 15% alcohol by volume.
On the Napa Cab, the fruit are more towards the red fruit spectrum, with black fruit moments: boysenberry, macerated cherry, raspberry. There’s a whip-crack of acidity and dark chocolate.
The Hoopes Oakville possesses a lot more of the darker fruit associated with Cabernet Sauvignon: brambly blackberry, blueberry, and cooked plum. Of course, there is still a very potent array of oak spice to it.
The last few vintages of Hoopes have been entirely in control of Lindsay Hoopes, since her father has stepped back from direct control over the operation.
Lindsay Hoopes was followed by Justin Baldwin, owner of Justin Winery; operating out of Paso Robles, California. Justin Winery is responsible for the well known wines ‘Isosceles’ line. Though Cabernet Sauvignon remains the star of this blend, this wine embraces the cohesive blending of Cab with Merlot and Cabernet Franc (which, collectively, can make up around 30% of the wine, based on the vintage).
Before he showed us his Bordeaux inspired blend, he showed us his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013. This wine absolutely saturates the glass and the palate. The high alcohol (which tastes sweet) and purple lip-staining colour of the wine conjure up flavours of macerated cherry and mulberry, but it has a strong savory component too. Cedar, smoke, and incense from the extended barrel maturation reveal themselves, as the wine breathes.
Cabernet Franc tends to be less heavily structured than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is more delicate and sports abundant florality and herbal spices. Its subtleties are usually passed over for the more well known Merlot, as a blending partner in Californian wines.
The 2014 Iscoceles invokes all the floral expression it can from the incorporated Cabernet Franc. It smells like red licorice, lavender, damson plums, and smoke. It boasts some serious alcohol (16%) from the fact that it is grown in the much hotter climate of Paso Robles.
Justin strictly keeps to dry-farming his land. This means that only the natural rainfall waters his vines. This is radically different than most of California, which regularly uses irrigation to mitigate factors like the recent drought. Dry farming conserves water, but also forces the vine to develop a more intricate and deep root-structure. This means that It can pull more interesting flavours out of the soil.
The evening finished with Mark Neal, of Napa’s Neal Family Vineyards. Mark’s father, Jack, had spent his career making wine in the Napa Valley operating a company that oversaw the production of wine for contracted producers. Mark eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, after establishing a successful land development company.
Mark’s career has been devoted to continue managing these famous appellations for premium Napa wineries, but he has also opened his own winery. The winery produces a range of varietals, but there is a strong emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon in single vineyard production from Neal Family Vineyards.
The 2012 was sourced from vineyards growing small berry clones of Cabernet in St. Helena, Rutherford, and Howell Mountain. It showed off a lot of red and black fruit and, with integration of new and used oak, subtle wood spice. Yes, it is Napa, but the wine was still youthful and fresh with lots of acidity. It has a lot of body, but it’s not massive. There is subtlety and balance, here.
The 2007 One Bridge lane is specifically sourced from a single clone (‘clone 6’) of Cab on Mt. Veeder. According to the description on their website, this vineyard’s wines tend to intensify after a certain period in bottle. This wine does tend to come on more full-throttle than the 2012, but that could also have to do with the vintage and the difference in the quality of fruit that would go into a blend instead a single vineyard wine. It held up to more aggressive regiment of two years in all new French oak and still carries it very well. There is a lot of vanilla, blackberry, coca dust, tilled earth, and florality to the nose.
These two wines demonstrate an important strength of Neal Family wines. The plots he utilizes are meticulously managed all the way down to the specific clone of Cabernet Sauvignon planted. Building on his familiarity with Napa and his experience in land development, his winery now grows and sources from famous sites across Napa, like Mount Veeder, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak.
Not only are Mark Neal’s wines great, but he makes it look effortless. The quality of the wine has a lot to do with details such as organic farming, which he believes are mandatory to creating an interesting wine. He proudly mentions that he and his company are the largest certified organic grower in northern California – a testament to a quality driven approach.
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?