Connecticut Wines To Pair With Your Holiday Meals
By Leeanne Griffin
Drinking CT: Bring home state-grown wines for the holiday meal
December 10, 2014, 12:24 PM
Everyone else's wine racks will be stocked with California cabernet sauvignon and French champagne this holiday season. Why not serve something different – and closer to home?.
Connecticut is home to more than 30 wineries, which produce unique wines that reflect the growing regions and specific terroirs around the state. Wines made from grapes that thrive in cooler temperatures are common, and varietals from coastal-area wineries often reflect the ocean's impact on the climate. Some Nutmeg State wineries skip grapes altogether, producing farm wines made entirely from apples, pears, berries and other fruits.
Whether you're hosting a cocktail party with fancy hors d'oeuvres or a Christmas roast with all the trimmings, there's a Connecticut-made wine for every occasion.
At Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford the apple-cranberry blend Amazing Grace ($14.99) is a natural pairing, a strong seller for holiday meals. (Brooke LaValley, Courant file photo)
"As the holidays come, it is nice to celebrate more traditionally using local ingredients and local wines," said Michelle Niedermeyer of Lost Acres Vineyard. A top seller at the North Granby winery is its Old Orchard Apple, a slightly dry wine made from apples grown at neighboring Lost Acres Orchard. "Think Granny Smith, not Red Delicious," Niedermeyer said, adding that the apple flavor goes well with all components of a turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Apple with pork "is also a no-brainer," she said.
More apple wines are available at Bishop's Orchards in Guilford, where wines are made from home-grown orchard fruit. Winemaker Keith Bishop says the apple-cranberry blend Amazing Grace ($14.99) is a natural pairing, a strong seller for holiday meals.
"It's semi-sweet but has a bite of tanginess from the cranberry," he said, suggesting it for poultry-based dishes. Similar to Amazing Grace is the winery's Apple Raspberry Blush (also $14.99) described as "delicately pink," with 2 percent residual sugar.
Bishop's "Celebration" wine ($14.99) with a blend of sweet and tart apples, is also semi-sweet and pairs well with pork, poultry and fish, Bishop said. Another apple wine, the Stone House White, is comparable to a dry chardonnay, he said, pairing well with white meat dishes.
If it's bubbly you're after, Bishop's also has a sparkling wine made with fresh raspberries. The Rubus Nightfall ($24.99) earned a gold medal at Vineyard & Winery Management's annual Grand Harvest Awards in 2013.
"I'd use it as a celebratory wine, at the beginning or end of the meal," Bishop said.
Another sparkler comes courtesy of Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, where its mèthode champenoise Gold Label wine, ($34) made from estate-grown chardonnay and pinot noir, is produced in the style of French champagne. This process, by which bubbles are created by secondary fermentation in the bottle, takes three to four years, said winery president Hilary Hopkins Criollo.
"We decided to do it as an experiment to see if we could. It's a labor of love," Criollo said. Described as having "creamy richness with a hint of baked apples," the Gold Label is designed to be enjoyed with dishes like tuna tartare, oysters, smoked salmon blinis with crème fraiche and caviar and even French fries, according to the winery's website.
Seafood-focused meals, like a Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, call for light white wines. Niedermeyer recommends Lost Acres' Clemons Springs ($15.99,) a slightly oaked blend of dry estate grapes. Jones' estate-grown Pinot Gris ($19.95) is recommended with steamed mussels and grilled swordfish.
The sauvignon blanc ($28) from Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington is "wonderful with oysters," said proprietor Merrily Connery. The sauvignon blanc, as well as the stainless steel-aged cabernet rose ($23) and the lightly oaked Gold Arc estate chardonnay ($27) would also all pair well with an oyster stew, she said. (Saltwater Farm closes for the season on Dec. 14, reopening in the spring.)
Cabernet Franc, which fares well in cooler climates, is a popular varietal among Connecticut winemakers and pairs well with hearty meat dishes.
"It's got a little more of an earthy flavor," said Jamie Jones of Jones Winery in Shelton, which makes a Cabernet Franc Vintner Select ($24.99.) "It's more of a red meat [type of wine]…lamb, venison."
And at Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston, the estate Cabernet Franc ($37) has a "nice peppery finish," said owner Cara Sawyer, going well with lamb, ham or "any kind of chocolatey desserts."
Connecticut wineries make plenty of dessert-ready wines, and Linda Auger of Taylor Brooke Winery in Woodstock says hosts should consider going all out with sweets.
"There's no other time of the year when you want to rev up your dessert table and really celebrate. The holidays are it," she said.
A top seller at Lost Acres Vineyard in North Granby is its Old Orchard Apple, a slightly dry wine. (Mark Mirko, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Two unique port-style selections from Taylor Brooke lend well to the close of a heavy meal – the Chocolate Essence ($29.99) and the Raspberry Rendezvous ($24.99.)
"They're just nice to be sipping as you're sitting around, chatting with friends and family," Auger said. "They're heavier; a port kind of warms you up." Each pair well with chocolate desserts or cheesecake, or can be served poured over ice cream with fresh fruit.
At DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield, Dr. Paul DiGrazia says the port-styled Wild Blue wine with blueberries and brandy ($25.99) is popular around the holidays as well. Calling it a "perfect party wine," DiGrazia suggests pairing it with cheesecake, ice cream and blueberry pie – as well as blueberry muffins, waffles and pancakes, in case you're hosting a brunch.
Spice factors into a few Connecticut offerings, like DiGrazia's Autumn Spice and Harvest Spice bottlings ($16.99.) Each of these wines are blended with sugar pumpkin, honey, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Cassidy Hill Vineyard's Coventry Spice ($17.95) is a blend of red grapes, infused with spices and fruit flavors. "The spices give it a more 'holiday' flavor and aroma," said winery owner Bob Chipkin.
Lost Acres' Enders Reserve, ($21.99 for a 375ml bottle) a late harvest Vidal wine with apricot and honey flavors, is "just a nice way to finish up a big rich holiday meal," Niedermeyer said. And Hopkins' estate-bottled ice wine ($41) is another distinctive offering, made from grapes that have frozen on the vine at a specific temperature.
Beyond meal-friendly pairings, local wines also make fine presents for hosts, Auger said, and the introduction of a locally made bottle to a holiday table is great word of mouth for the wineries.
Contact Connecticut wineries for shipping options and retail locations. A selection of local wines is available at Stew Leonard's wine stores in Danbury, Newington and Norwalk (www.stewswines.com). Bishop's Orchards in Guilford also carries several Connecticut wines in its market (www.bishopsorchards.com).