Most of the wine writing out there is...well, nice. Sometimes too nice. You hardly ever see the kind of caustic, flaming prose typically used by movie reviewers applied to wine reviews. It's probably analogous to the difference between spectator behavior at football games vs. country club sports such as tennis and golf.
Wine writing can especially descend into boosterism when it comes to writing about small fledgling producers or up-and-coming wine producing regions that face steep obstacles to gaining critical acceptance and market share. I try to maintain a critical eye, and palate, when it comes to evaluating local wines, but I find myself nonetheless pulling for Connecticut's wine industry, which is better than ever but still has a way to go.
I was thrilled recently to hear that Connecticut was about to trumpet its up-and-coming wines with the first ever Connecticut Wine Festival
. But I'm afraid I just can't be a cheerleader for the event I attended yesterday. I know a first-time event of this kind can have a few rough spots, but I was extremely disappointed in the way it was run and in the people responsible for some of the bone-headed decisions I witnessed. And, I would not recommend it to any locals in the future.
First, the festival offered tickets in advance on its website for $5 less than the price at the door. I tried to purchase tickets online for two days prior to the event, and could not get the right page to open. When I arrived at the door, I thought they might honor the online price when I explained the issue, since they evidently had problems. But, no.
When I explained the issue to the manager he could not have been less friendly or accommodating. "We shut it down because we had to move it to another server." He did not elaborate, but that, I guess was supposed to explain it. Not, "I'm very sorry, but we had technical problems that shut us down." I might have been sympathetic in that event. Just, we decided to change servers -- two days before the event. I suggested the customer-friendly thing to do would be to give us the online price anyway, but no. The people taking tickets "are audited. They can't take a dime less." It was a very bureaucratic experience.
I then took my premium tickets in hand and marched off to the first tent where I discovered that I was entitled to taste wines from exactly five of the 17 wineries there. That was news to me (you can bet the first thing I did when I got home was doublecheck the website, where I saw no mention of a limit. $25 is supposed to allow you taste from all the wineries present). This struck me as the very height of cheapness. I've been to a fair number of wine festivals in my day, and I've never seen the like before. One admission fee usually covers winetastings -- period. Granted admission fees are higher elsewhere, but you can taste more than 100 wines if you like. Only the food or gifts cost extra. Here, we would have to buy extra tickets to taste more than a handful of wines -- what a racket!
Perhaps they were concerned about guests getting inebriated? I doubt it. Again, bigger and better festivals don't seem to have these issues. I chalk it up to greed.
Also, each and every winery was offering a tasting of exactly three wines. This, of course, greatly limited the choice of varietals that one could taste. From what I saw, the wineries for the most part offered their three most popular varietals but not what might be the most interesting varietals to experienced tasters.
In addition, plastic measured pourers that attach to the top of wine bottlers and dispense such small tasting samples were in use everywhere. I hate those things. I find it very hard to get a good sense of the aromas with the samples they provide, especially served in the cheap glasses they hand out at the gate.
As for the wines, I made an effort to try a couple of new wineries that were not around when we did our Connecticut wine tour a year ago. I saw some potential in them, but like most new wineries, their wines just aren't all there yet.
Three wineries I've liked in the past, Stonington, Hopkins and Sharpe Hill, had very good wines as usual. But the winery that really was the most refreshing was Chamard
. I get tired of singing their praises because they are so often praised in the local media. But they really are good at what they do. The chardonnay and the rose were the best among all we tasted. And, our pourer took great care to explain the characteristics of the wines and the growing conditions for each vintage.
When my wife complimented her for the job she did in talking about the wines, she explained that it's essential because so many people come in expecting a California-like product and that is the yardstick they use to judge the wines. She wants people to know that Connecticut and the Northeast makes a different product because of its different climate, one that shows varied but very worthwhile flavors given what winemakers have to work with. If they understand the wine in its correct context, they'll likely enjoy it more.