Thursday, August 03, 2006

McLaughlin Vineyards

Distracted for a short time by a vacation trip north, we resumed our journey on the Connecticut Wine Trail earlier this week. And, good news, we finally found some Connecticut red wine worth writing about.

We had a great time visiting the McLaughlin Vineyard in Sandy Hook, a family-owned winery located on a 160-acre farm. One rather quaint feature is that visiting McLaughlin requires driving down a long gravel driveway that winds first through some woods and then through vineyards. You can see vineyards from other wineries, but none take you by so many rows of vines as McLaughlin -- a definite mood enhancer.

The Facilities
One of the oldest in the state, the winery is housed in a simple gray building with a lovely patio that overlooks acres of vineyards and a wide swath of green lawn. It's an ideal location to hold an "event" or just to sit while enjoying a bottle of wine.

Inside, the winery hosts a nice country store that features not only wines and wine-relate souvenirs but farm products, such as maple syrup, berries and farm-fresh eggs. In an adjacent room is a small winetasting bar, where visitors gather to sample five different wines while the pourer explains the unique traits of each.

The two rooms in the tasting area create a nice ambience with a mixture of wine-related pictures, barrels, stemware and other paraphernalia. The facility strikes a nice balance overall, with its country store approach in front and its more pure wine experience in the back. I think anyone would enjoy the experience of tasting wines in this environment, so I give the facilities a 4 out of 5 score.

The Staff
Our pourer was cordial and knowledgable, which is half the battle when you visit a winery and want to have a good time. He was able to answer virtually every question I asked, except those regarding older vintages at McLaughlin. Hard to fault him too much for this. He also was more erudite than enthusiastic, which, again, is a very minor complaint. I give the staff a 4 out of 5 score.

The Wines
Winetasting at McLaughlin costs $5, but as I indicated at the beginning, I got a nice surprise for my money. I knew almost nothing about this winery going in, which means that I got to experience an exciting element of discovery in addition to the pleasure of the wine itself. Finally, some Connecticut red worthy of a nice filet mignon or a Delmonico.

Vista Muse 2002: This chardonnay (from Long Island) and seyval blanc (estate) blend has terrific peach and melon aromas up front with a tart, lemony finish. A very respectable summer quaff.
Merlot 2002: This merlot (Long Island) and cabernet franc (estate) blend has a nice jammy nose with an herbaceous finish. It's more light-bodied than the nose first indicates, but not a bad effort.
Vista Reposa 2000: I realy liked this wine. It has complexity. Made mostly with estate-grown cabernet franc, this interesting red showed some earthy, almost barnyard aromas that stopped me in my tracks. My first taste of real Connecticut terrior? I also got blueberry notes as well. This $14 wine is definitely worth the price, even if the body is medium at best. I'm guessing the 2000 vintage was kinder to Connecticut wines than the more recent vintages I've been tasting at other wineries.
Vista Reposa 2001: Same wine but a different vintage with less cab franc and more marachel fauche. The difference is apparent right away -- no barnyard. But it still shows some nice black fruit. Also a very enjoyable red at $15, and a fine companion for many foods.
Blue Coyote: This is a semi-sweet white made entirely from the Aurora grape, with green apple aromas and a surprisngly tart finish. It wasn't my cup of tea, but it was stylistically interesting.

McLaighlin does not offer as many wines to taste as some Connecticut wineries, but what they do pour is interesting and well made. I give the wines an 8 out of 10 score.

Overall, I think most consumers would enjoy a trip to McLaughlin for both the wine and the locale. Their wines show just what can be done on Connecticut soil. Total score: 16 out of 20 points.

NOTE: While most reviews tend to look only at the wines, I believe visiting wineries is as much about an "experience" as it is about the quality of wines. Wineries probably get more tourists than wine geeks for visitors, and I think they're looking for a combination of comfortable, wine-focused facilities, knowledgable and passionate staff, and enjoyable wines. So, I'm assigning scores to each winery on a 20-point scale. 5 potential points for enjoyable, mood-enhancing ambience; 5 for knowledgable, enthusiastic staff; and 10 for quality wines. The scores are purely a result of my personal judgment; I have no relationship to any of the wineries.


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1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I ask when you were there? My experience at this vineyard was quite the opposite. In fact, I have never been treated so poorly *anywhere* , but particularly *not* at any Connecticut winery as I was here. The manager (a beady eyed, rude, smarmy little man) is quite possibly the most offensive human being I have ever encountered. The wines, while drinkable--the Vista Muse was fairly decent-- are certainly not on par with some of the other CT wines that I've tasted.

The ambiance here leaves much to be desired and the management needs a serious overhaul. (To be frank, they ought to hire someone who is capable of treating their customers in a friendly manner, rather than treating them like trash).

In short, I would ***NEVER*** recommend this winery to anyone--not even to someone that I felt disdain towards. There are FAR better choices along Connecticut's newly expanded Wine Trail; namely Jones (Shelton) , Hopkins, DiGrazia, Rosedale, Stonington and Jonathon Edwards, to name a few.

7:51 PM  

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