Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stonington Vineyard

Hitting the Connecticut Wine Trail again recently took us to one of the state's oldest wineries, Stonington Vineyards, in the southeast corner of the state. I was really looking forward to this stop, since I've had their chardonnay a number of times. In fact, Stonington was one of two Connecticut chardonnays that we used to sell at the wine store where I worked. We always liked their chard, but it's been six or seven years since I've tasted it. Would they still measure up?

When it comes to chards, a definite, yes. As for the rest, read on...

The Facilities
A long driveway takes you out to the red barn-like winery that is not among the most stylish in the state. But the grounds, with their well-tended gardens and gazebo that looks out over the vineyards, definitely feature some nice spots on which to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors.

Inside, the winery has a nice little gift shop and a no-frills art gallery that doubles as a setting for small functions or events. The tasting room itself is a small area wedged between a bar and the gift shop, that definitely left us wishing for a little more elbow room as we competed for space with a crew of six female college buddies on a reunion excursion. Overall, it's a simple, pleasant environment that's adequate but not inspiring. I would give the facilities 3 out of 5 points.

The Staff
Our pourer had the disadvantage of being a bit on the shy side, but she clearly knew her stuff as I flung question after question her way, never once feeling like I got an incomplete or misleading answer. She definitely was helpful and immersed in the world of wine, but I couldn't help but feel she might not kindle a fire in some people. So, I give the staff a largely positive score of 4 out 5 points.

The Wines
The wines at Stonington most definitely benefit from the moderating influences of Long Island Sound. Being near the ocean can mean the difference between a cold winter and a bitter winter that destroys half your vines. It also can help set the stage for marvelous cool weather grapes, like reisling or chardonnay.

At Stonington, just like some of the other Connecticut winemakers I've met, they freely admit not having the environment needed to make good red wines. Consequently, the line-up is almost entirely white wines -- though they do make a cabernet franc. Similar to other Connecticut wineries dabbling in red, they owe any success they enjoy to grapes purchased from other states. The pleasure of tasting these wines here will set you back $5 a person.

2005 Sheer Chardonnay $15.99. Sheer in this case means no oak aging, so it's sheer fruit you taste. The result is a pleasant, if unsensational, wine with apples, pears and even minerals on the nose and a bright, acidic finish.

2003 Stonington Chardonnay $16.99. This is the chard I'm used to from Stonington. It has a full nose of vanilla, butterscotch and spiced apples. It has a creamy mouthfeel, but enough crispness to finish clean. The 2003 is the product of a great vintage, unlike 2005. A very good wine.

2003 Vidal Blanc $11.99. Fermented in steel, but aged in oak, this wine has interesting lemony flavors. This hybrid does not make one of my favorite wines, but Stonington does it better than many others.

Seaport White $8.99. This blend of vidal, cayuga and chardonnay is a little sweeter, lighter wine than the others. It might appeal to those looking for a simple, quaffable summer white.

2005 Triad Rose $14.99. An off dry rose that starts with a pleasant strawberry nose but finishes a little green. I can't recommend it.

2004 Cabernet Franc $19.99. Thank goodness for purchased grapes because this is a nice cabernet franc with lovely aromas of cassis and blackberries. It has some short-term aging potential as well.

The experience of the family shows at Stonington, as the whites show nice fruit and balance overall. The cabernet franc also is well made, even if the estate vines don't play a significant role. I give the wines an 8 out of 10 score.

Stonington Vineyards is worth a visit, if for nothing else than to taste one of the better chardonnays in the state. And, you may want to try it while it's still in the hands of the family that's owned it for most of the last two decades -- as it's one of several Connecticut wineries currently for sale. While they have a lovely property, Stonington does not have one of the more impressive tasting room facilities, but it's simplicity is not a real drawback, either. I give the winery an overall score of 15 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.


Anonymous Marc said...

A lot of vineyards in the Southeastern New England appelation who don't grow red wine grapes say that you can't get good red wine from local vines. They couldn't be more wrong. Southeastrn New England, and more specifically Coastal Southeastern New England has some of the best Cabernet Franc in the Country, and Nick gets his Cabernet Franc grapes from Running Brook in Dartmouth, MA. Also Greenvale Vineyards, Newport Vineyards and Sakonnet Vineyards all in Rhode ISland. There have also been great vintages in select years of Pinot and I just tasted yesterday a great Petit Verdot from the area. So I just want to dispell the idea that reds do not do well in this area, it just takes the right red grwon right.

12:03 PM  

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