Saturday, September 23, 2006

DiGrazia Vineyards

If Chamard Vineyard is consistently rated tops in Connecticut in reader polls and in the eyes of some critics, DiGrazia Vineyards is one of two or three state vineyards that seems to compete for the number 2 slot. A number of wine writers have reviewed them very favorably, including The Wall Street Journal.

But, unlike Chamard, I had never been to DiGrazia before our recent visit. I was especially curious to try these wines. The vineyard has made its reputation chiefly on its high-quality sweet wine, not exactly my preference stylistically, except when it comes to certain dessert wines. DiGrazia is supposed to do some good ones. I was optimistic also because DiGrazia is one of the older wineries in the state -- they planted their first vines in 1978 and opened for business in 1984 -- and my experience has been that the wineries that make the best wine in Connecticut have been around the longest.

The Facilities
DiGrazia is located in the southwest part of Connecticut, not terribly far from the New York line. When you first pull into the winery, the area looks a little more residential then you might expect. But the compact property is lovely, with a beautiful patio area for sitting outside.

Inside you'll find a long tasting bar, but with the gift store and tasting area really occupying the same space, you're likely to find it a little crowded, especially on weekends. The proximity to New York and DiGrazia's good reputation makes the winery popular with out-of-staters as well as locals.

One advantage of the compact size is that setting out on a tour with the winemaker requires a walk of only about 12 feet. There's no doubt it's compact, but it also is a true, unpretentious winemaking atmosphere. I suspect most people would not mind the close quarters in this case, so I give the facilities a 4 out of 5 score.

The Staff
While tasting at the bar, we interacted with two different pourers, one a young, pleasant woman who was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the other a white-haired man who turned out to be owner Paul Digrazia.

Digrazia is a good example of why it's so much fun to try wines at the wineries. A medical doctor, DiGrazia is a true character. He doesn't exactly bubble with enthusiasm, but he does churn with passion. It's easy to see he loves to talk about the story behind the grapes in the vineyard in any given year, and about the antioxidants in wine that help make it one of the most beneficial foods you can consume for your cardiovascular health.

But, as a doctor who's been around for a while, he can be impatient with less than interesting questions or those who don't pick up on his subtle hints or directions. But I never meant to imply that good service is about getting a bubbly Chamber of Commerce speech. It's about being exposed to true passion for wines. You get it in spades when Dr. DiGrazia holds court about his wines. He's the real deal. And, his accessibility earns the staff here a 5 out 5 score.

The Wines
DiGrazia offers one of the largest selection of wines of any winery in the state -- 14, according to the wine list. A large number are either dessert wines or blush wines. $5 will allow you to taste six wines of you choosing.

Most of the wines here use hybrid grapes, and many of the dessert wines use fruit other than grapes. While not normally my cup of tea, these wines have such a good reputation that I was not at all worried. But I made sure that I selected whatever dry wines were offered (to fairly compare vs other Connecticut wineries), and I skipped all three sweet blush wines.

Winners Cup $15.99: This dry white made from vidal blanc was tart, rather unpleasant. Lacking any real ripeness.

Wind Ridge $15.99: This wine is billed as a light, semi-dry seyval blanc. It was a little sweet, but I thought the wine had nice apple aromas and balance.

Meadowbrook $15.99: Called a medium dry vidal blanc, but the wine is made with late harvest grapes and it shows. It's a pleasant wine that is richer in style than Wind Ridge, but definitely sweet.

Fieldstone Reserve $15.99: The only red wine on the menu that is not a dessert wine, it's billed as a dry wine. But don't let that fool you, it's sweet, almost prune-like. Not anything I'd find enjoyable with dinner (sorry didn't get the grape).

Yankee Frost $24.99: Now we're in dessert wine territory. A late harvest vidal blanc, it's supposed to be complex. Not bad, but not great -- a bit like white Welch's.

Blacksmith Port $24.99: Made principally with Marachel Foche, this ruby port-style wine is very, very good. It's very concentrated and enjoyable. I had it once before, and it was even better than I remembered.

DiGrazia definitely makes some nice wines, particularly if you like sweeter wines. But I would have to say that I was just a little disappointed in the wines that were billed as dry or medium dry. It's the limitation of hybrid grapes, and the lack of as dry, hot weather in recent years, I would assume. But they do know how to make good dessert wines. I give the wines a 7 out of 10 score.

Overall, a trip to DiGrazia is fun, and you're guaranteed to learn a few things. If slightly cramped, the winery has great atmosphere and some good wines. It is a shame that they are not able to work with some quality vinifera. I rate the winery overall 16 points out of 20.

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.


Blogger Austenesque said...

Hmm, a Connecticut "port?" I'm definitely intrigued. Perfect post-raking pick-me-up!

5:18 PM  

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