Sunday, October 15, 2006

Priam Vineyards

If asked for a rule of thumb guide to picking a good Connecticut wine, I'd say stick with those who have the experience. In general, the best of the bunch during our wine tour this summer and fall came from wineries that have been around for 15 or more years.

But every generalization is vulnerable to exception, and on the Connecticut wine scene that notable exception could be Priam Vineyards in Colchester. Priam, the name is borrowed from the king of Troy in Greek mythology, is not yet ready to rule. But I found more character here than I expected from this three-year-old winery and no total clunkers, unlike other young Connecticut wineries.

The Facilities
Simplicity is the force at play at this eastern Connecticut stop on the wine trail. Unlike some other wineries, Priam does not seem to be striving for elegance nor is it giving in to the rustic farm look.

Instead, Priam took a simple gray barn-like structure and completed it with a simple, clean modern interior featuring light-colored wood decorated overhead with electric grape lights.

But, if the decor is underwhelming, the functionality and efficiency are not. The tasting room features a long tasting bar, with bar stools, that accommodates quite a few comfortably. And, when it's really busy, as it was the day we visited, there's another bar they can open up around the bend in the L-shaped room.

What this says to me is that they have made the convenience of tasters the focal point of their interior design. That, after all, is really what it's all about, not the work of local artists -- however enjoyable they may be. I give the facilities a 5 out of 5 score.

The Staff
We visited Priam on a busy Saturday, always a good test of the staff's commitment to facilitating an enjoyable winetasting experience. The crew with whom we interacted were at all times friendly and accommodating.

It took a bit of coaxing to get a more informative element as well. But the experience was largely a positive one. Questions for the most part were answered, if without much enthusiasm. I give the staff a 4 out of 5 score.

The Wines
Winetasting at Priam will cost you $6 or $8, depending on which style of glass you want to purchase. Yes, yet another Connecticut winery won't let you taste unless you pay for the glasses -- it's up to you whether you take the glasses home. I've said before how much I hate this practice, and $8 for a tasting is starting to get in the realm of exhorbitant.

With a modest 40 acres of vineyards, some Priam wines were no longer (not yet in some cases) available. But six wines were available for tasting, including one red.

Cayuga $16.50. The style of this hybrid wine may not be everyone's favorite, but they managed to coax some genuinely attractive flavors from the wine. I found grapefruit, pear and banana aromas in a nearly dry presentation.

Blackledge White $15.50. This blend of cayuga and riesling had a sweet pineapple aroma and spicy characteristics. I did not find it as crisp as billed, but a very pleasant wine.

Riesling $18.50. I very much enjoyed this Alsatian-style riesling, which had a floral, citrusy nose and just a hint of sweetness.

Salmon River White $15.50. This a chardonnay blend that is billed as off dry. It shows off some nice spiced apple and vanilla aromas, but it's not a style of chardonnay I enjoy much.

Jeremy River White $15.50. Again a blend of riesling and cayuga, but this time quite sweet due to cold fermentation. There was just a hint of orange peel on the nose, but not balanced enough for me.

Jeremy River Red $16.50. Billed as a Bordeaux blend of cabernet franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, this wine was a pleasant surprise. The grapes are all estate grown, we were told, which shocked me because it actually has a pleasant nose of black cherries and spicy oak. No one will be bowled over by the wine because it lacks body, but the aromas and flavors are true. I'm guessing there's not much cabernet sauvignon in it, since this tough-skinned grape requires too much hot, sunny weather to do well here. Still, Jeremy River is not a bad light-style cab and went fairly well with the 50-cent pieces of chocolate they sell.

Overall, the wines here are pretty well made. I would have liked to try their other wines, such as the late-harvest riesling and gewurztraminer, but those we had were enjoyable. I noticed little of the green, underripe flavors that come with some Connecticut wines. Priam holds lots of promise for what may be possible as the vines mature and the winemaker gets additional experience working with this terroir. I give the wines a 7 out of 10 score.

Quality-wise, Priam has gotten a good start out of the gate, and already is making some very good wines. As for ambience, if you're looking for fashion or style to enhance your experience, you're probably better off visiting one of several other Connecticut wineries. But if it's all about the wines, you'll like Priam just fine. Their overall score is 16 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 Anonymous said...

Here at Cooking In Season we love to create food. We love to use the freshest ingredients we can find, from pumpkin puree, acorn squash, roasted pumpkin seeds and mushrooms in the fall to Michigan blueberries bursting with flavor in July and August, we create our recipes around what is in harvest right now.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great blog - thanks for the ride!!

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Find lots of fresh new recipes at Cooking In Season. Chef Sean O'Rourke uses the freshest ingredients from what is in season right now. Check it out for some great recipes.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cooking In Season specializes in recipes and cooking ideas using the best of what is in season right now. Chef Sean O'Rourke shares his love of creating food, take a look.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Jon Pinebrook said...

Yes! This is the best wine in CT in our opinion. It is even better than allot of wines produced in CA.
The acidity/ph is key. I am in love with the Salmon River Red PV and the Salmon River Red. I dont believe there is a Jeremy River Red as mentioned but there is a Jeremy River White.Well, goota go finish my bottle of delicious red!

3:31 PM  
Anonymous winelover said...

I appreciate you posting your honest opinion about this winery on your website, because it gives me an opportunity to do the same. I felt like this winery was an embarrassment to the overall delightful experience that is the Connecticut Wine Trail. Firstly, the wine attendants had an air of arrogance, with overwhelming attitudes of superiority; however, lacking in the basic intelligence needed to answer simple questions about the wines. While they charge $8.50 to taste and get a glass, they only offer 4 wines, and then tasters must pay another $8 to taste the other four. I understand the proprietors need to cover the cost of pouring tastes, but these charges should be put toward the purchase of wine, not to overcharge the patrons. Overall, I was insulted, underwhelmed by mediocre wines, and left after purchasing only one bottle. To visit and not buy would go against my practice of supporting small businesses, and would have been as crass and condescending as the employees themselves. This was the only Connecticut winery I left with a bad taste in my mouth.

3:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home