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Home » FOOD AND WINE in CT » CONNECTICUT (all topics) » A Novice on the Connecticut Wine Trail
Hopkins Vineyard
A Novice on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Part 1 - Where To Start?

By Lorien Crow | December 03, 2010

Self-proclaimed wine novice Lorien Crow, ventures onto the Connecticut Wine Trail and discovers it’s not as daunting as she had feared.

A Bottle of Hopkins Wine

Confession: I know next to nothing about wine except that I like to drink it.

When a bottle of wine lists flavors like oak, cherry, vanilla, and fig, it sounds great, but when pressed to detect these nuanced flavors within a sip, I typically give up after about five seconds.

I don’t know why people swirl and sniff, or do that weird thing where they suck air through their teeth. I don’t know why older wines taste better.

So for years, I’ve been intimidated to try wine tasting, afraid that without prior knowledge, I’d feel out of place or embarrassed.

As it turns out, today’s vineyards are accustomed to novices like myself who visit for recreational purposes and aren’t concerned with finding elusive notes of celery or molasses.

Many of the vineyards on the trail are incorporating friendlier flavors like strawberry and raspberry into their wines, and offering sweeter selections in the forms of ice and dessert wines.

This is not to say that robust reds and “oaky” chardonnays are a thing of the past, only that local vineyards are increasing options for tasters that may have less sophisticated, less experienced, palates.

Having now spent multiple happy weekends sipping with friends at some of the most beautiful spots in the state, I can safely say that there is nothing to fear.

Idyllic settings, friendly faces and tasty treats abound on the Connecticut Wine Trail, and there truly is something for everyone.

The View from Hopkins Vineyard

Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston

25 Hopkins Road, New Preston, CT 06777

(860) 868-7954

Hopkins Vineyard Website

Hopkins Vineyards boasts perhaps the most picturesque setting of all the wineries.   It sits atop a hill overlooking Lake Waramuag, a summer haven for city folk and local families alike. The lush fields and farms of Litchfield County, as well as a bevy of cyclists and boaters circling the lake are all visible from an overlook just a few steps from the tasting room.

For $8.50, we sampled eight wines ranging from dry to sweet, including a slightly chilled red (Sachem’s Picnic) that tasted like sangria and a sweet dessert wine (Night Owl).   Many of their wines have won state and national awards, including the 2008 Estate Bottled Westwind, a semi-sweet white.

On a warm day, there’s nothing quite like the sweet-frosty ice wine, harvested from frozen grapes. Seasonal delights include peach wine in summer and apple cider in fall.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen

599 Old Middle Street, Goshen, CT 06756

(860) 201-4654

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Website

Sunset Vineyards

Sunset Meadow Vineyards’ tasting room is homey and cozy, set in a restored barn in the bucolic countryside of northwestern Connecticut. Nine wines are on offer, and tastings cost a very reasonable $5.50.

Inside, the woodstove and sunlit dining room beckon you to relax with a glass of Twisted Red, a toasty blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger & Chamborcin. The rocking chairs on the spacious wooden front porch are a great place to chat with friends over a lively glass of the Blustery Blend or Cayuga White.   The rear patio offers a stunning view of the gently sloping vineyards: the perfect spot to enjoy the sweet Sunset Blush.

Unique offerings include the Merlita, a slushy for grown-ups made with red wine, and a superb dark chocolate truffle available for an extra fifty cents with your tasting.   Soon, the vineyard will offer its first vintage of ice wine, a limited production entitled “Midnight Ice.”

Haight-Brown Vineyards, Litchfield

29 Chestnut Hill Road, Litchfield, CT 06759

(860) 567-4045

Haight-Brown Vineyards Website

Haight-Brown's Shop

Haight-Brown is Connecticut’s oldest winery, having opened in 1975.   Outside, the pastoral farm setting and rolling hills evoke the agricultural history of the area, while modern art sculptures speak to the posh weekend crowds that vie for a spot at the custom-built tasting bar.

The vineyard offers several tasting options: you may a basic tasting (choice of 7 wines for $8.50), a tasting with 3 chocolates ($11), a tasting with 3 cheeses ($13), or a full tasting with both ($15). We opted for the full tasting and didn’t regret it.   The highlight for us was the spicy, full-bodied Big Red paired with a square of Lake Champlain’s Spicy Aztec chocolate bar: the pairing ignited fireworks on the tongue.   The seasonal Honey-Nut Apple wine was also a favorite.

The staff here is friendly, knowledgeable, and patient when novices ask questions. For example, we wanted to know why some wines are “steel” fermented and some are “oak” fermented. The answer: steel barrels enhance citrusy flavors and result in a “crisper” wine; oak barrels are woody and make for an “earthier” wine.

Opportunities to linger abound: peruse artisan goodies and gourmet delights in the gift shop, and drool over the display case of the tiny gourmet cheese shop called “The Cheese Nook.” Or, just hang out by the fireplace.

Should you desire to continue your learning experience, specialty tastings and monthly lectures at the vineyard offer further wine education: for example, “Wines of the World,” features wines from a different region at each meeting (Italy, Germany, Spain, etc.).

Land of Nod Vineyard, East Canaan

99 Lower Road, East Canaan, CT 06024

(860) 824-5225

Land of Nod Vineyard Website

Land of Nod Vineyard

A rustic country road that traverses the first low foothills of the Berkshires, a historic landmark, and a scenic sheep farm surround the Land of Nod Vineyard. On our visit, a sunny garden patio and a sleepy orange cat welcomed us and made us want to stay all afternoon, sipping sweet wine and listening to the faint jingle of bells as the sheep trotted around.

The staff at Land of Nod was warm and welcoming, and they did not laugh at us when we asked how they got grapes to taste like raspberries in their line of raspberry wines (they actually make the wine from raspberries. Who knew?). They were happy to recommend food pairings and direct us to nearby attractions. The tasting was casual and comfortable, and we truly felt cared for, like valued customers, despite being first-time visitors.

That same care and concern translates into their hand-crafted wines. Tasting selections included a scrumptious rose and pinot-noir, as well as sweet and unusual offerings like Raspberry, Blueberry-Raspberry Medley, and Chocolate-Raspberry Dessert Wine, which sells out fast - we didn’t have to be coerced into taking two bottles home.

Land of Nod is laid back and unpretentious, but its wines rival those of the other vineyards on the Connecticut Wine Trail. However, it’s the setting and staff that will make your visit a memorable one.

Lorien continues her journey on the Connecticut Wine Trail next week.

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