Saltwater Farm Vineyard’s Unoaked Chardonnay Hits Its Sweet Spot

Saltwater Farm Vineyard

I recently visited Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, Connecticut with the Eastern Connecticut Chapter of the American Wine Society. It’s a cool old WWII private airport right outside of the elegant coastal village of Stonington Borough. You can still fly a private plane right to the vineyard—just call ahead to make arrangements.

Our tasting room attendant, Gregory Post, was an amazing host. Be sure to ask for him when you book your tasting—he’s one of the best parts of the experience! Saltwater Farm offers tastings until mid-December from Wednesday through Sunday, so start your holiday celebrations with a fun weekend afternoon at the vineyard and follow it up with a picturesque stroll and dinner in the village. You’ll be happy you did!

The atmosphere at SFV was delightful: rustic-industrial in a bucolic shoreline setting. What’s better than that on a crisp fall day?  The group of people who attended the event with us are wine lovers and epicureans, so there was a banquet of gourmet treats to share along with the chardonnay, rosé, and cabernet franc wines provided in the Signature Tasting ($10 for four wines and an additional $3 for a commemorative Saltwater Farm Vineyard glass). Saltwater Farm also produces a merlot, a reserve cabernet franc/merlot blend, and a young red blend, Runway Red, all offered in the Reserve ‘Red’ Tasting. We didn’t taste those wines on this trip, but my husband and his posse bought and shared several bottles of the Runway Red. At $28 a bottle, it’s not a super inexpensive option, but is right in line with many other Connecticut vineyards’ wine pricing. Saltwater Farm’s wines range from $25 to $37 a bottle, with the rosé and chardonnay wines being the least expensive and the cabernet franc/merlot blend and the merlot being the most expensive, respectively.

On that particular bright fall day, Saltwater Farm Vineyard provided an onsite oyster bar and many of the event attendees loaded up on ice-cold, plump, fresh, local oysters to pair with the chardonnay and rosé wines provided. SVF also had live entertainment at 3 pm (as they do on most Sundays), and the vocalist had some of the women swooning (and not from too much wine, I don’t think). We had a large group, with almost 30 attendees. It really was a great day for all, with old and new friends and even strangers sharing in the hospitality of Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Gregory, and our AWS group.

Spaz on Wine, Uncorked Goes Live!

I did my first-ever Spaz on Wine, Uncorked live podcast broadcast from SVF. Note to self: Never, ever do a show after doing a wine tasting! My mistake regarding the rapid swigging, not Saltwater Farm. My husband and co-chair of AWS, Gary, believes hosting entails role modeling having a seriously great time for oneself. So, I was alone on an island actually doing the work of hosting the event. And, in order to keep up with the wine tasting offerings, each time I returned to the table after passing around shared culinary delights, I had to do a hefty shot of the previously poured wine in order to make my glass available for the next offering. And then—brilliant plan of action—I did a live recording immediately following! As I flubbed my intro and forgot I couldn’t edit (all while live on air)—my only consolation was that my listener-base is small and, therefore, so too should be my humiliation. Ahhh…why, why, why does life never work that way?  As I re-entered the huge tasting hall a massive cheer erupted. They had all been listening LIVE inside! Eeeeek! Fortunately, Gregory, who could seriously work in television, radio, or on Wall Street, provided a seamlessly polished performance (unlike mine) and carried the episode.

Here’s the thing—I am not a natural podcaster. I am insecure and self-conscious. I try all types of different approaches and am never as smooth or charismatic or charming as I imagine that I will be. But I keep plugging along, knowing that someday I’ll hit the sweet spot, and become exactly what I am supposed to be. I owe thanks for this in large part to Nate Caron, host of A Veracious Self on Green Ink Radio, who has been patiently working with me to help me find my authentic voice.

SVF Estate Chardonnay Hits Its Sweet Spot

Hang on, that line of thought actually does loop back to the unoaked chardonnay at Saltwater Farms: I believe that the SVF Estate Chardonnay has definitely hit its sweet spot (and with no help from Nate!). At $25 a bottle, it’s not your everyday bargain brand, but it’s also not cost prohibitive, either. Saltwater Farm Vineyard describes it as, “Clean, firm, and vibrant with notes of citrus and Granny Smith apple. Untethered from oak, it is the essence of Stonington’s terroir: minerals, wet rocks and seashells.” I don’t know about you, but I suck at sussing out the flavors of terroir. Wet rocks? Seashells? I tasted nary a shell or a wet rock, but I did love the lingering, dry, minerally balance. Admittedly, I also didn’t actually miss that I didn’t notice any eau de conch on my palate. 

The 2017 Salt Water Farm Estate Chardonnay was the belle of the ball at our Signature Tasting. And my father, renowned wine connoisseur and author, Gene Spaziani, agreed. When I asked him to share his tasting notes, he said it was “Crisp and sharp, fruity, and nicely balanced with a lingering finish.” Pour me another, baby!

Cin cin!*

*Cin Cin (pronounced chin chin) means cheers in Italian. 
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Pinot Grigio, But I Love Thee!

The Pinot Grigio Prejudice

Americans love wine. We drink so much of it that we actually consume more wine than any other nation in the world! It’s the Millennials who are largely responsible for pushing our charts of wine consumption skyward. It has been speculated that the media is a big influence on their choice of beverage du jour, through movies and television shows rife with young, hip, main characters imbibing wine in ever-increasing amounts (Thach, 2015).

Of all the wine drank on our star-spangled shores, Pinot Grigio is the third most popular wine in the US, right after first-place Chardonnay and second-place Cabernet Sauvignon (Thach, 2015). Despite Pinot Grigio’s great popularity, it has largely been rebuffed by the wine community as the Muzak of the wine world. The great wine glass maker Riedel doesn’t even make a Pinot Grigio glass! They make glasses for Daiginjo, Kalterer See Auslese, and Rheingau, but nothing, nada, zip, for Pinot Grigio. Why not, you ask? So glad you asked!

The Pinot Grigio Prejudice abounds mostly because some wine aficionados believe Pinot Grigio wines to be too one-dimensional to warrant the admiration bestowed upon other white varietals. But this unfair judgment is mostly due to the great numbers of mass-marketed, low-budget Pinot Grigio wines produced (Thach, 2015), and not the better quality, refreshingly high acid, bright, minerally, quaffable wines also produced, but at a slightly elevated price point (VinePair).

Pinot Grigio Done Right is Like a Hemingway Novel

Another factor in Pinot Grigio’s bad rap is, in part, due to it being promoted as a “training wheels wine” (Frazier, n.d.a.), second only to white zinfandel. Oh contraire! Pinot Grigio done right is like a Hemingway novel: sharp, dry, and with no flowery artifice to mask its salinity. A good Pinot Grigio brims with fresh notes of lemon, lime, apples, and honeysuckle. Pinot Grigio pairs beautifully with fish and shellfish, white pastas, appetizers, and summer salads. It also goes great with mild cheeses (although I have paired it with an extra-sharp Vermont aged white cheddar and it held its own!).

What’s in a Name?

Are Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio the same wine? Yes and no. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape, just grown in different regions of the world and produced in different styles. The grape actually originated in Burgundy, France (hence the Pinot Gris appellation). The name Pinot Gris was derived from the French word pinot for the grape structure, which resembles a pine cone; and gris, because the grape, a cousin of Pinot Noir, is actually gray in color rather than the green of other white varietals (Schmitt, 2017). Pinot Gris style wines pair well with heartier fare such as hard cheeses, squashes and yams, cheese casseroles, and chicken and pork dishes. Pinot Gris is sort of like Pinot Grigio’s older, college-aged sister; more sophisticated, with greater depth and character, but with a little less sassiness, in my book, at least. And I must confess, I am a sass woman!

In the 1300s, the Pinot Gris grape migrated to Switzerland and eventually to northeastern Italy (Lombardy, the Veneto Fruili, Trentino, and Alto Adige), where its name and production style became known as Pinot Grigio (VinePair, n.d.a.).  Even though the wine is French in origin, it was the Italians who popularized it and brought the wine to the global market (Gorman-McAdams, 2014).

In Italy, Pinot Grigio wines are grown and produced in the Italian style and are often crisp with lively fruit, flowery bouquets, and a dash of zing on the finish (Gorman-McAdams, 2014). According to Wine Folly (2014), regions with chillier temperatures are likely to produce wines in this method. Some regions to look for with Pinot Grigio of this type are: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy; Veneto and Lombardy, Italy; Austria; Hungary; Slovenia; Romania; Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau in Germany; and Okanagan, Canada.

On the other hand, Old World Alsace style Pinot Gris wines are more fruit forward, higher in alcohol, less acidic, denser in flavor, and provide a slicker mouth feel. Stone fruit flavors balance the citrus characteristics in Alsace style Pinot Gris wines. According to Wine Folly (2014), several of the countries that make this style are, interestingly, the New World wine regions of Fruili-Venezia Guilia, Sicily; Abruzzo and Tuscany in Italy; Australia; New Zealand; Chile; Argentina; and California, Oregon, and Washington in the US. Alsace style Pinot Grigios are also considered to be a better investment if cellaring your wine is a priority.

Terlato Pinot Grigio is Liquid Summer

Admittedly, I have a peculiar fixation on rooting for the underdog. It’s been a lifelong preoccupation: befriend the bullied kid; join the Rolling Stones camp versus the megalithic Beatles one; love jazz and blues when rock was king; and, most recently, be in pursuit of the perfect Pinot. Pinot Grigio, that is! I think I may have found it in Terlato Pinot Grigio, 2015, (no affiliate marketing ploy—just the love of wine). For $20 a bottle, I think you’ll find it’s like liquid summer; evocative of a warm sunny day with low humidity and bright blue skies, a delicious salad on the patio and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background in chorus with the birds.

Those are my unconventional Pinot Grigio tasting notes, backed by extensive hands-on-wine-glass research. Please share with us the magic that slides out of your next bottle of Pinot Grigio. Together we can defeat the Pinot Grigio Prejudice for the good of all wine drinkers—present and future! We also welcome recommendations of other great Pinot Grigio wines as you discover them. Keep us posted!

Resources:

Frazier, K. (n.d.a.) Best white wine for beginners. Love to know. [Blog]. Downloaded from

https://wine.lovetoknow.com/wiki/best_wines_for_beginners

Gorman-McAdams, M. (2014, April 25). What’s the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? [Blog]. Downloaded from https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-pinot-gris-and-pinot-grigio-126507

Learn about Pinot Grigio white wine. VinePair. [Blog].  Downloaded from https://vinepair.com/wine-101/learn-pinot-grigio-white-wine/

Schmitt, P. (2017, September 1).Everything you need to know about Pinot Grigio. Downloaded from https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/09/everything-you-need-to-know-about-pinot-grigio/

 

Thach, L. (2015, January 24). The state of wine drinking in America today. The Week. Downloaded from http://theweek.com/articles/532653/state-winedrinking-america-today

The 3 types of Pinot Grigio. (2014, June 18). Downloaded from  https://winefolly.com/review/3-types-pinot-grigio/

Wine in America. (2017, December). Pbs.org [Blog]. Downloaded from  https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/wine-america/

 

Can the Wine Cork Help Save the World?

There is a recent movement away from using traditional cork closures due to some inaccurate and bad press. In investigating the cork for this blog and for the Spaz on Wine, Uncorked Podcast,  I was delighted to find that there are many reasons, all good, to buy wines with natural cork stoppers. The history, romance, and earth saving qualities of the natural cork is captivating. Read on, my friend!

History of the Wine Cork

Even though the natural cork is under hot debate right now, the cork as a stopper may date back as far as the ancient Egyptians. Modern legend often attributes its promotion to Dom Perignon, the famous 17th century French monk. Wine myth contends that he may have popularized the use of cork stoppers over the more commonly used wooden plugs. Four hundred years later and the cork continues to be a topic of discussion. The good news is the wooden plug is out, but the concern now is that screw caps and plastic stoppers are gobbling up market share in the world of wine closures (Gifford, 2016). These competitive stoppers are eating away at the tradition, the ceremony, and the sexy sizzle of the traditional cork.

Let’s face it, it’s the wonderful anticipation when the bottle is offered, the unwrapping of the foil capsule, the dignified pull of the cork, the gentle pop of its release, and the presentation of the cork that sets the scene for that marvelous first sip of wine. The slow expectation heightens the total wine experience. Just as it’s the sizzle that enhances the taste of the steak, it’s the looking forward to, the delayed gratification of that first sip that builds our anticipatory desire.

The Sexy Sizzle of the Wine Cork

For centuries wine enthusiasts, both novice and expert alike, have waited for the cork to be pulled, and when in public, presented to them. (Listen to Why Does Your Waiter Hand You the Cork? on Green Ink Radio to discover the answer to this age old question.) It was the love affair of ritual that continued to entice the modern wine consumer up until the last couple of decades.  Sadly, the pomp, the sizzle, the anticipation has all begun to fade. Other players have entered the wine closure field and devoured almost 40 percent of the traditional cork market share (Gifford, 2016) and in many ways are stripping it of its old world elegance and tradition.

Fast forward to the aluminum screw cap; in terms of ceremony, it just doesn’t measure up. Sure, it’s quick and easy, but it’s about as romantic as a TV dinner. Yes, it does reduce spoilage, a little. And yes it is convenient as hell. But it’s sort of like putting on sneakers with a prom dress, practical but inelegant. Nonetheless, it has gained popularity, particularly amongst millennials, and now accounts for 20 percent of the wine-closure market. Then there’s the plastic stopper. Need I say more? A plastic plug in a living thing? Eegads. Nevertheless, it too has extracted 10 percent of the stopper trade from the cork industry (Gifford, 2016).

What’s so Great About a Cork?

There’s such a rich history of the cork, it is infused with legend, romance, and a little mystery (answers found on Spaz on Wine, Uncorked Why Does Your Waiter Hand You the Cork?). But in addition to that, there are numerous economical, enological, and environmental reasons why we should select natural cork stoppers when making our wine purchases:

  • It is made from the bark of the evergreen oak. No trees are killed and it is sustainably harvested (mantoncork).
  • The cork is biodegradable, aluminum screw caps and plastic plugs are not.
  • The Mediterranean Cork Forest is comprised of over 7 million acres, which would be neglected or chopped down if not for the production of cork (Gifford, 2016).
  • It’s environmentally friendly. The Mediterranean Cork Forest offsets 20 million tons of Co2 annually (Gifford).
  • The Portugal Cork Forest has the greatest plant biodiversity of anywhere on the planet, with over 135 different thriving and unique species (Gifford).
  • It provides a safe habitat for the endangered Iberian lynx and the Barbary deer (Gifford).
  • It offers the ecological benefit of providing over 100,000 wine cork related jobs, which are among the last well-paying agricultural jobs available (Gifford).
  • There is very little risk of getting a tainted wine from a natural cork stopper (currently about 1 percent due to recent technological advances) (Gifford).
  • Corklins! Corks are made from the bark of the evergreen oak, so using them as stoppers creates some of the same effects as aging in oak barrels (Pomranz, 2018). The phenolic compounds released are tannins, polyphenols, and phenols (Schmitt, 2018). These phenols interact with catechins and malvidins and form different, enhanced compounds, named Corklins (Pomranz).

Sell the Sizzle, Baby!

My father often repeats the old sales saying, “You sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Well, my recommendation to the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance is Sell the sizzle, baby. Opening a bottle of wine with a natural cork is a sensual experience. It speaks of old world charm and days of yore that can be recaptured in that brief, timeless moment of drawing the cork away from the mysteries held within. A screwcap is just not going to be able to provide that sort of classy pomp. Let’s return to the prom dress analogy for a moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sneakers (probably more than I should), but nothing, and I mean nothing can compete with a pair of high heels to complete the overall prom look and experience. Go to a prom in sneakers or go in high heels. What is the more elegant choice?

The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a big job ahead of them. At Green Ink Radio we wish them the best! They are working to save the Mediterranean Cork Forest and its inhabits. Their slogan is “Pop a Cork, Save a Tree.” Hey, I’m doing my part saving the world, one bottle at a time. Why don’t you join me? Salute!

Resources:

Gifford, J. (2016, February 25). How millennials (almost) killed the wine cork. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/02/wine-cork-comeback/470961/

Mantoncork.com. The history of cork. Retrieved from: https://www.mantoncork.com/cork/

Pomranz, M. (2018, June 8). Are ‘corklins’ the reason wine bottled with a cork tastes different? Food & Wine. Retrieved from: https://www.foodandwine.com/news/wine-cork-taste-different-corklins

Schmitt, P. (2018, June 7). Compounds called corklins found in cork-stoppered wines. The Drinks Business. Retrieved from: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2018/06/compounds-called-corklins-found-in-cork-stoppered-wines/