Wineries of New England: Newport Vineyards
Recently, the subject of the wines of 50 states came back into my focus – after tasting wines from Vermont, Colorado, Texas and Connecticut, it was kind of easy to get carried away, right? When we arranged a short weekend getaway with family in Newport, Rhode Island, I decided to check on the wineries on Rhode Island. Yes, the almighty google said, there are a few on Rhode Island, and one of them, called Newport Vineyards, is about 20 minutes away from the downtown Newport. My wife likes to visit wineries, and kids are old enough to sustain at least one winery visit, giving me only a reasonable amount of hard time, so our first destination of the trip was set.
Finding our destination was easy – a long building with clear sign, adjacent vineyards and very substantial parking lot ( I understand they got land, but still). Walked in, waited a bit in the lane and bought a ticket for the tasting ($12 allows you to taste 5 wines, or you can pay $15 if you want a logo glass). The tastings were happening in the multiple locations, both inside and outside. We settled for the tasting bar on the second floor, as the crowd appeared to be smaller than in the other places.
We looked at the list of available wines, and it contained 32(!) selections – white, rose, red, sweet – a substantial number of wines, as you see. When I handed the ticket to the gentleman at the bar, I told him that I have a wine blog and would like to try a few more wines if I can. That solicit really no interest, rather a surprise that I asked to taste more wines, and the answer came “okay, may be one or two, but no more”. The next uncomfortable moment came when after the taste of the first wine I did what I usually do at the wine tasting – I used the spittoon for its intended purpose – and the gentleman almost run over to me from another side of the large bar and said that it is fine to use the spittoon to pour over the leftovers of wine if I don’t want to finish it, but I should use it only for that (he didn’t say directly “don’t spit!”, but my wife helped to translate his rather long tirade about usage of the spittoon into the simple instruction). I would guess that seeing someone spit the wine will make the other guests uneasy (and he also said something about “sanitary”). Anyway, moving along…
Before I will talk about the wines, let me tell you a few things about the winery which I picked up from the back and forth conversation with our pourer (it was back and forth as we couldn’t just stand and talk – he had to serve the other guests as well). The winery was founded in 1988. 70% production are the white wines. Winery makes about 22,000 cases a year, primarily from the estate grapes. The mix of grapes is somewhat eclectic, at least judging by the wines of neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts – for the whites, in addition to Chardonnay, Riesling, Vidal, Cayuga and Seyval Blanc, the winery also grows Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. The red grapes include Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which are both pretty standard for New England, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are not so much. Additionally, Newport Vineyards makes single varietal wine from the hybrid grape called Landot Noir – will talk about this wine later. The soils are heavy clay loam (just as a statement of fact – I can’t tell you how does it affect the taste of the wine).
Here is the part of our conversation which I found most interesting. As you know, I’m a big fan of the aged, older wines, and I’m always looking for an opportunity to taste them. If I can’t taste the older wines myself, at least I would like to hear what the winery staff thinks about aging of their own wines, what was was the oldest vintage they ever tasted, what do they think about aging of the current release. Any and all of my inquiries were met with the stern “we don’t do do it”, “no, I have not”, “I never had”, etc, until the phrase came “we are a tourist winery. We have 50,000 people visiting winery every year, and all of our current releases sell out”. This was definitely a revelation for me. I always associate winery existence with utmost passion, borderline obsession to create great wines just for the art of creation (I understand that winery is a business – wines should be created and sold – don’t grab on this, please) – and I always thought that tourists were an afterthought to the winery’s existence. Now, having heard the term almost as an official statement (of course this is not a statement from the winery), that makes me think – yes, I can come up with more examples of the “tourist wineries”, based on my experiences in Temecula Valley and Connecticut. With that concept in mind, I can now better understand the logic of some of the winery decisions which appear puzzling otherwise.
Talking about learning new things, I also learned about new AVA – Southern New England AVA (SENE AVA), which stretches along the Eastern coast of US from Coastal Connecticut through Coastal Rhode Island, South Coast of Massachusetts and into the Cape Cod and the islands. SENE AVA was defined in 1984, so it celebrates 30 years this year. All together, the wineries form the Coastal Wine Trail (here is the link to the web site).
Let’s finally talk about the wines, shall we? I can tell you that the attitude of our pourer changed as we were talking, so we ended up trying way more than the intended 5+1. One general note about most of the wines we tasted – they all had clear cut, vibrant acidity. I don’t know if this is the result of the “heavy clay loam” soils, but the acidity was very present. Here is what we tasted:
2013 Newport Vineyards Newport Chardonnay SENE AVA ($18) – touch of gunflint, apple and tropical fruit on the nose, vibrant cutting-through acidity, apple on the palate. Drinkability: 7+
2013 Newport Vineyards Vintner’s Select Pinot Gris SENE AVA ($22) -very perfumy, pear, substantial sweetness on the nose, fruit forward on the palate, needs acidity. Drinkability: 7
2013 Newport Vineyards Dry Riesling SENE AVA ($23) – traditional east coast Riesling, touch of honeysuckle on the nose, lucks minerality and complexity on the palate, extremely acidic. Drinkability: 7
2013 Newport Vineyards Vidal Blanc SENE AVA ($15) – nice summer wine. Perfumed nose and shellfish-craving acidity on the palate (Muscadet style). Drinkability: 7
2013 Newport Vineyards Rosé White Merlot SENE AVA ($14) – touch of strawberries on the nose. Very light wine with very strong acidity. Drinkability: 7
2012 Newport Vineyards Rochabeau SENE AVA ($19, blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Landot Noir) – fresh fruit nose, nice acidity, old world style. Drinkability: 7
2011 Newport Vineyards Cabernet Franc SENE AVA ($18) – touch of smoke , green bell pepper nose, touch of cassis on the palate, strong acidity. Drinkability: 7
2012 Newport Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon SENE AVA ($18) -varietally correct profile on the nose and palate (green bell peppers and cassis). Drinkability: 7
2013 Newport Vineyards Landot Noir SENE AVA ($18) -barnyard on the nose, freshly crushed berries on the nose and palate, very unusual. An extra bonus – a new grape. Drinkability: 7+
NV Newport Vineyards Port SENE AVA ($18) -Nice and elegant, clearly a classic Portuguese style, good berry profile, elegant. Drinkability: 7
There you have it, my friends. Definitely an interesting and learning experience. If Newport is in your travel plans, stop by the Newport Vineyards, I’m sure it will worth your time. Cheers!