More than 30 vineyards dot the state. For many Connecticut cooks, the movement to eat seasonally and incorporate local ingredients into the meal colors their menus. Pairing a Connecticut wine to a meal using native ingredients pays tribute to the state’s winemakers.
We asked some of Connecticut’s winemakers and vineyard owners to look through their portfolio of wines and suggest suitable pairings.
At the family-owned Connecticut Valley Winery in New Hartford, two full-bodied signature red wines stand up to Italian dishes, beef and spicy foods. Co-owner Judy Ferraro suggests serving the winery’s Chianti with pastas such as Fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna. The Black Tie Cabernet Franc pairs well with “a nice thick steak, tomato basil pizzas, and pasta,” Ferraro says. “I like it with sharp cheddar cheeses.”
Cheeses and pastas also are a match for the Ruby Lite, Connecticut Valley’s version of a rosé. A blend of Chardonel, a white wine hybrid grape, and Chianti, the “lite” refers to the color rather than the calorie or alcoholic content. Ferraro likes the Ruby Lite with poultry dishes.
The estate-bottled Deep Purple is made from 100 percent Chambourcin, a French hybrid grape. “It happens to be very berry tasting,” Ferraro says. “A lot of people like it as a breakfast wine because it goes well with maple syrup. You could use it as a brunch wine, or it’s also nice with desserts.”
The Port-style Black Bear, named for the seven-foot bear that ate 4,000 pounds of grapes in the vineyard in 2008, has won two international gold medals. “People love it with salmon,” Ferraro says, “but it also goes with dark chocolate and cheesecake. Men dip cigars in it.”
For those who enjoy white wines, Chardonel matches shrimp scampi and lobster. The white hybrid grape used to make the wine has characteristics of both Chardonnay and Seyval grapes. Aging in oak helps to produce the wine’s caramel flavor, Ferraro says.
The Dolce Vita, made from Cayuga White grapes, offers versatility. The wine stands up to spicy cuisines such as Indian, Thai and Mexican and also complements roasted poultry, including duck and turkey, and chicken pot pie.
As a professional chef, Brad Stabinsky enjoys creating the perfect partnerships between wine and food. Overseeing the kitchen of the new Bistro at Chamard, Stabinsky can develop his menu to enhance and harmonize with the award-winning wines at Clinton’s Chamard Vineyard.
If a prime rib is the centerpiece of the Christmas table, the chef recommends Cabernet Franc, “a beautiful [wine], which is one of the five main varietals used in Bordeaux.” Stabinsky describes the wine as “having nice fruit and a nice lingering finish. The wine has enough body to stand up to prime rib, but it’s not overly tannic to interfere with the flavors of the meat.” Chamard’s Estate Merlot also can accompany a prime rib but offers “a little softer [body] with fruit and spice notes on the nose” than the Cabernet Franc, the chef says.
For a crown roast of pork or a roasted goose or duck, Stabinsky would choose Chamard’s Syrah, “one of the best wines I’ve tasted here. It’s nice and spicy with deep rich fruit.” On New Year’s Eve, party hosts often splurge on special foods such as caviar and fresh oysters. The vineyard’s Stone Cold White, an un-oaked Chardonnay, lends itself to these from-the-sea ap- petizers. With its notes of citrus and melon and a crisp acidity, the wine also pairs well with a lighter style of seafood preparation or with poached chicken breast and tarragon mayonnaise.
At Stabinsky’s own holiday dinner, guests often bring their favorite wine. “We usually have six or seven wines and we try them all,” he says. “A lot of wines will go with the same foods, but a lot of [wine and food] pairing has to do with how you cook the food.” For example, a duck breast with a cherry Port wine sauce will work with a Pinot Noir or a Merlot. That same duck breast, paired with a mango Port sauce, can easily take on a white wine, he says.
Catherine Jerram, co-owner with her husband Jim of Jerram Winery in New Hartford, also suggests a choice of wines at the holiday table. “We like reds with certain foods, but we don’t always like the same wine,” she says. “Our Nor’Easter is a little sweet for me but not for Jim,” she says. “I like our S’il Vous Plait because it’s a little dry.” The semi-sweet Nor’Easter pairs well with spicy foods and chocolate. The S’il Vous Plait, a medium-bodied wine with herbal tones and a touch of pepper, or an aged Cabernet Franc suits beef and lamb.
At Salt Water Farm Vineyard in Stonington, the signature Cabernet Franc is also the best seller. “It’s light in body and smooth,” says winemaker Paul Peloquin who, at his own holiday table, opens the wine to accompany roast turkey and trimmings. “It’s light enough to go with the turkey, but there’s enough going on to stand up to all sorts of crazy side dishes.”
If ham is the centerpiece of the Christmas table, Peloquin recommends Salt Water Farm’s Chardonnay, which is fermented in stainless steel. “It’s very crisp and clean, bright and fresh with a touch of citrus,” he says. The Chardonnay also lends itself to simply prepared seafood dishes and light sauces – fish in lemon butter sauce, shrimp cocktail, oysters or sushi.
Some Connecticut wines are available in area liquor stores, but most are sold directly from the winery. With the growing and wine-making seasons over, wineries also operate on more limited hours. Check with the winery before making your trip.
Contact information for the wineries in this story:
115 Cow Hill Road
535 Town Hill Road (Route 219)
New Hartford; 860-379-8749
Saltwater Farm Vineyard
349 Elm Street
Bishop’s Orchards Winery
1355 Boston Post Road