Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: A Visit and Tasting at The Nation's Oldest Winery, Brotherhood

"Hey, Mom, did you know that America's oldest winery is right near here?" Oh, the joy in my Winey heart as the Winey Son, calling from West Point, uttered those happy words. He was planning some trips for us the week of graduation, and Brotherhood Winery of Washingtonville, NY was one of the first outings he mentioned.

Brotherhood Winery wine barrel signThus, on the Sunday before he graduated West Point, 8 of us made our way through the ever gorgeous Hudson Valley to the town of Washingtonville. Way back in 1839, Jean Jaques opened the underground cellars after cultivating vineyards in the area for over 25 years. Those cellars were and still are the largest underground cellars in the country and are in use today. The winery is able to say that they are America's oldest continually operating winery because in the dark, sad days of prohibition (insert shudder here), Brotherhood was allowed to continue to produce wine. Why? Well, they provided wine for the church and were granted permission to continue making sacramental wine. Brotherhood's website will tell you that "It has been noted that the clergy population in the area grew substantially during this period." (Insert chuckle here.)

Brotherhood Winery cellar
The Brotherhood cellars and our Winey group
The best way to see the winery is to buy a Tour and Tasting pass, which gives you a tour of the famous cellars, the grounds of the winery and a tasting flight afterwards (appropriately enough, the tasting is held in an old church right on the grounds of the winery. Never forget your roots, people!)

Winey children in front of a Brotherhood Winery cellar barrel
The Winey Kids in front of one of the
massive cellar barrels (for
perspective, the Winey Son is 6'3"!)
The guides at the winery are pretty cool (this was the agreed upon term from our group, ranging in age from 18 to way past 18). And funny. After explaining the various buildings on the grounds to us, we headed down into the cellars. The first thing you notice is the chill. Then the guide says, "You know when they tell you to serve red wine at room temperature? Well, this is the temperature they're talking about." (About 55 degrees, if you are taking notes.) You get a history of the winery's owners (from the Jaques to the Emersons to the Farrells to a group of Chilean businessmen to today's Chilean owners, winemaker Cesar Baeza and the Castro and Chadwick families). The Chilean connection is why, in addition to the famous New York wines produced at Brotherhood, you are able to get some great Chilean offerings as well.

We got to see their sparkling wines on the riddling racks down in the cellars (they use the method champenoise process for their sparklers) as well as over 200 oak barrels and a tiny vault area that held some of the oldest vintages in America.

Brotherhood Winery tasting room - Winey Mom, Hubs and Son
Winey Son, Winey Hubby, Winey Mom in the tasting room.
Tasting room photos courtesy of Winey Daughter,
who is only 18 and couldn't
taste, so she snapped away
And then it was up and out and into the tasting. Once again, our tour guide proved to be an amazingly good sport, because let's face it, the more wines we tasted, the louder and chattier we got. You could choose between a "sweet" flight tasting or a traditional flight, each with 7 wines. Let's just say there was ample sharing going on in our group, so we did get to try most of the wines we wanted to.

I'll start out with the sparkling wines.
Blanc de Blanc is a dry sparkler, full of ginger and creamy bubbles.  It finished tart with a bit of a sour aftertaste. If you love dry champagnes, this is for you.

Carpe Diem (10%, NV) was the favorite of the sparklers in our group. It's made from Muscat grapes, and has flowery and fruity flavors to it. The flavors work so well with the bubbles! It was so tasty that we carped this diem and now have a bottle at home with us - it was on many of our "let's buy this one" lists.

Grand Monarque is the top of the line sparkler at Brotherhood. It runs $40 a bottle and is raved about by the staff there. It wasn't on the tasting, but of course, we bought a bottle (at the Winey Son's urging). We haven't had the chance to open it yet, but I will review it when we do.

The whites were next.
Chardonnay (12%, 2012): I liked this wine well enough at the tasting, noting some oak tastes with a touch of light fruit above it all. I did buy a bottle and had some after we got back, and in that bottle I tasted lots of celery. Not a great thing, in my opinion. There were also flavors of green leaves and oak and something very woodsy and tart as well. It was crisp and thin in my mouth. I think I'd like to try another bottle of this one, given that the two tastings I had of it were so different. And who knew how long the tasting room bottle had been open.

Sweet Riesling (12%, 2013): ding ding ding...we have a winner. This wine has won many awards, and rightfully so. Lime on the nose and honeysuckle flavor and a nice, clean finish that keeps this from being one of those sticky sweet Rieslings. It was our favorite wine and is the winery's best selling wine as well. An interesting note: during the Clinton presidency, the White House folks realized that there were NO American wines in the wine cellar. So they held a contest to choose USA wines to add, and this Riesling, along with Brotherhood's Merlot, won. Quite the endorsement, huh?

Now for the reds.
Brotherhood Winery tasting room - two soon to be West Point graduates
Soon to be 2LT's:Winey Son and
Winey Roomie in the tasting room
Pinot Noir: oh well, can't win them all. This wine was flabby and a bit sour. The taste of bacon and smoke overwhelmed everything else. Now again, the bottle could have been opened for a while, given that we were not the first tour of the day.  But one little sip was enough for me.

Merlot: Another award winner from the winery, full of cherries and dark berries. It was velvety in my mouth. I really liked this one lots.  I did buy a bottle of this, but for my life, I cannot find it now. I think I need to check the Winey grandparents' box of wine, which at the moment, is 500 miles away. I will keep you informed on my search, though, and will report back with a full review if I ever find it. (Geez, how did I lose track of this bottle?)

Winey son hamming it up in the tasting room
Winey Son hamming it up 

I also tried some of the May Wine, which is a spring staple in Germany. The best way I can describe it to you all is to say it's just like drinking strawberry soda. It was that sweet. Not my favorite, but certain members of our group headed straight to the store and got some (they are also the people I suspect of having my Merlot, in case you were wondering).

Winey son drinking wine, pinky up
Winey Son after being told to behave

Much to my surprise, the Winey Son loved the Brotherhood Ruby Port (18%, NV). He is a newer wine drinker and I never even knew he had the taste buds for Port. A bottle of it is now at our home, awaiting the proper dessert to sip with. (Review to come.)

If you ever get the chance, do yourself a favor and visit Brotherhood. It's a leisurely half day visit, and if you decide to stay and eat lunch, it can become a lovely full day outing.  The wines are mostly available in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but they have an online store and are about to start a wine club.  I can almost assure you we will be ordering more of the Riesling.

Let me know if you  try and of these and cheers!!

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: William Hill Chardonnay for Our New Second Lieutenant

It was quite a day. We woke up at 5 am and were out the door of our hotel by 5:30. It was a damp, chilly fog shrouded Hudson Valley morning. We pulled up to the gates and were waved on through. And then again. Then it was onto the shuttle bus, into the football stadium and settling in for our 3 hour wait for the ceremony to start.

So, what kind of a ceremony would you wait three hours for? How about your son's graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point? Why three hours? Well, we had to pass through security on our way in because his big boss was the commencement speaker. And when your "big" boss also goes by the titles of "Commander in Chief" and "President of the United States" and the Secret Service says you must be in your seats 90 minutes before the ceremony or you will be locked out, well, you tend to listen. (We actually breezed through security, hence the extra long wait.  But as our son said, "Better safe than sorry for this one." I had actually never heard such words come out of his mouth before, so we took it very seriously.)

excited West Point moms on graduation day
I told you we were excited.
Two and a half hours later, having received his diploma, shaken the President's hand and thrown his cap into the air, we arrived at a stately old hotel at West Point for the new Second Lieutenant's commissioning ceremony. (Actually, they had all commissioned during the grad ceremony. This ceremony was a more personal commissioning for families and the new grads.) Our son was commissioning with four of his best buddies from West Point, and over the four years, we had gotten to know them and their families very well. So it was 5 families together. And what I mean is, it was five brand new Army moms together as their sons started the  next chapter in their lives.

What did we moms do? Yup.  We got to our luncheon room, dropped our coats and headed to the hotel bar. This is really not as disrespectful as it seems, since this was a day for total and complete celebration. We had all been working together via email to plan the luncheon and the ceremony and coordinate with family and friends and our sons (want to guess which ones were the hardest to get answers out of?).  And before that? We had lived and laughed and cried with our children for the entire four years of West Point. Through the highs of their academic and military success to the lows of massive workloads and brutal training assignments and the dreaded room inspections (The Winey Son, if you ask him, will tell you that he never once slept UNDER the covers of his bed. It was much easier to sleep with a blanket on an already made bed than to try and get it ready for inspections - scheduled or not.) We had worried about injuries and illness. And every time the caller id came up that it was them, woe to the person who got in our way as we lunged and grabbed for that telephone.
bottle of William Hill Coastal Collection Chardonnay
So yes, we trotted together down to the bar in order to start the celebrating and toasting. And it didn't make sense to just get one glass of wine, now did it? We had a few hours left as we watched our boys commission together. So we agreed that some bottles were in order.

I decided that a Chardonnay would be a lovely way to go on this day, and I selected a bottle of William Hill Coastal Collection Chardonnay (2012, 13.5%, California). I had tried some of their reds a while back and when I saw the Chardonnay on the list, I decided this was a good time to try that. It turned out to be a very, very good idea.

The best way to describe this wine is to say it's "oakey and sweet". That may sound like an odd combination (I usually don't take my oak with sugar), but that is what leapt to my mind. (For the record, I bought another bottle of this when we arrived home to make sure I had the correct info - I did NOT trust my note taking that day.) At first sniff, you get wet oak - think a forest after a rainstorm. The first note in my mouth was that sweet oak. There was the oakey Chardonnay flavor of course, but it had a sweet overtone to it. Sweet oak. It's the first time I remember tasting this combination. It was followed by pear and green apple and ended with a bit of kiwi. The kiwi gave the finish a tartness to it that was amazing after the sweetness of the first sip. It felt nice and round in my mouth and that was just right. If it had been a velvety, rich feel, the oak might have taken over the taste. In any case, this was such an interesting, sweet note to a classic oakey pear Chardonnay. I just loved it.

Buy this wine if you can't decide if you like ultra oaky Chardonnay or super sweet Riesling. It's got enough of both tastes and will seriously give you the best of both worlds here.

It was the perfect wine to sip on and toast with through many happy, relieved, proud and overwhelmingly joyful tears. Not to mention with my fellow Moms, who are without a doubt, some of the best buddies I have had through these years and will have for years to come.

Go Army! Go Moms! Cheers!

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