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Visit to Chamard Vineyards, July 2013

We’ve already posted about the trip to Stonington village and Saltwater Farms Vineyards.  In the afternoon of that day we drove a little further west and visited Chamard Vineyards, in Clinton, CT.  It had been about two or three years since we last visited this New England winery, and only about ten months since we opened the last of the fabulous estate Merlot we had purchased half a case of.  You can read about that wine here.  Our expectations were running high as we drove in.

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Looking back down the entrance drive at Chamard

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The main entrance

The property is beautiful, with neatly tended rows of vines framing the long entrance drive.  The main building is done in a French chateau style, with a lot of stone and there are several outbuildings as well, one of which houses an additional tasting bar and where they have live performances in the warmer months.   All in all it is impressive from a real estate perspective.  But we were here for the wines, which used to be what the winery was all about.  Recently they have opened their Farm Winery Bistro as well, so you can have lunch or dinner.  Everything is very well appointed.  We did not avail ourselves of the food, and stuck with the wine tasting.  Unfortunately this tasting was not to live up to previous ones, and something here has changed dramatically.  Our son Alex was with us, and he summed up Chamard in a single word: “foofey”.  It all came across as putting on airs, and trying to exude a sense of glamour and luxury.  While we love luxury, for us it failed, but for some it might succeed.  Here is a play by play of our tasting experience.

It was busy but not overcrowded when we arrived.  There were several tasting flights available, one of the signature wines and another of the higher end reserve offerings.  Since we like to try everything we were going to go for one of each and interchange them.  The first sign of trouble was when the person behind the wine bar said the tastings were either $15 or $25, which is pretty steep for a tasting.  Oh how I remember the days when they were free or for a modest charge.  Of course what he didn’t tell us was that they came with a Reidel glass,

The tasting room at Chamard

The tasting room at Chamard

and without the glass they were $10.  This matters to us, because the last thing we need is another wine glass.  Seems like they just assume you won’t ask and you will pay for the glass.  Alex noticed it by reading the small print at the top of the wine list.  At either a $10 to $15 premium for a glass they clearly are making a profit on those as well.  Just be more up front about it and let me decide.

So we informed the wine person we would be tasting without keeping the glass.  As we ordered one of each tasting line they came fast and furious.  They also came willy nilly, with whites after reds and bolder (used relatively as nothing here approached bold) wines before more reserved offerings.  We had to stop the wine guy and ask him to give us the remaining whites first.  This still didn’t work, so in the end we took them as they came and made the best of it.

Of course all of this would be excused if the wines were good.  Unfortunately they were mostly not really great, some were bad, and they were all too expensive.  The flagship wine at $46 (that’s right, $46!) is at least estate grown.  Many of the others are made with California grapes, which is of course not a problem, but you should at least make a good wine at some kind of reasonable price.  I can buy a California cab from a California winemaker and get a great wine at $20, never mind what Chamard charges.  Why would I buy an inferior wine made from California grapes at a Connecticut winery?  At least the estate wine carries the local tag and you feel like you’re supporting the regional viniculture.  I don’t get that feeling from a local crush of California grapes.  Long Island I can understand, it’s right off the coast and almost qualifies as New England viniculture.  There was also a Sauvignon Blanc made from Chilean grapes, and it was not very good either.  We have no issues with using imported grapes (see the blog on Vintner’s Cellar Winery in North Conway), just make a good wine and don’t go crazy with the price.  The wines made from Cal grapes weren’t bad, they just didn’t stand out.

Here are the tasting notes, presented in the order the wines were served:

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – a citrus nose does not really follow through to the palate.  What does follow through quickly turns bitter.  None of us liked this at all.  $18 and avoid.

2010 Estate Reserve Chardonnay – this is nice if you like traditional chardonnay.  There is some butter and wood and neither is over the top.  Fairly smooth as well and long.  We’ve bought their Estate Chardonnay in the past, but for significantly less than the current price of $34, which we feel is overpriced.

Stone Cold White – this is from California (Mendocino County) chardonnay and done in a lighter, un-oaked style.  Some nice citrus flavors there although still a touch of bitterness.  Overall fairly good and $15.  At that price I would say try it except that it’s California Chardonnay, and you can get a much better bottle from California for less.

2010 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.  This is light red in color and light in body.  There is some reserved fruit and decent length.  Not much depth to the flavor though, and this is crazily overpriced for the quality.  $46

2009 Vin de Pays Chardonnay – the fruit is from the North Fork of Long Island.  This isn’t bad, with a nice flavor profile.  40% of this saw oak with 60% fermented in stainless.  $18 a bottle.

2011 Vin de Pays Cabernet Franc – California grapes here.  There wasn’t much to really write about as it is pretty ho hum.  Not a ho hum price at $36.

Stone Cold Rose – made from the only grapes they harvested before Hurricane Irene wiped out the crop, this is heavy on the barnyard and clearly the result of under ripe fruit.  Really not good.  $15

2011 Vin de Pays Cabernet – 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, all sourced from California.  This had some good fruit and more depth.  It was a touch on the tart side.  Overall a pleasant wine and pricing in at $26.

2011 Vin de Pays Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – this was probably the best of the lot, and also made from California grapes.  There’s a little wood, a little tannin, some nice fruit with depth and good length.  A nice wine, but it should be at $36.  Again, for that money I can get two pretty killer bottles of California Cabernet.

2010 Reserve Golden Chardonnay Port – checking in at 19% alcohol, this has the heft of port.  It carries a beautiful golden color with tons of aromas and flavors of ripe fruits.   Pineapple, pear, apple and peach show themselves pretty strongly, and it finished nicely with excellent length.  This we really enjoyed and we bought two bottles to take home.  It’s too bad it was the only wine we even considered buying, but it is very good.  $20 for a small bottle.

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Many choices in direction!

We were really disappointed by this visit.  Overall it seemed like they opened their bistro, bumped up the wine CIMG1899prices by 50%-75%, imported a bunch of grapes from California and decided they were a high end winery.  The wines are not high end.  The property is gorgeous,  the restaurant may be good, and they have lots of events that probably make a visit worthwhile.  You’ll find other New England wineries with better wines at lower prices.  We suggest you form your own opinion, as always.  Remember you can get the tasting for $10 without the glass.

We’ll be going other places for some time before we go back and see what’s new at Chamard.  We didn’t like what was new this time.

A votre sante!

 

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