Wines that can paahk the caah
However narrow the moral boundaries established by Puritans in 17th-century New England may have been, they did not extend to a disdain for alcoholic drinks. Beer and ale were said to be the water of that era, and a deep appreciation of good French wine was, from the earliest days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, linked to the cherished hope that a land alive with wild vines would not fail to support a native wine industry.
Despite determined efforts that included the importation of skilled French vineyard hands (Protestant, of course) and the identification of the “Narragansett Country’’ as the likeliest area for vineyards to prosper, all attempts failed. Native varieties throve but made barely palatable wine, while vines imported from Europe failed to winter over.
The development of grapevines that married native North American and European types eventually produced crosses that were both hardy and pleasing in the cup (think vidal blanc). But the real breakthrough came the old-fashioned way. Over time growers succeeded in identifying those small pockets of ground (the modern term is “micro-climates’’) where, for example, proximity to the moderating influences of the Atlantic made classic European vines (vitis vinfera) feel at home.
If you’re thinking that the Fourth would be a good time to explore how far New England wines have come, we’re with you. These come from the designated Southeastern New England viticultural area. Keep an eye out for something on the label that identifies the contents as an “estate’’ wine — guaranteeing that most (the legal minimum is 85 percent) or all of the grapes used were sourced from the property in question.
There still isn’t much wine made in our little corner of the world; production is typically minuscule and distribution can be (you’ll discover) frustratingly spotty. Production quantities are often minuscule, too, but since most of these properties remain little known (Westport Rivers being a notable and deserving exception) demand is correspondingly modest.
Seeing how Old World grapes take on a New England accent is fun. You just need to be open to varietal expression that habitually drops its final R’s.
Greenvale Vineyards Skipping Stone White Blend of 90 percent cayuga and 10 percent vidal blanc. Nicely juicy and crisp with perky apple-piney-flowery notes. This is picnic wine par excellence, made in Portsmouth, R.I. Around $14. At Local Vines and Gourmet, Cohasset, 781-383-8463; Ball Square Fine Wine & Liquors, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Gordon’s Fine Wine, Watertown, 617-926-1119.
Truro Vineyards Southeastern New England “Roberts Family Reserve’’ Chardonnay 2008 Bright, high-toned fruit with tart green apple keynote and some modest mineral aspects; acidity on the twitchy side, but not out of bounds. Produced on Cape Cod. O clam roll, I hear thy call. Around $25. At Blanchards Wines & Spirits, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-9300; Gary’s Discount Liquors, Chestnut Hill, 617-323-1122; Local Vines and Gourmet.
Turtle Creek Winery Massachusetts Chardonnay 2010 Aromas emphasize the mineral and soil notes in this wine, made in Lincoln; pleasing anise-tinged apple-y fruit emerges more clearly on the palate. Austere — with charm. Around $20. At Bauer Wine & Spirits, Back Bay, 617-262-0363; Winestone, Chestnut Hill, 617-264-0393; Concord Cheese Shop, Concord, 978-369-5778.
Westport Rivers Southeastern New England “RJR Brut’’ NV Old gold hue hints at an oxidative tilt; complex aromas of fresh cut hay, sweetgrass; palate gratifyingly cushy; bottle-age contribution significant here. Produced in Westport. Around $28. At Ralph’s Derby Street Wine & Spirits, Hingham, 781-749-9463; Nine East Wine Emporium, Natick, 508-653-6221; Bauer Wine & Spirits.
Jonathan Edwards Winery Connecticut Cabernet Franc 2008 Simple but appealing juicy red fruits with fine zip and a welcome meaty, savory note. Nicely balanced, appetizing even-tempered stuff, made in North Stonington. Around $21. At Andy’s Market, Mashpee, 508-477-3229; The Reserve Bin Wine Co., Foxborough, 774-215-5201; Local Vines and Gourmet.
Greenvale Vineyards Southeastern New England Cabernet Franc 2005 Spot-on cab franc varietal character here with pretty balance of fruit and vegetable aspects, fine zip, and good structure. Got ribs? Around $25. At Liquor Land, Dorchester, 617-445-0560; Boston Wine Exchange, Back Bay, 617-422-0100; BLM Wine + Spirits, 617-734-7700.
Stephen Meuse can be reached at email@example.com.