Winesday: Best Wines from the Mohegan Sun Winefest

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson

There’s a lot to wine about at the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest.  I watched in horror as my printer spewed out 16 pages of wines that would be featured over the course of the weekend.  The annual event is an exercise in diversity; exhibitors bring everything from the commercial to the exclusive, the traditional to the innovative.  There are wines with long-lasting legacies and bottles that haven’t even hit shelves yet.

Fortunately, I carefully siphoned through all of the offerings to bring you a report of the very best the event had to offer.  Armed with my 16 page list, I diligently worked my way through the tables, asked questions, and sampled the wines.  (Don’t worry, there was a significant amount of spitting involved!)

It’s difficult to compare wines, especially with such an extensive range available.  How can one compare an expensive Napa Valley Cab to a fruity white made for casual drinking?  To solve the predicament, I broke my explorations down into categories.

In this first installation, I feature Robust Reds, Wonderful Whites, and Wines to Watch.  In Robust Reds and Wonderful Whites, my aim is to focus on quality.  Some of these wines might come off as a bit of a monetary splurge, but they drink beautifully.  Wines to Watch also hinges on quality.  However, these wines are still relatively unknown.  These lesser known varietals and regions are sure to explode in popularity as they emerge on the market.

In the weeks ahead, I will come out with one more piece that centers on fun, everyday bottles.  Accessible and Tasty will tell you about brands that offer bottles at lower price points that still maintain solid taste.  I will also have a section entitled Twists on the Vine.  These will be variations on the traditional bottle, including Sangrias and infused beverages.


Robust Reds

1. Rombauer Vineyards, Zinfandel 2010, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, and Merlot Carneros 2008

If the name Rombauer sounds familiar, you’re not hallucinating.  Erma Rombauer, author of the Joy of Cooking cookbook, helped create these wines.  As a chef, she envisioned creating wines that would glisten on their own, but sparkle when served with cuisine.

“The wines are elegant and balanced for food,” explains Jim Teegan, the Northeast Sales Representative.   “Many of California’s wines are flashy and fruit forward.  We go for balance.”

The vineyard remains family owned, which is increasingly rare in California.  This allows them to be involved in the process, and directly ensure that they produce wines of utmost quality.  They meticulously oversee every step of the process, from production to serving the wines themselves.

“The owner is all about temperature,” says Teegan as he poured me a glass of Merlot.  The cold day had given it a slight chill, which I felt actually enhanced the flavor of the wine.  According to Jim, the owners agree. They take care to serve the wines at temperatures they consider optimal.

The Chardonnay comprises 65% of their total production and has emerged as their bestseller.  The 2011 vintage already sold out, and the next installation won’t be available until July.  Although the Chardonnay is admittedly delicious, my heart lay with the Rombauer reds. 

It was hard to pick favorites, but if I had to select one I would proclaim the Zinfandel the champion.  What sets it apart from other Zinfandels, or other California reds, is a touch of residual sugar.  The sugar is practically undetected and does not come off as sweet.  Instead, it subtley enhances the luscious fruits already present.  Another compelling feature is the fact that the Zinfandel ages in reused Chardonnay barrels.  The wine had a spicy finish that lingered in my mouth, delicately popping on my tongue.  At $30, it is an incredible value.

“It’s easy to love that wine. That’s the one we’ll pour out of today for sure,” said Teegan as I admired the bottle.

The Merlot 2008 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 were other standouts.  Rombauer has a few versions of the Cab, including the Diamond Reserve which comes from a single vineyard.  While both versions were exceptional, I personally enjoyed the traditional Napa Valley bottle the best.  All of the wines felt soft and round.  They had the rich, bold flavors that these reds are known for.  At the same time, they had a silky, velvety texture.

I found these vintages phenomenal, and I was stunned to learn that future bottles might be able to top these:

“2012 was California’s biggest and best year ever for,” Teegan informed me.  “It was great for quality and quantity.”

Stew Leonard’s Wines, located at 55 Westport Avenue in Norwalk, CT, carries Rombauer Vineyards.  They currently offer the Merlot for $26.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon for $34.99, and the Zinfandel for $29.99.  Get them while you can; Stew Leonard’s notes that they “regularly sell out.”

22010 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

It’s a bold choice to name something Goldeneye; the James Bond allusion certainly sets the bar high.  Fortunately, this bottle lived up to its name.  The Pinot Noir had the soft, delicate feel of its counterparts.  At the same time, it had bolder notes more typical of deeper varietal.  While many Pinot Noirs embrace red fruits and lighter flavors, the Goldeneye includes peppery components and has notes reminiscent of plum.

Goldeneye is associated with Duckhorn Wine Company.  Frank Barbagello, who represents Duckhorn in the Northeast, applauds the Pinot Noir for its “versatility.”  He refers to it as a “steakhouse Pinot,” recognizing its unique ability to stand up to even something as succulent a filet mignon.

The taste is amazingly complex.  It has many dynamic layers that surface at different points.  It began smooth and fruity, but a spiciness slowly began dancing in the middle of my tongue.  Suddenly, I began to encounter deeper fruits.  A figurative tug of war ensued as all of these textures and flavors intermingled to achieve perfect balance.  Barbagello attributes much of the complexity to the climate.

“It’s a cool climate, but there’s plenty of sun during the day,” he explains.  “As a result, the grapes get a lot of maturity to them.  It takes on an earthiness.”

The Goldeneye Pinot Noir is available at Cranbury Wine & Liquor in Norwalk, CT for $39.99.  You can also visit to find a retailer near you.

3. Vina Ventisquero Pangea 2007

I love a dark, brooding Syrah on a winter’s day.  This exquisite wine maintains all of the deep, black fruits of the varietal, but delivers a smooth, round feel in your mouth.  It is forceful in flavor, but silky in texture.

“Notes of black fruit, pepper, and dark chocolate intermingle harmoniously with notes of damp earth and minerals,” read the tasting notes.  They go on to describe it as “a wine of ripe, firm tannins and great structure.”

The wine comes in a larger bottle, which emulates the Rhone style.  It is aged for 20 months in French Oak barrels and spends 12 months aging in the bottle.

Stephen C. Greenwood, representative of the San Francisco Wine Exchange who markets the wine, heralds it as their “flagship wine.”  The bottle is quickly garnering attention. Personally, I see it exploding on the market.  It is luscious, complex, and beautiful.

Since the wine lists at $59.99, not all stores carry this wine on a regular basis.  However, the Pangea can be obtained easily.

“My best suggestion would be for you to call your favorite store before,” says Greenwoord.  “Ask them to order a bottle from New England Wines and Spirits.  They can have the bottle delivered in one day.”

Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market, located at 2094 Post Road, Fairfield, CT, has been known to carry the wine.   Residents of New Haven County can try Save-Rite Liquors at 117 Washington Ave.  In Hartford, you can check Maximum Beverage.  The store, which sits at 333 North Main Street, also carries the wine.

Wonderful Whites

  1. Willamette Valley Vineyards Reisling 2011

There seems to be some confusion about how to pronounce “Willamette.”  Fortunately, Willamette Valley Vineyards set the record straight.  “It’s Willamette, Dammit!” proclaimed T-Shirts that lay out on their table.

In addition to a wicked sense of humor, Willamette Valley Vineyards also has high-quality wines.  Wine & Spirits Magazine named it the 2011 Winery of the Year and its Estate Pinot Noir was declared one of Oregon’s 50 best bottles.  I personally developed a deep affection for Riesling.

When I first entered the world of wine I gravitated toward deep reds.  I eschewed white wines, especially Rieslings, believing they were overly simplistic and pedestrian.  It seemed that every restaurant or bar offered a Riesling by the glass, and I was over it.

Now that I am a more mature wine drinker, I am returning to Rieslings.  I am discovering that a high-quality Riesling can prove incredibly complex.  I have learned that Rieslings age remarkably, and understand why people call them “red wines in disguise.”

Willamette Valley Vineyard’s Riesling is one of the top tier bottles that has helped usher me back toward the varietal.  Traditional notes of fruit, green apple, and citrus adorn an earthiness.  While some Rieslings can be overly crisp, this is significantly smoother than its counterparts.  The slight weight adds to its sophistication.  At jut $14, it is an incredible value as well.

The wine stands on its own, but also pairs well with food.  They suggest serving this wine “with light, creamy pastas, spicy Asian dishes or seasonal fruit desserts like pineapple upside down cake.”

You can enjoy Willamette Valley Vineyard’s Riesling at the Norwich Spa in Norwich, Connecticut.  The wine is poured by the glass in the main dining room, Kensington’s.  Kensington’s has received acclaim for its wine selection; the Wine Spectator honored in with an award of excellence in 2011.  Spa guests can also enjoy a wine tasting and mini seminar at 5pm each day, and the Riesling has been known to make an appearance there.

The bottle can also be purchased at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine in Darien, CT.

2. Waterbrook Melange Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington State

The dictionary defines “mélange” as “a mixture; confusion.”  The first part of the meaning certainly applies to the wine.  The bottle contains six well-known varietals: Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Voignier, and Riesling.  It is rare to find these within a single bottle, but Waterbrook intergrates them all.

However, the second half of the definition does not correlate to reality; there is no “confusion” here.  The Mélange is a perfect harmony of citrus, tropical fruits, and touch of honey.  It has a crispness to it that highlights the flavors without coming off as overwhelming.  Waterbrook describes the blend as one with “a unique style that is both complex and balanced, with a refreshing taste profile.”

Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market carries the bottle for $14.99.  You can also visit to find the retailer nearest you.

Wines to Watch

1. Durigutti Bonarda 2009

Lookout Malbec, there’s a new Argentinian red in town! Although the Bonarda varietal is currently flying under the radar, it promises to burst onto the scene and battle with Malbec for supremacy.  Bonarda has origins in Northern Italy, but people brought their vines with them into Argentina.  The South American climate proved perfectly conducive to the grape.

Bonarda has elements reminiscent of Malbec: red cherry, plum, and chocolate.  At the same time, it has twists on its own.  For instance, I detected a slight Eucalyptus on the finish.  It seemed more alive and effervescent in my mouth as it travelled across my palette.

Do Valle Wines, carriers of the Durigutti wines, aptly call it “fairly explosive.”  They continue, “Bright, refreshing acidity holds everything together.”

This particular version of Bonarda undergoes an interesting process before reaching the bottle; it actually ferments in cement tanks!  After a brief time in American Oak, it spends 18 months in ‘stave-studded cement” chambers. The cement imparts a hint of stoniness and enhances the dynamic energy I enjoyed so much.

At around $12.99, this bottle is a steal!  Mo’s Wine and Spirits in Fairfield carries the bottle now, and Redding Wine and Spirits is due to begin selling it.  Stay tuned to for purchasing information or visit to learn more.

2. Vinkara Wines, Turkey

If you want the brand new, the up and coming, the undiscovered: you’ve found it.  Vinkara Wines, which herald from Turkey, just arrived in the American Market.

“The wines just arrived last week,” representative Veronica Lipinski informed me at the Mohegan SunWineFest.

The wines are also revolutionary because they feature two grapes never encountered before: Narince and Kalecik Karasa.  These “undiscovered exceptional new flavors” are exclusive to Turkey.

Since Anatolia has been dubbed “the birthplace of wine,” how is it possible that these wines are just debuting now?  Winemaking in Turkey dates back almost 7,000 years, to the times of the Hittites, Noah, and the New Stone Age, so it seems preposterous that we have not experienced it until now.

“Turkey had to stop making wine for religious and political reasons,” Lipinski explicated.  Vinkara Wines notes that “the general atmosphere of tolerance was interrupted from time to time with official probitions on the use and sale of alcohol.”  However, the government renewed its interest in wine in the 1980s.  As tourism boomed, officials recognized the drink’s economic potential.  Turkish wineries focused on investing in new technologies so that they could compete on the international market.  In order to import a product, wine must comply to international standards.  Today, Vinkara has met those requirements and can begin offering its wine in the United States.

The first grape, Narince, is a white varietal.  Its vines date back between 7,000 and 8,000 years and it is indigenous to the region.

“This is a varietal from Turkey. It cannot be found anywhere else,” emphasizes Lapinski.

The white wine contains fruity elements, such as apricot and citrus.  At the same time, is has a minerality that comes from the “sandy-clay and gravelly” soil it grows in.  The wine hovers between medium and full-bodied, and I would call it dry.  It has balance; it has acidity without seeming overly crisp.  Although most white wines are made for immediate drinking, Vinkara encourages drinkers to age the wine.

“The wine gains a complex bouquet with aging,” they assert.

Narince comes in two bottles: the Narince 2012 and the Narince Reserve 2010.  The Reserve ages for 14 months in oak and spends additional time in the vineyard’s wine caves.  It also undergoes “sur lie” fermentation, which means that the wine is bottled directly from the lees without a filtering method known as racking.  It smooths out any harsh flavors from the oak and imparts a touch of creaminess.

The second type, Kalecik Karasi, is a red wine.  It gets its name from the place of its origin, a region 45 km northeast of Ankara.  The climate truly defines the wine.  It sits at an altitude of 650 meters, and there is a stark difference between day and night temperatures.

“Kalecik Kasari is a dry and elegant ruby-colored wine with vibrant fruit aromas,” Vinkara states.  “The medium-bodied low tannin wine is fresh and lively with a crisp acidity and long finish.”  Like the Narince, the Kalecik Kasari comes in a standard bottle along with a Reserve version.  The regular version has “sour cherry, raspberry, redcurrent, and banana” while the reserve is more driven by “blackberry, black currants, strawberry, sour cherry, vanilla, and smoked aromas.”  The Reserve spends 14 months in oak barrels and undergo further aging in the vineyard’s caves.

Vinkara is just beginning to present its wines to local wine stores.  Right now two wine stores carry all 4 of the bottles: Le Wine Shop at 39 East Elm Street in Greenwich, CT and The Wine Thief at 181 Crown Street in New Haven.  I predict demand for these wines will grow and more stores will carry them, though.

  “We’ve been having a lot of success,” Lipinski assured me.  Hopefully these wines will come to a store near me!