Recently, five Seacoast area wineries held their second barrel tasting event. Guests had the chance to taste wines right from the barrel while they were still going through the aging process.
My friend Carol and I made it to two of the wineries on Saturday: Appolo Vineyards in Derry and Sweet Baby Vineyard in Hampstead. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and other commitments, I did not make it to Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, Flag Hill Winery & Distillery in Lee or Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown (though I have visited them all before and like them all very much).
We made our first stop at Appolo and purchased our tasting glasses. Only $10 bought us a glass to use for the whole tour, which spanned both days of the weekend. The winery is adorable and I can only imagine how nice it looks during the summer months when the vines are green and full of grapes.
We packed into the winemaking area with several other guests, joined by Michael, owner and winemaker. We had the chance to try a few wines right from the barrel: China Girl, a dry rosé made from 100 percent chambourcin grapes, and 2016 Dragonfly Red, a red blend made from maréchal foch, frontenac and marquette grapes. I enjoyed both, but especially the Dragonfly Red. We also tried the already bottled 2015 version for comparison. This wine was mellower, but very smooth and easy to drink. The 2016 red blend had only been aging since October, but it did not taste like a young wine to me.
This was my first time visiting Appolo and I really enjoyed the wines that I had the chance to taste. I hope to return to do a regular tasting soon.
Next, we stopped at Sweet Baby Vineyard, which was as busy as Appolo. There, we tried amarone and maréchal foch from the barrel, along with the Niagara. Sweet Baby’s amarone is my current favorite of their offerings, so I enjoyed it from the barrel as much as I do bottled, and had to take a couple bottles home as it was almost sold out.
If you attended this event, I hope you had a great time. If you did not, I hope you can attend next year because it is a great winter activity and way to experience more New Hampshire wineries.
Speaking of aging wine in oak barrels, why is this done? This method dates back to the time of the Romans. According to VinePair, this was found out by accident. Originally, wine was transported in clay amphorae, but transporting it became more and more difficult. Oak was chosen because it was softer and easier to bend than other woods, so barrels could be made quickly, and the wood was abundant in European forests.
After a while, after using oak, winemakers realized that oak barrels brought out certain qualities in the wine — including mellowing out the tannins in red wines and making it “softer.”
VinePair notes that because the wood used in the oak barrels is lightly toasted, the wine can take on a variety of aromas and flavors including cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, or even butter (in the case of chardonnay). Red wines are more commonly oaked, but California chardonnay is an example of a white that is oaked. Often, barrels that are new are more “aggressive” than those that have been used already, which makes sense because the wood is brand new.
Today, American and French oak are typically used to age wine, and the length of aging depends on the desired outcome and the wine itself. Some wines are only barrel-aged a short period of time, say around six months, while others may remain in the barrel for a year or more. Some winemakers even use oak barrels that were once used to age whiskey.
However aging in oak came to be, it was a game-changer in the world of winemaking and continues to help us enjoy the wine we know and love today.