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THE STATE of Connecticut is home two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Western Connecticut Highlands and Southeastern New England. AVA is wine-nerd speak for a government-designated grape-growing region in the United States with specific geographical features (soil, climate, elevation). For comparison purposes, California is home to 107 of the 188 established AVAs in the United States.
Wine snobs love to critique the quality of Connecticut (and New England in general) wines. In my opinion, the enjoyment of wine comes down to a matter of taste and the experience of drinking offerings from different parts of the United States. Objectively comparing Connecticut wines to those of a legendary wine-producing region such as Napa or Sonoma — or, going further, Piedmont or Burgundy – misses the point, and shouldn’t be the process by which a wine is judged.
When I drink wine, I simply enjoy working to break down the various tasting notes that hit my palate. And when I’m drinking in my home state of Connecticut, it’s probably at one of these seven places.
(29 Chestnut Hill Road, Litchfield, CT 06759)
Connecticut’s oldest winery does a fantastic job of using local New England flavors. The Honey Nut Apple, a white sweet and spicy apple wine flavored with local honey and cinnamon, is a good companion during a New England autumn.
(42 Ives Road, Goshen, CT 06756)
In going along with his Portuguese origins, Manny Miranda offers up a white port-style dessert wine called Vinho Fino. If you’re lucky enough to pick up a bottle (availability is extremely limited), expect the sweet taste of peaches, plums, and apricots.
(523 Taugwonk Road, Stonington, Connecticut 06378)
The best-selling and very inexpensive Seaport White is a great summer sipping wine for coastal New England. A refreshing off-dry white wine (Cayuga & Chardonnay blend), it’s the go-to bottle for Stonington and is priced for the masses.
Sunset Meadow Vineyards
(599 Old Middle Street, Goshen, CT 06756)
This winery is mostly known for their semi-sweet Blustery Blend and Cayuga White wines — however, my recommendation here is for something more unique. In the summer, Sunset Meadow concocts a “merlita”, which is an ice slushy using their Merlot. Pretty much a perfect glass on a hot summer day while listening to live music on their outdoor stone patio.
Paradise Hills Vineyard
(15 Windswept Hill Road, Wallingford, CT 06492)
Paradise Hills has a newly renovated tasting room and outdoor seating area with a heavy Tuscan vibe. Their TRIO blended red is my pick at this winery — very spicy flavors with notes of plum and berry. Another good thing about Paradise Hills is they usually keep their doors open pretty late with live music.
(1339 Whirlwind Hill Road, Wallingford, CT 06492)
A great venue for a large group of friends or for meeting new people. Gouveia’s tasting room features long tables to encourage a small-town European community feel, inspired by the head winemaker’s childhood. Their Cabernet Franc is full-bodied, with wood-like and raspberry aromas that would go perfectly with beef or lamb.
(11 Shailor Hill Road, Colchester, CT 06415)
The Westchester Red here is a great red blend wine that can either be served at room temperature or even lightly chilled — and no, it’s not blasphemous to chill red wine. This one has a very floral nose and tasting notes of spice, black cherry, berries, and a bit of smoke.