Foodies should take note of Amherst winery

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courtesy The Telegraph Feast

May 5, 2010
By Marc Bouchard

It’s high time for the foodies of south-central New Hampshire to sit up and take notice of the fact that we are home to a world-class winery. I am talking, of course, about Labelle Winery, of Amherst.

I recently attended an open house at its tasting room atop Chestnut Hill in Amherst. The driving force of the endeavor is winemaker Amy Labelle. Labelle seems to combine all of the qualities required of a fledgling enterprise: a great palate, intelligence, drive, business savvy and, most of all, passion.

How else could you explain how, in a backyard shed not much larger than some people’s garage, she is able to crank out more than 18 different styles of wines? Along the way, she has racked up an impressive list of wins in regional wine competitions.

Still, the proof for any winery lies not in their awards, their philosophy or their heritage. It’s what’s in the bottle that counts.

And despite the fact that I am primarily a fan of grape-based wines, it was immediately obvious that the real stars of the Labelle lineup are the fruit wines. The secret to Amy’s success is her ability to secure the finest locally-grown raw ingredients, and then maximize their potential.

There are four New Hampshire apple wines, ranging from the Pinot Grigio-ish Dry Apple to the not-too-tart, not-too-sweet Apple Cranberry Wine. Labelle also buys grapes from the Finger Lakes region of upper New York state to make the Seyval Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. All of these are nicely balanced food wines, if a bit tart for my taste.

The white wine that I really love is a blend named Corazon, which combines bone-dry seyval with a touch of the fruity raspberry. The balance is perfect, and I would gladly pour this as an aperitif or alongside any seafood dishes.

Labelle scores big with cooks by putting out three items designed specifically for the kitchen. Try the onion, heirloom tomato or piping hot jalapeno wines in sauces, marinades or vinaigrettes.

However, in the red and dessert wine categories Labelle blows the doors down.

I already knew the cheery Cranberry Wine is the perfect summer sipper and holiday wine, but the Red Raspberry Wine is on another level. The flavor is so forthright and vibrant that your tongue begins to salivate at the thought of the next sip. No, I’m not exaggerating.

If you like Merlot, then you’re going to adore the Blueberry Wine. Aged in French oak, it reminds me more of an aged French Pomerol than a fruit wine: plush, velvety, luscious, dry and the perfect foil for a really great grilled steak.

Labelle’s Grand cru is its newest wine, named Three Kings after the three loves in Amy’s life: her husband, Cesar, and her two young sons. It is made from a blend of red raspberry, blueberry and Marechal Foch.

Calling Three Kings a dessert wine is like calling the Rolls Royce a car. The color is dark, the bouquet fairly explodes out of the glass and the flavor deftly balances the aforementioned raspberry’s vibrancy with the blueberry’s velvet and the depth of the Foch.

Instead of serving it with dessert, why not just serve it as dessert? It also would be insanely good served with a platter of ripe cheeses.

Some of Labelle’s wines are available from select New Hampshire liquor stores as well as a growing number of gourmet shops and seasonal farmer‘s markets. But for the full selection, try to attend one of the monthly open houses in Amherst. Visit www.labellewinerynh.com or call 828-2923 for news, information and reservations.

The following recipes are adapted from the originals created by Amy Labelle.

Designer cocktails are all the rage. In this take on the popular Cosmo, Labelle substitutes her cranberry wine for the usual combination of cranberry juice and vodka.

CRANBERRY WINE COSMOPOLITAN
Serves: 2

6 ounces Labelle Cranberry Wine
2 ounces triple sec
1 ounces fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Ice cubes
Colored sugar for rimming the glasses
2 lime wedges

Pour the wine, triple sec, lime juice and sugar into a shaker, along with 4 ice cubes, and mix vigorously. Strain into sugar-rimmed martini glasses and garnish with lime wedges.

The following might be anyone’s beef pot roast, if it weren’t for the addition of Labelle’ sumptuous Blueberry Wine. Needless to say, you should pour the same wine alongside the roast when you serve it.

By the way, this roast tastes as good, if not better, the next day. Refrigerating it overnight will also allow you to skim off any excess fat and slice the meat more thinly.

POT ROAST WITH LABELLE BLUEBERRY
Serves 6

4-5 pounds boneless chuck pot roast
Flour
3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, sliced
1 cup carrots, sliced
½ cup celery, sliced
2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth or water
1-2 cups LaBelle Winery Blueberry Wine
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Season the roast on all sides with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Dust the meat with flour and then shake off any excess. Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed dutch oven and brown roast on all sides. Remove the roast, lower heat and brown the onions, carrots and celery for four to six minutes, or until the onions are barely translucent. Add the thyme, paprika, cinnamon, bay and garlic and saute for two minutes more.

Return the beef to the pot, add the remaining ingredients and simmer on the stove for 15 minutes. Cover the pot, and place it in the hot oven for another two-plus hours, or until fork-tender. If necessary add water to the pot to keep it moist. Taste for salt and pepper and serve over polenta, egg noodles or creamy mashed potatoes.

Marc Bouchard, of Hudson, is executive chef at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, Mass. Address comments or questions to him c/o Feast, The Telegraph, 17 Executive Drive, Hudson, NH 03051.