Flights of fancy at the new LaBelle winery

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courtesy the Union Leader

This past Saturday afternoon, I finished my “research” on the LaBelle Winery’s grand opening as Wendy and I sat out on the terrace overlooking the newly planted LaBelle Vineyards. Know what the best thing was? There were people of all ages there, young kids through seniors, twenty-somethings, us, you name it.

Things at LaBelle are not always what they appear, and this makes it fun. As Wendy and I walked up the hill from the lower parking lot to the winery last week, there was an unassuming guy in jeans and a baseball cap helping direct traffic for the wedding that was in progress.

As we walked by we heard him explaining lots of things about the vineyard plantings — turns out he’s John Temchack, the vineyard manager, and he gave us a wealth of information.

Despite the fact that southern New Hampshire is, for one thing, one huge pine forest, the soil acidity near the winery is right in the range that vines need to flourish, so they didn’t have to do much with the soil before they planted. The vines were planted this summer, — 1,499 of them (one bundle of 25 was one short, if you were curious).

With a planting that size, John said, the expectation is that a hundred vines or more will be lost to various factors . At the end of the summer, all but 14 are thriving in their new home. There are several varietals, and in two or three years they will be producing grapes to make wine. there are grapes budding already, but they are pruned to encourage the vines to dig deep and get ready to do the real thing.

This past Saturday, we sat out on the terrace, at a table looking out on the vines planted near Route 101. Surprised again — another guy in T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap brought us our menus. I looked up to say thanks and — it was Cesar, co-owner and cellar master, wearing his official “cellar rat” T-shirt (yes that’s a real term for the folks who work in the wine cellar). He came by to chat a few times while we were trying the wines, but couldn’t stay too long — the place was hoppin’.

The view from the terrace is fantastic — young vineyards, blue skies — and relaxing. It’s a great place to just hang out. So now, onto the result of my research: The winery offers a flight of three wines, in 3 ounce pours so you can sample several of them. They have a suggested flight of three reds and three whites, or you can pick your own. There are many to choose from, including:

LaBelle Dry Apple, $14.99. Pale colored, with a white apple nose, and a medium palate with flavors of white apple, a background of herbal notes, well balanced alcohol and acidity, and a smooth progression from start to finish. Amy and Cesar describe it as a “Pinot Grigio” style wine, and that’s accurate. Salads, especially with a little fruit around the edges, would be a great pairing.

LaBelle Granite State White, $14.99. French oak aged, light gold in color, off dry on the palate with flavors of apple, peach and a course of stone fruit on the way to the long finish.

LaBelle Gewurtztraminer, $15.99. Cesar recommended Asian food, and I will second that. Anything with a good dose of spice would stand up to it too. Pale lemon wine, with good spice on the nose, a soft initial presentation on the palate that suddenly brings mouth-watering acidity, and flavors of stone fruit, hints of sharp tropical fruit, and pear flavors in a complex and subtle presentation.

LaBelle Americus, $19.99. Medium-hued red, with dark fruit on the nose, black fruit to be specific, hints of pepper come through with the promise to show up again later. The palate is rich, with ripe raspberry, blackberry, and pepper. Harmonious, pleasing finish. Steak and other grilled meats are the recommended pairings. How about pepperoni pizza too?

LaBelle Three Kings, $22.99. Named for Amy’s “Three Kings”— Cesar and her two sons — is tawny in the glass, with a nose of ripe raspberry, and dark fruit, and the palate is off-dry (a bit sweet but not overdone), with flavors of raspberry, darker fruit from the Americus part of the blend, light tannin, and a pleasing finish.

LaBelle Blueberry, $18.99. Some people turn their noses up at the very idea of fruit wine, conveniently forgetting that grapes are a fruit, and that pretty much any fruit out there can be fermented into wine. LaBelle has the process down, and this is a good example. Dark hue, a nose of blueberry, and a palate that included the blueberry, yes, but not only that. There is an earthy depth to this wine, with herbal background and good weight to make it interesting. Definitely not the one-trick pony that some poorly made wines can be. This was one of Amy’s first experiments with wine all those years ago, and a wonderful tradition that continues.

Granite State Red, $14.99. Also aged in French oak, very bright in the glass, a nose of black fruit and deliciously ripe red fruit that is reflected on the palate through to the finish.

LaBelle Apple Cranberry, $15.99. Turkey and roast beef are the recommended pairings, and this is right on target. The nose is cranberry, yes, but with a harmonious component of strawberry. The palate is well balanced, with cranberry coming through first, with a modicum of tartness, and it’s here that the apple shines, white apple, really ripe, like you’ve just picked it from the tree. The tannin is present and well integrated. The flavovrs travel along together right through the finish. Put it out on the table right between the turkey and the cranberry sauce, and everyone will think you a genius.