Warm up with wine

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LaBelle’s grand opening brings more to sip

By Luke Steere
courtesy The Hippo

LaBelle Winery owner Amy LaBelle’s grand opening on Oct. 3 in Amherst came at a great time for fall wines.

“Fall brings a renewed interest in wine each year. With our innovative blends, I notice a curiosity in the customers, and we have a lot of different varieties for them to try,” LaBelle said. Twenty-five, in fact, roughly half of them grape wines and half fruit wines. Cooler weather and shorter days tends to call for more hefty wines, usually reds, though whites have their place, and at LaBelle, the lighter Granite State Red takes a back seat to the Americus for a few months.

“People are looking for something like a Cabernet, a heavier red. The Americus is very dark and peppery. It starts coming into fashion because it’s good to sit around a fire with,” LaBelle said. Wines are served on site, at a fire bowl on an outside terrace, a perfect setting for three fingers’ worth of the Americus and lighter fare from the winery’s menu. Americus can also be paired with bigger meals, especially steaks for those who still have their grills out. LaBelle Winery also has a crisp, dry Riesling, for white grape fans and maybe for cozy indoor gatherings — Riesling is a Thanksgiving favorite.

“My vision is to create wines without having to go outside New England. Everything we use can be grown and touched inside the region,” LaBelle said. That includes New York, for now. In three years the winery will be using grapes growing right now on the LaBelle vineyard.

For now, as harvest time nears, LaBelle is in constant contact with the family running the New York vineyard. Weather conditions affect grapes. A rainy spell around harvest time will cause the grapes to soak up the water, numbing their taste, plus, as they grow, the sugars drive sweetness up and acidity down. Wine tastes are dictated by when grapes are picked, she said, and picking time is what “makes every winemaker different.”

The same goes for fruit. Just as beermakers turn to pumpkins this time of year, Labelle uses cranberries and apples to get into some mulling wizardry. LaBelle’s pinot grigio-like Dry Apple is one of its four apple wines for which local apple varieties are pressed into a dry, crisp white. The aim is to bring more acidity than sweetness, at least with non-dessert varieties, LaBelle said. “They are more comparable to grape wines, while still preserving the fruity freshness. We do not want to have too much of that sweet or saccharine flavor — it’s more like grape wines,” LaBelle said.

One of the bestsellers is the semisweet cranberry wine, which has a brilliant red color and, again, a balanced sweet tartness. The wine has also inspired a rotating, seasonal cocktail menu at the winery.

“I love to cook and also mix drinks. It’s a thing when you’re having good times with friends and family, just like wine, but my husband and I are not big drinkers. We were looking for something to cut them down. Even a regular martini is strong,” LaBelle said. Thus was born the Caramel Appletini, which debuted in September three years ago and contains both Granite State Apple and the Dry Apple with Sour Apple Pucker, Buttershots and maple syrup and is rimmed with caramel and crushed graham cracker. Others include the re-worked classic Cranberry Wine Cosmopolitan, the Mulled Apple Wine and the Jack-o-Lantern, with Dry Apple, whiskey and pumpkin puree.