Wine Is Where You Find It

It’s one thing to know that all 50 states (yes, even Alaska, now) have working wineries. It’s quite another actually to come upon a neatly manicured vineyard among the marshes and tall white pines of near-coastal New Hampshire.



Which I did, while enjoying a brief break from wine (hah!) in old New England. A drizzly day pushed shorebirding or woods-walking into the uncomfortable-to-impossible range, so we – myself, Diane, and Jennifer, the friend we were visiting – decided to investigate the local wine situation. Our first (and, as it turned out, only) stop was Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown, NH, not far from the university town of Durham and the coastal town of Portsmouth.



Zorvino proved to be special in several respects, in my admittedly limited experience of east-coast vineyards. It has a lovely location, “on 80 beautiful acres in the middle of a New England hardwood forest” (that’s from its brochure: I was more struck by the pine trees). Zorvino is set up as a “function” place: It does many weddings and receptions in its “beautiful rustic post and beam manor house” (the brochure again), and that activity seems to be a large component of its economy. But it certainly makes wines – lots of them, from many different varieties of grapes and from all sorts of other fruits.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to know that the latter category didn’t much interest us. We politely – I hope it was politely – declined to taste the Pearz or Cherriez or Cranzeeno, and we were relieved to hear that the supply of pumpkin wine – “sort of like a port,” and apparently very popular – was exhausted. We tried the Niagara, a monovarietal wine made from native North American grapes grown there on the estate, and, while it was good of its kind, I’ve always found non-vinifera grape wines to be borderline drinkable at best. I don’t think it’s snobbery – it’s just my palate.



But, happily, there were plenty of vinifera-based wines on offer, most of them made from purchased grapes, with origins spread over California, Chile, and Italy. The whites include Chardonnay, Pinot grigio, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. The reds run from Lambrusco. Sangiovese, and Montepulciano (sourced from Italy); to Cabernet, Malbec, and Carmenere (from Chile); to Pinot Noir, Alicante, and old-vine Zinfandel (from California).

A quick glance around the tasting room (essentially an extension of the vinification area) confirmed that Zorvino is set up for multiple small-batch fermentations, which that proliferation of varieties certainly necessitates. And a few minutes of conversation with the pleasant woman who does the tastings established that the owner/winemaker, Jim Zanello, is an enthusiast – which that proliferation of varieties certainly necessitates.

If anyone doubts that we are living in a golden age of winemaking, a visit to a winery like Zorvino should turn on the light. We tasted about ten wines, and there really wasn’t a bad one in the lot. All were drinkable, some with more pleasure and complexity than others. Among the whites, we liked best the Chardonnay, fresh and unoaked and tasting very nicely of its grape. Among the reds, the Zin and the Alicante impressed us most, the former all brambly, intense Zinfandel fruit (with nice acidity to enliven it) and the latter showing a fine Mediterranean-wine profile – a real surprise deep in the piney woods.



Obviously, I’m not writing this up as a scoop about the newest winery discovery or to send you all haring off to New Hampshire. I’m far from saying these were the best wines I’ve ever had. What I want to celebrate here is the wonderful explosion, in these United States, of small, experimental wineries like Zorvino and enthusiast owners and winemakers like Jim Zanello. He’s bringing decent wine to an area well outside the pale of the fashionable Bo-Wash corridor, an area not terribly well served by sophisticated retail outlets. And he’s doing it at a price most people can afford – and even more important, with a welcoming attitude that most people, even the most timid wine newbie, can feel comfortable with.

Zorvino’s most expensive wines are $15 a bottle, and the tasting – most days, of about a dozen different bottles – is free. This is important; this is major. If the US is ever going to become a true wine-drinking country, wineries like Zorvino – and I believe there are many of them everywhere in the states – will be the reason why. Zorvino will never be named any glossy magazine’s Winery of the Year, but there is a real and important sense in which it and wineries like it are the Wineries of Every Year.

One Response to “Wine Is Where You Find It”

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