While it’s only January in New Hampshire and we still have a couple months of winter to get through, it is time to quit your whining and start your wining.
From Monday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Jan. 30, the Granite State will be abundant with wine celebration and education as it revels in the eighth annual New Hampshire Wine Week, put on by the state liquor commission. More than 40 events, featuring 20 winemakers from across the globe, are scheduled across the state. The Winter Wine Spectacular, a charity benefit for the Easter Seals of New Hampshire, is the week’s focal point.
The Winter Wine Spectacular will be held at the Radisson Hotel, 700 Elm St., Manchester, on Thursday, Jan. 27, from 6 to 9 p.m.
“The Easter Seals event is the Super Bowl of the week,” said Christine Hardy, Easter Seals director of events and corporate relations. “All of the other wine events are the playoffs.”
The Winter Wine Spectacular, she added, has become the largest wine event in the region, featuring an estimated 2,000 wines this year. After selling out every year, the event has expanded to the exposition side of the Radisson hotel to accommodate more guests and more distributors. The expansion has brought in 25 new wineries and eight more restaurants. It will also allow for several hundred more tickets to be sold.
“Addressing feedback from the community to make it bigger, we were able to make it even more spectacular,” Hardy said.
Despite the economic downturn, the Winter Wine Spectacular continues to sell out annually, though the sold-out sign gets posted closer and closer to the day of the event. “That is really the only impact we have seen,” Hardy said. “We still sell the same amount of tickets, it just takes longer to get to that point.”
In the event’s first year, the organization anticipated drawing in no more than 400 attendants but brought in 800.
“We’re very optimistic here,” she said. “We knew after seeing the first year of success that we found the cherry in the bowl, or the grape on the vine if you will.”
Wine began to become popular with a wider audience in 2002 when the first event was pulled together, so Hardy said the event got “on the map at a good time.”
“We kind of set the pace for other wine tastings that are coming about. … [New Hampshire] winery owners, restaurants and the liquor commission have pulled together as a committee to ensure a top-notch event,” she said.
Hardy said Easter Seals has no plan to relocate the event to the Verizon Wireless Arena, no matter how large it might grow: “I feel in doing that it would lose its intimacy,” she said.
Wine Week, Hardy said, was a brainchild of the state liquor commission.
“This is the one time when we have a large number of winemakers from all over the world … descend on our state for the week,” said New Hampshire Liquor Commission Chair Joe Mollica. “Even if you don’t have an interest in wine but think you might … this is a great opportunity to try a vast number of wines and speak with winemakers.”
“Everyone is timid about spending the money on wine and learning it wasn’t what they expected it to be, but here you get to try it and experience it so next time you go back into the store, you can obviously take that knowledge with you,” Mollica said.
There will be space on each program book where event attendants can take notes on the wines they’ve tasted and conversations they’ve had with winemakers, Hardy said.
Mollica noted that holding the event in January, when winemakers are not worried about the spring bud break, harvesting or crushing, was ideal so the winemakers themselves could visit the state.
“We work very hard with our suppliers and our brokers year-round to make sure we can provide the best deals for our clientele. In doing that, we can develop relationships with wineries and, in turn, they like to come out and see our stores,” Mollica said.
“It is very personal for them, it is their names on those wines, their lives’ work in the bottle,” he continued. “They like to come out and see where our stores are and experience how New Hampshire runs its businesses.”
New Hampshire winemakers also benefit from the event, and the entire week, as it gets their products in front of the buying public, Mollica added.
“They are a great asset to our state and they make some wonderful wines,” he said. “This week absolutely benefits them and gets them the recognition of having other successful winemakers around the world come and try their wines as well, and [they] get to kind of talk shop with those people.”
The more the state can educate its customers on wines, the greater the uplift in sales, Mollica added.
The Winter Wine Spectacular is one of the largest-grossing fundraising events for the Easter Seals of New Hampshire. Last year’s event brought in $135,000 for the organization.
“It is a non-traditional fundraiser,” Hardy said. “In the world of nonprofits everyone does similar events. That is why we embraced a wine event — we had to do something unique and different to cater to people’s interests.”
The money raised at this year’s Spectacular will go to the organization’s Family Center for Early Support and Services, a program for children up to three years old throughout the state with mental and physical disabilities.
“Every single dollar raised goes back to the people of New Hampshire that need it most,” Hardy said. “We are bringing a great event to the community, but it all comes down the reason why we’re doing it.”
The event will also feature an auction of 15 wine-centric art pieces created by students at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.
“We found their interpretation of wine fascinating. … Everyone’s different take on wine comes out in their artwork and it is a nice marriage of two nonprofits,” Hardy said.
First-timers and veterans
For some businesses, Wine Week serves as a new adventure and a way to showcase their selection and knowledge — and draw in new customers. And while Wine Week is old hat for others, one veteran is setting the (ice) bar high at this year’s event.
Innkeeper Mason Cobb will welcome Marc Dupin, export manager of Louis Jadot and Kobrand wines, to Colby Hill Inn in Henniker for a five-course wine dinner on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 6 p.m. It is the Inn’s first year participating in the Winter Wine Spectacular, as well as its first time hosting a Wine Week event.
“Having the opportunity to bring in Marc Dupin, we thought would be a good opportunity to present to our guests,” Cobb said. “It is the first time we have had an opportunity to bring in a dignitary of his stature.”
The Inn already features Louis Jadot wines, and Cobb hopes Dupin will be able to share with guests the French vineyard’s philosophy of wine-making.
“It is going to be really special,” Cobb said, adding that he will serve a menu of a duck confit tartlet, broiled chevre salad with a candy cane beet vinaigrette, butter poached Maine scallops, an intermezzo of black currant sorbet, an entree of filet mignon, and a lavender cream caramel for dessert.
Wine Week events, Cobb noted, can educate consumers on selecting wines.
“When you go to a store there are rows and rows of bottles, so people might not know which one to pick; they might just pick the one with a pretty label that appeals to them — they might like the flowers or sophisticated design,” Cobb said. “And for a sophisticated wine-drinker they will get to try some of the off-the-wall stuff that a lot of people don’t know much about, like Spanish wine, which has really come into its own recently, and Portuguese wines. They will be able to try things other than what they’re used to.”
“Wine can be a never-ending study…. Wine Week allows the average consumer to meet the principles of wineries and ask in-depth or simple questions to increase their wine knowledge without having to go to France,” he said.
As her shop opened after the 2010 Wine Week, Svetlana Yanushkevich, owner of WineNot Boutique in Nashua, looks forward to being a first-time participant in the 2011 event.
“This is a huge thing for everybody. It is great to share this excitement with our clients,” Yanushkevich said.
“They get to see the person behind the winery, see the story behind the label, learn about the vineyard where the wine is made.”
WineNot Boutique will host Patricio Julián Santos, winemaker for Ricardo Santos and founder and winemaker for Tercos, for a lecture, food and wine pairing and bottle signing on Wednesday, Jan. 26, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Yanushkevich said she looked forward to Santos’ bringing in Argentinian wines to help her customers veer from the domestic styles and traditional varieties they have become accustomed to. The event, she said, will also serve as a gateway to offering more exotic wines at her shop. Yanushkevich plans to bring in semillon, made with a French grape from the Bourdeaux region; corontas, made with a white Argentinian grape; sangiovese, a red Italian wine; malbec, and dessert wine from Uruguay.
“Uruguay is producing amazing wines…. They have produced a lot of nice full-bodied red wines and an amazing dessert wine whose quality can be compared to a tawny port from Portugal,” she said.
Wine Week is shaping up to be busy for the Bedford Village Inn, which will host events daily from Monday through Saturday.
“There is no better way to celebrate our wine knowledge and our extensive inventory than through a week where we can really strut our stuff for both food and wine,” said BVI owner Jack Carnevale.
While BVI guests will be welcome to enjoy wine dinners and wine deals at the Inn’s function rooms, tavern and Corks wine bar, the main attraction at BVI will be the 50-foot circular ice bar on its patio, to be carved out of 10,000 pounds of ice by the Inn’s executive chef and certified ice sculptor Earl Morse. The bar will be open Monday, Jan. 20, through Saturday, Jan. 29.
“It’s really going to be a hoot,” Carnevale said of the wintery watering hole. Morse will also carve bars for the Winter Wine Spectacular.
The bar, Carnevale said, will feature a martini ice luge that guests can hold their glasses under to wait for a cascade of cold spirits. Hot drinks and, of course, wine will also served at the ice bar.
And while there will be heaters surrounding the bar, Carnevale suggests for guests to bundle up.
“Hopefully the weather will be cooperating with us,” he said.
The Inn will host Kevin Zraly, author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, for a wine tasting and seminar on Tuesday, Jan. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. Alex Sokol Blosser, of Sokol Blosser Winery will serve as a guest bartender at Corks on Wednesday, Jan. 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. and winemaker Lionello Marchesi will visit the Inn on Friday, Jan. 28, at 6:30 p.m. for a wine dinner prepared by chef Matt Provencher of Richard’s Bistro in Manchester, as part of the area’s “Have Knife, Will Travel” series. The Inn will offer a special wine meals throughout the week including a three-course dinner menu, paired with wines, for $45 per person.
“Wine Week just seems to get bigger and more versatile and little more unique here at the Inn,” Carnevale said.
“We are just going to have a lot of fun that week … I’m hoping we don’t get a blizzard, but if we do I will just have to keep shoveling a path to the bar.”