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Sunset Hill Vineyard

Sunshine Daydream 2018

Lyme, $30

Donna Moore is familiar to any devotee of the local wine scene — she’s the California gal who left her sports event production business in L.A. to open a winery on partner Matt Caruso’s family farm in Lyme. With their boutique vineyard, Moore wanted to recreate the intimacy she had experienced of engaging directly with winemakers in California. Moore’s dream came true with the opening of Sunset Hill Vineyard in 2016 and, in the process, she became Connecticut’s first Black winery owner.

Sunshine Daydream is as unique to Connecticut as the woman producing it. Using 100 percent estate-grown chardonnay grapes, it’s crafted in the style of an orange wine, with juice and skins remaining in contact for two weeks, rather than being separated immediately. The result is a wine with a stunning orange-yellow “sunglow” color. Notes of Jonagold apples, quince and almond greet the nose, while the palate is replete with white peaches and sour apple. The mouthfeel is pleasingly round, with an unobtrusive amount of sugar, ending on a briefly bitter yet agreeable apple skin and almond extract finish. Enjoy with end-of-summer fare such as grilled Cajun fish tacos or spicy red pepper lemon chicken.

For $30, you can turn up the Grateful Dead and daydream the rest of summer away.

Mouton Noir

Bottoms Up 2018

Willamette Valley, Oregon, $25

André Hueston Mack was given the nickname “Black Sheep” while working as a sommelier in New York City, for not fitting the typical stereotype of that role. Mack embraced the name and, in 2007, founded Mouton Noir to make wine (and T-shirts) reflective of both the Oregon terroir and his personality. Now this first-generation winemaker from New Jersey, whose motto is “Don’t do what you’re supposed to do,” is producing exciting wines adorned with his own eye-catching labels.

Sporting one of the most whimsical labels in the lineup, Bottoms Up is predominantly riesling, blended with a bit of pinot blanc and viognier. The wine is lively lemon yellow. The nose is intoxicating, with indicative riesling notes of petrol, pear and a hint of honeysuckle. The palate explodes with a melange of flavors, including peach, lime, green apple and orange blossom, ending with pithy orange peel. Vibrant acidity is delicately balanced with a modicum of residual sugar which, with an assist from the viognier, creates a pleasurable viscosity that endures. Pair with pan-seared lemon garlic scallops, blue cheeses, and spicy mapo tofu.

At $25, you can afford to pick up a few bottles online and still have money left over for one of their awesome T-shirts.

Brown Estate

Napa Valley Zinfandel 2018

Napa Valley, California, $45

The Brown family’s wine-crafting history began in 1980 with the purchase of an abandoned ranch in Napa Valley. After restoring the property, the Browns started a vineyard and sold grapes to local winemakers. Fifteen years later, the next generation, Deneen, David and Coral Brown, expanded into winemaking, becoming the first Black-owned winery in Napa Valley. The first bottling under the Brown Estate label was a 1996 zinfandel, and the Browns continue to specialize in the zinfandel grape.

Considered a flagship wine, Napa Valley Zinfandel is crafted from 100 percent estate-grown zinfandel. Cherry red in the glass with magenta highlights, this wine displays classic zinfandel aromas of jammy fruits such as black cherry and brambles, peppered with tantalizing notes of five-spice powder and a touch of tobacco. On the palate, the attack echoes the dark fruits, while the mid-palate reveals cherries and mocha wrapped around an earthy core. The finish features vanilla and hickory nuts. Tame tannins and a velvety texture are present throughout. This is a well-balanced wine, resting comfortably between rustic and refined. Pair with grilled steaks or chili-rubbed pork ribs with tangy coffee barbecue sauce.

It’s a powerhouse wine to accompany the final barbecues of the season with a $45 price tag.

Renée B. Allen, CSW, FWS, CSS, is a wine and spirits expert and the director of the award-winning Wine Institute of New England, which offers wine and spirits education and events. Allen is a professor at the University of New Haven, a wine competition director and judge, and can be seen on WFSB’s Better Connecticut.

This article appears in the September 2020 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.