It may not be Piedmont, in the northwestern corner of Italy, known for Nebbiolo grapes. Or Sonoma County in California, with its exemplary Pinot Noirs or full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons. But Rhode Island is known for award-winning ice wines with heady fruit bouquets, and wine makers who source their grapes from farms all over the world to blend in bottles in the Ocean State.
So on May 25 — National Wine Day — test out these unique-to-Rhode Island blends. Then keep coming back to them any time.
Heritage Red Blend, Gooseneck Vineyards
Liana Buonanno and Paul Fede scour the world to make a varietally correct bottle without their own land or machinery. The duo, founders of Wickford Village’s Gooseneck Vineyards and relatives by marriage, partner with farmers from Oregon to Spain to source grapes that they combine into their own delightful Rhode Island wines.
Their Heritage Red Blend has aromas of fresh red fruits and indigenous flowers, and tastes of raspberries and blackberries with a spicy cedar and vanilla finish. Harvesting begins at the end of August and lasts through the middle of October; the wine is later aged in small American oak barriques for four to six months for a fuller structure. The blend is 40 percent Alfrocheiro Preto grapes, which have a velvet-like texture, rich colors, and spiciness, along with Aragonez, a Tempranillo grape that adds structure and acid, and Touriga Nacional, which ages like a Cabernet.
Bonus: Check out their creamy Chardonnay that tastes like green apples and butter wrapped in a slight hint of oak. It’s 86 percent Chardonnay and 14 percent Viognier, each sourced from Languedoc, France. Or their Pinot Grigio, true to varietal with flavors of melon, freshly squeezed citrus, and just-picked nectarines for a crisp finish, featuring grapes from Veneto, Italy.
Pinot Gris Ramato, Greenvale Vineyards
Along the sloping waterfront by the Sakonnet River in Portsmouth, R.I., the Greenvale farm with its 19th-century Victorian home was established in 1863 and is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. The Parker family started growing fruit to make their wines in the early 1980s. The estate, now in its eighth generation, even produces a vermouth fortified with brandy that uses the farm’s Pinot Gris grapes.
Greenvale also creates a Pinot Gris Ramato (“auburn” in Italian), also known as an orange wine. It’s made by allowing the juice to have contact with the grape skins before fermentation, lending an amber color to a wine that would typically be white. Their 2020 vintage can be aged properly and has rich aromatics from licorice to dried fruits and guava; on the palate, it features softer pear flavors with notes of apricots and caramelized apples.
The vineyard has won accolades for its chardonnays, but also offers a classic, moderate-tannin, medium-bodied Cabernet Franc that has savory flavors of black pepper, robust herbs, and red fruit. Greenvale’s 2017 vintage is blended with Merlot and Malbec, and then aged in French oak barrels for 16 months.
Gewürztraminer, Newport Vineyards
The story goes that the Nunes family has been farming since 1917, when Francisco Nunes acquired Bailey Farm, but their first vines were planted 70 years later in 1995, and Francisco Nunes’ great-grandsons, John and Paul Nunes, took over the farm and Newport Vineyards was born.
Their Gewürztraminer is an off-dry white with spicy flavors and hints of rose petals, honey, and lime. It has won awards including Best Rhode Island Wine at The Big E and the silver medal at The Atlantic Seabord Wine Competition, one of the oldest wine organizations on the East Coast, in the “Best Of” category for Gewürztraminer.
Bonus: The Great White, which is one of the vineyard’s most popular wines for the last two decades, is a blend of Cayuga, Riesling, and Vidal Blanc, making an easy-sipping table wine with subtle peach and strawberry notes. It also recently won the gold medal at the International Eastern Wine Competition.
Saint Croix, Verde Vineyards
Giacomo “Jim” Verde used to teach biology at the Community College of Rhode Island, but now he spends harvesting periods hand-picking grapes to create red and white wines at Verde Vineyards in Scituate, R.I. He uses solar panels and geothermal energy to power his vineyard.
His award-winning Saint Croix is medium-bodied with soft, fruit tannins and hints of wild berries. Saint Croix is a darker-skinned American hybrid grape known for its resistance to cold weather. It was first developed in Wisconsin, but is known to grow in New York and other parts of New England. Unlike some other red wines, this one is best while it’s still young.
The “Surveyor,” named after Verde’s father Nicholas Verde, who was a land surveyor in Rhode Island, is a light-to-medium bodied old world wine that mixes those same Saint Croix grapes with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Blaufrankisch. Its fruity bouquet includes aromas of red cherries and raspberry.