Rhode Island: Small State, Big Wine

Rhode Island: Once You’ve Been Here You Won’t Forget

If you’ve never been to Rhode Island, let us be the first to encourage you to visit. Simply put, Rhode Island is unforgettable. Often called “America’s First Resort,” tiny Rhode Island is much more. Its climate is tempered by the Atlantic Ocean, and there are miles of breathtaking beaches and views to savor and enjoy.

Farther inland, Rhode Island offers the cosmopolitan and historic city of Providence and a surprising array of agricultural activity, punctuated by a small — but thriving — wine industry. Grapes grow in plentiful numbers here, and winemakers have adapted their art in accordance with what nature provides.

There are five wineries in Rhode Island, and we’ll get to all of them. This is a perfect long weekend trip, and it’s easy access to Providence via any form of transportation. Since Providence is our starting point, let’s learn a bit more about this charming and vibrant city adjacent to Narragansett Bay.

Exploring Providence

We were delighted to discover that Providence, the capital of Rhode Island with a population of 175,000, is a very walkable city. What better way to explore a city than to feel its pulse on foot. Among Providence’s neighborhood destinations are Wayland Square, Federal Hill, Westminster Street and, of course, the downtown area. Let’s take a look at each.

Federal Hill, on the city’s west side, teems with dining opportunities. Long known for its “Little Italy” area, you’ll have no trouble finding a great place to eat within your price range. There’s also abundant shopping and it’s a great place for a stroll, before or after dinner. One of our favorites is the Scialo Brothers Bakery, a Rhode Island tradition since 1916, and a perfect stop any time of day.

For anyone who’s a fan of independent stores and shops, don’t miss Wayland Square on the city’s east side, not far from prestigious Brown University. This quaint neighborhood is best described as a slightly upscale Main Street. If you’re searching for fashion, visit Dorothy Williams, a highly respected women’s clothing retailer. Wander around for a few hours in this area and you’ll become acquainted with the real Providence.

Downtown is one of Providence’s destinations for entertainment, dining and nightlife. We enjoyed the historic architecture and the ease of walking and exploring. For evening entertainment, there are all sorts of venues and bars with live music. Two of our favorites are the casually elegant Citron Wine Bar and the warm and welcoming Blake’s Tavern. There’s also Hemenway’s Seafood Grille, the locals’ choice for fresh seafood, and Trinity Brewhouse, for casual fare and very good in-house brews.

Finally, while in Providence, be sure to explore Westminster Street. It’s an area that’s in revival and is home to various art galleries, local cafes and burgeoning nightlife. Just west of downtown, this neighborhood is a great example of renewal and reuse. Galleries and boutiques have sprung up here, and the Westminster street scene has a youthful, eclectic vibe.

Let’s Have Some Rhode Island Wine

Since Rhode Island is such a small state, one could quite possibly visit all five wineries in two days. However, you’d miss the simple pleasure of discovering all that Rhode Island has to offer. We were struck how lush, green and rural the area became as we traveled outside of Providence. And 25 minutes north of Providence, just a few minutes from the Massachusetts border is the small town of Cumberland, home of Diamond Hill Vineyards.

Diamond Hill Vineyards is located on a 34-acre site and is so picturesque that weddings and special events are common in front of the 220-year-old vineyard house. Known for its Pinot Noir grapes, Diamond Hill also has an excellent reputation for fruit wines. We were surprised to learn that peaches are grown in abundance on the property, and enjoyed Diamond Hill’s Peach Dessert wine. Opting for another taste of New England fruit, we highly recommend the Cranberry-Apple wine, a blend of 25% cranberry and 75% apple.

Traveling back south through Providence, you’ll reach Newport County, home of the famous resort area of Newport. On the east side of Naragansett Bay and just 5 miles north of Newport, you’ll find the small town of Portsmouth and Greenvale Vineyards.

Greenvale Vineyards is really a sight to behold. Situated on a 19th century farm, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Each year, Greenvale produces about 4,000 cases of estate grown wine, specializing in Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. If you visit on a Saturday during the summer months, you can stay for a jazz concert overlooking the Sakonnet River.

Among our favorites from Greenvale’s wine list are Rosecliff Pinot Gris, soft on the palate and with a pleasant fruity finish, and the aromatic Skipping Stone White, a blend of 90% Cayuga and 10% Vidal Blanc. Quite possibly the only thing better than Greenvale’s wines is the gorgeous scenery in the surrounding area. Greenvale is actually located on an Aquidneck Island, and it’s one of Rhode Island’s many scenic gems.

While we didn’t want to leave, next it was on to Newport Vineyards & Winery, just south of Greenvale. Newport Vineyards is the largest grape-grower in Rhode Island and has been producing popular vintages since 1988. This is another in a string of scenic vistas, built on a hill overlooking Rhode Island Sound.

For something different, we started our tasting with Newport’s famous hard apple cider, Rhody Coyote, named after a tagged coyote who makes the surrounding farmland his home. Crisp and light, it’s perfect for an autumn day or any other day for that matter. We were impressed by the variety of wines produced here, and noted the exceptional Rochambeau, a red wine in the Beaujolais style with pronounced berry flavor. We also loved their Pinot Noir and the elegantly dry Vintners Select Riesling. Just a quick note: if you like dipping pretzels in mustard, be sure to buy a jar or two of the pineapple cashew mustard glaze and dip in Newport Vineyard’s gift shop … outstanding!

On to Sakonnet and Langworthy

Our last stop in Newport County is Sakonnet Vineyards, Rhode Island’s oldest winery. Owners Earl and Susan Samson are New England wine pioneers, having produced wine for more than thirty years. Our congenial host at the tasting bar told us that the climate here is reminiscent of some of the world’s best wine producing regions, most notably the north of France.

Sakonnet produces over 30,000 cases annually in over a dozen varieties. It’s also quite popular in culinary circles, as guest chefs often conduct one-day seminars discussing food and wine pairings. We’re both big fans of Gewurztraminer, so we sampled Sakonnet’s Gewerztraminer 2006, complete with floral aroma and perfect delicate flavors. We also had fun with the Vidal Blanc, which starts sweet and finishes dry, a true example of the style and a great conversation starter with other tasters!

Leaving the Newport area and heading toward Rhode Island’s southwestern coastal area, you’ll find in Westerly, just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. Langworthy Farm Winery is situated on a family farm with an 1875 Victorian farmhouse that welcomes overnight guests. The grounds feature a stunning Norway maple tree that owners Joe and Gail Sharry tell us is the largest of its kind in the state (we believe it!). This tranquil winery offers six wines.

Our favorites were the Misquamicut Merlot, a full bodied version with dark cherry flavors, and the fruity and dry Rhody Riesling.

So, here’s to little Rhode Island — small in size but very, very big in wine, taste and scenery!

Cheers!

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