The perfect blend

Learning a thing or two about wine at Bangor’s Hickman Family Vineyards

Betty and John Lucas rub elbows with fellow wine lover Gina Pursell, all from Bangor, at Hickman Family Vineyards.

Betty and John Lucas rub elbows with fellow wine lover Gina Pursell, all from Bangor, at Hickman Family Vineyards.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Hickman Family Vineyards
Tasting room open Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5 p.m.
77 Orange Ave., Bangor

Tod and Alyse Hickman have the enviable job of making wine and spirits for a living—and then sharing them with their friends, neighbors and anyone who walks through their doors. I’ve long appreciated a glass of good red wine (and the occasional white) or three, but I’m definitely more of a lover than a connoisseur. So when I heard the Hickmans were holding a wine-blending party in their tasting room in Bangor, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more.

The best thing about tasting rooms is they give people a chance to try different things, to compare them and decide what they like best about each one. It also offers winery owners and staff the opportunity to explain the fruits of their labor, how they were made, where the grapes were grown, etc. Wine blending, which has become increasingly popular, Alyse told me, is a way for winemakers to both fix imperfections and create the exact wines they want, from flavor profile all the way to color.

For this event, held Aug. 18, the Hickmans first introduced attendees to four pure varietals: a grenache, sangiovese and estate zinfandel all from 2014, and a grenache from 2015. It was particularly interesting to place the grenaches side-by-side, as they were extremely different. As she poured me a taste from each barrel, Alyse explained that the 2014 tasted much oakier than the 2015—because it had spent a whole extra year in a barrel. The other 2014s, too, were bolder in flavor than that 2015 grenache, which was extremely smooth and mild while still maintaining its fruitiness.

Once all were tasted on their own, we each sat down with empty glasses, a small portion cup and a sheet of paper on which to record our recipes and notes. How fun! For the first time, I sat down and really analyzed what I liked and didn’t like about the wine I was drinking—and was able to change it. Alyse said the most successful blends tend to be fairly simple—two or three wines.

I sat and tinkered, found three I liked and let them sit while I toured the room (I would come back to them to decide which were truly my favorite). Most of the people in attendance were from the Bangor area, regulars at Hickman Family Vineyards and true wine lovers. All were very friendly, though that may have been the wine talking (but I doubt it).

This was the first year the Hickmans did not hold a contest at the end of the blending party, Tod told me. In years past, they’d all taste the favorites and vote on a winner, which would be bottled in bulk for wine club members and picked up at a later date. “This year, everybody’s a winner,” he said. Once favorite blends were discovered, each person could present his or her winning equation(s) to be bottled right there and then. My two winners were a three-parts 2015/one-part 2014 grenache blend and one with equal parts of each grenache and one part sangiovese.

Another tip I learned from Alyse, and why I chose to bottle two of each of my winners: Drink it now and it will be more or less the same as the day you bottled it, but let it sit for a while and all of the flavors will blend further and mellow out. With all but the 2015 grenache being fairly dry—especially the zinfandel—that’s something to consider. “Drier is OK if you’re going to let it sit in the bottle for a while,” she said.

The Hickmans, who open their winery for weddings and other events, also own Cobble Ridge Distillery, where they produce grappa moonshine (made with the grape skins, stems and pulp left over from making wine), brandy and rum. I’ve yet to visit, as mixing wine with liquor seems a dangerous concoction, but that just gives me a reason to return to Bangor someday soon.