Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wine Tasting on Seneca Lake

Having worked in a distillery and a winery on the two largest alcohol-producing Finger Lakes, I know how obnoxious drunken tasters can be.

On the other hand, it can be fun to be that obnoxious drunken taster...

I had a chance to be on the other side of things last weekend, when I went wine tasting on Seneca Lake. Fortunately, a friend was easily bribed into driving, so I could taste to my heart's delight.

We started off with a tasting of another kind: a coffee tasting at Gimme Coffee on State Street in Ithaca. Sorry, not a tasting; a "cupping"!

Post-caffeination, the main event began. My favorite wineries to visit are the smaller ones, that don't technically belong to the large wine trails. They tend to cater less to larger groups and more to geeky wine drinkers like myself. Because they are smaller, the winemaker and/or owners are often around the less-crowded tasting room to answer questions and talk about their products. And although other wine regions offer tastings for as much as $10-$30, at the Finger Lakes wineries you can taste up to 6 or 7 wines for just $2 or $3, making wine tasting a really fun and affordable way to spend an afternoon.

Unless, of course, you're like me and lack the self control to prevent you from picking up a bottle of that delicious Cab Franc. Or 2, or 3...
The Spoils
We started with lunch at Wagner Vineyards' Ginny Lee Restaurant. I ordered one of their IPAs with my chicken sandwich and was underwhelmed; it tasted yeasty and metallic, so we passed on further tasting and headed to Silver Thread Vineyards.
Silver Thread Tasting Room

The unassuming tasting room gave way to a very knowledgeable taster, the vineyard's owner, and a great tasting experience. Silver Thread offers an entire tasting of just rieslings, to showcase the regional specialty. I didn't love their 2011 Dry Riesling, which I found just so-so in a region where every winery makes at least one riesling, so I moved on to their other wines. I walked away with a bottle of 2010 Blackbird, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon featuring dark berry flavors and spice.

Next we stopped at Shalestone Vineyards, unique in that it only produces red wines. In a region known for its aromatic whites like riesling and gewurtztraminer, this is a bold move, but winemaker Rob Thomas has done a great job with blends like Harmony, a near-Meritage blend, and Lemberghini, a deep burgundy, oak-filled Lemberger-based table wine. My favorite was the 2009 Cabernet Franc. Like Silver Thread, Shalestone doesn't cater to large groups or feature the crowd-pleasing sweet wines among its lineup. Which is just the way Thomas wants it.
Shalestone Winemaker Rob Thomas
Penguin Bay Tasting Room
And finally we ended our tour with Penguin Bay, sister to Cayuga Lake wineries Goose Watch and Swedish Hill. The largest of the wineries we stopped at, Penguin Bay features a much larger tasting room, staff with less firsthand experience, and a much more group-friendly atmosphere, including a large selection of sweet wines, like one of the only Moscatos made in New York State. I absolutely LOVED the Goose Watch Pinot Noir Brut Rose, with its soft strawberry and cherry notes and tickly bubbles. Then again, I love rose and sparkling wine, so it was a no-brainer for me (for whom doing my laundry is occasion enough to pop open a bottle of bubbly). I also left with a bottle of Penguin Bay Pinot Grigio, a great table white lacking the slate and earthy qualities sometimes featured in that varietal.

What a great day, with great wine, great views and great company. So glad I didn't go with plan B, couch time with my roommates and the History Channel Pawn Stars marathon.
Grape vines overlooking Seneca Lake
My bank account and liver may be complaining, but I can always deal with that later right?

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