Tonight I attended my second Finger Lakes Wine and Culinary Event at Lyons Mansion in Rochester. This event is sponsored by Jeff Arnold, founder of Discover Rochester and the Finger Lakes Destination and Wine Card. Chef Don Antinore co-hosted the event adding color commentary throughout the evening.
Three Seneca Lake wineries, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Atwater Estate Vineyards, and Red Newt Cellars, were scheduled for the event. Unfortunately, Red Newt was a no-show due to the weather. On the culinary side, Chef Brad Yearwood, Executive Chef at Cobblestone Creek Country Club and winner of several regional culinary competitions, was on hand to prepare appetizers and to give a cooking demonstration.
With a full house and only two out of three wineries present, the tasting tables were packed. The crowd made maneuvering around the room tricky too. Despite the cramped quarters, I was able to sample each of the wines without much trouble. I was even able to go back for a second taste for a few of the wines and even a third taste for my favorites. The wineries were well prepared.
I started off tasting with Red Tail Ridge’s Good Karma, a 80%/20% blend of Chardonnay and Riesling. This wine had 2.7% residual sugar but was well balanced with acid to cut the sweetness so it tasted drier than the RS might suggest. It had a nice, crisp citrus finish. Next I tried the 2008 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay. This wine is made from estate grown grapes and had a smooth oak flavor and a silky mouth feel that is common with a good oaked Chardonnay.
Food started coming out of the kitchen so I jumped right in and tasted the Crab Salad on a Crispy Wonton. The salad was delicious with large pieces of crab. The crispy wonton added a nice crunch to the appetizer. Next, came a Leek wrapped Ahi Tuna which was very good, but I liked the cucumber wrapped variation with a mayo and sweet Thai chili sauce that the Chef prepared in his demonstration much better.
I worked my way over to the Atwater table to taste their 2008 Pinot Gris and their 2009 Dry Riesling. The Pinot Gris had a crisp grapefruit flavor with the right amount of acid while the Riesling had lemon citrus flavors and was also well balanced. I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of balancing acid in a wine. Overly acidic wines go down hard.
More food came out on the floor including a Beef Carpaccio with Carbonated Grapes, Breaded Eggplant with Mozzarella and Pesto, and Green Tea Soba Noodles with a Hoisin and Teriyaki sauce. I found the beef to be bland. The eggplant was lightly breaded and cooked perfectly. The pesto was light and complimented the Mozzarella nicely. The noodles were served twirled on a fork which was clever and the sauce was light and flavorful.
The second hour of the event featured red wines. Red Tail Ridge served the 2008 Lemberger made with Martini Family Vineyard (It’s a Wonderful Life?) grapes and estate grown 2008 Pinot Noir. The Pinot was light bodied and fruit forward but a bit young tasting. The Lemberger was medium bodied with a light smokey finish. Atwater served their Big Blend, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), Lemberger (26%) Syrah (22%), and Merlot (19%). This was an interesting wine with different flavors coming to mind with each sip. It had a character all its own not dominated by any one particular variety. They also served their 2007 Meritage but by time I tasted it I had already gone back to have second tastes of other wines so my palate was past the point of discerning flavors in the wine. It tasted good, I just couldn’t tell you how good.
By time Chef Yearwood gave his cooking demonstration, the crowed had thinned by at least half so it was easy to see him in action. Jeff, feeling the need to fill in the gap that Red Newt left, went to the wine store and bought a few Finger Lakes wines to sample. He asked trivia questions about the Finger Lakes and their wineries as he poured wine to those who lingered after the cooking demonstration.
Overall, it was an interesting evening. The crowd was friendly and the wine and food was very enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed talking with Mike Schnelle, owner of Red Tail Ridge, and Chef Yearwood. They were eager to answer my questions and had a lot to offer about their craft. Jeff and Chef Don did a great job handling the crowd and keeping things interesting and running smooth. My only criticism, which I find true for many wine tasting events, is that it was too crowded. I found the same thing at Deer Run’s food and wine event before Christmas. Half the number of people would have been more appropriate for the space.