Finger Lakes Riesling Festival

Cool, rainy weather might have kept patrons away from the farmers market and arts and crafts booths at the 2010 Finger Lakes Riesling Festival, Sunday August 15, but it didn’t keep wine lovers from visiting the wine garden where over two dozen Finger Lakes wineries featured their best Rieslings. I can imagine that the crowd was heavier the day before, when the weather was picture perfect, but this probably meant longer waiting times to sample wines.

When Katy and I arrived in Canandaigua, a light rain was falling and there was a thick blanket of fog over the lake. I stopped at the city pier to take a couple of photographs and get my bearings on where to find the wine garden. It wasn’t clear where to park or which direction to go. We drove around a bit and found an attendant who directed us to parking and the wine tent. The rain picked up as we walked by vendors trying to stay dry and struggling to keep their small tents from blowing away. Katy was struggling with the umbrella and I was trying to grin and bear it. When we reached the ticket booth and thought I had found some shelter from the rain, a stream of water poured off the roof of the tent an went straight down my back. I stepped back a foot and relented to the rain as the stream poured on top of my head. Now I didn’t have to worry about getting wet anymore.

With so many wineries present, I thought we should pick our top six to visit first and then make a second round if time and our palettes permitted. We decided to target wineries we haven’t been to recently. Heron Hill Winery was first on the list since we missed them at the Cortland Arts and Wine Festival a few weeks earlier. Anthony Road Wine Company is a favorite of mine, as is Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, so they were definitely on the list. Katy and I had a good experience at Damiani Wine Cellars and Standing Stone Vineyards a few years ago while touring Seneca Lake as well as Imagine Moore Winery last year at the Wine and Chocolate Festival in Rochester.

With our list in hand, we headed for Heron Hill. Heron Hill offered their 2007 Ingle Vineyard Riesling, their 2008 Dry Riesling, and their 2008 Semi-dry Riesling. The Ingle Vineyard Riesling was a dry, medium bodied wine. It was well balanced with plenty of fruit and a crisp, lemon note. The Dry Riesling had grapefruit characteristics which I find common in dry Rieslings. It was not as crisp and refreshing as the Ingle Vineyard Riesling. The Semi-dry Riesling was more fruit forward than the Dry Riesling but otherwise had similar flavors and characteristics as the dry. The Ingle Vineyard Riesling definitely stood out as our favorite of the three.

Anthony Road offered their 2009 Dry Riesling, their 2009 Semi-dry Riesling, and their 2009 Semi-sweet Riesling. The Dry Riesling had floral hints while the Semi-dry had a distinctive peach flavor up front. Both were full bodied with a lot of structure which showed itself in mouth feel and taste. The Semi-dry was slippery on the tongue as well. Katy preferred the Dry Riesling. It was a toss-up for me. Both were very interesting and different than many of the Rieslings I’ve had recently. The Semi-sweet Riesling was very good with plenty of fruit but it didn’t compare in body and flavor to the other two wines from Anthony Road.

By time we arrived at Damiani Wine Cellar’s booth, the rain was coming down full force and water was filling up the ground under the tent. Within a few minutes we were ankle deep in water. Katy grimaced as she sloshed through the mud and water. I already admitted defeat and drugged through the slop. Damiani offered one white, their 2009 Semi-dry Riesling. This was full bodied with the slippery mouth feel we experienced with Anthony Road’s Semi-dry. Amy, the winery representative, said she believes the slippery feel is due to the fining agent used. She said glycerin based fining agents are more viscous than other agents which accounts for the feel. This makes sense to me. Amy offered us a taste of their 2008 Meritage as well. This was a surprise for a Riesling festival, but I wasn’t going to be rude and turn her down. I know, what a guy. The Meritage had a deep red color with a smokey, nutty flavor. It had wonderful aromas and body that you would expect from this style of red. What a treat.

We deviated from our list a bit as we passed King Ferry Winery. They lured us in with their 2008 Dry Riesling, 2008 Semi-dry Riesling, and their 2008 EIS Late Harvest Riesling. The Dry Riesling was light in body and fruit and was clean and crisp. The Semi dry was light and fruitful and a bit bubbly. The EIS was super sweet, like Riesling candy in a glass. I would love it over ice cream, but not to drink, since my residual sugar limit is around 3.5% to 3.8%. The EIS is well above that.

Standing Stone offered a 2008 Dry Riesling that had distinctive mineral characteristics with hints of apple. Their 2009 Riesling was a semi-dry wine with classic Riesling body and fruit flavors. It was perfectly balanced as well. This wine scored 88 in Wine Spectator. I can’t say I know how to interpret that number since some of the other wines I tasted so far didn’t have a Wine Spectator score were as good or better. I wonder what their scores would be. Standing Stone’s 2008 Ice Riesling was very sweet as expected but stood out with butterscotch and toffee flavors. I bet it’s great on pancakes.

Imagine Moore had their 2009 Semi-dry Riesling that had peach fruit up front with a light, sweet finish. We also sampled their 2008 Traminette which was light and spicy.

We couldn’t pass by Zugibe Vineyards without stopping for a taste of their wines. Katy and I have grown very fond of this winery. Their 2008 Dry Riesling had earthy, mineral characteristics. The 2007 Riesling had wonderful pear and vanilla notes and was perfectly balanced. The 2008 Semi-dry Riesling had classic grapefruit flavors often found in Rieslings without the bitterness that sometimes follows. We enjoyed all three wines but particularly enjoyed the 2007 Riesling which was another favorite of the day.

Finally, we finished our rounds at Dr. Frank’s where we sampled the 2009 Dry Riesling, the 2009 Salmon Run Riesling, and the 2009 Semi-dry Riesling. The ’09 Dry was full bodied on the mouth and light on fruit. The Salmon Run was sweeter which brought out the fruit flavors. By time I tasted the Semi-dry, my taste buds were saturated so it was difficult for me to pick up the subtle flavors but I can say it tasted excellent. I’ll have to put Dr. Frank’s at the top of the list next time so my palette will be fresh.

We tasted a few other wines after Dr. Frank’s but didn’t take notes because by this time my palette had enough.  I suppose we could have tried one wine at each booth rather than several wines at a few, but I think our strategy worked out just fine.

Our soggy feet needed to dry so Katy I walked along the lake to take in the view. The weather had cleared so it was an enjoyable walk. Afterwords we grabbed a bite to eat at MacGregors’ Grill and Tap Room then topped that off with ice cream at Scoops.

One thing about living in the Finger Lakes is that you can’t let the weather get in the way of having a good time and enjoying the day, especially in the summer. We have our share of beautiful weather but there are times when it just doesn’t cooperate the way you would like. This certainly proved to be true this day. The rain dampened the air but not the spirit of the festival.

Canandaigua is a beautiful city with wonderful lake views, plenty of shops and restaurants, and is home of the New York Wine and Culinary Center. Put it on your list of must see places in the Finger Lakes.

Our favorite wines of the day include Heron Hill’s 2007 Ingle Vineyard Riesling, Anthony Road’s 2009 Dry and Semi Dry Rieslings, Standing Stone’s 2009 Riesling, Zugibe’s 2007 Riesling, and Dr. Frank’s 2009 Salmon Run Riesling. What were your favorites?

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Cortland Arts and Wine Festival – The Afterparty

A few weeks ago, Katy and I attended the Cortland Arts and Wine Festival, in Cortland, NY. The festival featured almost twenty New York State wineries and over thirty artisans displaying their work. Read a full review of the festival here. After the festival, it was time to get something to eat. Cortland is my home town so Katy and I invited my family to meet us at Brix Pubaria on Main Street, a short walk from the festival. I was excited to try this restaurant since my cousins are partners in the business and my cousin Shannon is the head chef. There has also been a lot of buzz about the restaurant around Cortland so I would have wanted to try it even without the family connection. I love what they did with the space. The building had been the home of several restaurants in the past. Brix renovated from the ground up and they did a great job paying attention to the smallest details. The large double bar is located in the center of the restaurant with dining areas on each side. The bar was well staffed and had an extensive selection of wine, beer and liquor. There’s a pizza oven and dining bar in the back where you can watch the pizza chefs create their masterpieces.

Brix specializes in brick-oven pizza and baked pasta dishes. They offer a variety of other pub fair as well including chicken wings, salads, and sandwiches. We ordered a few appetizers for the table including Roasted Garlic & Honey Mustard Chicken Wings, Rosemary Pizza and Loaded Hot Garlic Chips. The appetizers came out quick and were delicious. The chicken wings had a nice coating of garlic-mustard sauce and were golden brown but were a bit over done. The pizza featured fresh house made mozzarella, fresh rosemary, roasted peppers and garlic, and goat cheese. The thin crust was cooked perfectly and the combination of toppings worked great together. The Loaded Chips were made with fresh cut Idaho potato chips, warm garlic-herb parmesan butter, smoked Gouda & mozzarella, apple wood smoked bacon, chives, onions, cilantro, and a spicy BBQ cream. With these ingredients, how can you go wrong? Some restaurants serve house made chips that are soft or soggy. Not Brix. The chips were thick and crunchy, which is the key. For entrees, I had the Crown City Chicken Riggz, rigatoni pasta with marinated chicken, peppers, spicy tomato cream, and fresh mozzarella. The rigatoni was cooked al dente, as you would expect. There was a generous amount of chicken and the spicy tomato cream sauce was light and flavorful, not heavy like some cream sauces can be. Katy had the Prima with Spicy Tomato Sauce that included baby spinach, Roma tomatoes, mushroom blend, broccoli, onions, mozzarella, over a whole wheat penne pasta. The pasta and vegetables were cooked just right. Katy thought the Spicy Tomato Sauce could have been a bit spicier. There were nine of us at the table so it was a bit busy for me to take everything in but I know we all enjoyed the food and the company. Other favorites at the table included the East End Stomp and the B.o.B Mac-N-Cheese. I should mention the prices were very reasonable and the service was excellent. The wait staff was friendly, attentive, and very helpful.

After dinner Katy and I headed to Virgil and Greek Peak Mountain Resort where we spent the night at Hope Lake Lodge. The lodge is located on Route 392, right across the street from the ski center. The lodge main entrance is protected by a large portico where you are greeted with full valet and bell service. The main lobby is a large, rustic great room with a huge stone fire place and chimney in the center. A restaurant and bar are located to the left with the front desk and hallway to the rest of the lodge to the right. It is certainly what I would expect a mountain lodge to look like. There are five floors that hare home to a spa, conference center, exercise room, children’s activity center, and of course, the guest rooms. On the back side of the lodge is the Cascades Indoor Water Park. Condos are available either by booking like a traditional hotel or though fractional ownership. With fractional ownership, you purchase a one-quarter share in a condo which entitles you to thirteen weeks of deeded ownership and use of the lodge facilities. There are 149 condo units with nine styles to choose from.

Our condo was a one bedroom loft that sleeps up to six people. The loft featured a queen size bed and had a bathroom with a shower. The main level had a living room complete with a gas fireplace, sofa with pull out sleeper, a Murphy bed, and dining table. Also on the main level was a kitchenette with a stove, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, sink, dishwasher, and was adequately stocked with dishes, cups, glasses, and silverware, and utensils. A full bathroom was just off the kitchenette and a balcony with a view of the ski slopes was located off the living room. The accommodations were very comfortable with plenty of room for four people. It would be a bit tight for six people with the Murphy bed and pull out sofa opened but roomy enough otherwise. The rustic décor followed the theme of the rest of the lodge and was very cozy. The only problem I had was getting the gas fireplace to light. There were no written directions to be found and a call to the front desk didn’t help either. I didn’t press it because it was plenty warm without it but definitely would have needed help if I had my heart set on sitting in front of the fire after a long day of skiing.

The room included six tickets to the Cascades Indoor Water Park which we took advantage of by inviting my brother, sisters, and nephews to join us for the evening at the park. The 41,000 square foot park features several water slides appropriate for toddlers to adults, a wave pool, a multi-level activity zone with a 500 gallon deluge bucket, activity pool, wading pool, indoor/outdoor hot tubs, and an outdoor pool. There were plenty of chairs to lounge around in while you watch the fun and well staffed with life guards so you don’t have to worry about the kids. There was plenty of water action for everybody. I even tried out the three story water tube which twisted its way down in the dark. It was fun to be 12 years old again. My only complaint is that the hot tubs were small and oddly shaped. It would be nice if they were a bit larger and had one reserved for adults only, something I’ve experienced at other resorts. The outdoor pool was a good size and well heated. I bet its great in the winter.

Katy and I enjoyed breakfast on the balcony the next morning. Even though the lodge was busy with guests, it was very quiet and peaceful on the balcony. The Virgil Hills are beautiful. I wish we had more time to explore the lodge. There’s the Acorn Grill, a traditional family restaurant, the Bobcat Lounge offering a fully stocked bar and light menu fare, and the Edgewater Café located next to the water park for grabbing a quick snack while at the park. Waterfalls Spa offers complete spa packages including manicure, pedicure, facials, massage, teeth whitening, the list goes on and on. I’m sure you could find something to pamper yourself there. Just up the hill from the lodge is Hope Lake Park where you can find a guarded swimming beach, canoe rentals, fishing, a pavilion, and picnic facilities. There certainly is a lot to do all year around.

If you’re planning a Finger Lakes vacation, definitely check out Hope Lake Lodge and Greek Peak Ski center. Be sure to stop for a bite to eat at Brix Pubaria as well.

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Cortland Arts and Wine Festival

Growing up in Cortland, I never thought of it as being a Finger Lakes community, even though my family made many trips each summer to Skaneateles Lake which is less than a half hours drive from my parent’s home on Miller Street. When I thought of the Finger Lakes, communities like Ithaca, Geneva, and Watkins Glen always came to mind, and rightfully so, since they are certainly in the middle of the Finger Lakes region. When I saw an advertisement for the Cortland Arts and Wine Festival which proclaimed Cortland as the Eastern Gateway to the Finger Lakes, it made me stop and think for a minute. I realized that Cortland is within a half hour drive of four Finger Lakes, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco Lakes. Ithaca has only two lakes within that distance. One could argue that Syracuse deserves this title, since it’s a much larger City, but certainly Cortland qualifies as well. Cool. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region and didn’t even know it.

As I mentioned, I saw an ad for the Cortland Arts and Wine Festival so my girlfriend Katy and I decided to go and see what it was all about. The festival was held on the Cortland Court House grounds last Saturday (August 7th). There were sixteen advertised wineries scheduled to be at the event, although there was at least one no-show, Heron Hill Winery. I noticed because I was looking forward to tasting some of their wine. Katy and I enjoy Heron Hill wine and it’s been a while since we’ve had some.

I tasted at least two wines from each winery and for the most part enjoyed them all. There were three wineries that stood out in the crowd as having noticeably exceptional wines; Cascata Winery at the Professors Inn, Long Point Winery, and Zugibe Vineyards. I found myself lingering at the tasting tables of these wineries, eager to try the next wine. I’ve visited each of these wineries in the past four months and remember having a great experience at each. It was no surprise that these were my favorites at the festival. I’ve written about Zugibe and Long Point in recent posts and plan to visit Cascata again before the summer is over to do a complete review of their wines. I have to visit with the professor’s husband, too. Let’s just say he’s quite a colorful character and adds a lot of fun and humor to the wine tasting experience. My favorite wine of the day was Long Point’s 2007 Zinfandel. This rich, complex wine had bold blackberry and spice flavors and a smooth finish. It stood head and shoulders above the other reds offered at the festival.

My least favorite wineries at the festival were Thousand Islands Winery from Alexandria Bay and Pazdar Winery from Scotchtown, NY which is located downstate. I found the wines from Thousand Islands to be very light bodied and flat in flavor and character. Pazdar’s wines were quite different from any of the other wines at the festival. They were very sweet which isn’t my style and the blends didn’t seem to work very well together. I asked the winery representative, who I believe is the winemaker, about the blends but he wasn’t willing to share information about the types of grapes used and how they were blended. I call them mystery wines but the mystery left me confused rather than intrigued.

We didn’t have much time after the wine tasting to enjoy the rest of the festival. There were several vendors and artist exhibits along with local musicians playing throughout the day. We did get a chance to have a hot dog before the tasting and bought some kettle corn afterwards. We even had a few minutes to stop at a few artist booths where I bought Katy a pair of earrings for our 5th anniversary. Overall it was a very enjoyable festival, one that I would certainly attend again in the future.

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Head-to-Head Wine Tasting – Finger Lakes vs. Washington State

After a hot afternoon in the sun at a company picnic, I went to my girlfriend Katy’s house to relax for the evening. When I arrived, she offered me a glass of Zugibe Vineyards 2008 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling. I usually like my Rieslings semi-dry but for some reason I was really enjoying this dry Riesling. Katy purchased the wine because she preferred it to the other Rieslings we tasted at Zugibe a few weeks ago. The 2008 Dry Riesling is clean and crisp with a distinctive lemon citrus finish. The bright lemon note is what I liked best about it. It was light and refreshing. Katy poured herself a glass, which finished the bottle.

When I was ready for another glass of wine, she produced a bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle’s 2009 Riesling and suggested we compare it to Zugibe’s Riesling. Chateau Ste Michelle is located about an hour north east of Seattle and is recognized as one of Washington State’s leading wineries. The first thing I noticed about the 2009 Riesling was that it had a grapefruit finish as compared to the lemon finish of Zugibe’s Riesling. The grapefruit finish wasn’t as bright and refreshing as the lemon finish. It was also slightly bitter, which stood out significantly at first but was less noticeable as I finished the glass and started my second.

While I enjoyed the Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, I found myself wishing Katy had another bottle of Zugibe’s Riesling. I definitely preferred Zugibe’s, as did Katy. It would be interesting to repeat the tasting as a blind tasting to see if we come to the same conclusion. I think Katy and I will have to give it a try.

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Seneca Lake Summer Music and Wine

Music and wine seems to have been the theme in the Finger Lakes this past month. For me, it started with a Wednesday night trip with some friends to Geneva and Ventosa Vineyards to hear Sarah and Joe Mull perform “contemporary hits with vocal and guitar”. Their soft, lounge style music blended perfectly with the laid back crowd and the relaxing vibe that seemed to define this typical warm, mid-week summer evening. Early rain forced Sarah and Joe to play inside the tasting room rather than out on the porch. By time my friends and I arrived the weather was clear and a good crowd had formed both inside and out. The view of the lake is fantastic from the porch and the setting sun added a touch of Margaritaville to the atmosphere.

Along with the free music, Ventosa offered a complimentary wine tasting. I sampled the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2008 Tocai Friulano, the 2009 Riesling, the 2009 Sweet Riesling, the 2007 Cabernet Franc, and the 05/06 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Chardonnay fit my style perfectly being dry (0.5% RS), crisp, and well balanced with oak and acidity. The 2008 Tocai Friulano is a dry wine with 0.6% residual sugar and is light and fruity with a very distinctive grapefruit flavor. Tocai Friulano is an Italian varietal and is grown exclusively at Ventosa in the Finger Lakes. This grape is well suited for a cold climate and is grown on its European root stock. Many European grapes are grafted on American root stock to survive the New York winters. The 2009 Riesling had a nice tart apple note that balanced the sweetness (3% RS) very well. My friends and I enjoyed a bottle of this wine while we listened to the music and had Panini sandwiches from Ventosa’s Café Toscana. The 2009 Sweet Riesling was like candy in a glass. The 6% RS is well above my sweetness threshold but the flavor was wonderful and the sweetness was not overpowering. I could enjoy a small glass of this wine once in a while. The 2007 Cabernet Franc and 05/06 Cabernet Sauvignon are both full bodied reds with deep, rich color and flavors. The Cab Franc had a spicy finish while the Cab Sauvignon had a smooth, rich finish.

July 4th brought me back to Seneca Lake, this time to Zugibe Vineyards with my girlfriend Katy. The DeBlois Milledge Band and Bob Walpole took the backyard stage on what turned out to be another picture perfect summer evening on Seneca Lake. The view of the lake is just as nice at Zugibe as it is at Ventosa and the deck just as relaxing. Katy and I had a tasting before going out back to hear the music. I sampled the 2007 Riesling, the 2008 Gewurztraminer, the 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Cabernet Franc, and the 2007 Zenith. It was difficult for me to decide which of the Rieslings I liked better. The 2007 was dryer (1% RS) and had hints of stone fruit and was well balanced. The 2008 was a bit sweeter (2% RS) and had more of a citrus flavor. Katy enjoyed the 2008 Dry Riesling the best. I didn’t taste it because I prefer my Rieslings in the 1% – 3% residual sugar range but we did share a bottle with Katy out on the deck later on. The Dry Riesling featured more mineral notes and a hint of lime. The 2008 Gewurztraminer had all the characteristics of a classic Gewurztraminer with its spicy, floral flavor and bold, spicy nose. The description of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon describes the wine as having black liquorice notes which I immediately picked up on but had trouble identifying but was obvious after I read the description. The Cabernet Franc had a spicy, oak flavor and was rich and smooth. The 2007 Zenith is a blend of Cab Frank, Cab Sauvignon, and Merlot. This was a complex wine with the characteristics of each variety showing through in very subtle ways.

Katy and I had another Wednesday night trip to Ventosa for more music and wine, this time to hear Meyer & McGuire play “Eclectic acoustic music at its almost finest”. We enjoyed another beautiful day on the porch listening to music and talking with other guests and sharing a pizza from Café Toscana. My Finger Lakes Wine Trail Card gave me a 15% discount on our wine purchase which was an added bonus. The card costs only $15 and is good for discounts at over 30 wineries including Ventosa and Zugibe.

I’m looking forward to visiting these wineries again soon for more music and wine. They have regular events scheduled through August and will probably continue into the fall. I’ll have to start looking at other wineries to see what events they have coming up. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

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Memorial Day Weekend – Part II

Memorial Day weekend wrapped up with a laid-back Monday. It was nice having the day off from my rent paying gig so I could sleep in a bit and enjoy the afternoon with my girlfriend Katy. We decided to buy a submarine sandwich from DiBella’s on East Avenue then headed up to Casa Larga to take advantage of our Wine Lover’s Club membership. The weather was nice so we decided to eat our sub at the winery. Casa Larga has a picnic table on the lawn out front under a big shade tree, a perfect spot to enjoy lunch.

After eating lunch, we headed inside for a wine tasting. Connie was our server for the tasting and was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the wines. She had quite a bit to say about each wine and even broke out a couple of reference books to help make her point. One book was Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 2006 Edition by Kevin Zraly. Connie pointed out a fact from the book that noted we tend to smell different aromas on each nostril. Katy and I gave it a try and both agreed we smell things differently depending on which nostril we inhaled through. Connie gave most thorough tasting I have ever experienced. Well done Connie.

Connie started us off with the Reserve Riesling (0% RS) which was fermented in stainless steel and finished in oak to add body. It had some of the same qualities as a dry, oaked Chardonnay with a hint of the distinctive Riesling flavor. Next we had the Tre Blanc (0.5% RS), a blend of 57% Muscat Ottonel, 33% Traminette and 10% Gewurztraminer. The Tre Blanc is a light, fruity wine with pronounced lemon and grapefruit flavors and is a good, every day wine. Lilac Hill (3% RS) is a semi-sweet blend with a very floral aroma and flavor which didn’t appeal to me much. Also in the line-up was the trio of the French, American, and Hungarian oaked Chardonnays which I described in an earlier post. Katy reaffirmed that the French oaked Chardonnay was her favorite of the three while I preferred the American oaked Chardonnay. Switching over to reds, we sampled the Petite Noir, a proprietary blend in the Beaujolais style. This is a light, fresh, and fruity wine that was smooth and well balanced. This is another good, every day wine. Something you can grab and pour while you’re cooking, paying bills, or watching TV. We finished up with the 2006 Cab-Merlot and the Gallery 155 – Meritage, both dry wines at 0% RS. The Cab-Merlot is a medium bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This wine had many different berry flavors mixed with a smooth oak component. This was our favorite red of the day by far. The Gallery 155 – Meritage is a full bodied blend of Merlot (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), and Cabernet Franc (40%). This wine also had dark berry characteristics and a dry, acidic finish. Wow! We tasted quite a few wines. It’s a good thing Connie was keeping the pours to a taste.

We left Casa Larga with a very rewarding feeling. We enjoyed many wonderful wines and learned a few new things about the different grapes used in the wine and about wine tasting. It was mid-afternoon and we had some time to kill so we headed into Pittsford to walk along the canal and exercise my dog, Sierra, who waited patiently under the shade tree while we were in the winery. Katy decided she would shop a bit while I threw the ball in the canal for Sierra to fetch. The staff at Aladdin’s at Schoen Place enjoyed watching her swim after the ball and the occasional duck that ventured close. This was a nice, relaxing way to end the afternoon and to top off a great Memorial Day weekend.

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A few basic ingredients…

A cold, wet Sunday morning turned into a cool, sunny afternoon and evening. I had a bottle of Eleven Lakes 2008 Stoney Place Semi-Dry Riesling chilling in the refrigerator and needed a meal to go along with it.

Katy had some frozen, uncooked shrimp thawing along with a few staples in the fridge and pantry. I threw out a couple of ideas and we settled on a direction to take the shrimp. I had Pandora tuned to Jack Johnson Radio and took a break to dance to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz while chopping the ingredients and enjoying the first glass of Stoney Place. Music, wine, food, and being with Katy were all the ingredients needed for a wonderful evening.

The meal was light, fresh and easy to make in about an hour. The measurements are approximations. I didn’t measure anything while preparing the meal but wrote down the ingredients giving my best estimate on quantities used. I was cooking for two and this made enough for dinner with a bit left over for a couple of small lunches. Don’t be afraid to experiment by adding other ingredients you may enjoy. Katy had fresh asparagus that I was going to use but forgot all about it once I started cooking. I should remember to put the ingredients out on the counter so I don’t leave them out. The asparagus wasn’t missed however. Adjust the seasoning to your taste as you go. It was just right for Katy. The amount of crushed red pepper was enough to make her nose run but not enough to make her stop eating. Some of my dishes turn out too spicy for her. I have to calibrate my taste buds accordingly since I like it hot.

The wine held up great with the food. The bright fruit and citrus flavors complimented the lighter flavors of the meal and stood up against the garlic, red pepper, lemon olive oil and pine nuts. I wish I bought two bottles of the Stoney Place. It’s probably good that I didn’t though, having to work the next day and all.

1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 tsp lemon olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl. Add EVOO and lemon olive oil, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper and garlic. Mix well and set aside for twenty minutes.

2 tbsp EVOO
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 medium green pepper, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 cup Thai vegetable stock
2 tbsp pine nuts
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Place a medium sized skillet on medium high heat. Add EVOO, bringing it up to temperature. Add garlic, green pepper, onion, salt and pepper and sauté for one to two minutes. Add tomato and vegetable stock then reduce heat to low and simmer.

1/2 lb whole wheat linguine
1/2 tsp salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and linguine. Cook the linguine al dente.

Place the shrimp on a hot BBQ grill, stove-top grill, or cast iron skillet cooking on each side just until the shrimp turn pink and show some grill marks, one to two minutes per side. Add shrimp to the simmering skillet and cook for one minute then toss in the cooked linguine. Remove from heat. Add pine nuts and top with Parmesan cheese.

3 medium size carrots, sliced
3/4 medium green pepper, chopped
1/2 small onion, cut into slices and separated into rings
1/2 medium cucumber, sliced
1 small tomato, halved then quartered
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp EVOO
2 tsp lemon olive oil
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 cups spinach & field mixed greens
8 leaves romaine hearts
2 tbsp pine nuts
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Place carrots, green pepper, onion, cucumber, tomato, garlic, EVOO, lemon olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside for twenty minutes.

Place the romaine hearts on a hot BBQ grill, stove-top grill, or cast iron skillet cooking on each side just until the leaves start to wilt and show some grill marks, about two minutes per side. Remove from heat.

Toss the spinach and field mixed greens in bowl with other vegetables. Mix well. Place four romaine leaves on a plate, overlapping 1/2 to 3/4 of each leaf. Place greens and marinated vegetables on romaine leaves. Top with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

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Memorial Day Weekend – Part I

It’s been unusually warm in the Finger Lakes this Memorial Day weekend. It seems more like mid July than the end of May. I wonder what impact this hot, dry weather will have on the grapes and the quality of the wine that will result from this fall’s harvest.

My memorial weekend started at the home of Memorial Day, Waterloo, New York. The Memorial Day tradition in Waterloo dates back to 1865 and in 1966 it was officially designated as the official birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

I arrived in town on Saturday, a half hour before the parade started. I love small town parades. They remind me of my childhood back in Cortland where going to a parade was part of growing up. Main Street in Waterloo was lined with people of all ages and I enjoyed people watching as much as I enjoyed watching the parade. The line-up included all the elements you would expect, marching bands, politicians, youth groups, veterans groups, old cars, army jeeps, and more. It certainly met my expectations.

After the parade, I went to Lafayette Park with my brother, sisters, and two nephews. There was a craft show, food, and plenty of family entertainment including a magician, puppeteer, and live music. Finger Lakes Railway had train excursions from Waterloo to Cayuga Lake. Also, there were horse drawn wagon rides, a Civil War encampment, museum tours, boat tours on the Cayuga Seneca Canal, fireworks, and many more activities scheduled for the three day weekend.

I had planned on staying in Waterloo until three o’clock. I wanted to leave some time to visit a few wineries while I was in the area. I wanted to visit Muranda Cheese Company as well. Muranda is located approximately two miles south of Waterloo on Route 96. Artisan cheese is a growing industry in the Finger Lakes and this was a good opportunity to taste some local product. My family joined me at Muranda where we were given a tour of the barn to see where it all starts. Our guide, Shelly, explained how the cows are fed and milked and gave us an overview of the cheese making process. From there we went out back to see the calves, some of which were only two days old. My nephews enjoyed seeing the calves and having them suckle on their fingers. After the tour it was time to sample some cheese. First on the list was the Raw Milk British Cheddar. This firm, sharp, gritty cheese had a bold, distinctive cheddar flavor. The slight gritty texture adds to its appeal. Next in line was Red Buddy which was milder than the British Cheddar with a slight creamy texture, similar to Swiss cheese. This cheese was developed specifically for pairing with dry red wines. Muranda also offers a Colby or “Baby Cheddar” cheese as well as several flavored cheeses including Garlic Cheddar, Horseradish, and Dill. The British Cheddar was my favorite by far, which is no surprise to me since I prefer sharp, bold flavors.

My family went on their way after Muranda and I headed for Eleven Lakes Winery. I had never been to Eleven Lakes but I was familiar with the winery. I sampled some of their wine and met one of their owners, Matt Jones, at an wine tasting event in Rochester last fall. I recognized Matt right away when I walked into the tasting room. Matt makes you feel at home right away. It’s probably his big, happy grin that does it. I introduced myself and told him about my wine blog and how we had met in Rochester. We talked for a bit while he poured me a sample of Chosen Spot Dry Riesling. Matt explained that the Seneca Indians called Canandaigua Lake the chosen spot and that this wine is named in that honor. Each wine at Eleven Lakes is dedicated to one of the eleven Finger Lakes in this fashion. Each wine label highlights the featured lake and presents some interesting facts about the lake. This adds a fun learning opportunity along with the tasting experience. I enjoyed the Chosen Spot but as with many dry Rieslings that I’ve tasted recently, I get them confused with other light bodied, dry white wines, like a Chardonnay. Not to say that this wine wasn’t enjoyable, it’s just that dry Rieslings don’t uniquely stand out to me. The Stoney Place Semi-Dry Riesling had a more distinctive, fruity flavor that I associate with Rieslings. I also sampled the Boat Landing Cayuga White, the Canoe Landing – Crooked Lake Red, and the very sweet Moonglorious. Of all the wines I sampled, the Long Lake Reserve Cabernet Franc was my favorite. It had a bold, oaky flavor with a smooth, smoky component that married perfectly with the rich berry flavors. I brought a bottle of the Cab Franc home and will be enjoying it again very soon.

I had just enough time to visit Cobblestone Farm Winery and Vineyard before closing time. They’re located just down Route 89 from Eleven Lakes, along one of the most beautiful stretches of road on the lake. You get a perfect view of the lake and Wyers Point to the south. There are a couple of B&B’s on the point with Sheldrake Point Vineyards just south of that. Cobblestone Farm stands out in my mind for their Cherry Festival, which is coming up on the 26th and 27th of this month. I went to it with my girlfriend Katy, some family and a couple of friends last year. We had a good time sampling wine, listening to music, enjoying the view and picking cherries with my nephews. The tasting room was busy but I was able to taste right away. I sampled several wines but have to admit by this time I was a bit tired which detracted from the experience. I said at the beginning of this post that it was a hot, dry day and it was starting to catch up to me. I can say, however, that the Riesling 2008 (Blue) stood out as the best Riesling of the day and could easily be on my favorite Riesling list. It had nice grapefruit and citrus aromas and flavors that stood out nicely. It was well balanced and medium bodied. All the qualities I enjoy in a Riesling. I know I’ll be visiting Cobblestone again when I’m fresh on the trail and can truly enjoy the experience.

After a full day of activity in the Waterloo area, it was time to head back to Rochester. I decided to go back through the village to have a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream at Connie’s Diner. I didn’t have the appetite for dessert the last time I was there so I had to make up for it this trip. It was definitely worth waiting for.

It was certainly a memorable Memorial Day. With all the festivities it made for a full day of fun but I haven’t forgotten why we have a Memorial Day in the first place. I want to thank all the men and women who sacrificed and continue to sacrifice so much for our country, many who have paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom and way of life. Thank you all.

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The best of plans…

Sometimes the best of plans never seem to work out the way you envision them. If you’re lucky, they turn out better than you could have imagined. When planning a trip to New York for my daughter’s college graduation, I laid out a course from Rochester to Cortland where my girlfriend Katy and I would spend the night before heading to the city. The course would take us along the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, through Moravia, and Skaneateles, and finally to my parents house on Miller Street in Cortland. The plan was to stop at each of the wineries along the way, take a break at Fillmore Glen State Park to see the falls and perhaps have a fish sandwich at Doug’s in Skaneateles.

As it turned out, we had a dinner party the night before and we stayed out rather late. We enjoyed several bottles of Dr. Frank’s wine including the 2008 Dry Riesling, the Salmon Run 2008 Finger Lakes Riesling, the Salmon Run 2007 Finger Lakes Chardonnay, and the Salmon Run Coho Red. I enjoyed the Salmon Run Riesling and Chardonnay the most. It was clear by the end of the night that there was no way we were getting up early enough to do everything we had planned for the following day. The plan needed adjustment. The easiest thing to do was to cut out the Skaneateles leg of the trip. This would allow us to visit each of the eastern Cayuga wineries along with Chateau Dusseau in Moravia and still be in Cortland in time for dinner at my parent’s house. Because we left later than originally planned we stopped at Connie’s Diner in Waterloo for breakfast rather than eat at home. After a delicious breakfast we were off to Cayuga Lake.

The new plan was shaping up nicely until I decided to pull into the Montezuma National Wild Life Refuge at the top of Cayuga Lake to take a quick look-see at how the marsh was recovering from a wild fire earlier in the spring. Our quick stop turned into an hour-and-a-half visit. I started taking pictures outside while Katy investigated the visitor’s center. We started talking to the staff about the fire and learned that it was actually very beneficial to the habitat. The staff will often perform controlled burns to promote new growth. As it turns out, the section of the marsh that burned in the spring is close to the New York State Thruway so it is excluded from the controlled burns and therefore had become overgrown. The wild fire rejuvenated this area by removing the old growth, making way for new. The biologist told us there were approximately thirty bald eagles foraging out near the refuge road near the thruway, so of course, we had to take a drive out to look for the eagles. They were feasting on carp which had become trapped in the marsh. We didn’t see a single eagle, but we enjoyed the drive none the less. We could see the fresh growth where the fire had been and there were several varieties of wild flowers in bloom.

It was now going on three o’clock in the afternoon. Clearly there wasn’t enough time to stop at each of the wineries. Katy and I decided that we would go to Heart and Hands Wine Company, Long Point Winery, and Chateau Dusseau. Katy and I stopped by Heart and Hands over the winter to find them closed so we were eager to go there. Long Point is one of our favorite wineries so we had to stop there and neither of us had been to Chateau Dusseau which made it a good choice for our last stop. We should have been able to do a tasting at each of these wineries before closing time at five or five-thirty.

To speed things up we did the reserve tasting rather than a full tasting at Heart and Hands. This decision was made easier by the fact they were out of the 2008 Late Harvest Riesling which I wanted to try. The reserve tasting allowed us a sample of the 2007 Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir. Our hosts, owner Susan Higgins and her father-in-law wanted us to fully appreciate this wine so they poured the 2008 Pinot Noir as a comparison. We enjoyed both these wines but agreed that they were still young and needed to mature. I don’t want to short change Heart and Hands because I think it is an excellent winery but we didn’t spend enough time there or taste enough wine to go into more at this time. I definitely will be returning more than once to learn more about the winery and their wines. After our tasting, we talked to the staff a little longer while my dog Sierra and Fion, the winery mascot, became acquainted. After a few minutes of dog socialization, we were off to Long Point.

By time we reached Long Point, Sierra was going stir crazy. She had been tied up or in the car since Montezuma and got all riled up by Fion at Heart and Hands. Thank goodness there is plenty of space outside Long Point Winery to toss a tennis ball. The view of the vineyard and Cayuga Lake is spectacular from there as well so I wasn’t in a rush to go inside. The owner, Gary Barletta, came out and offered Sierra some water. That was my chance to go in with Katy and try some wine. We were lead through our tasting by Russ, or Bruce, as he mentioned his name was if we didn’t like the service. We tasted the 2009 Pinot Grigio, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Estate Chardonnay, the 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling, the 2006 Syrah, the 2008 Sangiovese, the 2009 Ciera Rosé, the 2007 Zinfandel Reserve and finally the 2007 Amazin Port. That was six wines, right? There was no point rushing this. We had plenty of fine wine to enjoy, pleasant company with Gary and Russ, beautiful weather, and no where to be until six o’clock. Chateau Dusseau would have to wait for another trip. Katy and I enjoyed each of the wines but we did have our favorites. My favorite of the day was the 2008 Sangiovese and Katy’s was the 2009 Ciera. We brought home a bottle of each.

It was after five so we figured we had better be on our way. We scouted Chateau Dusseau for a future trip. It was closed by time we drove by but at least we know where it is. We took Route 90 to Cortland, which was a pretty drive. I hadn’t been that way in quite some time and I was reminiscing with Katy about my childhood adventures exploring the hills and pastures that we passed along the way. We arrived at my folk’s house just as my nephew was warming up the grill.

There was a quite a bit of improvising during our trip, but it was a very relaxing and enjoyable day, even though it was different than I originally had planned. We didn’t even spend the night in Cortland. We ended up staying at a guest house outside of Ithaca that my brother-in-law owns. Katy and I always enjoy meandering, especially when there is wine involved. After all, to us, it’s more about the journey than the destination. That’s a theme that you’ll see over and over in this blog and one that I hope you will come to value, if you don’t happen to already.

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Casa Larga Vineyards – Rochester’s Suburban Winery

I’ve lived in the Rochester area for twenty six years and have been visiting Finger Lakes wineries for twenty four of those years but yesterday was the first time I had visited Casa Larga Vineyards for a wine tasting. Casa Larga is in the Rochester suburb of Fairport. I must have driven past the winery a thousand times but I’ve never stopped in for a tasting or to buy wine. The only time I had ever been in the winery had been for a company Christmas party and perhaps a wedding reception or two. I’ve driven hours to visit wineries while I had a fantastic winery fifteen minutes from my front door.

This all occurred to me while on a wine tour in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville. While on the tour, I thought how different this these wineries seem as compared to the wineries back in the rural Finger Lakes region. Then it dawned on me that Rochester has a very popular suburban winery, Casa Larga. When I looked back upon that moment I decided I was going to visit Casa Larga as soon as I got back to New York.

This past Sunday afternoon, my girlfriend Katy and I got in the car, along with my dog Sierra, and we headed for Fairport. I didn’t need a map. I knew exactly where to go. It didn’t take long. Like I said, I’ve driven by there a thousand times. Fifteen minutes on I490 to Bushnell’s Basin then Garnsey Road straight to Casa Larga. While on the way, I tried to put it out of my head that I was familiar with the winery and tried to think of it as a new adventure, just as Woodinville had been the week before.

As we came up the hill on Garnsey Road and approached the winery, the first thing I noticed was the vineyard. There were acres and acres of uniform rows of grape vines growing along the trellises. The leaves were in their early stages of development and barely noticeable from the road. Next, the winery came into view. It’s a lovely building. There are actually two buildings. One looks like it’s used only for production purposes while the other is the main building that houses the tasting room, wine store, banquette facilities, and production facilities. Katy and I took a look around the grounds before going inside. There were lilacs in bloom across Turk Hill Road. There were a couple of benches and picnic tables under some shade trees adjacent to the parking lot in the front of the building. Katy sat down while I attended to Sierra and wandered around taking photographs. I noticed the parking lot was full and there was an obligatory limo parked near the entrance. We walked around back and admired the view of the vineyard with the Rochester basin in the background below. It was a spectacular view. Fortunately there’s a large deck out back so guests can easily enjoy it.

We received a warm welcome as we entered the building. There were a few people at the tasting bar and a few more browsing through the wine shop. I was happy that the tasting room wasn’t full as I had feared when I saw all the cars outside. Apparently there was a party going on in one of the banquette rooms. That explained the full lot. We were greeted at the tasting bar by Julie, who would lead us through a tasting as well as doubling as the winery tour guide later on. Julie was very pleasant and knowledgeable. She gave Katy and me a tasting menu and asked us each to select five wines to taste. There were over a dozen white wines and nine reds to choose from. Katy and I decided we would stay with the whites as we made our selections. One thing that caught my attention was the number of Chardonnays on the menu. There were five, three of which were oak aged, one was a blend of oak and stainless steel aged, and one was aged entirely in stainless. This was a treat for us since we both enjoy oaked Chardonnays. We sampled each of the oaked Chardonnays, the two Rieslings on the menu, and the 2008 Gewurztraminer. Okay, that was seven wines. We selected our five but Julie poured us the two oaked Chardonnays that we didn’t choose so we could compare them to our selections. This turned out to be important because each had their own unique characteristics defined by the type of oak they were aged in (French, American, and Hungarian). While I’m not going to review the wines in this post, I will mention that we could definitely taste the difference in the three oaked Chards. The French oaked had the most buttery texture and was very smooth and well balanced. The American oaked had a rich smoke component and the Hungarian oaked had a subtle smoky flavor and was slightly tart as the green apple in the description suggested. I liked the American oaked the best while Katy preferred the French oaked Chardonnay. We were pleased with the quality of each of the wines tasted. My favorite was the CLV Chardonnay (the oak/stainless blended Chardonnay) and Katy’s favorite was the 2008 Riesling.

I asked Julie if Casa Larga had a wine club. I was curios because the Woodinville wineries made it a point to talk about their clubs at the start of their tastings and Julie hadn’t mentioned one at Casa Larga. She told us that their club was called the Wine Lovers Club and that members receive discounts on wine purchases and tickets to winery events along with several other perks including free tastings for members and two guests. At $35 for a one year membership, it sounded like a bargain.

We had a few minutes after the tasting before the winery tour started so we took a look around inside the rest of the building on the main floor. There’s a balcony area above the tasting room with chairs, couches and a fire place. It looked very cozy. We didn’t get a good look at the banquette hall since the private party was still going on.

Julie led a half dozen people out to the vineyard to start the tour. She gave us a brief overview of the wineries history and talked about the grapes, how they are grown and harvested. Next, we went inside to see the production facilities. Julie explained the entire process of pressing, fermenting, racking, aging, and bottling as she led us through the different production areas. I was impressed by the size of the facility and the number of barrels in the cellar. I never did ask the number of cases produced each year (note to self). The tour was like many tours I had been on at other wineries but I appreciated the attention to detail that our guide exhibited as well as her level of knowledge and eagerness to answer questions. She was full of enthusiasm for the winery and the wine.

After the tour we purchased some wine and Katy joined the Wine Lovers Club. I was about to join but the cashier told me I could come as Katy’s guest. Katy agreed after informing me there was a price associated with that privilege. I humbly acknowledged that fact. Katy even gave me her extra club member’s card. I will pay dearly for that.

I am very impressed with Casa Larga. They have an excellent reputation that is well deserved. Their wines are first rate, their winery is beautiful, and their staff is friendly and helpful. It’s too bad it took me so long to appreciate my local winery. I look forward to many visits and to examine each of their wines in depth. As WLC card carrying members, Katy and I will definitely be back soon and often.

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