Friday, June 4, 2010

TasteCamp: Seneca Lake Grand Tasting

Leaving Keuka Lake behind, on Saturday we moved onto the wineries of Seneca Lake, attending our second Grand Tasting at Fox Run Vineyards. The first question in my mind was how these wines would compare to those of Keuka Lake and Canandaigua Lake? Would there even be a discernible difference?

Essentially, my tasting results were very similar in that I found a mixed bag of wines, some good, some bad, and a fair number in between. I couldn't say whether the wines from either two regions were generally better or worse than the other. It might have been an interesting test to have tasted similar wines from all of the different lakes to see how they differed, if at all. It is far easier to compare wines when they are all in front of you, rather than tasting different wines on different days. Plus, some Seneca wineries get their grapes from vineyards on other lakes, further confusing matters.

When I considered my favorite wines from this Grand Tasting, I realized I generally preferred the whites to the reds, though I believe there were more whites available for tasting than reds. Their Gewurtztraminer wines often impressed me. My only complaint with this tasting that it would have been good, with so many wines available, to had at least some crackers to help cleanse our palates. There was no food, lots of wines, and that seemed to lead to plenty of palate fatigue from some of the attendees I spoke to.

Here are my favorites of the tasting, those I found most interesting, noting though that I did not taste everything available.

White Springs Winery
This winery, founded in 2003, has about 40 acres of vineyards, primarily of vinifera grapes.

The 2007 Gewurtraminer ($13.99) was produced during a good vintage, 322 cases were made and it has an alcohol content of 12.7%. It had a nice golden color and was very aromatic, with exotic fruit smells and some spice. On the palate, it was crisp and dry with delightful tastes of melon, apricot, and mild spice notes. An excellent value wine with plenty of character.

Lakewood Vineyards:
The Stamp family began planting grapes on Seneca Lake back into 1951, selling them off until they decided in 1988 to make their own wine. They now have 75 acress of grapes and produce over 20 different wines.

The 2007 Candeo ($14.99), made from Cayuga White, is a carbonated wine, with a light effervescence reminiscent of some Proseccos. It is carbonated and does not undergo a secondary fermenation. With an alcohol content of 11% ABV, it has a mild aroma and a light, refreshing taste with a mild sweetness and citrus flavors. It is sealed with a crown cap and is a fun, simple wine that should be very consumer friendly.

Wagner Vineyards
I first tasted some of their wines, their whites, back in 2009 at the Boston Wine Expo and was impressed. They make some delicious value wines, and they can produce an excellent red too.

The 2007 Meritage ($24.99) is a Bordeaux style blend which is only produced in good years, the last Meritage having been bottled in 2001. This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, all the grapes having been hand harvested. It saw 11 months of American oak and only 988 cases were produced. This was a very satisfying wine with delicious flavors of black cherry, plum, vanilla and some mild spice notes. It is a smooth wine, with mild tannins, and a moderately long finish with a whisper of chocolate. For the price, this is a very good wine.

Glenora Wine Cellars
They were the first winery on Seneca Lake, established in 1977, and now produce about 45,000 cases of wine each year.

The 2009 Pinot Blanc ($13-14) was briefly barrel fermented in French oak and has an alcohol content of 12.5% ABV. As of the tasting, it had not yet released. This wine had a strong and appealing pear aroma which also came through on the taste too. In addition, this crisp wine had additional and milder tastes of citrus and vanilla. A very pleasing wine which is also a very good value wine.

Red Newt Cellars
Early this year, at the Boston Wine Expo, I tasted a number of the Red Newt Wines and found plenty, both whites and reds, that I enjoyed. At this Grand Tasting, I tasted one more that impressed me.

The 2007 "Curry Creek Vineyards" Gewurtztraminer ($41.99) is pricey and only 230 cases were produced. But it packs lots of character and complexity into the bottle. The nose is very alluring, with intriguing floral and spice aromas. Its taste seems a bit more unusual and distinctive, both like a traditional Gewurtztraminer but with its own differences as well. There are plenty of exotic fruit and spices tastes, and the finish is long and very pleasing. This was a "wow" wine, and if you enjoy this grape then you will be very impressed with this wine, and feel it is worth the price.

Atwater Estate Vineyards
This winery was established in 2000, and they currently produce about 8500 cases annually.

The 2008 Gewurtztraminer ($16) was made from grapes that were kept on vines for two weeks longer than usual. The wine had a nice golden color with a bright aroma of citrus and exotic fruit. On the palate, there are delicious flavors of citrus, lychee and apple and the finish is very spicy. A lush wine, this would be perfect with spicy Asian cuisine.

Shaw Vineyards
Wine maker Steve Shaw, pictured above, has been involved in grape growing in the Finger Lakes for over 30 years. He founded his own winery in 2002, growing most of his own grapes, and trying to produce vinifera wines in a European style. His grapes are hand harvested, and nearly all of his red wines undergo extended barrel aging. That is the reason that the reds I tasted were all from 2005, his newest releases. And all three of those reds impressed me and I recommend them.

The 2005 Merlot ($30) has an alcohol content of 13% and a pleasant aroma of black cherries and raspberry. Both fruit flavors came out in the taste, which was smooth, complex and quite delicious. It was a Merlot of character, rather than something simple and boring. As you contemplated the taste, you found layers of flavor, including some light floral notes and hints of licorice. A wine to enjoy on its own or with food.

The 2005 Cabernet Franc ($25) spent 36 months in French oak and has an alcohol content of 13%. This is a Cabernet Franc that I really enjoyed, without any of that nasty green pepper taste I dislike. It was very smooth with flavors of black cherry, ripe plum, vanilla, spice and some violet undertones. It was also a complex wine, with a long and pleasing finish. A bit of a richer wine than the Merlot, it still would be nice on its own or paired with food.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) also has an alcohol content of 13%. Another excellent, complex and intiguing red wine. The fruit flavors of ripe plum, blueberry and blackberry mesh well with spice, vanilla and bits of mocha. The tannins are subdued, making this another smooth drinking wine. The lengthy finish is very satisfying and though I might prefer to drink this wine with food, I still think it can stand on its own too. It is a bit more full bodied than the Cabernet Franc and has some spice elements.

Finger Lakes Distilling
This Grand Tasting did not include just wine. This company uses locally grown fruits and grains to produce a line of spirits, including vodka, gin, whiskey, liqueurs, brandy and grappa.

I was most impressed by their McKenzie Rye Whiskey ($39.99) which is made with 80% Rye and 20% Barley. The whiskey is 91 proof and has been aged for one year in new charred quarter casks and finished in sherry barrels. I was surprised at how smooth this whiskey was, as I was expecting a bit of a harsher bite. It had a pleasant flavor too, plenty of spice, vanilla, nut, and touches of citrus. This is definitely something I could savor on the rocks. Plus, I like how it is made from local ingredients.

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