Sunday, January 10, 2016

#FLXWineDineDistill Part Two: Dinner #SLWT #WBC15

As a part of #WBC15, I was on an excursions to experience the wine and food of New York State's Finger Lakes.  The evening was an alchemy of senses, the perfect blend of four Seneca Lake vineyards, chef Scott Signori and his staff from #Stonecatcafe showcasing local food and the red wines of Seneca Lake.

Known as a region famous for its white wines, we were going off script - and experienced a rich, fragrant, and flavorful marathon of 12 unique red wines from four Seneca Lake vineyards paired with a three course local menu. 

Dinner was at Damiani Wine Cellar overlooking Seneca Lake.  The setting sun set the stage for us to sip great wine, eat delicious local food and hear about making wine in the Finger Lakes. Throughout the evening, we tasted wines from Damiani Wine Cellars, Hector Wine Company, Standing Stone Vineyards and Ventosa Vineyards.

Our host was up first: In the mid-90's, Phil Davis and Lou Damiani hand planted their first vinifera on land that was to become Davis Vineyard and Damiani Vineyard in Hector, NY.  Phil is an engaging man, who told us of his history of the area, the wines and his philosophy on farming, and making wine.

After Phil welcomed us, we heard from Standing Stone Vineyard's Marti Macinski - I had met Marti earlier that week at #FLXWineWomen
and it was exciting to hear her speak more on the evolution of Standing Stone, it's white wine pedigree, planting reds, including Saperavi, and making ice wine.

Flight 1: (Rare Seneca Lake Wines)

Each of the four wines served in this flight were rare and unique - not all are available to purchase.  These wines were a special start to dinner, paired with Leek & Lively Run Chèvre Tart with local greens and blueberry vinaigrette.  I also noted that we were being served dinner on MacKenzie Childs plates - a whimsical - yet heirloom quality local company that holds a special place in my heart.



Damiani's Pinot Noir Reserve `12 from the Davis Vineyard (Not yet listed for sale)- it was a fresh, fruity medium body wine that complimented the rich goat cheese. Did I taste a hint of truffles? Delicious.

Hector Wine Company Merlot `13  (sold out) - Merlot from Hector is a rare commodity - for this single varietal bottle to happen grapes are hand picked from a steep slope overlooking the lake on only on the years when the weather and yield cooperate. Conditions have to be perfect for this elegant, classic wine to be made.

 Standing Stone Vineyard's Petit Verdot `13 was an eye opener.  A single varietal that I had not yet seen in the Finger Lakes. With spice and elegance, I'd grab a bottle or two of this in a second if I could.

Wrapping up this flight was Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir`12 What a difference a lake makes!  Ventosa is on the west side of Seneca Lake, and  there is a cordial east/west rivalry between the shores - almost a left bank/left bank division of subtle taste differences. This isn't France - this is Finger Lakes, New World, classic style, innovative and delicious (without having to learn a new language to decipher the label).  This Pinot is a classic, that is easy to drink and really highlighted the blueberries in the blueberry vinaigrette.

Flight Two
This was when it really sunk in that we were going to be tasting 12 wines with dinner.  The rarity of our first flight led to the diversity of our second flight.  Two single varietals, and two blends that showed that New York is producing wine that is world class. 

Our main course was served, a plate of Stonecat's "Cult Classic" Slow Smoked Pork BBQ with cornbread, honey butter, fresh dill coleslaw and black & black posole.

Damiani Wine Cellar's Cabernet Franc `12 (sold out) Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varietals, and this is a classic representation.  The rich smokiness paired perfectly with the pork, and a bit of the honey buttered cornbread with a sip of this wine was just MAGIC in my mouth.

Hector Wine Company Essence `13 this Bordeaux style blend of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc and 33% Merlot proves my point that french style red blends can translate into the new world.  This wine is well balanced, and held it's own against the dill and "vegginess" of the coleslaw.

Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi `13 (sold out) I had never heard of Saperavi before. It is a ancient Georgian grape that now is thriving at Standing Stone.  I love it when vineyard owners do their research and bring us dark rich wine with many layers of flavor. This wine paired very well with the pork BBQ, but I can only imagine how it would pair with a juicy grilled steak - or classic Sausage and peppers - the whole time Marti was talking about this wine, I was designing menus around it.

Ventosa Vineyards Saggio-x This Italian style red blend (43% Cab Sauv, 26% Cab Franc, 22% Merlot & 9% Syrah) is Ventosa Vineyard's signature wine. It is smooth, easy to drink and at 13.5% ETOH it's a great way to elevate a special evening dinner - or even a tailgate for a big game.

Flight Three
By now, there is some palate fatigue. My tasting notes had been sloshed on, and I seemed to love EVERYONE in the room. Which was a sign that any semi-professional attempt at reviewing was out the window, and this became the most amazing Finger Lakes dinner party that I had ever been to. Good thing that the sun was setting, and dessert was being served. Dark Chocolate hazelnut torte infused with Finger Lakes Distilling Cassis Liquor and drizzled with a spiced Blueberry sauce - served on slate from a local waterfall. Rich, delicious and inventive.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

#FLXWineDineDistill Part One: Bubbly and Booze #SLWT #WBC15

Damiani Brut Sparkling
A good time always starts with sparkling wine.  Even when you are on a bus! As part of #WBC15 I was one of 30 bloggers on an excursion #FLXWineDineDistill an evening dinner starting with cocktails and a tour at Finger Lakes Distilling, then moving next door to Damiani Wine Cellars, and a 12 wine, 3 course tasting menu by Scott Signori from the seasonal, organic Stonecat Cafe.

It all stared on a bus, as some adventures do.... Damiani's newest winemaker Phil Arras`10 popped the first cork, and poured freely. It was a terrific way to travel the 25 miles from Corning to Burdett, NY, on the east side/Banana Belt of Senaca Lake. As we listened to the history of the wine and area, and toasted the impending expansion of Phil's family (awaiting baby #2...would he get the call while on the bus???) The celebration of all things Finger Lakes began. We drove through Watkins Glen, and talked about the Gorge, the Raceway, waterfalls and the inventive protests of the local food and wine community's Protest Banquet against the storage of LP gas under Seneca Lake.  The more I heard, the more I admired the area and its people.

To my surprise, we pulled into the drive way of Finger Lakes Distilling.  New York is having a love affair with artisanal spirits, and this was to be my first visit to a New York State distillery.  It is uncovering hidden gems like Seneca Lake is the best part of the Wine Bloggers Conference. I never would have visited the distillery on my own.  Yet there I was loving every minute of it. Waiting for us on the bar were displays of New York Sour (featuring McKenzie Rye Whiskey and Damiani MC2) and a delicious drink with gin and apple brandy (this drink is lost to memory, as after all the sparkling wine and Rye Whiskey, there was NO way that I would be taking accurate notes.... And this was just the beginning of the evening!

We toured the distillery with Brian McKenzie, former Vice President of an upstate New York bank, and Thomas Earl McKenzie, a winemaker, brewer and distiller from Monroeville, Alabama. They are not related, but share a historic Scottish whiskey distilling last name. Having spent some quality time in Scotland tasting whiskey, it felt great to hear the stories and taste the product of the New World. At that moment, as Brian talked about meeting his wife in High school, working as a bank VP, meeting Thomas Earl in 2007 and starting the distillery, I was a very proud and slightly drunk American. Peace, Love and Finger Lakes!

End Part One.  Stay Tuned for a 12 wine, 3 course tasting menu, a yoga loving vineyard owner and waterfall slate as a serving dish.... You can't get more local than that!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Exploring Taste: Fox Run Geology Series #WBC15 #Terrior

If you're curious about what makes wine taste the way it does there are many ways to learn about the "taste" of wine.  I like pairing wine with food (I'm a hedonist - always seeking pleasure) for those with intellectual curiosity some vineyards offer experiences that educate on their terrior. (land quality that affects final taste of crop)

Vineyards are farms.  Winemakers only have one chance a year to create a stunning wine from the annual crop - that's just 30 - 40 chances in a long career. To make a good wine, they need choose the right planting for the soil and climate, and the right yeast to ferment the grape juice.  If the weather cooperates, it can be a stunning year - if something goes wrong it is make the best of it, and try again next year....

The owners and winemaker at Fox Run Vineyard know their farm. In their geology series, they share the geologic history of the area and farm, and the soil composition. Using that knowledge, they work to optimize the varietal to the soil, and climate.  In this four glass Riesling series, we were able to taste the subtle differences by fermentation style and allotment.  The allotments represented were Hanging Delta Vineyard and Lake Dana Vineyard.

The last glacial period was about 22,000 years ago - that's a lot of dirt to pile up, move around, and settle down.  Cornell University is at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake - so there are plenty of academics to opine.   I'll give you this blogger's overview:  Lake Dana was the giant glacial predecessor of Lake Seneca. When it retreated (a few thousand centuries before molecular gastronomy) it left behind a Hanging Delta. The owners of Fox Run have planted Riesling on two
geologically unique plots: Hanging Delta Vineyard and Lake Dana Vineyard. We got to taste them, and the moral of the story is: Minerality in wine comes from the yeast - not the soil. Soil affects the moisture and drainage - how the fruit develops, ripens and changes sunlight into sugars. But the fermentation can make all the difference.

Comparing Soil and Fermentation
These Rieslings were both had different fermenting processes- resulting in much different taste profiles.

Harvest Year: 2012

Riesling #11:  fermented in a  pied de cuve method - a small quantity of fermenting wine from another tank was added to the juice instead of a cultured yeast inoculum.

Hanging Delta Vineyard #11 Riesling `12 The first wine that I tasted in the series - it was bright, and complex (citrus fun citrus). Layered flavors. 9.9% ETOH  - we were off to a good start.

Lake Dana Vineyard #11 Riesling `12 This wine seemed sweeter - I noted honey sweetness it was also 9.9% ETOH

The difference between the two was subtle.

Riesling #12: The fermentation was started with Epernay II yeast and was carefully managed using current New World wine-making techniques to ensure healthy and steady kinetics. Fermentation lasted for three weeks and was arrested when the alcohol was low and sweetness high, in order to produce a classic traditional style of Riesling.

Hanging Delta Vineyard #12 Riesling `12  Sweet, delicious. It was my favorite of the four - it was also just 9.3% ETOH - what a difference an allotment makes!

Lake Dana #12 Riesling `12  Fruity with some acid 11.3% ETOH this is a classic. 

There was a big difference between these two wines, and the whole tasting experience showed the variability that can be created by the winemaker.  It really was amazing - different than a typical vertical tasting - and a great introduction to the recipe science of making wine.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fox Run Vineyards #SLWT #WBC15 #FLXWine

As a part of the WBC15 per-conference, we were guests of Fox Run for an afternoon.  From the moment I stepped off the bus, and caught a glimpse of the wisteria shaded porch, I felt at home.  I was handed a glass of chilled white wine, and as I sipped (It was delicious) the co-owner Scott Osborn asked us to "name that wine" I smirked and said, "this is a delicious Gewurztraminer"- I was wrong! I was in disbelief. It was a varietal that I had never heard of before - Traminette - my mind was suddenly open, and I was ready to learn.

Fox Run Vineyards is like the Whole Foods of #FLXWine - everything is there - it tastes good, it's one stop shopping and if you talk to people and stay for a while, you'll learn something. I know I did.

After our brief introduction to the wine, we took a walk up the hill to the press, stopping along the way to discuss the history and terroir of the vineyard. Family owners Scott and Ruth Osborn, together with Kathleen and Albert Zafonte, are running this vineyard (former dairy farm) with education and taste at the forefront.  The vineyard produces around 15,000 cases annually, and plantings include: Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger (aka Blaufrankish), Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. They even have a cafe, run the Glorious Garlic Festival every Summer, and champion local food and artisans year round in their shop.

Our tour was the Food & Wine Experience it included tastings, and lunch. We met the wine maker Peter Bell and discussed making wine, competitions and and marketing. This unassuming Canadian who has been at Fox Run shows that still waters run deep.  From his anecdotes abut wine judging, to his opinion on marketing Lemberger wine, he is a font of information - and no shrinking violet when it comes to his opinion. That opinion is reflected in his wine - it is good.  And as I sipped his Lemberger while walking down the hill to lunch on a hot August day, I commented to my companions that I had never tasted Lemberger, but to me, it tasted exactly like Blaufrankish - a wine that I have panned in the past. Well, one again.... I was wrong - well, wrong to pan Blaufrankish....

Our lunch/pairing menu was a terrific sample of their consumer education.  Chef Brud Holland and his staff took locally sourced ingredients and condiments and created a powerful profile to showcase the range of Fox Run Wines.

(left to right)
A slice of Bel Cellio from the Muranda Cheese Company in Waterloo, NY topped with Sweet Wino-nion jam, that blew my socks off - Wine Maker Peter Bell paired it with Doyal Family Chardonnay, and I was hooked.  It was one of my favorite combinations of the day.  (and I as a rule- don't even like Chardonnay...but this one had... you guessed it 10% Traminette!)

A mixed green salad with Stella Vallis Tomme from the Real Amazing Live Food Co, Pike Plains, NY, and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette & Pepitas (those pepitas are like crack...I crave them) this was paired with Fox Vineyards Semi Dry Riesling This is a low ETOH (10.8%) wine that a new look at riesling  - taste, not sugar.  Refreshing yet layered.

Wine Barrel Smoker
My WOW moment was Sprout Creek Farm's Margie Cheese - it was a delicious brie like semi-soft cheese that makes me want to go visit them in Poughkeepsie ASAP. The amazing moment was when Winemaker Peter Bell started discussing how they market their Lemberger wine. He casually said "Most people won't even try it under it's other name - Blaufrankish"  I started laughing.  My companions started laughing, and then I took a big delicious sip of the Fox Run Vineyard's Lemberger - I am a convert.

What's really neat about Fox Run, is that they really encompass the whole wine & food experience.  I learned about Ver Juis in the form of local Cabernet Franc VerJooz pickled egg - a culinary education, and it was accompanied by house made wine barrel smoked sausages.  (Now I want to own a wine barrel smoker!)

Dessert was a simple shortbread cookie, paired with Hedonia a  tawny port style traminette (21% ETOH that really sneaks up on you) I left lunch early to run upstairs and buy two bottles of this.  It is versatile, refreshing and different.  I love it!

Then there was more.... in my next post, a Fox Run Vineyard master class on terroir with pairings.