There are many ways to approach a wine festival. You can concentrate on trying new wines and unfamiliar grapes. You can stick with one grape (or type of wine) throughout the day. You can simply go with the recommendations of the server. And of course, you can simply drink whatever is being poured, no questions asked. For the Finger Lakes Wine Festival held at the racetrack in Watkins Glen, I took a different route and used what I call the Progressive Dinner Approach, and had a different “course” with each winery stop.
First I needed a meal before my “meal”, so my first stop was the Club House at Watkins Glen International, where the festival was held, for their pre-festival brunch. Because it was Sunday morning in New York State, it was illegal to serve alcoholic beverages before noon, so my “champagne” brunch had no champagne. This oversight was quickly corrected; as soon as I entered the festival I headed directly to the Pleasant Valley Wine Company for my “pre-dinner cocktail”. I chose their Millennium Brut, a bottle-fermented sparkling wine from Chardonnay grown on Seneca Lake.
For my appetizers, I did a tour of four lakes. First up was Keuka Village White from Ravines Cellars on Keuka Lake. This wine is a blend of Cayuga (which is picked early) and Vignole (which is picked at normal ripeness). The resulting wine is a harmonious combination of acid, fruitiness and minearaltiy and shows aromas of melon and tangerine. Next appetizer was the Ghost from Miles Cellars on Seneca Lake, a light semi-dry white wine that’s a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Cayuga. Ghost is not only a heavenly wine, but it comes with a heavenly ghost story about a tragic couple that died in the house (which is now the tasting room). Playing on the legend, the owners of Miles have packaged the wine in a unique bottle that reveals an ethereal image of a woman when a light is held up behind the bottle.
This was followed by a stop at Eagle Crest on Hemlock Lake for one of their Oh-Neh-Dah Rieslings. I chose the Dry Rielsing, which had notes of key lime and tangerine. The last appetizer was from Canandaigua Lake, where I enjoyed “Rhythm”, a Gruner Veltliner from Inspire Moore. After decades of obscurity, this popular grape from Austria has been enjoying an increasing popularity in the Finger Lakes. Full of grapefruit and citrus zest, this medium-bodied wine was quite refreshing on a hot July day.
Having whetted my appetite with a few white wines, it was time for a trio of red wine entrées, all from Seneca Lake. For my first entrée, I chose Vincent from Fulkersons, a hybrid grape developed in Canada in the 1960’s to be grown in cold climates. Normally I dislike heavy wines full of tannins, but for some reason I am drawn to the Vincent and drink it whenever I see it (which is quite rare). The middle entrée was the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Leidenfrost, a producer on Seneca Lake who is now celebrating their 25th year. This wine, which has always been one of my favorites from the Finger Lakes, was luscious with hints of elderberry, leather and coffee. For my last entrée, I chose something different, Saperavi from Standing Stone on Seneca Lake. The Saperavi grape is a deep dark grape (the name “Saperavi means ink) and has been grown for centuries in the country of Georgia, but is rare outside of Eastern Europe. The one from Standing Stone was smoky, earthy with aromas of plum.
Time for dessert. And for me, that can mean only one thing: Port. Many options, but I chose a Ruby Port from Paperbirch, the dessert wine subsidiary of Hudson Chatham winery in the Hudson Valley. Owner Carlo DeVito, who has made the successful leap from editor/author in the field of wine, beer and spirits to vineyard owner, is making some of the most exciting wines in New York State. And the Highlands Fine Ruby port, blended from five grapes grown in the Hudson Highlands did not disappoint. The rich aromas of dark berries, chocolate and coffee was exactly what I was looking for in a luscious dessert.
But wait. There’s more. At the recommendation of Carlo, I decided to go for one last course: Orange Dreamsickle from Pazdar Winery, also in the Hudson Valley. Owner David Pazdar has a reputation for making innovative (and fascinating) wines, including their famous chocolate wine. Orange Dreamsickle is a dessert wine with orange and vanilla and is reminiscent of the orange creamsicle popsicle. Absolutely delicious! Tasting this wine triggered a flood of childhood memories. A perfect ending for my 10-course wine dinner.