Newport Mansions Wine + Food Festival 2015

Once again, Bacchus smiled upon the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival (NMWFF), granting us exquisite fall weather, thousands of wines and plenty of gourmet treats from local artisans and restaurants. This year’s NMWFF grand entrance featured a Cabernet-tinted rainbow and fountains spouting Pinot Noir water.

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Oh, you weren’t tricked by our Photoshop whimsy? No, the fountains weren’t spouting Pinot but it seemed like we were after a day and a half of tasting and spitting. Which got us to thinking: are we going about these mega-tasting events the right way? A posting on tasting etiquette by the Wine Spectator offers painfully obvious tips, but it does let us play Monday morning quarterback for our Newport show behavior.

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Renaissance Ricotta

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McCrae’s Caramels

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Just Jan’s Jams

 

 

 

 

 

So, in the spirit of having fun, enjoying good wine and taking notes that may or may not make a difference to our readers, here are the favorites of our Newport tasting.

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Tannat’s the Night to Discover Uruguay

Gary

Gary sampling the wares

When you think of Uruguay what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Don’t know much about Uruguay? Neither did we, being the U.S.-centric, geographically–challenged couple that we are. But I’m guessing if you DID think of Uruguay, wine wouldn’t be at the top of your list. And that would be a mistake. Because Uruguay has a winemaking tradition dating back to the 18th century, when Spanish colonists brought vines to the region. Like its fellow South American producers Argentina and Chile—who are years, if not decades ahead of Uruguay in wine quantity, and global market penetration—Uruguay is stepping up its education and export efforts.  Which is how VinoDuo discovered the wines of Uruguay, duringthe “Tannat Tasting Tour 2015.”

2Tannat is the signature grape of the Uruguayan wine industry, a rich, full-bodied grape named for its high tannin levels. Native to the Basque region of Europe, the grape was introduced to Uruguay in 1870 by Basque immigrants. Tannat dominates production but other common varietals include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Most of the Tannat-based wines we tasted did present with very high tannin levels; Gary consistently noted that the wines needed more aging time in the bottle. This is not a knock on the producers; Tannat grapes are hard to “tame” in terms of achieving the balance of fruit, roundness (silky mouth-feel on the palate) and food-friendliness that the winemakers try to achieve.

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Francisco Pizzorno, Pizzorno Family Estates

There are @ 200 family-run wineries in Uruguay that produce 10 million cases of wine annually. At the Tannat Tasting Tour, 18 wineries poured close to 100 wines—aged reds and just-bottled whites; 100% Tannat and 5-grape blends; a few “must buys” and plenty of “meh.” Lisa’s favorite producer, Bodegas Castillo Viejo, is still seeking American distribution …listen up Boston-area distributors. Following is a list of our favorite wines from the tasting.

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“Crossed-Up” Blind Tasting—Napa Cabernets

220px-JethroTullAqualungalbumcoverAs an old Jethro Tull fan, I’ve always been enamored of the group’s classic 1971 album Aqualung, a work of true genius and master musicianship. Among the album’s interrelated tracks, “Cross-Eyed Mary” was a real standout for me with its opening line “Who would be a poor man, a beggar man, a thief –if he had a rich man in his hand? And who would steal the candy from a laughing baby’s mouth if he could take it from the money man?” Those lyrics flashed through my head when I learned of the brazen grape thievery conducted by Napa Valley’s Jeff Hill Vineyards. (Read the New York Times article).

The Times article gives the full scoop, but here’s the story in a nutshell: Jeff Hill Vineyards was a small, well-regarded Napa winery that was hemorrhaging money and likely headed for bankruptcy. In October 2013, Mr. Hill’s vineyard crew was hired out to assist in neighboring vineyards at harvest, including the celebrated Howell Mountain Vineyard owned by Del Dotto, a small-batch, prestigious Napa producer whose Cabernet retails for $195.00 a bottle. Allegedly, instead of delivering all of the harvested grapes to Del Dotto’s winemaking facilities, several loads were mysteriously diverted to Mr. Hill’s winery.

Jeff Hill

Jeff Hill

What Jeff Hill planned to do with those premier grapes is a not really a mystery — make wine with the stolen fruit and charge a pretty penny for it. Desperation apparently breeds questionable behavior; maybe selling his “Napa Cab” for $95 a bottle would have forestalled almost certain bankruptcy if he could pull it off. But thanks to a sting operation, Mr. Hill was nabbed before his imposter wine hit the market.

The thieving ways of Mr. Hill brings us back to Tull’s “Cross-Eyed Mary.” If Jeff Hill was the thief in the lyrics, could VinoDuo find other California cabs to stand in for the three other “men” in a blind Napa taste-off? Could Gary, Lisa and their wine-savvy friends tell the difference between a prestige Napa cab (rich man) a lower-priced cab from neighboring Sonoma (poor man), and a “mystery” bottle of Napa Cab from a négociant, who buys excess fruit and wine from multiple growers and produces/bottles wine of unknown provenance (beggar man)? Of course, négociants don’t actually beg for grapes, but they go from vineyard to vineyard seeking the best leftovers and the lowest prices.

The Competitors
Sheathed in brown paper bags labeled A – D, and with no discernible markings, these four wines were put to the test:0329151656a

  • 2010 Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – rich man
  • 2012 Miro Cellars Cloverdale Park Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma) —poor man
  • 2011 Cameron Hughes Lot 500 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon—beggar man
  • 2011 Jeff Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – thief

Wine from two different valleys and three different years is not exactly kosher for a horizontal tasting, but then, we’re not Robert Parker…just two amateur wine lovers. So there. And where’d we get the Jeff Hill Cabernet? From our friends at online wine retailer InVino, who snapped up several cases of of Hill’s inventory at a bankruptcy auction for cents on the dollar. When Gary read about InVino’s own legal wine “theft” in the Times, he immediately called owner Tony Westfall—with whom VinoDuo already did business—and ordered a ½ case of the Hill Cab for $30 a bottle (down from $96.00 when Hill was in business.)

Tasting Results
The object for our blind tasting was to pick out which wine was the rich man, poor man etc., with extra credit for identifying the most expensive.

Napa Cab Blind Tasting

The blind tasting winners? Tasters #1 and #2 correctly identified all four wines and also won the extra credit for guessing Trinchero as the highest priced bottle. Although, technically, the Jeff Hill Cabernet would have been the most expensive pour if he hadn’t blown everything and sold his inventory for pennies. Other observations? Great Napa cabs are readily identifiable and likely worth the money—the Jeff Hill and Trinchero stood out as the superior wines. However, at $38, the Miro Cellars Pine Mountain from Sonoma is a far better deal: a big, food-friendly Cab without the Napa label or high sticker price. And under the category of “you get what you pay for,” the Cameron Hughes Cab, with its mystery origins, was universally panned by our tasters.

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Eastern Europe Lands in Boston

Eastern European blood runs through both members of VinoDuo’s veins, though it’s more Jewish shtetl than rolling vineyards. So when I saw that a handful of winemakers from the old country were exhibiting at the Boston Wine Expo 2014, I made a beeline for their tables and never left. Nothing like discovering an entirely new wine region to make a blogger grin, purple tongue and all.

GEORGIA

Georgian Wine repFirst stop was Georgia, in the Caucasus region. Apparently Georgia is the Old, Old World wine region, calling itself the first wine producing country in the world. With 7,000 years of winemaking history, the Georgians have had plenty of time to hone their craft. And despite agricultural and geopolitical catastrophes in the recent past, the wine presented by Khareba Winery was, on the whole delightful. But with no U.S. distributor, Khareba’s wines aren’t yet available stateside. If you want to sip my faves, you’ll have to go to Tbilisi.

Khareba produces its 20+ wines in two distinct geographic regions—Kakheti in the East and Imereti in the West—using both ancient and modern winemaking styles. The traditional Georgian method of winemaking uses a qvevri, a large, egg-shaped clay vessel lined with beeswax and buried in the ground, for fermentation, maceration and storage of wine. These skin-fermented white wines have become something of a fad in U.S. winebars, where they’re marketed as “orange wines.” In Georgia, they’re just called “wine.”

What to Drink – White Wine  I sampled a mishmash of Khareba wines from the East and West, produced using the ancient method and the modern European style. My picks crossed geography, methodology, and grape.

  • Georgian winesKrakhuna Monastary Wine – A dry white wine from the Western region; fermented and aged for 8 months in Amphora (Qvevri) with 5% of its skins. Far from being “orange” the Krakhuna (name of the grape) produced in the West of the country is a delicate light color, with a lovely floral nose and limestone on the palate. Full-bodied and bone dry, sedate; not a sipping wine.

  • Krakhuna 2013 – Same grape, same region, different method (stainless tanks). Totally different profile. Pale and dry but a lively palate, nice citrus tones. A great “deck wine.”

  • Rkatsiteli 2013 – From the East comes this wine in production since 1892. Made in the European style the Rkatsiteli (grape name) was light, almost transparent but full of flavor. Floral nose and dry as a bone. Great with fish. Interestingly, the Rkatsiteli Monastary 2011 made in the qvevri style was bitter, with less flavor.

 What to Drink – Red Wine

  • Saperavi 2011 – A dry red wine from the East, the Saperavi (grape name) was a beautiful deep cherry color and bursting with red fruit aromas.

  • Saperavi Chateau Marko 2010 – Billed by Khareba’s rep as “Stalin’s favorite wine” [note to Khareba marketers: Stalin is not a come-on in the USA] the Chateau Marko is made in the European style, with both aged (20% in French oak) and un-aged grapes. Dry and smooth, with good balance. I’d serve it with a lamb stew if Stalin were coming for dinner.

SLOVENIA

While not exactly part of Gary or my Zayde’s “old country,” Slovenia is in Eastern Europe—and a winemaking country on the move. Independent since the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, and Croatia to the south. Slovenian lore claims that winemaking began there in the 4th century BC and it was Slovenians…not Georgians…who first made wine. Let them duke it out. At least they’re fighting about wine, not religion.

At the Boston Wine Expo, a delightful rep. from Laureate Imports Co., a Georgia- (not Georgian) based importer, presented two Slovenian brands, Avia and Colliano. Both wineries are situated in Goriska Brda, the western-most wine region bordering Italy, and share Italy’s topography and Mediterranean climate. Avia and Colliano are both value-priced wines, with no bottle priced above $15 and many coming in under $7 on US shelves.

 What to Drink – White Wine

White wine dominates Slovenian production. I sampled two each from Colliano and Avia and found them all too sweet for my taste. If your palate favors sweet, here are two pleasing wines to try.

  • Avia Sauvignon Blanc 2011Light, pale color that looks like a Sauvignon Blanc but tasted more like an unoaked Chardonnay.  $6/bottle

  • Colliano Ribolla Gialla Grape is native to the Italy/Slovenia border region; light golden color, citrus and soft fruit on the palate. Might be a fun deck wine on a hot summer day.   $14/bottle

Slovenia Footnote

Verus wine SloveniaWe just picked up a bottle of Verus Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Light, almost fizzy wine with a hint of citrus and some stone fruit. Good minerality (if you like minerality, which I do and Gary doesn’t.) Far more interesting than the Avia SB and, at $14, worth the doubling of price.

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Boston Wine Expo Review…a Few Months Late

It’s been 6 months since the 2014 Boston Wine Expo and we’re a bit embarrassed to be reporting on our experience in July. But life often intervenes, so we offer our belated views on the Expo, the wines we sampled, and the wines we loved.

Getting In is the Hardest Part
Barefoot WinesOne of the best perks wine writers get is early entry into extravaganzas like the Boston Wine Expo. You can learn a lot about wines in an hour when the Mongol hordes aren’t clogging the aisles looking for the Barefoot Wine booth (wait, did we just write that? Yes, we did.)We arrived at Boston World Trade Center with plenty of time for the opening of the Trade and Press Preview. Sadly, multiple members of the venue’s security staff directed us around the World (Trade Center) in search of the Expo entrance. Signs, what signs? After 20 minutes, we straggled in to the Preview. Next year, let’s hope the Boston Wine Expo staff and the security detail do a better job of communication so those of us who help market and generate interest in wine don’t miss a minute of the event.

Our Plan
The Boston Wine Expo is always overwhelming, with thousands of wines represented from all parts of the globe. VinoDuo splits up at these events, to divide and conquer. Lisa headed to the up-and-coming Eastern European exhibiters. Gary focused on finding great values from well-known regions, including Rioja in Spain, several AOC’s from Portugal and Argentina and a quick stop in Greece and Slovenia.

Part I    GARY’S REPORT
Before sticking to the plan (I’m not so good at sticking with plans), I wondered over to Pinot Land, aka San Luis Obispo in California’s Central Coast.  The Stephen Ross Wine Cellars table had a friendly staff but tgary at the expo2014he wine was just not up to par with their smiles. First up was the 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.  I moved on to the 2009 Edna Valley Pinot Noir. The dark ruby color gave way to a mysterious black fruit nose. But the wine fell flat on the tasting with a non-descript mid-palate and a very green finish. The third Pinot was the standout of the tasting. The 2010 Stone Corral Vineyard Pinot Noir better defined the winemaker’s talent with deep-blue fruit and anise notes on the palate with a full, satisfying finish. While not a “value wine,” the Stone Corral would be an excellent gift for the Pinot-lover in your family. $52/bottle

Now, back to the plan and on to value-oriented AOCs.  First up, Portugal.

What to Drink – Portugal
2011 Adega de Borba Vino Tinto
Gary in Portgul (with Trincadeira, Alancant Boushet, Argener, Castelao grapes) from the Alentejo AOC. A nice, light red blend with a terrific balance of fruit and tannin and a surprisingly long finish. A delicious, fun wine for your next barbecue.  $9 per bottle

2011 Caves Messias Quinta Cachoa from the Douro AOC A blend of 5 grapes including Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga. Balanced fruit, silky tannins and even some toasty oak and vanilla notes on a long finish. Another VinoDuo “Must Buy.”  $9 per bottle.

2008 DFJ Vinhos 2008 Grand’Arte Alicante Bouschet First impression…“WOW!” This $11 wine tastes like a complex $35 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of Alicante Brouschet and Caladoc grapes, the tannins were still a bit stiff but give it two years and, again, WOW.   $11 per bottle.

2009 Herdade dos Coelheiros Ciranda Colheita Seleccionada Another terrific value-oriented wine from Portugal (AOC Alentejano). The 2009 Ciranda delivers an array of deep black fruit flavors over a smooth tannin backbone. Grapes in this blend include Aragonez, Syrah and Alicante Bouchet, with Syrah the dominant flavor). A good match for your favorite barbecued meats and even some seafood.  $10 per bottle.

2009 Monte Da Ravasqueira, Vinha Das Ramas from AOC Alentejano. A stunning example of just how amazing and well-priced Portuguese wine can be. The Vinha Das Ramas has it all, from the nose to the palate and finish… a well-made wine that tops our Must Buy list for the 2014 Wine Expo.  $28 per bottle.

What to Drink – The Rest
I traveled from Portugal to Spain, where one Rioja stood out from the crowd, and then to Argentina, where a Malbec made a big impression.

2010 Marques de Teran Versum, Rioja, Spain  The shelves are filled with $10 Tempranillo, most of which are pretty good for the money. But at twice the price, the Versum has a complexity and long finish the cheaper bottles lack. $20 per bottle

Familia Zuccardi 2010 Malbec Q Mendoza, Argentina   Zuccadi malbecIf you’re looking for a Malbec that will age well while impressing the “I want it tonight” steak and burger crowd, check out the 2010 Zuccardi Malbec. This is a big wine with intense black fruit and silky tannins; it will stand up to any steak prepared any way. While the “90” rating assigned by several sites is nothing to complain about, we’d pump that up a few points. It drinks like a far more expensive wine and is a real Must Buy. $15-$17 per bottle

 Avia 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Slovenia As the trade tasting preview was winding down, Lisa insisted I meet her at the Slovenian table, where she had spent the morning happily trying the country’s white wines. I tackled the Avia 2011 Cab, a refreshing red with a good balance of fruit and a nice Bordeaux-style dry finish. The Avia paired well with several sampled cheeses from the show floor and at $6 a bottle, it’s certainly worth a buy.

Note: Lisa’s full report on Slovenia and Georgian wines will be posted on VinoDuo soon.

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The Urban Wineries of Dogpatch

To readers of a certain age, say over 50, “Dogpatch” was the place Li’l Abner and his hillbilly comic strip pals lazed their life away. For VinoDuo, Dogpatch is now the little-known San Francisco
neighborhood that boasts artisan coffee, gritty shipyard remnants, funky shops, and fabulous restaurants. Dubbed a “perennial up-and-coming neighborhood” by one San Francisco guide, Dogpatch has seen good times and bad and today is flourishing with the influx of artists, artisans, and the people who trail them.   

IMG_20130316_171318_193 Now, VinoDuo likes great restaurants and killer coffee as much as the next yuppie couple. In fact, we had a lovely lunch at Dogpatch Café and devoured the outstanding flatbread-style pizza at PiccinoCaféBut what drove us to visit was Dogpatch WineWorks, a boutique winemaker’s collective and tasting room. Urban winemaking has caught our fancy of late (see Portland Wine Region article) and this no-frills winery–housed in a former warehouse—was smack dab in the middle of a resurgent Dogpatch.

Dogpatch WineWorks hosts several small commercial producers in a “custom crush” arrangement, Dogpatch wineworks productionDogpatchwineworkswhere artisan winemakers source their own grapes and bring the fruit to WineWorks for production. During our visit to the tasting room, we were fortunate to sample the wine of two of Dogpatch’s premier winemakers: Seamus Wines and Jazz Cellars. 

Seamus Dogpatch Seamus is a family-owned business, with a twist. Father and son winemakers live in Georgia, but they produce 900 cases of California wine in Dogpatch.  Jazz Cellars was founded in 2005 by two friends who shared a love of good wine and great music. Jazz’s small-batch producers focus on Rhone-style wines, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. In tandem, Seamus and Jazz Cellars presented Lisa and Gary with a literal Vino Duo wine tasting experience.

Dogpatch Wineworks Tasting Notes  We rate all of the following wines a “Buy.”  Problem is, good luck finding a bottle to buy. Either get thee to Dogpatch in haste or go online to the wineries’ web sites and see if you can purchase and ship online.

WINE

TASTING NOTES

PRICING (approximate)

Seamus Olde School Cabernet 2009 (Sonoma)

Toasty oak nose with some cedar and cigar box. This is a big wine with good tannic structure, super concentrated black current fruit. Winemaker Jim Foley is a true craftsman. While drinkable at this point, the wine would benefit from additional cellaring. 

$60 via Seamus web site
Jazz Cellars Las Madres 2007 Syrah Amazingly fragrant nose and deep black and cherry fruit flavors. Short finish, but delicious. $35 via Jazz Cellars web site (http://www.jazzcellars.com)
Jazz Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard, Amador County Zinfandel  2009 A juicy Zinfandel featuring hints of raspberry, cherry and blackberry over a silky smooth tannin backbone. $34 via Jazz Cellars web site
Jazz Petite Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch 2007 Purchased without tasting. Tasting notes at home…. This is a big, inky-dark petite Syrah with classic black fruit and spice flavoring. One of the better Petite Syrahs’s that VinoDuo has tasted.  $33 via Jazz Cellars web site
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Heading to Boston Wine Expo 2014

Neither rain nor snow nor slush will keep VinoDuo away from our home-grown wine fest, Boston Wine Expo 2014.  We’ll take good notes and report back with new finds and old favorites.

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Day Three: Finger Lakes Wine Region

On Tuesday our wine touring kicked into high gear. After dropping our bags in Penn Yann at Los Gatos B&B (more on this lucky find in tomorrow’s post) we set our course for a whirlwind tour of the west side of Seneca Lake.  Our first stop was Fox Run Vineyards & Cafe, one of the best known wineries in the area, yet one of the least interesting. It seemed like  all the wines had too much slate, shale, and acid mixed in with the fruit.  We quickly departed and moved on to Billsboro Winery

Billsboro’s owner/winemaker Vin Aliperti is also winemaker at the more established Atwater Winery. Vin is tremendously talented and his love for the craft shows in his products. Billsboro’s wines were refined and delicious, particularly when accompanied by sourdough bread and delicious local English-style cheddar. We walked out with the best of the bunch:

  • 2008 Dry Riesling — Terrific balance of fruit, acid, and residual sugar (1.2%)
  • 2008 Chardonnay — Nice toasted oak nose w/butterscotch tones; just the right amount of cream on the palate

Our next stop took us to the (ghost) storied Miles Wine Cellars. Doug Miles co-founded the winery with his dad at this beautiful 200 year old Greek Revival home on the water that Doug has restored (with his own woodworking hands) to its original glory.  Doug and his wife (and the purported 40+ ghosts that inhabit the house) now run the winery.
 
    

We spent 90 minutes with Doug touring the home and the winery, and getting a full tasting.  We strongly recommend (and purchased)

  • 2002 Milestone (Cabernet Franc, Merlot): Toasted oak, leather, tobacco nose with deep plum/blackberries and pepper. Smooth from start to finish.
  • 2006 Chardonnay: Light, excellent balance of oak, fruit and acid.  Hint of cream.

Our plans changed when we were told to hit Red Tail Ridge Winery, so we headed on down the road to check it out.  They’re in the midst of buiding a new LEED Certified production facility; it’s close to completion and looks terrific. And the wine? Under the direction of winemaker Nancy Irelan, a former VP at Gallo for 20 years, it’s mostly a work in progress, but we did purchase:

  • 2007 Estate Grown Pinot Noir–  Light mocha nose with cherry concentrate overtones; made in the Burgundy style and the only Pinot we liked on the Finger Lakes.

The last stop of the day was also unplanned. Shaw Vineyard (namesake of master winemaker Steve Shaw) was a true find.  Steve’s tasting room was built slowly and lovingly, just as he makes his wines. We were lucky to get a full walk-through of the entire lineup with Steve, who’s something of a character. Lisa called him an iconoclast, which he took as a compliment.  Everything we tasted was outstanding and we walked out with a mixed case:

  • 2004 Oaked Chardonnay–Toasted oak nose, vanilla and a hint of cream.
  • 2007 Sauvingnon Blanc–Limestone and grass on the nose, juicy and flavorful, as close to NZ as we’ve found.
  • 2006 Riesling–Apricot and honey without the sweetness.
  • 2004 Merlot–Licorice with hints of leather & Cuban cigar on the nose.  Cherry-pepper palate with long finish.
  • 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon–Cedar & vanilla on the nose. Pepper, vanilla and dark cherries on the palate
  • 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon–Much like the 2003.  Not yet ready, but this will be a real winner in 12 months.

A note on the Finger Lakes: corn, corn, and more corn everywhere. Rolling farm land, Mennonite buggies, and knock-out vistas. Even if you’re not a wine fan, you should visit here!

Posted in Visit Northeast Wine Regions, Where We've Traveled | 1 Comment

Day Two: Finger Lakes Wine Region

Skaneateles is big on beauty, short on wineries.  But we did stop in at Anyela’s Vineyards on our way out of town. Suffice it to say there must be a reason Skaneateles is short on wineries. Anyela’s has a beautiful post and beam tasting room with a wonderful view but the wines were, unfortunately, forgettable. Lisa noted the Dry Riesling had a “nose of lighter fluid,” while Gary found “chemical compounds of unidentified origin” in the Pinot Noir.  Anyela’s first production was in 2004; the vines are young; perhaps (we hope) they’ll improve.

Next stop, the east side of Cayuga Lake and King Ferry Winery, producer of Treleaven wines. We’ll write up our full tasting notes of all the wines we recommend from our Finger Lakes trip in a few weeks, but here’s a quick re-cap of our favorite Treleaven wines.

  • Dry Rosé 2008: comprised of 100% Cabernet Franc, this bursts strawberry on the nose and tastes like summer. Best with food, not as an aperitif.
  • Meritage 2007: 61% Cab Franc, 28% Merlot, 11% Cab Sauv.; round, full flavor with cedar, blackberry, and pepper.

A few miles down the road from King Ferry is  Long Point Winery, where we had a long and successful visit with winemaker Gary Barletta. We first discovered Long Point during a trip to Albany, NY, where we tasted Barletta’s killer 06 Zin.  We were anxious to find out how an upstate New York winemaker could grow warm-weather grapes so successfully. Turns out, he can’t.  Barletta  sources his Zinfandel grapes from Lodi and Mendocino in California then produces the wine in New York. Barletta has a fascinating back story, which we’ll cover in detail, but here’s the wine we walked out of his winery with:

  • Reserve Zinfandel 2006 — even better than the non-Reserve from that vintage
  • Syrah 2006 — these grapes also flew in from CA but found a wonderful home in NY
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 — we didn’t taste this but bought it site-unseen

Next stop…Geneva, home of Hobart William Smith college and another gorgeous lakefront.

Where We Stayed — Chapman House Inn
The Chapman House has location, charm, personality, and an amazing breakfast to offer guests. Built in 1802 and carefully, lovingly restored by the current owners/innkeepers, the Inn is directly across from Hobart William Smith and just blocks from downtown. What the Chapman House doesn’t offer, however, is quiet.  Hard by the freeway, the trucks roared through our beautiful room all night. Innkeeper Steve said only a handful of guests had ever complained about the noise; indeed a mother-son duo at breakfast said they slept like babies (they’re from Brooklyn…where noise is the norm, I guess.) 

So, if you’re not noise-sensitive, by all means go to the Chapman House Inn. The service is warm and friendly, the rooms lovely, and the breakfast to die for.  For VinoDuo, it was too much to take. We reluctantly checked out and moved on to Penn Yann, to Los Gatos B&B. 

More tomorrow.

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Day One: Finger Lakes Wine Region

Road Trip!  We packed up the wagon with far more than we needed and headed out the Mass Pike to the Finger Lakes region of NY.  How smart of us, we said smugly, to drive instead of flying into tiny airports in tinier planes.  Ah, but then came the 1 hour backup in Auburn, MA (accident) and the 45 minute backup (accident) near Syracuse and we were cursing our stupid road trip decision. But by the time we hit Skaneateles (8 hours after we started) we were of good cheer and looking forward to four days of wine tasting in a gorgeous setting.

In between road accidents we stopped in the Berkshires at Baba Louie’s, a funky pizza shop in Great Barrington. Sourdough crust is their claim to fame, and it didn’t disappoint. The Melanzana Cardinale, with fresh mozzarella, eggplant, smoked gouda, and pesto was fantastic; even pizza-maker supreme Gary gave it a high rating.

The hour traffic snarl put us behind schedule for arriving in Skaneateles before sundown, so we ate and ran…a disappointment, since Great Barrington is the quintessential sweet yuppie  town.

Where we Stayed Arbor House Inn
Skaneateles is one of those stunning summer destinations with grand old homes ringing a pristine waterfront…it reminded Lisa of Edgartown on the Vineyard. Broad sidewalks and ample shade trees grace the downtown, which abuts Lake Skaneateles. The town boasts the requisite cute stores and tourist traps, but also great coffee shops (blogging from one now–Creekside Books & Coffee), galleries, and artisan outposts.

Our B&B, Arbor House Inn, was 3 blocks from the center of town. Location trumped all; the room was slightly shabby, the breakfast mediocre, and the service somewhat rushed.  We were asked when we were checking out twice!  But…the bed was extremely comfortable and the room had DSL to keep us connected. At $135/night it was reasonable for the area but I’m not sure we would return. 

Today we’re off to three wineries…Anyela’s (in Skaneateles), King Ferry, and Long Point, both on the East Side of Cayuga Lake.

We’ll report back tomorrow. 

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