A Very Finger Lakes Wine Tour, or, Wine 101 — PART I

Although we only had 2 full and 2 partial days on our Finger Lakes Vacation, we did our best to visit as many wineries as we possibly could (while still managing to keep P able to drive safely & legally).

We arrived in Watkins Glen probably around 4pm on Sunday, 9/22. I wanted to drive through the little town a bit, so we did that, as well as driving very slowly alongside Seneca Lake and just ogling.

one of our first glimpses of Seneca Lake

one of our first glimpses of Seneca Lake

But we quickly realized that wineries probably weren’t open late–especially on a Sunday–and that snapped us into gear. We made our first stop at Castel Grisch, where we had our first Finger Lakes wine tasting. I mentioned back in April that P and I were interested in the Finger Lakes wine region because of what we had read about the abundance of Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, but I don’t think it had really occurred to us just how different the wines up there would be from the ones we’re used to here in Virginia.

Spoiler alert: It was epic. As two relatively new wine-drinkers who prefer the sweet stuff, we’re constantly looked down upon by snooty, holier-than-thou red wine guzzlers here in Central Virginia. The Piedmont region of Virginia (that’s where Charlottesville is) is known for our red clay soil. As it turns out, that red clay lends itself well to much stronger-flavored, overbearing (in my opinion), gag-inducing wines. (I can’t even count how many times I’ve been tasting and literally had to choke a red or two down my throat.) In this area, we see a lot of the following grapes (with associated flavors + my commentary)*:

Whites

  • Chardonnay – flavors that range from tart green apple to buttery pear; usually very dry
  • Petit Manseng – rich aromas of candied fruit, spice and honey; makes distinctive dry white wines
  • Riesling – wines that epitomize the harmony between sugar and acid; a Riesling wine can be tart and bone-dry on the one hand or extremely sweet on the other (see? even the good stuff here can easily go one way or the other)
  • Sauvignon Blanc – makes dry white wines known for their sharp acidity and aroma of fresh herbs and hay
  • Viognier – gives off a strong and appealing perfume of fresh fruit and flowers; while this suggests a sweet wine, Viognier is typically a dry, or slightly off dry wine (Viognier is the grape that has put Virginia whites on the map in recent years. People love it. Just not this person.)
  • Vidal Blanc – vary in style from dry, crisp wines to late-harvest sweet wines to expensive ice wines; fruity, floral traits

Reds (I normally get to this point in a tasting and wish I could just stop)

  • Cabernet Franc – spicy aromas with hints of mint, plum, blackberry and violets (YUCK)
  • Merlot – leather, mint and blackberry qualities; elegant and concentrated flavor (YUCK)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – complex flavors of black currant, green olive, mint and herbs, and the winemaking process can endow it with hints of vanilla, smoke and leather; yields a dry wine that can be light and approachable or, should the vintner desire, heavier and age-worthy. (YUCK)
  • Norton – rich, fruity aromas and flavors (YUCK)
  • Petit Verdot – characterized by perfumes from fruity and spicy to herbal, with bouquets of leather, coconut, smoke, toast and dark chocolate (YUCK)
  • Chambourcin – noted for evocative herbal aromas and crisp acidity, Chambourcins are typically dry, full-flavored wines with hints of berries (YUCK)

*information borrowed from http://www.virginiawine.org/learn/wine-varieties

We also have some Rosés, sparkling wines, fruit wines, and Meads up in this joint, but again, since we’re already working with a pretty dry set of ingredients, you can only get so sweet.

Anyway, to get back to the point, and to summarize a bit: Virginia is for dry-wine Lovers. I’ve learned that when I see the words ‘smoky,’ ‘earthy,’ ‘cherry,’ ‘leather,’ ‘tobacco,’ ‘chocolate,’ ‘toast,’ ‘black currant,’ etc, as descriptors, I’m going to be gagging. In my opinion, the sweeter, the better. I like Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, and Moscatos. And nearly any fruit wine. ‘Fruity,’ ‘floral,’ or ‘honey’ flavors? Bring it on.

So picture us at the counter at Castel Grisch, being faced with our tasting options. (That’s right; there are so many freaking grape varietals up there that you actually get to choose which tasting you’d like to do–typically it’s ‘Sweet Whites,’ ‘Dry Whites,’ ‘Sweet Reds,’ ‘Dry Reds,’ or some combination of those categories. IT WAS AMAZING. It was a whole new world.) There were grapes on this list that we didn’t recognize, and many of the ones I listed above were mercifully missing from the list (or if they were there, I didn’t notice, because my eyes were on the sweet lists only). Talk about a great start to a vacation.

Sorry ’bout the cliffhanger, but this is getting a bit dense, and I’ve got to get to work. I’m calling this “Part I” of a soon-to-be-completed series on our Very Finger Lakes Vacation!

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