Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Break: Keuka Lake Wine Trail

We had perfect weather last weekend for our first ever visit to the Finger Lakes wineries. The ‘World Tour of Food and Wine’ event at Keuka Lake seemed like a good place to start, since it included the most well-respected Finger Lakes winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank. Besides the wine and food, the scenery made for a beautiful drive. Under gorgeous clear skies, every single winery had spectacular views of the lake and the vineyards shone bright white thanks to a recent snowfall.. There were plenty of people in the tasting rooms, but none of the tour buses or huge groups that can lead to long waits during the height of the tourism season. For dinner, and for beer drinkers, we recommend the Village Tavern in Hammondsport for its warm and convivial atmosphere, good food ranging from burgers all the way to seafood and steaks, and imported beers on tap (Chimay Tripel, Lindeman’s Framboise, Boddington’s, many more). If you're planning a trip, the event is being repeated April 19-20. Before you go, check out some tips on vineyard tours by Kathleen Lisson.

Each winery offered a small plate of food, a small glass of wine to accompany it, and your choice of 4 or 5 other wines to taste from their collections. The food was not, ahem, a fount of epicurean delight, but it's difficult to expect more when you know that the budget is limited and the food had to be held for as long as 5 hours each day. It was also, for the most part, a tour of Western Europe, with several continents left out. We were there for the wines anyway, and we spread our visit out over two days – one day on each side of the lake. There are other wineries and tasting rooms on Keuka lake which were not part of the wine trail event, but we didn’t make it to any of them.

East Shore Wineries:

Keuka Spring Vineyards

Poland: Pierogi, Kielbasa with dried fruit compote and Rye bread.
Wine Pairing: Off-dry Reisling.
The most satisfying wine we tasted here was the ‘Crooked Lake Red’, an off-dry blend based on the French-American hybrid Rougeon grape, but at the $20 price point, we couldn’t see ourselves choosing it over most $20 reds from the west coast.

Rooster Hill Vineyards
Italy: Involtini (Grilled Eggplant slice wrapped around goat cheese, with tomato sauce), Gnocchi with Vodka sauce, Chocolate Biscotti
Wine Pairing: Merlot
The Merlot was okay, but they raved about their Chardonnay which had garnered an 85-point rating from Wine Enthusiast. It’s fairly rich in flavor, has some oak, and is generally well-balanced, so we did buy a bottle for $13.99. The other interesting wine here was the Lemberger, a red varietal that smelled so pungently of a musty barn that we weren’t too sure we wanted to drink it! Yes, it’s earthy and fruity in flavor, but a bit too reminiscent of barnyard refuse for us.

Barrington Crest Cellars
Paraguay: Tallarin (spicy chicken with pasta – according to Wikipedia, ‘tallarin’ is Spanish for tagliatelle), Arroz con Leche (rice pudding)
Wine Pairing: Dry Riesling
The choice of Paraguay was a nice surprise – the owners have family connections there. Their Raptor’s Red, a blend of Pinot Noir and the hybrid Baco Noir, was good, and their fruit and ice wines are nice, if you like sweet wines. We preferred the Buzzard’s Blackberry with our Arroz con Leche.

Ravines Wine Cellars
Switzerland: Quiche with swiss cheese and bacon.
Paired with your choice of a Dry Riesling or the Cayuga Table White.
I was looking forward to the Cayuga White after reading a nice review of it at Lenndevours, but the wines were too cold and just came off as crisp and non-aromatic. Plus, there was an extra charge for tasting their other wines. Poor form! We declined.

McGregor Vineyard
Greece: Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), chickpea salad, pita chips with reamy parmesan pesto spread, baklava.
Wine Pairing: Cayuga White.
McGregor is quite some distance off the road that rings the lake, but it’s a really nice place for a tasting. The food was the best we had at any winery, and, for once, we got to sit down while we tasted the wine leisurely. Our overall impression here was that all their wines had a lot of finesse, but came with higher price tags than the other wineries. We bought a bottle of their 2006 Pinot Noir, for $27.99, which had more grip and flavor than any other wine we tasted. The $39.99 Meritage-style Rob Roy Red is decent, too, with strong cedar notes, and I even can see why the Black Russian Red, even at $59.99, is a popular bottle. The Black Russian is made from Ukrainian vinifera grapes, Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni, whose rootstocks were brought by Konstantin Frank in the 1950’s and given as a gift to the vineyard owner. These vines are so rare and prized that their location on the vineyard is a secret even to many of the employees. The goal of the winemaker in using these grapes is to make a wine that will age well, even up to 50 years. Although we tasted mostly fruit in the latest bottling, it would indeed be interesting to see what happens to this wine over the next ten years of cellaring.

Next week I'll wrap up with the Keuka Lake west side: Heron Hill, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Stever Hill, and Hunt Country.