When many people visit the Finger Lakes, they do most, if not all, of their wine tasting on Seneca Lake. As we drove in to the region, it was very apparent why as we passed vast numbers of wineries in a matter of minutes. While you find clusters of wineries in Virginia, I can’t think of any area of comparable size where there is such a large number of wineries. It became immediately apparent if someone didn’t come into the area with a good plan about which wineries they’d visit and a realistic sense of how many they could visit in a day they’d get into a lot of trouble.
Thankfully, just as we had with Keuka Lake and Cayuga Lake, we’d done some advance research, received recommendations about where to visit, and come up with a rough plan of where we’d go on which day. Given the large number of wineries on Seneca Lake, it should be no surprise that they made up the bulk of our wine tasting experiences. Given this, I’ve decided to split our time on this lake into two post. This week, I’ll talk about our visits to wineries on the east side of the lake. In alphabetical order, we visited Atwater Vineyards, Bloomer Creek Vineyard, Damiani Wine Cellars, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Red Newt Cellars, and Shalestone Vineyards. We had generally positive experiences at these wineries, and collectively, they definitely played a role in helping us learn more about the region and our own preferences in riesling, gewurztraminer, and pinot noir – the wines we primarily focused on during our visits.
At Atwater, my favorite wine was probably the ’10 dry riesling, although I’m not sure if it was Grape Envy Guy’s cup of tea, There was a hit of petrol on the nose, and I noted lots of lime and wet rocks – just what I look for. The ’10 gewurztraminer was fine, but the rose notes on the nose were just a bit too much for me, so it didn’t make my list for wines to consider taking back to VA. The riesling bubble, however, not only made my list, it made it into one of our coveted cooler spots. This is a lightly carbonated sparkling with some residual sugar. I wouldn’t have thought it would appeal to me, but the soft floral and peach notes worked for me and immediately made me think of fish tacos. Check back in the next few weeks to find out how that worked out for us. The ’09 marechal foch also stood out to me. It offered an earthy nose and earhy red fruit flavors on the palate. It reminded me a bit of chambourcin, although it had more body and wasn’t quite as fruity. I though of BBQ and/or grilled food pairings with this one. Finally, the “Big Blend,” a blend of merlot, cab sauv, cab franc, lemberger, and syrah might have made it home with me if I lived locally. It was my favorite of the red blends with an earthy backbone that was doing it for me. This wasn’t our favorite winery, but we tasted with a really knowledgable employee and found a solid roster of wines.
Bloomer Creek was where we ran into Ed, a frequent commenter on this blog who lives in PA and was vacationing in the region at the same time as us – it really is a small world. It was also where we had one of our best tasting experiences. We got to taste with the winemaker, and between him and Ed we learned a lot about this winery, the Finger Lakes wine industry, and the region. For the most part, we had an easy time making final decisions about which bottles to take home with us from a given winery. Something would just jump out at one of us or we could easily negotiate a decision given our desire to focus on types of wines we couldn’t get in VA. We liked so many of the wines here, however, that we had some really tough decisions to make. We tried a ’11 gewurztraminer blend that had nice citrus and spice notes that would have come home with us had we been local. Surprisingly, I also liked the ’10 barrel fermented chardonnay – enough that a bottle came home with me – you can’t possibly be more surprised than I was. It was a very well integrated wine with vanilla and apple notes. The ’09 pinot noir offered mushroom and berry notes. It was a soft and lighter bodied wine, but it was very well balanced. I was also really taken by the ’07 White Horse Red, a blend of cab franc and merlot that was soft and beautifully integrated It offered some green pepper on the nose, something I don’t dislike, and this was joined by cherry and berry flavors. Thanks for a great time here Kim, Ed, and Linda.
Damiani was a mediocre tasting experience – our tasting associate was knowledgeable enough, but she just seemed a bit bored. That said, I definitely tasted some wines I liked. The standouts to me here were the ’11 dry riesling and the ’10 gewurztraminer. When I saw on the tasting notes that half of the riesling was left to hang and develop botrytis, I didn’t know what to expect, since this is something I associate with dessert wine. Yet again, I learned not to make too many assumptions. This wine offered a floral nose with flavors of lemon and lime. The acid was soft in this wine, however, and I enjoyed the minerality. This gewurztraminer was the style I like. The rose notes on the nose were balanced by some spice on both the nose and the palate. Citrus notes also came out on the palate, and the wine finished with spicy tropical fruit flavors. Yum. The reds here were less my thing. The ’10 Sunrise Hill pinot noir didn’t do a lot for me, but I wonder what it will be like in a few years. I just don’t drink enough pinot noir these days to be any good at even beginning to guess how a wine will develop… With future visits to the region, hopeful I’ll get more practice in and learn more.
Lamoreaux Landing is a place where we had a less than ideal tasting experience. I always try not to let this affect me too much, but I’m realistic enough to know it does color my impressions of the wines – particularly when that’s been my only visit. Most of the tasting rooms we visited had a system pretty well down, but Lamoreaux had a small tasting bar in a really big space, and they just crammed in way too many people. I would far rather have waited a few minutes until there was actually space for us, but the just kept cramming people in. Consider my impressions of the wine in light of that. The ’09 reserve riesling stood out to me with all the lime it offered, but it was more my style than GEGs, and I think it really needs food to show well. The ’11 Red Oak Vineyard riesling also stood out to me. I wanted a tough more acidity, but I enjoyed the apple blossom notes and the minerality. The peach, floral, orange, and citrus notes from the ’11 Red Oak Vineyard, riesling, however, was less my thing. That’s just a bit too much fruit for me. The ’11 gewurztraminer did have a hint of the spice I look for, but the wine struck me as a bit watery. The ’11 Gruner Veltliner also struck me as a bit watery (watery citrus acid on the palate was how I described it in my notes), but I loved the flinty floral nose. Like I said, I might have reacted differently under different circumstances, but who knows… The ’08 pinot noir was the other wine that made a real impression on me. It offered a smokey nose with lots of cherry and berry on the palate. It was a light wine, but the smoke/oak gave it some nice structure.
When we visited Red Newt, we started with lunch in their bistro. We were eating at the same time as a bachelorette party, and we hoped to get our tasting in before them. We weren’t lucky enough for this, but the tasting staff did their best to keep them corralled and under control, so major points to them for successful people management. As for the wines, I enjoyed both the ’10 dry riesling reserve and the ’10 semi-dry reisling. The dry reserve was definitely my favorite with wet rock and creamy lime notes with balanced but notable acidity. The regular ’11 dry was fruitier, orange and stone fruit, than I look for in a dry riesling. On the other hand, the mango and kiwi notes in the semi-dry worked. Apparently I’m fickle and confusing – hence the reason I tried to focus on this grape on this trip so I could learn more about my preferences. The reds here were not my thing, but I do have serious non-buyers remorse about the Curry Creek Vineyards ’08 gewurztraminer. At $35, GEG would have had to be in to it to justify the purchase, but I kind of wish I’d pushed harder. It was a more austere guwurz, so the fruit was definitely a soft background component, but it worked for me, as did the floral and spice notes. In comparison, the ’07 gewurz was too hot for me, and the ’11 was just okay. Perhaps without the ’08 the orange blossom and tropical notes with a hint of creaminess would have made a bigger impression, but it was just overshadowed. On the plus side, GEG found a t-shirt he loved.
Our final Seneca Lake east winery was Shalestone. It was also the place where we had the worst tasting experience on this side of this lake. It’s a small tasting room, and two people were working there. One was the owner/winemaker, and I think the other was his wife. Some of the other people tasting at the same time as us were clearly regular visitors, so it’s understandable that they’d be having ongoing conversations and receiving some personal attention. While I get that, it’s also important that staff or owners alike work to make new visitors also feel welcome. That did not happen.
Wines were poured for us, but we were told next to nothing about them, and I mostly felt like I was an unwelcome visitor during old home week. The fact that we take notes and ask questions usually makes it pretty clear that we’re serious about wine, but apparently that wasn’t enough to make a difference here – not that we should have had to anything to receive a positive experience. Anyway, the wines also weren’t doing it for us. Shalestone has made the fairly unique decision to focus on only red wines in a region far better known for their white wines. None of them were rocking my world. The ’10 pinot noir was enjoyable and fruity, but it didn’t have much depth or layering of flavors. The ’09 cab franc was probably my favorite of these wines with an interesting combination of green pepper and leather on the nose and soft leather and cherry on the palate. Since I can get some pretty amazing cab francs in VA, however, I wasn’t tempted to buy. Oh well, not every place can be a winner.
So, for the most part, our experience on the east side of Seneca Lake were positive, and I clearly got many opportunities to focus on riesling as I’d hoped to. Check back next week when we head to the west side of the lake.
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