Saturday, June 6, 2020

Finger Lakes Wineries Opening Up After COVID-19


The Finger Lakes is one of New York's premier wine tourism destinations, but like the rest of the state, it shuttered its wineries to tourists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the area weathered the lockdown, many wineries offered contactless delivery options and curbside pickup on pre-ordered bottles. While that was a good compromise during the peak of the pandemic, many wine lovers have been eager for a more engaged wine tourism experience again.

This weekend, I visited the Finger Lakes and got a first-hand view of what re-opening this wine region looks like-- including ways that wineries have adapted to offer safe and satisfying experiences to consumers.

  

Dr. Konstantin Frank

Dr. Konstantin Frank was a legend in the Finger Lakes, famous for successfully cultivating vinifera grapes in this cold weather region. The current winery that grew from his original venture is located in Hammondsport, a town situated on Keuka Lake's western shore, When I visited on Friday, June 5, 2020, the crew was offering walk-up wine ordering in addition to online and phone sales.  I was able to go to a window, review a list of wines, and chat with a helpful tasting room representative about them.  After I made my selection and paid, the bottles were brought to a parking area in a sturdy cloth bag, and I was on my way. The staff told me that the winery would begin hosting outdoor tastings by appointment starting next Saturday, June 13.


Heart and Hands Wine Company 

This small winery --  situated on a bucolic hillside in Union Springs, NY -- is owned and run by Tom and Susan Higgins.  When I visited on June 6, 2020, they had just begun offering outdoor wine tastings. Metal tables were well spaced in a gravel lot, and guests were offered a choice of two flights with five wines each for $10.  I chose the Pinot Noir flight, being familiar with their high quality Pinots from a previous visit. The staff wore masks, and visitors were asked to wear masks if they entered the winery to use a restroom or wanted to make a purchase inside.  It was wonderful to sit down on a beautiful sunny day and enjoy a wine tasting in person once more. While this company had developed an active online wine tasting program, all the guests seemed appreciative and in good spirits to be welcomed at a winery again.


Keuka Spring Vineyards 

Keuka Spring is located in the town of Penn Yan, NY, and is situated on a ridge above Keuka Lake. The winery has an established seating area with comfortable Adirondack chairs offering majestic lake views. Additional seating was offered under the shade of a party tent. When I visited on June 6, 2020, it was also their first weekend offering wine tastings again. I saw many small groups enjoying wine samples as they spread out, laughed, and sipped.

 
I was able to enter the shop and select my own wines without feeling rushed.  As with all the other wineries, masks were worn by all staff, and guests were expected to do the same when inside. Hand sanitizer available by the cash register was a thoughtful touch.



Outdoor dining resumes in Finger Lakes

On June 5, 2020, I was able to indulge in my first restaurant meal since mid March.  My daughter and I visited the Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern on the western shore of Keuka Lake.  This restaurant was well situated to reopen, as it has three outdoor seating areas -- all with gorgeous lake views.  Menus were printed on paper - the entrees seemed limited, but there were certainly ample options. I was also able to enjoy a lovely Hunt Country Pinot Gris made at a winery just up the road. While my server apologized for serving it in a plastic cup, I was thrilled to drink wine sitting at a restaurant.  I noticed that all the silver wear was wrapped in large napkins that were tucked in around the edges - another nod to sanitary practices.  My daughter and I enjoyed lingering at our table, savoring the food, wine, and the rare privilege of having a restaurant experience.

To provide more context for this get-away, the areas that I visited were not affected badly by the pandemic, and I therefore felt that - with proper precautions - arranging a visit to the Finger Lakes would be worth it.  New York state is conducting staged re-openings, and this region is far ahead of New York City.  When the weather cooperates, the range of outdoor wine tastings and restaurant experiences - along with the natural beauty of the region - make a trip to the Finger Lakes a wonderful treat as we begin to travel again.






Friday, May 22, 2020

Top Three Reasons why Rioja is my lockdown wine

The news outlets seem to be unanimous - we're all drinking more during our respective shelter-in-place instructions to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Online booze sales were reported up by over 240 percent as of April 1, 2020.

My own lockdown buying took place at the well-stocked wine mecca of the suburbs, Total Wine. There, I found myself strolling the aisles looking for both familiar and interesting bottles to get me through weeks of sheltering in place. 

As I poured my way through my wine collection over the last two months, I was struck by how much Rioja ended up in my glass.  This was not intentional, but as I go wine shopping I look for value wines that suit my palate and are dependable - and that's what I love about Rioja wines. Some of the go-to Rioja wines I can find in the Northeast U.S. are Lan, Camp Viejo, Marques de Riscal, Lopez de Heredia, Faustino, Muga, Dinastia Vivanco. 

Here are the top 3 reasons I love Rioja wine: 

Palate pleasing flavor - Red Rioja wines (or tinto as they say in Spain) use the grape Tempranillo.  For me, this is one of the winners in the grape world. It produces wines with dried cherry flavors with a touch of tobacco and spice.  I don't go for jammy, fruit bomb wines; I prefer drier styles - so Rioja is well suited to my palate. 

Excellent food pairing - Rioja wines tend to be medium weight and they aren't so bold that they dominate a dish. Therefore, I drink them with lots of dinner staples, including pizza, roast chicken, all kinds of pasta dishes, hamburgers and more.  They usually have good levels of acidity which is always a welcome aspect when pairing wine with meals. Unless a dish cries out for a white wine, I will very often pour a Rioja with what I'm having for dinner. 

Terrific quality for the price - I find the Rioja wines that I buy offer dependable quality. Unlike with Burgundy, I don't break out vintage charts to make sure I'll like what's in the bottle.  And I can spend between $12.99 - $18.99 and get really terrific wines that I know I'm going to enjoy.  That's one of the top reasons that so many of them end up in my cart. 

I hope that all my wine friends are staying safe and enjoying some home-cooked meals with wines that they love.  And, while I have lots of wines from other countries in my collection, you will often find me in the evening with a lovely glass of Rioja keeping me company as I stay safe at home. 






Thursday, April 16, 2020

101 Gins captures the flavorful world of a classic spirit



101 Gins to Try Before You Die is a beautiful, smallish format book that provides a current snapshot of many of the best producers of this fragrant spirit. The author is Ian Baxter, a veteran drinks writer also known for his 101 Whisky Books.

The book starts with this premise: "We're in the middle of a new Gin Craze. From being the drink of choice of middle-aged, jaguar-driving golfers and an easy target for stand-up comedians, today's it's harder to find anything hipper on the international bar scene."

The book takes readers first through a little history of the beverage, and then through a bit of the production methods.  Then from page 20 on, it's the - as promised - 101 gins. Each carefully curated entry boasts a beautiful photograph and a succinct page of text.

There are predictably plenty of gins from the United Kingdom represented, starting with #1, Fifty Eight Gin made in tiny batches in a trendy part of London.  Ian characterizes this new gin brand as "a great example of the new wave of small operations trying to find a gap in the market."

But there are also gins made in France -- and Philadelphia. Germany and Spain are also represented as well as Japan.  That one - Nikka Coffey Gin - uses Japanese citrus such as yuzu, kabosu, hirami lemon and amanatsu, as well as apples and sansho pepper -- in addition to the expected ingredient: juniper. And it's ingredients lists such as these that help explain the current fascination.  In a world where "hand crafted" is often just a marketing ploy, gin really can spring from one distiller's imagination and creativity.

Readers interesting in taking a deep dive into this hot beverage category need look no further than this book.



Versatile Lugana delights with modern Indian cuisine



Fans of Lugana wines know that the region offers far more than a delicious white wine from the indigenous Italian grape Turbiana.  It's also a versatile, food-friendly white wine that can work with a variety of cuisines.

A wine media dinner at Spice Symphony showcased five Lugana wines that paired beautifully with the flavor sensations of authentic Indian fare.

Our meal was full of playful touches, like the first course of spicy pani puri.  These crunchy orbs were terrific paired with a sparkling Lugana DOC Classic Method 2016 from Olivini, which showed bright acidity and nice body. 

The Lugana DOC Ca' Maiol Molin 2018 was a medium-bodied wine with citron and stone fruits on the palate.  With our second course featuring samosa pinwheels and paneer with pomegranate, it was a zesty accompaniment to the richly flavorful offerings. 

As dinner progressed, the wine became richer and more complex.  The Lugana DOC Superiore Ca' Vaibo 2017 from Fausto Bulgarini had complex aromatics and notes of pastry and lemon meringue on the palate. It was a full bodied wine that stood up to the multitude of flavors we feasted upon. 

The stand-out wine of the evening was Lugana DOC Riserva Vigne di Catullo 2016 from Tenuta Roveglia. Bright acidity was balanced with a touch of residual sugar.  The grapes used come from 50 year old vines. I found the lime notes on this wine to be lovely counterparts to the richly spiced fare. 

Our final vinous treat was a Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva Rabbiosa 2015 from Marangona.  With 26 grams of residual sugar, this late harvest wine was an elegant touch of sweetness that sent us back into the night with a smile.  


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scattered Peaks soars with gorgeous Napa Cab at excellent price point

I've often found California Cabernet Sauvignon to pose a quandary - the price I want to pay and the quality I want to receive never align.  On a trip to a cavernous wine store, I looked for a quality Napa Cabernet in the $40 range.  This exceedingly well-stocked shop had zip.  If I wanted to spend over $70 I could get a nice Napa Cab.  If I wanted to spend less than $20, I could get a mass produced California Cabernet that would disappoint me.

But, all that changed the night I met renowned California winemaker Joel Aiken at Corkbuzz.  Joel, well respected for his work as winemaker at the iconic Beaulieu Vineyards, had a new project - a collaboration with Derek Benham, who has overseen numerous successful wine projects in a long California career.  Their recent collaboration has led to Scattered Peaks Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Sourced from prime Napa vineyards including hillside sites, the wine had classic Napa fruit character in that it was beautifully ripe - not overripe.  The wine was deeply colored with inviting aromas of Cassis and rosemary.  On the palate, there were dense blackberry notes and hints of dried herbs. The full bodied wine was lush with well integrated tannins and a long finish.  A recent glance at wine-searcher put this wine on the East Coast in the range of $29.99.  

With the pedigree of Joel Aiken and prime Napa vineyard locations, the quality of this wine is pretty much assured - but tasting made me a believer that quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was now within reach. 


Paul Foppiano brings out the best in Petite Sirah in Sonoma

While the judgment of Paris brought California wine to the world's attention in 1976, it's easy to forget that wine in the Golden State has a much longer history.  The Foppiano family has played a role in the Sonoma wine country for more than a century -- and their eponymous winery dates back to 1896.

Today, Paul Foppiano - fifth generation of the family to work in the winery - leads the business and during his tenure, he has energetically worked to promote and elevate the quality of the family's flagship wine, Petite Sirah.  

During a media dinner in New York City, Paul Foppiano joined local writers for a special dinner at The Capital Grille, where we found that his rich and vibrant wines paired wonderfully with an array of show-stopping steaks. 

Here is a round up of the Foppiano wines he presented:

Foppiano Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2018 - A lush wine with tropical notes on the nose and a palate that offered pineapple, lemon curd, and a dash of cream.  The wine was created with slow, cool fermentation and 10% of the wine was aged in French oak for three months. $19.99

Foppiano Estate Chardonnay 2017 - On the nose, the wine had honey and fresh hay aromas. The wine had a honey notes on the palate and a medium weight.  The precision of the wine making is reflected in the fact that a combination of 28% new and 72% used French oak barrels were used for 8 months.  In addition, 48% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. The judicious use of oak aging, lees stirring, and malo is reflected in the wine - which offers richness without overwhelming the freshness of the fruit. $24.99

Foppiano Estate Pinot Noir 2017 - With an attractive rose petal note on the nose, this Pinot has bright acidity and tart cherries on the palate.  The vineyards undergo careful canopy management and shading grapes is an important step in keeping them from over-ripening.  A wine that would work across many dishes from chicken to pork to pastas. $34.99

Foppiano Estate Zinfandel 2016 - Sonoma and Zinfandel go together like peanut butter and jelly - but for my palate I have mostly found Zins to be too heavy and alcoholic.  The Foppiano Zinfandel was big, but not overwhelming, which I appreciated.  The aroma was full of pomegranate and the palate offered tart raspberry and cranberry.  The wine had good tannic grip, and would be perfect with barbecue and meat dishes.  $27.99

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2016 - Cracked pepper aromas lead to a cherry cola palate with noticeable tannin - a wine with personality and richness. $24.99


Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2015 - A lush wine with black fruits and spice, with a brightness of acidity that lifts up the dense fruit.  A big wine but in balance. $24.99


Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2014 - With six years of age, the Foppiano Petite Sirah achieved elegance with a plush mouthfeel.  Crushed ripe black cherries and blackberries explode on the palate with well integrated tannin and a very long finish.  Clearly these are wines that can be enjoyed with age. $24.99


Foppiano 96 Red blend 2017 -  This "field blend" style project - including Petite Sirah, Barbera, Zinfandel and Mouvedre - offers a bit of spice with raspberry and cranberry notes.  A big, fun wine that honors the legacy of lands purchased in 1896 by the Foppiano family. $12.99

With Paul at the helm, Foppiano winery has plenty of award-winning wines to offer.  If a prime cut of steak is in your future, reach for one of his Petite Sirahs for a deliciously bold match.




Monday, April 6, 2020

Australia’s Mudgee region offers delicious wines and warm hospitality


The people of Mudgee, Australia, have been cultivating wine grapes since 1858. The downtown is full of two story buildings with upstairs porches and arcaded storefronts that have a romance of yesteryear.

There is plenty of charm in both the town and the extensive wine region – wineries in cozy wooden structures, but also modern marvels with floor to ceiling windows providing achingly beautiful views of the lush vines in the valley and brown undulating hills in the distance.

A small group of wine writers from the Wine Media Conference had the chance to explore the rugged terrain and visit a group of producers from the region. Here are some highlights of a trip through the area:

Gilbert Family Wines
The winery offers a range of wine, heavy on the whites. I found their 2015 Riesling Single Vineyard to be particularly noteworthy with a nose of white flower, palate of zesty lime, and high acidity.  A 2016 Chardonnay L.C.R. was a contrast to this – nutty notes, yellow apples, with rich texture.  Interesting bottles included a couple of petillants and a delicious skin-contact Gewurztraminer.

Logan
Highlights of this winery, which offered a modern, glamorous tasting room were Pinot Gris.  The winery offered some wines that were labled “Adventure.”  These included the Weemala Pinot Gris 2019, which had light body with hints of melon and refreshing acidity.  The Clementine Pinot Gris 2019 was an orange wine that had savory notes, spice, and tangerine.  The winery had made some ambitious moves to offer unexpected flavors including an “Orange Shiraz” – Ridge of Tears.  It’s a beautiful wine tourism destination.

Burnbrae
This is a rustic tasting room that offers an authentic outback vibe, with a big open porch and natural wood tasting room.  A light-hearted approach to the wines is evident in the fanciful names. My personal favorite was the first sparkling wine we tried – Twinkle Toes – what a marvelous name for a sparkler. The full range of their wines were tasty, uncomplicated, and winning.  Worth the drive to visit.

De Beaurepaire
Truly a world apart – the winery tasting room lies down a dusty road surrounded by hills.  There a gentile sensibility derived from a Burgundian ancestry provides a refined wine experience.  Some of their most outstanding pours included a sparkling, 2018 Blanchefleur Blanc de Balance; 2017 Perceval Pinot Noir, which had a tart sour cherry palate; and 2016 Leopole Reserve Shiraz Viognier, which had a rich mouthfeel, loads of black cherry fruit, and lovely balance of tannin and acidity.

Mudgee is only a few hours north of Sydney, and the drive there takes you over some beautiful stretches of the Blue Mountains.  Once you arrive in this rolling landscape of vines visited by kangaroos at sunset, you’ll know you’ve arrive at truly a world apart.  I recommend making it a weekdend wine trip during a vacation down under.