Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Catharine Valley Winery: On the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

On a cool and blustery April Sunday morning in Upstate New York we decided to visit Catharine Valley Winery while driving home to Maryland. We only had time to visit one winery and we are glad that we chose to stop at Catharine Valley where we visited with Don, the owner who was manning the tasting room that morning.

Catharine Valley Tasting Room

We found Don to be full of information not only about the winery, but about the grapes he grows, the soils of the vineyards, and the local history--we always enjoy learning more about history. Sadly, Bob failed his pop quizzes about wines and grapes; but we enjoyed sampling his wines and also enjoyed tasting wines made from two new grapes while visiting the winery. 

View out the Tasting Room Window
Situated on Seneca Lake's East Shore in Burdett, NY, a short drive from Watkins Glen along Route 414, the winery is the first one on the left, headed north, and the view from the tasting room is astounding. The vineyards and the lake provide stunning scenery to further enhance the wine enjoyment experience. The grass was green in the images we took that day, but Spring was not in full swing yet as evidenced by the bare tree limbs.

But enough about the scenery--let's talk wine. The day we visited Catharine Valley was tasting 10 wines ranging from dry to sweet. We found something interesting in each of the wines. The varietals presented nicely and we were excited to taste wines made from grapes that we experienced for the first time: Noiret and Geneva Red 7. They are both red wine grapes and produce very interesting wines. 

Geneva Red 7 is the principal grape in Catharine Valley's Cardinal, while the Noriet is named for the grape itself. Cardinal has a $14 price point and we found it to be a nice red table wine with vanilla and raspberry flavors that help to make this wine light and enjoyable.

The Noriet, priced at $18, has nice oak tones and was pleasantly dry and although  it lacked complexity it had a very nice peppery finish.

The highlight of the visit was the Traminette, which, with a $14 price point, is an excellent buy and a great wine. It shows well from its Gew├╝rztraminer heritage and is spicy and floral with honeysuckle, jasmine and a hint of citrus. 

The sweet wines were also nice and featured some different varietals: Catawba and Concord as well a Baco Noir. I found the names for the wines,
some of which are taken from local legends and lore, like The Lost Irishman, to be both fun and creative. The winery website recounts some of those legends and also the history of the name of the winery.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a MUST visit winery on any Seneca Lake Wine Trail tour. The prices are moderate and the wine quality is high. The ambiance of the tasting room is excellent and, coupled with the view of the lake, makes Catharine Valley a great place to enjoy some wine and relaxation as we did early on a Sunday morning during April.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Six Mile Creek Vineyard: On the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Needing a diversion from life, we decided to make the short visit a few miles outside Ithaca, NY, to the Six Mile Creek Vineyard on a cool mid-April Saturday afternoon. Despite visiting Ithaca multiple times every year, I had never checked out this vineyard which is located away from the lake and many of the other Finger Lakes wineries that I frequent.

The drive up State Street on Route 79 from downtown Ithaca is easy and the vineyard sits strategically atop the hill. It is well marked and has ample parking. The tasting room is located within a rustic barn-like structure and the theme is continued to the tasting area inside. The windows of the tasting room overlook the six acres of vineyards which slope down the hill. It is a beautiful and peaceful location. Despite the cool day and early springtime scene, the view was absolutely stunning and I imagine that the back deck provides a great area to sip wine on a sultry summer afternoon.
Six Mile Creek Back Deck

We were met immediately upon entering the tasting room. Allison, our tasting hostess was very knowledgeable about the vineyard and the wines which we tasted. The vineyard was tasting 14 wines including 5 whites, 5 reds, 1 rose, and 3 sweeter style wines. The $3 tasting fee is very reasonable and we did not feel rushed during our tastings. As an added benefit, the vineyard also has 6 spirits available for tasting for an additional small fee. 
The Vineyards Ready for Growing Season

The whites are grown on the estate, for the most part, while the reds are sourced principally from other vineyards along Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. 

The wines were tasting very nicely. The whites, as a group, possessed nice subtle tones with desired fruitiness for the varietals. The whites are Riesling  Chardonnay, Cayuga, and Seyval Blanc. The 2012 Chardonnay and the Ithaca White were the best of the whites in my mind. The Ithaca White is a blend of Cayuga and Chardonnay. I felt the Ithaca White would be a great "sitting around the pool on a hot summer afternoon" wine.

Party and Reception Pavilion
I was pleasantly surprised by the red wines I tasted. New York is principally defined by white wines, but there is  continual work to develop and produce solid red wines. The Ithaca Red is a light and fruity blend which should appeal to many wine drinkers especially given its $10.99 price. The varietals included a 2011 Pinot Noir, 2011 Merlot, and 2012 Cabernet Franc. The vineyard also uses Cabernet Sauvignon and Marechal Foch in some of their blends. I was impressed by the Pinot Noir which is notoriously difficult to grow especially in the wildly changeable upstate New York weather during the growing season. The Cabernet Franc was tasting very nicely. It reminded me of a Syrah with its deep color and spicy tones. I found their Meritage, the 2012 Quintessence which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon; was a very enjoyable blend with deep color, and nice flavors of plum, and a bit of pepper with pleasing tannins.

RECOMMENDATION: Take some time out of your day and visit this vineyard. If you are traveling the Finger Lakes Wine Trails, don't forget this vineyard--it is off the beaten path, but nicely located near Ithaca right along Route 79, the major highway to the nearest interstate, I-81. This vineyard definitely needs to be on your Finger Lakes visit list.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, April 14, 2014

Waiting at the Airport

Vino Volo - BWI Airport Concourse A
Air travel has become the ultimate waiting game. I arrive at the airport early to ensure that I am through security before my departure only to have more than enough time to get bored waiting. What to do?

Drink wine!  And not cheap wine.

As I am writing this I am waiting in the Denver United Club West for my now over an hour delayed flight. 

I am drinking their wine which is definitely not the worst wine I have ever tasted, but the price point makes it worth the effort. 

I recall, however, arriving at the Baltimore airport at the start of this trip and visiting my favorite airport wine seller-- Vino Volo. There are two here at Denver calling to me, but since I am in the United Club with included wine and munchies, I may only make a brief stop to sample the wine of the day.

Why am I so excited on Vino Volo? They serve great wines, yeah the prices are a bit high, but the flights are competitively priced and allow me to sample multiple wines in one sitting without worrying about over imbibing.

So the wines in the image were all from bottles priced at over $85. The 2009 Cote Bonneville Chardonnay from DuBrul Vineyard in Washington ($85) was very interesting--the tasting was only $2 since I am a member of the wine club!  The two reds were from the Sommelier Series and were worth the relatively small amount I paid to sample these excellent wines. The Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009 from Oakville ($134) was my favorite while the Chilean Errazuriz 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Don Maximiano Reserve was very nice too coming in at $89. Needless to say, I did not buy any of these wines to add to my collection.

RECOMMENDATION: Drink wine while waiting at an airport because it makes the time pass faster than drinking beer. And you meet the nicest people.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Bob writing from Denver, Colorado

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seasonal Wine Change Over

Spring is here, and as I change out my closet with the intent of retiring my heavy winter clothes, I am preparing to do the same with my wines. 

Reds and Whites
My cellar is full of winter wines for those cold, dark nights sitting around a roaring fire sheltered form the howling wind and frigid snows blowing outside my house.  Now is the time to bring out the summer wines designed to be enjoyed while sitting around the pool or entertaining on the deck or patio. 

I truly enjoy heavy, deep, brooding, earthy red wines, but during the summertime I also find enjoyment in lighter reds, perhaps a pinot noir, and even whites like pinot gris.
Out with the Reds

Sitting around the pool in the hot summer sun sipping a complex cabernet sauvignon does not work for me, unless there is a thick piece of beef sitting on my plate. A better idea is to take out chilled whites which are filled with notes of citrus or fruit and savor their taste and coolness while feeling the warming rays of the sun on my face as I sample some fruit filled dessert or appetizer.

In with the Whites
It turns out I am not the only one who looks at springtime this way. Bottle Notes has an article about skipping into Spring with with a perfect picnic. They describe the perfect wines for summer. So while I am moving out my heavy coats and sweaters, I am bringing out the whites and lighter reds that I have been collecting in preparation for the summer fun ahead. I can feel the hot summer sun on my face already!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, April 7, 2014

Willamette Valley Vineyards Wine Tasting

Jim Bernau Signing a Bottle of Wine for Chris
All the way from Oregon to Annapolis for a great afternoon of Wine Tasting, at Wine Cellars of Annapolis, came Jim Bernau, the founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards (NASDAQ:WVVI), to spread the good cheer associated with Oregon Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling wines. 

The hosts at Wine Cellars of Annapolis were gracious and deftly handled the throng of wine lovers that crowded around Jim to hear him tell of the wines, the growing season, and plans for the future. I was amazed that he sold out of every wine that was being tasted, but then again, they were that good.

He brought five wines with him for this tasting. I have to admit, it is rare when I taste five wines from a vineyard and like them all (especially when three are whites), but that happened on this tasting.

Two of the wines were definitely highlights.

Leading off with the 2012 Willamette Valley Vineyard Pinot Gris the tone was definitely set for the tasting with a very enjoyable wine which was bright, fruity, and crisp. Priced at $19.99 per bottle this is a great price point for a very nice, complex wine. This wine is rated 90 in CellarTracker. 

The other highlight of the tasting was the 2012 Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) Whole Cluster Pinot Noir. While only garnering an 85.5 rating in CellarTracker, I found this to be an extremely enjoyable wine which was dark and vibrant with a great price point of $24.99. The fruit flavors blended well with cherry and raspberry leading the way, but it also had the leather and tobacco flavors that I especially enjoy and which probably led to the lower ratings from the CellarTracker crowd.

The other wines we tasted were the 2010 WVV Dijon Clone Chardonnay, 2011 WVV Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2012 WVV Riesling which is more of a dessert style wine. Although the Estate Pinot Noir was the most expensive wine at the tasting, coming in at $32.99, I felt that the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir was a better value.

The wines were great representations of the winery and I have enjoyed Willamette Valley Vineyards for many years. I am looking forward to my summer trip to Willamette Valley to experience the entire region and better understand the wines and the growers there, but for now, I consider this winery to be the flagship vineyard for the region.

RECOMMENDATION: Check out these wines and discover why I believe that Oregon Pinot Noirs are excellent buys and have nice, light flavors and body compared with their California relatives.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wine Disaster: Poor Serving Practices

It happens too frequently, people go out for a nice dinner in a restaurant and order a nice wine to compliment the meal and then,  suddenly, everything goes bad when the wine improperly served.

It happened last evening and was reported to Wine 4 Your Life by a loyal reader. 

The restaurant was a popular upscale Asian chain. The wine was a nice Napa Valley, California, Sauvignon Blanc, which is generally a good choice for Asian foods. This particular wine has a suggested retail of $18 and is probably sold for about $40 in the restaurant. 

Wine violations. Actually there were multiple wine violations. 

Wrong Glass for the Wine
Violation number 1. The first violation is pictured. The wine was served in a champagne flute. Believe it or not, glasses make a huge difference in the taste of wines. The proper glasses deliver the aromatics to the nose in a manner which increases the flavor of the wine. This wine should have been served in a generic white wine glass or, even better, a specially designed Sauvignon Blanc glass.

Violation number 2. Even worse than the wrong glass, the wine was served warm. Just below room temperature. White wines like this are best served well chilled. Well chilled means 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than a refrigerator but much cooler than the room. Temperature is critical to ensuring that the character of the wine is retained. The wines are made to be served at these temperatures. An easy was to serve white wines is to place them in the refrigerator a couple of hours before the intended serving time and about 20 minutes before serving take them out, put them on the counter, and open them. 

Red wines can be served too warm as well. The optimal temperature for red wines is about 65 degrees, just below normal room temperature. When I have been served red wines that are too warm, I order an ice bucket to cool them down to a more appropriate temperature. 

Violation  number 3. The wine glass was warm, as in just out of the dishwasher. This contributed to rapid heating of the wine taking it out of the the optimal drinking zone. Of course, in this case, the wine was already outside that zone, but the warm glass aggravated the problem.

The real problem presented by poorly  served wines is that most people don't know that the character of the wine changes dramatically. Many people, myself included, order wines at restaurants to check out different vintages and winemakers. Ultimately, the winemaker is the one who suffers from a poorly presented restaurant wine. Their product is deemed defective and sales may be lost and reputations damaged.

Wines need to be served properly to be fully enjoyed.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Serpent Ridge Vineyard: On the Maryland Wine Trail

About a half-hour away from Baltimore, nestled in the hills a short drive off Interstate 70 with a Westminster, Maryland, mailing address, is a small but vibrant vineyard called Serpent Ridge Vineyard

We drove there on a cold winter's day to experience some Maryland wines and spend a Saturday exploring part of the Maryland Wine Trail. This was the first stop of our day, and I have to admit, despite all of my advice about prior planning to ensure enjoyable visits to wineries, this was a spur of the moment decision that we definitely did not regret. 

Although getting to the vineyard does require some navigation skills, the way is well marked, although I drove past the entrance to the vineyard on the first pass.
Serpent Ridge Vineyard Tasting Room

The tasting room is well marked with ample parking. Although we visited the tasting room during winter with snow on the ground, I believe that this would be an ideal place to spend a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon sipping some wine and enjoying the natural beauty of the area and the vineyards.

The wines are solid and offer some unique characteristics. One wine is made from a Spanish grape, Albarino, yielding a white wine with a nice combination of flavors and minerality. The 2011 Albarino was a nice sipping wine and I think would go well with soft cheeses.

Overall, the whites produced by Serpent Ridge were very tasty and well done. I found the reds to be on the light side and not full-bodied. They did possess an interesting interpretation of the grapes which I found enjoyable. Of the reds, I found the 2011 Basilisk, a red blend, to be especially interesting. 

RECOMMENDATION: Definitely worth a visit. The tasting room is small, but well run. The staff was very knowledgeable about the wines and the history of the vineyard. Check the website for hours.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD