NY State Fair: Results Sneak Preview, and Tasting Highlights on West Cayuga Lake
A busy day of judging wine (6/5) and tasting wine along west Cayuga Lake (6/6) racing to make my flight out of Elmira; arrived in Philly where it was about 25 degrees warmer and sunny; started writing this while relaxing in Vino Volo wine bar at the airport, sipping a very refreshing Slovenian pinot grigio (more like an albarino, which is a good thing).
Last time I judged the New York State Fair 3 years ago we judged in a freezing vestibule of a shivering well as air conditioners protected us from the warm humid air outside. So I wore a heavy shirt only to find the AC busted, and we had to open up doors fore and aft to get refreshment even from the humid air outside through a long day of wine tasting. Rough work, but someone has to do it…
This state competition is likely the most diverse in the country, featuring red, blush and white table wines, sparkling wines, fruit wines, fortified wines and “specialty wines”, all made from hybrids, native and vinifera grapes as well as fruits, mead and blends of same. The quality impressively carries across the scale in all these different categories.
The results haven’t been released yet (visit http://nysfair.org/competitions), but standouts I noted include the following:
- an impressive gooseberry and grapefruit-tasting sauvignon blanc;
- a beautifully pink yet bone dry and delicately strawberry-tasting sparkling pinot noir;
- about half a dozen rieslings from the fine ’08 and ’09 vintages, from dry to semi-sweet. My two favorites included two dry rieslings; the first (which I’ll identify when judges are given the key when results are given) had white peach aromas, and a gentle intensity on the palate which was amazingly concentrated yet light and fresh. The second also had white peach aromas but was tight and taut, needing more time but with flavors bursting with white peach and nectarine with long fine acidity.
- something called “cranberry breeze” allegedly from an unlikely blend of cayuga and de chaunac hybrids, which produced a remarkably cranberry-like aroma and flavor, not too tart, with lively juiciness.
- an amontialdo-style sherry that could have passed for sercial madeira, with nice acidity balancing an unctuous nutty palate.
- two fine late-harvest vidals, rich in apricot/tropical fruit but with good balancing acidity.
After a long hard day’s judging we were looking forward to fine Italian cooking in the Maplewood Inn, with friendly service, but imagine our horror when we found, after a couple of introductory bottles had been opened, that there was NO WINE FOR DINNER brought from the competition, even though we’d booked the restaurant in the hotel precisely because they’d let us bring wine in. Apparently there was a communication break-down between the competition and the judges; I’d have brought half a case myself if I hadn’t flown and refused to pay the airlines to check bags. So Phil Ward (of Opici Wines) and I jumped in his stylish Quattro car to get provisions. Wine cannot be sold in grocery stores in NY (because the powerful wholesalers will lean on someone if they do), and the first tacky corner liquor/wine story we came to had few things we’d want to offer our judges, so Phil punched in “wine” into his GPS navigator and we drove to downtown Syracuse, past tattoo parlors where girls of questionable virtue lingered and white youths were pretending to be Brothers, to 3 different locations which somehow were non-existant or closed.
By the time we returned we were disappointed that nobody knew or cared what we’d attempted on their behalf, but were cheered up because other judges had been compelled to break into their stashes and cough up some wine, and even a Bota Box looked welcome at this point. I was even more grateful when Lynne Montgomery poured me a few ounces of a reserve riesling from Hermann Wiemer, 1999, from an autographed magnum; rich and full-bodied, Alsatian-like, and just hitting stride.
After dinner, we invaded Frank Aquilino’s room. Frank, a former president of the American Wine Society, is a passionate wine lover with photos of his large cellar on his iPhone. He was generous enough to share a ’98 Super Tuscan and a recent vintage Falanghina with us. The Super Tuscan was remarkably dark, rich and full-bodied. He used to work as an A/C contractor so he knows how to keep a cellar at the right temperature and casually mentions “R-value” with authority.
My friend Martha Gioumousis brought me 4 12-oz bottles of her homemade apple cider, 2 from ’09 and 2 from the ’04 vintage. I enjoyed 2 with Albany Times-Union reporter Fred LeBrun. We both preferred the ’04; with the high acid level, this Finger Lakes cider ages like champagne and needs time to mellow.
The next day I picked up a rental car at the airport and headed west on the Thruway to enjoy tasting wines on the Cayuga Wine Trail on the west side of the lake. The first stop was Knapp Vineyards (now belonging to the Glenora Wine Group). Quality is consistent and the product range is wide. Here are my favorites:
- Knapp dry riesling ’08 Lovely white peach aromas, racy and fresh with classic floral and mineral notes of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. Will be a killer match with seafood, cream sauces.
- Knapp lemberger ’08 The cool vintage showed this red Central European grape off well. Aromatics of spicy huckleberry, on the palate, lively, racy spicy and fun smoky berry flavors.
- Knapp sangiovese ’07 Classic smoky/spicy cherry nose. Nicely balanced on the palate, smooth with a crisp finish; fine food red.
- Knapp vidal blanc ’08 A very classy example of varietal vidal; nice fruity apple-like nose, with fine fruit/acid balance on the palate.
- Knapp vignoles ’07 (5% R.S.) Probably Knapp’s most consistent and well-known wine, this is sweet but elegantly balanced. Aromas of peach and honeysuckle with tropical fruit flavors; clean, vibrant, fresh, lively and with great balance, probably the most elegant example of this very assertive variety I’ve tasted.
WARNING: if you’re driving the Cayuga Wine Trail on a wet weekend day, expect the wineries to be overrun by noisy, inebriated bus tour groups. I kept dodging one group of rowdy Indians from winery to winery, and even at other wineries with less rowdy groups, found myself shut out of tasting counter space due to the crowds.
Goose Watch winery is part of the Swedish Hill group (also including Penguin Bay). Owner Dave Peterson explains that the Goose Watch label was created to feature mostly wines and grape varieties that were not being done by other Finger Lakes wineries. You’ll find heirloom native varieties like rose of isabella and diamond here, but also viognier, lemberger, villard and traminette as well as more mainstream pinot grigio, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Highlights:
- Goose Watch pinot grigio ’08: More aromatics on the nose than usual, spicy pear notes, some complexity. On the palate, a rich texture with some depth but a fine dry finish, stylish and more to it than usual.
- Goose Watch traminette ’08: Elegant lychee/rosewater nose typical of good gewurztraminer (the vinifera parent of this Cornell hybrid), not as overtly blowsy as most. On the palate, like an elegant gewurztraminer but good acidity.
- Goose Watch cabernet franc rose ’08: lovely nose of cherry, cranberry. ON the palate, zesty, fresh, juicy cranberry but crisp and dry; no “veggies” at all, great example of what’s possible with this grape in a dry rose format.
- Goose Watch ’07 lemberger: nice violet color. Nose: vibrant smoky and spicy boysenberry notes. Palate: smooth yet vibrant and spicy, richly fruity with spicy pepper without heavy tannins.
- Goose Watch ’05 chambourcin: color amazingly deep (15% cabernet franc). Nose; just like barbera, spicy, a bit pungent. Palate: rich, round, smooth, fairly tannic but smooth with a fresh long cherry-flavored finish. Great summer grilling wine.
- Goose Watch ’07 cabernet sauvignon: Nose of rich black fruits with a hint of spice (10% lemberger). Palate is lively, zesty and bright red and black fruits, with smooth tannins and a firm blackberry/pepper finish.
- Goose Watch ’05 merlot reserve: A complex nose with earth, Right Bank Bordeaux minerality and chocolate/berry hints. Palate: racy fruit/acid balance of crushed blackberries with a mocha/chocolate finish. Great example of fine Finger Lakes red, drinking like a St. Emilion Grand Cru.
- Goose Watch ’05 cabernet sauvignon reserve: Great dark ruby color. Nose:lovely perfumed cassis/blackberry notes like St. Julian with some leafy hints. Palate: OMG! Solid crushed blackberry/cassis with long fine tannins and dark chocolate finish. Amazingly stylish, drinking like a St. Julian classified growth with Finger Lakes terroir.
Thirsty Owl Wine Co. is less than a decade old but they’ve made an impressive debut on the Finger Lakes wine scene, winning the NY Governor’s Cup award with a riesling a couple of years ago, pretty impressive for a new winery competing with other well-established riesling producers. Very stylish and original reds. Most impressive wines:
- Thirsty Owl pinot gris ’08: still very young and taut but racy and fresh with lively apple and white peach flavors, some nice palate weight and long lingering finish; a different style than riesling but some of the same elements.
- Thirsty Owl dry riesling ’08: a tight nose, but on the palate, racy, flinty, apple and white peach flavors. Still tight and very young; needs time but impressive.
- Thirsty Owl riesling ’09 (semi-sweet) Nice floral/peach Middle-Mosel nose. Palate: juicy and floral, great fruit/acid balance, one to watch.
- Thirsty Owl syrah ’08: Nose: spicy red fruits and black pepper. Palate: round, smooth, mellow and light, same flavors as the nose.
- Thirsty Owl meritage ’07: Nose: leafy, some herb hints and crushed blackberries. On the palate, elegantly balanced cassis, smooth tannins, rich layered flavors. Stylish, will age.
- Thirsty Owl cabernet sauv, syrah, malbec ’07: Nose is mostly closed but with some complex hints, especially spice from the malbec. Palate: medium-bodied, smooth, tight, flavors closed, needs time but texture and aromatics hint at a very stylish, but light/medium red blend in the Finger Lakes style.
- Thirsty Owl “vinte” ’07: a port-style blend of chancellor and cabernet franc, this is a vibrant and juicy ruby-style wine. The nose is spicy and lifted cherry and chocolate elements. The palate is bright and fresh, very spicy, lively and fresh, bursting with cherry flavors.
Hosmer Winery is a laid-back low-key kind of place that belies the solid track record they have for riesling, chardonnay and cabernet franc for a decade or more. Owner Cameron Hosmer is a grower first and a winery owner second; all varietal wines have the Cayuga Lake sub-appellation. If you want excitement in the glass and not the décor, this is a good place to visit. Highlights:
- Hosmer pinot noir ’08: Nose of smoky briar fruits, with hints of truffle and forest floor. Palate: vibrant and fresh, broad, with crisp cherry/berry fruits.
- Hosmer cabernet franc ’08: Nose: fresh briar fruit aromas, no green “veggies”, resembles lemberger. Palate: lively, juicy and fresh red fruits, no hard tannins. Fine cab franc for a cool vintage.
- Hosmer dry rose ’09 (cab franc): Nose: closed, very young but nice cranberry hints. Palate: great vibrant cherry, cranberry flavors, fine fruit/acid balance. Still too young but will be great from mid July.
- Hosmer pinot gris ’09 (barrel sample): Nose: Alsatian-style smoky pineapple with great viscosity and spice on the palate, fine length.
- Hosmer dry riesling ’09 (tank sample): Nose: spectrum of apples (green/yellow/red) with some white blossom. Palate: a fine Mosel/Saar/Ruwer style with floral peach/nectarine and solid apple fruit. Very young but will develop well; stylish.
- Hosmer ’07 Vintner’s Reserve riesling (semi-dry): made from a selection of the best estate fruit, this is not overpriced at $25. Nose: OMG!! Wonderful Middle-Mosel floral, apple and peach aromas with a hint of bottle age. Palate: lots of depth, apple and peach, with layers of texture. Elegant for an ’07 and will age gracefully but can be quaffed now with pleasure.
Apologies to Sheldrake Point and Lucas Vineyards; I had a plane to catch in Elmira and had run out of time after finishing at Hosmer; hopefully will include them in the future.