Let’s get this out of the way first: wine festivals have a reputation for being a place where wine drinking gets a little out of hand. It’s time to rethink that stereotype. I spent the majority of my wine festival experience learning amazing new things about the Finger Lakes region, the heritage and history of wine, pairing techniques, differences in varietals, and all about the incredible wineries that are only an hour or two away from Rochester.
My partner and I were invited to attend this year’s Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen by Finger Lakes Wine Country, an organization dedicated to promoting the Finger Lakes and all the amazing things that occur there.
When we arrived at the festival we were greeted with a tasting glass and guide to the over 80 wineries participating in the festival. Each winery has their own booth (or sometimes multiple booths) where you can sample a selection of their wines, and purchase any bottles you may fancy.
In addition to the open tastings, you can attend seminars taught by Women for Winesense throughout the day with subjects like “Attention Worthy Red Wines” or “Hybrid Grapes: Not Just Sweet Wine Anymore”. They also have cooking demonstration by the New York Wine and Culinary Center, live music, and various performances. Oh, and lots of food trucks and artisanal shops. And you can do pace car rides on the Watkins Glen International Speedway.
Yup, all that.
Wine Tasting at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival
What are the benefits of tasting wine at a festival?
- You can sample lots of wineries you haven’t been to before or discover new wineries you didn’t know about all at once. When we visited Weis Vineyards back in April, they hadn’t yet begun bottling their own wine, and were selling the wine of the previous winemaker. At the festival, we got the chance to have our first sip of their creations and determine whether we would want to make the hour and 45 minute drive out there to visit- the answer was YES. The Dry Rosé was bright and delicious with notes of strawberry and cherry, and their Gewurztraminer has made me question my preconceptions about this varietal being overly peachy and cloying- it was nuanced, spicy, clean and refreshing.
- You get to chat with the winemakers and owners while trying their amazing wine. We got to sample Gewurztraminer with Len Wiltberger of Keuka Spring Vineyards, try a barrel aged ice wine with Marti Macinski of Standing Stone Vineyards, and sip a sparkling Cayuga with Jeff Dill of J.R. Dill Winery.
- You can do your own horizontal wine tasting. We love comparing one wine at different wineries to see the difference in style and taste. Being at a wine festival means you can hit a lot of wineries all at once and really understand the different between a variety. We tried this with Dry Riesling and with Dry Rosé at a few different wineries
Pro tip: Saturday is a lot busier than Sunday in the wine tasting tents, so if you’re looking for socializing go Saturday, and if you really want to chat up the tasting staff and winemakers go Sunday.
Seminar: Dry Rieslings on the Map
Our first seminar of the day explored different Dry Rieslings in the Finger Lakes and was taught by Kyle Pallischek of Sheldrake Point Winery. Riesling is the “King of the Finger Lakes”, and one of the most versatile wines out there. It can be any level of sweetness, and is the best white wine to age- it gets better and better with time due to the acidity and sugar. Riesling first started appearing in the Finger Lakes in the 1950s, increasing in production in the 1970s, and has become the wine that our region is famous for. Sadly, it is still assumed that all Rieslings are sweet- our tasting flight demonstrated that it is not true and that the Finger Lakes is making a diverse range of Dry Rieslings:
Lakewood Vineyards 2015 Dry Riesling: Notes of lime, stonefruit and mineral come through and continue onto the palate with a nice lingering minerality.
Damiani Wine Cellars 2015 Dry Riesling, Davis Vineyard: citrus, peach, apricot and slate dominate the nose with hints of something floral. The citrus and slate continue on the palate with a touch a sweetness that lingers.
Hazlitt 2015 Dry Riesling: This one tasted a little more grassy and herbaceous, and was lighter in body than the others, but still had that bright citrus and acidity we expect from the varietal.
Standing Stone North Block 2016 Dry Riesling: Peach, tangerine and stonefruit come through on the nose and palate, but slate and the acidity linger leaving you with a clean mouthfeel.
Usually my tasting notes for Dry Riesling read something like “lime, slate/mineral, stonefruit, good acidity”, but tasting them side by side I was able to pick up on notes and nuances between the vineyards that I wouldn’t normally.
Seminar: Sparkling Wines: A Look into Finger Lakes History
In this seminar, taught by Donna Schlosser-Long, Wine Sales Consultant at Frederick Wildman & Sons, we learned all about Finger Lakes sparkling from dry to sweet, including some interesting facts about sparkling (like we should try pairing it with popcorn) and the proper way to open a bottle (it should whisper open, not pop). The first three we tried were made using the traditional champagne method, and the last three were force-carbonated like soda or draft beer.
Brotherhood Winery Blanc de Blanc NV: Pear, stonefruit, apple, and tangerine fill the nose, with nice bready baguette notes and a low acid on the palate.
Ravines Wine Cellars 2007 Brut: Bread crust, pear, green apple and honey dominate the nose, with a nice refreshing citrus and yeastiness on the palate. Despite its age, it still tasted young and bright, though the bread notes were bigger than the fruit ones.
Wagner Vineyards Sparkling Riesling: Very fruit forward with lime, citrus, and a little bit of bread notes that continued on the palate with a high refreshing acidity.
Leidenfrost Tattooed Lady (blend of Vignoles and Cayuga grapes): Pineapple, apple, and citrus come through in the nose and continue when sipped, a nice acidity complements the citrus.
Hazlitt Grüvee Cuvee (made with Grüner Veltliner): Tropical fruit, grapefruit and lemon come through in the nose, with green pepper, citrus and a nice acidity and sweetness on the palate.
Brotherhood Winery Carpe Diem (made with Moscato): White grape, lemon and something herbaceous on the nose, despite being sweeter it has a clean finish due to the acidity.
One of the highlights of this seminar was learning how to sabre a bottle of sparkling wine! What does that mean? Check out the video of my partner learning first hand.
The Adventure Continues
Stayed tuned later in the week for tasting notes from the Taster’s Banquet that occurred Saturday night of the festival, as well as some tips and logistical information you may want when you attend next year.