This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme, “At the source” is a bit lost on those of us lucky enough to live in a world-class wine region and visit wineries regularly, but here we go anyway. The task here is to visit and taste at a local winery. Well, don’t mind if i do!
On Labor Day weekend I took a full day off from lab (I actually do try to go in every day, Dr. Matt) and Sarah and I went down to Watkins Glen. The deal was that we would do Sarah-type outdoors things and then we’d do Tom-type wine things. We hiked through the Rim and Gorge trails at Watkins Glen State Park, then headed up the west side of Seneca Lake at about 4:00. Living in Ithaca, I usually only get a chance to visit Cayuga and East Seneca wineries (barring a special trip), so this was going to be a treat for me. Our goal was to get up to the hallowed Hermann J. Wiemer winery for some riesling flights, but there was a wedding there so they had closed early (Congratulations, Jeff and Melissa!).
As we headed back down to Watkins, we stopped at the much-lauded Shaw Vineyard, a tasting which I will review later, but our final stop of the day was Fulkerson Winery.
Fulkerson Winery is part of a farm that’s been family-operated for 6 generations, and at the winery you can buy a range of produce. In addition, Fulkerson has one of the biggest home-winemaking grape juice operations in the Finger Lakes. There is a ton of winemaking equipment and supplies (including bentonite and Zork closures, among many other things), and their website even has links to their home winemaking instructional videos. But enough about the place, how is the wine?
For a few bucks, we were able to select 5 wines, so Sarah and I shared. Some quick, unofficial highlights (feel free to skip):
- We started with the 2006 Lemberger, which some would consider the “Great Red Hope” of the Finger Lakes. Nice acidity, some interesting cherry, maybe a bit of VA on the bottle I had. Bought 2 bottles.
- My note on the 2007 Dornfelder was “interesting, buy and drink again”. It’s a light, fruity, low tannin grape, and the only other place I’ve heard of it grown in NY is at Channing Daughters in Long Island. Bought 1.
- The 2007 Burntray I also liked. It’s a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and a recently-released Cornell grape called Noiret. Noiret is known for its distinct black pepper aroma and in this case it complements the CF quite well. Bought 1.
- The next one was one I have been looking forward to trying. The 2007 Vincent is a varietal wine from the Vincent grape, a hybrid originating in Ontario and released in 1967. It’s generally used for color and found in many blends in the Finger Lakes, but this is the only one I’ve seen so far that’s mostly Vincent. I didn’t find much going on in the glass, except for a slight bit of sulfur, so I thought that I should give this one another shot. Bought 1.
- The 2007 Cabernet Franc is actually blended with 20% Lemberger, a combination that seems unique to the Finger Lakes. It tasted slightly sweet, with a nice oak component. Bought 1.
- The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit thin and overoaked (smoky).
- On the white side, the 2007 Traminette (another Cornell grape, with Gewürztraminer parentage). Normally with Traminettes I get a lot of old lady perfume. That is, a huge bouquet of flowers shoved right up my nose. In this case, the flowers are more subdued and the hint of sweetness balances them out well. Bought 1.
- The 2007 Riesling is made in a dry style but wasn’t terribly distinctive for me. Well-balanced, just not much to write about.
- The 2007 Ravat 51 (aka Vignoles) was very nice. Vignoles is generally made in a late-harvest, high-sugar style and this one clocks in around 6.3% RS (that’s 63 g/L). Kiwi was te first thing that came to mind, with some subdued tropical fruit and citrus flavors (think starfruit, which doesn’t really taste like anything in particular, but is somewhat citrusy).
- Vidal Iced Wine demonstrated some apricot with an interesting richness and smokiness. “Iced” wine is generally made from late harvest grapes brought in and frozen, then pressed. This is distinct from “Ice wine” in which case grapes must be picked frozen on the vine. Nonetheless, bought 1.
- Finally, the Cabernet Franc Ice wine was a little bit soapy?
Overall I appreciated the variety. We only tasted a fraction of the wines available, including their huge seller Airship white (made with Niagara) and a wine made with a local table grape called Himrod. Fulkerson has actually created a huge jump in price for Himrod in the area because of its demand for this grape. Our tasting room staffer was very knowledgeable and friendly, giving lots of information about a wide variety of grapes. For me, tasting room staff can make or break the experience, and our staffer did very well, especially considering it was near closing time. The tasting room’s high ceilings and new atmosphere (recently built in 2004) make it a very pleasurable experience. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re on the west side of Seneca. Look for more detailed (and controlled) reviews of these wines on this site in the coming weeks.
I buy a lot of my wine from tasting rooms. Again, I have that luxury because I live within a little over an hour of most of the wineries in the Finger Lakes. The tasting room influences my choices greatly, since I can taste a wine right there and decide whether or not I like it, then buy accordingly. Sometimes, I find, though, that something that tasted great in the tasting room is pretty meh when I get home and taste it in a more controlled environment. Wine tasting is very psychological and I suspect that that environment has an effect on your perception of the wine you taste.
While I couldn’t find any studies to this effect, a recent paper does show that a person’s expectations about a wine can influence his or her perception of the wine (Siegrist and Cousin, “Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting”, Appetite, 2009). In this study, researchers served participants a glass of wine. In some cases they said “Parker gave this wine 92 points” and in some, “Parker gave this wine 72 points”. Some had no information at all. Those with positive information beforehand gave the wine a higher score than the ones who received negative information beforehand. So if your tasting room attendant is telling you about the double gold medal this wine received or the good rating it got from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, or even Wine and Spirits, there’s a chance that that will influence how you perceive the wine.
Allow me to give some more evidence to support the “wine tastes different in the tasting room” theory:
- The tasting room is aesthetically pleasing. It is nicely decorated, and you’re surrounded by, say, old wine barrels. You pet the winery dog. You’ve got a lovely view of the vineyards outside and it’s a gorgeous day (or a crappy day!)
- The tasting room is fraught with distractions, from the treat-begging wine dog to the bachelorette party that just rolled up, to the weird guy next to you who keeps asking questions about the wine and spitting into the dump bucket (not that I know anyone like that…)
- The actual environmental conditions (temperature and humidity for example) are likely different from your home.
- Arthur from the winesooth.com suggests that over the course of the day, tasting room bottles are poured from (tipped over) many times, resulting in lots of aeration of the wine. I’ll buy that.
- Along the same lines, tasting room bottles may have been open for more than a day, especially those “reserve” flights that you may have to pay extra for.
- The glasses you use in the tasting room are different from the glasses you use at home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that the shape of a glass can bring out certain aromas or flavors (I have whole other rant about that issue!). The size and shape of a glass does, however, influence the intensity of aromas, and tasting room glasses tend to be stout and durable, rather than bulky with huge headspace.
- Bottle variation can be huge. I’ve talked with some tasting room managers, who pour bottle after bottle of the same wines every day, and they have said that the variation between bottles can be tremendous. This is not only a function of the amount of cork taint present in the bottle but likely a symptom of storage conditions and the variation in closure integrity.
- The amount that you sample in the tasting room is very small. Come on, a 1 oz. pour? When I review a wine for this site, I generally enjoy the bottle over the course of an evening and comment about things that show up as conditions change. With this small pour, you’re probably spending a minute, 2 tops. Sometimes your pourer is rushing you along as well.
- Usually, when you visit a tasting room, it’s in the context of several other tasting room visits. And if you’re like 99.9% of wine tasting room customers, you’re not spitting. Suffice it to say that your physical and mental state may be altered during your tasting room experience.
I’d like to see some studies done about this, but I have no idea who would fund such a thing. Plus, hey, it might take a little bit of the fun out of the tasting room experience if you’re cynical about it from the get-go. There’s nothing wrong with wine tasting different in the tasting room. For me, it’s the best place to talk to someone who understands something about the wine they are serving (I really love talking to the winemakers themselves so I can ask the really technical questions, but that’s not possible in all circumstances). At the end of the day, wine tastes better when you’re having fun, so why not visit your local winery tasting room with some friends?