Fingers Lakes Wine Tasting Notes

Medals for everybody!
Medals for everybody!
A few years ago the boss of Guinness toured American micro-breweries and congratulated them for their enterprise, but he also gave them a spot of advice, which, paraphrased, was that they should concentrate on making just one great beer rather than on many indifferent ones.

Hosmer Winery, the first of our three stops along Cayuga Lake, had available for tasting at least two dozen varieties, and they produce a couple more. Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant listed 38 wines and spirits. And Lucas Vineyards listed 24.

These statistics are worth mentioning because none of these wineries are major concerns: all exist on minimal acreage, so it’s a wonder how this many wines can be produced. After the tastings, somebody explained this by starting the undoubtedly scurrilous rumor that the native-grown grapes are supplemented with water and high fructose corn syrup.

And then none of the wines they sell are cheap. The least expensive bottles were $8.99 at Lucas, but the average is around fifteen bucks, topping out around thirty. Obviously, these places subsist on the tourist trade. Tastings are three to five bucks, so they’re breaking even there. But each shop sells tchotchkes or they have small restaurants. And everybody buys a bottle or two, just for the fun of it.

In short, and with exceptions, you’re not going to these wineries for the wine. Instead, the trip is ventured for the sake of the trip, for the beautiful vistas on a gorgeous day. And to see the shining gold and silver glint in the sunlight. These reflections are provided by the multitudinous medals lining the walls. Since these wineries are by Ithaca—which Utne Magazine once called the “Most Enlightened City in America”—every wine is a winner. Each goes home with a prize and a hug.

Following is a selection of my tasting notes.

Hosmer

A small barn with a vineyard not too much bigger. Specializes in the sweet stuff, especially Raspberry Bounce, a Faygo Redpop simulacrum.

2012 Dry Riesling. Smells like cheddar cheese from the supermarket. Sour. Except for the smell, indistinguishable from the 2011 Riesling, the “Double Gold winner.” $15.

2009 Lemberger. Dusty, sweet scent. Drank, but taste disappeared instantly. Immediately forgetful. $18.

2010 Cabernet Franc. Cheap barbershop cologne. Awful. Oh My God. Awful. $18.

Estate Red. Thin. Not sweet. Reasonable plonk. $10.50. (I bought two bottles; shared them out on bus.)

Knapp

The only place we visited with a distillery. Tasting room nicely decorated with barrels. We had their barbecue of overcooked chicken. They like it sweet too, advertising Jammin’ Strawberry which will “flood your palate and bombard your senses.” I believed them and didn’t try it.

Cabernet Sauvignon ’11. Almost no smell? Sour, thin; dries the mouth. “King of reds.” $18.95.

Sangiovese ’10. What is this? Aha! Nail polish remover. Tastes of day old apple cider made with peels. $16.95.

Meritage ’11. Like flat, not-too-sweet root beer. $22.95.

Pasta Red Reserve. Smells like road construction. Too sweet. $10.95.

Brandy. Fumes good replacement for nose hair trimmer. Stings the tongue. Couldn’t swallow. Aged what? Two days? $24.95.

Serenity. Passable. Tasted like a bin red wine. $12.95. (Bought bottle, shared out over lunch.)

Lucas

For no apparent reason, a nautical-themed winery (it’s nowhere near any water). Sorority hangout? The picture of medals is from here. The wines were pre-selected for us.

Miss Chevious. My Grandma Briggs would have liked this: but she never paid more than two dollars a bottle. Sour as vinegar. $8.99. (Apparently if you buy some, you won a sticker “I got Naughtie at Lucas”. Several bridesmaids parties had these. “Gold Medal Winner!”)

Blues 2010. Cheap. God. Muck. Undrinkable. $8.99. (Nobody in our party could finish.)

Semi-Dry Riesling 2010. Compared with neighbors and, yes, Off! Smells just like the bug spray. Didn’t dare taste. $13.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)

Butterfly. Smells like one of those junior artists paint set; kind which have ten paints in little joined plastic pots. Tastes exactly like Play Doh. $8.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)

Tug Boat Red. Smells and tastes like a red bank sucker, the kind tellers used to hand out to children. $8.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)

Cabernet Franc Limited Reserve 2009. Puts me in mind what a diet alcohol would taste like. (This wasn’t on the scheduled flight. I asked pourer if we could try something that wasn’t sweet. I asked for boldest, best red. He suggested this. “Gold Medal Winner!”)

I didn’t buy anything from Lucas, but took a nap in their grass out front while waiting for our bus.

17 Comments

  1. DAV,

    I should point out that normally I subsist on $5-$10 bottles—though none are from the Finger Lakes.

  2. The French are going to love this so very much 🙂

    The Americans must be the politest people in the world. Drinking that vile stuff and not a word of complaint….

  3. Sander,

    Well…I’m sitting right this second in the Statler hotel bar with a glass of Belle Glos pinot noir blanc from Sonoma valley which is delicious . USA! USA! USA!

  4. OMG! Those look like my tasting notes from my recent visit to Chism Trail Winery in Fredericksburg, Texas. To their credit, they serve a great pizza, and have killer kowboy music in what appears to be Texas’ first honkytonk winery.

  5. Briggs

    Cheers.

    Not that the French only make quality wine, far from it. Remembering a particular tasting somewhere in Burgundy….

  6. “Butterfly… Tastes exactly like Play Doh…”

    This one has me a little confused as although I know what Play Doh is why have you eaten it? I am now going to ask my friends if I can sample some of their daughter’s Play Doh so I can fully understand your comment. 🙂

    Otherwise it’s a fine warning – thank you.

  7. OMG…how did we miss real, and interesting, statistics involving wines: If one wanted to take the “scurrilous” allegations & change those wines into gold-medal award winners all that’s needed is to put them in a classy bottle with a classy label. Really:

    RE Wines (the same guy involved in stirring things up in this 2009 article is back at it in other reporting): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703683804574533840282653628.html

    Related theme: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=stradivarius-fails-sound-test-versu-12-01-04

    And truly noteworthy: http://www.theonion.com/articles/potatochip-connoisseur-detects-notes-of-sour-cream,2138/

  8. Some people live to be disappointed. Something tells me you’re one of those people.
    I’ve been to a few vineyards in my not so distant past, and I can tell you that you must have no earthly clue what you are talking about.
    Obviously, since you encountered “several bridesmaid parties,” you were doing your “research” for the above post on a weekend. Peak tourist time. If you were truly interested in what the wine is actually like, you would have taken the time to go on a weekday, when you’re not going to be rushed through with the casual drinkers and bachelorette parties. I taste wine on weekdays so I can take my time and get personal service.
    Next time, learn something about the wine region you’re visiting before you show up. If you go wine tasting expecting California Cabernets, then you better get your ass to California.
    Go on a weekday. Listen to the staff. Ask questions. Maybe you won’t have to use a list of wine faults and a thesaurus as training wheels for your future posts. (Faygo Redpop simulacrum? Somebody was reaching!)

  9. Tell us, Joe. In which of these wineries do you have an interest? Or if not these, then perhaps another on the trail?

    Here’s a proposition. I will give you ten American dollars, crisp and new, if you tell me honestly, with the Lord above as witness and with your conscience pressing against your soul, that Raspberry Bounce does not taste as Faygo Redpop spiked with a spritz of cheap vodka.

    After this you could perhaps expound on your time-series theory of taste buds: how the tongue senses its environment differently on weekends than on weekdays. If you can’t do this, you’ll have to admit that wine sold at a winery should taste good any of the seven days alloted to us. If that’s so, it doesn’t matter when one attends a tasting.

    It’s true that California, that land of happiness and high taxes, does better Cabernets. But do you think an east coast winery that boasts of its Cabernet by pinning its medals won on the wall and waxing eloquently of these awards in the tasting notes should offer a drinkable product? Or can they just sell anything wet and red?

  10. You have me incorrectly pegged, sir. I work in the financial services industry in the Pacific Northwest. I tend to vacation where I can visit independently owned purveyors of food and beverage. In my research for my first trip to the finger lakes, I stumbled across your truly unique post. I say unique because none of the other blogs that mentioned these wineries had exclusively negative things to say about them.

    I would gladly accept your Raspberry Bounce challenge, were you to send me the Raspberry Bounce, the Faygo Redpop, your choice of cheap vodka, the $10, and a self addressed stamped envelope (in case I somehow agree with you on that one).
    Insofar as what you called my “time-series theory of taste buds,” when wineries are busy, wines aren’t always in the refrigerator. In the middle of June, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that they would not be at an optimal service temperature. When I taste a number of wines in rapid succession, I do not have the time to fully experience the wines. When I was in Sonoma last year, one of my servers said “Weekdays are for tasters, weekends are for tourists.”
    As I mentioned before, research is your friend. I don’t expect an Australian Shiraz when I go tasting her in the PNW. One google search and 15 seconds of reading told me why Lucas Vineyards has a nautical theme, but if I just give you the answer, you’ll never learn to research on your own.

    The venomous tone of your original post leads me to speculate that you may have tried to get jobs at these vineyards, were turned down (for some reason,) and are attempting to exact your revenge from the cheap seats. Any further speculation would be a waste of my time and imagination.

  11. The following contains my reactions, in order, to the above review.

    what’s his beef? does he not like the sweet whites we* make? if you don’t like it, read about local wines before you go wine touring, genius.

    *Keep in mind that when I say “we”, I mean the region. I’m associated with the Fingerlakes wineries in that I regularly buy their wine, and I grew up in the region, but I’m actually a chemist in another part of the state. This comes in handy as I started off knowing that sucrose tastes sweet; something you obviously weren’t expecting.

    what’s his reasoning, what are his arguments that these wineries are bad?

    “none of the wines they sell are cheap. The least expensive bottles were $8.99 at Lucas, but the average is around fifteen bucks, topping out around thirty.”
    um, has this man ever bought his own wine?
    because a $30 bottle of wine is not an expensive wine.
    in fact, it’s a wine that’s so inexpensive as to be humorous.
    maybe he has people buy his wine for him,
    and they don’t tell him how much it is?
    “tastings are $3-5”
    also untrue
    it’s $2-6
    get your facts straight if you expect people to respect your opinions.

    ok, at hosmer, he compares the size of the vineyard (as in singular, which is inaccurate, because there are several different fields of different grape varieties) to the size of the barn.
    did he even go there?
    because i’ve been to hosmer
    and that’s not what it looks like.
    &@$#, i was drunk by the time i got there and i STILL know that’s not what it looks like.

    ok, first of all
    he went on a $%#&ing BUS TOUR
    and expected to taste something top notch, AND expected a non-touristy experience when he was traveling as the most obvious fanny packer possible…

    you only stopped at 1 distillery because nobody wants a bus load of people who have been drinking wine all day to suddenly have access to hard liquor
    i mean
    has this guy ever MET any drunk people?
    ever?

    next problem.
    his complaint is that the wineries are trying to do too much
    and then he complains about how only one of the stops had a distillery
    at least be a consistent douche

    brandy stings your tongue because you’ve been drinking moist wines all day, and then switched to hard liquor, which, btw, only a freshman would be stupid enough to do. L2-liquor.
    next.
    apple cider IS #$%#ING MADE WITH THE PEELS YOU GIGANTIC MORON! don’t try to use similes containing things you obviously know nothing about. it shows.

    next
    road construction doesn’t smell sweet. if you think something smells like road construction, and that is TOO sweet, you obviously have a worse palate than i did when i was a teenager working in the kitchen at a frat house, pouring all the left over mixed drinks into a pint glass.

    lucas is nowhere near a body of water?
    hello sir, you must be lost
    because you’re in a region NAMED FOR THE LAKES SUROUNDING IT.
    didn’t dare taste the semi dry reisling because it smelled too strong?
    $#%! dude, i give that stuff to my friends who want to get drunk but don’t like the taste of alcohol. it’s a SEMI dry REISLING. get some testicular fortitude.

    you do NOT have to buy a bottle of the naughtie wines to get a naughtie sticker, you just have to taste them, which you would know, had you ever been there.
    ever.
    butterfly tastes like grape juice. playdough tastes like salt, since it’s main components are flour (mostly tasteless), water (also tasteless), mineral oil (still tasteless), and, you guessed it, SODIUM CHLORIDE!
    don’t try to tell a chemist that sodium tastes like sucrose, because we’ll force feed you pure sodium until you’re clear on the difference. if you’re not clear on why that might be unpleasant, I suggest you do the googling you were obviously too lazy to do when you decided to tour the region.

    “nobody in our party could finish…”
    excuse me, but are you a wine critic actually FINISHING your tasting sample?
    because if you are, you’re not actually a wine critic.
    you are a drunk tourist.

    he’s just trying to come up with yucky adjectives
    i mean, you can’t even tell he actually tasted any of these wines.
    not a single adjective he’s used so far has even remotely resembled the bottle he references, other than sweet, which doesn’t count,
    because, even though he doesn’t know it, he’s in the Fingerlakes.
    The weekend taster wines are ALL sweet because it’s the FINGERLAKES; that’s what people visit for.

    “put me in mind of what a diet alcohol would taste like”
    would?
    as in, you think yourself a qualified critic,
    but you don’t know that diet alcohol exists?
    and has since before I was born?
    AND you have no idea what it tastes like?
    go home, frat boy!

    Then I got to the comments section…
    Wait
    normally, i subsist on 5-10 bottles?
    and you’re a wine critic?
    boxed wine is more expensive than that.

    Belle Glos pinot noir blanc is a $20 bottle of wine. Not a $5 bottle of wine. Just so you know.

  12. And also, the Statler? You’re going to stay at the highest priced, most tourist-trap hotel in town, while you’re complaining about how touristy your trip was? How very true to form.

  13. Ms Chemist,

    It’s always dangerous to imbibe before commenting.

    Yep: in New York City, from where I hale, I routinely buy wines in the $5-$10 range. All of them are better than the ones tasted on the tour. Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck (which is more in the city) is even better than many selections from these wineries.

    And what say you to the warning from the Guinness chief that it’s better to try to get one thing right rather than do twenty-four badly?

    Joe,

    No need to worry about me. I didn’t swallow the brandy (hence no chemical burn).

  14. I was on a business trip in Seneca Falls two years ago and must agree that most of the wines from the Finger Lakes region are overpriced and barely drinkable. As you said, each winery offers a large selection or varieties. Given the northern climate, anything remotely worthy of recognition is likely to be a white. I sampled a few whites that qualified as passible table fare, but most $9 bottles (twist off) bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc outperform the best the Finger Lakes has to offer at less than half the cost.

    Thin is right, as in, no body or complexity whatsoever.

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