Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Last Finger Lakes Visits

The winding roads and beautiful lakes of this area don’t ever seem to end and one of them led me to Shaw Vineyards.  Steve Shaw grew up in this region so winemaking was a natural transition for him.  In stark contrast to nearly every other place I had seen, the set up here is very simple, in a barn, with a tasting table surrounded by art (for sale) by a friend of Shaw’s.   His winemaking ideas are unconventional as well and they led him to branch off from a partnership to his own place.  Among the methods he employs are wind power and geothermal energy to run his Europress, which gently de-stems and turns grapes rather than following the usual crushing process. 

Shaw’s other point of note in winemaking is patience and you will find many more aged wines here than on the racks of some of his neighbors.  We tasted a selection that included his newest release, a perfect 2007 Riesling  to a 2004 Chardonnay that showed the strong pepper and vanilla from 24 months in old French oak to a 2003 Pinot Noir that was lighter than most with a good combination of fruity strawberry and dry spice.

Yet another scenic drive led to the Finger Lakes Distilling Company, where owner Brian McKenzie (whose partner is the unrelated Thomas McKenzie) took me through his plant where I was surprised to find quite a collection of spirits that included vodka, gin, whisky, rye, grappa and liquers.  I have to admit I was impressed with just about everything there, with the Seneca Drums Gin, a grape base that is lighter on juniper than most, but filled with other interesting flavors like cucumber and anise, a favorite.  I also thought the Pear Brandy, made from local Bartlett pears was very good and had a nice mix of sweet and spice.

Fruit-based liqueurs are a popular option at Finger Lakes Distilling and there are four options here: Casis, Raspberry, Cherry and Blueberry.  I liked them all, with the Cherry, a tart and sweet combination, a slight favorite.  Also worth a try is the Maplejack Liqueur, an apple brandy sweetened with maple syrup, but more like whisky than a sweet liqueur.

My last tasting opportunity in Finger Lakes included both food and wine as both are specialties at Red Newt Bistro and Cellars.   The Whitings, winemaker David and Chef Debra, have put together enough to please any palate here.   I started with their infamous Blue Newt White, which was as good as had been described to me.   It paired perfectly with the Duck Confit Springs Rolls, filled with basmati rice, plums and plum ginger in a ginger garlic dipping sauce.  For dinner I had the Local Free Range Pork Chop, a tender meat filled with peaches, prosciutto and spinach, served in a creamy white wine peach sauce.  I had this with a wheatberry-filled rice and it was just incredible. 

Also on the menu was items like Grilled Beef Tenderloin wrapped in bacon in a shitake red wine sauce, which I was told melted in the mouth like butter, and a Stuffed Eggplant with brown and red rice, split peas, shitake mushrooms, onions  and curried tomato sauce, a choice I almost picked.  The menu at Red Newt changes every few week, but it looks like they make sure there are choices for everyone.  I didn’t have any room left for dessert, but I did follow the recommendation of the recommendation of Teresa from Finger Lakes Wine Country and finished the meal with  the Circle Riesling.

I drove through the Finger Lakes for the last time into a quick tour through the town of Corning before heading to my Hilton Garden Inn, Elmira. It was quite a jam-packed trip that I will be reflecting back on in more detail about a place I definitely expect to return.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to reminisce about those beautiful grapes with a bottle of one of the great Finger Lakes wines.

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