Category Archives: Spicy and Smoky


Exploring the Local Microclimate

The past two months we have been in New York have been so amazing.  I’m settling into my new job.  Our boxes are almost unpacked and we had time this week to get out and about in the area.

The first place we spend a good bit of our time is our future vineyard property.  We have 12 beautiful acres on the Northeast side of Seneca lake that is currently a wild, overgrown mix of crabapples, wild roses, various grasses, pines, spruces, and hardwoods.  It is a shale based soil with huge chunks of weathered shale spread all over the surface.  It is quite fascinating to look a these huge rocks which are flaking apart from the severe weather they have experienced.


There is one thing I have always loved in the Finger Lakes and that is the color of the sky!  It is so vibrantly blue contrasting with the amazing bright green of the trees.  There are no filters on this photo!  It really is that blue!


We had some free time sans child last night for a quick date night and ended up at a small wine bar in Geneva (recommended by a new found fellow winemaking friend) called Microclimate.  The atmosphere is sophisticated, rustic, and homey all at the same time.  Last night the doors and windows were open and the sound of live bluegrass music could be heard on our walk up to the front.


Apparently it was Americana music night which happens only on the last Thursday night of the month during the “off season”.  Stephanie, one of the owners, was manning the bar and all too happy to bring us up to speed on the music.  The players all show up from various bands and come together to adlib several hours of really fantastic music.  They welcome other instrumentalists and singers.  This night involved several guitar players, a banjo, mandolin, harmonicas, bass, and a trumpet. Their rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was fantastic!


The wine list is small but impressive having not only local selections but wines from all over the world.  The flights of five wines each always have one Finger Lakes wine represented as well as the same style or variety from four to five other countries in the world.  “Its so you don’t get blinders for what is going on in the rest of the world” she says holding her hands by her eyes.  “This gives people perspective.”  She is half French and half Spanish and joked about a customer who once told her that he trusted her wine knowledge more because she spoke with a French accent.  “He made my night I laughed so hard.”  She and her business partner built everything for the bar from the aluminum bar top, wooden benches, and riddling rack lined walls.  Even the bathrooms are walled in tartrate covered old wine vat wood.  We each talked about our decisions to move to the area from other wine producing regions and shared similar views.  “It’s so exciting here!” she exclaimed. ” There is so much room for growth and opportunity.” The bar has been open for three years and has become a local winemaker hangout.   I can tell for sure we will be back.


 Stephanie mans the bar at Microclimate.

Wines tasted…

2012 Heart and Hands Pinot Noir, Finger Lakes – Elegant and Floral

Very restrained Pinot Noir with fragrant nose of truffle, wild raspberry and sous bois.  Delicate tannins with a soft finish and extremely well integrated oak.  Smells very much like Francois Freres.

2012 Blaufrankisch, Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes – Spicy and Smoky

This wine was incredibly interesting with aromas of plum, hints of tobacco, and dark chocolate.  The oak was extremely subtle but the fruit powerful enough that I can’t categorize it as restrained.  The tannins were very well managed.  While this example was far less dense than is typical of it’s Austrian counterparts it is very well done and made me think it might be fun to try.  Unfortunately most of the wineries growing it in the Finger Lakes have gone with the far less marketable but more pronounceable name of Lemberger, no relation to the cheese…

2011 Sparkling Teroldego, Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes – Light and Bubbly

I say light and bubbly because it is sparkling but really what it is reminds me of a dry Lambrusco with cojones! Extremely well made with subtle texture and fine creamy mousse on the palate.  Fantastic!  One of those great summer wines for the red bubbly wine drinker in your life.



Vancouver International Wine Festival Observations


I LOVE Vancouver.  If I had to choose an international city to live in , it would be a toss up between Paris and Vancouver.  I also love talking about wine to people and the Vancouver International Wine Festival gave me the opportunity to do that in such great surroundings.  I learned several amazing things at the festival this past week.


1) Robert Mondavi is credited with starting the festival.

Many people came up to me to let me know this fact.  He is very well respected here and one person even credited him with being the catalyst for Vancouver’s thriving wine and food scene that is has today. This further cements my belief that Mr. Mondavi was a force to be reckoned with and full of boundless energy and passion for sharing wine with people.  I only hope that I can live up to at least half of that for my career.

2) Canada has some startlingly good wines.

From the austere and crisp Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine (Light and Bubbly) to the ripe and luscious Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc (Spicy and Smoky) that we had with dinner last night, to the elegant and intense Inniskillin Ice Wine (Sweet and Luscious),  Canada has some amazing wines to offer and we rarely see them in the rest of the world. I find with most countries to which I travel the best wines are the ones that are found domestically and Canada is no different.

3) The Vancouver International Wine Festival is Fantastic!

It is well organized, well run, and has enough representation from all countries that you feel you have indeed sampled a large portion of the world of wine but not so large that one can easily be overwhelmed.  One of my MW study partners, Matt, and I had enough opportunities in between pouring to run around and work on our blind tasting skills with virtually every style of wine we would need in the room.  Ice was never too far away and rinse water was plentiful.  There were enough people emptying spittoons that they never were more than half full at any given time.  This year’s country of focus was Australia and admittedly, while I am not a huge Shiraz fan, the wineries really put on a good showing with lots of Rieslings, Chardonnays, Semillons, Cabernets, and Bordeaux blends to get a good sense of what is going on down under.

There were also non-wine related observations…

4) Leather pants appear to be back in style.

I counted no less than 15 individuals sporting leather pants.  You see one person and you assume they are quirky and perhaps a bit non-conformist.  You see two people, and you think vaguely wonder if it is protection from the still slightly chilly wind.  You see 6 people and you wonder if you missed a fashion article on how the new trend for spring is leather leggings.  You see 15 people and it is pretty certain that the leather pant/legging is here for the season.

5) There are many types of VIWF visitors.

There are those which are jaded and wander the rooms glancing above your heads at the signs, peering over the shoulders at the people currently being served at your table, with a non-interested aloof look that suggests they are wondering what they are doing among the rest of the rabble in the room.  There are the interested tasters who resolutely work the room picking and choosing from the different wines and occasionally asking questions.  There are the people with plans and are on a mission announcing at their arrival that they are ONLY tasting Pinot Noir today! There are the new to wine tasting visitors that don’t realize they are supposed to be spitting and within 20 minutes of the start of the tasting they are already weaving about and you end up spilling wine on them because they can’t hold their glass steady enough and you are trying to pour the smallest amount possible without looking like you are trying not to serve them.  There are other winery representatives, taking a break from their own booths to tour around the room. Then there are my personal favorites, the avid enthusiasts, that have great questions and generally will come with one to 3 other avid enthusiasts.  Once these types find out one is a winemaker, you’d best be on your top game! “How do you know when to pull a wine out of barrel?” “What is the meaning of neutral oak?” “What’s the difference between Napa Valley and Carneros?” “What process do you use to determine your blends?”  I love these folks.  It makes my time at the table very exciting.

I loved my time in Vancouver this week and it was a fitting finale to my time as the red winemaker for Robert Mondavi.  At the end of this week, my family, and I are driving out of Napa bound for New York.  I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly!  Don’t worry though.  I still have plenty of blogging left in me!  Stay tuned for next Monday!

Harvest 2011 – Week 5 – Things REALLY get moving…

This week we’ve started seeing far more grapes than the previous week.  Our Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were joined by our first Chardonnay of the season!  Fruit quality looks really nice and acids are still staying put thanks to the more moderate day time temperatures as well as the cool nights.  The Alexander Valley reds are showing signs of the same incredible color that 2010 brought us and we should start seeing Lodi Cabernet and Merlot being harvested over the next two weeks.  For Asti it seems after a crazy end to last week, Week 6 will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as we enter the first slump of the season.  This will give us a chance to catch our breath and take stock of how things are going.  The weather for week 6, however is forecasted to be a good deal warmer than week 5 with several days topping out around 100 degrees!  Hopefully they won’t go much above that so we can avoid the September heat spike that we saw last year. 


I’m playing with the first Alexander Valley fruit from this season which is a Gewurztraminer from a vineyard in Geyserville which was harvested last Wednesday.  It’s packed with flavor and did retain some acid which is fantastic for the variety that is famous for losing acid like a woman loses last season’s out of style shoes.  I’ve set it up for a long, cool fermentation so the yeast can form the beautiful terpene compounds that make up the fruit and spice notes in the final wine.  I’m also playing with some Pinot Gris from Lodi with a couple of different yeast strains so that should be interesting to see how it goes.


As promised here is the red variety group from Week 4’s interesting varietal tasting!


Latitude 50 N Sekt Trocken Rose  Germany  $14.99

Light and Bubbly

With amazing aromas of strawberries and cotton candy this wine offered fantastic quality for the price.  A medium- dry style balanced with crisp acid and intense citrus flavors.  It’s a blend of Portugeser, Dornfelder, and Pinot Noir.  A perfect bubbly for everyday drinking at a great price, all of us decided to go in on a case!


Studert- Prum Wehlener Nonnenberg 2008 Dornfelder  Germany ~$25.00

Elegant and Floral

I have a soft spot for this variety because it’s one of the first reds I ever worked with in Pennsylvania, of all places.  However this also showed to be the hardest variety to find in the tasting. It’s known for intense aromas of Strawberries and cherries and this wine did not disappoint.  It was dry with moderate acid, medium alcohol and smooth tannins.  It’s worth the search as this was one of the best Dornfelders that I’ve ever had!


E. Pira Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 Italy    $19.99    

Elegant and Floral

This variety makes a light and easy to drink red which is perfect for lighter fare.  Moderate aromas of cherries, bramble fruits, red plum, and figs introduce the wine which has a dry palate with medium + acid and moderate alcohol.  The tannins are firm and structured but ripe.  This is a great food wine. 

Umathum 2008 Zweigelt Burgenland Austria    $16.99

Spicy and Smoky

This was a dark brooding wine with smoky gamey notes complemented by black cherry and plum.  The palate is dry with medium + acid, moderate alcohol and strong structured tannins.  Zweigelt may be a good alternative to Merlot or Syrah for those seeking something different.  This one was really nice.


Montebuena Rioja 2009   $9.99

Power Punch

Made with 100% Tempranillo this wine is true to form with aromas of cherries, raisins, lemon zest and vanilla.  The palate is dry with medium acid, moderately high alcohol, and strong, textured tannins.  Right now Spain is offering some great value for the money.  Anywhere else this would easily be an $18-20 quality wine.


Quinta das Maias Tinto 2004 Dao   $11.99

Power Punch

Another value to be had currently is dry reds made from Port varieties.  This wine is a blend of 60% Jaen, 25% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alfrocheiro and 5% Tinta Roriz.  The nose is intense with aromas of coconut, almonds, vanilla, and cherries.  American oak is clearly a favorite with this producer.  The palate is dry with moderate acid, medium + alcohol, and a full body filled with flavors of cherries, dried dates and raisins.