Impromptu Wine Tasting In Upstate NY

It’s not often I get a chance to replace my pint for a wineglass. A recent trip to the Finger Lakes gave me that chance.


Recently, I found myself in the Finger Lakes area of NY with an opportunity to taste some world-class wines. With little time to plan, my friends Holly, Patty, Meredith and I took an impromptu wine tour on the day following the Seneca7 relay race. Holly lives in the area, so she knew more than the rest of us about where to go.

Wine is a mystery to me. It’s not that I can’t appreciate a really good wine, rather I never have the chance to experience a really good wine. As we hit the first couple of vineyards, I felt as though I was in an episode of James May’s Road Trip and I was James May.

If you’re not familiar with the BBC program; wine expert Oz Clarke tours around with Top Gear‘s James May in an attempt to teach him all about the subtle intricacies of wine making and tasting. Thru the course of the series, May becomes more and more in touch with his appreciation for wine. Much to the surprise and delight of Clarke.

We four did not have the luxury of waiting out an entire season for the gestation and birth of my inner wino. We had just a few hours before I needed to catch a flight back to NYC. Luckily for me, my travel companions were quite a bit more well read on the subject and I received a crash course introduction to the world of wine.

Let’s see, first you check the look of the wine. OK, I’m swirling it around my glass to test it’s color and viscosity. For some reason or another, it’s important to see how much the wine clings to the glass. Then you smell it. OK, that makes some sense I guess. Smell and taste need to play well together (unless you’re eating kimchi). Then you sip it. Now, that last part is what I’m all about. The sipping. After all, isn’t drinking what wine is for?

Of the few places we were able to visit that day, two really stood out. The first was Billsboro Winery. A rustic, homey place run by friendly folks. This very relaxing environment is the perfect place to sip some wine. I may look like I know what I’m doing, standing at the counter, listening politely to the stories behind each grape and each wine. However, I’m simply enjoying the taste and the company.

Another reason to like Billsboro was for the recommendation that we seek out one of the area’s best wineries. A favorite among wine aficionados, it was also one that we almost didn’t get to. Shortly after getting on the road, we forgot the name.

We stopped at places we thought were the one and were met with some disappointment. We were about to give up on our quest when someone in the van (it may have been me, but I can’t say for sure) spotted the sign for The Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.

Thru the doors of a big, old barn we found a modern showroom lined with many bottles of wine. Thru another door and the barn feel returned but with the inclusion of giant steel cisterns. This was the setting for the tasting.

Greeted by Estate Manager Oskar Bynke, we were treated to a delicious variety of wine. I was learning thru the day that the region is best known for their Riesling wines. Don’t quiz me on the reasons why. It’s got something to do with the climate, the soil, the grapes, and (likely) that certain NY attitude.

The last two wines I tasted would simply blow my mind and my tastebuds. The 2009 Dry Riesling and the 2009 Late-Harvest Riesling were simply the best wines I had ever tasted. While my history with wine is not extensive, I know what I like. Oskar, apparently seeing the glimmering revelation in my face with each sip, offered us a very special treat.

Off into a sunlit room, overlooking the vineyard, were the cisterns of what Oskar called, “young wines.” Basically, these were wines in their first stages of aging. Just a few weeks old at this point, it’s rare that consumers get to taste them. It was remarkable that the same wines that blew me away a few moments earlier were, at this point in their new life, cloudy and bitter; similar to the consistency and flavor of a light beer.

We ended our day with a delicious lunch of gourmet sandwiches at the OPUS Cafe at Fox Run Vineyards. I had roast pork and greens with a raspberry iced tea on the side. It hit the spot. Thanks to our group curiosity, we wandered into a cheese tasting. It hadn’t begun and we were not part of the party, but we were allowed to pick a little just the same.

What a great way to end the day and my weekend. Soon I was off to Syracuse for my flight back. A few days later, I’d be met at home with my bottles of the Dry and Late-Harvest Rieslings I so enjoyed at The Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.

A very fitting, welcoming homecoming.

See Also:
Billsboro Winery
The Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
OPUS Cafe
Fox Run Vineyards


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