Yesterday I went to the New York wine “Sip, Savor & Shop” event at City Winery, an event space/restaurant/bar/winery in Manhattan. Kind of a mistake. I sign up for these big tastings sometimes, thinking they’ll be a great opportunity to try a bunch of new wines, meet some cool winemakers, and learn a little along the way. Occasionally they are, but often they’re hot, loud, and crowded. Sunday’s event, dedicated entirely to New York wine and food, was all of the above. My survival strategy was to frequent the least-crowded tasting tables, try to get my money’s worth ($45, in this case) and hope for the best.
I had a few successes. Silver Thread Vineyard, a winery in the Finger Lakes, makes very pretty Rieslings, a fine Gëwurztraminer, and a Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, “Blackbird,” that ranks among the best reds I’ve tried from the Finger Lakes. (OK, granted, I haven’t tried all that many.) All the wines come in under $25, and the winery is practicing organic, although not certified as such. (Timely, given my last post: certified organic vineyards must have a “buffer zone” between them and any adjacent plots of conventionally cultivated land. Silver Thread lost that buffer when a neighbor expanded.) I also tasted an old favorite, Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc, a soft and smoky wine that is incredibly versatile.
I hate to sound like an ungrateful guest, but I didn’t like the City Winery house wines on tap. They have an on-site winemaker who works with fruit brought in from California. The Van Dam Zin had an odd tomato sauce aroma, and the Pinot Noir smelled like stewed meat sprinkled with potpourri. Even worse, the staff pouring the wine came off as clueless, recommending that the guy next to me try the Syrah because he said he liked “really sweet” wines. (The Syrah was many things, but sweet was not one of them.) Bad wine guidance is one of my pet peeves. It’s hard enough to learn about wines without having people mislead you in order to push product.
Determined to end on a high note, and kind of wine-d out, I hit two stands that turned out to be the winners of the afternoon. First, I visited Red Jacket Orchards, a Finger Lakes orchard and juice company that makes my new favorite non-alcoholic beverage: tart cherry stomp, a blend of tart cherry and apple juice that was puckery, crisp, and thirst-quenching. (The black currant was pretty good, too.)
The day’s highlight, however, was my visit with Paul Holm, owner of the Long Island Meadery. The guy is clearly smitten with mead, a ye olde fermented honey wine that was popular in the Middle Ages. If you squint at the picture below, you can just make out the awesome LI Meadery logo on his t-shirt: a bee in a suit of armor.
He takes honey, dilutes it with water, adds fruits and spices, and ferments it into some of the most unusual drinks I’ve tasted in a while. The wines aren’t as sweet as you might think, and they retain some of the musky/smoky/bitter quality that distinguishes good honey. The black raspberry was the driest one I tried, and the sweet/tart flavor combo would make it a nice match for BBQ. The raisin clove, the sweetest one on offer, smelled like Christmas, and flirted with being a bit cloying. (Admittedly, I’m not a clove lover.) My favorite was the pear cyser (that’s cider to you), a fragrant pear wine that I bought and can’t wait to serve with one of my favorite desserts: a poached pear drizzled with honey and served alongside a nice hunk of Parmesan. I’d serve all of these wines chilled–and hide the bottle and ask your dining companions to guess what they are.