Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seneca Lake Pt. 2 - Wine Tasting

Do you like wine?  Have you ever done a wine tasting?

I know that not everyone likes or drinks wine, and I'll admit that it's an acquired taste.  In the past five years I've gone from the woman who always orders or purchases that reliable White Zinfandel (and there's nothing wrong with that) to a foodie who purchases new wines and dreams of ways to pair them with food.  I'm by no means an expert, but my palate has expanded over the past few years and I always appreciate an opportunity to try before I buy.

Wine tasting is supposed to be fun, but the fun all depends on your attitude and the knowledge and personality of the person serving the wine.  Oh, and the wine itself.  Of course.

In many areas you can taste wine at a local liquor store.  I've also been to wine tastings in people's homes and more recently I've had the opportunity to actually visit real wineries. Last year my mom and I visited the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail in Pennsylvania and this year E and I spent out anniversary in the Finger Lakes region of New York, which is famous for its wines.

Click below to

The first and most important rule of wine tasting is not to overindulge.  It's very easy to accidentally drink too much.  All of those little sips add up quickly.  We always make sure that we have a designated driver (or limit our own consumption) and we also start off with a full stomach.  There should also be a "dump bucket" on the bar for you to pour out wines that you don't like or that you can't drink.  Don't be embarrassed, it's not rude to pour it out after you've tasted it.

Seneca Lake has over 30 wineries, breweries, and distilleries within a one-hour loop.  That's a lot of wine, a lot of country roads, and a lot of opportunities to drink and spend money.  E and I purchased a Polar Passport, which pre-paid our tasting fees at most of the wineries.  It was $12 per person.  Most wineries in the Finger Lakes have tasting fees (ranging from $2-$4 per person) and many will credit those fees toward a purchase.  In our area, liquor stores do not charge for wine tastings.  We've encountered higher tasting fees (up to $12 per person) in other areas, like Virginia.

With 30+ wineries we had some decisions to make.  Fortunately, it was not difficult to decide where to go.  A snowstorm on our first night in town dropped over a foot of snow around the lake and many of the smaller wineries didn't have the equipment to plow their parking lots immediately after the storm.  Other wineries are not open on weekdays or Mondays in the off-season.  Some wineries didn't offer wines that appealed to us.  Your best bet is to do your research before you even approach a place to taste.  If you know you prefer dry red wine, look for a place that has plenty.  If you know you want beer, skip the wineries.

The tasting room at Hazlitt
The actual person serving the wine is another factor in your tasting experience.  Unfortunately, not all wineries are staffed with friendly and knowledgeable people who enjoy wine.  We loved the retired teacher who served us at Hazlitt (tasting bar above), but we'll admit there were a few wineries that had less-than-enthusiastic staff.  I don't like to be rushed and I want to establish a rapport with the server during the tasting.  I taste because I want to learn and when I walk into a winery I'm likely to buy something if I like it.  Bad service can ruin the whole experience.

The gentleman at Hazlitt told us the story about the "grape weasel"...

The Grape Weasel
So, this grape weasel is an imaginary creature made by a creative taxidermist.  It's actually a deer's bottom with marble eyes, a walnut nose, and toothpick teeth.  Strange, but intriguing.

Oh, and Hazlitt (and several others) had fantastic staff!  If you're in a wine region and you find a person you like, ask him or her what other wineries you should visit.  We got our best tips that way.

E is likes wine, but he loves craft beer.  Fortunately there were a few breweries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail...

Wagner Valley has a winery and a brewery
E contemplating the choices at Wagner Valley

War Horse Brewing Co.
Ultimately, we purchased several cases of wine and beer, so we'll be enjoying a taste of the Finger Lakes well into the summer season.  The Finger Lakes are known for their Riesling wines, so I purchased several.  I also purchased a case of a not-too-sweet apple wine from Hazlitt called Spyder Bite.  I'm looking forward to drinking some now and enjoying some warm with mulling spices this fall... if there's any left!

The only real negative is that New York sales tax combined with county taxes added a lot of extra dollars to our purchases.  We come from sales-tax-free Delaware, so it was difficult for us to pay 12% and more in sales tax for our purchases without flinching.  Thankfully, the wine and beer prices were reasonable, so we didn't go broke.

The best thing about the Finger Lakes is that there are several wine trails among a few different lakes, so there's always something new to see.  This will be a repeat trip for us.  Seneca lake is about four hours from Philadelphia, so if you're in the mid-Atlantic, I recommend the Finger Lakes as a fun foodie destination.


  1. I love wine! And I agree, it's definitely an acquired taste, but boy is it good! Especially when done right and served with excellent complenting dishes! I've never been to a wine tasting, but it's always been one of my dreams to visit the wine country in California! Good to know there are many excellent options closer to home :)

  2. Looks like a great time! I LOVE wine..I don't think that it's even necessarily an acquired taste but I think people just have the right wines that appeal to them. For example, there are many people that won't drink red wines simple because they tend to be drier but there are many sweeter dark red wines that they have yet to taste.

    Wine tasting is adventurous...I love it!

  3. I love wine tasting... it looks like you had fun. I am glad the grape weasel is pretend because it is CREEPY!

  4. I know that your readers are probably more into wines, but beer tasting is full of good times as well! I like both, but I didn't care a whole lot for the riesling ale. It was still good spending time together!

  5. This place looks amazing, I'm sure you and E had an amazing time. Oh and happy belated anniversary! I definitely want to do a wine country trip with the girls, maybe this summer :)

  6. Thank you for informing us about the "Grape Weasel". My boyfriend and I fell for the lore and couldn't wait to get home to investigate this creature since we had never heard of such a thing! Good story tellers!!!!


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