Splendor, Mirth and Joy; Traveling with the Daughters of Zeus

Clos du ValNapa on a sunny day in the spring is lovely, but even on a cold, wet fall day, visiting Napa is like spending time with the three graces, daughters of Zeus, Splendor, Mirth and Joy.  Although it is part of the new world of wine, Napa is well enough established that is has its own  iconic wineries the kind that demand a sense of homage when visiting.  These are the wineries that put Napa and for that matter California on the wine world map, the wineries that participated in the Judgment of Paris in 1976 and the rematch in 1986.

Clos du Val was established in 1972 and is located in the Stags Leap region, though it has vineyards in Carneros and Yountville as well with three estate vineyards that it refers to as ‘the three graces.’   With 330 acres, many of Clos du Val’s wines remain small production, with less than 500 cases.

In 1976, Clos du Val’s Cabernet Sauvignon came in 8th in the Judgment of Paris.  In the 1986 rematch, their Cab came in 1st.

The 2013 Carneros Estate Chardonnay is made from a Dijon clone and aged in 25% new oak with partial malolactic fermentation.  Both the vanilla from the oak and the creamy mouthfeel from the malolactic fermentation are subtle and well-integrated.  There is no sur lie aging on this elegant, balanced Chardonnay with ripe orchard fruit aromas.  It is a very graceful wine.

The 2012 Petit Verdot is 100% PV aged in 20% new oak.  It has acidity plus and loads of beautiful black fruit aromas.  It is a rich and structured wine.

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from State Lane estate is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc.  It is earthy with aromas of herbs, bramble fruit and grippy tannins.  It spent 2 years in oak, 30% new.Book Signing, Wine, Napa 075

The Three Graces is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.  The tannins are silky, the aromas are both black and red fruit.

The 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon has aromas of dried fruit, red and black fruit, chocolate and wood all smoothly integrated into a richly textured wine.

Zeus’s daughters, Splendor, Mirth and Joy are very present at Clos du Val.  And their wines are very graceful.

One Family, Many Personalities

OpaqueThe Riboli Family and San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles own several wine labels including Stella Rosa out of the Asti region in Italy. Asti is known for its Moscoto, but not all Stella Rosas are made from that grape. Stella Rosa Black is a red blend of grapes and other fruits including blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. The wine is made in the classic Asti style, although not with the classic fruit of Moscoto. Along with the berry fruit, Stella Rosa Black is made from the Brachetto grape, a grape grown in the Aqui region of the Piedmont, also under conditions of partial fermentation where fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, creating a sparkling, low alcohol (5%) wine with residual sugar (92g/L). Light, sweet and frizzante, it is quite popular with many of the customers who come into the wine store where I work. It is definitely a style of wine that has a following, though it isn’t a wine that would appeal to serious wine drinkers.

The Riboli Family also own the Opaque label. After tasting the Stella Rosa, I was expecting a similar, simple style wine. I was very surprised to find the Opaque wine to be quite serious. A red blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot (who wasn’t invited to this party?) sourced from Paso Robles and aged for 10 months in both French and American oak, Opaque is a deep ruby wine with aromas of black cherry, bramble fruit, ripe red plums, eucalyptus, tomato leaf, vanilla, toast and tobacco. It has a medium plus acidity with fine grained tannins and a long finish. This wine is a meal that would go really well with a grilled steak or a juicy burger. She has a very different personality from her Italian cousins in the Riboli family.

(The two wines evaluated were sent to me as samples from HipLatina.com)

FLX Beyond Riesling

Every wine book and wine study course introduces two wines when discussing the Finger Lakes region (FLX) of New York, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. The climate of FLX is ideally suited for these two cool weather, acidic grapes. But the small production wineries, now numbering close to 400, that dot the three lakes of this region (Seneca, Cayuga and Keuka) are producing wines from a number of grape varieties. Many of the wines they are producing are quite good.

FLXWBC15At the Wine Bloggers Conference in FLX last month, I had an opportunity to taste through many of the local wines at the speed tastings where the wines were poured with such dizzying speed, they were hard to keep up with. Each winemaker had 5 minutes to pour and present her or his wine. It was a fun and lively way to get plunged into the wines of the Finger Lakes, tasting through 10 wines in less than an hour. I was, also able to taste many of the local wines during the lunches, dinners and excursions of the week-end, allowing the opportunity to explore the wines of Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake and Keuka Lake.

Along with some really good Cabernet Francs and Rieslings, FLX is making some nice Chardonnays, Pinot Gris’, Rosés, and even some nice, big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. They are making good wines from hybrid grapes and they are making ice wines, sparkling wines and orange wines.

I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover the diversity of wines coming out of the FLX. There are so many wineries willing to try new grape varieties and experiment with the old varieties. Happily, many of their experiments have been quite successful.Knapp Winery

Exploring the wines of the Finger Lakes is like a lucrative treasure hunt, with so much diversity done so well. The Rieslings and Cabernet Francs are lovely. The varieties beyond these two steadfast grapes are intriguing and delightful.

Here are some of my tasting notes from the week-end by grape color.


Hosmer Winery, 2013 Pinot Gris, estate grown, one month on lees; beer, perfume, flowers, rich body

Laoreaux, 2014 Dry Red Oak Riesling; yellow apple, peach, apricot, honey with a touch of petrol. Nice balance.

Casa Larga Ice Wine; honey, sweet yellow apples, dried apricots, dessert in a glass.

Boundary Breaks Riesling; apple, lemon zest, tart and tangy with juicy fruit

Hazlitt Vineyards, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; grass, grapefruit zest, lime, some lees aging

Montezuma, 2014 Edelzwicker, late fall apple, lemon zest, rich mouth feel

Idol Ridge Vidal Blance Ice Wine, frozen on the vine, lush, honeyed yellow apples

Goose Watch, 2014 Traminette (Gewurztraminer cross); yellow apple, floral, spice, ginger, crisp

Lucas Vineyards 2014 semi-dry Riesling; fresh and fruity, tangy and juicy with a touchof petrol

Herman J Wiemer, 2009 Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay, barrel fermented cuvée aged on lees; crisp fruit, light and delightful

Standing Stone, 2013 Gewurztraminer, spicy with a rich body


Atwater, Chardonnay; tangy apples, citrus, oak. Very rich.


Sheldrake Point, Cabernet Franc Rosé; strawberry, cranberry, watermelon, tart and juicy with a subtle mineral finish

Knapp Rosé, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir blend; tart fruit, crisp acidity


Heron Hill, Bordeaux blend; soft red cherries, anise, silky tannins

Dr. Frank,2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; dark bing cherries, soft vanilla, great acidity

Chateau Lafayette Reneau, 2013 Meritage, oak aged; dark plums, oak, bing cherry, velvet tannins

Standing Stone, 2013, Saperavi (a teinturier grape from the country of Georgia) dried fruit, figs, dried cherries

Fox Run, 2012 Lemberger; earthy, dark bing cherries with a hint of chocolate on the finish

J R Dill Winery, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; big dark cherries, with a soft touch of oak, slightly herbal

Ventosa, 2011, Cabernet Franc; sassy, playful red fruit with a whisper of purple flowers. Great acidity!

Damiani, 2012 Cabernet Franc; ripe, rich, dark fruit, oak, chocolate, very lush.

Riesling; at Home in the Finger Lakes Region

July, August 2015 105Wine grapes have been cultivated in the Finger Lakes region of New York since the mid 17th century when Jesuit missionaries used native North American grapes to make sacramental wine. Wines weren’t made here commercially until the latter part of the 19th century. By 1890 New York was the largest wine producer in the United States. However, that success depended completely on the native North American varietals. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that New York state began to produce wines made from the European species, vitis vinifera. As recently as the 1960’s very little Riesling was planted in the vineyards of the Finger Lakes region. But through the work of Dr. Konstantin Frank, founder of Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars and Hermann J. Wiemer, founder of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, the vitis vinifera grape, Riesling has taken its place as the darling of the Finger Lakes region.July, August 2015 085

2013 Eugenia Dry Riesling, Keuka west, Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars; aromas of tart apple, herbs, lemon zest and cumin.

2014 Humphrey’s Vineyard Riesling, Seneca west, Keuka Spring Winery; aromas of sweet apple, white flower and meyer lemon

2012 Riesling, Tango Oaks Vineyard, Seneca East, Red Newt Wine Cellars; aromas of petrol, yellow apple and lemon pith

2014 dry Riesling, Seneca west, Knapp Winery; aromas of gingerbread, late fall apple and candied lime

2014 Dry Oak Vineyard Riesling, Seneca east, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars; aromas of peach, Meyer lemon, and pith.

2014 Riesling, Cayuga west, Sheldrake Point Winery; aromas of honey, sweet, yellow apple, and honeydew melon.

2011 Reserve Riesling, Seneca west, Fox Run Vineyards; aromas of petrol, honey and dried apricots

2014 Full Monty Riesling, Seneca west, Lakewood Vineyards; aromas of sweet yellow apple, honey ginger and Meyer lemon.

2014 Semi-Dry Riesling, Chateau LaFayette Reneau; aromas of apricots, peaches and candied lemon peel.

2014 Riesling, Swedish Hill Winery; aromas of Granny Smith apple, lemon, petrol, good acidity.

2013 Riesling, Bellwether; aromas crisp apple, yeast, bright lemon zest.

FLX, as the Finger Lakes region is known, makes wines from many vitis vinifera grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Gruner Veltliner, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon and it makes them well. But there is a reason that New York is known for its Rieslings. In the terroir of the FLX, Riesling has flourished.

(Much of the information on the history of Riesling in the Finger Lakes region was found in the book, A Sense of Place; Discovering the Finger Lakes & Bellangelo Winery, by Christopher Missick)

Broadsides and Blogs; Reflections from the Finger Lakes

“All bloggers want to make money from their blogs.” That’s the accusation a trade person made during lunch at the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes region this past week-end.

“I don’t,” I told him. But his expression assured me that he didn’t believe that to be true.

During the conference a bit of a rift developed between some of the trade people and the bloggers. As W. Blake Gray points out on his blog, The Gray Report, we bloggers were there for the community. We were there to connect IRL with our virtual friends and peers. We were there to learn from each other. We were there to taste wine together and blog together about shared experiences.

That aspect which was central to the spirit and purpose of the conference seemed to elude some of the trade people; the ones who were there to work, to make connections not for community but for business.

Jeff Kralik, TheDrunkenCyclist“The only people who think they will make money from blogging are people who are new to blogging,” responded Jeff Kralik of TheDrunkenCyclist when I asked him if he was in it for the money. He’s right. Blogging never was and never will be a solid business plan.

“I blog because I love to write and I love wine.” Nancy Brazil of PullThatCork sums it up succinctly. It is as clear a reason as any I’ve heard why we do what we do.phone pics spring summer 2015 102

On July 19th in 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held here in the Finger Lakes region, in Seneca Falls. The movement began with broadsides, paper printed on one side for a specific purpose. Some broadsides were for advertising, some broadsides were ballads and poetry, some broadsides had a political message. The purpose of the broadsides of the suffragest movement was to begin a conversation. The purpose of the Seneca Falls Convention was to continue that conversation in person. It is not a far stretch to consider blogs as the broadsides of our time. Like broadsides, blogs are a medium of communication that is free from constraint. With a blog, “you have the freedom to do whatever you want,” commented Jason Subblefield of CorkEnvy during a panel discussion. There are, as yet, no rules to blogging and no format to follow. We are free to create whatever we want to create.

The reason we came together in Corning, NY was not to make business connections. The reason we were there was for the opportunity to be fully immersed in a wine region that many of us had not, yet explored; to talk to the local wine makers while  standing in their vineyards, tasting their wines.  We were there to learn about the wine, the geology, the geography and the community of the Finger Lakes region. We love wine, we love to write, and we love being part of the wine bloggers’ community. We were there to continue a very public and ongoing conversation about wine, to share some meals together and to say to each other in person, in a spirit of camaraderie, ‘Cheers to you fellow bloggers!’


Photo taken by Maria Frangieh @mariafrangieh In the trade and in the spirit

Describing Baco Noir

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Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, was the keynote speaker at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Corning, NY this past week-end. She is an inspiring speaker and had some very thoughtful advice for all of us bloggers in attendance. One thing she advised was that in order to improve our wine descriptions we had to think about what the wine is really like, and avoid comparing it to other wines. While that is an excellent exercise in improving one’s writing and observational skills, it isn’t always easy to do.

Baco Noir is a hybrid grape, a cross between two species, the Vitis vinifera, Folle Blanche and a grape from the North American species, Vitis riparia. It was first developed in 1894 by a Frenchman named Baco, and planted in Burgundy and the Loire Valley. It made its way to the US in 1951 and does especially well in cooler climates such as the Finger Lakes region of New York. It was there this past week-end that I was able to taste my first Baco Noir, a 2014 made by Americana Vineyards.

The wine was a deep red color with tart raspberry and dark cherry aromas carried along on smooth, soft tannins. It reminded me so much of a Beaujolais. I shouldn’t write what wine it reminds me of. I should let it stand on its own, and write what it is. But it reminded me of a Beaujolais, a well-done Beaujolais…at first light and fruity, with tart red raspberries bouncing from the glass, but then the darker fruit aromas emerged elegantly and pulled me back in to a deeper focus. That at once playfulness and pensiveness between the light and darker fruits was well-integrated and wrapped up together in a blanket of soft tannin…like a Beaujolais, I mean a Baco Noir, a well-done, Baco Noir.

Americana Vineyards is located at 4367 East Covert Road in Interlaken, NY on Cayuga Lake

The tasting room is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from 11am to 6pm

Lakewood Vineyards Wines; a Lesson in Parenting

Six weeks into raising her infant, I heard a woman describe the work of caring for her child as ‘drudgery.’ I couldn’t disagree with her. Caring for an infant is a lot of repetitive, sleepless, gritty work. And it doesn’t stop with infancy. The work that goes into raising a teenager is far short of glamorous. The dance recitals are wonderful, but the time spent driving back and forth to lessons and sitting through rehearsals is, well, drudgery. Yet, there is something great about the repetitive, gritty work that we do to raise our children.

Lakewood Vineyards“This tastes like a Meursault,” my friend said with a tone of delightful surprise as we sat between the vineyards and Seneca Lake having dinner with some of the local winemakers including Chris Stamp, owner of Lakewood Vineyards. The Chardonnay was crisp with a subtle earthiness that made it such an elegant accompaniment to the farm to table meal.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the wines of the Finger Lakes region in New York.  My fellow bloggers and I had come here to participate in the Wine Bloggers’ Conference and to learn more about this region.  I knew I would find some good Rieslings. I expected to find some well done Cabernet Francs. But the Lakewood Vineyards Chardonnay was an elegant surprise as was the Lakewood Vineyards Pinot Noir with its bright berry aromas, structured acidity and soft tannins. If the wines could speak, I would expect them to speak with a French accent. But they weren’t French. These were New York, no, Finger Lakes wines, born from the vineyard right behind me.Lakewood Vineyards2

The Stamp family has been growing grapes on the Lakewood farm since the early 1950’s. Chris Stamp has been making wine since 1983. Now, his two children, Ben and Abby have joined the family business as wine makers.

Lakewood Vineyards Stamp WinemakersHis son, Ben Stamp loves making wine. He enjoys all aspects of the business from the tastings to the entertaining to the chemistry of it. But what he loves most is the wine-making itself including, and maybe especially the gritty aspects of the process like scraping the sorter and punching down the must. He likes doing the things that ‘make my hands stained and cracked because that’s when I feel most connected with the wine.’ He makes a powerful point.  With any job, whether it’s child-rearing or wine-making, we may approach it initially with a romanticized idea of what the job entails.  But it is in the grit of the work that we find the real reward. To create a great product, one has to dig in and do the hard work. And if that drudgery can be embraced and give one a greater sense of connection, all the better.


Lakewood Vineyards is located at 4024 State Route 14 in Watkins Glen, NY on Seneca Lake.

The tasting room is open from 10am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 pm on Sunday.