Three Ringers for Trying Local Wines

Bully Hill Vineyards’ unique labels help them stand out at retail locations. Photo by Sean King

First of all, let me just say that I am not a wine expert. I can’t tell you about mouth feel, subtle citrus and pear notes, the mid palate experience or an oaky finish. However, I can tell you about the experience of wine tasting as a refreshing adventure that combines savoring scenery, parleying with pourers and finding new flavors.

Sampling wines at various vineyards is an exciting endeavor, and there is no shortage of wineries to explore no matter which Finger Lake you’re on. All you have to do is start driving and you’re bound to see signs.

Most places will charge a nominal fee to taste a small selection of their wines (usually about five or six varieties). Some will have preselected groupings, but most allow you to pick from a menu. Some even have souvenir glasses with the winery name etched on the side.

There are a few places that make wine tasting a real experience and should not be missed if you’re in the following areas. These are my personal favorites. If you do go to them, be sure to stop at some other wineries along the way so you can enjoy the differences in surroundings and flavors.

Bully Hill Vineyards
8843 Greyton H. Taylor
Memorial Drive,

Bully Hill is perched on a hill along the west side of Keuka Lake. In addition to the wine shop and tasting room, there is also a restaurant and gift shop. Free tours are given every hour and take the visitor from the grapes in the vineyard to the pressing deck to the fermentation room. You’ll learn some of the ins and outs of winemaking (What makes one wine white and another red?), plus hear some anecdotes regarding Bully Hill’s rich history (What did a judge make them cross out on all their wine labels?).

The tour finishes in the tasting room, which is a production unlike any other. At most other wineries the pourers wait on you and your party separately, but at Bully Hill whoever is bellied up to the tasting bar tries the same wines at the same time. The five wines are preselected so there’s no pencil-in-hand vacillating before each pour. As you try the wines, the pourers will put you at ease by proclaiming that a “good” wine is simply whatever one you like. There’s no pretension or snobbery here. Enjoy yourself and enjoy your wines. You’ll listen to jokes and even get a few recipes from the workers as you drink. It’s just $2 to try five wines or $5 if you want to keep the Bully Hill souvenir glass.

The sense of fun is continued as you explore the bottles in the wine shop. The labels’ cartoonish quality makes them stand out and echoes the laid-back experience the vineyard offers. They are also very reasonably priced, which makes it quite tempting to stock up when you go!

Three Brothers Wineries and Estates
623 Lerch Road, Geneva

This place is a must-stop for wine tasting with a twist. The property boasts three tasting rooms, each with a different theme. There’s also a brewery, so be prepared to spend a good chunk of time here. Purchase a passport for $8 if you plan to visit all four tasting spots; if not, you can pay $2.50 in the individual rooms.

The main building, serving up the Stony Lonesome Estates label of wines, is a good place to start your visit. If you’re a serious wine connoisseur or prefer dryer wines, this is your spot. You’ll find Chardonney, Gewertztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Even the decor reflects the traditional feel; leather club furniture faces a stone fireplace. Opposite the tasting area is a cafe and cheese bar where you can take a break.

When you’re done trying the traditional wines, step across the driveway to Passion Feet Vineyard and Wine Barn. This place focuses on sweeter wines with romantic-sounding names, including “Barefoot Lovers,” “Heart Pounding Crush,” and “Flirtation.” The residual sugar values range from 3.5 to 5 percent, so if your palate prefers sweet, you’ll be happy here. Check out the selection of chocolates to pair with these romantic wines.

If you’re up for a more down-and-dirty experience, stroll through the wooded path to Rogue’s Hollow –­ the wine version of a biker bar. If this is your third stop at Three Brothers, then you’ve probably lost some of your inhibitions and are ready to try some of their racy labels like “Well Hung,” “Stoned and Lonesome” and “Skirt Lifter.” Outside the door, you can enjoy lunch from the outdoor grill as you sit by the pond and listen to live music. Want a souvenir? There are plenty of
t-shirts, caps and other items within.

You can wind up your tour at War Horse Brewing Company, located in the Passion Feet building. Here you can try ales like Riesling Ale, East Coast Amber Ale or even the Iron Fireman Root Beer. If you find one you love, fill up a growler.

New York Wine and Culinary Center
800 South Main Street, Canandaigua

This place is the epicenter of all things wine and food in New York State. If you’re coming for dinner, stop into the wine-tasting room first.

In this luxuriously decorated room, which also has gift items and wines for sale, you can choose a “flight” (a group of several beverages) to try. Flights include reds, whites, dessert wines, and even beers or juices. Each flight is priced differently, or you could just taste one item, but what fun is that?

What’s different about this experience is the presentation. Once you decide on your flight, the server puts a paper place mat in front of you that has several circles on it with writing next to each. On each circle, she sets a goblet which holds a sample of wine. The writing next to the circles are names of each of the wines you’ll be trying, so if you like the one in the middle, you don’t have to rely on your memory to be sure you take the right bottle home.

The reason they put the wine into separate glasses for tasting (most places don’t) is so that one shot of wine won’t be contaminated by the previous sample or even diluted by rinse water. And it’s just plain fun to begin your flight with five or six sparkling glasses ready for you to indulge in.

As long as you’re at the NYWCC, you might as well take a cooking class, try a food-and-drink pairing session, shop the gift shop, examine the displays or eat something delicious for dinner. But start with the wine tasting. It’s unlike any other you’ll try.

by Kari Anderson Pink

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