Postcard From the Finger Lakes
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Our first stop along Seneca Lake was Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars -- an elegant structure aligned on a hillside so that the entrance is framed only by sky and water. Inside the nearly 7-year-old winery, wine bottles are decked with medals from various fairs, and press clippings adorn the walls. This is a serious winery -- with its Greek Revival style, it even feels a bit like a temple -- and there's not a single labrusca or hybrid varietal on the 11-wine list.
The winery earned a solid reputation with barrel-fermented Chardonnays, dry and semi-dry Rieslings and a Gewurztraminer so heady it was hard to pull my nose away from it. More indicative of the changes in the region, Lamoreaux features three red wines. There is a Pinot Noir, of course, but there's also a Cabernet Franc, one of the red grapes that has found favor in the Finger Lakes because it is a hardy variety that matures early and is well-suited to the cool climate. Lamoreaux also makes a bottling that blends the two with Merlot.
On to nearby Wagner Winery -- a contrast to the more sophisticated Lamoreaux. The nearly 20-year-old Wagner has a homey feel to it; this is a winery for families with children, large tour groups and parties. Picnic tables are set around a pond shaded a rich orange by groups of enormous goldfish that congregate in the shallows waiting to be fed.
Inside the rustic, octagonal winery, a nice shop opens one way on to the tasting room, while the other way winds past shiny tanks and wooden barrels into a new microbrewery building. Owner Bill Wagner decided to diversify a few years back, and Wagner Brewing Co. opened in August 1997, serving up everything from honey wheat to stout.
We arrived just in time to encounter a tour bus full of college students who crowded the tasting room, chattering noisily with each other. Fortunately the winery has other diversions right on its grounds, so we headed over to Ginny Lee's Cafe for lunch and snagged a sunny table on the balcony. I wasn't expecting much, but though the menu is small, the salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas are original, carefully prepared and paired with suggestions from Wagner's wine and beer list. My Oriental Plum Chicken sandwich, with a sweetish plum-pineapple sauce, matched ideally with the recommended glass of tropical-fruit-flavored Vignoles.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the postcard scene of vineyards framed by a lake, but we had wine to drink -- lots of it. Wagner makes roughly 30 wines, totaling about 35,000 cases per year. The estate-grown wine are all over the varietal map: the sweet native varietals Delaware and Niagara, a host of hybrids, the ubiquitous Rieslings, three Chardonnays, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wagner also offers three of the region's true treasures -- the thick, sweet ice wines, made when the grapes freeze on the vine, concentrating their sugars. These ice wines include Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Vignoles, which with its thick skin and affinity for "noble rot" can make dessert wines to rival the Rieslings.
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