This past weekend, Bob and I took my parents to Canandaigua for a night. Our plan was to attend a wine and food pairing class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center on Saturday, spend the night at Belhurst Castle, and return home on Sunday. That’s more or less how the weekend went, but we also threw in a bunch of other fun stuff. Always an adventure!
We drove up from Olean around 10:30 am on Saturday (after dropping all of our darling dogs off at the kennel – or camp, as we call it). We had nice, clear weather for the drive, which was a relief, since on Friday we had gotten more than a foot of snow, and it had looked like it would snow more overnight. We got to Penn-Yann, where we thought we’d have some lunch. After we got stuck in the snowy parking lot of a closed-for-the-season (some of the local boys pushed us out; nice bearded fellows in suspenders) lake-side restaurant, we decided to just strike straight for Geneva, where the castle is. We arrived far too early to check in, so we went to lunch at Eddie O’Brien’s, which was conveniently located. I had a portobello and roasted red pepper wrap, which had marinated roasted red peppers and marinated mushrooms, so it was a tad vinegary for me, but overall it was pleasing. After lunch, we went to Billsboro Winery which Bob and I remembered as having nice reds. My parents and Bob had a tasting — I was our designated driver — and my parents bought some wine. I like Billsboro Winery, because it is not stuffy or too cutesy (you can’t get a coaster embroidered with some witty saying with “wine” sneakily added in), and they host art festivals (impressive, considering how small they are).
Then we drove to the castle. We had a lot of fun at the castle, let me tell you. My parents were on the second floor in the Butler’s Suite and Bob and I stayed in the Garrett (http://www.belhurst.com/rooms-and-rates.html#location1), located on the third floor. The castle was built sometime in the 1880’s, and it was really neat. The carved stone and hand-carved wood fixtures were exquisite, and the whole place and this grand feeling. Although we arrived too early for check-in, we were given vouchers for a free wine tasting, and our bags were ferried up to our rooms. Again, my parents and Bob enjoyed the tasting, and my mom bought out the gift shop. My dad took photos of the entire castle, top to bottom, which I will endeavor to steal and post here.
After relaxing in our rooms for an hour, we freshened up and headed over to Canandaigua for the class. The ride over took about 15 minutes, which worked out very well. We arrived in time to check in to the class and head right into the room. I’ll put the photos first, and then describe what we learned in our 45 minute class (which actually ended up taking about an hour and 15 minutes).
This above photo was taken after the class – when we first walked in, all those glasses were about a quarter full.
There are some more photos later, but they don’t apply to this class.
Our class was called Winter Wine and Food Pairing, and it was taught by instructor Cheryl Pitti. She was bubbly and knowledgable. It was a nice combination for the class. The wine we had was Casa Larga CLV Chardonnay non-vintage (Finger Lakes), Glenora Meritage 2009 (Finger Lakes), and Standing Stone Gewurztraminer Ice (Finger Lakes). The first part of the class was learning more about New York State wine regions. There are five (as we well know). The way to become a region is to petition the government (which I didn’t know – most of what we learned I didn’t know). The oldest wine-growing region in North America is the Hudson Valley. Dutch settlers planted vines there around the 1650s. There are more grapes grown in the Lake Erie region than the entire rest of the state, including Niagara and Concord grapes (native vines), because that’s where Welsh gets the majority of their grapes. The Finger Lakes region is the largest region, and is best known for it’s rieslings, because the climate and soil is very similar to regions in Europe where rieslings are produced. The Long Island region is terrific for grapes because the soil is so sandy and grapes thrive in poor soil, particularly sand, shale and clay. A European vine is called a vinifera vine or grape, and grapes/vines native to North America are called native vines or grapes. Many vines grown here in America are hybrids between vinifera vines and native vines. Hybrids produce the grapes that taste right with the wherewithal to withstand our native pests.
We learned about each of the wines were were going to taste. A non-vintage (as the Chardonnay was) is not necessarily a bad or poor quality wine. It has several generations of grapes blended together in order to get a consistent profile year-over-year. Meritage is an American version of Bordeaux. Because American wines can not be named for French wine-growing regions (think, Champagne), by law, American farmers had to come up with their own name. They came up with Meritage (which rhymes with heritage), and it is a licensed name, so wineries who produce a true Meritage have paid a fee to the Meritage association in order to do so. They are a blend of between 2 to 5 varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. So any Meritage you might get would have between two and five of those grapes. Finally, the Gewurztraminer Ice. We tackled two aspects of this wine. First, Gewurztraminer produces a white wine. It is very aromatic. It can be pricey because it is difficult to grow and unpredictable when it does grow. The “Ice” portion of the name can be misleading, because to be an “ice wine” wine (bear with me) the grapes much be harvested within six hours of the first frost, at night. It’s very specific, almost cultish. An “ice” wine can be harvested any time after the first frost, say in the morning, when reasonable people are up and about. Other than that, the two are produced very similarly. Because the grapes freeze on the vine, they shrivel up, and become concentrated. Ice wine and ice wine wines are very sweet. However, a true ice wine is highly priced, whereas a regular ice is more reasonable. So there you go.
Then we did the six S’s of wine tasting.
- swallow (or spit)
Cheryl taught us to hold our wine glass up (by the stem) against our white napkin, at an angle so that you could see the middle and the edge. The middle – the core, should have the darkest color, tapering up to clear on the very edge of the tide. Certain colors can tell you certain things about the wine, including age and whether it was aged in oak (in the case of a Chardonnay, for example). It can also tell you if it’s gone bad. Generally, a brown wine is a bad wine. The white colors range from pale, almost clear, to straw, to lemon (could have tinges of green), to gold, to amber (only acceptable in an aged wine), to brown (gone bad). Darker whites have been oaked, while paler whites have probably been aged in steel. Reds range from purple, to ruby, to brick, to brown. Again, brown means it could be bad. Ice wines are generally amber. White wine should be served at 54 degrees, reds at 62 degrees, and ice wines at 45 degrees. A wine that is too cold will not have any flavor, and a wine that is too warm will be overpowering.
After looking at the wine and figuring out the color (our Chardonnay was dark yellow/lemon; our Meritage was purple with ruby highlights; our Gewurztraminer was amber), we swirled the glasses vigorously to release the lovely smells. Then we all dutifully stuck our noses in our glasses. We completed the six steps for each wine in total before beginning at step one with the next wine, by the way. The swirling did a lot to enhance the smell of the wine – it was much more clear that it had been. As Cheryl explained to us, our tongues can taste five flavors (or four, if you’re of certain generation): sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (described to us as “delicious”). Everything else that we “taste” we are actually smelling. So, if you bite into a strawberry, you’re tasting sweet, and smelling strawberry, which is how we interpret the strawberry flavor. Then she told us that one of our nostrils is always the dominant nostril, and they switch sides frequently. She had us plug one nostril and smell the wine, then the other. Throughout the course, whenever I tried this, I found it to be true, and they had switched sides before the end of the course.
Then we sipped. Before we could, she told us that we should hold the wine in our mouth and “chew” it for 5 – 10 seconds to get the wine to every part of our mouths. If we were so daring we could also open our mouths (carefully) and inhale over the wine, then exhale. This helps to get all the flavors of the wine up to the olfactory gland. Since I had actually managed to get wine on my nose during the smell portion, I wasn’t feeling this daring. I did find, however, that the chewing process made the wine open up in amazing ways. The Chardonnay that was a little tart tasting to me mellowed after a few seconds and tasted full bodied and warm. After we swallowed, we were asked to savor the taste for a few seconds, and think about how it had changed or enhanced since the first smell.
Some interesting wine facts. 90% of the wine produced (anywhere) is meant to be consumed within 5 years. It’s simply not made to hold up to long aging. 8% is made to age between 6-12 years. 2% (of all the wines in the world) can be cellared long-term. And even then, there is no guarantee of greatness. Any wine could be afflicted by cork taint. It only happens to natural cork bottles. A chemical reaction between the cork and the wine occurs (they’re not sure why, exactly), and the opened wine tastes like dank and moldy cork (which is what happens). Oxidation can also occur. These flaws occur in about 6-8% of bottles. The wine will turn brown with oxidation (you can easily see it), and apparently you just do not want to drink it. When a waiter pours you a small sip of wine, this is what you’re supposed to look for – a quick glance will tell you if it’s gone brown, and a small sip will tell you if it’s “off”. You can send back a bottle for either reason. You can also take a bottle back to a liquor store and exchange it for these reasons. If you’re at a dinner party or restaurant, you can warm up your wine, if it’s served too cold, in your hands (cupped around the glass, don’t pour it out) or your mouth (sip by sip); if it’s too warm, you can request an ice bucket to chill it for 5 or 10 minutes. You might be seen as dopey if you do, but if you’re paying for the wine, who cares?
After we had examined each wine to the best of our abilities, we were served small portions to try each wine with. We had a New York cheddar and spinach quiche, roast beef (which I obviously didn’t try), and spiced pumpkin pie. Although it’s easy to guess the traditional pairings, the goal of the class was to learn which flavor combinations tasted best to us, and try to figure out why. The goal was to make sure the wine didn’t overpower the food, but instead enhanced it. To test this, we were to take a small bite, chew, take a small sip, continue chewing, then finally swallow. Savor. Repeat with next wine. Cheryl suggested that even once you know just which wines you like best with what flavors of food, to include alternatives at dinner parties, since a poll of the class revealed that at least a couple people preferred each combination (say, Gewurztraminer Ice and roast beef).
I was happy to hear that they offer longer pairing classes (and I saw in a brochure classes where each participant has a dizzying array of glasses in front of him or her). After the class, we wandered around the building to show it off to my parents. Much to my consternation, they had replaced the agriculture display area (which explained all about agriculture in New York State) with a gift shop. They were turning the gift shop into a tasting room, and they were turning the tasting room into banquet facility. We explored the gift shop, peeked like creeps at the people taking the cooking class, and went to the tasting room, where Bob and my dad had a flight of dry reds and whites – and practiced their new-found tasting skills. After that we walked upstairs to the restaurant so my parents could see it (and saw several more ice sculptures out on the upper deck), and then headed for the exit. A few more photos:
After taking this photo, I caught the guy in the back of the room (with the white shirt) glaring at me, so I strolled off.
When we left, we headed over to the Mexican restaurant we ate at last time we were in Canandaigua. It was packed, with an hour wait, so we asked for suggestions on where else to go. The hostess suggested a German restaurant just around the block. For some reason, when she called it a German restaurant, I thought it would just be a local restaurant, with some German food, but also American. In other words, not that German. Oh. My. God. I was wrong. It was awesome. Rhineblick German Restaurant was full-on German. Go to the link and scroll down. All the waitresses had on traditional German get-ups, the restaurant was very traditionally decorated; white walls, thick dark wood beams, steins everywhere. A lot of beer available. It was great. I had salmon grilled with a butter herb glaze and pan seared potatoes. The fish was my favorite part until the potatoes, then those were my favorite part. Bob had jagerschnitzel, which is pork pounded thin, breaded, and lightly cooked in oil (that’s the schnitzel part), then covered in a brown mushroom gravy over spatzel. He loved it. My mom had something none of us could identify. She thinks it was pork (but concedes it could have been beef), which was browned then slow cooked in a pot with gravy, also served with spatzel. She very much enjoyed it. My dad had a ham hock. I am not even kidding, this thing was as big as my head. It was, admittedly, mostly bone and skin (neither of which he ate), but the meat inside the ham ankle was apparently very soft and juicy. It was served with sour kraut and mashed potatoes. The men had a very dark bock beer that they both seemed to adore. Our fraulein tried to tempt us with dessert, but honestly at that point there just would have been stomach explosions and an awful mess to clean up.
We drove back to Geneva in a very light snowfall across some high, windy ground, making the night seem very adventurous indeed. When we arrived back at the castle, we found the wine spigot on the second floor. An interesting feature of this castle – there is a complementary wine spigot on the second floor that is “on” between 11 AM and 11 PM, because they have standards (I guess). My dad and Bob both sampled the wine. My dad texted me from the second floor to tell me that it was the best wine he’d had all night. Although it wasn’t yet 11, I fell asleep quickly after we arrived back. I was just exhausted.
In the morning, I woke up relatively early and read for awhile. Once Bob started to stir, I arranged for us to meet my parents at the breakfast downstairs in about an hour. The breakfast was a nice buffet (I’m not a fan of buffets, it must be noted), with an omlette station. I was rated my hunger level somewhat higher than it actually turned out to be. We walked around the ground floor of the castle, which was mostly dining areas, but also included a ballroom and some prep areas. We ate our breakfast where the open porch used to be (now enclosed) overlooking the lake. There was also a bar, a library, and a conservatory. I would go there if I ever had to participate in a real-life game of clue. I bet there’s secret passages galore.
Some photos from my dad:
When we checked out, we headed back over the same route we had taken to get to Canandaigua the day before, and stopped at a little antiques place we had seen the day before. There, tucked between a “#2 Sales Growth Participation” medal (strangely named) and a matching watch, necklace, bracelet set that said “PIMP” in rhinestones was this little gem:
I didn’t know anything about it – including if it worked. A trip over to Lowes to pick up a 9-volt battery proved that it does work! In fact, I’ve been listening to it since getting home. Also, I didn’t know that Seiko, better known for watches, made radios. Apparently, they did until Motorola and Panasonic priced them out of the market. This particular radio is from the 60’s. It has a wrist-strap, so I imagine my future self jauntily walking down the street with my little radio dangling from my wrist, poking people’s eyes out with the 18″ antenna. Apparently the original would have come with headphones, so I’m eager to try a pair on them, and listen to NPR all day at work. The volume is minimal, but the sound is appropriately nostalgic. I’m delighted. It cost me $10. After getting home, I did a quick (then progressively longer as I couldn’t find ANY information on the radio) Internet search, and found a similar beauty (red instead of green and tall rather than wide) AM radio on ebay, which I snapped up for $10 (I’m sensing a theme here). I have no idea why there is so little information on them, but I’m guessing it’s just an obscure product. All in all, a fun weekend!