Saturday, October 31, 2009

Anatomy of a Wine Tasting Disaster

FINGER LAKES REPORT – As we continued on in our wine tasting travels on the west side of Seneca Lake, the afternoon was winding down. This is bad news for wine tasters, because Finger Lakes wineries typically end their tastings at 5 p.m.

We were running out of time and knew we wouldn’t reach some of our planned destinations at the south end of the lake. However, as luck would have it, 2009_1004fingerlks20030we were very close to the Shaw Vineyard tasting room. I thought this would be a great opportunity. I had tried a Shaw Pinot Noir with my meal at the Village Tavern the day before as a flight of Pinots. It was great. Shaw has a reputation for hand crafting some wonderful Pinot Noirs.

Little did I know what was in store.

We rolled in to the gravel parking lot and walked inside the very unassuming and small tasting room. Really. it was more like a storage shed. However, I thought, this could be very cool – being right in the midst of a small production wine operation. Wine barrels were all around and there could be a very interesting story here.

How wrong I was.

There are three components to a great wine tasting: 1. Great locale/facility, 2. Great staff, and 3. Great wines. The location wasn’t much, but perhaps the staff would change first impressions. Uhh… no.
Our server very quickly volunteered that he didn’t know much about wine. He then said he went “to a wine tasting once and didn't like it.” Hmmm. A great way to warm up the crowd (which was only the four of us). We continued the banter to be friendly. He next offered up that this was his first day on the job and it became obvious that he had no knowledge about Shaw wines.

This was apparently going to be our last tasting of the day – it was almost five – so we overcame our impulse to rush out the door. We paid the $3 fee and planned on enjoying some nice tastes. This led to one of the crazier parts of the tasting. I asked to try the Gewürztraminer, and the server asked me to show him which bottle it was! He was standing behind the bottles and apparently couldn’t be bothered to turn the bottle around to read the label.

It was a long day of tasting, so Green Dragon and I had been sharing tastings at some of the last wineries (somebody’s got to be able to drive). At most wineries, you get a 2 ounce tasting portion. Most will gladly pour you another taste of your favorite, because you’ll probably buy a bottle.

Our host again was full of surprises. The tasting was so miniscule that I probably inhaled more than I was able to swallow. If it was 1/2 ounce, I would be shocked. I’d like to be able to describe the layers of flavors to you – but the amount was insufficient.

This was just a disappointing experience and if repeated with other customers could really dampen the winery’s reputation.

 I tasted four wines. The Gewürztraminer was not as spicy as I like. The Dry Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc I rated as OK. I was looking forward to the  Keuka Hill Reserve. I was only able to rate this as OK, because I didn’t have enough of a sample to be able to tell.

Hopefully this was just an off day (way off) because Shaw produces some nice wines. Steve Shaw has been growing grapes for the finest wineries in the Finger Lakes for more than 25 years. He has an artisan winemaking approach and all wine is cellar aged.
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