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A Taste For Learning (part two)

September 17, 2015

There are some posts that are destined to go unread. And that’s okay. It doesn’t stop me from writing them. For a while I wrote a weekly wine post. Nobody read those. But they were fun to write, and somewhere they persist in the FLB archives.

Eventually, I decided to give it up. And that’s okay too. Maybe one day I’ll go back to writing about drinks in a more focused way.

Today, I’m going to write the gripping continuation of my weekend in tasting. The first post was a decided flop, but Burnt My Fingers asked for part two. Part of me really wanted to tell you about the Hudson Valley Food, Wine and Craft Beer Festival anyway. So his request really was just the nudge that I needed.

Because the thing about food and wine festivals is that it’s all about what you make out of them.

For the sake of full disclosure, I didn’t have to pay the $45 entrance fee to the festival. Yelp Albany was a sponsor. And since for all intents and purposes, I am the face of Yelp Albany, I was invited to attend for free. To sweeten the pot, I was able to take a bunch of Yelp Elites with me.

Have I seen bigger festivals? Sure. But I could have easily spent two days at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds tasting the beverages being poured.

My personal experience at the event was limited. First, I was there for work, so I had to keep a clear head. Second, I was there alone so moderation was the word of the day. But man, was that hard.

So my priority was to try the most promising offerings from a small handful of producers.

Stanford Steph had been singing the praises of Keuka Spring Vineyards for a long, long time. So this was my best chance to try a bunch of the winery’s line. That included their Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Vignoles, Dry Rose, Miller’s Cove Red and Epic Reserve. Perhaps due to my low expectations for their wines made of French varietals, I was pleasantly surprised by the juiciness of the fruit from such a cold growing region.

While I was at the booth, I met another festival goer who was doing something quite interesting. He was working the exhibit hall, going booth to booth sampling just their Chardonnay. It was helpful that he had a California Chardonnay that he was using as a benchmark wine. Simi.

His was a great strategy. I kind of hoped that I might be able to replicate it myself. But I was interested in a much less popular varietal, Baco Noir. It’s more of a regional grape. It’s what grows well along the Hudson Valley. Hudson-Chatham grows and vinifies it, and I got to try their latest vintage. It had that tart cranberry note that I remembered from the past which makes it a nice counterpoint for the fattiness of roasted chicken thighs.

It would probably be easier to go around and sample all the Dry Rieslings or Gewurztraminers.

Instead, I found some interesting producers, like Helderberg Meadworks. Finally, I was able to try their heritage mead and their feral bottling, produced with wild yeast. It was a lot of fun to see the difference yeast can make in an identical product. And I liked the wild one better, because it had more complexity. Although I could see the case to be made for the cleaner flavors of the mead made with cultivated wine yeast.

There was also a hot mulled wine which comes bottled fully prepared. All you have to do is heat it up. Hetta Glögg was quite popular in the tasting hall.

I also gave myself a small maple syrup tasting from Crown Maple, putting the “Dark Color & Robust Taste” (formerly Grade A Dark Amber) against their Bourbon Barrel aged syrup that spends time in Widow Jane whiskey barrels. That bourbon syrup was delicious, but my heart still belongs to what was the Grade B which is now “Very Dark Color & Strong Taste.”

By the by, Trader Joe’s is now selling Crown’s version of this super dark and intensely flavorful syrup.

But I missed out on all of the spirits being sampled. That was a bummer, because Dutch’s Spirits, which is better known for its bitters, brought their Sugar Wash Moonshine. I would have loved to try it. Harvest Spirits was there with its full line of spirits. So was Hillrock Estate, and it’s always hard to turn down a taste of their excellent product. I’m not that familiar with Still the One Distillery and its line or Hudson Valley Distillers, who were also in attendance. Those would have been fun to taste, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

The beer tent could have been two days in and of itself. Well, maybe not for a professional. But I really do want to taste everything. It’s crazy, I know. There really just isn’t time, so one has to prioritize.

I tried sips of Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA, Stone Brewing Co’s IPA, Sixpoint Brewery’s Resin Double IPA, and Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA to name a few. They were all new to me, but drinking these in short succession and in a crowded tasting environment really wasn’t the best way to learn about these beers.

Thankfully, someone grabbed me by the arm and forced me to try a lavender infused hard cider from Awestruck, and that was pretty banging. I’m a sucker for lavender, and this had great purity of flavor with a sweetness that was kept in check by three varieties of hops. It was good stuff, and one of the more memorable taste experiences of the day.

That doesn’t even include the inspiring cooking demonstrations or any of the food vendors. Plus, there were crafts. There was music. You could even buy cigars.

By far, this is a less stuffy affair than the Saratoga Food Festival which is always on the same weekend. But the food is better in Saratoga Springs, and included in the significantly more expensive ticket price. Of course, the lines for those food booths are ridiculous.

Really, I wish I could do both. But if I do return to Rhinebeck, I’ll do so with a better plan and a designated driver. Because there’s just too much to taste, and there’s no way to taste even a fraction of it without getting a little tipsy.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2015 9:24 am

    Thanks for posting! You certainly got a lot more out of the festival than I did, though I did try a few of the distilleries with my own version of that single-variety horizontal sampling. I chose single malts and was unimpressed except for the Still The One, which I like less well now that I got it home.

    I have to admit I was put off by what seemed to be the marketing strategy of most of the vintners to sell very large quantities of cheap wine and of festival goers to get as hammered as fast as possible. (I heard one girl of maybe 18 telling her friend, “I’m not sure if I’m more drunk this year or last year”. It was about 1 pm.) I’m sure Keuka Springs was not in that group and I wish I’d known to look for them.

  2. Jack C. permalink
    September 17, 2015 9:28 am

    We spent some time on Keuka Lake earlier this summer. Of the wineries out there, Keuka Spring was middling-to-solid. If you ever get a chance to try the Gently Dry Vignoles, do it. It’ll knock your socks off. Their Leon Millot is also very good. I also liked a lot of the Rkatsitelis I had out there.

  3. September 17, 2015 9:38 am

    I love Helderberg Meadworks! thanks for reminding me now that its seasonally appropriate to pick some up. I’m also a really big fan of Hudson-Chatham and everything they’ve got going on.

  4. Stanford Steph permalink
    September 21, 2015 2:54 pm

    Very glad you got to taste the Keuka Spring selections. Now when will you get west to the tasting room?

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