Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tips for Wine Tasting in the Finger Lakes


After a more snowy and bitter cold winter than the Finger lakes has experienced in quite some time, Spring is finally in the air around the Lakes and it is time to take a trip to this beautiful wine oasis called the Finger Lakes. Traveling to visit a new area is always a little stressful because you want to see as much as possible in the time you have allotted. From my house overlooking Seneca Lake, there are now over 80 wineries on Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka Lakes that I can visit within a 30 minute drive of my house. But with that many wineries, wine visitors for the weekend or even for a week have to make some choices.  Here are my tips for making your visit to the Fingers Lakes less stressful:

1. Try to plan at least one weekday into your trip. The wineries can be crowded on the weekends, especially during wine trail events, fall foliage and the holiday season from October to December. However, if you visit the wineries on a week day, the wineries are a lot less crowded.

2. Plan which wineries or which lakes that you want to visit. There are more than 80 wineries on Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka Lakes. There are around 50 on Seneca, and around 15-20 each on Keuka and Cayuga, plus there are now a good number of breweries and distilleries on those 3 lakes. It is impossible to visit them all on just a weekend or even a week. In my experience, a reasonable goal is 4 or 5 wineries maximum per day. After that, your palate starts to weaken and you may end up buying wine, that when you open it up when you get home, you question why you bought it. If you know what your taste in wine is, I would suggest researching the wineries and the wines they offer by going to their websites. The Finger Lakes Wine Country website has a good winery directory with website links. This way, you can eliminate the wineries that do not have wines that appeal to you and get more information on the wineries that interest you. Or you can email me with your wine taste preferences and I can suggest wineries that I feel would match your palate. To email me, just fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

Once you figure out which wineries you would like to visit, then start researching hotels and other accomodations. Knowing which wineries you want to see before you book a hotel will help you better locate a lodging choice that will be in the same vicinity of your preferred wineries and save you travel time. One of the best things about the Finger Lakes is that it is not overdeveloped with chain hotels, restaurants, etc, but the downside of that is that lodging choices, especially low-priced lodging choices can be limited. For this reason, it is best to research and book your lodging well in advance of your trip.

3. Once you have narrowed down your winery visit list, plan your route. Finger Lakes Wine  website has some good maps of the wineries on each lake. The roads in the area are very good, but if you have never driven in this area before, you will definitely want a good map because it is a rural area and it is easy to take a wrong turn. But the area is very safe and the people are very friendly and will point you in the right direction if you ask. The lakes are within a 20-30 minute drive of each other, so if you want to choose a few wineries on one lake and a few on another, it is reasonably easy to do. Keep in mind that most of the wineries are open from approximately 11am to 5pm, but some open earlier and some stay open later, so schedule your time accordingly. Also, since there are not a lot of restaurants along parts of some of the wine trails, plan where and when you want to stop for lunch. Most wineries have a nice picnic area where you can sit and enjoy your own picnic lunch that you packed.

As far as driving yourself as you taste wines, please use good judgement. Most of the wineries offer 5 to 8 tastings resulting in perhaps up to a glass of wine being consumed at each stop. Take water with you to hydrate and take a meal break at some point and don't overindulge and you should be fine. The police in the area do not target winery visitors, but if you are driving erratically, you will be stopped. If you want someone else to do the driving so that you can taste wine safely and enjoy the trip without the hassles of driving, there are many good tour operators in the area, such as those listed here.

If you have a group of more than 6 persons, it may be wise to check with the wineries that you intend to visit and see if they require reservations for groups.

4. Allot at least 30 minutes at each winery for tastings; more than that if the winery has additional features to see, such as gift shops, entertainment, etc. Some tastings are still free at a few wineries, but most of the wineries now charge two to five dollars for 5 to 8 tastings; sometimes an additional dollar or two to taste their premium wines, so bring along some cash for tasting fees. And bring your credit card to buy the wine that you like, as well as all those neat gifts that the wineries have for sale.

5. Please be polite and respectful to your fellow wine tasters, especially when the wineries are crowded. The wineries are used to serving large crowds and they will serve you as quickly as possible. A little bit of patience goes a long way. Besides, what could be better- you are in a winery, tasting wine with other wine lovers. And wine people are some of the friendliest people around. You are sure to make some friends as you see the same people traveling from winery to winery on your wine tasting day.

6. Dress for the weather. The Finger Lakes can be very cool in spring and fall, very hot in mid-summer, and downright brutal in winter. There is almost always a breeze blowing off the lakes, which can make it feel even cooler if it's a cool day, so it is wise to take a jacket with you in spring and fall. You will be standing a lot at wine tasting bars & walking a lot from the car to the wineries so wear comfortable shoes.

7. Ask questions about the wines that are being served. The winery staffs are very knowledgable and ready to answer any questions. Take good notes about the wines, so that you can remember what you like and don't like. A lot of people like to taste on one day and then go back around and buy based on their tasting notes on another day. Bring your camera. The wineries and tasting rooms are beautiful and the views around the lakes are spectacular.

8. Take a look through the Archives here at Finger Lakes Weekend Wino. There are posts on things to do and see in the Finger Lakes. Have Fun on your trip to The Finger Lakes. If you would like an experienced Finger Lakes tour guide to guide you, I am available to guide visitors to the area.  If you are in need of a guide or have any questions about the Finger Lakes, please send me a comment at the bottom of the post.

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