Tuesday, December 1, 2009

LWF&D on the PA wine trails, part II: Saturday wine tasting

After our filling and fortifying Glasbern breakfast, it was time for AV and I to begin the real work of the weekend: wine tasting. The PA Wine Association had prepared a wine-tasting itinerary for us, with 7 wineries to hit in the two days we had on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail. Four wineries on the first day? We could handle it.

Our first stop, at the bright and early hour of 11AM on Saturday, was Blue Mountain Vineyards. It was a beautiful location with a lake fronting the enormous tasting room. We wandered in and first sampled their featured pairing of the day, 2009 Nouveau with turkey soup. AV raved about the soup, but unfortunately the Nouveau was a bit thin and watery for me.

Tasting room on left; lake on right

Bright and airy tasting room

Our first sip and bite

We headed back to the bar and began tasting in earnest, curated by one of the winemakers, who provided commentary and information on the winemaking process. From Riesling to Merlot to Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, we tasted it all. Our favorite was the "Victoria's Passion," a semi-sweet wine with a note of raspberry, which we tasted with semi-sweet chocolate (just like a fruit-flavored bonbon. Yum.) We picked up a bottle of this delightful treat to go, bid goodbye to the winery's enormous dog Shiraz, and set out back on the road for our second stop.

Our next stop was Pinnacle Ridge. This tiny tasting room was hopping with activity when we arrived, but AV managed to snag a plate of little nibbles to munch as an accompaniment to their Chambourcins. AV approved of the food, particularly a garlic honey mustard spread, while I really enjoyed my taste of their Chambourcin rose.

The entryway, in a barn-like building

Tiny pairing hors d'oeuvres

Once we made our way to the tasting bar, we were in for a treat. Overall, I thought Pinnacle's were the best wines we had on our journey, especially the lightly sweet Riesling and their 2008 Cayuga. My palate also got an education in wine tasting terms: when the man behind the bar described their Traminette as "floral," I wondered what that could possibly mean, until I took a sip and found out that "floral" means "like taking a swig of perfume." Not my favorite, but certainly interesting. It's also worth noting that Pinnacle's palate-cleanser crackers (little bland crackers provided by at most of the tasting rooms for the purposes of cleansing one's palate between wines) were by far and away the best of our trip-- like tiny little puffed animal crackers. You know, for what it's worth.

The tasting bar, with wine barrels beyond

Some of the bottles on offer

Unfortunately, our next stop was not quite as successful. The tasting room at Clover Hill Winery was beautiful-- huge and sunlit, situated next to a gentle hill covered in vines. The place had a full retail store selling a wide variety of products, from wines to wine-themed tchochkes, as well as a function room, kitchen, etc. This was clearly a sophisticated operation.

The exterior of the massive building

The vines

Inside the tasting room

The view of the tasting bar

Some of the glassware on sale

The view of the vines from inside

That sophistication attracted quite a crowd, much of which was clustered around the tasting bar. After AV nabbed a meatball, on offer as part of the featured tasting, he and I sidled up and spent a good five or ten minutes trying to catch the eye of the harried and slightly annoyed-seeming employees. Once we finally did nab one, a woman who clearly didn't have-- how should I say it?-- zest for her job, I tasted two wines before I gave up. Both the vidal blanc and cayuga white were cloyingly sweet, despite being listed as "off-dry" and "semi-sweet" respectively. And with a five-minute wait or so between tastes as the bartender disappeared to attend to other customers, AV and I threw in the towel and headed out.

Our final stop that afternoon was Vynecrest. The tasting room was a barn-like building situated amongst acres of vines, and as we pushed our way in, we were once again confronted by a huge crowd. Suffering a bit from wine fatigue at this point, we nonetheless doggedly made our way to the tasting bar, where an incredibly friendly bartender poured a variety of tastes. Their Vynecrest White tasted just like a mouthful of fresh Concord grapes, while the Autumn Gold was a syrupy sweet libation. Finally, the bartender poured us a taste of Cherry DiVyne, which, with the delightful addition of a bite of chocolate, tasted remarkably like a cherry cordial.

The Vynecrest "vynes"

The Vynecrest barn

The Vynecrest wines

And with that dessert-like finish, we were done with wine for the day (well, until dinner, that is). But it was still early in the afternoon-- and with dinner not until 7:30, how are two crazy kids in the Lehigh Valley supposed to pass the time? By gambling, of course. So AV and I set out east towards the fabled new Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. We got lost approximately a billion times, but right when we were about to ask a third and final person for directions, we found ourselves right in front of the hulking building, which blended in with the industrial decor.

In the glass elevator, the industrial signage outside

AV wanted to give me a whirlwind tour of the fun table games (craps, anyone?), so we parked the car and headed inside. As with pretty much every casino I've ever been in, the scene inside was bleak-- despite the suave decor and flashing lights and blinging noises, it was essentially a large, smokey room filled with sad-looking people who were gambling at 3 in the afternoon on a beautiful Saturday. Nonetheless, we pressed on, looking for the tables. And you know what? They don't have tables. Well, sort of-- they have "video" tables, like video poker but for multiple people. Disappointed, we played the one-cent slots for about 5 minutes, and then AV grabbed a spot at the $5 poker table. About 45 seconds later, he had won $20. We did not pass go and headed driectly to the cash-out windows, where I made a mild gambling-addiction joke that was quite poorly received by the worker behind the window, grabbed the $20, and ran. To the car. And then drove.

Across an indoor pond, to the money-sucking machines beyond

And there you have it-- our first full-day adventure on the Lehigh Valley wine trails. But there was more to come, don't worry. Stay tuned for a full report on day 2...

1 comment:

Steve said...

Sounds pretty awesome. My wife and I got married in Sonoma. I bet she'd love this. Sounds like a good anniversary trip.