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Heron Hill Wine Tasting Review 

There’s a select group of wineries in the Finger Lakes that you really can’t miss if you want to make the most of your Keuka Lake vacation rental. In my opinion, that’s Dr. Konstantin Frank (of course), Rooster Hill (on the east side of the lake) and Heron Hill.

Heron Hill doesn’t just make great wine, it’s got a great location. As soon as you drive up the rows of vineyard to the Tuscany-inspired cellar, you can tell they’re certainly a big name in Finger Lakes wine production.

They’ve got a stunning view of the lake just beyond a sloping vineyard, an outdoor space just for weddings and private parties, and a spacious tasting room with wide windows capturing the most picturesque parts of the landscape. I mean, WOW. The pictures don’t do it justice. The countertops are also zinc, which to me just looks cool but to my mom this is actually a very exciting part of the whole experience. If you like custom zinc countertops, this is the place to be for sure.

As with any wine tour, I recommend you go in the off season. The last time I went, it was mid-January and we were the only ones in the tasting room. While you might not like being the only ones there, this is great for several reasons.

One, if your sommelier (that’s the person that pours your wine) is really on their game, they’ll tell you a lot about the wines you’re tasting and what makes the winery special. You may like this, you may not. Personally, I feel smarter every time I leave a tasting.

Two, if you’re going with a group of five or more people, it’s nice to have more space because you’re not stepping on anyone else’s toes and the sommelier can attend to your needs quickly and personally. Want to switch out one of your tasting selections for something else? No problem. But you wouldn’t be able to if there’s five or six other big groups vying for a spot at the tasting counter.

I’ve been to Heron Hill probably three times with friends or family, and the sommeliers have all been very friendly and perceptive to what we’re looking for.

Most recently, our sommelier’s name was Nikki, who’s not trained in viticulture but was nevertheless knowledgeable about the wines and could tell us about how the growing season had affected the taste and whatnot. I personally love asking questions about how the wine gets its flavor, so I love when I can tell the sommelier isn’t just making up things to say about each tasting.

She also had some insights into the limitations of Finger Lakes winemaking. For example, she explained that the Finger Lakes will never be able to produce a Merlot that competes with the quality of a Californian or European bottle due to the colder climate. Sad, but a fact of Finger Lakes life.

Our Tastings 

I tried the ­­­2016 Reserve Gruner Veltliner first, which is a dryer white wine with a lemon and citrus taste. I believe Nikki said their winetaster tasted apricot notes in it, which I couldn’t detect. It’s light and had that citrus taste to it. For an expert taster’s description of all these wines, you can read a review of them at www.winemag.com. As I read later, a Gruner Veltliner tends to have flavors of green pepper and lime and is an exciting alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc (http://winefolly.com/review/gruner-veltliner-wine-taste-to-food-pairing/). If the grapes are riper, the wine may have an orange or apricot taste rather than lime, however, in the Finger Lakes due to the shorter growing season, it’s seems likely you may only taste the lime.

Next, I tried the 2016 Reserve Gewürztraminer, which is also a dry white wine that typically has aromatic and floral aromas and flavors. Given that it’s a reserve, it could have flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and smoke. None of which I tasted, but delicious nonetheless. I thought it smelled and tasted very lightly fruity without being sweet, which I’m sure an expert would interpret as “floral”. We ended up walking out with a bottle of it (thanks Dad).

For the reds, I first tried the 2015 Blaufränkisch Reserve. A Blaufränkisch is another name for Lemberger, which is what I prefer to call it because lowercase a’s with dots on top are annoying to type (c’mon Heron Hill). This wine is described as having an aroma of blackberry and a taste of black currants. I’ve never had a black currant, but I would agree that it had a rich dark fruit taste. These grapes can also have a spicy flavor, which I love in red wine, so it makes sense that I like Lembergers. 

Next was the 2015 Merlot Reserve. It’s described as a cool-climate Merlot with “plum and vanilla notes”. I could not taste even a hint of plum or vanilla, but I really liked it which surprised me as I usually don’t like Merlots. At $50 a bottle, it’s fun to try but not to buy, and my Dad assured me you could probably find a comparable taste for $20 less.

Last was the Gamebird Red, which is described as semi-dry with notes of ripe cherry and blackberry, but I felt was very sweet, perhaps because the Merlot preceded it in the tasting. Note to self: eat more crackers in between next time. It was fruity and rich, and (if I remember correctly), Nikki explained that that’s typical of an Italian table wine because it’s richness compliments Italian food. It’s very reasonably priced at $11 a bottle and very easy to drink.

Overall, the tasting was fun, we had some great conversation, and we learned a lot.

Image source: Photo courtesy of Jean Trimbach (Wikipedia commons)