I always keep lemons and limes on hand in my kitchen. I believe them to be better seasonings for food than even salt and pepper. Just a few drops of good citrus can really torque up the taste of any dish. Vegetable medleys, salsas, guacamole, salad dressings, cheese fondues, grilled fish...you name it. A squeeze of the good stuff is like magic juice to food flavors.
It’s all about acidity. We taste acidity on the sides of our tongue, and it makes our mouth water, which allows us to better detect flavor in our food. Acidity is also a key ingredient in the wines that we drink. Some wines have more than others. You will probably never see a wine market itself as “high in acid,” since that does not evoke images of haute cuisine. But you will see acidity described using words such as crisp, clean, bracing, bright, tart, tangy, mouthwatering, and refreshing. It’s hard to even say those words without drooling...
Acidity comes naturally from the grape, and it tends to show itself quite well in cool climate wines. Since the grapes don’t reach the higher ripeness levels that those in hot climates are privy to, the lower sugars result in lower alcohol wines with a delightful tartness. This translates to awesome versatility at the dining table.
In the grand scheme of things, the Finger Lakes region has earned a spot amongst the most important cool climate wine producing areas of the world. Sommeliers and wine professionals everywhere are touting the prowess of our wines at the table, and more and more restaurants are making room for New York wines on their list. Riesling has become a standout, as have other crisp whites like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Muscat. Add to that a growing list of dry rosés, and balanced reds like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and you’ve got a pretty nice food-friendly package.
Enter the Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes, an annual event that celebrates our “cool climate-ness.” This year’s event will take place on August 21st and 22nd in Geneva, New York. It is a collaborative effort between the Geneva Growth and the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, with support from the New York Wine and Culinary Center, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the city of Geneva. Attendees include grape growers, winemakers, industry professionals, international experts, and wine enthusiasts from everywhere. The Symposium is all about
celebrating the excellence of winemaking in the Finger Lakes, and much of it centers on food and wine pairing. Tickets to this year’s event will be sold à la carte, so you can choose between the Grand Tasting, Opening Session, Seminars, Winemaker’s Luncheon, or the Red, White, and Blues street fête—or you can choose them all (www.winesymposiumfingerlakes.com) with The Big Ticket, for a 10% discount.
I attended this amazing gathering last year, and the seminars included a structured tasting on the principles behind food and wine pairing, followed by breakout seminars on cool- climate white, red, and sparkling wines. I have never been to such a “delicious” symposium!
Highlights included a luncheon of dishes prepared by Finger Lakes chefs paired with some of the region’s signature wines. In every pairing, it was that key element of acidity in the wine that brought each course to new heights.
A salmon-and chèvre-filled arancini was divine alongside a Knapp winery Dry Riesling 2013 (Cayuga Lake). With the wine, you could taste every herb and spice ingredient in the dish. And the food toned down the tartness of the wine to reveal the ripe fruit flavors of apple and peach. It was a total win-win.
A Cabernet-braised brisket with mushroom mocha demi and a black cherry beurre blanc was matched with a Chateau Lafayette Reneau Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Seneca Lake). That cool climate wine had enough tartness to highlight every ingredient of the dish, without overwhelming the more delicate flavors. In turn, the texture of the food erased the wine’s acidity to reveal a rich and complex red underneath.
Cool climate really kicked into high gear when a delightful finale of tea-stewed stone fruits with a lemon thyme tuille and some local Lively Run goat cheese was served with a Billsboro Winery Cabernet Franc 2012 (Seneca Lake). A dry red with dessert? Oh yeah, baby. It was an explosion of fruit on the palate, as one of our most worshipped reds wowed the crowd with its versatility. The lemon and goat cheese acidity of the dish was just enough to balance that of the wine, and the slight bitterness of the tea easily tamed the dry tannins. It was best described as “a party in the mouth!”
Wine can truly be considered a condiment of sorts. It is something that we enjoy alongside our meals that can greatly enhance our culinary experience, blessed as it is with the ability to make what we eat taste better. And that is why I stock plenty of Finger Lakes wines alongside the lemons and limes in my pantry!
An additional part of each year’s Symposium is the Finger Lakes AVA Riesling Challenge. Riesling wines from all over the Finger Lakes are entered and judged blind by the winemakers alone. This competition is held a few months before the actual Symposium takes place. This year’s 2015 winners were just announced! “Best of Class” awards went to: Wagner Vineyards Dry Riesling 2013, Chateau Lafayette Reneau Dry Riesling 2014, Wagner Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling 2012, Sheldrake Point Winery Luckystone Riesling 2014, and Sheldrake Point Winery Wild Ferment Riesling Ice Wine 2014. For all of the Gold Medal winners, you can visit http://winesymposiumfingerlakes.com/riesling-challenge/competition-winners/. A Big Cheers to Cool Climate!