Top to Bottom: The booth of Rasta Ranch Vineyards.
Me and Mr. Stringham posing for a selfie--or would
that be an usie?
One of the perks of living in Northeastern Pennsylvania is my stone’s throw proximity to the Finger Lakes wine region. Now, I’m not a wine expert. I just know what I like—and that’s wine. My husband likes to tell our friends, “My wife doesn’t have a drinking problem. She has no problem drinking.” It usually elicits the expected groans from people. They know he’s only joking. In my forty-four years, I have picked up a thing or two about tasting. For instance, I can breathe in the aroma and pick out different scents such as earthy or floral, swirl it in the glass to see if it has legs, and taste it from start to finish for different nuances of flavor. Like people, each wine has its own personality.
This past Saturday, my brother, Fred, and his girlfriend, Paralegal Jenn, received complementary tickets to the 14th Annual Wine on Ice at Elmira’s First Arena and asked my husband and me if we wanted to join them. Like they really needed to ask. The best part? My brother offered to be the designated driver. Bonus!! He prefers a chilled Lager to an oaky chardonnay. To each his own—I'm still convinced he’s adopted.
My husband and I are opposites in many ways. He’s a Republican. I’m a Democrat. He prefers watching TV. I prefer reading. He drives slowly. I drive like I’m qualifying for Le Mans. Thusly so, he likes sweet wines and I think any wine above 3% residual sugar should be classified as swill. And, before I get too hasty by making my swill comment, there are some exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, whenever we set out at Wine on Ice, we are quick to let those who are pouring at each booth know what to put into our respective complimentary event glasses. One of the drawbacks of Wine on Ice is the fact that most wineries bring a selection of sweeter wines to the event since our area has a reputation for consuming them more than dry wines. But, still, I persevere and find wineries with a few to my liking. Mr. Stringham’s favorite wine, Torrey Ridge’s Blue Sapphire, is made from concord grapes. While they have received numerous accolades over the years for this particular wine, it isn’t my cup of tea. I find it to be much too sweet. However, as I said, there are exceptions to the rule. I’m quite fond of Bully Hill’s Ravat 51 with its notes of pineapple and apricot—for sweet wine, it is ridiculously good. Just so you don’t lose total respect for me, first and foremost, I’m a dry red lover. Honestly. My favorite Finger Lakes wines are Heron Hill Winery’s Eclipse and Gamebird Red, McGregor Winery’s Black Russian Red and Highlands Red, and Chateau Lafayette Reneau Winery’s Cuvee Rogue. Seriously all lip-smacking good wines, I shit you not.
|L to R: The great wife and husband team at Apple Grove Farms. Decisions, decisions. Our wonderful pourer from Otter Creek Vineyards!!|
Wine on Ice is held at the First Arena which is home to the Elmira Jackals and set up, literally, over the ice. Get it? Wine on Ice? During this event, they put a temporary wooden floor over top of the ice—except this year. My brother informed us when we arrived that the arena had problems with the compressors that keep the ice frozen. The contractor he works for was called in to load sections of ice into dumpsters so repairs could be made. While it’s being worked on, Wine on Ice was actually Wine on Concrete. No matter the footing, the event was still great. Upon entering the complex, tasters are given their complementary glass and a mini tote bag with an event booklet that contains a list of each participating winery. Under each winery, a few lines are left blank so tasters can make notes. Booths are set up around the perimeter and then four rows are created down the middle, consisting of Finger Lakes wineries and regional specialty vendors selling various goods that pair well with or are used in serving wine. There is a theme after all.
Thirty-two wineries were set up this year and offered samples to those in attendance. You simply walk up, look at their list of offered wines, pick one, and ask to try it. Most wineries offer saltines to help cleanse your palette and pitchers of water to rinse out your glass between samples to avoid contamination. Let me just say, I realize authentic wine coinsurers sip and spit. I can’t do that. I find the act sacrilege and barbaric. The waste! Dear God, the waste!! That means I swallow. There. I said it. However, swallowing leads to consumption, consumption leads to drunkenness, drunkenness leads to photos and/or videos of you posted on social media sites by people you don’t know—or do know. (I have a great video of My Gal Friday dancing to musical guest Virgil Cain at Wine on Ice from three years ago. She was trashed and the dancing was awesome!) To avoid public drunkenness, I limit my sampling. When possible, I try to coax conversation out of those pouring. I ask them which wine is their favorite and so on. This isn’t always easy since the event draws large crowds and they don’t normally have much time to chit-chat. When I do luck out and the pourer has time, it makes my sampling decisions infinitely easier. As I find wines I like, I ask them if their products are available at our local wine shops, GCP Discount Liquor & Wines or Lighthouse Liquor & Wines. I also inquire about the location of their winery if I'm unfamiliar with it. My husband and I like to take daytrips around the Finger Lakes and a stopover at a winery is always fun. Aside from tasting rooms, many wineries offer tours, gift shops, and a few are known for their unique bistros and cafes that use locally sourced meats and produce. Let’s recap this section by introducing my rules. C.P. Stringham’s Rule #1 to Wine Tasting at Wine on Ice: Build a rapport with your pourer. C.P. Stringham’s Rule #2 to Wine Tasting at Wine on Ice: See Rule #1. Who better to guide you through the selections than the person who represents the winery? Get the inside skinny from them. I love when they talk wine lingo to me. We’ll call it Wine Porn. “This chardonnay is aged in French oak.” “Taste the hints of pepper and black cherry in this Cabernet blend.” Am I the only one hot and bothered right now?! Lordy!
|L to R: A sea of people between us and the Hazlitt Winery booth. Our goodies from Wine on Ice!!!|
Aside from wine tasting, I mentioned there are other vendors on hand at the event. As many of you know from past blog posts, I’m a total foodie and I love to cook. Some of the vendors had delectable little morsels to hand out. Apple Grove Farm's, of Mexico, New York, offered pieces of bread soaked in their fabulous Tuscany Oro Abbondanza Dipping & Cooking Oil and others in their Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette oil as well as pretzel sticks dipped in their various chicken wing sauces. My husband and I can make a meal out of bruschetta so, as soon as we tasted the Vinaigrette oil, we knew a bottle of it would be going home with us. The Abbondanza oil as well. A crusty baguette and dipping oil served with a nice pinot grigio and life is good! On top of offering great products, we truly enjoyed talking with the friendly proprietors as we discussed recipe ideas and wine pairings. We also found a one-of-a-kind treat from Bisco’s Italian Salsa that had pineapple in it. Something my husband and I agreed we would have never even thought to pair together. The salsa had the perfect combination of heat, sweetness, and tomato to it. The woman at the booth was a doll as she handed out tortilla chips and talked to us about their products—even telling us the pineapple salsa combo was concocted by a happy mistake. Whatever the reason for its conception, we’re just glad it happened.
The afternoon session ran from 1:00 till 4:00. We tasted and strolled for three and a half hours before we decided it was time to go. As it was, my palette was spent and my husband and I had other plans for the evening.
|L to R: Al, me, Mr. Stringham, Sherry, My Gal Friday at OIG.|
Shortly after wine tasting, we had dinner at Original Italian Grille which is located in Sayre, Pennsylvania. OIG, as it’s known, is our undeclared location for Al’s Midstate Market reunions. My husband, My Gal Friday, and Government Girl are all former employees of this now closed local grocery store. For many of the high school teens of my generation, Al’s offered them their first job as cashiers or stockers. Owners Al and Sherry Storer became their second parents. They required their young employees to provide exemplary customer service and to take pride in the store's appearance by keeping it clean and the shelves well-stocked. They instilled them with a strong work ethic as well as a sense of teamwork and community. Working at Al’s built important character traits as well as teaching them skills they would use in their adult lives as they each went out into the world.
Since the Storers have employed so many, it proves difficult to get everyone together. While some still live locally, others are spread out all over the country. On this particular night, our mini reunion as we’ll call it, came together last minute. My husband and I already had a dinner date with My Gal Friday so when the idea to see if Al and Sherry were available to join us came into my head, I didn’t hesitate. I was delighted when Sherry messaged me back to say they could come. We talked over dinner and long after, catching up and reminiscing. Lots of laughs were shared and some sad stories, too. As the evening ended, we promised we needed to get together again