Acid Trip: Wine tasting travels through New York and England

Susan Campbell-Weir
Jun 27, 2017 · 10 min read
Cornell University, Ithaca New York

No, we didn’t take acid on our vacation, but we did travel to upstate New York and England, both of which grow high acid grapes and are making high quality wines.

What is high acid wine?

The acid in wine is part of the taste profile. It’s what makes a wine taste crisp, sour or tart. Usually, acid on the tongue is balanced with sweetness and tannins in the wine. In finished wine, winemakers usually aim for a range of acid between 5.0–7.5 grams per liter for dry whites and between 4.0–5.5 grams per liter for dry reds. Wines at the high end of the range would be considered high acid wines.

If you are a fan of lemonade, it’s a great demonstration of balance in a tasty beverage. Compare lemonade to sucking on a lemon — it’s too tart and not balanced.

June 1–5, Finger Lakes, New York

The start of our vacation was the Winemaker Magazine conference at the beautiful Cornell University campus. We learned about home wine tests, oxygen levels in wine and met so many wonderful home winemakers! We even received 3 medals for our entries! But our goal on this trip was to taste wines from local regions that would be unlike the wines available to us in California.

2015 Dry Riesling — Wagner Vineyards, Finger Lakes, New York

We didn’t arrive until 9:30 PM after a long day of airplanes and a car drive from Rochester, so it was the hotel bar for us! My husband, Bill, went searching for wine while I got into my pajamas, but we turned on the TV and relaxed while sipping our first New York wine from the Finger Lakes area. Our first wine was a 2015 dry Riesling from Wagner Vineyards.

It had a tropical aroma with nice apple and melon flavors. Not sweet, but a definite aroma and mouthfeel that reminded me of sweet honeydew melon. A perfect wine after a long day.

Walking around the Cornell University campus was spectacular. On our first day, we were pleased to meet fellow winemakers, but we also enjoyed wandering the campus, observing the geological underpinnings of the amazing waterfalls surrounding Fall Creek.

From Stewart Avenue on the Cornell University campus

For dinner our first night out, we tried the Moosewood restaurant recommended by my friend Mona, who grew up in New York. She knows I’m a vegetarian, so it was a rare treat to go to a restaurant with so many choices.

2015 Chardonnay — Treleaven, Cuyuga Lake, New York

A local Chardonnay became a counterbalance to the California Chardonnays we have available at home. The 2015 Chardonnay from Treleaven was crisp and lightly oaked, but with body that could hold up to the spicy tofu wings we ordered. While perusing the menu, we laughed as we realized that Bill would only have one meat option to choose from, normally a vegetarian’s plight! The chardonnay was a wonderful partner with my Asparagus Carbonara as its full body and citrus notes was delicious with the cream sauce.

Moosewood restaurant lobby

Being so close to Cornell University, the Moosewood restaurant also takes a stand on democracy and I was amused to see a collection of protest signs decorating the foyer.

2016 Rkatsiteli — Dr Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes, New York

It was very clear that the high acid wines we were tasting were meant to be paired with food and at lunch the next day, we were not disappointed. It was a treat to be introduced to a grape I’d never tried before with the 2016 Rkatisiteli from Dr. Konstantin Frank.

According to Wikipedia, the Rkatisiteli grape originated in Georgia in Eastern Europe where seeds were found in clay vessels dating back to 3000 B.C. It seems this grape has traditionally been made into a dessert wine, but Dr. Frank uses it for a dry, crisp aromatic wine. Notably, Dr. Frank was one of the first winemakers to bring Vinifera grape varietals and successfully grow them in the Finger Lakes region.

This wine was well paired with the salmon being served for lunch (not that I ate it!). With it’s surprisingly spicy aroma and notes of pear, peach and minerality, it had a long finish with lingering mango on the palate.

Joining other winemakers on a tour of the Cayuga Lake appellation identified a clear favorite in the wines of Sheldrake Point. Not the best day to visit vineyards, the morning brought rains and worry that we would have to cut our visit short.

But fortunately, the owner of Sheldrake, Chuck Tauck gave us a personal tour and helped us understand his operation by jumping in our dry van and heading close to the vineyard. On sunny days, the view from the vineyard is amazing. And on rainy days, it’s not too shabby either.

From the van at the center of the Sheldrake Point vineyard and in the tasting room

Having enjoyed the 2016 Cabernet Franc Rosé the day before, we looked forward to tasting more of their wines. The dry rosé did not disappoint with its strawberry notes and minerality, but we were quite impressed with the Cabernet Franc as a red wine, too. We loved its blackberry and herbal notes, but it was even more amazing when paired with some strong local cheese.

2014 Cabernet Franc and 2014 Wild Ferment Riesling — Sheldrake Point, Finger Lakes, New York

Our final taste was the 2014 Wild Ferment Riesling Ice Wine, which apparently was made naturally (and never to be repeated) by forgetting a tank of Riesling and letting it wild ferment. We were struck by the orange marmalade and sweet apricot jelly flavors. We loved both the Cab Franc and the Riesling Ice Wine enough to ship some home and it was happily delivered the day after we returned.

Included in our tour was a stop at Taughannock Falls. A spectacular waterfall that claims to have a higher drop than Niagra Falls. We walked briefly with an ice cream snack while enjoying the Falls from a viewing platform above. A beautiful heart remains on the cliff where the falls have carved away the underlying shale. Visitors are prevented from approaching the falls as several rocks per day fall from the upper region.

Fun at Taughannock Falls

June 5–7, New York City

In New York City, we did not try local wines, but had two days to see the city’s important sites. We were moved by the 9/11 museum as a tribute to the fallen victims and heroes. Recalling the day with such vivid artifacts, media and stories was both honoring and saddening. It reminded me how much the world came together to grieve and to build resolve in the face of terrorism.

Ladder Company 3’s fire truck was parked next to the buildings on 9/11

As a counter to the somber feelings of the morning, we were delighted by the Broadway musical “Come From Away.” The script tells the story of a small town in Newfoundland that had an airport large enough to land many of the planes in the air rerouted from the East coast on 9/11. Residents of Garner rallied around the displaced travelers, providing shelter, food and clothes for strangers in need. The songs are funny and the choreography is amazing and well worth the ticket price.

On our final day in NYC, old friends joined us for a carriage ride in Central Park. I know it’s cheesy, but it was a beautiful day and there was no better way to enjoy it (unless we had a bottle of wine, that is!).

Jerry was not at all interested in the carrots I had to offer

June 8–14, South of England

As we moved on to my husband’s homeland, of particular note was the leisure time I had getting to know the Weir clan better. We had heard from Bill’s mum, Margy, that England had recently won some international competitions for their sparkling wines. We were eager to try some British fizz!

On our first day in Brighton, we found a little wine bar called 10 Green Bottles. The manager willingly poured us a tasting, which we took 2 hours to enjoy, even though she normally only does them with appointment. We were happy to chat with her about the wines of England and the wines from Spain and Italy we tried.

We got our first British Fizz in the form of a 2013 Classic Cuveé Brut Sparkling from Court Garden in Sussex, England. We had called Court Garden earlier in the day to see if they had an appointment for a South Downs vineyard tour, but alas, as a small family run operation, they could not accommodate us last minute. Fortunately, we imbibed their sparkler at the wine bar and found it crisp and acidic with creamy almond notes.

2013 Classic Cuveé Brut and 2015 Ditchling Red Pinot Noir — Court Garden, Sussex, England

But we really loved the 2015 Ditchling Red Pinot Noir from Court Garden. It had the high acidity we expected, but it was nicely balanced with a rich nose of red fruit and lasting cranberry and spice. Such a treat, we bought two: one for the Weir family dinner and one for the coveted location in my checked suitcase. It was delicious!

After our wine bar adventure, we spent time wandering the Brighton coastline and the Palace Pier. Gifted with another beautiful day, albeit windy, we enjoyed a “Dance, Dance Revolution” like arcade game and a ride on Galaxia, where I couldn’t stop giggling to the spins and drops!

Palace Pier in Brighton, England

Our weekend was a celebration of family as we gathered north of London in Little Kingshill for a Weir family party. On vacation, I just smiled as I listened to the family fuss about their political concerns regarding Brexit and the newly elected parliment. I say, better to drink wine than talk politics, though! Or just walk away your worries in the beatiful rolling hills.

Our morning walk

On the final day in England we booked a vineyard tour at the Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking, England. Margy was excited to go there as she had visited at the beginning of the vineyard plantings and remembered it fondly as a small estate. Since then, it has grown to be one of the largest wine producers in England. The estate has a unique terroir in a shallow of the North Downs between Box Hill and Leith Hill and is therefore protected from many of the chilling winds that plague other English vineyards.

Not quite a “train” tour with sparkling tasting and 2015 Flint Valley white blend — Denbies, Surrey, England

On the train tour we enjoyed beautiful views of the vineyard and surrounding areas, but we also enjoyed a sip of Denbie’s Whitedowns Brut Sparkling. Although not their international award winnner, we enjoyed its pleasant fruit and floral character. It was on this tour that we heard that a terrible frost in March froze much of England’s early bud breaks, a tragedy that will likely reduce English production by 50% this year. If you’re hoping to try 2017 English wines, you’ll likely need to visit England or break into your retirement fund to afford shipping!

Booking lunch at the Gallery Restaurant afforded us a final taste of high acid wine paired with food. For this, I ordered the 2015 Flint Valley. A dry white blend, but as it’s name suggests, it had a strong mineral nose with a bright acidity that was slightly sweetened by the goat’s cheese with roasted tomatoes they served for lunch. Delicious!

How to identify acid in wine?

EnoFile generates a tasting note after just a few quick selections of aromatics and taste.

Learning how to identify tastes in wine is learned over time with practice and direction from more experienced people. We took a class from UC Davis for it initially, but what has proven useful is to carefully separate the tastes with a chart or an app like what we’ve created for home winemakers. The EnoFile home winemaking app has a special screen available when you complete a batch that helps you with tasting your wine. With just a few selections of first impression and aromatics, it will generate a tasting note for you. I find the more I taste, the more I recognize the tastes, so making lots of wines and recording my impressions helps!

Trying so many new wines from different appellations was an amazing experience and really tested my ability to taste wines. Winemakers who face unpredictable elements and still create tasty, award winning wines are a tribute to their craft! All in all, it was a pretty cool acid trip!

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Thanks to Mariana Almeida

Susan Campbell-Weir

Written by

Product Management Leader/Founder, Brew Ventures, Inc.

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