Wine & Cheese Tasting on the Lake Erie Wine Trail
The plan was set long before we arrived in Erie, PA to go wine tasting with Neil’s cousin Diane and her husband Brian. They love wine tasting (and drinking) all those local grapes and could hardly wait to take us out in their neck of the woods. When we started looking into which wineries to visit I was pretty surprised how many of the local wines we had already tried (http://wineandcheesefriday.com/wine-and-cheese-tasting-at-aunt-kathys-house/). The main driving force for this tasting trip was to go find the new local cheese shop, Reverie Creamery and Market. Once I found where they were located along the Lake Erie Wine Trail we made our winery choices. Although we had four hours, we only made it to Reverie, 21 Brix and Noble Winery. That’s how it usually goes for us ?!
Our first stop was Reverie Creamery and Market. Diane remembered this location when it was previously a book store but had not seen it as a cheese shop yet. We were graciously welcomed by the staff and were offered many tasty samples to try. I had to stop first to take a photo with the largest cheese slicer I’ve ever come across. Ok, commence cheese tasting! We worked with Jim and Riko, the cheesemaker, and learned about how they put their own personal spin on each cheesemaking recipe. They even have a product where they use herbal tea to wash the cheese. What a cool idea! I wish those cheeses weren’t sold out before we got there!
Black Garlic Chèvre
Mascarpone with strawberry
Gitane on Weck
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting so many samples, so after we tasted a few I decided it was time to start writing some notes. Our first sample was the black garlic chèvre that was made using a local black garlic. This spreadable goat cheese was so tasty and reminded me of tailgating. Up next was their award winner, Tom, a tomme style cheese. It was salty but good. I tested my knowledge of tommes and they helped me remember the process for making this type of cheese. We changed things up from cheese and crackers when we tasted the mascarpone cheese on a strawberry. The Wanderer cheese was similar to an Alpine-style cheese with a beer wash. It smelled funky, but I don’t think anyone passed up their sample. Jim suggested trying the Wanderer with carmelized onions and fig jam. After our tasting at Cheese Please, I’d agree that so many cheeses can be enhanced with all those delicious spreads! Next up was the Gitane on Weck, another tomme style cheese. It definitely tasted like rye bread with those caraway seeds inside. Just before we left, we found out there was another one we had not tried, Luna, a brie style cheese. Neil and were both surprised by how dense this soft-ripened cheese was.
They have only been around for a year and have plans to open a room for cheese pairings and other cheese related events. It’s definitely a place we’ll remember for our next trips to the Lake Erie Wine Country. They source local milks to produce about a half dozen cheeses. In addition to the many cheeses they make at that site, they carried a wide variety of worldwide cheeses. I carefully looked at the selection and after deciding that I’d love to buy one of everything, we made our choices of what to take home that day. Diane and Brian really liked what they tasted and chose 3 cheeses. Then we chose 3 more. There was even some locally roasted coffee for Neil. What a good stop!
Once we had all our cheese we were ready to find some wine! Diane and Brian were happy we were in that part of town because they knew just the place to take us, 21 Brix. Anyone who drives through Lake Erie Wine Country knows this place by the pink elephant in front. This winery is one of the newer ones in the region since it has only been around 6 years, but the vineyard has been there over 60 years. Throughout those years this 350 acre vineyard had been owned by 3 generations. Once we started tasting the wines we learned that grapes grown in a cooler climate usually produce a lighter body wine. How interesting! Another difference about grapes grown in this region is that they aren’t ready for harvest until the fall (September through November). Jay, our wine host for the day, mentioned that they are always looking for help during harvest so if we are ever around, why not come by?
Diane and Brian had a set of wines to taste and Neil and I shared our own set:
Gruner Veltliner (2016)
Dry Riesling (2016)
Diane and Brian both tried the same three wines. They started the tasting with the Thirsty Elephant blend. Concord and Niagara are the grapes commonly found in this region but this blend also included Fredonia grapes. Diane simply said it smells like summer in a bottle. The apple wine is made from locally grown apples and reminded them of cinnamon and apple pie. It was suggested to try this wine warmed up similar to a mulled wine. The raspberry wine comes from local fruit as well and they described it as very rich. They liked the Thirsty Elephant so much that they decided to buy a magnum bottle. They were also excited to find a bottle of cherry wine that they tried during another trip there. Diane made note of the sweet and sour cherry flavors.
Neil and I figured we’d each try our own wine so we could try more of the local flavor. We started with the Gruner Veltliner because we remembered liking it another time when we tried that varietal. I noticed honey and petrol aromas with honey flavors and a dry finish. Neil picked up tropical fruit and described it as slightly sweet but also dry. I really liked how the dry riesling smelled like flowers. It was light, tart and reminded me of pear. Neil thought it smelled sweet and it had a round “riesling” taste. The gewürztraminer also smelled like flowers but more like perfume, maybe gardenia flowers. The wine was light, tart and tasted floral. Neil found it to have tart aromas. The flavor was slightly sweet, tangy, round and a little mineral. He agreed with it being floral, too, but could’t pinpoint the exact flower, maybe daffodil. The rosé was a blend of Marechal Foch, Riesling, and Valvin Muscat, another group of local grapes. The wine reminded me of the aroma of dry koolaid powder and flowers. The flavors were both sweet and tart. Although it was a little sweeter Neil found it to be very interesting. Our final wine was Noiret, a grape that had been engineered by Cornell to grow in New York. This grape had a very distinct aroma of black pepper but the wine was much lighter than we expected. It reminded Neil of a really heavy Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel. Not only did it smell like black pepper but it tasted that way, even through the finish.
We wondered, which wine should we buy? We needed a white wine to add to our slushy mix but none of these seemed like the right flavor combination. Instead we thought we could buy something to share with the rest of the family during another group tasting. The rosé seemed like one that everyone would enjoy so we took home a bottle.
Our final stop of the day was Noble Winery. Diane and Brian chose this one because of their beautiful view of the valley and lake. This was another vineyard with a lot of history. Pete is the winemaker and he learned the winemaking trade by doing. He’s been there since 1979 and is the third owner of the vineyard. Now his son is making wine and trying out some of the scientific methods, but Pete still prefers to do it by eye and taste. On the day we visited, we had tons of grape knowledge to draw from with 2 grape growers and the winemaker behind the bar. What a treat! It was fun getting to see some of the photos of grapes Neil and I had never seen.
Just like at 21 Brix, Diane and Brian had a set of wines to taste and Neil and I shared our own set:
Seyval Blanc de Blanc
Delaware (aka Great Western Champagne Grape)
Vin Terra Rose
Sexy White Sangria
Old Italian Red
Vin Terra Rose
Sexy Sangria Red
Neil and I had researched some of the local grapes before we came and were pretty excited to see that they had so many new grapes for us to try. Our first wine was somewhat unexpected when I started swirling it. It reminded me of fried Chinese food and tasted kind of musty and tart. I guess I don’t like the seyval blanc grape. Neil did better with it than me, he picked up dry, clean aromas, and a tart flavor that was plain but balanced and pretty interesting. The Delaware wine was our next wine and although it’s a little red grape, they make a white wine with it. It smelled sweet, tart and very familiar. I eventually figured out that it was white table grapes. Neil picked out the aroma as one similar to concord grapes and tart. We both agreed that the taste was sweet and tart.
Then we tried a few wines that were similar to our tasting at 21 Brix. Neil and I know that we like to #DrinkPink so the rosé was an easy choice. This rosé was made from concord and catawba grapes so it was a different combination than the rosé we previously tried. I noticed strawberry and sugary aromas while Neil thought it smelled like a port wine. The flavor was slightly sweet and oaky, and made Neil think of cordial cherries. Our next wine, Marechal Foch, confused us. The flavor and aromas reminded us of the Noiret from 21 Brix but we remembered the name “marechal foch” from the rosé there. So, as we tasted the Marechal Foch we kept trying to compare it to the other Noiret. The Marechal Foch smelled like pepper and cucumbers with a light berry, tangy, peppery flavor. We both found it to be kind of odd. Then we tasted the Noiret and we noticed black pepper and tomato aromas and flavors. We both picked out the acid in the wine too. It’s safe to say this wasn’t a wine for us.
We finished out our tasting with the Sexy White Sangria, a blend of orange, peach and seyval blanc grapes. Once I swirled the wine, I noticed the same fried Chinese food aroma from our first wine so I was able to pick out that it was made using that same grape. Neil thought the sangria smelled like sweet candy with a hint of greens. We both enjoyed the flavors that we identified: oranges and sweet tropical fruit. Neil would enjoy it even more if we added some apples and pineapple.
Diane and Brian went the sweeter route at Noble Winery. They’re wines were mainly made from Concord, Niagara and Catawba grapes as well as a few fruits. The Old Italian red was an “oaked” Concord wine and that oak influence caused it to be dry and musty. They called it “very tasty!” Up next was the same rosé that we tried. They found it to be very light and not too sweet. Neil and I agreed that this wine wasn’t overly sweet.
They tried the Chataqua Eve, a blend of Concord and Niagara grapes, to compare it to a similar blend by Heritage Wine Cellars, http://wineandcheesefriday.com/wine-and-cheese-tasting-at-aunt-kathys-house/. They said it was similar and seemed bitter and sweet. They purchased a bottle of it to see if Diane’s dad, Gale, agreed. I’d guess that the Chataqua Eve was the beginning of the sweeter wines. The Vino-Colada, made from concord, cherry, and pineapple, was very sweet and stout. If that wasn’t sweet enough, they also tried the Rock Candy wine. It definitely tasted like candy and was very, very sweet! The Sexy Red Sangria was probably a welcome change because although it was sweet, there was a touch of bitterness. They found it to be a very good mix.
Neil and I didn’t find any wines to take home that day but we were happy to try some new grapes. This wine region is usually known for sweeter wines so we wondered if maybe we were pushing the envelope too much by trying the dry wines. I guess the next time we go tasting with Diane and Brian we should follow their lead and try the grapes more typically showcased in the region.
The fun didn’t stop once the wineries were all closed, next we could go out to dinner. Diane and Brian chose the Freeport Restaurant, that they’d been to many times before. After all our wine tasting, we all drank water but they offered a nice selection of some local wines. Most of us opted for some Northern fish entrees but first we tasted the smoked sausage and deep fried pickle appetizers. These are both specialties of the house and super delicious. The smoked sausage is made in-house and we saw the smoke house behind the restaurant. It was a little too smoky for me but Brian and Neil really enjoyed it. I was more drawn to the fried pickles. I don’t think I’ve ever had them before but I was a big fan that day. I’m pretty sure I ate almost half the order on my own. We were all pretty stuffed by the end but enjoyed reading about all the fresh pies too.
We had a bunch of fun with Diane and Brian that day and if I know them, they are already scheming where we will visit the next time we are in town.