We decided to take a trip north to see art museums and galleries, visit relatives, and take some hikes in the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside. No surprise, we also made time for some tastings, visiting one brewery and two wineries.
Storm King and DIA Beacon have both been on my bucket list for a while, so now I can cross them off. Both are well worth the visit, Storm King in particular (but be sure to go when the weather is nice, and try to arrive early in the day). We also enjoyed sauntering up and down Beacon’s main street, popping in and out of little galleries and antique/gift shops. The Roundhouse Hotel is pricey for the area, but comfortable and well run.
Another place worth traveling to is Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, New York, where we hiked around the lake with my brother and sister-in-law. It’s a beautiful place, with the garden aspects integrated into the natural landscape, providing scenic views at every turn. And if you’re in Kingston, you should make time for the Maritime Museum, with its emphasis on the history of the boats and industries along the Hudson River.
Our final hike of the week was in the John Boyd Thacher State Park outside Albany, where the scenery reminded us very much of the movie Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Alas, we did not see him running bare-chested through the trees. If you go, be sure to stop into the new visitor center.
So, now on to our tastings…
Hudson Valley Brewery, October 8, 2017
Beacon, New York
Finding the brewery was a bit of a challenge, as it is located in the midst of a huge parking lot behind an apartment building, and only a small sign on the door indicates that you have arrived. We walked past before they opened, and then when we returned there were picnic tables set up outside and the garage-style door had been swung open. Inside, it is very industrial chic, reminding us that Beacon is sometimes referred to as “Brooklyn north.” The bar is not very long, so we decided to take our tastes to a picnic table across from it. We would have sat outside, but all those tables were filled, primarily with a young crowd.
They offer eight different beers, a four-ounce pour in attractive stemmed glasses at $2-$3 per taste. The chipper server informed us that they only give two tastes per person per time at the bar, so we each took two and then returned for the final four. We left our credit card to run a tab, thinking we would get a whole glass of whichever beer we liked best, but as it happened there were none we liked enough to get a glass of. Their beers generally have a sour, fruity flavor profile, which is not a taste I like.
- Pillow Hat IPA
The aroma is very grapefruity, with a touch of something funky. The taste is super citrusy, and it is the kind of beer I could see downing on a hot day after working in the garden.
- Feel No Way Pilsner
Cement basement aroma, with a touch of sauerkraut. The taste is sour, oaty and grainy, and reminds my husband of Kix cereal!
- Little Memory IPA
This one also smells like grapefruit juice, plus pineapple juice. I dislike it so much that we don’t finish the taste. It is sour but also fruity.
- Plateaux IPA
Okay, this one we decide is like a beery orange juice or an over the hill cider that has gone sour. If you don’t actually like beer, you might drink this with a burger.
- Amulet Sour Farmhouse
Blueberry pie aroma? Certainly fruity. The taste reminds me of very sour candy. I say bleh; my husband says maybe after a run. I’d rather drink water in that case!
- Flying Colors Sour Farmhouse
By this time, we have invested $2 in a bag of cracked pepper and sea salt chips, which helps us get through the tasting. This is another fruity-tooty beer, and rather sweet. As we discuss the tastes, my tasting buddy comments that we are treating this more like a wine tasting in terms of all the aromas and flavors we are finding, which is true.
- Phase Delay Sour Farmhouse
This one smells like an IPA, very citrusy, and tastes rather like sucking on a lemon. Super sour, say my notes. At least this one is not objectionably sweet, and is drinkable if what you want is a beer-like lemonade.
- Silhouette Brunch Style Sour Beer
Their own tasting notes compare this to a Tropicana juice box, though I again think it resembles a sweet and sour lemonade. I find it barely potable, and, as with several of the other beers, we don’t finish our taste.
Reasons to visit: you’re in Beacon and you want to go to a beer tasting (but I wish we had tried the other brewery in town); you don’t actually like beer that tastes like beer. That evening we had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant on Main Street which had Singha beer on tap, and much preferred that to any of the beers we had at Hudson Valley.
Benmarl Winery October 9, 2017
Marlboro, New York
Finding Benmarl Winery would also have been a challenge, if not for Google maps, which easily directed us to this mountain-top site, about twenty minutes outside of Beacon. They are part of the Shawangunk Wine Trail (who knew?), which includes about fifteen wineries along the Shawangunk Mountains. We considered visiting one or two more, but many of them were closed on Monday, and others were a bit further than we wanted to venture on this rainy, foggy afternoon.
Benmarl has a pleasantly rustic tasting room, and the servers were enthusiastic and chatty. Outside we noted a large tent set-up, and learned that the day before they had had a special grape-stomping event. Oh my. Our server informed us that “Benmarl” means “Hill of Slate,” and the farm is allegedly the “oldest vineyard in America.” On their 37 acres they grow Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Muscat, then get the rest of their grapes from the Finger Lakes and…Long Island! The North Fork, to be exact. Ha. I had said as we were on our way there that I was interested in comparing their wines to Long Island wines, but, no surprise, they tasted rather familiar.
For $10 you get to try six (out of 17 or more—they were out of some) of their wines, and since the pour was rather small for a shared tasting and I was curious to try it, we paid an additional couple of dollars to try the Baco Noir. If you want to keep your glass, your tasting is $12.
- 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $20
The grapes for this wine are from the North Fork, and it has the characteristic honeysuckle aroma and a taste that combines citrus and minerality. Good, though a tad sweeter than I like.
- 2016 Stainless Steel Chardonnay $15
Our server told us about how she likes to recommend this wine to anyone who insists they don’t like chardonnay, since what they don’t like is probably the oak-aged buttery California style of chard. We agree, and like this citrusy light white, with flavors of gooseberry and mineral. Quite pleasant. We buy a bottle, which matches well with a pasta and salmon dish my sister-in-law makes for us when we arrive at their house. These grapes are from Seneca Lake.
- 2016 Traminette $18
This is one of their sweeter wines, but not cloyingly so, with a candy aroma and some tropical fruit tastes. I could see having it with spicy food. Finger Lakes grapes.
- 2016 Merlot $20
As we switch to the reds, she gives the glass a quick rinse with some of the wine. This, I observe, tastes very like a North Fork merlot. Not surprisingly, since that is where the grapes come from. You can smell the oak (aged 16 months in French oak) and cherry, and it also has lots of cherry taste, plus maybe a bit of tobacco.
- 2015 Slate Hill Red $20
A Bordeaux blend, this is 48% North Fork merlot, 42% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 10% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 12 months in French oak. The aroma is fruity, but also mushroomy, with a hint of something chemical—but that may be due to the cellar, the door to which was opened behind us as we stood there, and from which emanated a basement/chemical smell. In any event, we didn’t much care for this wine, which had a sour aftertaste and not a lot of fruit.
- 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve $33
Another blend, this is 30% North Fork merlot, 20% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 50% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 24 months. We like it much better than the Slate Hill. It has lots of fruit—dark plums, cherry, blackberry, coffee—and is pleasantly tannic and dry.
- 2015 Baco Noir $35
I really wanted to try a wine made from estate-grown grapes, and this is all theirs, from vines first planted in 1958. The aroma is great, with lots of fruit, very plummy, but the taste does not have as much fruit as the smell promised. It is dry and tannic, but not particularly complex.
Reasons to visit: you are traveling up the Hudson Valley and want to do a wine tasting; the sauvignon blanc, stainless steel chardonnay, merlot, and Proprietor’s Reserve; pretty reasonable prices for a small winery; beautiful mountain setting; you want to support a winery that practices “sustainable” agriculture, with no spraying.
Millbrook Vineyards and Winery October 11, 2017
Millbrook, New York
After the flatness of Long Island, it was refreshing to be in the Catskill Mountains. We enjoyed the various vistas as we traveled the back roads with my brother and sister-in-law to this winery with its spectacular views over the hills. Although we felt we had gone rather far off the “beaten path,” a busload of tourists who arrived shortly after we did showed us that we were not as isolated as it had seemed. Fortunately, Millbrook is well set up to handle a crowd, and we enjoyed our tasting.
Our bright and well-informed server informed us that John S. Dyson, the founder of the vineyard, was responsible for the “I (heart) NY” logo, which also appears on their glasses (which you get to keep after your tasting). In addition to the property in Millbrook, the winery also owns vineyards in California (fortunately so far not affected by the fires) and Italy, which expands the varieties of wine they can offer. One challenge of growing wines this far north is the winter. They can get temperatures as low as minus fourteen, and anything lower than minus five can give certain grape vines trouble.
The Millbrook building is large and attractive, with various areas, including an upstairs lounge and balcony, where one can (and we did) take a bottle or glasses and look out over the scenery while sipping. Not all of their wines are available for tasting every day, and on this week day our only option was the Portfolio Tasting, of six wines for $12.50. You pay the cashier when you enter, and then are assigned a spot at one of the bars.
- 2016 Hunt Country White $16
This is their white blend, a mixture of riesling, tocai friulano, traminette, and pinot grigio, some of which comes from California. The aroma is of apricots and minerals, and it tastes quite good, of peaches and melon, with a nice long finish. My brother characterizes it as a “backyard wine,” and my sister-in-law says she has “no complaints.”
- 2016 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve $18
According to our server, Millbrook was the first winery in the United States to grow this particular grape, which is related to sauvignon blanc. We like it very much, with its aroma of roasted pears and soft tastes of pears and red grapefruit. I think it is softer than an Italian tocai, which is flintier, but we like it enough to buy a bottle to take home.
- 2015 Chardonnay $18
Just when I think I’ll finally get to compare an upstate chard with a North Fork chard, we are told that one third of the grapes for this wine come from Pellegrini Vineyard on the North Fork! Other grapes come from the Finger Lakes and from Millbrook’s estate. In any event, it is a typical not-too-oaky oaked chardonnay.
- 2014 Villa Pillo Borgoforte $19
In case you’re wondering about the Italian name, it comes from Millbrook’s Italian vineyard near San Gimignano, a fascinating town not far from Florence. This, we are told, is a “Super Tuscan,” (whenever I hear that term I picture a wine bottle with a heroic cape flying out behind it), a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot grapes. In any event, it is delicious, with lovely fruit aromas and complex tastes including dark fruits, tobacco, and more. It is dry and tannic, and we buy two bottles, one to give to my other brother and another to bring to our daughter’s house when we go there for dinner.
- Hunt Country Red $18
Since this is their blend, it changes year to year, and the current iteration is a mix of 55% cabernet franc, 40% merlot, and 5% syrah, with again some grapes coming from California. The server says he defines this wine as a wine to have on “any day that ends with a y.” Ha. It is their top selling red, and we can see why, as it is an easy to drink, fruity red, with lots of cabernet franc flavors like blueberry and plums. I say a good pizza wine, and my brother says “good with stuff.”
- 2013 Merlot Proprietor’s Special Reserve $25
Pellegrini strikes again—all the grapes for this wine are from there. We decide this is a wine that needs to be served with food, and just then our server brings out a little plate of bread cubes and olive oil (which they just happen to sell there). Definitely better with food, but still rather earthy, with a chemical basement smell. Not our favorite.
Reasons to visit: you are in the Catskills and you’d like to find a nice winery for a tasting; the Tocai Friulano, the Villa Pillo Borgoforte, the Hunt Country Red; a pleasant outdoor upstairs balcony where you can sip a glass of wine while looking at beautiful scenery.