Tuesday, November 13, 2012


 There are certain wines or wineries that are decidedly pretty or not pretty in my view. And I do mean in “my view.” Just like with people. What small tick in me signals whether it is a beauty mark or a wart? Cindy Crawford had a beauty mark. Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein had a wart. But sometimes I see a wart when others see a beauty mark and vice versa. I am weird guy, what can I tell you?

For me, McGregor has been a wart….but not for others. It’s just been me. They have everything I like in a girl…er, winery. They have lots of different wines. They have lots of reds. They have exotic grapes (I’m a freak for weird grapes). And they have the whole Scottish angle (which I think in the end is freakin’ brilliant btw). Being a closet Anglofile, I wanted so badly to join “the clan.” I was always jealous of those WASP and Irish guys whole competed in the Scottish games.

So why was I so reluctant? I’d tasted their wines before. I liked them. I had met John’s wife at the wine festival several times. A friend, David Jackson, a former wine professional and a connoisseur (who wears a dashing kilt and a black jacket and bow tie to formal affairs), has told me for years I should go. So this summer I relented, and went with two other people while visiting the Finger Lakes.

Maybe I was jealous? Angry? I mean these folks are brilliant marketers. You don’t join another wine club…you join the McGregor Clan. You get invited to Clan parties. You wear kilts. And who ever heard of Scots making wine? A little too corny? Not sure. When you’re in their tasting room you’re not sure if you’re in a wine shop or a yarn store with lots of Scottish food. Everything’s in plaid! It’s so not your average tastingroom. I’ll admit, I was charmed. I wanted to linger….and that’s just what they want you to do.

They don’t have a tasting bar. You sit down at benches. They have two huge rooms, with fantastic views of the lake and their vineyards. The rooms are lit with strings of lights, lined up with rows of big picnic tables, and hand you wine menus. They bring you crackers and cheese, and then you do your tasting ordering your samples from a vast menu of choices. It smacks of marketing…but it’s freakin’ brilliant. I was pissed because my camera died as we entered the tastingroom.

But there was in me a suspicion. Anything this smart and this well thought out could not possibly produce good wine. It had to be a trick.

In 1971, John McGregor and his family began planting twenty-eight acres of premium Vinifera and Hybrid grapes overlooking the beautiful East Bluff of New York's Keuka Lake. The local wine industry (which was essentially dependent upon native American grape varieties) watched with skeptical interest. Today, the thriving McGregor Vineyard includes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Ottonel, Cayuga White, and Vignoles. McGregor Vineyard is also home to the rare (in the United States) Vinifera grape varieties Sereksiya Charni, Saperavi Rkatsiteli, and Sereksiya Rose'.

The McGregor family established their winery in 1980 and began producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir that year. Since its inception McGregor Winery has followed the European philosophy of winemaking. Each year's production of estate bottled wines is a reflection of the "voice of the grapes", the skill of the vineyard manager and the art of the winemaker. John’s son, John, and his wife, Stacey, now run this family business.

The first wine I tried was a 2009 Seyval Blanc. I admit, I tried few whites, really wanting to sink my teeth into the decidedly big and different red list. But I thought Seyval might be a good place to start. It was. Bright, light, refreshing, and lemony. The grapes were from Emory Vineyards on the west side of Keuka lake. Apple, pear, and lime all come through as promised. A very nice, refreshing white. A good start.

But my eyes glazed over at the red list. As they always do.

I LOVED the estate 2009 Pinot Noir. It’s very light in its color extraction and flavors. Almost a dark rose’. But it was wonderful. Bright cherry and raspberry spill out of the glass, couched in vanilla and spice. A wonderful, lean, crisp bright red wine. I loved it!
The estate 2008 Cabernet Franc was also lovely. Dark red cherries, vanilla, and a much more aggressive oak spice. The fruit lingered on the palate nicely. Very nice.

The estate 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was lighter than I expected. But is too was very good. Bright cherry, black berry, and cassis were all in evidence. Nice acidity and good solid tannins mixed with a spicer finish. Smooth. Very good drinking wine. One of my favorites.

The 2008 Rob Roy Red was terrific. A blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Merlot (20%), was aged in French and American oak for 17 months. It’s an all estate wine. Cherry, cranberry, elderberry, and blackberry all come through as promised. Reviewing my tasting notes, all I can see are exclamation points!

I also tried the 2007 Black Russian Red – 30 Month Barrel Reserve. This is the wine at the heart of all the fuss. This wine is so famous Evan Dawson devoted a whole chapter to it in his book, Summer In A Glass. At what point is the wine hype versus great wine, in my mind? I was about to find out.

The wine is made with Saperavi and Sereksiya grapes. Saperavi (Georgian: საფერავი; literally "paint, dye" - due to its intensive dark-red colour) is an acidic, teinturier-type grape variety native to Georgia, where it is used to make many of the region's distinctive wines, along with the Alexandreuli and Rkatsiteli varieties. Leaves are 3-lobed, large, and roundish. Berries are medium to large, elliptic, dark bluish, and thin-skinned; with a maturation period of approximately 5 months and moderate productivity. It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is used extensively for blending with other lesser varieties. It is the most important grape variety used to make Georgian red wines. Saperavi is a hardy variety, known for its ability to handle extremely cold weather; and is popular for growing in high altitude and inland regions. It is a teinturier grape, containing the red anthrocyanin within the grape pulp as well as the skin; and is unusual in being one of very few such grapes used in single-varietal winemaking (most are used in small amounts, strictly for blending).

Sereksiya is also known as Băbească Neagră, which is an old native Romanian - Moldovan wine grape variety. It is cultivated in the south of Moldova and in Romania (region of Moldavia, Dobruja and Wallachia), and is the second most planted grape variety in Romania, with about 6,300 hectares (16,000 acres) in 2005. The name Băbească Neagră means "grandmother's grape". Wines made soley from Băbească Neagră are light, fruity red wines.

This blend is an estate wine aged in American oak. It has big fruit up front and big oak. Blackberry, cherry, plum, cocoa, and eucalyptus all come through. So does some vanilla and some spices. This was a big, dark, deep, red wine. Amazing. I have to tell you I loved it. Absolutely loved it!!!

Now, I must be sincere, and say that this was 1. The last stop of the day, and 2. One of our favorite stops along Keuka Lake. We sat at the table, three of us, ordered two extra servings of bread, and bought numerous bottles, but only opened one, and finished it within a reasonable amount of time. We had a great time.

OK, gimme the kilt. Wrap me in plaid. I have been seduced! I surrender to the charms of this gorgeous woman they call McGregor Vineyards. Tall, thin, attractive, pretty and polite, I am bewitched. And you will too.