Sunday, September 22, 2013

Festivals and Tastings

A couple weeks ago I attended the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival with my friend Jessica who wrote about it on the Fussy Little Blog. Last week I attended the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival with my husband, which was a very different event, and this weekend we did a little bit of wine tasting in the Hudson Valley. Here's what I have to say about all this.

First of all, the Albany Chef's Food and Wine Festival in the winter is so great because you get to try so many different things (here is my post from 2012). We first learned of All Good Bakers and The Hungry Fish there.  Because I was thinking of how much food you normally eat at the Albany food and wine event, I didn't eat breakfast before going to the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival. There were about 5 bites of food offered at the entire event and endless tables of wine. Now, maybe you shouldn't try so many things in this situation unless you want to get to a point where you announce to your friend that the two of you should make Mo Rocca your best friend, and then walk over and say a bunch of things to him you won't remember, but none of which could have been good (Jessica does remember, however, that he was impressed with our jobs). The Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival, however, because it took place on the Altamont Fairgrounds had all kinds of foods available that you would normally purchase at a lower brow event (I had a very delicious corn dog). My husband got a healthy option from the same food truck my friend Julie and I bought lunch from at the Brimfield Flea Market in July. They do good work.

So first off, you've got more food at the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival so chances are already less that your day will vear off into some unwanted silly direction. As far as the wines, they were definitely not as high brow as the Saratoga event, but there were some good ones. I liked Americana Vineyards, and I had never tried them before since we definitely have a Seneca rather than Cayuga Lake bias. It said something that most of the people around us were just walking around saying "You got sweet wines? I only like sweet wines." Also, the guy from Anthony Road was really surprised we actually knew anything about wine, which was pretty funny. Both events had vintage cars on display, but beyond that they were so different. I do have to say that at $85 to get into the Saratoga event and $6 to get into the wine tasting at the Altamont Fairgrounds (also another $8 to get into the Fairgrounds initially), I can't imagine I'd ever really go back to the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival. I did get to sit two feet away from Michelle Riggi of Christmas Card fame, but despite working in Saratoga for the last year I have yet to actually feel connected to the place in any real way. It feels so old money, so crusty, and I am sure the landscaping money it takes to groom the lawns of North Broadway alone costs more than the entire economies of whole small towns in other areas of the country. Everything about Saratoga feels cold and as fake as a movie set, whereas the Albany food and wine event in January feels like some sort of large family reunion. I did, however, try a very delicious Amarone wine from Italy at the Saratoga event that normally retails for around $50. I don't know much about Italian wine in general, so that wine itself might have made it all worth it.  So, that is all to say if I were to choose again next year between those events (you can only attend so many festivals each fall), I would probably be more likely to choose the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival. It was a more well-rounded event and had a lot of other things going on besides wine.

That all being said, this weekend we headed out to Whitecliff Vineyards and Tuthilltown Spirits both in Gardiner, NY. The Hudson Valley is so beautiful and not far from Albany at all. Whitecliff wasn't as good as our favorite Finger Lakes wineries, but their chardonnay was so buttery and crisp that we brought a bottle home with us.

Here is the view from the back of the tasting room:

The tasting room at Tuthilltown is very fun to visit. I am pretty sure Jessica and I tried their products when we got into the VIP room at the SPAC event, but I'm not sure I remember the finer subtleties in the flavors. This is the reason I would argue against festivals in general and say that if you visit tasting rooms you are spreading things out in a way that seems way better in terms of remembering how things tasted and not drinking more than you should (seriously, the SPAC event started at noon and was mostly wine, how does that even really make any sense?). Also if you visit tasting rooms, you can see where the products are actually made, meet the people who work there, and get to know the town. Then, when you buy a product, come home and leave it in your cellar for a few months, you can think back on your fun trip and enjoy it that much more. Here are some pictures from Tuthilltown:

 At the SPAC event I found the pourers to be not knowledgeable at all, which is weird because part of the fun of trying different things is to learn more about the subject. The pourers at the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival were people who worked at the vineyards, but they were really too busy to have any real conversation about the products.

So in general, I guess I am saying forget the festivals and go to the place. I guess I am becoming a person who is really interested in wine tourism. You can learn about places that don't have distribution to where you live and try new products from places you already really like. We went to Napa for our honeymoon and the Finger Lakes for our summer vacation. I've always heard people say this place or that place was their "happy place", and I never knew what mine was. I now know that it is exit 41 on I-90, the Wegman's with great cheese and baguettes, charming Geneva, and ultimately gorgeous Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake, it turns out, is my happy place. Wine and spirit tasting in the Hudson Valley turns out to be really fun too, and close enough for a day trip.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Place After My Own Heart

Good to see Brown's opening a place with priorities that match my own:
Brown’s co-owner Garry Brown has personally been leading the construction project since early last year. The pub and tapas bar will be for adults seeking a quiet, relaxed adult experience — no big screen TV sets blaring sports, no loud music, no flavored vodkas.

What it will have is Brown’s own beers and ales on six taps and three beers from cask-conditioned gravity pumps, as well as some 30 scotches and 20 bourbons.
And actually, the ban on loud music is more important to me than the anti-vodka bias.  There's nothing worse than sitting down with friends in a nice pub and then have them insist on playing music at ear-splitting volume even though there's no dancing.  At any rate, I'm sure we'll have a report soon...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Bier Abbey, Schenectady

With the closure of Mahar's, I've been looking for a place that had a similarly excellent beer selection and atmosphere.  I've been told mutliple times that the Bier Abbey was great, but hadn't made it.  On Sunday,  we happened to be visiting the Place Beyond the Pines to visit a friend who's a big fan, so we decided to finally check it out.  I can't really make this claim after only one visit, but I'm tempted to say it anyway -- this is the best beer bar in the capital region.

  More importantly, the selection of beers is outstanding, comparable to Mahar's.  Also nice is that they offer 4 oz. pours, which allows you to try multiple offerings and still drive home.&nbsp. I had Southern Tier's sublime milk stout, poured at the perfect temperature, as well as Nøgne Ø's sweet and smoky Tiger Tripel, which I hadn't had before but was fantastic. Ms. Garlic tried the Elysian pumpkin, a good version although it's not my favorite genre. The food is very well done as well. Our friend ordered a very good cheese plate. Ms. Garlic and I both had the fish and chips, which easily surpassed the very high demands I have of choices that will require me to spend an extra 15 minutes a day on the elliptical for at least a week. The haddock was actually flavorful, not the usual empty excuse to eat deep-fried breading, and there was a real, flavorful coleslaw rather than the typical tiny cup of cabbage slathered in mayo. Our friend had the Thai mussels which both Ms. Garlic and she were veryi impressed by (my allergies prevented me from trying them.)

The first-rate beers and very good pub food are served in a commensurate space. I find the affected "authenticity" of some of Albany's quality beer bars an annoyance in practice -- the communal benches at the City Beer Hall and rickety pub furniture at the Olde English are, how you say, uncomfortable, so the real tables and chairs inside and out are a relief.  I love what they've done with the space -- nice patio, nice bar with a large chalkboard listing the day's selections, and a very nice back room. Service was very friendly and efficient. 

If the Bier Abbey was in Albany it would definitely be my go-to pub, and it will certainly compel us to make the trip to the Stockade more often.