The Quest for Grüner Veltliner at Hazlitt’s Red Cat Cellars

When you think of Hazlitt, you think of Red Cat, a cheap, sweet red wine that is often made into slushies and pairs well with popcorn. Once you move beyond the stereotype of Red Cat, you’ll actually find it is the top selling wine in New York, it’s won gold medals in wine competition, and it is a well-balanced treat if it’s a hot day outside (personally, I prefer the Red Cat Fizz because the bubbles combat the sweetness and create a nice dessert sparkling).

But we didn’t come to Hazlitt for the Red Cat, we came because at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival we were told by multiple people that we had to try Hazlitt’s Grüner Veltliner, an Austrian grape thats becoming increasingly popular in this area. At the festival, we made it a priority to go to Hazlitt’s booth to taste it… but they didn’t bring their Grüner Veltliner.

Luckily for us, Hazlitt’s Red Cat Cellars is only a short drive from Canandaigua, where we were staying for the night. We popped in the car, drove down the lake (it’s a gorgeous drive), past Heron Hill Winery and Inspire Moore Winery, and pulled up to Hazlitt.

About Hazlitt’s Red Cat Cellars

In 1852, David Hazlitt bought 153 acres of fruit trees and vineyards on Seneca Lake, producing wine and other fruit. In 1985, Jerry and Elaine Hazlitt shifted the focus more to winemaking, and founded Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. In 2009, they purchased the building that was previously used by Widmer’s Wine Cellars in Naples, NY. Widmer had been at this location since 1888 and producing wine for over a century. Widmer was the first winery I did a wine tasting at when I turned 21 (which I can’t say was the best experience, but I definitely have warm fuzzies for the building).

Wine Tasting at Hazlitt’s Red Cat Cellars

When you belly up to the bar at Hazlitt, you’re greeted with a large wine and cider tasting list, and a bowl of popcorn. Note: the popcorn does interfere a little with wine tasting, so if you’re trying to take tasting notes, avoid eating the popcorn until the end and be aware of the butter smell. The popcorn does go really really well with their sparklings and Red Cat series, so take advantage of it then.

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We were here to try the Grüner Veltliner, so that’s what we started with:

IMG_92362014 Grüner Veltliner: On the nose it has notes of lemon, lemongrass, stonefruit, and other herbaceous qualities I couldn’t quite pin down. When sipped it has a lingering acidity and a touch of nectarine sweetness. It is definitely all it is hyped up to be, and probably one of my favorite Grüner Veltliners in the region. Some tend to get a little “lemon cleaner” scent, whereas this one had a fresh, real lemon nose that was tempered with nectarine.

2014 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: Notes of apple, pear and vanilla come through, and continue on the palate with a nice acidity that balances the oily mouthfeel. You’re left with apple and lingering spice.

2014 Sauvignon Blanc: This wine is also a fun surprise, with notes of gooseberry, dill and green pepper on the nose, and a nice slate and clean finish on the palate. It tastes really fresh, and the herbaceous qualities make me think it will be fun to pair with food.

IMG_04112013 Cabernet Franc: This was another favorite, with notes of black cherry, tobacco, leather and spice. It has a nice grippy tannin that lingers with cherry undertones.

Schooner Red: Notes of blackberry, plum, green pepper, and tobacco, with a chalky tannin and nice acidity. It’s a great table red that would be perfect for BBQ or pizza.

Planning Your Visit

Hours: In the summer, they’re usually open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with more limited dates during the winter season.

Tasting Fee: $5 for 6 wines. They also have a list of wines that they are only available for purchase, but ask and see if they already have one open- sometimes you get lucky and they’ll share something special.

Group Wine Tasting: They do allow groups, but for those that are 8 people or larger they ask that you call in advance. I’ve actually called ahead for smaller groups because it tends to get quite busy on weekends.

Wine Prices: Their wines range from $8.49 for a bottle of their Red Cat series, to the $20s for their red wines and sherry. If you’re buying multiple bottles, you get a discount from 5-20% off, and if you do a wine tasting you get a chit worth $3 off your purchase.

Other Amenities: This is a great place for a snack- you can get a cheese and charcuterie picnic for only $13, and can enjoy it on their front porch with a glass of their fine wines. In my tasting notes, I also noted that at the tasting bar they have hooks to hang your purse on- which is critical when you’re someone who carries around a large purse for their tasting notebook. Score.

Final thoughts? This is a fun place to go, particularly if you’re with people who prefer sweeter wines. It is fun, has a great deck where you can hang out with a glass (or a slushie if you prefer), and it’s within two other wineries if you’re looking to do a day trip to Naples.

Most importantly, try the Grüner Veltliner.

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