Casa Larga Vineyards: A Lesson in Oak

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Oak has the potential to dramatically change the way a wine is experienced. It can add aroma, notes of coconut and vanilla; it can add flavor, butter and spice on the palate; and it can change the texture, that velvety and buttery feeling. But it can also be a negative- wines that are overly oaked become overpowering, oily instead of buttery, woody instead of lightly spiced.

There is a delicate balance in oak, adding enough to give the wine some pleasing textures and notes without taking away from its natural flavors and aromas.

Winemakers do a lot to play with these flavors by changing the type of oak they use, the amount of time the wine is aged in it, and how it is blended. One of the exciting parts of sampling oaked wines, particularly Chardonnays, is investigating the oaking process to learn what that winery in particular did and what types of oak they were using.

Casa Larga Vineyards does something different. Yes, they have an oaked Chardonnay made from a blend of differently oaked wines, but they also let you sample the same Chardonnay made with each type of oak individually. It is an incredible lesson in oak, and a great way to better understand the different flavors that different types of oaks can impart.

About Casa Larga

In 1974, an immigrant from Italy named Andrew Colaruotolo planted two acres of vines on a hill in Fairport, New York. He named it “Casa Larga” after his grandparents’ vineyards in Italy. In 1978, he had his first harvest and won three medals for his Estate White and Estate Red. Eventually, this “hobby” vineyard grew into a business, and Casa Larga became the 21st winery in New York State to be licensed.

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The vineyard is now directed by John Colaruotolo, son of Andrew, and it’s head winemaker is Matt Cassavaugh. The vineyard has grown to 35 acres, and they also oversee the sourcing of grapes from other locations in the Finger Lakes. In addition to producing a range of Vinifera and Hybrid grape varietals, they are renowned for their ice wine (which is celebrated in a yearly festival in February, if you’re interested).

Chardonnay Tasting

Different types of oak impart different flavors on wine, and learning how these taste is a fun way to increase your appreciation for the work that winemakers do (and if you ever do blind wine tasting, it is super helpful to know the differences).

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All of these were barrel aged for 14 months in their respective barrel, and all are from the 2014 vintage.

The French Oak Chardonnay is the classic. Notes of butter, green apple, tropical fruits, and toasted bread, with flavors of citrus and tropical notes on the palate. It has a medium, rounded, buttery body with a nice acid and spice at the end to clear the palate.

The American Oak Chardonnay is a fun flavor bomb in comparison, with it’s notes of coconut, caramel, yellow apple, and pineapple, with the tropical notes continuing on the palate, a creamy medium body, and a nice clean acidic kick.

The Hungarian Oak Chardonnay is the renegade. It starts with notes of clean citrus and apple, then opens with hints of baking spices, pound cake, and pear. The palate has a spiciness reminiscent of clove, balanced by a medium body and bright lemon acidity.

You can finish this off with the CLV Chardonnay, a blend of all three that takes the best characteristics- bright tropical fruit, spiciness, and a creamy, buttery palate that is balanced out by a bright acidity.

Planning Your Visit

Hours: Hours vary, so check the website, for winter they are mostly open Sunday-Friday 12:00 to 5:00 p.m., and Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Tasting Fee: In order to do the Chardonnays, you’ll need to upgrade your tasting to the $8 reserve level, which gets you 5 samples of wine. During holidays they will sometimes offer BOGO tastings. For the normal tasting it will be $5 for 5 wines.

Group Wine Tasting: For groups of 10+ people, you can book online or call in advance.

Wine Prices: Their wines range from $9 for the Gamay Noir and Riesling to $40 for their Heritage wine made in the Amarone style. (Note, prices are in Canadian dollars, not U.S.)

Other Amenities: You can also upgrade your tasting to include chocolate or cheese, and they have beer from local breweries for people who aren’t in the mood for wine. They also offer tours throughout the year- check their website for more information.

Final Thoughts

This was a fun adventure in comparison for us. While I was indulging in the world of Chardonnay, my partner was deep in Rieslings- they offer four Rieslings that come from the same year but different locations in the vineyard, showing how just a small change in microclimate can have a big impact on wine. We had a fantastic tasting and really enjoyed learning about the winery from the tasting room attendant.

I forgot to take a photo while I was there this past weekend, so here’s a fun throwback to when we tasted there in December 2015!

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