Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Finger Lakes Riesling

For my celebrations of the 2011 Summer of Riesling I included several Finger Lakes selections. There were a couple of motivations for this. First off a regional source supports drinking local, a renewed passion of mine. Secondly, I would be capping off my exploration of Riesling with a visit to the Finger Lakes in September, and I wanted to do a little homework beforehand.

The first three Finger Lakes Rieslings I tasted this summer were the Salmon Run 2010 Dry Riesling from Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and the Reserve 2009 & Semi-Sweet 2008 from the Six Mile Creek. I wrote about the Salmon Run wine in my Summer of Riesling Kick-Off where I also listed all the wines and plans I had for the remainder of the summer. As part of my homework I sourced a range of wines from Six Mile Creek to get more familiar with what is going in the Ithaca area where the WineMaker Magazine Conference will be held in 2012. My reviews of those wines are available in the post Six From Six. Both the Salmon Run and Six Mile Creek offerings made a second appearance at our Summer of Riesling Party where we held an Other 47 blind tasting of Riesling.

I also enjoyed a Dr. Frank 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling in a flight with a dry Riesling from Sharpe Hill in Connecticut and a Late Harvest style Riesling from Grand Traverse in Michigan. Contrasting those three styles next to each other was very interesting! 

My impression from both the dry and sweet styles is that the wines are very aromatic, fruity with plentiful minerality and acid that keeps the wines fresh and crisp. With such a limited tasting I couldn’t conclude anything else, except that I enjoyed the wines and would be looking forward to trying more when I visited.

I will be finishing my Summer of Riesling celebrations this week with a couple of activities. First off, I saved a bottle of Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine for my final review, a sweet finish to be sure. On Thursday I will be participating in the Riesling Hour virtual tasting, an event held to ring in the 2010 vintage of Finger Lakes Riesling. The sample wines I received for that event included a few I tasted while on my trip, reviewed here, and several wines that are new to me. The added depth from the new selections means that I will have surveyed more than 20 different Rieslings from the region this summer, giving me a good foundation to confirm the prevailing wisdom that Riesling is done very well and is the signature wine from the Finger Lakes.

You can find semi-sweet, late harvest and iced style Rieslings in the Finger Lakes, and while there is nothing wrong with those styles (the late harvest can be divine), the dry Rieslings are the wines that show the most finesse.

Why does Riesling do so well in the Finger Lakes? In my post where I shared what I’ve learned about the region at-large, About the Finger Lakes, the geologic, weather and micro-climactic forces that make the region what it is were broadly presented. These forces are part of the reason. The other part is the people, and specifically people with experience from some of the great Riesling-making regions of the world who came to the Finger Lakes and have demonstrated what is possible with the grape. Their experience has helped others experiment and learn with similar results.

The Rieslings tasted on the trip that can be broken down categorically by dryness with the following stats:
  • Dry - 13
  • Semi-Dry - 6
  • Late  Harvest/Dessert – 1

Overall the wines were sound with no obvious flaws. I would drink all of these wines again and would recommend visitors to the region seek them out for the firsthand experience. One specific experience tasters should plan on trying is contrasting the same producer in difference vintages and from different vineyard parcels. There will be variation for a number of reasons and experiencing them adds depth to your understand what is possible.

Best of the Best

Hermann Weimer 2010 Dry – this wine presented stone fruits and citrus in the nose with the same flavors coming through on the palate. The hints of grapefruit on the finish accentuate the healthy, but balanced acidity of the wine. Everything about this wine was clean and focused, making it shine.

Rooster Hill 2010 Med. Sweet – The golden plum that came through in the nose on this wine was very specific and pleasant. The hints of gravel and petrol that accented the plum were in just the right place. I picked up baked apple, and peach in the mouth with citrus coming in for the finish. This was the one I felt had the broadest aroma and flavor palate, offering lots of things to discover in each sip.

Ravines 2009 Dry – This was the wine where I felt finesse through understatement was best demonstrated. There was peach in both the nose and mouth, perceptible minerality and a tart, clean finish.  Calling this wine simple is totally unfair, and subtle and aloof convey more of connotations I am going for. If I were going to pick one of the Rieslings I tasted to have on hand all the time, this would be it. Why? Because its finesse and subtlety make it useful in the widest possible circumstances, a necessary attribute in a house wine.

Most Notable Single Vineyard Bottling

Heron Hill Ingle Vineyard 2008 – grape growers and winemakers in the Finger Lakes region manage a patchwork of vineyards that lend significant and demonstrable differences in the final product. When a specific source is found to be particularly interesting and is used to produce a wine, the result can be so much more than if the same fruit were blended in with others.  The Ingle Vineyard 2008 Riesling tasted like applesauce! With 1.64% residual sugar it has just enough sweetness to accentuate the apple and spice. A bit of minerality and petrol in the nose balanced all the other facets to create a beautiful single vineyard Riesling.

Notable Vintage and Parcel Differences

Glenora 2009 Dry Riesling versus the 2010 Dry Riesling. I found the 2010 to be signinifcantly more vibrant, aromatic and flavorful than the 2009. Hearing that the growing season for the Finger Lakes in 2010 was the warmest ever and that there had been mounting expectations for the wines made from it, this would be a consistent finding.

Keuka Lake Vineyards Evergreen Lek vs. Falling Man Vineyards. The Evergreen Lek wine had mild aromas and a lime driven finish. Opposing that, the Falling Man wine presented aromatics of unripe peach and had a bit of funk to offer as well. Both wines offered juicy acidity and pleasant palate. With a finish also driven with citrus, but not so much lime, the Falling Man selection was the better balanced of the two, offering a nose and palate that complimented each other best.

Other Highlights

Tierce Riesling – this collaboration between Red Newt (where we tasted it), Fox Run and Anthony Road is a great example of companies who are technically competitors joining forces to combine the best each has to offer and take it higher.  The wine had a pleasant balance of peach & citrus, minerality and high, but refreshing acid. Products like this are largely unheard of in other regions. May this be the beginning of a new era in wine!

Beautiful locations to sip a Riesling - I was taken with the views from the tasting rooms of Dr. Frank, Heron Hill and Damiani. A common thread was floor to ceiling (or close to it) windows looking out over the adjacent property, vines and ultimately the lake. The vines that were full of vigor and fruit at Dr. Frank’s made for a particularly beautiful vista. Wine is very much about a place as many wine-knowledgeable people know, and where you taste is absolutely part of it.

Producers We Missed on This Trip

Anthony Road Winery – having taken the Governor’s Cup for their 2008 Dry Riesling this is one missed visit that I will be sure to right on my next soon to be planned trip. Adding a component to the Tierce Riesling is yet another attractive draw.

Fox Run Vineyards – collaborating on the Tierce Riesling is all I need to know to have this stop on the itinerary for next time. Good wines, a good story and a passion for collaboration to grow the esteem of the region vote high in my book.


My conclusions are simple. Go to the Finger Lakes, try the Rieslings and then reflect on what more the experience tells you about the place and its people. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t be able to hesitate telling others to follow in you footsteps. There are plenty of other wines that are worthy of your time, and I will be sharing those here real soon, but the Rieslings define the region.



1 comment:

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