Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Reds of the Finger Lakes

If you’ve been reading along over the last week or so you’d be sure I enjoyed my first trip to the Finger Lakes region earlier this month. The beauty of the lakes and the surrounding countryside is like few places I have ever been. All of the local folks we met were as casual and nice as those we often meet in Vermont and at home in New Hampshire. My wife and I didn’t specifically quest for food, but we did find excellent fare at the Red New Bistro, tasty & well prepared dishes at the Blue Pointe Grille and the House of Hong in Watkins Glen, as well as the Village Tavern in Hammondsport. But of course, we came for the wine!

I gave the Finger Lakes Rieslings specific treatment based on finding them to standout all their own. I followed that with a post containing a roundup of the Other White Wines from the Finger Lakes I found interesting, recommending whites from several producers and in several styles that tell more of the Finger Lakes story.

That leaves me to share my thoughts on the reds. I tried not to color my views of the Finger Lakes wines too much with research ahead of time, but there was only so much I could do. The Rieslings were not new to me, and the debate over which reds, if any, are really worthy of the effort in the region was also hard to miss. That said, I confidently expected that I would find red wines of interest to me and would have a firsthand opportunity to explore what was being made; drawing any conclusions that I could.

Best of the Best

Rooster Hill 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc – This wine is another solid youthful drinker. The nose came off as average in intensity with a nice mix of earth and greens. I picked up tart cherries, baking spices and a bit of vanilla on the palate. The tannins were coarse but not too aggressive. I bought a bought of this to specifically let it age to see how it mellows and improves.

Ravines 2008 Cabernet Franc – This wine is drinking good young, but should improve with age. I base this on the healthy acidity and softening tannins that wrap the cherries, greens and earthy notes of this wine. The oak is restrained and I picked up some cured meats or bacon essence as I continued to sip this wine.

Ravines 2007 Meritage – This wine is a delicate blend with red berries, spices and just enough oak to create the structure needed for it to please. The aromatics are mellow, but a good combination of fruit, earth and oak. The tannins are present and softening, hinting at solid aging potential. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Red New 2008 Glacier Ridge Merlot – The first thing that grabbed me about this wine was the intensity of the color, it is deep and concentrated. The aromas followed on with lots of raspberry, cherry and whiffs of oak. The intensity of the color was matched by an incredible body. The mouth is rich with berries, a little meaty and finishes with velvety tannins. This wine is full bodied and bold in the friendliest of ways.

Heart & Hands 2009 Pinot Noir – We didn’t actually get to Heart & Hands on this trip, but I spotted the Pinot on the menu at the Red Newt Bistro and knew I had to try it. This is one of the smoothest Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted. The nose is pretty big, full of cherries, rose petal (maybe some other flowers too) and hints of a smoky camp fire. The mouth presents cherries, dried fruits and a little earth. The tannins are mild and very soft. I ordered several bottles of the available Pinots as soon as I got home.

Other Notable Juice

Six Mile Creek Quintessence 2009 – This wine presents warm oak in the nose, a deep, concentrated color and healthy aromas of red fruits. The flavors of black cherry, plum and blackberry are very pleasing, following with smooth tannins and a dry finish. This wine is drinking well young, but will likely benefit from cellar time. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Keuka Lake Vineyards 2009 Leon Millot – I’ve had Millot more than a couple of times at tastings of wines from Vermont and New Hampshire. The cold-weather hardiness of the grape makes it a great option in those locations. The thing that grabbed me about this wine was the color. Dark, dark, dark is what I wrote in my notes. The second thing that grabbed me was the strength of the aromas. There was plum, dark cherry and blackberry bursting out of the glass. These flavors followed through in the mouth and were accented with currants and a dry, moderate length finish. This wine is immensely drinkable and coming from a less-than-standard grape helps with the diversity of the Finger Lakes wine story.

Heron Hill 2008 Reserve Blaufrankish – Blaufrankish, Lemberger, you pick the name. It really only matters if you identify with Austria or Germany more when it comes to this type of wine, but since I wasn’t in either place the style it is made in is subjective and in the hands of the producer for naming. The nose offered baking spices, violets and what I would say was unripe plum. In the mouth it was smooth and tasted of red fruits and a bit of earth.  It is well put together and interesting for the left hand turn it makes off the usual red wine road.

Dr. Frank Salmon Run 2002 Meritage – I picked this off the menu at the Village Tavern looking to see what a nearly ten year old red from the region had going on. This comes from the value label of Dr Frank and something that folks might scoff at, but it performed admirably and was worth the taste. It is still reasonably concentrated with aromas and flavors of cherry, and a touch of dry soil. There were perceptible flavors of grape leaves or greens and manageable oak. It wasn’t stunning and I don’t think it is as delicate at this point as similar blends that are made with age mind. I don’t have a lot of experience with wines that are 10 years or older (sad, but true) so I can’t really say how much longer this wine could go, but it does feel like is on the other side of peak.

Lamoreaux Landing 2008 76 West Meritage – This blend is one where I think time is needed for it to reach more of its inherent potential. It is a bit tight with subtle fruit and oak aromas, and clear understatement of the berries and cherries in the mouth. It is balanced with softening tannins and good acidity, thus my conclusion regarding the need for aging. Had I had the time I might have let this breath a bit to see how that helped.

Damiani 2009 Pinot Noir – I had this twice in the span of about an hour on the last day of my trip. I found it in a flight of Pinot Noirs at the Red Newt Bistro and it intrigued me. Unfiltered and unfined it had some wild and earthy aromas that made this wine geek giddy. Daminani was my very next visit and I figured if this wine was my first impression there would be other interesting wines to try. This is definitely a funky and unrefined Pinot with lots of aromas and flavors that take some time to process. The tannins are present and equally off the typical expectations.

Damiani Cabernet Blend – This wine is notable because when opposed on both the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Francs, the blend of both makes a lot of sense.  The blend is rounder, fruitier and more nuanced than either wine on its own. Red fruits and some leafiness are finished dry.  A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc. I don’t know what the vintage is or whether it is a cuvee blend, but I would suggest some cellar time to see what happens nonetheless.

Hermann Wiemer 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc – I tasted both the 2008 and 2008 Reserve, finding the Reserve to be better balanced and softer on the palate. The color was also a bit more concentrated as well. A combination of blackberry, greens and earth composed the palate on this wine, finished with some warmth and spice from the oak. The tannins are noticeable, but softening. The finish is moderate and cleans up with a nice touch of acidity.

( Ravines Wine Cellars )

Casual Drinkers / Sweet Reds

These reds are a different breed, either because they are sweet and highly drinkable and/or because they are promoted with casual drinking in mind. At between $9 and $11 these wines have a good price/performance ratio for a range of everyday consumption scenarios.

Six Mile Creek Dolce Vita – Leon Millot makes a second appearance in the post, this time barrel aged and a bit sweet. This wine has dehydrated fruit on the nose and in the mouth, a bit like raisins and dried raspberries. The oak is present and helps bring it all together.

Dr. Frank Salmon Run Coho Red – This is a sweet Gamay blend, something to get the conversation going and then not distract from it. The wine isn’t refined or snooty, but pleasant and fruity with a clean finish.

Ravines Keuka Village Red – A blend of Cabernet Franc and Noiret. This wine has a light nose, cherry and pepper in the mouth with a light body and a clean finish. I wrote in my notes I wrote that this wine has range and would be excellent with a variety of foods and friendly conversation.

Lamoreaux Landing Estate Red – Like the Ravines wine above, this wine is dry but smooth and fruity with just enough acidity and tannins to be pleasant to drink without requiring a lot of time for consideration.

What Else?

I didn’t find a plethora of varietal Cabernets that rocked my world, and I hadn’t expected to. And in my opinion, neither should you. Not as the rule anyway. Note that I didn’t highlight any in this post, but of course I haven’t tried them all. There are exceptions, check for the reviews on Shaw Vineyard, and when I ultimately have one that grabs me I’ll be sure to review it. In the US we’ve grown so used to a particular style of Cabernet from California and because of that we are woefully biased. Based on what I know that type of Cabernet isn’t going to get made by wineries throughout the Finger Lakes. If you have to have it you’ll have to look a bit, and that might just mean you’ll appreciate it more when you do find it.

Experimentation with different varietals is ongoing in the region. The Glenora Sangiovese was a surprise, and while the 2010 is young it was drinking reasonably well. I wouldn’t compare it to a Chianti (which for the record I DID NOT hear them say) but that is likely to be the comparison made to the average tasting room visitor. I’m not sure where this experiment is going to go, and I wonder if the grape and the wines made from it will survive as the fish-out-of-water I perceive them to be in the Finger Lakes.

Glenora also gets a mention for their alternative packaging in the form of the Astrapouch. Containing the equivalent of two standard bottles of wine in a plastic pouch, this wine is mobile and doesn’t require an opener. Once opened the wine will stay fresh for a short period of time (days to a week is a safe bet), and is a great solution for taking your wine out by the pool without worrying about broken glass! Current varieties include Chardonnay, a sweet Riesling and a sweet red.

The Final Analysis

There is enough going on in the Finger Lakes to satisfy all but the most finicky of wine lovers, but a sense of adventure and a desire to try new things is a requirement. Coming to the region with visions of comparing the wines to those you might enjoy from France, Spain, Italy, Germany or California is a bad idea, but many people will do it anyway. Some of the wines will match up well, but it just isn’t the right approach. I sincerely hope folks with that attitude don’t miss the exciting wines that you can find in many of the places available to visit while in the region.

For me the whites were the star of the show, but the reds and wines made from the hybrid grapes (both red and white) complete a picture of a place that only needs time to become widely known for world-class wines all on its own.



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