Monday, October 22, 2012

Wine Country: New York - Finger Lakes Rieslings 2011

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance is having their 2011 vintage launch.  It’s a celebratory time which sees the release of the latest vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings while a new vintage is being brought in from the vineyards on trucks.  The people of New York are rightfully proud of their Finger Lakes Rieslings.

I was invited to participate in a virtual tasting of a group of 2011 Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region, and I jumped at the chance.  The virtual tasting event was held on September 27, 2012, and featured winemakers commenting live on UStream while those of us tasting at home kept in contact via Twitter.  One participant though his head might explode from social media overload.  He had two computers and a mobile device committed to notes, video and Twitter.  I had the UStream on iPad and Twitter contact on iPhone.  No exploding heads to report in my little office.

2011 was a warm and sunny growing season for the Finger Lakes, but late rains quickened the harvest for some growers.  It was generally thought of as a great vintage, and based on the wines I tasted, I would have to agree.  All the wines here are 100% Riesling, all with top notch acidity.  That’s a calling card of the Finger Lakes terroir.

It has come to my attention that American wine drinkers are turned off by the word “acidity.”  W. Blake Gray wrote in Palate Press:

“A 2005 Wine Opinions survey found that the descriptor with the second most negative connotation for Americans is ‘crisp or tangy with distinct acidity.’ (The worst was ‘dry and tannic.’)”  

Gray’s suggestion to wine writers is to refer instead to a wine’s “freshness” rather than “acidity,” so as not to scare anybody.

First Flight - Dry Rieslings

Ravines Wine Cellars 2011 Dry Riesling
Morten and Lisa Hallgren operate the winery on Keuka Lake and an additional tasting room on Seneca Lake.  The grapes come from two vineyards of shale stone soil, one of calcareous soil and one composed of gravel on limestone bedrock.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed and the wine carries a 12.2% abv number.  Light straw in color, its nose is light and full of minerals, peach and zest.  The palate also shows peaches and citrus.  The freshness is top-notch, as is the case with all eight Reislings I tasted.  The medium finish is zippy.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars 2011 Dry Riesling
The Frank winery on Keuka Lake is billed as New York's most award-winning winery since 1962.  In fact, It was Dr. Frank who started growing vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.  Frederick Frank oversees the operation these days, the third generation of Frank winemakers.  This Riesling comes in at 11.7% abv.  The fermentation was stopped just short of dryness.  It has a very light green tint, almost clear.  The nose is rather slight, with apples most noticeable.  An herbal aspect colors the bouquet nicely.  Lime and pear flavors join citrus zest, and that razor sharp freshness for which Dr. Frank wines are known is fully present.

Lucas Vineyards 2011 Dry Riesling
On the western side of Cayuga Lake lies Lucas Vineyards, the oldest winery on that Finger Lake.  Ruth Lucas is the winemaker for the winery she and her family founded in 1974.  They have been making their own wine since  experiencing the gut shot of seeing their grapes be made into bulk wine by others.  This wine has a light greenish tint, minerals and light fruit on the nose and a lemon-lime peel palate with a nutty flavor lurking in the background.  Its great freshness is no surprise.

Sheldrake Point Winery 2011 Dry Riesling
The Sheldrake Point Winery overlooks Cayuga Lake, but they have a location on Seneca Lake as well.  Two estate-grown Riesling clones make up this wine, which carries an 11.4% abv count.
The light golden straw color is beautiful, and so is the nose - floral notes with aromas of stone fruit. The palate shows a green aspect with peaches, citrus and a hint of guava coming through.  It's a very fresh tasting wine with a nice, tropical finish.

Second Flight - Sweeter Rieslings

Fox Run Vineyards 2011 Reserve Riesling
At 13% abv, this wine is one of the stronger efforts I've found among Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It moves away from dry, but not by too much to my taste - although the sweetness meter on the label sits squarely in the middle between dry and sweet.  The vineyards feature clay, sand and silt on shallow bedrock.  showing a straw color with a very slight green hue, the wife's nose is floral, with apricot aromas.  A fruity palate displays tropical notes, citrus and a shading of pineapple.  It's quite refreshing.

Swedish Hill Winery 2011 Riesling
As do many of the wineries of the Finger Lakes, Swedish Hill boasts three generations of New York winemaking.  In addition to Riesling, they also make Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc, among others.  Their Riesling offers 11.1% abv in alcohol.  Light straw in color, there are plenty of minerals on the nose, with aromas of apricots,  It's medium sweet, but still refreshing.  Despite its sweetness, there's a great, gutsy minerality and a tiny bit of petrol in the mix.  Quite invigorating.

Lakewood Vineyards 2011 Riesling
Founded by the late Monty Stamp on Seneca Lake, Lakewood Vineyards experienced what they like to call "25-year overnight success."  Their Riesling carries a modest 11.4% abv number and gives a light straw hue in the glass.  The nose offers dark shading to tropical fruit - not quite petrol, but close.  The palate is bursting with tropical fruit and minerals.  It's amazingly fresh and has a terrific finish.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard Restaurant 2011 Riesling
Knapp's present owners are relative newcomers to he region, having bought the vineyard in 2000.  It was founded in 1984 on Cayuga Lake.  At 12% abv, Knapp's Riesling is the sweetest of the eight I tasted in this event.  Still, it's only medium sweet on the scale.  There are certainly some unique flavors here, more so than in any of the other seven.  A straw color leads to a nose of tangerines, while the palate kicks in some extreme earthiness that masks the sweetness. I might have thought it a North American variety if I had tasted blind.  In keeping with the Finger Lakes tradition, the wine offers a great freshness and food-friendliness.

Here in Southern California, I'm not exposed to Finger Lakes Rieslings a lot, so I really enjoy being able to participate in events like this virtual tasting.  If you live in an area where Finger Lakes Rieslings are readily available, you are a lucky one.  If you don't, try to get your hands on a few different bottles.  You'll be glad you did.

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  1. In the tasting room, I've found acidity is a scary term. I completely agree with you on the phobia on acidity. "Dry" is such a subjective term, I've had some comment on how sweet a which which has zero percent residual sugar is as well as out sweetest Riesling being considered way to dry. Either completely uneducated palates or personal tastes, I prefer the later.

    1. Christine, a little ducation on the subject would go a long way. I completely understand people shying away from "acid" - it's a scary term, until you learn about it. Thanks for the comment!