Monday, November 5, 2012

Wine Country: New York - Finger Lakes Sparkling And Iced Wine

The fine folks from the Finger Lakes wine region in New York have been staging a series of virtual wine tasting events.  The wine tasters gather on Twitter - channeling the conversation through the hashtag #FLXWineVT - while Finger Lakes winemakers gather in a live UStream broadcast.  A representative from each of the wineries tasted was present on the webcast, so we got to hear a little of each winemaker’s thoughts on the wine of the moment.  We tasted and discussed the sparkling and iced wines of the Finger Lakes on October 17, 2012.

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance provided samples of the wines to the tasters across the country for this project.  The wines we chatted about this time around were formatted in two flights.

First Flight - Sparkling Wines

Atwater Estate Vineyards Cuvée Brut 2008

On the southeastern slope of Seneca Lake, Atwater’s vineyards are about two-thirds vinifera grapes and one-third hybrids, with a smattering of native varieties.  Almost 3/4 of their inventory is white wine.  On the UStream panel, winemaker Vinny Aliperti talked about his Cuvée, which is made from 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  The wine stands at 12% abv and is dry as a bone with no residual sugar.

Aliperti called 2008 a "lower brix, moderate acid" vintage, which played right into the making of this wine.  The Cuvée is made every two years, in the méthode champenoise.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed and the two varieties are co-fermented.  Aliperti noted that both grapes conveniently ripened at the same time.  He explained the méthode champenoise very well, showing the labor-intensive process and leaving no doubt as to why wine made in that way is sometimes a little pricey.  His is sold at $30.

The wine has a pale color and big bubbles which quickly retreat to the side of the glass.  A huge, aromatic nose boasts apples and citrus, with the palate quite dry and fresh.  Toasty, nutty flavors are joined by lemon peel and green apples.  They suggest a pairing with seared scallops and arugula salad with goat cheese and prosciutto.

McGregor Vineyard Blanc de Noir 2008

The vineyards of the McGregor estate are on the eastern side of Keuka Lake, 40 acres of vines that are mostly 30 years old.  McGregor’s winemaker Jeff Dencenburg uses the traditional method, too, to make his Blanc de Noir.  That designation means the wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir grapes.  He also makes a Blanc de Blanc, from Chardonnay, and a bubbly Riesling.  The wine has an alcohol content of 13% abv and retails for $30.

Owner John McGregor represented his winery on the webcast panel.   "Our climate is suited to sparkling wines," he said, hitting on how the weather plays into their early harvest, minerality and acidity.

Pale in the glass, the bubble subside almost instantly.  The nose is subdued and toasty while the palate shows pronounced earthiness and almond notes.  I’d love to have this with oysters Rockefeller.

Swedish Hill Winery Riesling Cuvée 

Winemaker Derek Wilber has 25 years experience making wine in the Finger Lakes region.  His Riesling Cuvée stands at about 12% abv and has 3.4% residual sugar.  Owner Dave Peterson explained the fastidious harvesting and sorting that goes on with his Riesling fruit, and noted that  "fresh, clean grapes make for good sparkling Riesling."  Some tasters on the Twitter feed compared the bubbly to Prosecco.

The wine is a pale yellow and very bubbly.  The medium bubbles hang around for a while, too.  The nose shows an earthy floral aspect with plenty of fruit to offer.  Big apple flavors and toasty notes accompany the generous sweetness here.  They suggest a pairing with fresh fruit and light meals, but holiday entertaining would seem to be right in this wine’s wheelhouse.

Second Flight - Iced Wines

Iced wine is the predominant style of Finger Lakes dessert wine, largely because of the cold weather that comes after traditional harvest time. There are very few late harvest wines from this area, according to the panel.  The grapes are pressed while frozen, giving a sweet and concentrated juice.  Frozen grapes make only half the juice of a regular grape harvest - that's one reason iced wines are more expensive than other types of wine

Casa Larga Vineyards and Winery Fiori Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2008

Winemaker Mark Patterson is Canadian, so iced wine is a sacred thing to him.  This 100% Vidal Blanc effort is only 11.7% abv, but has 18.9% residual sugar.  It retails for $45.

Poured from a beautiful, slender blue bottle, the wine has a rich, golden hue, like whiskey.  Its nose smells of apricots and pineapple upside down cake. There is a sweet floral aroma underneath the fruit.  The wine is quite viscous, with a honeyed apricot flavor that is lip smackingly sweet.

Owner Steve Richards noted that the wine has won numerous awards.  He says he likes it with savory pairings, like cashews and cheese.

Lucas Vineyards Vidal Blanc Iced 2010

Located on the western side of Cayuga Lake, Lucas Vineyards was established in 1980.  That makes it the oldest winery on Cayuga Lake.  The grapes are harvested late in the season and frozen after harvesting.  Winemaker Jeff Houck - who also moderated the webcast - specializes in Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  He talked about freezing the grapes naturally or artificially.  He likes both methods, but opts for a cold storage facility for freezing his fruit.

This Vidal Blanc dessert wine carries a 10% abv number and has a beautiful golden color, like honey.  Aromas of earthy apricot are intriguing, while the palate is loaded with flavors of apricot and pineapple layered with earthy notes.  A wonderfully fresh acidity makes this a natural for pairing with desserts, and they suggest white chocolate covered peaches, dark chocolate or fresh fruit.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard Vidal Ice Wine 2010

The winery is located close to Seneca Falls, with winemaker Steve DiFrancesco and cellar master Rich Iddings working closely.  Houck commented that “when I need to know something, I call Steve.”  DiFrancesco says the Riesling grape is not as sturdy as Vidal, and that "it won't hold up on the vine" for the extended ripening needed for a dessert wine.  He does like Riesling sweeties though.

This 100% Vidal Blanc wine has a low, low alcohol content of 9.3% abv and an enormous 23% residual sugar.  The grapes were picked in the middle of December, when it was a brisk 13 degrees Fahrenheit.  The wine has a greenish-gold color, a nose of honeysuckle and citrus and flavors of oranges that really wow me.  A candy finish leaves no doubt that you’ve just been "desserted."

Standing Stone Vineyards Gewürztraminer Ice 2010

From the east side of Seneca Lake, this is one of four ice wines produced by Standing Stone.  They also make dessert wine from Chardonnay, Riesling and Vidal Blanc.  Tom Macinski watches over the vineyards, while winemaking wife Martha handles the activity in the cellar.  She said the Gewürztraminer grapes grow over a solid bed of slate, so minerality is abundant.  The grapes are picked after the leaves are off the vines, then placed in cold storage, to be pressed while frozen.

Martha said that artificial freezing cuts down on the loss of grapes to animals.  “We got tired of seeing over half our crop go to the birds and coyotes.”  She started making Gewürztraminer ice wine when she had the opposite problem.  Too large a crop and not enough tank space resulted in the decision to freeze some of the grapes and make an iced wine.  She says Vidal Blanc and Gewürztraminer both have the acidity that makes them work well in an iced style.

The sweet Gewürztraminer has a rich, golden hue and is very aromatic, with floral and spice charging forth on the nose.  An earthy palate is laced with the flavor of dark honey, candied peaches and spices.  They suggest pairing this wine with desserts featuring ginger and cinnamon, as the spices will play right into the wine's flavor profile.  The retail price of $25 makes it a great value in this style.

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