Monday, January 21, 2013

Wine Country: New York Finger Lakes - Shaw Vineyard


Steve Shaw has the unenviable position of having a name which restricts a Google search for his product.  He is buried under a mountain of results for someone named Charles.  Shaw Vineyard and Winery, however, does not make bulk wine, and their bottles do not cost two bucks, although they do offer great value for the money.

After communicating with Steve Shaw, Jr. - the sales representative for the wine his father makes - only through emails, he came out west to pour his wares in Glendale, CA.  I finally had the chance to meet him and taste his wines in January at 55 Degree Wine, in their funky wine cellar downstairs from the store.  Shaw was there to spread the word about his family’s wines, but also to raise interest in East Coast wines in general.

The elder Steve Shaw has been growing wine grapes for 30 years.  He learned winemaking techniques during the 1990s and founded his label in 2002.  His production facility and tasting room are located on the western side of Seneca Lake, in New York’s Finger Lakes region.  He, and his son, are true believers in the Finger Lakes terroir.

The younger Shaw (at right) tells me their red wines are bottled nearly two years after their neighbors.  They like what the extra time in the barrel does for their reds.  French oak and American oak from Pennsylvania are used, along with some experimental use of Hungarian oak.

The credibility of the Finger Lakes area started with Riesling, and it’s still the region’s main grape.  But Shaw is quick to point out that they are not just a one-trick pony.  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Cabernet Sauvignon also figure into the Shaw plan - along with Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc.

Shaw says all their wines are vegan-friendly, with no eggs or fish product used in the fining of their wines.  All their wines are estate - the main property is on Seneca Lake while grapes also come from a second vineyard site on Keuka Lake.

How far west do New York state wines usually go?  “Buffalo,” is Shaw’s retort.  He goes on to explain that most New York state wine is actually sold between Albany and Buffalo.  95 percent of the Shaw wines are sold in-state.

Shaw says their white wines are inspired by Alsace, Germany and Austria, while their reds harken to Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.  Here’s the tasting menu from the Shaw Vineyards and Winery tasting:

2006 Chardonnay
From a very cold vintage, this unoaked Chardonnay hails from the Keuka Lake property.  The wine sees no oak, but it does sit on the lees for two years.  All that contact with the spent yeast cells brings a creamy, full mouthfeel to the wine.  Beautiful tropical fruit graces the nose, while flavors of peaches and citrus peel are joined by a nice, easy acidity.  An earthy finish adds to the complexity.  At $15, a steal.

2007 Gewurztraminer
The Seneca Lake fruit makes for a very aromatic nose - I get the mental image of piney woods, or peaches and pears grown in a pine forest.  The palate is fresh with pineapple and guava.  Acidity is not a huge player in this wine, so it sips beautifully.  $19

2011 Sauvignon Blanc
A very slight grassiness can hardly keep pace with the fruity nose.  This is creamy, for a Sauvignon Blanc.  A soft, sweet edge shows peaches and citrus.  Again, the acidity does not figure largely, but the wine as flavor to burn.  $18

2010 Li Bella Pinot Grigio
Beautiful peaches and pears on the nose, with the same on the palate.  A medium mouthfeel and gentle acidity is wrapped in a package of slightly higher residual sugar than the other Shaw whites, around 1.4 percent.

2008 Riesling
Here’s another wine that sat on the lees, this time for three years.  The nose is very aromatic, with petrol coming through forcefully.  I pick up that slate minerality on the palate, too.  Minerality trumps the fruit, and a beautiful acidity rounds it out.

2008 Pinot Noir
This wine ages for 36 months in oak, but the effect of the wood treatment is not the least bit overdone.  The Shaw Pinot is unfiltered and unfined.  The nose displays a sackful of cherry candy, so it’s a surprise to find the palate showing tons of minerality.  Good acidity.  $30

2007 Cabernet Franc
An earthy, cherry bouquet accompanies a palate full of minerals and cherries.   Three years in oak again leaves no sign of a heavy hand - the wood is used to perfection.  $35

Keuka Hill Red Blend 
This mix of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot spends four years aging in oak barrels.  Again, the wood seems perfectly utilized.  A candy-like nose and a palate of beautiful, earthy blackberry, cherry and cola notes are topped with great acidity

It was so nice to meet some other wine geeks who attended the tasting.  Dr. Patrick Farrell is a Huntington Beach Master of Wine, while Ben Mason writes about wine under the banner of Hipster Enologist.  Wine writer and consultant Denise Lowe bills herself as the Goddess of Wine, and noted Southern California wine educator Dr. Joel Fisher stopped in for a taste of the Finger Lakes.


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