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Four From the Finger Lakes

November 27, 2011

Just when you’ve gotten used to Sunday as brunch day, I’m bringing back a post about wine. Except this time it’s not just any wine, it’s our wine.

A while back I went off on a rant that New York wines have earned their bad reputation. And for the most part, I stand by that sentiment. I did get an earful from Lenn Thompson at the New York Cork Report, and he and his people were incensed at my loose use of language.

It was fair, and I was glad to set the record straight. It’s not that I think all New York wine is bad; rather, a lot of bad wine is made in New York. Inarguably more bad wine is made in California by volume, but that mostly comes from a few bulk producers. The Empire State has a lot of small producers who probably should be making brandy, but instead are turning their fruit into wine.

Anyhow, I’m glad to say that Lenn and I are back on good Tweeting terms as he helped me out with this Thanksgiving tasting of four 2010 dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.

Part of the trick to finding good wines, regardless of where you are, is to identify the grapes that grow best in a certain climate and soil. In Napa that’s Cabernet Sauvignon, in Carneros that’s Pinot Noir, in Sonoma that’s Zinfandel, in the Anderson Valley that’s Gewürztraminer, in the Hudson Valley that’s Baco Noir, and in the Finger Lakes that’s Riesling.

Is there just one grape for each region? Nope. The above exercise is intended to be illustrative, not definitive.

Selecting these four bottles of Riesling was very simple. I paid a visit to the closest local wine store that I knew had a decent selection of New York wines. And there I bought all the 2010 dry Rieslings on the shelf. It turned out there were four. The staff at this wine store isn’t the best, so I had to go with the label. Other New York Rieslings may have been dry. But if it didn’t carry that designation, I passed it up. I also turned away from many good producers who only had a vintage older than 2010.

While on one hand I think it’s fun to eliminate as many variables as possible in a tasting, there was another reason for sticking to a single vintage. And it’s not because 2010 had an ideal amount of rainfall or sunshine or anything like that. Rather, I’ve found that the Finger Lakes Rieslings drink better when they are young.

I love their zippy and puckery acidity. And in the wines I’ve tried from the region, that aspect fades over time.

But I was quite pleased with the four I collected. In alphabetical order they were: Dr. Frank, Hosmer, Lamoreaux Landing, and Ravines Wine Cellars. These were intended to enjoy with a variety of meats, cheeses and snacks before dinner. I’m happy to say there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch, but they were all surprisingly different from each other.

Now granted, these weren’t tasted in a flight. More is the pity. It would have been a lot of fun to sit down with all of these bottles and compared them back-to-back. Instead we drank them progressively, and this is where Lenn came in to lend a hand. Figuring out the order to taste them in was no small feat.

Knowing little about the wines, my original thought was to put the bottles in order from the lowest to the highest ABV. Lenn suggested otherwise, but being we were having the discussion over Twitter, he didn’t have a lot of room to explain his rationale. I figured the rationale would reveal itself in the tasting, although I suspected it had something to do with residual sugar.

But I was wrong again.

The order for the tasting was Ravines, Lamoreaux, Dr. Frank than Hosmer. And what follows is my general impression of each wine.

The Ravines did not make my mouth pucker, and I was a little bit bummed. I was half expecting the first wine to be the driest and most acidic of the bunch. But trying it on its own terms, it was a lovely, dry and fruity wine. There are others who really love this wine, and I’m looking forward to trying it again with my expectations in check.

I opened the Lamoreaux a bit prematurely before it had time to warm up a bit after its stay in the refrigerator. As a result the first sips were unremarkable. However, as it came to temperature, the wine really began to charm me. I loved its balance of fruit and acidity, with just a little bit of a tingle around the edges of the tongue and mouth to keep you on your toes.

Dr. Frank was a showstopper. This was a zesty, spirited wine that made you sit up and pay attention. It said, “I’m a cold climate grape, dammit, and you will feel my tingle.” I could come up with synonyms for acidic all day. Snappy is a good one, though. I’ll go with snappy.

Given the progression up until this point, I thought Lenn was moving from least to the most acidic. Which made me kind of fearful of the Hosmer.

But I was wrong again.

Because oddly, even though the Hosmer site talks all about the fruit and acidity in their 2010 dry Riesling, I was struck by its minerality. And as it turns out, I’m not the only one. And above anything else, I’ll think of this wine as gravelly. But that’s a good thing too. I swear.

This was an exciting tasting, and these four different bottles would make for a delightful flight. Even in a casual evaluation, I was able to see their major differences. But it would be a pleasure to sit down with these wines and four glasses, and give them the attention they deserve.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2011 7:59 pm

    What?! No comments on this post?

    I wasn’t a regular reader back when you posted your hate-on NYS wine. Which is probably a good thing, as I was in the midst of planning my FLX winery wedding and under a lot of stress (some self-imposed, a lot more family and “friend” imposed, but that’s all behind us now, thank goodness!), and I might have lost it.

    Or maybe not. Who knows? But I know I tend to defend NYS wines quite a bit, and I’ve gotten a lot of people to come around.

    You chose four good vineyards – at a recent wine tasting w/ friends we featured the 2010 from Ravines and Lamoreaux Landing, and both were well received. The Ravines moreso, actually – though this is in part because some of us had tried the single vineyard selections from LL, which are dynamite, so our hopes were a bit too high. I haven’t had Hosmer’s, though they make, hands down, the best Cab Franc in the FLX (Long Island makes the best Cab Francs I’ve ever had, and they’re pretty awesome at Merlot as well). Cab Franc and Lemberger/Blaukenfrisch (I think I spelled that wrong), and also Baco Noir are the best red in varietals grown in FLX, all of which I’ve purchased. I’ve had and loved too many Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and the Willamette Valley to ever, ever, ever think that the grape does well in NYS. I’ve been lambasted on Lenn’s blog for saying so, but I stand by it. There are a couple that I would deem “drinkable,” and they’re getting better, but I will never understand why they continue to pour money into a venture that produces a mediocre product, rather than cultivating what grows well there.

    Anyway, that was rambly. I prefer the 2009 rieslings to the 2010 rieslings, overall, but then again most of my favorite vineyards weren’t yet selling the 2010s when we last went out there in April.

  2. Darren Shupe permalink
    December 1, 2011 9:28 am

    I do look forward to trying the New York State wines that you’ve recommended.

    But to augment your previous post, it’s not just a matter of having committed winemakers. Terroir and weather are crucial factor. The Napa and Sonoma valleys, and the other large winemaking regions of California, are the most salubrious regions in North America in terms of climate for growing the respective varietals that they produce. Just as you can’t grow Brandywine tomatoes in a Canadian winter, you can’t grow most of the grapes you need for wine production if you’re not in an area that can’t support what they need to mature into sources of great wine. We see this even in the variation year to year in the quality of the produce of the great Bordeaux first-growths – this is why a 1966 Lafite-Rothschild will be considered a great wine, and a 1976 will not.

    Supporting local products is a great thing, and I’m trying to do it as well. For the most part, though, I’m sticking with Obie’s relish and snappy grillers – I’ll get my wine from back home in California.

  3. December 5, 2011 2:16 am

    99% of the time a Finger Lakes Riesling is labeled “Riesling,” it is semi/off-dry wine. Dry Rieslings are likewise nearly always labeled “Dry Riesling.” Now, there is considerable variation in RS between different wineries for their (semi-dry) Rieslings, so there’s no guarantee of sweetness level based on labeling.

    Something like the 2010 Sheldrake Point or Red Tail Ridge (semi-dry) Riesling will have an residual sugar around 1.3-1.5% (last time I checked), while a Red Newt Circle Riesling hits 3.2%. That’s a dramatic difference in perceived sweetness that even the amateur wine-drinker can distinguish. Dry Rieslings are a bit more consistent in RS and are often clustered around .75%-1.0% RS. But many producers do not include this information on their labels, although this is starting to change.

    One final note, one “issue” the Finger Lakes faces is variability from vintage to vintage. 2009 and 2010, for easy example, were dramatically different vintages that resulted to very, very different wines. Cooler 2009 yielded under-ripe grapes and outrageous acid levels that I found almost undrinkable, but the wine publications went nuts for. 2010 grapes ripened a month early with near record brix levels, producing fuller wines with lower acid levels. 2009 Ravines Dry Riesling actually made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines list, but is a very different wine than 2010 (although I can’t say which year I prefer).

    What’s nice about Finger Lakes producers is that many are willing to work with the grapes nature gives them each year without heavy manipulation to force a consistent style year in and year out. Does it mean more year to year variation? Yes, but it also allows for unexpected greatness and surprise.

    • December 22, 2011 7:33 pm

      Huh. See, I prefer the ’09s to the ’10s I’ve had so far. I think they have more character. However, I also like a little more acidity in my riesling.

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