Wine Talk

Snooth User: Brad Coelho

Finger Lakes Region Report: I'm Hearing Great Things

Posted by Brad Coelho, Jul 14, 2010.

‘Hey, I’m hearing great things about the Finger Lakes,’ spoken by the collective ‘they.’ Sure, I’d tasted a bottle of Konstantin Frank or two, but embarrassingly had never visited. Summer heat finally drove me to the car, down past the paper trail of Scranton, PA’s ‘The Office,’ north bound to Ithaca, the tail of Cayuga Lake, where all the smart Cornell kids dwell.

From a zoologist-in-the-sky eye view, the fingers themselves are more like salamanders, accompanied by various thumbs and toes. Facing north, Cayuga Lake forms the right hand’s ring, Keuka Lake the index & Seneca Lake offends as the middle finger. You best bring your driving gloves unless you plan on toting a canoe along (or pink paddleboat, for the manly men) as the lakes are long, undulating bodies that are not traversable by car. I chose to wedge myself on the southwest corner of Seneca for the beginning of the trip, as the bulk of the wineries I’d planned on visiting lie on the southeast & western segments of Seneca. For some reason I ended my trip in a town called Canandaigua, just north of Canandaigua lake- a lake I called ‘Chicamacomico’ throughout the trip because I couldn’t remember nor pronounce Canandaigua. This proved to be an idiotic move, as Canandaigua is about as convenient to the wineries as it is to Buffalo.

Geographically speaking, the Finger Lakes aren’t really near anything. That said, they’re also not terribly far from what seems about anywhere either. It takes around about 4 hours to get from the Finger Lakes to Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City & what seems like just about anywhere else in the Northeast. This ‘somewhat remoteness’ contributes to the allure of the lakes, which are broad and beautifully maintained. Seneca is choked by vines on hillsides that drape the water east to west, cradling the lake for reflective heat. The vines naturally freeze in the winter, producing thick, vibrant dessert wines that garner just about the only premium prices you’ll see from the region. The land, with soils ranging from loam to gravel to slate, must be dirt cheap (no pun intended) relative to the vineyards of the North & South Forks of Long Island, giving the region a huge pricing advantage. I poked and prodded but never really got an answer to the question when I asked ‘so, how much cheaper is the land up here?’ A 30 dollar lunch for two at a spectacular microbrew called the Wildflower Cafe in Watkins Glen, as in Nascar & Indy Car Watkins Glen, told me all I needed to know about land prices. Are you sure you charged us for 4 beers, an appetizer and two sandwiches?

While just about every strain of popular vinifera imaginable is grown in the Finger Lakes, my real motivation for visiting was to gauge their take on Alsatian varietals (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer- I think every single winery I went to makes a Gewurztraminer). That said, a quick word on the reds & stray whites:

  • Chardonnay was eh. Most of the examples I tried were mercifully unoaked, yet banal. To my way of thinking this grape is best served in sparkling wines when grown in Finger Lake soils. While I have high hopes for the region’s potential in the fizzy department, it still seems a bit behind in comparison to top sparklers from Wolffer, Lenz and the like from Long Island.
  • Sauvignon Blanc- though not nearly as widely planted as Chardonnay, Sauvignon seems to do exceptionally well upstate, with top examples showing Pouilly Fume-like notes of smoke, flint & citrus fruits, backed by bracing acidities. Some may be a bit severe, yet the bulk of my tasting revealed most versions carry plenty of flesh atop their bony structures.
  • Pinot Noir- don’t go there, just don’t. Each Pinot I tried (save for Ravines, which is a producer talented enough to make a Charbono from the Finger Lakes palatable) was boring, bitter or bad. Maybe the talent and persistence of the region will prove enough to tackle this grape, but is it really worth the effort when you can devote your energies to WORLD CLASS Riesling?
  • Blaufrankisch, the surprise of the trip. Granted, I’d only tasted a handful, but there’s undeniable potential here. I may have slight label bias, thinking latitudinally (Germany, Alsace & Austrian grapes seem to do so well here, why wouldn’t this one?), but the examples I’d had were undeniably good and, more importantly, unique. The one problem- they call it Lemberger here. Reason being- Blaufrankisch is a weird name, no one can market such an oddity, yet Lemberger is way too phonetically similar to stinky cheese for it to sell either. I hate Catch 22’s.
  • Cabernet Franc- while not quite on par w/ the North Fork as of yet, I saw nothing but promise from the producers dedicated to Franc. There’s been some interesting research at Cornell demonstrating that pyrazines (the unwelcome component implicated in the bell pepper phenomenon of Cab Franc) can be greatly minimized by leaf pulling early in berry development. Managing the canopies a few days before methoxypyrazine accumulation ramps up (roughly 30 days post bloom) seems to do the trick. Several Californian Franc producers have dealt w/ pyrazines by burying them under layers of ripe fruit, but the Finger Lakes aim is to nip them in the bud before they get cookin’ in the first place.
  • Other reds- I wish were a smaller focus, not to say there weren’t a couple solid examples of Meritage blends, but again- the Alsatian varieties are SO good upstate that I fanatically believe the bulk of the land, enological talent and time should be dedicated in their direction as much as possible. I do understand and empathize w/ the notion that the region is relatively young, experimenting and has their own agendas (far more important than mine!) to manage, but I’d be remiss to not mention that the potential greatness to be found in a Finger Lakes Riesling or Gewurztraminer is likely to be marginalized by a diffuse portfolio. Fair or unfair, it may be an unwelcome perception that stunts the region’s growth.
As for the top wines of the region, the styles vary from dry to semi-dry to semi-sweet. Fans of Mosel Riesling will likely find the semi-sweet wines of the Finger Lakes to be almost trocken (dry) by relation, as the alcohols trend well over 12 percent and the acidities are almost uniformly brilliant, RS or no RS. When there’s a bit more sugar to go around, these wines wore it exceptionally well. To generalize, Alsace, Clare/Eden Valley & Austria are better comparators, w/ Finger Lakes Riesling at its best showing an uncompromising severity akin to a Grosset Polish Hill or Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile (I’m not exaggerating on either front, fans of said wines will love a top Finger Lakes Riesling). The characteristics for drier Riesling varies from smoky slate & petrol aromas to subtle floral, citrus blossom notes & possess an near-impaling sense of cut. Off dry versions give you the classic peach, apricot and lime notes, yet are not short on nervy malic acidity to keep things fresh, focused and lithe. I was particularly impressed with how intensely mineral-driven the wines were as a whole, leaving me to believe that there’s no area in the US that churns the Old World mineral gear as it does here- at least not that I can think of.

Gewurztraminer & Pinot Gris can be exceptional in these conditions as well, with the former achieving more consistency in terms of quality than the latter. The best Gewurztraminers have explosive bouquets of rose water, apricot and lychee, with dense, rich midpalates & spicy finishes. The only gripe w/ Gewurztraminer was that some of the wines lacked depth & were a tad trim for my tastes; but all in all, there really wasn’t a bad Gewurz to be found (that is unless you loathe the grape all together, making this paragraph a non-event). The Pinot Gris tended to be either over-oaked or neutral, though a couple shining examples demonstrated that honeyed, gorgeously bright profile which brought Domaine Weinbach to mind. As an aside, I did not taste a Gruner Vetliner, but I can only imagine it would flourish in such an environment- latitudinally speaking.

I was a bit shy w/ the dessert wines, as that’s an area I tend to be too easily seduced by. Call it my fruity pebble palate- growing up on artificially sweetened snacks has rendered me a bit anxious in terms of offering anything of value in that department. That said, a few of which were too remarkable to not include in my tasting notes & I will attempt to do the wines a modicum of justice.

Tasting notes & producer impressions are to follow. I’ll give the most coverage to what I considered to be the top 3 producers. I will spill the beans on one thing- I joined one mailing list (I belong to all of 3 or 4, including the obligatories) and I’m already back to order more- the wines are so inexpensive and so damn impressive that I was actually giddy in the tasting room.

Replies

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Reply by gregt, Jul 14, 2010.

"There’s been some interesting research at Cornell demonstrating that pyrazines (the unwelcome component implicated in the bell pepper phenomenon of Cab Franc) can be greatly minimized by leaf pulling early in berry development. Managing the canopies a few days before methoxypyrazine accumulation ramps up (roughly 30 days post bloom) seems to do the trick."

It's a little more complicated.  The key is UV rays.  So if you pull leaves, you want to pull the leaves that shade the grapes to give them full sunlight.  But the problem is that the 2 leaves closest to the fruit are the leaves most important in translocating carbs into the berries.  So the trick is when you pull them. You can destroy the methoxypyrazines even in the wine itself, so no reason to pull those leaves too soon - if you pull them late after they've provided sufficient carbs, and there's still enough sunshine to hit the berries, you're good. Somehow I thought we talked about this at some point?  Of course the trick up there is to ensure that you've got adequate sun to completely ripen the fruit.

Funny - I'm drinking a cab franc right this minute.  Tasted one earlier today from the Loire and I was interested in comparing with something else, so I opened one from Sonoma.  They don't have problems with sunshine there for the most part, and I find myself liking that touch of pepper that cab franc provides in some of the Napa/Sonoma wines, whereas out here on the east coast, I'm always wishing it were minimized somehow. But it's one of my favorite grapes, at least of the most common grapes, and I'm happy to see that more people are working with it.

Hadn't thought about blaufrankisch but if they called it kekfrankos it would be an easier sell wouldn't it!!  Actually, they should just call it blue franc.  A couple people out west do and that seems to be easier to say, easier to spell, and perhaps easier to sell?  Who knows.  But if that does well, another grape there's also lagrein and maybe even syrah, which seems to do wonderfully well in cooler places.

Best!

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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 15, 2010.

I'm thinking back to Jay's party and maybe we did talk a little Franc over a Washington Tempranillo?  I'd spoken to the president at Fox Run about this and then looked into some of the published literature- it's fascinating to me, and a bit more important in the marginal areas- abudance of sunshine can make one lazy when it comes to troubleshooting.

I'd say half of the Franc I had in the Finger lakes was heavy on the herbal/earthy side, the other half was surprisingly red fruited, clean and only hinting at anything somewhat resembling tobacco.  It is a fine line- you're right...my wife prefers versions that could care less about keeping the green in check, whereas I side w/ you.

Syrah from NY has been universally terrible, save for one bottle I'd had from Schneider- it might as well be red chardonnay.  You're onto something w/ Blue Franc!

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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 15, 2010.
Ravines Wine Cellars, One of the Finger Lakes' Finest

 

The majority of my previous experiences w/ Finger Lakes wines were courtesy of Vintage New York, a creation from Rivendell winery’s Robert Ransom. Vintage, much like Ransom’s Hudson Valley winery, offered locals the opportunity to sample wines from Fork to Finger, where I had my first samplings of Lamoreaux Landing sparkling wine, Standing Stone Riesling, Wagner & the like. Ransom’s concept was a smart one, serving as an all-encompassing ‘New York Winery’ tasting room of sorts, where all wines could be sampled and purchased on the premises. The tasting room abutted a wine bar, carrying a broad spectrum of New York wines to be paired w/ various foods from said state. Smart business plan huh? Well New York apparently didn’t think so, as both Vintage sites in Soho & the Upper West Side eroded to sluggish sales & couldn’t compete w/ rising neighborhood rents. Thankfully the postmortem on Vintage proved the notion not in vain, as the ‘eat local-drink local’ baton has been successfully passed to NY’s Wine & Culinary Center of the Finger Lakes.

Suffice to say my background on the Finger Lakes was hardly extensive, so I did my best to stuff preconceived notion in the trunk as I hit the grape trail, getting my virginal palate acquainted w/ over a dozen new producers during the holiday weekend. I’d figured Hermann J. Weimer would be the top dog, considering the breadth of distribution in the city & previously contented purchases I’d made. Konstantin Frank was sure to be solid, but what of the others? Throw darts at a board, see what sticks. Had I been told an upstart winery that purchases most of their fruit would steal the show I’d certainly question the source. The source, in this case, was my own palate.

The finest winery I visited:

Ravines: While the bulk of Finger Lakes wineries offer a range in styles from bone dry to more than slightly sweet (some even feature a sweetness scale on the side of the bottle- talk about a knee in the nuts to the indecipherables from Germany), but Ravines’ scale would be best dubbed as dry, drier, driest. The winery was started by Morten & Lisa Hallgren, a European tandem from the South of France. Morten’s pedigree is there, coming from a family that owned a 270 acre estate (170 of which were vineyard) called Domaine de Castel Roubine. While Morten’s chromosomal connection is undeniable, his scholastic route, achieving advanced degrees in Enology & Viticulture at Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier didn’t hurt. Nor did his apprenticeship at Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux. He finally landed a winemaking job stateside under none other than Konstantin Frank, culminating in the creation of his own label to start the 21st century. Though I’d never tasted nor heard of Ravines Wine Cellars before my trip, they are hardly a local secret.

Truth be told, the wines are nothing short of fabulous. The dry whites merge searing mouthfuls of Chablisean minerality w/ smoky flint notes reminiscent of Pouilly Fume. Ravines Riesling is an Old World palate’s dream. Morten’s staff was pouring ’06-’08 vintage, smartly holding back enough stock to demonstrate the benefits of ageing to consumers (not to manipulate demand a la Bordeaux). The ’06 vintage, a lean year that had its share of problems w/ dilution, had a nose of pure diesel & smoke. The palate was trim, yet subtly layered in dried honey, gun-flint, chive & lime notes, reminding me a bit of a Francois Cotat Sancerre. The ’07 showed contrasting ripeness, w/ dried pineapple, crushed rock & an unnamable Chablisean character. The frame was gossamer, w/ high toned fruit flavors that sailed on and on. The ’08, a tightly coiled embryo, seemed chiseled out of stone, w/ hay, floral and green fruit flavors contracting through the taut, firm finish. The gem of the collection, a single vineyard designated Riesling, comes from the Argetsinger plot. The ’08 was a full bodied, opulent, mineral-rich Riesling. Brooding, wrapped in a penetrating core of ginger, lemon peel, key lime and stone fruit flavors that seem backward to the point of intimidation, yet structurally impressive. This on'es built for the cellar. The ’08 Sauvignon Blanc was a touch angular, yet beguiling in its own right. The flinty nose of grass, savory herb, grapefruit & lime expanded & grew in complexity as the wine warmed. The inner-mouth perfume was a ricochet of scent, fleshing out a bit on the finish. The ’08 Pinot Gris was just bottled and suffered accordingly, though its honeysuckle & melon notes were round, juicy & ample, in spite of being bottle-shy.

I’d said previously that Pinot belonged in Finger Lakes fizz, well it doesn’t do a terribly bad Rose either ;) The winery was still pouring their ’08, a soft nose of berry and briar turning creamy and well textured in the mouth, finishing w/ a snap. The ’08 Pinot Noir was easily the most impressive offering I’d had during my tastings and also one of the lightest in color. The succulent nose of bing cherry, flowers and underbrush was a kinky display. The entry was sappy, middle-weight in presence & pushed by soft, gentle tannins. The ’07 Cabernet Franc was stellar, perhaps the best of the trip. A meaty, seared edge dominated the aromas, but the palate was all polish, tugged by a tarry, graphite grip on the finish. The Meritage, an ’06, was a long, red-fruit flavored Claret-doppelganger, keen on verve and finesse.

While the ambient conditions make Meritage blends & Pinot Noir somewhat challenging in the Finger Lakes, Ravines displays a deft touch w/ all varietals. The reds distinguished themselves in terms of balance, energy & superlative texture, yet the Rieslings stole the show & are arguably the best bone-dry Rieslings versions in the state, if not the country. I'm betting on door number 1 and number 2, Chuck. I’m hardly an advocate of wine clubs (I can count the number I belong to on the fingers of one hand), yet the 20% off the already modestly priced Ravines line-up made it impossible to resist. 14 bucks and change for Riesling this good is something worth shouting about, particularly for fans of Alsace, Clare & Eden Valley Riesling.

Wine Rating
Rose ’08 87 points
Dry Riesling ’06 90 points
Dry Riesling ’07 92 points
Dry Riesling ’08 91+ points
Argetsinger ’08 93 points
Sauvignon Blanc ’08 90 points
Pinot Gris ’08 87 points?
Pinot Noir ’08 87 points
Cabernet Franc ’07 90 points
Meritage ’06 88 points

*As I’ve already drunk a case of them I do offer one bit of serving advice:
Decanting is a must & they show best when they’re a bit warmer than fridge temp.

http://ravineswine.com/welcome/index.php
Other top producers to follow...
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Reply by alaskanexile, Jul 15, 2010.

Ice wines, anyone? Also: Canandaguia: really not accessible to the wine trail? Come on- they are all over there! Also: you might want to check some of the agricultural experimental stations in the Geneva area and their influence on Finger Lakes wine making...the climate and terroir are similar to alsace...I would almost think the writer read up on Finger Lakes wine, made it to Watkins Glenn, partied and then embellished the rest by internet research

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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 15, 2010.

We stayed in Dundee for the northwest, southwest and southeastern chunks of Seneca along w/ Cayuga. Canandaguia was a hike to Keuka lake- where we hit K. Frank, Ravines, Keuka Springs & Heron Hill...also had to deal w/ a 4th of July parade that dumped us way off track.  Geneva was gorgeous- the castle was definitely a trip; as were the roads littered in mansions.  Tons of tasting notes to come!

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Reply by gregt, Jul 15, 2010.

I'm actually going to be up that way next weekend. I think so anyway - it's family business.  Been invited up to Frank a number of times and there are a few others I want to visit.  Depends on time but should be interesting since I've never really done more than hike and bike - never wine.  Why not tho?  And since I don't do TNs, no overload at Snooth.  But I'm increasingly liking the adventurous spirit that you find in some of the less likely places - NY, Ohio, Michigan, Idaho, Arizona, even Mexico and Brazil.  It's kind of cool!  Best.

 

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Reply by echox, Jul 16, 2010.

Couldn't help but respond...the whole fingerlakes region hold a special place in my memory because I went to Cornell for undergrad, and wine tours was standard practice for seniors.  Most of the kids just go around to get drunk, but there's good stuff to be found out there.  

That said, there's also a lot of bad.  I've been to both sides of Cayuga and Seneca, and have wines from Canandaigua and Keuka (missing the 5th lake), and I'd say that the vast majority of wines I try just driving around are mediocre or poor.  I'll agree that there are a lot of fantastic, crisp rieslings up there, as well as gewurz that are slightly sweeter and, I find, appeal to more peoples' palattes than their alsatian or german equivalents.  

The dessert wines in the region can be really tasty.  You're getting similar climates as the canadian region about 2 hours to the north (where Iniskillen made itself world famous for icewines), but the region's less known for those types of wines so you can often find bargains.  I remember trying a $20 half bottle of Falkson ice wine at Century wines in Rochester, which really blew my mind.

Something else that hasn't really been talked about on this list are the odd/new/american vines that are growing in the region.  A lot of that amounts to sweet, cheap, mass-appealing wines that would compete taste-wise with Caro Rossi (that's still, unbelievably, selling for $18+ in the tasting rooms).  But there are also some really neat grapes up there that I hadn't ever heard of before touring the region.  One was Seyval Blanc, which I tried for the first time at 6 mile winery.  It's a hybrid (I can't remember which right now) that had nice acid support, lemongrass, a bit of white fruit up front, with a touch of oak that rounded it out really nicely.  

Another odd grape that surprised me was called Vincent, which for $8 a bottle delivered nice tannins, and an interesting meaty flavor and texture.  That one was also from Falkson I believe (although I've never actually visited that winery)

Touring the area is gorgeous - a lot of the wineries are really small/low key, and you'll often have the chance to chat it up with the owner or winemaker at the wine bar, or frolic around the vineyards.  Stop by Glenora winery on the west side of seneca for reasonably priced lunch and spectacular views. 

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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 22, 2010.

Greg,

You've got to put me through the Hungarian gauntlet.  Let me know if you get to any wineries up there- it is a really beautiful spot. 

I don't know why you don't do any TNs- you are a good writer.

Echox,

Thanks for your post- enjoyed hearing your impressions (and I obviously concur).  I was wondering what the Cornell contingency thought of the region (or if they thought of it at all).  The Glenora spot is remarkable- we B&B'd just up the road from there.  Suzanne's was the best restaurant for my money...watching the sunset off the porch w/ a bottle of Weimer wasn't too shabby either :)

i'll get the notes up today...

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Reply by gregt, Jul 22, 2010.

Thanks for the kind words Brad.  Mostly it's time. Plus fairness.  I tasted a few hundred wines this month and again last month and these are slow months.  In fall and then in late spring it goes way up.  But many of those are sip and spit tastings of a hundred or so in an afternoon.  Transcribing those is a lot of time, of no particular value, and then I've got at best a momentary impression.  People on various boards do that, as do some "professional" critics, but I think those are BS notes.  So I don't want to do those. Besides, who gives a sh** about my opinion of this wine or that one?  I don't want to post about wines I sell because it seems biased even tho I drink them myself, and if I post about a competitor's, I'm helping him. I do that from time to time if the wine is outstanding, but not often.

I record the wines I drink at home where I can spend time with them, like the wine I'm drinking right now. And curiously enough, it's a wine Greg DP recommended when he was a retailer.  A Beaumes de Venise and this is the 2007 version.  I'm liking it a lot.  I'm thinking about including it in a tasting I'm doing in Sept that was going to involve the 2007 S. Rhones, but now I'm thinking that I'd rather change that tasting to focus more on a specific region.  Or to compare five, six, seven wines from 2007 and say, 2008 or 2006, which in some cases, I like more.

Anyhow, all off topic.  Not sure about the trip up north now.  Family issues were what was going to get me up there, and they are what may prevent it.  I'll get up there soon enough but it may take a few more months. 

Plans were to go home to MI and visit some wineries but those are on hold now too.  The west coast of MI is roughly where Finger Lakes are - a few pioneering souls who are willing to push their wines past the laugh factor and in the process they happen to be turning out surprisingly good wine.  I feel like I should help those guys - it's like the Hungarians who produce three barrels a year.

 

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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 23, 2010.
Top Finger Lakes Producers

Hermann J. Wiemer
Next to Frank, Wiemer is as close as it gets to an ‘old stalwart’ of the region, crafting exquisite Rieslings that are a bit plumper than Ravines, yet equally distinctive. The domaine produces a Dry, Semi-Dry, Late Harvest, ‘TBA’ style, Reserve & two single vineyard designated Rieslings from the HJW & Magdalena plots. The ’08s were on display; with the Dry Riesling already developing into a dynamic, fresh white, w/ cackling nerve and a long, persistent finish. The Semi-Dry handles its residual sugar w/ kit gloves, as a tangy rope of acidity tugs along the middle weight frame to a fine finish. The Reserve is tangibly more complex, w/ vivid peach, orange peel and bushels of orchard fruit shimmering from bouquet to body. The textures were gorgeous & delineated, awash in pure, clean flavors that just wouldn’t quit.

The nerve center of dessert wines began w/ a Late Harvest Riesling, which was Spatlese-like for those familiar w/ Mosel monikers, showing round textured canned peach notes that stayed spry & straight to the finish. The Late Harvest Chardonnay demonstrated what an inherently trite grape it is in comparison to Riesling, boring, flat, verve-less. As for the Late Harvest Bunch Select ‘TBA style’ (for the non-German acronym-inclined, TBA doesn’t stand for ‘To Be Announced,’ it refers to its not so close kissing cousin ‘Trockenbeerenauslese,’ which for brevity sake we’ll simply call URD or ‘Uber Rich Dessert Wine), this was a sheer powerhouse and perhaps the most staggering wine experience of the trip in regards to price & power. The viscous, opulent dessert wine packed a torrent of baked apricot, apple pie and honey drizzled flavors that sizzled through the mouth richly, backed by a beaming brightness often found in cool vintage Sauternes.

My favorites from team Wiemer were the single vineyard Rieslings. Call me an SVD slut if you wish, but they more than merited their special designations. The HJW ’08 was gorgeous, competing w/ the Argetsinger for best dry Riesling in the country, demonstrating brilliant poise and focus. An impenetrably mineral-coated gloss, w/ a tightly wound beam of smoky slate holding sway over the green-fruited core today. Whispers at nuances sure to stun w/ short-term cellaring. The Magdalena, an appreciably warmer spot, dazzled w/ its ripe peach, apricot, Jon gold & floral notes that came on in textured waves, leaving you thirsting for another sip. Though I preferred the HJW, the showy Magdalena is the more approachable of the two.

While the sparkling wines generally disappointed on my trip, particularly due to my high expectations, Wiemer seems to have a firmer grasp on bubbles than most. Their ’06 Brut only takes a back seat to Lamoreaux Landing, showing a delicate balance between lush fruit and linear cut. The flavors were pure honey and golden delicious, w/ sharp edges framing the malic-acid tinged finish wonderfully. The Blanc des Noir ’03 has already evolved to a nutty profile, as hints of damp earth, cherry and peat moss fill out the bouquet. Softer and ready to drink, yet lacks the drive & punch of the younger Brut.

Next to Riesling the most consistent category in the FLX has to be Gewurztraminer, as Wiemer’s take revealed a deeply honeyed profile, w/ fragrant lychee & spice notes fanning out along the firm finish. An ’06 Rose was on tap & fans of bottle aged pink may find the tawny colored ’06 to be a uniquely earthy interpretation, with its singular toffee, underbrush and mushroom notes atop a bony frame. While a provocative take, this style doesn’t exactly rub my rhubarb, as I found the baby rose to be more palatable, albeit in a straight forward, trim & dry package. The Chardonnays were unremarkable quaffs.

My wife’s on-going Cabernet Franc contest, her favorite varietal, gave honorable mention to Wiemer. The ‘07s walked a fine line between herbacity & straight up vegetal spunk, with the entry level Franc cooking up a salad of cabbage, tapenade and red currant notes that possessed round textures & a pleasantly bitter close. A noticeably cleaner Reserve was all red fruit & cigar humidor, picking up bright, pliant layers in the mouth & packing enough density for cellar shedding.

While the line-up is dauntingly large, Wiemer manages to pack enough quality into the bottle to merit some breadth in experimentation. That said, I still feel their Rieslings are too terrific to not uproot the tame, expendable rows of Chardonnay in the vineyard.

Wine Rating
Pinot Rose ’06 78
Dry Rose NV 84
Blanc des Noirs ’03 83
Brut ’06 87
Dry Riesling ’08 87
Semi-Dry Riesling ’08 86+
Reserve Riesling ’08 90
Late Harvest Riesling ’08 88
HJW Riesling ’08 92+
Magdalena Riesling ‘08 91+
Bunch Select Riesling ’08 93
Gewurztraminer ’08 88
Cab Franc ’07 84
Cab Franc Reserve ’07 87+

For those that haven't visited the winery, I highly recommend taking a look at their library releases. While they don't have any vintages past 1990, I picked up an '02 'Johanisberg Riesling' (pre-appellation labeling law disallowed calling a non-Johanisberg Riesling as such...for those that are confused, think 'Korbel Champagne' being relegated to simply 'sparkling wine') which performed brilliantly:

This 8 year old Riesling was adorned in a light golden Chardonnay-like hue; w/ effusive and myriad scents that were akin to walking through a florist’s shop. The bouquet attacked at all angles, ranging from bee pollen, pine, apricot…countless and unnamable floral arrangements. The entry was spicy, spry and lighter than air, with an invisible depth of flavor that wrapped the palate in a gentle push, lingering & dramatic on the finish. Gorgeous, long, minerally- very impressive showing- best over the next few years, 91 points.
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Reply by Brad Coelho, Jul 24, 2010.
Finger Lakes Top Producers

 


Red Newt Cellars

Fans of Gewurztraminer take notice; Red Newt may be a New Yorker but boy does he make a kick ass German-penned varietal. Out of all the wineries I’d visited, no winery nailed Gewurztraminer & Pinot Gris like Red Newt. Gewurztraminer was a 3 tiered project: showcasing a dry label alongside two single vineyard designated bottlings. The Dry ’08 snapped w/ a strong floral nose of rose water & beeswax, turning dense & lush on its thick, flashy midpalate. The winery was pouring the ’07 SVDs, with the Sawmill Creek juxtaposing delicacy & power in its nose of tangerine, peach, spring blossom & honeysuckle. Flickers of spice pepper the palate, leaving a layered, resonating impression on the finish. The Curry Creek, another top Finger Lakes site, was muscular with Zind Humbrechtian beef, popping with a wild, vivid tang. Broad shouldered, with a full-bodied mouthful of flavors that wedged chalky spice notes from cheek to cheek, penetrating past the finish line. The Curry & Sawmill Creek versions are a bit pricy, but justifiably so & I can imagine them aquitting themselves beautifully next to top vintages from the Brand Vineyard in Alsace. The Pinot Gris ’07, also sourced from Curry Creek, was about as honeyed an unctuous an Alsatian fan could hope for. Rich & generous, with warm flavors of baked apple and nutmeg spices rolling over the tongue like a creamy dream.

For those at odds w/ Gewurz, the top Riesling & Franc from Red Newt are by no means slouches. The ’08 entry level dry Riesling, a shy bony chisel of a white, packed plenty of zip but left me wanting in the category of flesh. A marked step up was found in the ’07 Reserve, remarkably Trimbachish to smell and savor, w/ a plumy nose smelling of enough unleaded fuel to dent an energy crisis. A piercing entry zapped the palate through chords of slate & citrus, knotting up on a frenzy of a finish. The Sauvignon Blanc ’08 proved to be a tangy, simple sipper of snappy gooseberry & herb notes, finishing amply. The lone red that I tasted, a ’08 Cabernet Franc from Glacier Ridge Vineyards, rounded out the portfolio w/ its impeccably clean profile of crushed berries, pipe tobacco and licorice snap flavors. Its middle weight, yet full flavored sense of grace is sure to find plenty of fans & bodes well for the red colored spectrum of Newt’s stable.

Wine Rating
Sauvignon Blanc ’08 83
Dry Gewurztraminer ’08 88
Sawmill Creek Gewurz ’07 91
Curry Creek Gewurz ’07 92
Dry Riesling ’08 85
Reserve Riesling ’07 91
Pinot Gris ’07 89
Cab Franc Glacier Ridge ’08 88
Pioneers that trek up to Red Newt Cellars should schedule their visit towards closing time, wrapping up their tasting calisthenics at the terrific wine bar next door. The Red Newt Bistro offers about as frugal a chef tasting menu as this jaded pair of urban eyes as ever seen, 5 imaginative courses for 60 dollars. Dishes range from spinach ravioli with blueberries to bacon wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed w/ cherries. So goes the theme of eat local, with the drink local portion of the menu pitting flights of 04 reserve Rieslings together alongside sparkling wines from Konstantin Frank with vintage dates ranging back to the previous decade. All told, over 150 Finger Lakes wines are represented in the list, with the most expensive selections setting you back all of 40 dollars & change. This type of modesty for such gustatory goodness makes me want to pummel myself for living in New York City. Lay another indignant log on the blue flame.

To give you a brief window of what I sampled chez Red Newt Bistro, I began w/ the ’04 Tierce Dry Riesling, a veritable FLX all star team of winemakers including Anthony Road, Fox Run & Red Newt (emblematic of the cooperation seen at the highest level from FLX producers, e pluribus unum). The Tierce was idiosyncratic, showing mature, waxy notes & a lean mushroom edge. I moved onto ’04 Dry Rieslings from Fox Run & Anthony Road, w/ the former dazzling w/ the total package, jump started by smoky petrol notes- I can easily see this cruising in the cellar for another decade. The Anthony Road was a bit soft & gelatinous, leaving me wanting, but the terrific ’07 from ARWC more than atoned. I finished off the evening w/ an ’06 Gewurztraminer from Red Newt, dark gold in color yet as potent and crammed w/ baby fat as a new release. I’m starting to get the impression that these bright young Gewurztraminers from RNWC can go for at least 10 years before their characteristics atrophy.

Time to round ‘bout the wine trail cul-de-sac towards Anthony Road & Fox Run next…
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Reply by MReff, Jul 25, 2010.

Big fan of Weimer's Rieslings...nice report


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