Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Finger Lakes Red Wine, A Long Way To Go

Last month I was offered the chance to take part in a live, virtual tasting featuring the red wines of the Finger Lakes region in New York. I've done virtual tastings in the past and they've always been a great learning experience. Usually I get to explore a new (to me) region as well as further train my palate in wine evaluation. I jumped at the chance to participate in the Fingers Lakes Red Wines virtual tasting because I am intrigued by what is coming out of New York right now. The region is well known for its rieslings but less so for the reds.

There were eight of us from the media participating, along with a representative (usually the winemaker) from each winery also on hand to take questions. For an hour we media types were able to ask questions and learn about each wine while we tasted them one by one.

The wines we tasted are listed here:
2009 Lakewood Vineyards Lemberger
2009 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger
2010 Anthony Road Wine Company Cabernet Franc/Lemberger
2010 Inspire Moore Winery Wisdom Cabernet Franc Reserve
2010 Damiani Wine Cellars Pinot Noir
2010 Three Brothers Wineries Barbera
2010 Billsboro Winery Syrah
2006 Shaw Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

We tasted in two flights, four wines a piece, with the first four listed above being in the first flight and the next four in the subsequent flight. I can see the reasoning behind this, since Lemberger is lighter than say syrah or cabernet sauvignon. Breaking up the eight wines also worked out for logistical reasons, but that's not really important to this blog.

At first I intended to post the tasting notes for each wine, but that was before the virtual tasting. Afterwards, I didn't really want to even write a post but feel obligated to do so.

Here's the problem: Out of those eight wines, one was enjoyable. The 2010 Billsboro Winery Syrah was pretty nice, and more importantly it was fault-free. Every other wine in the tasting had problems; volatile acidity, brettanomyces, baterial contamination, over-use of oak, and under-ripe flavors being chief among them. My impressions were echoed by other well known wine bloggers. Of course, there was the obligatory sample-whore praising every single wine, but those kinds of wine bloggers are in every tasting. Still, the fact that almost every wine was staggeringly difficult to drink really put a damper on the excitement.

Since I don't know much about New York wines, let alone the reds, I made some inquiries about why we got this lineup. One person I spoke to said: "The wines in this tasting don't necessarily represent the region's best reds. Not by a long shot.". Ouch. That's a strong indictment of the wines, said politely.

I tasted each wine over the course of three days and the Three Brothers Barbera improved a little bit. Therefore, along with the Billsboro Syrah, I found two (one and a half, really) in my first tasting experience of red wines from the Finger Lakes. To say that's an inauspicious start is an understatement.

There are many other producers in the Finger Lakes region and I am not drawing any conclusions as to the overall quality, because that would be unfair. Stylistically, I think I understand what the producers are going for, and in my opinion the flaws cover up what could be some very interesting flavor profiles. I also realize this article isn't going to win me any fans, but I feel compelled to write about my experience.

Beau Carufel


  1. Interesting post. I think you need to be honest when you encounter situations like this or you'll lose credibility.

    I've never tried any reds from the Finger Lakes, but I know for a fact they make some excellent dessert and ice wines. It must be a pretty challenging place to make traditional vinifera reds.

    Care to share who else participated in the tasting so your readers can get their perspective as well? Thanks, Beau!

    - Troy Stark

    1. Hey Troy,
      I have had some delicious wines from the Finger Lakes before, they were rieslings and really impressed me. I'm also hoping to get sampled on a few more Finger Lakes reds in the coming months so I can keep exploring the region.

      Some of the other media members who participated were Bill Eyer aka Cuvee Corner, and Matt Horbund aka MMWine. I haven't seen them post yet though so I don't know if they plan to cover it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Being honest about your experience is IMPORTANT! I agree with everything you said in this post about that tasting and I hope that anyone who reads this understands where you are coming from. Unfortunately majority of the wines were flawed. With that said- I also look forward to trying more wine from the region.

  3. I don't see any Lamoreaux Landing represented which is unfortunate. I really liked their reds-especially the unoaked Cab Franc. Hope you get a chance to check them out.

    1. I think that your response sums up quite well the sentiments of others; that is to say, there are in fact a lot of delicious reds from the Finger Lakes, we just weren't sent any.

  4. this is a surprising set of wines you were sent for finger lakes reds. Believe it or not there are good reds from the finger lakes. I was involved in making the Syrah and know there are other reds that equal that out of the finger lakes. our strength is whites definitely (riesling, pinot gris, gewurzt...) but, there are producers like billsboro making good reds. The reds from the finger lakes are more like those of northern france, Germany, and austria. We will never have reds that naturally have high alcohol, candied fruit, or deep deep colors. The reds here can have other good qualities lower alcohols, subtly fruit, minerality. Your review of these wines is needed and fair. thanks