Saturday, June 18, 2011

New York Riesling From the Finger Lakes, Wow!

Have you ever had wine from New York state? My experience is very limited (unfortunately), occasionally tasting a wine here or there through my near-decade in the wine business. With the advent of Twitter I've been able to connect with proponents of New York wine, which has helped my education on the area grow. Last month there was a live virtual-tasting of New York state rieslings, where bloggers around the country were sent samples to taste and tweet about. I wasn't able to participate because I was in Oregon but the Finger Lakes organizers of that tasting graciously sent me samples to taste through on my own time.

There are two well known regions within New York that produce wine, the Finger Lakes and Long Island AVA's. Of course there are other areas all throughout the state producing some truly excellent wines, but for now let's start small and work our way through the Finger Lakes rieslings I was sent.

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These would be the Finger Lakes, shaped like hot dogs or rustic sausages, if you're a New Yorker, fingers. To get there you can fly, take the train, or even drive. If you have the time I highly recommend the drive or train ride because you get to travel through some truly spectacular parts

Why the Finger Lakes? In short, Dr. Konstanin Frank discovered that they had the right mix of temperature, soil, rainfall and geography to produce world class wines. That is, if the area was planted with the right grape varieties. As the saying goes: "Location, location, location!". This was back in the 1950's and 60's, since then the area has flourished with new plantings and now hosts over 100 wineries. It is notable that Dr. Frank needed years to convince people in the region that he had a point. Thank goodness he was persistent!

The kind people in Finger Lakes Wine Country sent me four different rieslings to try, the same four in the virtual tasting. I'll also note the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, another group doing a lot to promote and educate. In the realm of social media, I like what the Finger Lakes trade groups are doing to get their message out there. By engaging on Twitter and Facebook and actively hosting the "Taste Live" events, they're directly reaching out to bloggers who otherwise might not get the chance to experience wines from the state.

2009 Lakewood Vineyards Seneca Lake Riesling - First up during my flight of rieslings, I loved the way this had a light golden color with just a hint of green hue in my glass. The nose was wonderful, with pear, a hint of mineras (think freshly washed granite) and an alluring perfume note. Just the way I expect a young riesling to smell, and in a way reassuring, given my lack of experience with Finger Lakes examples. The mouthfeel was great, lots of bright acidity up front and a sweet peach note right after that. Something like wet river stones mixed with petrol was present too, enhancing the complexity. Balancing sweet and dry flavors can be tricky but the Lakewood riesling pulled if off very well. At all of $12.99 a bottle, this wine is simply wonderful and I wish it was distributed nationally. B, or 86 points.

2009 Red Newt "Circle" Riesling Medium Sweet - I wrote "Smells like peaches and pears in syrup" and that's what sticks with me as I type out these notes. There was a hint of a summer flower bouquet too, sweet nectar I'd call that it. Out of the four rieslings, I think the Red Newt had the lowest acidity and thereby perhaps the sweetest, creamiest mouthfeel. I loved the stone fruit and tangerine blossom right through the mid palate as well as a gorgeous wash of golden apple on the long, lingering finish. This is wonderful wine, incredibly easy to drink and only 11.7% alcohol. Easily a B, 85 points and a steal at only $11.99. Wine Spectator rated the 2009 Red Newt an 86 points in December 2010.

2009 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling Finger Lakes - What a beautiful golden-straw hue! Out of the four, this had the nicest color in my glass. The aromatics were interesting, a mix of petrol and river rock with a dollop of citrus, like lemon zest. A couple of whiffs also brought aromas of flowers again, similar to the Lakewood riesling. The '09 Dr. Frank was also the most nuanced wine of the tasting, each flavor felt as if it were teased out of the wine with a deft touch. Hints of candied fruit, a streak of minerality and soft, elegant acid created a wonderful mouthfeel. I was particularly impressed with the balance between the crisp acid and residual sugar. Well executed! B+, 88 points. Also at 11.7% alcohol by volume. $14.99.

2009 Glenora Wine Cellars Seneca Lake Riesling - The lightest color of the night, a truly pale straw, reminiscent of some pinot grigios I've had. The nose was a different story though, with beautiful notes of nectarine, peach, and flowers. Another scent I found attractive was the gravelly aromas that came out after vigorous swirling. Though I looked like a wine uber-geek, swirling does allow us to find more aromas we might otherwise miss. Well balanced wine makes me smile, the '09 Glenora Cellars riesling is no exception. There's a bright, happy acid structure that fleshes out with some residual sugar that comes across as ripe tangerine and white peach. I thought this was the sweetest wine of the bunch but also so very pleasant and quaffable. Another B+, 87 points from me. I later found out that Wine Spectator gave this an 86 and "Pick of the Day" on September 14 of last year. 11.0% alcohol and only $15.99.

Each wine was very, very good and if this is what New York's Finger Lakes region is producing, we all need to drink more wine from there! Each wine was of impeccable quality and showed a wide range of flavor profiles all originating from a single grape. They were expressive of both terroir and their respective winemaker's philosophies. I could envision multiple pairings with each wine, ranging from citrus and white fish to a cheese platter, or fresh fruit salad. Even heavier foods like spicy Thai or Indian cuisine would be great with these rieslings. A true testament to the versatility of the grape and why it's so popular with sommeliers.

I know from experience that a lot of people still think of rieslings as sweet, overly sugary, headache inducing wine that's best avoided. I implore you to accept that riesling isn't always sweet and often retains a lot of natural acidity, keeping it light and non-headache-inducing! That same balance of sweet and dry helps riesling pair well with many different foods, and a smart wine drinker will always have a couple of bottles in their cellar.

Here are some links to learn more about New York wines and specifically, Finger Lakes riesling:
1. Finger Lakes Wine Country
2. Finger Lakes Wine Alliance
3. New YOrk Cork Report

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