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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Finger Lakes Riesling

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we travel to the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York for some riesling.

Those of you who know me or who are regular readers of Lyke2Drink know that I work for Eric Mower and Associates, a marketing communications agency (www.mower.com). A client we are doing some projects for at the moment is the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a voluntary association made up of the more than 90 wineries in the region and grape growers. I work on the business and play host for the FLWA Vintners' Roundtable. This program is a virtual tasting conducted via conference call that links winemakers and food and beverage journalists. I offer this disclaimer because we had one in the series of tastings last week that focused on Finger Lakes Riesling. My notes for this Tuesday tasting come from that session.

Several journalists were on the call including Ronn Wiegand of Restaurant Wine, Sandra Silfven of the Detroit News and Rob Lane of the Finger Lakes Weekend Wino blog. You can check out their reports as they appear to measure the objectivity of my tasting notes.

I spent a good chunk of my life living near the edge of the Finger Lakes so my first experiences touring vineyards was in this region.The region is known as a tough place to grow grapes. However, through the leadership of some early stubborn winemakers and research that takes place at Cornell University, Finger Lakes vineyards have grown in stature. The area is rightfully recognized as one of the best places on the globe to make riesling. For the FLWA tasting we gathered a wine from each of six vineyards that were spread around the region. Interestingly, we had a vineyard founded in the 1960s, one from the 1970s, another from the 1980s, one from the 1990s and two that were founded during this decade.

If you want to know what the "Finger Lakes Riesling Style" is all about, this tasting explained it: it is all about diversity. We had dry to sweet rieslings in the tasting, reflecting the various winemaking styles and conditions. One thing about the wines from the region is that while they can have some high residual sugar totals, they also boast solid acidity totals that tend to balance things out. You get plenty of fruit and soil characteristics with each wine.

Here are the six wines we tasted:

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2006 Dry Riesling: -- ($17.99) This Keuka Lake vineyard was founded in 1962 by a founding father of vinifera wine in the region. It is one of the most decorated vineyards in the east and this riesling already has a trophy case full of gold medals. The wine has 0.7 percent residual sugar and .72 grams of acidity. The nose has inviting fruit aromas. You get a nice mixture of apple and pear flavor notes with a good slate mineral base to the wine. Fred Frank presented this wine and made the point that after harsh winters limited crops in 2004 and 2005, the 2006 harvest was solid and 2007 is looking like another good year. The winery plan to plant more riesling vineyards around the region to keep up with demand.

Hunt Country 2006 Semi-Dry Riesling: ($13.99) Another Keuka Lake winery makes this riesling, whixh has 1.5 percent residual sugar and a .73 acidity level. Winemaker Chris Wirth presented this wine, which is made using 3 yeast strains giving it a round and vibrant taste. There is apricot and a nudge of tropical fruit to this wine that leans towards the dry of the semi-dry chart. Wirth came to New York from California and says winemakers in the region are much more willing to share ideas in the Finger Lakes. "It used to be that way in California 25 years ago," he says.

Rooster Hill Estate 2006 Semi-Dry Riesling: ($15.99) Another Keuka Lake vineyard and a wine that surprised me in the tasting. Owner Amy Hoffman and winemaker Barry Tortolon presented this wine which has 1.6% residual sugar and a .88 acidity. This vineyard was planted in 2002 on an abandoned 35 acre site that was once a vineyard. Rooster Hill spent significantly to improve drainage in the vineyard. The wine is a rich semi-dry style riesling with plenty of fruit and a slight acidic edge that balances each sip. I found a touch of honey and peach in the wine.

Standing Stone 2006 Riesling: ($13.99) From the east side of Seneca Lake, this winery was formed in 1991 on the site of historic vineyards that supplied Gold Seal Vineyards with grapes. Owner Marti Macinski said they have learned that grapes on the land lend themselves to a variety of riesling styles depending on the conditions so the winemakers work to "get out of the way" of the grapes and let them do what they want to do. The 2006 wine has 2.0 percent residual sugar and a .844 acidity level. This wine drinks much more dry than the sugar level would suggest. You get clear tropical notes and a hint of fresh orange in the base.

White Springs Farm 2006 Red Label Riesling: ($12.99) This Seneca Lake winery is not far from Geneva. Derek Wilbur presented this wine, which has a 4.5 percent residual sugar and .89 grams of acidity. Wilbur has been making wine in the region for 25 years and says the 2006 vintage is proof that Finger Lakes vintners have come of age. "We've produced some stunning wines where 20 years ago we would have thrown up our arms," he says. Wilbur says that one year Finger Lakes winemakers making wines like California vineyards and the next they have to act like European wineries, reacting to what the climate serves up. This wine has plenty of honey, peach and apricot notes. While this wine is on the sweet end of the non-dessert wine scale, it could match well with a summer salad or even some pork dishes.

Wagner 2006 Riesling Ice Wine: ($22.99/375 ml) A Seneca Lake winery founded in 1979 it is also the home for a pretty decent microbrewery. Laura Wagner presented this wine which has 11.8 percent residual sugar. The grapes pressed to make this wine are picked and frozen post harvest, which allows the winemaker to control quality, quantity and pricing. The wine has lush pineapple and apricot flavor notes that are perfect for the end of a meal.

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