Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Tuesday Tasting: Finger Lakes Reds
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 to taste six reds.
From the full disclosure desk: I work for Eric Mower and Associates, a marketing communications agency (www.mower.com). We developed a program for the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance called the FLWA Vintners' Roundtable. This virtual tasting is conducted via conference call, linking winemakers and food and beverage journalists. Earlier this month I played host to a FLWA Vintners' Roundtable attended by several drinks journalists, including Sandra Silfven of the Detroit News, Sean Ludford of Beverage Experts, Christopher Davies of Wine Country International, freelancer Thomas Pellechia, and bloggers Rob Lane of the Finger Lakes Weekend Wino and Carlo DeVito of East Coast Wineries.
When the subject of red wines from the Finger Lakes comes up, most people – vintners included – immediately question whether or not the climate can support the longer growing period required to mature grapes on the vine. Marti Macinski, who runs Standing Stone Vineyards with her husband on Seneca Lake recalls the day that a neighboring grape grower, Jim Hazlitt, showed up with cabernet sauvignon grapes he was trying to sell. She turned him away because she was “convinced you couldn’t grow red wines in the Finger Lakes.” Luckily, Tom Macinski did not get that memo and ended up buying the grapes from Hazlitt. It was the start of Standing Stone’s successful Pinnacle blend.
Wineries in the Finger Lakes are extremely young compared to the classic red wine producing regions in France, Italy, Spain and California. Most of the vines producing vinifera reds are less than a generation old. The Upstate New York winters can be tough on the vineyards and the relatively short growing season means that for the most part the Finger Lakes will never be known for producing big red wines that have built the reputations of Sonoma and Napa vineyards. However, this does not mean that the wineries cannot make some very fine reds with plenty of character. These wines are stylistically on target and compare very well in matching food to wine with some of the top reds from around the world.
For this tasting we sampled six reds, four cabernet francs and two Bordeaux-style blends. Cabernet franc is a slightly lighter style cousin of cabernet sauvignon. The French love this grape for blending, but Finger Lakes wineries are finding that it is one of the red grape varieties that thrives in the region and can make a sophisticated wine.
Billsboro 2006 Cabernet Franc ($18): This wine is 83 percent cabernet franc and 17 percent cabernet sauvignon. This Seneca Lake vineyard came under new ownership in 2007 and this wine is from the first harvest under winemaker Vinny Aliperti. The harvest conditions were wet and the wine spent a short period on French and American oak before being declared ready. There is a solid berry note and dry finish to this red. Perfect to accompany a hunk of Tuscan bread and sharp provolone cheese plate.
Fox Run 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($24): Trisha Renshaw, the assistant winemaker at Fox Run, presented this wine, made using a blend of 77 percent cabernet franc, 15 percent merlot and 8 percent cabernet sauvignon. The winemakers had high hopes for the vintage because of the great 2005 growing season, but when they tasted the cabernet franc in the barrels in the Spring the flavors were not quite right. Renshaw said they considered using the wine for blending, but at a later tasting they discovered it had morphed into a complex and deep cabernet franc. There is an oak and smoke note in the flavor profile that one of the tasting panel of journalists said had a bacon-like quality. There is plenty of ripe raspberry fruit in the base of this wine.
Hunt Country 2005 Cabernet Franc ($22): Winemaker Chris Wirth has been in the Finger Lakes for three years after having spent 15 years in Oregon and three years in California. Made with 100 percent cabernet franc grapes grown along Kueka Lake, this wine spent 12 months in oak barrels. It has a big zinfandel nose and firm tannins. There are appealing leather and java notes in the finish of this wine. A solid choice to go along with a pork roast or venison chop.
Sheldrake Point 2005 Cabernet Franc ($17): Winemaker Dave Breeden says this wine was an experiment because it blends 87 percent cabernet franc and 4.5 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes from the Finger Lakes with 8.5 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes from California’s Grass Valley. Sheldrake does not plan to replicate this use of California grapes in the future at its Cayuga Lake winery. The winery used 65 percent older barrels and 35 percent newer (three vintages or less) to age the wine because Breeden wanted the fruit to come through rather than the wood. The result is a dry, rich red with plenty of dark skin fruit notes.
Ravines 2005 Meritage ($25): Morten Hallgren is a native of Denmark who’s family owns a vineyard in southern France. He has spent time at vineyards in Texas and North Carolina before coming to the Finger Lakes. The 45 percent cabernet franc, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 23 percent merlot in this wine was sourced from vineyards across the Finger Lakes and aged in 75 percent French oak and 25 percent Pennsylvania oak. Hallgren achieved solid balance with this red. There is nice ripe fruit, good amounts of tannins and a a nice oak character in the wine. Great wine for a rib eye steak.
Standing Stone 2005 Pinnacle ($21): This blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent merlot from estate grown grapes was aged on Missouri oak. Usually, Standing Stone uses less cabernet Sauvignon in this blend, but the grape works very well in this wine. There are supple rich berry flavors to this wine, with firm tannins that make this feel very Old World in its structure.
The winemakers in this tasting noted that Bordeaux used to be the yard stick for red wines, but now California is the standard. This has changed the way many wine drinkers look at red wines, pushing them towards believing that the bigger the better. The reality is that great red wines can come in many styles, all flavorful and offering rewarding characteristics.