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Desperately Seeking Saperavi

November 2, 2016 16 comments

Saperavi is one of my absolute favorite grapes. It is capable of a wide range of expressions, as well as extended aging, and Saperavi wines often present an unbeatable value compare to any wines in the same or even higher price category. Saperavi is typically associated with the Republic of Georgia, where it is an undisputable star, but it is slowly gaining its enthusiastic following in the other regions. This grape also became a connection point between myself and Rich Rocca, whose passion for the Saperavi is unquestionable, and I’m always looking forward learning from Rich as to what is going on in the world of Saperavi, especially considering his focus on the New World regions. I thought it would be perfectly appropriate to offer pages of this blog for the guest post from Rich, who shares his quest for Saperavi below.

saperavi-grapes-marani

Saperavi Grapes. Source: Marani website

My name is Rich Rocca and I write the wine blog wpawinepirate. I have covered a wide variety of subjects in my posts but the primary objective has always been to provide my readers information about the wineries and vineyards in my home region of Western Pennsylvania. The Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX) has also been of great interest to me. I have made numerous trips to the FLX and it was during these visits I discovered Saperavi. Anatoli and I became friends after we began exchanging our thoughts concerning the state of Saperavi in America and even Saperavi wine itself. Those years of accessing the progress of this grape eventually lead to Anatoli’s gracious invitation to write a guest post on his blog which I eagerly accepted. Saperavi has always been a “Secret Handshake” type of wine that you either knew about or you didn’t. Here’s your chance to get into the club but unlike in the past don’t keep it to yourself and spread the word about this rising star.

The vintners of the Northeastern United States have long searched for a red wine grape that could be their signature grape. Over the years several have been on the cusp of becoming the iconic red wine grape that would be identified with the region for producing world-class red wine. Vintages of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc have produced stellar wines that can hold their own with other regions but just couldn’t elbow their way through a crowded field of reds for the attention of the wine drinkers of the Eastern U.S. and beyond. The fact that you are reading this post proves that you have a curiosity about something new in a world full of wine that can be overwhelming at times. The following is a summary of information I have gathered over the years about this intriguing grape from the winemakers and vineyard managers who know it best.

Saperavi is an ancient grape that can trace its origin to the Kakheti Region of Georgia and the surrounding regions as far back as 6000 B.C. Saperavi is a teinturier-type grape, which means it has a dark skin and a pink-tinted flesh. A teinturier variety of grape will produce an intensely colored juice when crushed because both the skin and flesh contain the water-soluble pigment anthocyanin which is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red, blue and purple color. Saperavi is a very adaptable loose bunch, late-ripening, cool climate grape variety that can produce large yields without sacrificing much in the quality of the fruit. These vines are able to thrive in cool climate regions even at high altitudes because they have above average resistance to cold temperatures. A more cold/frost tolerant hybrid called Saperavi Severny has been developed by incorporating genes from the hardy Severny grape. Traditionally Saperavi wine has been blended with lesser wines but recently it has been gaining popularity as a varietal bottling. A common translation of Saperavi is “dye” because it makes an extremely dark colored wine. Saperavi wine is known for having good acidity and firm but not overwhelming tannins. It is these attributes that make it a wine that takes well to aging with some examples being found to have aged nicely for fifty years. Georgia recently has had political problems with its neighbors over the export of wine, notably Saperavi, but that is a blessing in disguise because it is diverting more wine to the world market.

When talking about Saperavi I can’t contain my excitement and expectations for the wine being grown and made in the United States. I have coined the term “New World Saperavi” for the wine being grown and made by three wineries in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York and one in Central Pennsylvania. In the FLX Saperavi is being grown and made at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar by Fredrick (Fred) Frank, the son of Willy Frank and grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, two legendary winemakers. Saperavi winemaking is well established at Standing Stone Vineyards thanks to Martha (Marti) Macinski (owner/winemaker). She is one of the pioneers of Saperavi in the FLX and is making her wine using grapes from her ever expanding Saperavi vineyard, arguably the largest in North America. Anyone familiar with FLX Saperavi knows John McGregor at McGregor Vineyards the maker of McGregor Black Russian Red. This wine is often referred to as “THE” cult wine of the FLX. McGregor Black Russian Red is a unique blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni and is only produced at John’s Keuka Lake winery. The only other producer of Saperavi outside of the FLX is Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Chuck Zaleski is the owner/winemaker at Fero and as his award-winning Saperavi vines mature he has been experimenting with different wine making techniques and styles to capitalize on the distinct characteristics this grape exhibits.

Fero isn’t the only winery exploring the possibilities of Saperavi, all three of its counterparts in New York continue to hone in on their particular vision of what Saperavi can be and what styles it can be made into. Their success isn’t going unnoticed as more vineyard managers are planting Saperavi but the addition of newly planted acreage is slow. There are several factors that have hindered the spread of Saperavi not the least of which is the scarcity of the vines themselves. Two eastern wineries that have young Saperavi vineyards are Knapp Winery in the FLX and White Barrel Winery (formerly Attimo) in Christianburg, Virginia. Anyone considering adding Saperavi to their property can start their search at Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, New York, a longtime supplier of Saperavi and other varieties to the wine industry.

“New World Saperavi” can be difficult to find because of the small number of producers and the limited yields from vineyards that are expanding but cannot meet the increasing demand. If you are interested in learning more about the Saperavi producers in the United States I have written an in-depth post about them. The post can be viewed at wpawinepirate.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/new-world-saperavi-report/

The next stop on our search for “New World Saperavi” is Australia. South Australia to be more exact, home to Dan Traucki, wine industry consultant, Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, freelance writer and my newest friend in the search for Saperavi wherever it may take me. Through his articles and our correspondences, Dan has given me an insider’s perspective of the current state of Saperavi and other lesser known wines being made in Australia. Australian wine production from its approximately 4000 wineries is dominated by Shiraz and Chardonnay making competition for market share acutely competitive. Fourteen ground-breaking vineyard managers have taken the speculative position of planting Saperavi in their vineyards. The majority of these plantings are in the warm climate of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale Regions. Saperavi can also be found in the cool climate of the Alpine Valley Region of Victoria. The cool climate Saperavi produces a slender wine with an angular taste profile while the warm climate renders a wine of muscular body and vivid taste.

I am interested in how Saperavi’s innate ability to express its terroir plays out when it is being planted in such a diverse assortment of locations around the globe. Even though these vineyards are planted in vastly different regions of the world there is a high probability that over the course of time the DNA of other wine grapes has found its way into the DNA of Saperavi as it has with all other “pure” strains of wine grapes. The vines for Australian Saperavi were sourced from the Archival Saperavi of Roseworthy Agricultural College. This noteworthy collection of vines has been amassed from vineyards worldwide over the past 100 years. With this thought in mind, I am sure that Saperavi produced anywhere will display the unmistakable qualities that we associate with it but will also manifest certain location-specific characteristics that will be inevitable because of its genetic tendency to adapt the growing environment.

The history of the “Old World Saperavi” has been well chronicled over the centuries dating back to ancient times. Much of the craftsmanship used to make this wine has change little over time from the way it is fermented and stored in large egg-shaped earthenware vessels called Qvevri to the traditions of the Georgian communities that are as intertwined with this grape as are the Saperavi vines themselves. The story of “New World Saperavi” is still in its early chapters but luckily for us it is being written by skilled winemakers that are fearless visionaries when it comes to the future they see for their wineries. The possibilities surrounding this wine are fascinating and evolving with each new harvest. I am a curious person by nature and have always enjoyed learning about something new and exciting. I invite you to join me on this journey in the pursuit of an ageless red wine grape reinvented in vineyards a world away from its ancestral home by dreamers and risk-takers as full of life as Saperavi itself. I urge you to indulge your inquisitive side and try Saperavi from anywhere in the world. I think you will be surprised and glad you got to taste something a little different.

Thank you to Anatoli for the invitation to be a guest on his blog and the opportunity it provides me to reach so many new readers/friends. I am always interested in news of Saperavi growers and producers anywhere. If you know of any please contact me at email: wpainepirate@gmail.com or follow me on my blog: wpawinepirate.wordpress.com

Twitter: @wpawinepirate
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#WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat!

December 4, 2015 Leave a comment

I guess you are thinking that I accidentally fell asleep at the keyboard, and the same word was repeated multiple times in the title. Or may be I’m working on the new wine riddle. Well, no, I’m not asleep and I’m not good at creating riddles. But over the next few days, there will be 4 different #WineChats or #WineChat style events which I would like to bring to your attention.

Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc Paso Robles

First, on Friday, December 4th (which is today!), we will be celebrating Cabernet Franc, one of the noble grape varietals and one of the “parents” of the Cabernet Sauvignon. This #CabFrancDay celebration is started by Lori and Michael of Dracaena Wines, and the culmination point of the celebration will be a live #WineChat on Twitter, starting at 8 PM Eastern time. The celebration is easy to join – pour yourself a glass of Cabernet Franc (you got lots of choices – Bordeaux, Loire, Languedoc, California, Australia, New York state, Oregon, Argentina and many other regions), open Twitter and chat away.

Finger Lakes Wines Sparkling and Dessert

Next virtual event will take place on Wednesday, December 9th, 7 – 8 PM Eastern – Finger Lakes Wine Alliance will conduct its traditional Sparkling and Dessert Wines tasting. The event will take place on Twitter using hash tag #FLXwineVT, together with the live broadcast on UStream. 6 wineries will participate in the tasting – Damiani Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Glenora Wine Cellars, Lakewood Vineyards, Standing Stone Vineyards and Thirsty Owl Wine Company.

Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

After you and your fingers will take one hour break, it will be a time to join a #WineChat! At 9 PM Eastern, Luke McCollom, General Manager, Viticulturist and Founding Wine Maker of Left Coast Cellars from Oregon will be discussing “the advantages of a single vineyard estate”. All you need to do to join the conversation, which I’m sure will be very interesting (I published a two-part interview with Luke McCollom a short while ago – part 1 and part 2), is to open Twitter and join the conversation with the hash tag #WineChat.

Frescobaldi Wines

Last but not least, on Thursday, December 10th, there will be a virtual tasting of 700 year old Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s “CRU wines from its signature estates (Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, Tenuta di Castelgiocondo, Tenuta di Castiglioni)”. The tasting will start at 1 PM Eastern (was originally scheduled for 2 PM), and it will be done as a live broadcast over UStream. Tasting will be conducted by Lamberto Frescobaldi, President and 30th generation of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. Join in!

I hope you will find time to join at least one tasting – the conversations at those events are always live and entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

 

 

Riesling, Oh Riesling – Finger Lakes Riesling Deep Immersion with #WineChat

September 16, 2014 18 comments

IRF tasteprofileThere is nothing obscure about Riesling. Unquestionably one of the “big three” white grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling). Celebrated through various social media events – “The Summer of Riesling”, “Riesling Month”. An established, de-facto pairing for the Asian or any spicy cuisine for that matter. “Fastest growing white wine in America”. And nevertheless, one of the most unknown, under-appreciated and misunderstood wines, if you ask me.

Walk into any general wine store, and try to find Riesling wines. Are they right in the first aisle, next to the California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Nope. Oh yes, a lot of Rieslings come from Europe, so they definitely will be right next to the Burgundy and Loire. Oops – not here again? Here they are – in the back of the back, a side aisle, a small section, ask the sales guy, he will show you. And this is not limited to the wine stores only – most of the restaurant wine lists have one or two Riesling wines, usually in the cheapest group. Similar story in most of our cellars – how many bottles of Riesling do you have on your shelves? A few? And this is despite the fact that Riesling is one of the most age-worthy wines in the world…

So how do these two realities of “one of the fastest growing” and “last row seat” co-exist? I think perception has a lot to do with this. Since Riesling can be sweet, and often it is praised for its sweetness, consumers are stuck in the notion Riesling = Sweet. Take a look at the Wine Spectator ratings – highest rated Kabinett Riesling (typically showing only a hint of sweetness) got 93 points; and then 8 (eight!) Rieslings got 100 points (the absolute top) rating – by the way, it is 8 of only 75 wines which got 100 points from Wine Spectator – and all 8 are Trockenbeerenauslese, the highest sweetness designation. Thus for lots and lots of wine drinkers, Riesling is a dessert wine, and while we love dessert wines a lot more than we are willing to admit, the dessert wine designation means “only for the special moments”.

Can this perception be changed? Of course. How? By educating people. This was one of the reasons for the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) to be created in 2007. The idea behind foundation was exactly this – to make people aware of what Riesling has to offer, and to help people better understand Riesling wines. One of the outcomes of the IRF efforts became the Riesling Taste Profile. According the the specification of that profile, four taste categories are defined – Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. Based on the given set of parameters (sugar, acid and pH), the IRF developed a technical chart which allows winery to estimate how the consumers will likely perceive the wine across the 4 defined taste categories. After that, the winery can print that taste profile on the label (you can see an example at the very beginning of this post) – and then the consumer can quickly set the expectations just by glancing at the label.

Finger Lakes Rieslings

Well, it is good to have an informative label, but when it comes to the wine world, seeing doesn’t really equates to believing. But tasting does. This is where the #winechat comes to the rescue. Last week, a group of enthusiastic oenophiles had a chance to dive deeply into the world of 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling, by tasting through the 8 different wines and sharing the excitement with each other. And the wines were definitely very exciting, full of pleasure in every sip. Finger Lakes region in New York deserves all of your attention  – but I already shared my thought about the region at length in the two earlier posts this year, so I will have to refer you to those (first Finger Lakes #winechat and the post about Bellangelo wines).

Below are my notes regarding the individual wines. These notes are based on the longer evaluation of the wines than we would otherwise have during the 60 short minutes of the #winechat, so if you are talking part in another #winechat session on that subject, I suggest you will start tasting your wines now. One last note regarding the wines. As this is my third encounter with the Finger Lakes wines this year, I would like to offer two “bits of wisdom” based on that experience:

  1. Don’t over-chill.
  2. Let ’em breathe.

Terroir, minerality are important components of Finger Lakes wines – by serving the wines a bit warmer than you normally would, say at around 50F, and letting them breathe for may be an hour, you will do yourself a big favor and will find a lot more pleasure in every sip. At least I did. Without further ado, here are the 8 beautiful wines:

Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Riesling Finger Lakes (11.0% ABV, $14.95). IRF scale not shown. On the nose, touch of minerality (gunflint), apricot. Overall nice and restrained. Palate: Clean , crisp acidity, touch of honeysuckle, golden delicious apple. Medium finish, overall very refreshing. Drinkability: 8-

Knapp Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Knapp Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12%ABV, $15.95) – On the IRF scale, this wine is at the lower part of the Medium Dry style. White apples, honey and lemon on the nose. On the palate, candied lemon peel with fresh lemon juice, complemented by the cut-through acidity. Medium finish, overall a nicely balanced wine. Drinkability: 7+

Boundary Breaks Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard #239 Dry Finger Lakes (11.6% ABV, $19.95) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. This is my second encounter with Boundary Breaks Riesling, and I find that this wine needs breathing time to show itself. Initially, closed on the nose, then opening to show distant hint of lemon, touch of minerality. On the palate – wave of sweetness first, with cut through acidity, lingering for a bit and then finishing dry. Tasting at a later time adds some fresh apple and more minerally undertones. Drinkability: 7+

Red Newt Cellars Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $17.00) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. On the nose, shows minerality, touch of fresh grass. hint of fresh lime, overall very intense. On the palate – nutmeg, hint of mango, fresh herbs and lemon, crisp, dry. Excellent balance and overall very pleasant. One of my very favorites from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $15.99) – IRF scale not shown. Fresh white fruit on the nose, touch of candied lemon. Nose quite intense. On the palate – rich, velvety, ripe peach with touch of fresh lemon, clean acidity, excellent finish (medium plus). Texturally quite unique. Drinkability: 8-

Fox Run Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Fox Run Vineyards Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $17.99) – According to IRF scale, the wine is right on the border between Dry and Medium Dry. On the nose, subdued notes of peach and honey, touch of lemon, intense. Palate is elegant, mineral-driven, with green apple, touch of Meyer lemon, overall dry and very balanced. Drinkability: 8

McGregor Riesling Finger Lakes2013 McGregor Vineyard Riesling Finger Lakes (10.5% ABV, $19.99) – IRF scale is not used. A lot is happening on the nose – cantaloupe, honeysuckle, candied orange, openly sweet and intense. On the palate – ripe apricot, honey, ripe white apple, elegant acidity, perfectly refreshing, very good balance. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Semidry Finger Lakes (11.5% ABV, $14.99) – IRF scale is not used. On the nose – rhubarb, floral, touch of grass, white apple. On the palate – honeysuckle, ripe peach, touch of minerality and grass, lemon zest, clean acidity, excellent balance, soft and round mouthfeel. Another top favorite from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Here we go – 8 great wines, and the region for you waiting to be discovered. September is still on, and it is an official Finger Lakes Riesling month – make an effort to find your new love – a versatile ( and affordable!) wine which you can drink now or put away to enjoy in a few years (or 10 or 20, this is entirely up to you). Cheers!

Finally, I’m a Convert

August 24, 2014 13 comments

Yes, this will be a post about the wine – what did you think I will be writing about? I completely changed my perception of one wine region, so convert or not, but this is what this post is all about.

Don’t know about you, but when I visit the wine region and wineries in it, I generally come with certain set of expectations, a perceived notion if you will. These perceived notions usually are very opposite and have no middle ground. Perceived notion number one – visiting many wineries, I generally expect to find a lot of wines which I will like, and a few which I will not care for. This would be true for many wine regions in California – Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara – but not all of them (for instance, Temecula is not included in that list). Perceived notion number two – I will not care for the most wines I will be tasting, but if I’m lucky, there might be a few wines which I will like. Connecticut wine region would be a good example of this second group – but we will talk about it later in a separate post.

Of course both of this perceived notions are founded based on the prior experience with the wines of the region, both at the winery and outside. It is easy to build – just visit a few wineries, where you don’t like the wines, or buy a few bottles in the store which you will not care for, and that’s enough to label the whole region as “not my thing”. Once the perceived notion is born, it is very hard to overcome and change. I agree that this sounds very shortsighted, but this is how we are [very commonly] wired – try something once, don’t like it (think about first time your mom forced you to eat broccoli), and you might be set in your “unlove” for life. This “tried this, didn’t like it, never again” type of attitude is never practically helpful around food and wine, as it prevents us from having great experiences. This perceived notion is hard to get rid of –  but not impossible if you are willing to take an “open mind” approach – try and try again, until a specific experience will trigger the change.

Okay, done with the philosophical intro, let’s get to the conversion details. The region I finally changed my view on is Finger Lakes. During multiple visits over the few years, I kept trying and trying new wineries, only to come up to the same resolution every time – “nope, not my wine” – and that included even Riesling, which is considered the signature wine of the Finger Lakes region. Then I discovered wines of Fox Run and Dr. Konstantin Frank, which created a crack in my preconceived notion. The Finger Lakes #winechat I took part of in May, made the crack wider. But what made me to change the whole perception were the wines of Villa Bellangelo.

Villa Bellangelo is a small producer, located in a close proximity to the Seneca Lake. The family owned winery produces a number of different Rieslings, as well as Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Merlot and other wines. About two month ago, I received a sample set of wines form the Villa Bellangelo, 5 bottles of Riesling and a bottle of Chardonnay. As I mentioned in some other posts, while samples sound great (“yay, free wine!”), to me they are more challenging to deal with than the regular wines I buy. I would not crack a sample bottle just casually in the evening – I need to make sure I can give it my undivided attention and spend time with the wine – thus it often takes me quite some time to find the right opportunity. Finally, the moment presented itself and I opened the first bottle of Riesling. Pour, sniff – delicious, take a sip – wow. Clean and beautiful Riesling, perfectly fitting my definition of “classic Riesling”. Next bottle, then next – all 5 Rieslings and the Chardonnay delivered lots of pleasure, sip after sip, bottle after bottle. 6 out of 6? I think this is very convincing performance, hence the title of this post and yes, the change in the perceived notion.

For what it worth, here are the notes on all 6 wines:

2012 Villa Bellangelo Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12.3% ABV, $19) – Color is lighter than straw pale. On the nose, great Riesling aromatics, classic, honeysuckle, pear, fresh apple. palate is dry, clean, great acidity, very light, green apple, super-refreshing, present minerality, short finish. A wine of a great quality. Drinkability: 8-/8

2013 Villa Bellangelo Dry Riesling Seneca Lake Finger Lakes (11.3% ABV, $19) – Beautiful nose of the white stone fruit, hint of honeydew sweetness. Perfectly balanced on the palate, crisp acidity, minerality, touch of green apple. Excellent overall. Drinkability: 8

2012 Villa Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $19) – Nice straw color. Pleasant nose of white apples and touch of apricot. Palate exhibits good acidity, good balance, hint of sweetness and white stone fruit. This wine is showing better once it warms up a bit (not straight from the fridge), which I find interesting. Drinkability: 8-

2013 Villa Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (10.8% ABV, $N/A) – Open nose of apricot and white peaches. Palate has nice level of sweetness, supported by good acidity. Very refreshing and a pleasure to drink. Drinkability: 8-/8

2012 Villa Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $32) – This wine is a dedication to the Dr. Byron Spence, who in 1866 planted 20 acres of the sloping western hills of Seneca Lake with the wine grapes. This vineyard is where the Villa Bellangelo makes their best wines from, hence the 1866 in the name of the wine.

The wine had a beautiful light golden color. Classic Riesling nose, with honeysuckle, white peach, apricot, all very subdued and delicate; touch of minerality. On the palate, apricot notes together with a touch of the apricot pit bite, touch of white apple, clean and vibrant acidity, present minerality, perfect balanced and nice complexity on the finish. Drinkability: 8/8+

2012 Villa Bellangelo Chardonnay Finger Lakes (13.8% ABV, $20) – Outstanding. Perfect Chablis-like, complex nose – minerality, distant hint of gunflint, touch of fresh apple. Palate is clean, balanced, with white apple and vanilla notes, vibrant acidity. Drinkability: 8

There you have it, my friends. One winery, which finally did it for me. Now Finger Lakes is squarely on my “yes, I love those wines” list. I don’t know what is your opinion about Finger Lakes wines, but if you were like me, find some Bellangelo wines and see if they will make you a convert. Cheers to the great wine discoveries!

#winechat Finger Lakes Wine Tasting – An Interesting Experience with Happy Ending

June 5, 2014 5 comments

Here we go again – another #winechat experience. Lots of wines and lots of talking – with your fingers. The subject of this #winechat – wines of Finger Lakes region in New York.

Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes is a picturesque area in the upstate New York, very close to Canada, consisting of multiple lakes – technically, Finger Lakes consists of 11 lakes, but most of the people will be able to name only 3 or 4. Outside of being a popular tourist destination, Finger Lakes is actually one of the very first wine making areas in the US – the first winery was established in 1836, and by now the region has well over a hundred wineries.

Despite such a long history, the wines of the Finger Lakes region are still considered up and coming. For the most of the cases, consumers might be familiar with Finger Lakes Riesling, a bit of Gewurztraminer and some of the Icewine, with the Finger Lakes wines mostly available only in New York and some of the neighboring states. As of late ( last 2-3 years) the situation is slowly changing for the better, both in regards to quality and availability of the Finger Lakes wines. It is also important to note that the improvements I’m talking about concern both white and red wines, with the wineries such as Fox Run, Ravines and Charles Fournier delivering full spectrum of wines worth drinking and talking about.

When I got a note about #winechat dedicated to the Finger Lakes wines, I was hesitant at first regarding my participation. The reason was simple. Yes, the quality of the Finger Lakes wines is improving. However, about 4 years ago, when my daughter was going to Ithaca college, located right by the Seneca lake, I visited few of the nearby wineries, and was quite disappointed with the wines I tasted. Therefore, the prospective of tasting bunch of wines and not being able to write anything about them, was rather daunting. After the internal back and forth, I decided okay, let’s give it a try, and signed up for the #winechat. A few weeks later, the box arrived, containing the 8 bottles – 3 different Rieslings, 3 Chardonnays and 2 Gewurztraminer. From the whole set, I only recognized the name of Dr. Konstantin Frank as a producer I heard of before ( I never tried Gewurztraminer which was included in the tasting set).

Finger Lakes Wines

About a week later, it was the time to taste the wines. I freed up the space in the fridge and put all the bottles in to get them ready.

Talking about an “interesting experience”, let me explain what I mean (yes, I know – somehow, when you read “interesting”, you don’t expect anything good). The #winechat usually starts at 9 PM. But of course it would be quite challenging to taste 8 wines in the real time, take notes, and support many simultaneous “finger” conversations at  the same time. Therefore, I decided to start an hour before, so I would have enough time to taste all the wines in the thoughtful fashion. I invited my friend Zak to share the tasting with me. We started from the Rieslings, then moved on to Chardonnays, and finished with Gewurztraminers. The first Riesling was okay, but then everything went downhill – the wines were simply from the series “nothing to write home about”, with the exception of Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer – that was one and only highlight of the tasting. We kept looking at each other with Zak in disbelief, as this was definitely not expected from the set specially selected for the tasting. Needless to say, at the end of the tasting (I managed to participate in the chat, albeit not as enthusiastically as I normally would), I was rather disappointed. And I had 8 wines to finish or dump. What I decided to do, is to put them aside, and give them another chance, one by one. I used the gas canister (not sure I had much gas left though) to replace the air in all the bottles and put the corks back. One bottle went into the fridge, and the rest were standing, waiting for their term.

Now, for the really interesting part. The next day or a few days later, all, yes all the wines (okay, exclude Dr. Konstantin Frank from here, as it was good from the beginning) tasted better! I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t understand it – but they did. Better fruit, better balance, softer, smoother – all of them. Well, thinking about it, the Rieslings only improved a little bit or not at all, but the improvement was very noticeable for all Chardonnay wines. Giving it another thought, I think I’m finally starting to “get it”. When I open a bottle of wine, taste it and decide that it is not ready because it is too tight and closed, I’m generally not surprised, I ofthen expect it, and I put it aside to give a day or a few to open up without any commotion. In case of this Finger Lakes tasting, I had multiple wines opened at the same time, and especially all of the Chardonnays had the nice oak treatment, thus required time to open up – this is not my typical case, hence the issues I had. So bottom line is that I was [again] humbled around wine, and still have lots to learn. Well, not the worst problem to have in life, isn’t it?

I will let you decide how “interesting” my experience was. Below you will find tasting notes, both the initial ones, and those I added after re-tasting the wines in a few days.

Here we go:

2012 Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling (11.5% ABV)

C: practically clear

N: Initially: golden delicious apples, a bit grassy; 2/3 days later: white fruit

P: Initially: high acidity, not enough fruit, tropical fruit, mango; 2/3 days later: white flowers, hint of sweetness on the palate with nice acidity and addition of minerality.

V:nice, simple, 7/7+; Final: 7+/8-

2012 Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars Round Rock Riesling (12.7% ABV)

C: practically clear

N: Initial: candied walnuts, Later on: light, delicate, good white fruit

P: Initial: white fruit with grassy notes, minerality; Later on: a distant hint of Petrol, clean and fresh acidity, elegant, well balanced.

V: Initial:  7+, Final: 7+/8-

2011 Boundary Breaks Riesling Reserve #198 (8.9% ABV)

C: practically clear, almost transparent

N: Petrol (hint of)! white fruit, apricot, honeysuckle.

P: sweet (spatlese or may be even auslese level), needs more acidity, but not bad

V: needs savory food, 7/7+

2012 Knapp Barrel Reserve Chardonnay (13% ABV)

C: straw pale

N: Initially: closed, practically nothing. Later on: nice apple notes, touch of vanilla, pleasant and inviting.

P: Initially: touch of pineapple, white apples, neutral – drinkable, but not fully enjoyable. Later on: nice, cutting acidity, backbone of white fruit, touch of herbal bitterness, but quite round and refreshing. Minerality on the palate, like a limestone. Medium finish,

V: 7, Final: 7+/8-

2012 Lakewood Vineyards Chardonnay (13,9% ABV, 617 cases produced)

C: straw pale

N: Initially: minerality, pretty closed otherwise. 3 days later: very classic nose, with vanilla and toasted oak, nice and clean.

P: Initially: flat, malolactic obvious, touch of vanilla. After 3 days: excellent flavor concentration, good acidity, butter and vanilla, medium to full body, good balance.

V: initially: 6-, final: 7+/8-

2012 Swedish Hill Winery Reserve Chardonnay (13% ABV)

C: straw pale

N: Initial: hint of gunflint, minerality, white fruit. Later: Vanilla and oak, very inviting, with Chablis-like gunflint

P: Initial: oak, vanilla, flat, needs more acidity fruit, opened up reasonably , improved with time, butterscotch, still needs more acidity; 3 days later: great concentration of vanilla, apple and butter, nicely balanced with very persistent depth.

V: 7+, Final: 8-

2012 Hector Wine Company Gewurztraminer

C: Golden color

N: Initial: Beautiful, concentrated fruit; Later: Very pleasant nose of tropical fruit with some spiciness – guava, mango.

P: Initial: Lots of green notes, bitter, biting, not balanced. After 3 days: bitterness subsided, with only a hint left.

V: 6, Final: 7-

2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Dr. Frank Gewurztraminer (12.5% ABV)

C: golden

N: beautiful fruit, inviting

P: perfect balance, fresh fruit, touch of spiciness, best of tasting

V: 8-

There you have it, my friends. To tell you the truth, I had a different take on the events in the tasting initially, but I’m glad I was able to figure it all out. And this story did have happy ending, as practically all the wines showed very well. Lessons learned – be humble, and give your wines a chance [to breathe].

Before we part, I would like to thank Finger Lakes Wine Alliance for providing the sample for review. Cheers!

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