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Local, and World Class

January 25, 2021 Leave a comment

Today I want to talk about world-class, local wines. Let’s first agree on definitions – feel free to disagree, but at least I will explain my logic.

Local is an easy one. Yes, we are talking about wineries. Living in southern Connecticut, I look at the wineries in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey as local. Any winery I can drive to in one sitting I would consider being a local winery. This might be pushing it a bit – both New York and New Jersey are big states, but then while I live in Connecticut, it would take me only 15 minutes without a highway to reach New York state, so yeah, New York is local.

World-class might be a bit harder to define in an agreeable fashion. What constitutes a world-class wine? Tasty, delicious, high-quality – all very important, but I would dare to offer slightly a different characteristic to be the most important for the world-class wine – the wine should be identifiable. What I mean is that if the label says “Riesling”, I want the content of the bottle to show at least some resemblance of Riesling – honeysuckle, honeycomb, honey, petrol – something should help you say “yes, this is Riesling”. If the label says “Chardonnay”, I really need to find that vanilla, apple, butter, gunflint to say that this is the world-class wine. I don’t need all of the “characteristic traits” to be present – not all Chardonnays exhibit those buttery undertones – but still, some of the expected aromatics and flavors should be there. Of course, if I don’t have a frame of reference for a particular grape – let’s say, Trepat, Bobal, Schiava – my declaration of “would-class” would be based solely on the taste profile – but this is a whole other subject we can ponder at some other time.

So why are we talking about local and world-class? I have a winery I want to offer to you as a perfect example of both – it is local, and it makes world-class wines.

Ravines Wine Cellars was established in 2001 in the Finger Lakes area of New York state, close to Keuka lake. The name of the winery comes from the fact that the first 16 acres vineyard was located between two ravines, which are widespread around all the lakes in the Finger Lakes area. Today, Ravines Wine Cellars sustainably farms 130 acres of the vineyards in prime proximity to Seneca and Keuka lakes (prime proximity is important – close proximity to the lake protects the vineyard from the harsh weather) and has close relationships with a number of growers in the region. Morten Hallgren, who owns the winery together with his wife (and Chef) Lisa is a French classically trained winemaker, and this is something you can clearly see reflected in his wines. I had an opportunity to try 3 samples of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines, and all three greatly exceeded my expectations.

Here are the notes:

2017 Ravines Dry Riesling Finger Lakes, NY (12.5% ABV, $17.95) – I had my share of bad East Coast Rieslings, so I always have a bit of trepidation trying our “local” Riesling. In the case of Ravines Riesling, my worries dissipated with the very first sniff and sip – a classic, German-style, lean, crisp, perfectly acidic with a touch of a fresh honey note. It was perfectly German-like in its presentation, and textbook delicious. (8/8+)

2017 Ravines Chardonnay Finger Lakes, NY (12.5% ABV, $19.95) – yet another surprise. I had some decent New York Chardonnays (Tousey comes to mind), but New York is not known for its Chardonnay, so everything is possible. Again, I needed not to worry about this wine. Beautiful nose of apples and vanilla, minerally driven and restrained – more of apple and vanilla on the palate, a distant hint of butter, crisp and delicious overall. (8)

2017 Ravines Maximilien Finger Lakes, NY (13% ABV, $24.95, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54% Merlot) – yes, you got it – a surprise number 3. In the blind tasting, I would place the wine in Bordeaux and would be very proud of how well I did. A touch of cassis, a warm dark fruit profile, the same on the palate – round, smooth, cassis, eucalyptus, warm spices, good acidity, perfect balance, medium-long finish – another textbook wine. (8)

Here you are – three excellent, textbook quality, world-class wines from the local (5 hours drive) winery, with excellent QPR – you do get a lot of wine for your money, even at retail prices. How are your local wines? Do you agree with my definition of world-class?

#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!

 

 

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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