Saturday, May 26, 2007

Finger Lakes Surprises

Having stopped at a fair number of wineries in New York's Finger Lakes region, I would have to say some of my expectations were right on the money -- the consistency of the rieslings across the board is there and the quality is high. And, it's an absolutely idyllic environment in which to enjoy wines.

But there have been a few surprises along the way.

Pinot Gris Explosion
I was quite surprised to see one of my favorite whites, pinot gris, is relatively common up here. Some of the wineries call theirs pinot grigio, for the lighter style of this wine as produced in Italy, but most seem to use the pinot gris label and tout their wines as Alsatian in style.

The pinot gris I tasted was pretty good overall, but I'd recommend the region be careful about throwing around comparisons to Alsace or even Oregon. The Finger Lakes is producing some nice melony pinot gris, but the richness is not there yet if they want to talk about Alsace. Still, it's another exciting white varietal for the region that could be sensational eventually.

Why Cabernet?
The Finger Lakes does so many varietals so well, but no wine region is perfectly suited to every varietal. So why does nearly every winery in the area produce a cabernet sauvignon when the results are nearly always thin and green? The answer, I'm sure, is that cabernet is universally recognized and likely to appeal to a lot of consumers who buy on impulse.

My advice -- when your tasting fee limits the number of wines you can taste, don't waste a pick on the cabernet. There are so many other good wines to taste.

Sweet Chard
One delightful suprise turned up on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake where the Standing Stone winery is turning out a couple of great ice wines, including one made mostly from chardonnay. I've seen only one other ice wine with a similar pedigree, from Wolffer Estate on Long Island.

It turns out that the winemaker at Standing Stone spent some time at Wolffer, according to the staff. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that this blended ice wine uses 53 percent chardonnay. The results are just great, rich aromas of melon and peaches wrapped in a honeyed package. Standing Stone has carved out a nice reputation for its Vidal icewine, but I think its quest for innovation may mean even greater things are in store for this winery in the future.

Dollar Signs
Also on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake is an interesting little winery call Red Newt. In addition to the usual suspects, the winery produces a number of quality red wines. They readily admit that the weather often does not cooperate in the making of full-bodied reds, but they are very excited about their 2005 reserve wines.

Indeed, the 2005 reserve merlot was very good, and a 2005 reserve syrah was even better. It had incredible complexity, with plenty of black fruit, pepper and earth. But, the problem is, they want roughly $50 for it. The merlot -- close to $40.

It seems like Red Newt got carried away with enthusiasm for these wines. Of course I've bought more expensive wines, but you have to look at the market for the varietal and, quite simply, there are many better syrahs out there in the $30 range. Red Newt simply does not have the cache to command these kinds of prices.

If I sound peeved, I'm just concerned about seeing a little more realism in the picture. The beauty of an area like the Finger Lakes is that you can get some excellent, different wines at reasonable prices. Let's hope it stays that way. In the meantime, I am very encouraged by the chances that some winemakers out in the Finger Lakes seem willing to take.


Blogger Lenn said...

I have yet to taste a Finger Lakes cab or merlot that is worth buying. I think that many of them are actually made with juice/fruit from Long Island blended in.

Other than the stuff from Red Newt, did any other reds grab you? I've had very few reds of note from the Finger Lakes...

12:01 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Lenn, Red Newt really had the best reds I tasted -- keep in kind we hit about 15 wineries out of so many. A couple of places, such as Heron Hill, had respectable reds, but nothing really great. They all finish short.

Red Newt 2005 merlot would be worth buying at $10 or $15 less, good complexity. Too bad they aren't interested in making it more accessible.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Lenn said...

Does Red Newt use all their own fruit for that merlot? You don't see many up there that do...that's why I ask.

12:19 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Sorry, I didn't find that out.

6:00 PM  

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