A virtual wine tasting is a great way to taste wine with like-minded people from around the country and perhaps, the world. But it’s made even better when you bring your in-person friends into the event to taste the wines with you. Then, it’s a virtual and literal, party!
The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance is promoting the 2014 Riesling harvest in upstate New York and the Finger Lakes 2013 Vintage Riesling Launch, through a number of events both on-line and across the country and to celebrate, they invited members of the press, including The Advice Sisters, to participate in both a virtual tasting and a walk-around tasting over the past couple of weeks. During our virtual tasting, we sampled eight different wines with a number of friends as we also chatted and tweeted with wine experts and other wine enthusiasts via social media. An additional 10 or so Riesling’s were sampled at the walk-around tasting which was held at the Hearth Restaurant in New York City.
The Finger Lakes are located to the northwest of New York City in an area that was sculpted by glacers receding from the last ice age. The cool climate is moderated by the deep warmer lake waters making the area one of the world’s finest Riesling-producing areas. For those interested in farm to table cooking, or in craft produced foods, the Finger Lakes is a good choice, as the area’s 115 or so wineries are generally small and family owned and operated – what are known as farm wineries. Even the largest of these only produce a few thousand cases a year.
While wine is an adult beverage it is also an important food item. This is why wine reviews focus on taste characteristics and use terms such as: “minerality;” “fruit-forward;} and; “citrusy. ” Chefs use different and distinctive ingredients in a recipe to create a unique flavor. For example they would pair the saltiness in oysters with the spiciness in tobacco or horseradish, or the sweetness in scallops with the saltiness in bacon. Wine is then paired with food to make a complete taste profile. There are basic pairings – reds with heavy foods, whites with spicy foods, etc., but as one learns more about different types of wine their pairing selections can become more complex.
The different tastes (and for that matter smells) in wine come from the types of grapes used, the process by which the wine is made, the weather during a particular year, and the location where the grapes are grown. Each of these elements will bring special characters to the wine. Rieslings, from the Finger Lakes region of New York generally are generally very aromatic, they have a great nose. Across the board the nose of the 2012 and 2013 releases that we tasted showed a lot of apple, pear and honey. There were also some interesting milky notes (like canned condensed milk) that provided an interesting balance. On the palate, the wines tended to be more mineral than one might expect, with good acid and notes of tropical fruits and the pith of different types of citrus. In general one expects dryer Rieslings to have a more citric and tart flavor but this was not really showing across the board – something that is more related to vintage than to the region itself.
For the virtual tasting, The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance supplied us with eight Rieslings each from a different winery. Protocol Wine Studio will guided us through the tasting and we had a chance to tweet with people from some of the wineries, and ask questions using the hash-tag WineChat. FYU: #Winechat is a virtual chat on Twitter run by Protocol Wine Studio – Tina Morey, which occurs every Wednesday night from 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST (6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. PST). Each week the group discusses a different wine region with featured guests.
The wines we tasted were all either dry or semi dry. The more dry wines tend to have less sugar, and while some can also be sweet to the taste, they are not syrupy or juicy like sweeter wines. Most of the Finger Lakes wineries produce a range of Rieslings, so people with a wide range of tastes can find a good selection from the area. Honestly, tasting eight wines in a one-hour virtual tasting is a challenge, and out notes began to deteriorate after about the fourth glass. An abbreviated review of the eight wines is below:
- Red Newt Cellars, 2013 Dry Riesling: The first wine was one of our groups favorites and a big improvement over earlier wines from this producer. With a light buttery nose featuring lime pith and lychee, the wine itself was citrusy with some grapefruit and a good boost of minerality. An excellent and well balanced pairing wine. Only 1200 cases of this wine were produced.
- Fox Run Vineyards 2013 Dry Riesling: The nose of this particular Riesling was more floral with a hint of rubber. The wine showed well with a lot of minerality up front – almost a saltiness – trending off toward more citrus. About 2000 cases of this dry to medium dry wine were produced and it would pair well with seafoods, spicy foods and other meals where a saltiness would add complexity.
- Boundary Breaks 2013 Dry Riesling #239: This winery produces only Riesling, ranging from the dry #239 to desert varieties. The name, #239 represents the grape clone that is used in this particular bottling. Number 239 was a bit greener in color than the first two wines, and its nose was dominated by honeycomb. This was also strong on a palate, with a lot of honey and some sweetness. The wine had a good balance and was well made but did differ from the standard Riesling profile that one expects.
- Knapp Winery 2013 Dry Riesling: Only 302 cases of this wine were produced from this small (70 acre) winery. The 2013 Dry Riesling presented an interesting nose that was not unlike condensed milk – something that we did not expect. However, the taste was classic Riesling with lots of white peach, some citrus and a hint of jasmine and tropical florals. Across the board the tasters rated this one of the best wines in the virtual tasting.
- Thirsty Owl Wine Co, 2013 Riesling: This medium dry Riesling is made with both new and old vine grapes. It was well balanced and a nicely made wine with good acidity considering the level of sugar (1.5 %). The nose was tight – not much to smell – and the palate was dominated by peaches and some grapefruit. The winery is very small (only 40 acres) and produces a total of only 12,000 cases of wine.
- Swedish Hill Winery 2013 Riesling: This wine jumped out of the glass with a nose of honey, cream and lime. The palate was traditional Riesling, with pineapple, a strong (real lemon) citrus, and some honeydew melon. Overall a very well balanced wine with great acidity. Swedish Hill has been around for ever an is one of the larger wine groups in the Finger Lakes, producing about 60,000 cases under this brand.
- Chateau LaFayette Reneau 2013 Semi Dry Riesling: A clear yellow in color, the semi-dry wine had a nose of apricot, cantaloupe and some peach. The apricot dominated the palate, and while this is a sweeter wine than this reviewer enjoys it was surprisingly tasty, with good balance and structure. Just 1200 cases of this wine – which won the Governor’s Cup for best white wine – were produced.
- McGregor Vineyard 2013 Riesling: With just 3.75 acres of Riesling grapes, McGregor is a winery that focuses on dry red production. Even so, its 2013 Riesling was a good choice for those who enjoy sweet wines. With a honey and sugary nose, the wine was really too sweet for my palate and I would choose it more as a desert wine. However, many of the visitors to the region prefer sweeter wines, and with only 323 cases produced, McGregor will probably be selling most of this bottling from the winery itself.
After eight wines, as you might imagine, the formal structure of the wine tasting in our group deteriorated, but we enjoyed trying all the wines again for re-tasting. and we also tried some additional wines at the walk-around tasting later in the week. There were a number of good additional Rieslings that we tasted including Dr. Konstantin Franks; 2013 Dry Riesling. Dr. Frank is credited with creating the Finger Lakes Wine industry and his great-granddaughter Meaghan Frank was pouring at the tasting at the walk-around event. The wine had excellent minerality and notes of apple. It was one of the better offerings that we tasted. We also enjoyed Red Newt Cellars pouring of a 2012 Tierce Riesling. This wine is a collaboration between Anthony Road Wine Company , Fox Run Vineyards and Red Newt Wine Cellars. It was extremely mineral, almost salty and not what I would expect from a Riesling; however, it would make an excellent pairing wine for food – particularly seafood.
All in all 60 wines were presented at the tasting, and some were quite standout. Lakewood Vineyards 2013 3 Generations Riesling had great acid and was very apply; Glenora 2013 Dry Riesling, had a unique tea rose on the nose, good minerality but like many 2013 very low citrus; Keuka Spring 2014 Dry Riesling was really floral on the nose, and did show good citrus, while the Off Dry reminded this reviewer of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree. The Villa Bellagano 2013 Dry Riesling had a lot of vanilla (again something we would not expect) and the 2012 Semi Dry was very tropical in nature with a lot of mango and pineapple.
Take together, these tastings showed that the 115 wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region are producing an extraordinary range of Rieslings that bring together all four elements that generate the flavor in wine. With the 2014 harvest just ending and the leaves beginning to change, now is an excellent time to visit one of the regions 115 wineries and try these unique wines for yourself.
Learn more about the region, its wineries and other attractions on the Finger Lakes Alliance Website: , visit WineChat on Facebook to learn more about what they do, or just go to your favorite wine store and pick up a delicious Finger Lakes Riesling for tonight’s enjoyment!
The Advice Sisters want to thank our “wine columnist: John Dunham, for his report.
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