A Walk-Around Tasting of Finger Lakes Riesling!
by John Dunham, Wine & Spirits Columnist
Last month, The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance hosted a walk around tasting at Scandinavia House in New York City to promote the 2015 Riesling harvest in upstate New York and the Finger Lakes 2014 vintage Riesling launch. The tasting featured about 25 wines from 13 of the region’s 115 or so wineries.
The Finger Lakes are located to the northwest of New York City in an area that is perfectly suited to growing Riesling grapes. In fact, the region, with is cool climate is moderated by the warmer lake waters and fertile well drained soils is one of the most productive American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The Finger Lakes AVA is also one of America’s oldest grape growing areas, with the earliest recorded wine production occurring in 1829. Later, led by the work of Dr. Konstantin Frank, and other researchers at Cornell University new and improved plant management and grafting techniques helped promote the development of vitis vinifera varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Franc, but particularly Riesling, in the colder climate of upstate New York. Since then, over 115 mostly small farm wineries have opened across the region. Most of these wineries produce at least one type of Riesling wine, and mostly in fairly small qualities.
For this tasting, we focused on dry Riesling wines. While there is no actual AVA standard on what can be called a dry Riesling, the International Riesling Foundation has come up with a range of definitions for Riesling types, which they classify as Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. Under this standard, for a Riesling to be classified as Dry, it should not have a sugar-to-acid ratio exceeding 1.0. While this might be useful to a chemist, for a consumer, this would suggest that the wine would fruity but not sugary, and in the case of Rieslings, the fruitiness would be more citrusy or like a granny smith apple.
A Medium Dry Riesling would have an acid to sugar ratio of between 1.0 and 2.0. These wines would have a similar taste profile as a Dry Riesling but would be less crisp, and more focused on the fruits.
A Medium Sweet Riesling would have a ratio here from 2.1 to 4.0. This wine would start to taste more like a desert wine and would be characterized by a more syrupy feel, particularly if it had a lot of acid.
Finally, a Sweet Riesling would be a desert wine, and in the case of a Finger Lakes Sweet Riesling it may likely be an Ice Wine, produced from grapes that had frozen in the field and harvested probably in early February.
We sampled 10 of the Dry Riesling wines at the walk around tasting. They were all from small production lots and the retail price was generally in the $15 per bottle range. From the notes, they generally had a light gold color, with a nose featuring tropical fruits and some white flowers. This differed from the prior year’s wines which were more aromatic and had a lot of pear and honey on the nose. On the palate the 2014 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling wines tended to show a lot of peach along with tropical fruits, except in a few cases, they were less citrusy than last year, and there was a stronger minerality to them. This suggests that they might pair better with poultry and richer dishes than the 2014’s which would probably pair better with spicier foods.
While all of the wines that we tasted were well structured, and good values particularly in their price range there were some-stand out selections:
Dr. Konstantine Frank 2014 Dry Riesling ($14): This wine was by far the most classic Riesling that we tasted and owes a lot to the heritage of the winery which continuously produces an excellent classic Riesling. The 2014 was almost clear in color with a nose featuring strong tropical fruits like pineapple and lychee along with some noticeable white florals. On the palate this wine was well balanced with a good minerality. There was a lot of peach, citrus pith and some spice on the finish. A great food, wine this is what one expects from a Finger Lakes Riesling.
Lakewood Vineyards, 2014 3 Generations Riesling ($20) The name of this wine reflects the fact that it was grown, fermented, and blended by 3 generations of the Stamp family working together. The family started the vineyard in 1952 and the winery in 1988, and the three generations did an excellent job on this golden colored Riesling with a very floral nose. On the palate the wine had excellent minerality, some peppery notes and a lot of peach on the back end. It is one of the 2014 Rieslings that I would pair with poultry or seafoods over the spicier foods that Riesling is commonly recommended as an accompaniment for.
Heron Hill Winery 2014 Classic Dry Riesling ($17): This wine is generally only available at the winery but this is ok since Heron Hill was voted one of the top 10 most spectacular tasting rooms in the world in 2009 by Travel & Leisure Magazine. This wine which was a very light gold in color featured a nose of tropical fruits. The palate was dominated by a soft peach, with an interesting interjection of whipped cream notes. It was a really nice pairing in and of itself, and would be the wine of the bunch that we would recommend just for drinking on its own.
Thirty Owl Winery, 2014 Dry Riesling ($15). The wine was golden in color with a nose featuring interesting forestry notes – not funky, but woodsy. On the palate the was showed as Riesling though, with a lot of tropical fruit and a great citrusy crispness. There was also a marshmallow note that came through that made the wine quite interesting. This would be a pick for pairing with spicier foods, due to the crispness that it is showing.
With the 2015 harvest just ending and the leaves beginning to change, now is an excellent time to visit one of the 115 wineries in the Finger Lakes AVA and try some Rieslings for yourself.
Learn more about the region, its wineries and other attractions on the Finger Lakes Alliance Website
*Editor’s Note: The Advice Sisters have participated in some virtual tastings as well, in the past. To learn more about virtual tastings, and Finger Lakes Riesling enter “riesling” , “wine” or “Finger Lakes” into our search box on the upper right hand side of the page.