Mark Aselstine
September 18, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#WineChat 9/11 Wine Review Finger Lakes New York

It took me a while longer than I initially thought, but I do have plenty of thoughts on the wines and wineries that we encountered on the Finger Lakes Riesling Twitter #winechat last week.

Swedish Hill Winery 2012 Dry Riesling: Swedish Hill has one of the more extensive histories in the Finger Lakes region, with a winery dating back a quarter century and a history of grape cultivation on the property dating back at least two decades before that. The winery also seems to bring with a certain sense of humor.  We’ve seen, well let’s call it hundreds of wineries with pictures of their dogs or even their cats on their websites.  Heck, there’s even a calendar here in northern California devoted to Napa Valley’s dogs.  Swedish Hill has a miniature donkey, now that’s something worthy of a picture during a visit and also I think speaks to the winery not wanting to take itself too seriously.  Maybe they should take themselves more seriously though as Swedish Hill has grown to become one of the larger wineries in the Finger Lakes, now crafting about 60,000 cases per year.  Still family owned the winery is focused on delivering a variety of wines, suitable for every palate while keeping everything they produce as food friendly as possible.  I found their 2012 Dry Riesling to be the easiest of the bunch to pair with food and could imagine it being served well with a ton of different summer salad’s, including those focused on fruit just as easily as cheese and fish.

Standing Stone Vineyards Old West Block 2012 Riesling: The Standing Stone property has a history of cultivation going back to the early 70’s, although the current ownership group didn’t come into being until the early 1990’s.  The focus at Standing Stone is on Riesling and Gewurztaminer which isn’t surprising given the cooler climate that they inhabit in the Finger Lakes, but one thing that struck me as I was learning a bit more about Standing Stone was that they are actively planting and testing red wine grapes as well, with plantings as varied as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sapaeravi.  The Sapaeravi planting caught my attention because it shows the winery is willing to experiment and is clearly trying to find the best fit in the vineyard, not at the table where marketing initiatives are creating.  Native grapes often make incredible wine, but they can be hard to sell because the average consumer isn’t aware of them.  I appreciate Standing Stone giving Sapaeravi a try and wish more wineries would do the same.

Red Newt Cellars Circle Riesling 2012: The Circle Riesling came in as the most decorated bottle by major wine critics with a range of scores encompassing 88 points from Wine Spectator and 90 points (and a Best Buy label) from Wine Enthusiast.  Frankly, it didn’t take long to see why everyone enjoys this wine so much and it was certainly my favorite of the night.  It was a refreshing, slightly sweet Riesling that would pair well with food, but also work well by itself.  Notes on the palate included apple, fig and other stone fruits with an overwhelming sense that the winery should be charging more the $12 listed on their website, which feels more like a misprint than a real price. The winery adds a Bistro on site and has existed since 1998 and has taken a rather quick path to being, perhaps the most recognized name in Finger Lakes wine. If you wanted to select your first bottle, or two of Finger Lake Riesling, this would be my choice.

Wagner Vineayrds 2012 Riesling Select: Perhaps it continues to date me, but Wagner Vineyards was established the same year that I was born, 1979.  With one of the most extensive histories in the region, Wagner also boasts that the current ownership group is the 5th generation of family growers involved in the direct operation of their vineyard.  As with many of the wineries that I talk about here in California their winemaker, Ann Raffetto has a degree from Winemakers U (UC Davis) and has been at Wagner for over a quarter century herself.  With a brewery and a café on site, it certainly seems like an interesting spot to stop in for a taste and the Riesling Select bottle that we received was one of the more interesting bottles of the night.  It was the bottle that I was willing to share with neighbors who are seasoned wine lovers, one of whom worked a Sonoma harvest himself at one point earlier in life.  The wine was the sweetest of the four standard bottles of the night and showed clear pineapple and honey overtones throughout both the nose as well as the palate. Given the sweetness involved and the ever increasing alcohol percentages at play here locally, I was almost amazed that the bottle came in at only 11.2% alcohol.

Fulkerson Winery 2012 Riesling Iced Wine: I almost feel badly about not having much to compare it to, but I’ve honestly never had another Riesling dessert wine as most of the local dessert offerings are Sauv Blanc or more often Viognier.  In any case, it was interesting and I can see how it would work as an end of the night aperitif. The winery also appears to be doing a brisk business supplying others yeast, bottling supplies and much more.

Overall, this was an interesting experience.  When I started Uncorked Ventures, I would have said that the hype surrounding wines from New York State was likely outreaching their quality.  I still that's the case in regard to other regions, which is probably to be expected given New York City's status as the media capital of the world and all.  That being said, the Red Newt wine in peculiar was a bit of eye opener.  While I think too many people want to compare their wines to California (that's certainly the case among many NY wine backers) the regions are different enough than to really make it a moot point.  There's some good wine being produced here, but we do need as an industry to keep expectations in line a bit in terms of the likely quality to be produced when a region is really out in front of all others in the United States.  As we've seen with California's Central Coast and the Rhone Rangers outfits in Paso Robles, starting from scratch can often take generations.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was impressed moreso than I expected I might be.  Thank you again to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance for organizing, it was an insightful and interesting evening.  While we might not be necessarily moving forward with a purchase of any of these sample wines today, the Red Newt in peculiar is on the radar for the future.



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