Recently, I had the chance to taste some excellent Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, through a virtual wine tasting conducted by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, in celebration of the Finger Lakes 2012 Vintage Riesling Launch. Virtual Wine Tastings are a wonderful way for wine enthusiasts to get together to sample and learn about outstanding wines and wine producing areas from experts. For those who have never experienced the excitement of a virtual wine tasting, they have all the elements of the in-person variety. However, since they are online, participants have the added advantage of learning about their wines from the actual vintners, winemakers, and experts – people that they would be unlikely to have come to their living room or dining room normally. I had the chance to submit some specific questions about Riesling, in advance.
At the appointed time, for this, my second Finger Lakes Wine Alliance tasting, I gathered a group of actual friends, sat a laptop nearby, and had the chance to experience a modern, novel and entertaining way to learn about Finger Lakes wine, and connect ourselves to others who are also enthusiasts -- without even having to leave the dining room table.
Technology is wonderful, but can be "iffy." At this particular session, there were glitches with the live Finger Lakes Feed, but nevertheless, my appointed "wine guy" was able to manage the pouring, note taking and computer, all at the same time, while the rest of us considered how salty, savory and sweet foods worked with the various wines we were sent to review.
According to the International Riesling Foundation, Riesling is the second fastest growing varietal in terms of sales in the United States and with good reason. Similar to Pinot Noir in the red category (which happens to be the fastest growing varietal in terms of sales), Riesling is an extremely approachable and pair-able wine, produced in styles that range from bone dry to sugary sweet. The Finger Lakes region of New York state is noted for fine Rieslings, due to large, narrow and deep lakes which moderate the temperature differences and create the perfect climate and growing conditions for Riesling. The area hosts about 115 separate wineries, producing about 220,000 cased or Riesling a year. Most producers produce two or three styles of the wine ranging from dry to semi-sweet, sweet and even sparkling.
The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance supplied us with five Reislings from five of the region’s different wineries. All of the wines were from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. These included wines that ranged from semi-dry to dry, and that encompassed a range of different taste profiles.
The first wine that we tasted was the 2012 Estate Block 11 Dry Riesling from Knapp Winery and Vineyards. Our guests rated this wine at the top of the overall tasting. This is a very dry small production wine (only 182 cases which means under 2,200 bottles were produced), retailing form about $19 per bottle. The wine had a touch of honey on the nose, but was very dry and crisp to the taste. There was a light citrus-y note to the Riesling, and a touch of quince. As the wine warmed in the glass there was more than a touch of minerality, something that should help this wine hold up to the kind of foods that pair best with Riesling – like spicy foods or seafood.
This wine was followed by Lakewood Cellars 2012 Dry Riesling, another crisp dry Riesling which embodies the best of the Finger Lakes Region. At only $13.00 per bottle, this wine comes from Lakewood’s ten acres of Riesling grapes, planted over 5 separate vineyard blocks. While we found the nose to be somewhat funky, the wine presented very well, with a lot of lime on the palate. The vintner’s tasting notes suggest lime peel, though this presented more as a bitter lime in this tasting. The residual sugar in the Lakewood was slightly higher than in the Knapp, but this was in no way a sweet or even semi-sweet Riesling, and would pair excellently, particularly with fish or other seafood.
As we opened the third bottle of wine, the live feed sort of died, but we continued on our own. Bottle number three was a single vineyard Riesling from one of our particular favorite Finger Lake wineries, Lamereaux Landing. The 2012 Red Oak Vineyard is advertised as a “sustainable,” product. While we don’t really understand how that term relates to wine, which is generally sustainable since it comes from grapes which grow every year, the Red Oak Vineyard Riesling was a particularly complex wine for the varietal. This started with the nose, which has a lot of vanilla on it – almost like perfume, and continued to the palate where crisp apple flavors on the front led to a pineapple finish. This was also a stronger wine than the others that we tasted, and it seemed to us that the 12.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) in the tasting notes belied a much stronger blend. At about $20.00 per bottle, this is a very solid medium dry wine.
By bottle number for, without the continued structure of the live feed, our decorum began to deteriorate. But we continued with a semi-dry Riesling from Lucas Vinyards. The 2.2% t residual sugar in this wine took it from the dry category and would be about as sweet as we would generally go with a wine of this type. Our soft cheese and hummus pairings also could really not hold up to the Lucas, which would do much better with Thai or Chinese food, or ever Barbecue. The taste of honeysuckle was really evident in this particular wine, and following the more complex offering from Lamereaux it was not as exciting. Nevertheless, for those with sweeter tastes that was a solid wine, and if it comes in at the $14.00-$15.00 per bottle that its brethren from past vintages did, it would be a very good value.
The fifth and last wine that we tasted came from one of the Finger Lakes first wineries, Glenora Wine Cellers. This is one of the larger wineries in the region, and was in fact, the first winery located on Seneca Lake. The 2012 Riesling, is also one of the larger production wines in the region (at 2600 cases) and is very reasonably priced at just around $11.00 per bottle. With just a touch of minerality, the Glenora Riesling would please those who like sweeter wines, although it was a bit much for our "drier" taste. This was the sweetest of the wines that we sampled as part of this tasting, but it was still nicely balanced and quite citrus-y.
This tasting showed us the full range of Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes region. With the harvest over and the leaves beginning to change, now is an excellent time to visit one of the regions 115 wineries and try them for yourself. Learn more about the region, its wineries and other attractions on the Finger Lakes Alliance Website: http://www.fingerlakeswinealliance.com/ -- or just go to your favorite wine store and pick up a delicious Finger Lakes Riesling for tonight's enjoyment!