Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reds in the Finger Lakes

Watkins Glen, Finger Lakes NYI visited a friend in Ithaca recently and we hit a couple of wineries on the southeast shore of Seneca Lake before we hiked up Watkins Glen (pictured at right). Our timing was great: we were swamped by heavy showers during the wine tasting, but the skies parted before our hike, just as we'd hoped.

The Finger Lakes is of course known for its riesling, but it's tougher to ripen reds adequately in this climate, and whatever the effects global warming might have, the region is still subject to periods of bitter cold in the winter and hot, humid conditions in the summer. Nevertheless, the two wineries we hit both focus on reds.

Up first was Shalestone Vineyards, who proclaim that "red is all we do." Despite their specialty, I was distinctly underwhelmed, as their entire lineup — from the cabernets to the merlot to the pinot to the meritage — tasted exactly the same: simple yet vague, with the barrel influences overcoming whatever terroir / varietal expression there might have been. The one exception was their Synergy blend that's 50% syrah; it was so short that it tasted like nothing at all.

Our experience at Damiani Wine Cellars was considerably better. I'd tasted their 2006 Meritage previously, thanks to a generous gift from my friend, and I'd admired its balance, its Loire-like weight, its lightly spiced minerality, and the way it hadn't been knocked up by oak or overextracted. During the tasting here I walked around the winemaking facility and saw that Damiani do use new French oak, but the oak doesn't overwhelm any of the wines. I was particularly pleased with the pinot noir, as every one in the lineup, from the $8 2006 (simple yet tasty) to the $32 2007 Reserve (more substance and complexity), drank as true pinot, with the light weight and refreshing, savory/sweet cherry aromas I look for. Interestingly, Damiani claims that their vineyard includes limestone as well as slate, which likely helps matters (or does for the reds; I found their semi-dry riesling dull).

As an aside, I received a press sample of the 2007 Heron Hill Blaufrankish Reserve from the Keuka Lake area back in July. Matured for 18 months in mostly Hungarian oak (70% new) and described by the winery as "opulent" and "hedonistic," I found that it announces itself on the palate with a blast of brisk, orangey acidity, sweet-tart flavors of pomegranate and mulberry, and a hint of white pepper and minerals. These elements are integrated, yet somehow they sing the same high note; even over three nights of tasting the wine felt one-dimensional rather than complex, and its thin orange-and-mulberry acidity seems to overrule the other characteristics. This wasn't an off bottle, but it seems strange that others seem to have had a different wine than I experienced.

Anyway, the rest of my Finger Lakes trip was pretty cool. We hiked in dramatic shale gorges, waved at Carl Sagan's house from afar, and had a couple of low-stress and delicious meals at the Pourhouse in Trumansburg, where I discovered the excellent Southern Tier IPA. Cheers to Ithaca!

1 comment:

Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Mike -- We had a chance to taste the Blaufrankish during our visit to Heron Hill back in October and agree with your view. We tried a number of other Lembergers and Lemburger blends during our visit. We found the Blaufrankish enjoyable, but it paled in comparison to their 2007 Reserve 2007 Pinot Noir.

Post of visit on Toledo Wines and Vines: