By Jason Feulner, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Lenn asked me to write a "wines of the year" post, but as enthusiastic as I am about Finger Lakes wines, I feel ill-equipped to name a "wine of the year" since the joyous rigors of life keep me from driving around the Finger Lakes as much as I'd like. Through events and site visits, I probably tasted four dozen rieslings this year and sampled the spectrum of varietal selections at about 20 wineries.
That's a lot of tasting, but there are a lot of wineries in the Finger Lakes region (at least 115 at this point). While a few of these wineries aren't into vinifera to any great extent, there are still quite a few that I feel I have overlooked despite the fact that they are producing serious wines.
So, this post is not really about wines of the year as it is a reflection on those wines that seem to stick out the most in my mind for one reason or another. I guarantee I'm missing some great wines, but if you are looking to start with a few interesting picks I hope that these suggestions help.
If any readers want to pipe in with a suggestion or two of their own, then please feel free to comment.
I'll start with riesling. While 2007 was a good year for riesling, I've explained previously that I feel that the complexity and balance of these wines is simply not as overwhelming as the steely 2006 vintage. Overall, I preferred the semi-dry versions to the dry, the former displaying a playful offset of sweetness with the blunt ripeness of the fruit.
One exception to this observation was the very dry 2007 Argetsinger Riesling from Ravines Wine Cellars. A subtle and refined wine created from grapes selected from a single-source vineyard, this is the type of wine that does a little something different every time it's tried. It's not a showstopper in terms of a strong nose or tastes, but its smooth minerality interacts so well with the citrus notes that the resulting flavor is extremely memorable. I could not get enough of this wine.
The other riesling that really sticks out in my mind is the 2007 Semi-dry Riesling from Anthony Road Wine Company. I had an opportunity to taste this wine while it was still in tank, and even in its youth it was a tremendous achievement. The fruit flavors are fully in balance with the sweetness and acidity, creating a real zinger of pineapple and citrus backed with structure. This is a fun riesling.
Gewürtztraminer is beginning to build some much-deserved notoriety in the Finger Lakes. I had the pleasure of tasting several, but the one that demonstrated an amazing complement of flavors was the 2007 Gewürtztraminer from Sheldrake Point. This wine plays with the senses, revealing layers of floral notes, deep spice, and honeyed apples. While many Gewürztraminers in the Finger Lakes are of a fleeting quality as winemakers learn more about this grape, this wine is an example of a very solid result.
One more white that I think deserves attention that made a big impression on my 2008 wine drinking experience. Dr. Frank's 2006 Rkatsiteli. It was a constant standout in social engagements at which I shared this wine with others. No matter who I served this wine to, the reactions were filled with praise for the unique taste and extreme curiosity about the name and origin of the grape. By the end of the year I wished I'd purchased more, but I'm happy that it is still available. Rkatsiteli is a smooth, satisfying, and structured white that I think has a bright future in the Finger Lakes.
By the middle of 2008, most wineries had released nearly all of their reds from the 2006 vintage and some from the 2007. 2006 was a relative disappointment for reds after the tremendous 2005 vintage, with of course some exceptions made by winemakers who can really produce quality reds in mediocre years. I have not tasted any released 2007 reds, although the few I've had from barrel or tank are really showing potential.
So, what red in released in 2008 made the biggest impression on me? It was not a wine from 2007 or 2006, but in fact a wine from the 2003 vintage, made from a grape that is not often associated with quality in the Finger Lakes.
Shaw Vineyard's 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon was released only this year, in adherence to winemaker Steve Shaw's philosophy that Finger Lakes reds should age for several years much like a Bordeaux. I tasted this wine with few expectations since a straight bottling for cabernet sauvignon is rare in the Finger Lakes.
Perhaps this wine was at its peak maturity when I tasted it. If so, its peak maturity was something to behold. Cherry and black currant dominated the palate, with hints of tobacco and wood. These flavor alone, however, did not separate this wine from the pack. What I found most compelling was the finish, which lingered and lingered and lingered, unlike nearly any Finger Lakes red I've had in the past.
Simply put, Finger Lakes reds don't often finish like that, and yet the wine had all the smooth, cool-climate characteristics of other quality Finger Lakes reds. That 2003 was not particular great year for ripening fruit says a lot about the prospect of holding red wines longer for release.
Well, there's the lot of 'em. While I can't emphasize enough my disclaimer that these wines stuck out in a sort of random fashion during my own travels, probably at the same time as I was missing or overlooking other great wines, I'll stand by these few. You may not place them at the very top of your own list, but I think they all have some great and/or interesting qualities that lead to enjoyment.