By Julia Burke, Niagara Correspondent
When a winemaker asks if you need to be anywhere, the answer should probably be “no.” When that winemaker is Fred Merwarth (pictured above left) of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, the answer is always “no.”
Of the many surprises I encountered at my very first TasteCamp, this was perhaps the best – the fact that the head winemaking staff at one of the most famous and respected wineries in the Finger Lakes took time out of his day to personally take us through a flight of young and aged Wiemer wines was exciting enough for me, and Fred’s willingness to answer winemaking questions candidly and thoroughly made the experience all the better.
But after the tasting, when many TasteCampers had trickled outside and only a small group of die hard wine geeks lingered, Fred asked that magic question. “Hey, do you guys have to be anywhere?” I asked what he had in mind. “I was just going to show you some more stuff – maybe something from our library,” he offered.
As amazing as it is to meet and socialize with the many fine writers of the east coast wine scene, getting to share with them this intimate wine tasting experience, geeking out together over stuff the winemaker himself is most excited to pour – that’s what it’s all about.
Fred whipped out some exciting treats including two reds, a barrel sample of 2009 trockenbeerenauslese, and my personal favorite: a 2001 gewurztraminer.
I have to confess that I've never been floored by gewurztraminer. I've had some nice examples from the Finger Lakes and Alsace, sure, but it seems like it's often too boozy, too flabby, too oily – the used car salesman of wine, if you will. But I learned two more things at TasteCamp: that I should forget everything I know about Finger Lakes wines, and that Wiemer whites are in a class by themselves.
I've never tasted this grape aged, and I was shocked to find the nose focused and intensely petrolly with just a hint of tangerine – more like a fine ten-year-old riesling than the perfumey, rosey noses typical of young examples of this style. A firm, full palate with remarkable balance and structure confirmed my suspicions: this was no $8 Hogue. Despite its intensity, it had an elegance that I've come to recognize as typical Wiemer. My absolute favorite thing about this wine was the sense of power: the incredible concentration and simplicity of the diesel and fruit flavors on the nose, and the gorgeously layered palate simply commanded my attention and my respect.
Warming up to the reds – 2008 cabernet franc and pinot noir – was a bit more challenging for me, which is a part of a greater issue that I have with many Finger Lakes reds which I won’t get into at the moment. They were clean, light, fruity, and oaky, and at first I wondered, why make such seemingly-pedestrian reds when you can make such superstar whites? But it was pointed out to me, rightfully, that this was a German-owned winery, and these are the sort of reds that people drink in Germany. Having never been to Germany but understanding that personal taste is part of what makes wine interesting, I realized I was projecting an unfair expectation onto the wines, and I saw them for what they are: supremely clean, drinkable, friendly, and uncomplicated.
While tasting these wines we enjoyed an opportunity to ask Fred about everything from his oak treatment to vineyard soil differences to what he looks for in a wine. Friendly, open, honest, and clearly passionate, he truly made the afternoon the highlight of my TasteCamp wine tasting experience.
A little TBA right from the barrel provided a nice finishing touch to this wonderful tasting. Thick and dusty, with concentrated apricot and caramelized peach flavors, it was a nice contrast to the petrolly rieslings and oaky reds and a lovely finish to the afternoon.
I might’ve arrived at Stone Cat in a rush, without a change of clothes or a reapplication of makeup (or chapstick in my case, but you get the idea). But telling Fred I had nowhere to be was the best decision I made all weekend.