Sunday, in my fair neighborhood of Astoria, Queens—on a day more reminiscent of a sunny Spring afternoon in May—a wee gathering of Finger Lakes winemakers met at Winegasm, a local wine bar I’ve only hit up once in its 4-year tenure. After seeing their support for New York wines, however, and despite its rather unfortunate name, I’ll be headed back to support them. The space is charming and rustic, with a massive skylight flooding the wooden tables and a winelist that gives a few nods to our New York brethren.
Popping bottles at the long, wooden communal table were principals from Atwater Estate and Red Newt, both of which also had their winemakers along for the ride, Vincent Aliperti (Atwater) and Brandon Seager (Assistant Winemaker at Red Newt). The attendance of the event was kept on the intimate side, which allowed for extended conversation with the winemakers and the other guests.
We moved through the various rieslings, with both wineries opening up some special bottles (have you tried the Celsius from Atwater?? Wow, this is some fine dessert wine. I now understand why my colleagues here at NYCR voted it the top Dessert Wine from the Finger Lakes). The Celsius with the Foie Gras Torchon was a bang-out pairing—Thor’s hammer could have come down from the heavens, bashed me on the side of the head, and I would have passed from this mortal coil a completely happy and content soul. Give me some goose liver, a wine with rich, velvety sweetness that’s cut with laser-sharp acidity, and I will follow you into battle without skipping a heart beat.
The stand-out wines for me today were the single vineyard 2009 Riesling from Red Newt (Lahoma Vineyards) which had angular, intense acidity evocative of a Mosel Riesling, the torqued-up tautness of the 2010 Atwater Dry Riesling and, of course, the Celsius. A nice surprise for me were the two reds: Atwater Big Blend (Cab, Lember, Syrah and Merlot) and the Red Newt Cabernet Franc. Tasty fruit, intriguing spice and, people, at a price point below $20/bottle, you should be bashing down your local wineshop’s door to get at them.
The highlight of the 3-hour rap session was the conversation. We touched on the frustration of getting consumers to understand residual sugar in Riesling (“It’s a sweet wine, yes, Mrs Davenport, but wait till the acid washes through—you’ll be smacking your lips, I guarantee it”. “No, I don’t like sweet wines.” “Aaargghhh!”) We moved through some of the differences between the North Fork and the Finger Lakes (a huge one being the entry price point for the wines), and the momentum that the Finger Lakes has been experiencing from journalists of late. Hearing Ted Marks (Atwater’s owner), Brandon and Vinnie’s stories of how they ended up in the Finger Lakes was a treat and, for a moment, I felt like I had stepped into Evan Dawson’s book, Summer in a Glass.
And lastly, after meeting some Twitter companions for the first time in person today after months of online chatter, the undeniable power of social media in today’s wine world was on full display. Oh, and having Atwater’s owner, Ted Marks—grandfather to 15 grandchildren—walk me through the ins and outs of QR code apps was a little surreal. Granddad be rocking the apps, man!