This Ain’t Bordeaux: In the Finger Lakes, Riesling Rules, But You Won’t Find a Clear “Vintage of the Decade”

Posted August 8, 2013 by Evan Dawson in Regions

The industrial wine machine loves an exalted vintage. For consumers, it’s a chance to create a kind of trophy bottle or trophy case. For wineries, it can be a chance to raise prices (though this rarely happens in the Finger Lakes). But in upstate New York, there simply isn’t a consensus about the best vintage for riesling of the past decade.

And it’s fascinating to read the comments of the region’s top winemakers. Because there are some deep divides.

The New York Cork Report surveyed a wide range of Finger Lakes winemakers and winery owners to get their take on the strongest riesling vintages. If there is one easy commonality, it’s that no one prefers for 2007. And for good reason; the drought-stricken vintage caused enough stress to see rieslings age somewhat prematurely. It’s not a long-term aging vintage for riesling.

Outside of that, there are a number of choices for the preferred riesling vintage. If our readers are curious, the vintage that I’ve purchased the most of — and the vintage that I own the most of — is 2008. The flavors are ripe and profound, and the best winemakers had two options with the botrytis: they incorporated it seamlessly, or they sorted it completely.

This question first entered my mind when I was talking to Johannes Reinhardt, who also loved 2008, but points to 2010 as a potential benchmark. Some winemakers responded via email and did not specifically choose a top vintage. Here are some of their comments.

Peter Bell, Fox Run Vineyards: “For me, 2006 has to be the very best of quite a few good years. There was a vibrancy to the wines, which I describe as a combination of flavor intensity, flavor purity, perfect acid and modest alcohol. Whether they were made in a dry or semi-dry style, they all carried those attributes. And they are still strikingly delicious, after all that bottle age.

Dave Whiting, Red Newt Cellars: “THE classic Riesling vintage of the Finger Lakes. Crisp, vibrant, aging beautifully. Every 2006 that I have tasted in the past year has been absolutely gorgeous.”

Chris Stamp, Lakewood Vineyards: “I think the best Dry Riesling we’ve ever made is on the shelf right now: 2012. This vintage probably came into balance for the dry Riesling better than any other I’ve worked with. The acid was slightly lower because of the long growing season last year and the sugars were at the perfect level to give decent alcohol (11.7%) and leave just the right amount of RS to give it the ideal balance.”

Fred Frank, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars: “My choice for best Riesling vintage in the Finger Lakes in the past decade would be 2012. This is because the Dr. Frank Rieslings from 2012 have won so many gold medals and higher awards in national and international wine competitions.”

Morten Hallgren, Ravines Wine Cellars: “I prefer the cooler vintages. Working with the acidic backbone allows for great aromatic focus, favors the expression of the mineral character in Riesling. In certain vintages, the wines take years to develop ( 06, 09
Argetsinger). In other years, the aromas are more present earlier( 11,10). Warmer vintages seem to show well early on, but peak relatively early, like the 07′s probably peaking now.”

Aaron Roisen, Hosmer Winery: “My favorite vintage at Hosmer was 2009. The rieslings had a level and twist of acidity that allowed for the dry riesling to be a bit over 1% residual sugar but still feeling dry on the finish, which led to a depth to the mouthfeel that was uncommon and curious.”

Kim Engle, Bloomer Creek Vineyard: “In 2010 we harvested very ripe Riesling and I was able to make a very different style of wine- one inspired by contemporary German producers, high in alcohol and very complex. We have tended, as an industry, to harvest very high acid Riesling grapes and to shy away from phenolics in our wines. I think that the 2010 Rieslings show balance and support the potential of using riper grapes.”

Bob Madill, Sheldrake Point and Red Newt Cellars: “2003 was a seminal vintage for Sheldrake Point Winery. The cool vintage gave rise to Riesling of compelling expression with wildly racy acidity. We set aside 100 cases of one special tank from the top of our R2 block (highest and farthest from the lake) for a Reserve wine thinking that maybe we were nuts. After a year or so in bottle we released the 2003 Reserve Riesling and still have a few bottles in our library. 2003 taught us to embrace the lean, linear and racy nature of our dry Rieslings.”

This vintage was listed often as a second choice. A massive challenge, 2011 has nonetheless paid off for those who did the additional work necessary to harvest clean, ripe fruit.

We’d love to hear which vintage you’ve enjoyed the most, and which vintage you’ve purchased the most.


    Paul Z

    See, now, this is interesting to me. On Long Island, 2007 was a STELLAR vintage. Several of the ’07 reds (Shinn’s Cab Sauv in particular) absolutely blew my mind. I’ll have to look at our FLX bottles to see whether there’s any clear trend, although I’m willing to bet it skews toward the more recent.



      I don’t know about you, but I found many 2007 Long Island whites lacking a bit of focus (I’m speaking in generalities here, of course).

      Just to add on to what Peter Bell says below — different climates and also white wines vs. red wines.

      This is just the long-overdue start to some vintage charts that Evan and I have talked about doing for years — but now finally feel capable of tackling. These won’t be your standard charts though I don’t think. We have to put our own spin on them as well.

    Peter Bell / Fox Run


    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Finger Lakes and Long Island have entirely different climates.

    That said, 2007 was a great year in the Finger Lakes for reds but a little too hot for Rieslings. That’s why there was no 2007 Tierce Riesling.

    Michael Kaiser

    By and large, from North Carolina to the Finger Lakes and over to places like Ohio a lot of winemakers have told me that 2012 was the best vintage they had ever seen. 2011 was so bad for a lot of states, there might have been a low bar set, but a lot of the 2012 roses and whites I have had from all over the East have been outstanding.

      Peter Bell / Fox Run

      Actually, I have to agree about the virtues of 2012, despite what I told Evan when he quizzed me. It’s just that these wines are so young at this point, and haven’t really started to show their true colors. The pleasure principle for me is dialed way up after the wine has a few years in bottle.

      Attendant to this conversation is the fact that FL winemakers are pretty comfortable with their chops these days, and taking more calculated risks, thus dialing up the excitement factor of their Rieslings.

      Consumers of Riesling rock. We are dangerously close to being sold out of our 2012 Dry Riesling, despite having made more of it than ever, and put the price up!


        Well for me, wearing my wine consumer hat, to get a wine of such quality like a Fox Run Riesling for less than $20 is what makes the wines from the Finger Lakes so enticing. I’m just lucky I can fund it in so many places in DC area.

    Paul Z

    Oh, I know, Lenn & Peter, and that’s why I find this kind of thing so interesting.


      A VERY interesting piece. Evan shared the responses with me as they came in — all interesting reads for varying reasons.

      That there is little consensus is the most fascinating part.

        Peter Bell / Fox Run

        “That there is little consensus”…indeed. Shows we are following our own hedonic principles. Morten rewards leaner Rieslings, and others love lusher styles. Dave W. and I may be somewhere in between.


          Wouldn’t be much fun of we all liked the same wines, would it Peter?

          BTW, before the answers started coming in, I told Evan that my favorite vintage is 2006, with 2009 not far behind.

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