As many of you already know, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (WA) recently published reviews and commentary about New York wines, and many Long Island and Finger Lakes producers scored very well.
This was, no doubt, an important success for both regions — particularly after the Wine Spectator’s slightly underwhelming and suspect reception.
But what does it all mean?
You’ll never find numbered wine ratings here on LENNDEVOURS (though I admit that I used to use A-F grades) — because they dummy-down wine and are largely meaningless without context. And yet, Parker ratings can make or break a winery. If Parker scores a wine at 90 or above, it can mean a financial windfall for the winery as the wine flies off of stores shelves and the price can be increased the following year. Parker, right or wrong, has a lot of power in the wine business.
For this issue of the WA, Parker himself didn’t visit Long Island to taste. Instead, he sent David Schildknecht who also covers Germany and Austria for the WA. Schildknecht is a well-respected taster who is known for being intense and detail oriented.
Reading through his tasting notes and speaking to the local winemakers who tasted with him, Shildknecht’s palate is clearly well trained and impressive — but no taster or reviewer is perfect.
I found his comments about many Long Island wines being overoaked a curious one. Has he been to California lately? Are there some wines that should have been pulled out of barrel sooner? Sure, that can be said of many regions, but I think most Long Island winemakers are learning to use oak sensibly.
Maybe Shildknecht’s focus on German and Austrian, where barrel influence tends to be trivial, has made him hypersensitive to oak. When you’re used to drinking clean, fresh riesling and gruner veltliner, maybe any oak or malo-lactic fermentation really stands out.
He also contends that chardonnay vines, across the state, should be "converted to more promising varieties." I don’t neccessarily disagree, but blanket statements like that seem out of place, especially without an opinion as to what those "promising varieties" are.
Saying that it’s "premature to declare riesling the inevitably preeminent grape" of the Finger Lakes seems ludicrous to me. If it’s not riesling, and we’re ripping all the chardonnay and hybrids out — where does that leave us? Gewurztraminer? Pinot Gris? I’m not sure, but I can tell you with confidence that it’s not red wines.
Those three things aside, his review is tremendous for our region and industry. The future is bright for Long Island and all of New York, but I have three things I’m hoping happen.
First, I hope that when Parker or Shildknecht return to taste again, they taste wine from every producer. I know of at least one producer who wasn’t included — and it’s one that I expect would have done quite well.
Second, I hope that the local wineries that scored well don’t lose their heads and increase prices significantly. Long Island wines in particular already have a reputation (unfairly) that they are overpriced. A significant price increase would only hurt the overall perception in the marketplace.
And third, I hope that the reviews serve as motivation — both for wineries who didn’t crack the 85-point barrier (required to be listed) and those who scored 90 and above. Looking at the reviews, Shildknecht clearly thinks that Long Island is on the cusp of something great. That must be why he titled his review "Baby, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet."