Evan Dawson, our intrepid Finger Lakes wine guy, working the bottling line at Fox Run Winery

By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Photo by Peter Bell

Men — married men, especially — are all too familiar with the unforeseen blunder, the deleterious effects, of saying something like this:

"Honey, you look really nice today!"

What begins as a compliment is quickly met with, "And what do I look like most days?"

This is essentially the problem facing Finger Lakes wineries regarding the 2007 reds. The palpable excitement is met with caution, especially from business owners and marketers. Many would love to say how they really feel, which is something along the lines of, "This could be the best vintage for Finger Lakes reds we've seen in our lifetimes." But those same folks are still trying to sell their 2006 reds, and eventually they'll be selling future vintages, and so they worry that the consumer, skilled at reading between the lines, will hear, "The '07 reds are special; other vintages are junk."

It's not true, of course. The best Finger Lakes winemakers have proven that cool-climate means elegant red wines, not thin and simple wines. And, as Fox Run Vineyards' winemaker Peter Bell loves to say, some of the world's best wines come from cool-climate regions in warm vintages. But the delicate game means celebrating the results of '07 without maligning every other vintage.

"I just speak in declaratives about 2007," Bell told me in his lab. "2007 features wonderful fruit, depth, and mouthfeel. I'm not disparaging other years. I'm speaking only about 2007, and I find nothing wrong with saying it's an outstanding vintage. It is." After spending some time on Fox Run's bottling line with Peter and assistant winemaker Tricia Renshaw, we tasted through a range of reds.

The unusually hot and dry weather from 2007 produced more concentrated grapes, and it's evident in the color of each wine. While color is hardly the best indicator of quality — and it can be manipulated, after all — color will help Finger Lakes wineries sell more bottles. Tasting rooms will reverberate with the surprised "oohs" of customers who tend to seek out west coast or European red wines.

What impressed me more than anything was the length of the reds I tasted at Fox Run, and that lines up with the reds I've tasted from other producers. The 07s are already showing intriguing layers and unfold on a patient palate. The Lemberger gives classic spices and blackberry, but for those who linger on the sip, it has more to say. Fox Run's Cabernet Franc was richer than I've ever tasted from them — my only complaint was that it lacked the green flavors I love in the varietal, but that tends to be a function of ripeness, and the wider market won't share my disappointment.

This is not to say that the Finger Lakes '07 reds will resemble west coast wines; that is neither the goal nor the reality. The wines are richer and more structured than we often see from Finger Lakes reds, but they will never approach 15.5 ABV. That should come as a relief.

Wineries are releasing the '07 reds at varying times. Billsboro Winery, for one, has already released all of its '07 reds. Ravines has released the '07 Pinot Noir and '07 Cab Franc, but not the '07 Meritage (though I've gotten my hands on a bottle of their '07 Meritage, and as usual I poured it blind for several friends and family. They were blown away). Hermann Wiemer's '07 Cabernet Franc is much more evocative of Chinon than California, which is a welcome reminder that Finger Lakes reds don't need to be bathed in new oak. 

And yet I can't help but think of the words of Sheldrake Point's Bob Madill, who is less bullish on the '07 reds. "They're very nice," he told me. "But if we spend too much time talking about them, we lose focus on what really makes us special, and that is aromatic white wines." The last three words were delivered with a passionate staccato. Aromatic. White. Wines.

So perhaps the concern is not offending a significant other by saying, "Honey, you look really nice today!" Perhaps the concern should rest in saying, "Honey, that red dress looks amazing on you today!" when you know that she's much more interested in how you think she looks in the white dress.