By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Photos by Morgan Dawson

It's about time.

See what I did there? Clever, right? I've been waiting for quite a while to see Finger Lakes wineries celebrate the aging potential of their rieslings, and many are finally doing it. It's about time. I've also been encouraging my friends to lay a few bottles down or seek out older bottles — it's about, well, time.

More than anything else, tasting older wines is pure fun. The wine is not only a snapshot of a given year; it's a story that has changed over the years. It shares new things.

This Friday evening I'm honored to be part of a panel that will focus on library rieslings. That panel convenes during the Rendezvous with Riesling, the annual showcase held at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. The Rendezvous begins at 7pm. Tickets are $55, and $95 if you want to attend the panel and tasting of library Rieslings. The Rendezvous is going to be a blast and I hope you can join us.

But beyond the Rendezvous, a handful of Finger Lakes wineries are hosting vertical tastings of their own library Rieslings. The first came last Saturday at Hermann J. Wiemer on Seneca Lake.

Fred Winemaker Fred Merwarth poured the last 10 Dry Rieslings released by the winery, including a tank sample of the 2008 vintage (Wiemer '08 Rieslings are still fermenting, as is normal for this producer).

Here are some tasting notes:

  • The showstopper was the 1999, which turned the trick of tasting like a more mature riesling (some brioche and sweet almond character) while maintaining freshness and zip. It's got plenty left but is rocking.
  • The 2002 could eventually top the '99. It is absolutely ripping in its acidity, and just starting to move beyond riesling adolescence.
  • Several of these wines are Diesel. As in, bringing the petrol, which I love.
  • The 2003 brought some layered richness and was a top pick for many at the tasting.
  • The 2006 was a letdown by comparison, but is certainly built to evolve.

Collectively, these wines maintained that classic Finger Lakes cut. They were fresh enough that I would likely have not placed any of them as older than four years or so in a blind tasting (with the exception of the '99).

IMG_9956 Then Merwarth offered a bonus: He poured the '99 Late Harvest Riesling and the 1990 (!) Dry Riesling. The '99 offered a lesson in riesling evolution — it tasted like a creamy pastry, an almond-flavored bearclaw, with some tropical fruit accents. After having to discard several half-bottles of oxidized 1990, Merwarth found plenty still alive. The electricity had mellowed, but the wine was a graceful image of Riesling, an elder statesman with richness. It was generous of Fred to pour it, but then, many winemakers have such a love of sharing their wines that it becomes difficult to put the corkscrew away.

We were impressed that Fred took the time to dig up and present all of the harvest notes, which helped tell the story of each wine. He was able to describe the weather for each vintage, harvest dates, and the breakdown of how much Riesling came from each of Wiemer's three vineyards. It's also fair to say that not every winery is making wines that are structured to age like Wiemer's. Low yields, older vines and careful management all contribute to a wine's ageability.

There are more Finger Lakes library tastings to come. Here is a short list, and it is growing:

  • Saturday, May 16: Tasting of the previous four vintages of riesling at Anthony Road. All day long in the winemaking facility. Free.
  • Sunday, May 31: Tasting of the previous 20 vintages of riesling at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. Call ahead for reservations. $30 per person or $50 per couple.
  • Sunday, May 31: Tasting of several vintages of library riesling at Sheldrake Point. Call ahead for reservations. Two seatings: 1pm and 2:30 pm. $25 per person.