By Lenn Thompson, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
No matter how opened minded you are, you have expectations when you walk into a tasting room. Whether about the wines, the staff, the crowd, or the overall experience, you have expectations. You just do.
In any wine region, it's the wineries that consistently exceed those expectations that separate themselves from the rest of the pack.Those are the standouts that get, and deserve, the attention.
Ravines Wine Cellars, on the eastern side of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes wine region, is one such winery.
Three years ago, I had only just heard about Ravines Wine Cellars, a small producer co-owned by Lisa and Morten Hallgren. I tasted a few wines not long after and though "Hey, this is a winery worth watching."
Then last spring, Nena and I found ourselves standing in the Ravines tasting room with the couple as Morten, who is also the winemaker, poured wine after wine — including some older rieslings, pinot noir and even a chardonnay.
Jackson was with us, always an interesting proposition, but Lisa helped entertain him with a soccer ball and then a pop-up school bus he was climbing in and around.
It was, without a doubt, the visit of the weekend. We expected good riesling, but the rest of the portfolio, along with the Hallgrens' hospitality and generosity, were above and beyond.
And so, the bar set sufficiently and extremely high, we paid a return visit to Ravines Wine Cellars on a cool, soggy July Friday, joined by our travel companions C & A, as well as Evan and his definitely-better-half, Morgan.
And once again, Morten and Lisa exceeded my every expectation.
First, Lisa was kind enough to prepare a seemingly simple lunch of local greens and two savory tarts for us to enjoy as we tasted. I say seemingly simple because there is nothing simple about making one's own puff pastry. Yes, Lisa makes her own. I only know one other person who does that and he's obsessed with food.
These tarts — one bacon and onion, one summer squash and feta — were simply amazing. Lisa cooks often for various winery events and Keuka Wine Trail happenings. That's reason enough to attend, I think.
Back to the wines. Tasting Morten's 2006 and 2007 Dry Rieslings side-by-side was like looking through a crystal clear looking glass at the two vintages. The 2006, long a favorite, is all lime, river rock and fresh acidity. The 2007, a much warmer year, is broader, with more peach and tropical fruit, and less electric acidity.
We tasted a few 2008 wines as well, including an impressive Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling (see my review of the 2007) and a dry rose made with pinot noir that I enjoyed enough that I asked to buy a bottle even though it's not released yet.
That gets me to the wine that truly exceeded every expectation: Ravines Wine Cellars 2007 Meritage, a ripe, complex blend of Bordeaux varities that balances intense fruit (from that hot 2007 vintage) with cool climate nuance and elegance. This is a wine that proves this class of wine can be done very well in the Finger Lakes, just not every year.
Anytime anyone asks me for recommendations for the "best" wineries in the Finger Lakes, Ravines always makes the list. The Hallgrens are clearly driven to continually improve every facet of the operation. The hard work shows.