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We are coming to the end of what has been marketed as the “Summer of Riesling”. This was the year the wine world stood up and took notice of New York’s Finger Lakes wine growing region. This was largely due to the region’s efforts to promote Riesling as its signature grape. Throughout the summer there has been a steadily building buzz about the upcoming release of the 2010 vintage and events, both live and virtual have been taking place for months. All of it culminating in the official Riesling Launch Week 9/19–9/24.
Located in Upstate New York the cool climate Finger Lakes growing region is protected on the north side by Lake Ontario and each of the major lakes offers valleys with sloping vineyards along their shores. The soil varies from place to place but is characterized by shallow loam, shale, and limestone. The 2010 vintage was characterized by a great deal of rain, a lot of heat, and a long growing season (190-205 days!), allowing many of the vines to achieve their ultimate expression of the grape. The Finger Lakes on a map look like a giant bear claw carved out the deep (one over 600’) glacial lakes for which they are named. The four main lakes in the AVA, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga all have their own specific climate and soil composition (microclimate), and therefore their own spin, if you will, on the grape. For example, grapes grown along Keuka Lake’s east side exhibit a steely minerality, according to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. Southeast Seneca Lake produces fruit with more of an apricot and lime profile. This is part of the allure that makes the region a fascinating place to visit.
There are over 100 wineries, mostly family owned and operated small producers, bottling over 100,000 cases per year. While the region does an excellent job with other grapes like Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and even Pinot Noir, Riesling is the star, with each producer making an average of two to three different styles from dry to sweet each vintage.
At the beginning of the summer it seemed that every major wine writer from the big guns publications was making a pilgrimage to the Finger Lakes to review their wines, where they barely received a cursory glance in prior years.
Evan Dawson, managing editor for the New York Cork Report published Summer in a Glass – The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes. This book read like a novel and introduced us to the cast of characters that brought an obscure grape growing region to the world stage. It felt as if the entire wine community read this book over the summer, blogs blazing with reviews. I’m sure we’re all pretty happy now that Johannes Reinhardt (look him up) has been granted the opportunity to become a citizen.
The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and Finger Lakes Wine Country created a series of events throughout August and September leading up to the official launch week. Many of my blogging friends and I have had the opportunity to attend some of these events and get a sneak peak at the 2010’s. On the 19th I was able to taste 28 of the new releases in an intimate setting at Upstairs on the Square in Harvard Square.Kip Kumler of Turtle Creek Wines and Marie Payton of The Life of Vines
The tasting was done blind in 6 flights from bone dry progressing through the new IRF (International Riesling Foundation) scale to sweet. It was moderated by Bob Madrill, winemaker and General Manager of Sheldrake Point Winery on Cayuga Lake (also a director of the IRF). His wine was hidden somewhere in the tasting and in the end when the wines were revealed he felt pretty confident that he knew where his wine was in the pack (of course he said this after all of the wines had been revealed, hmm). He also treated us at the end to his own 2004 Sheldrake Point Winery Riesling to give us some perspective on color, taste, and aging. Compared to all of the 2010’s incredibly pale with gold and greenish reflections this wine had the warm amber glow of aged whites. It was rich and luscious in the mouth, more like a dessert wine. A sharp contrast to our first flight of higher acid wines.
All of this build-up has been leading to an event being billed as the world’s largest virtual tasting of Riesling in the world – Riesling Hour. On Thursday evening from 6pm – 9pm (EDT) everyone is invited to grab a 2010 Finger Lakes Riesling and taste and share opinions through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. If you participate on Twitter use the hash tag #FLXwine. On Facebook sign up on the Riesling Hour event page to participate. Post your comments and photos here.
Personally I will be hosting about eight friends and tasting through six wines that range from semi-dry to semi-sweet. We will be highlighting the wines with various foods that typically pair well with Riesling, from the savory and spicy side to sweet. Best places in and around Boston to find a 2010 Finger Lakes Riesling are Bauer Wines on Newbury Street and Central Bottle and Provision in Cambridge. Recently I made this Chicken with Riesling recipe from Food and Wine magazine and it was easy and tasted great.
The Finger Lakes is a place with an incredibly diverse number of offerings for the casual visitor. There are, of course, the great wines and foods. It is also the home to some great colleges, the Corning Museum of Glass, Culinary Institute of America, Watkins Glen International Raceway, Women’s Rights National Historic Park (Seneca Falls, home to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton), and the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. This is a place with something to entertain and dazzle everyone. Plan your trip to the Finger Lakes, starting with a visit to the Finger Lakes Wine Country website.