A while back, I saw my buddy Anatoli’s stellar and raving review of Villa Bellangelo‘s Rieslings, which he stated had finally converted him to Finger Lakes Riesling. Naturally, this triggered my interest (when have I ever heard Anatoli rave about Riesling? Just kidding!). I am a Riesling snob after all, and when folks I like and trust are impressed with a wine in general, but in particular with a Riesling, I want to try and see for myself.
I have a had the good fortune of having participated in several Twitter tastings organized and hosted by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, the association of Finger Lakes winemakers, so feel like I have somewhat of an idea of what is going on in the Finger Lakes, particularly Riesling-wise. Let me add that I also, quite naturally I believe, do compare these Rieslings in my head with Mosel Rieslings I know. The Finger Lakes after all are considered similar in their volcanic soil and rather cold temperatures. I do, however, always try to see these wines by themselves, and compare them to their counterparts in the Finger Lakes as well. One general impression I have is that, while Riesling from the Finger Lakes rightly is considered the best in the US, a lot of them are still a little too one-note for me. A great Riesling has at least five or six layers of flavor and complexity, while I often find myself wishing for more of that complexity in the Finger Lake Rieslings I have tried. That does not make them bad wines, to the contrary, they are very enjoyable, but I think for truly great Rieslings more complexity is key.
Ok, so much for my “credentials”. Sometime after Anatoli’s piece, Villa Bellangelo and I were tweeting and exchanging messages, and they offered to send me some bottles as samples to see for myself. I gladly agreed. The package arrived, with a cool piece of shale bedrock from Villa Bellangelo’s vineyards, which has joined our collection of Mosel slate. Since there were four bottles, I wanted to have some friends over to try along, to see what this group, that has tried wines with us a lot of times, thought as well. With November rapidly turning into December, it took us all the way into January until we could get together and try the wines, along with charcuterie and cheeses, our natural spiel…
So, who is Villa Bellangelo? Villa Bellangelo was founded in 2002 by Michael Litterio, but was purchased by the Missick family in 2011/2012, who hail from California, according to a post in the New York Cork Report. According to several bloggers and writers (including East Coast Wineries), the winery is a great spot to visit (with Yelp reviews supporting this claim), sitting atop a hill overlooking Seneca Lake. Some of the vineyards belonging to the winery date back to 1866, which is awfully cool, I think. That’s 150 years!!! The winery produces a bunch of whites and reds, and also produces wine from hybrids like Seyval blanc.
My package contained two Rieslings, a Seyval blanc, and a Chardonnay. After some back and forth, I decided to try the Chardonnay first (which I expected to be the most muted wine), then the two Rieslings, and then the Seyval blanc (because it appeared to be the sweetest wine).
So, what did I think? Here are my notes:
2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Chardonnay (ABV 13%), retails for $20: The wine poured clear in a rather pale color (giving me the hope – justified – that it was more in a French style). The nose was somewhat subdued, with some oak and nuts (walnuts?). On the palate, the wine was bone dry and light, with crisp acidity nicely balanced. It was definitely low on the wood, but also a bit too restrained on the fruit for my taste (you get why I like Riesling?). What made me like this wine was its minerality that led to a spicy finish. Definitely more French in style, which I really appreciate. All by itself, this might have been a bit boring, but it sure worked with our charcuterie. Should be paired with food.
2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Dry Riesling (ABV 11.3%), retails for $18: Aaaah, Riesling. The wine poured clear with hints of green. The nose was moderately aromatic, but showed good fruit: I got sour peaches, some apple, some floral notes. Would have liked a bit more intensity. The wine tasted dry (although there definitely would be some sugar left at this low alcohol level), was light and crisp. I thought it had good acidity and a very good mouthfeel to it, was quite balanced, but on the palate it just didn’t remind me much of a Riesling, and the table agreed. I think there just wasn’t that much aroma going on. The wine finished spicy, which was a new flavor for a Riesling for me. While the nose surely indicated Riesling, I am not sure I would have recognized it as a Riesling in a blind tasting based on the flavor. This does not mean I didn’t like the wine, in fact I thought it was tasty. Just not Riesling-y enough for me.
2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling (ABV 10.8%), retails for $18: Often, when I find a dry Riesling from a particular winery lacking in flavor (a bit more sugar just brings out more fruit), I look to the semi-sweets. I like that they labelled it semi-dry, because the alcohol indicates it is still pretty dry, and semi-dry is the literal translation of the German “halbtrocken”. Easy to make a German happy! :) Now this wine showed itself pretty much with the same color as the previous. The nose, however, was a different story: nicely peachy, almost peach cobbler, which I love, some bees wax. The wine tasted medium-sweet, with a bit more viscosity, but still fresh acidity. It was flavorful, with good fruit: peach juice, mandarin, some peach pit. Really an enjoyable and good expression of Riesling: flavors were there, the finish was good.
2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Seyval Blanc (ABV 12%), retails for $16: I’d never had a Seyval blanc before, so I consulted Jancis Robinson’s and others’ encyclopedia Wine Grapes. According to this, it’s a French hybrid popular in “marginal climes, especially England”. Now, doesn’t that sound appealing? ;) I was intrigued for sure. The wine poured in a very light color and had a quite restrained nose, maybe some canned peach, but I couldn’t make out much. On the palate, however, what a surprise: Dry and crisp, Asian pear galore (especially the Asian pear freshness), some lemongrass, good acidity, just a really, really tasty wine. Man, that was a really cool surprise. Liked it a lot, and at $16 quite the steal.
My general thoughts? Villa Bellangelo did a good job here. Especially the semi-dry Riesling makes me want to try their single vineyard and reserve Rieslings, I definitely see potential there. The Chardonnay was well-crafted, and the Seyval hit it out of the park. Definitely want to visit the winery, too, given the photos I have seen. Add in that the contact was super friendly, and that piece of bedrock a cool way of showing me some terroir. I like how dynamic the Finger Lakes are, and how, due to their rather short history of professional winemaking, things are still in flow a lot. That creates opportunities for wineries as well as wine lovers.
Thanks for the kind words Oliver, and your straightforward analyses of the wines. There is a lot of great work going on in the Finger Lakes, and we are working hard to build our distribution network so that it is easier for people outside of the region to get ahold of.
As far as the Seyval, we attribute this wine to the unique site where it is grown. I’ve never had a Seyval turn out with the consistency and deliciousness of wines made from this site.
Chris, thanks for weighing and again, thanks for sharing your wines with me! As you might have seen from some comments, some folks were surprised by my assessment of the Seyval, but I SO enjoyed it. I hope to make it to the Finger Lakes this year, and am looking forward to stopping by!
Great reviews as always, Oliver! I love your tasting notes, they really convey a vivid image of what you felt during the tasting. And I love that piece of shale bedrock that they sent along: so cool! :-)
Thanks, my friend! The shale is awesome!! Especially since we have a bunch of reddish Mosel slate, so the black shale complements that. :)
I, for one, was not even invited….
You know, the Wine Bloggers Conference is in the Finger Lakes this year….
You should come to A2 at the right times, Jeff, not whenever we are out of town. ^^ As far as the WBC is concerned, I am aware of it, but you know my summers tend to be packed and outside of the US. Not sure whether I will be even close. But I am trying to work it out.
Villa Bellangelo has a range of Rieslings including single vineyard examples and most all are wonderful representations of Finger Lakes Rieslings. You have just begun to scratch the surface and I hope you dig further. We travel to the Finger Lakes two or three times a year and have become big fans of the area. I would recommend Johannes Reinhardt’s Kemmeter Wines, Fox Run Vineyards, Red Tail Ridge, Silver Thread Vineyards, and let us not forget Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Weimer for some of the regions best Rieslings. I left out a few and haven’t mentioned the Niagara Escarpment AVA and Eveningside Vineyards, but that’s for another time. I hope you keep exploring the Finger Lakes.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Nathan! Very much appreciated. I have had and liked Dr. Konstantin Frank’s and a few of Weimer’s wines. Definitely need to familiarize myself more with the region and plan on exploring ever more, since Riesling is what I live for. Your suggestions are very helpful. Cheers!
We visited the Finger Lakes a number of years ago and toured Frank and Weimar. Very impressed. That was back before Hermann sold the winery. Have you had recent wines made by the new owner? Are they as good?
I enjoyed this article, Oliver. Now I’m definitely committed to a re-tour of the region. Perhaps this fall…
We should consider coordinating a visit! We want to go as well, so….:) I don’t know when Weimer sold the winery, and it has been two or three years since I tried them, so cannot really tell.
In 2003 Hermann stepped back a bit and left the wine making duties to his long term assistant Fred Merwarth. In 2007 Weimer retired and sold the winery to Merwarth so in fact, the wines you had a few years ago were in fact Merwarth’s who has been following Weimer’s approach to wine making for years. There has been a consistency in the quality as there has been a constancy at the helm.
Thanks for weighing in, Nathan!
Damn sorry I missed it.. That Seyval does sound intriguing. I’ve had the grape a couple of other times and didn’t like it, but this sounds worth a try
We missed you, John! And indeed, I was almost shocked how much I enjoyed that Seyval.