Tag Archives: review

Finger Lakes white wine tasting tonight!

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 - The line up.

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 – The line up.

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Finger Lakes white wine tasting tonight, my second time after last spring. While back then, the Finger Lakes were still an exotic wine destination for me, I have now tried more and more of its wines and am quite impressed, so tonight’s line up including Chardonnay, Gewuerztraminer and Rieslings should be fun! The tasting happens on Twitter at 9:00pm EST and you can follow it via the hashtag #winechat (it takes place under the auspices of Protocol Wine Studio (@ProtocolWine), which skilfully hosts #winechat every week).

I did some research on the Finger Lakes last year, and figured it was helpful to read through it again, so I am reposting this. May is Finger Lakes Wine Month, so why not give their wines a shot?

The Finger Lakes region became an officially recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1982 and consists of approximately 4,451 hectares (11,000 acres) that are operated by around 100 wineries. The main glacial lakes that make up the area are Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. These (and other lakes) stretch from North to South just South of Lake Ontario which explains their name: Finger Lakes. Apparently, the first vines were planted in 1829. The Finger Lakes really seem to have taken off when the above mentioned Dr. Konstantin Frank (a Ukrainian immigrant with a PhD in plant science) started experimenting with roots and grapes varieties there for Cornell University in the 1950s and 60s. His work proved to be the first that enabled wine makers in the North Eastern United States to grow European grape varieties, in a climate and area that had been deemed off limits for these grapes.

What is interesting about the region is that the lakes lie at different heights, with land surrounding Canandaigua Lake reaching up to 2,000′ in height, with the land between the lakes further to the East successively reaching lower heights of  1,500′, 1,300′ and 800′. So this should actually make for different micro climates and therefore perfectly situated for single vineyard wines.

The region’s dominating grape varieties by acres under vine are mostly North American usual suspects: Concord (1,814 acres), Catawba (811 acres) and Niagara (667 acres). However, the Finger Lakes region’s second most planted variety is Riesling with 828 acres under vine. The climate should be favorable to Riesling and other varieties grown in colder climates like Germany. Actually, if you look at data gathered by Cornell University in the summer of 2012 (which also provides the other numbers), there are many obscure German or Austrian varieties planted in the area: from Zweigelt to Siegerrebe to Geisenheim to Dornfelder.

The Finger Lakes have been pushing their Riesling credentials, and from what one can read and what I have tsted in the past, rightly so. Its slate soils and cooler temperatures seem to give their Riesling grapes all the ingredients a winemaker needs to make good Riesling: slow ripening conditions to develop sugar and acidity and mineralic soil…

 

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Tasting with Friends: Unexpected Pinot Noirs

It had been way too long since we conducted one of our fairly regular wine tastings with friends. The rules are always the same: The host sets a topic (we did “European Reds“, “Strange Fruit“, “French and Argentinian Malbecs“, “Michigan vs. Mosel” and others in the past; you can find links to all of them here), and then guests bring a wine bottle each. The wines are usually accompanied by cheeses and meats, and as of late we try to taste them blindly.

Two of our friends had to move out of town for work, so we had been missing them dearly. When one of them came to town for a visit, we made sure to have a tasting. Since I was hosting, I had the honor of setting the rules. I called the tasting “Unexpected Pinot Noirs” and explained that I would like to try Pinot not from France or the U.S. usual suspects Oregon and California (but guests were free to ignore that rule). I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir and was looking for a chance to expand my palate.

We paired the wines with cheeses and meats from my local go to sausage maker Biercamp. These guys just know what they are doing: I got several bacons thinly sliced, including duck and lamb bacon, a wonderful garlic and herbs de Provence sausage with a nice kick, as well as smoke sticks from them. Delicious pairing options for sure.

Blind tasting has its own trappings, and I am always a bit weary of it because it is the most humbling experience you can imagine. You try to whittle down where the wine is from, and while doing that more often than not I convince myself that it is a particular style or region or vintage and then look for arguments to support that, thus closing off my mind. Nina tends to be way better than me at picking up nuances and determining characteristics about wine. She definitely owns me in blind tastings, and so it was with this one:

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

The first wine we tried was a German Pinot Noir (called Spätburgunder, literally “late Burgundy”), a 2010 Heinrich Mertes Waldracher Meisenberg Cuveé Lara. My friend Mansoo had sent me this bottle a while back (as well as the other bottle we entered into the race), and I was eager to try it. Heinrich Mertes winery is located in the Ruwer valley, a small tributary to the Mosel river. The wine showed a medium-light red color. The nose was perfumy with currants and some heat. It wasn’t exciting at all. The heat was actually quite disturbing. On the palate, though, this wine shone: raspberry, red currant and tobacco aromas, and an awesome kick of acidity. The puzzling and intriguing thing about this wine was that the fruit tasted very ripe, yet the acidity kept it wonderfully fresh. This was a strong beginning. The nose not so much, but the flavor profile was awesome. For me, the acidity gave it away: Because I knew there was a 2010 from Germany in the race, a year with quite high acidity in general, I took my chances and guessed right (so did Nina).

Quite the label, huh?

Quite the label, huh?

Next up, a 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg from the Mosel (our second entry). The color was in stark contrast to the first wine: dark, purplish red. The nose showed wet dirt, some rotting branches and what others described as compost aromas. Not very pleasant. I think the compost descriptor came from hyper-ripe fruit aromas, but I couldn’t nail down which fruit. On the palate, the first noticeable thing was that it was way chewier than the first wine. It also was somewhat smoky, with cherries and cranberry aromas as well as a bit of vanilla. In my mind, this was totally a new world Pinot with a lot of the characteristics I have encountered in some California Pinot Noir: too potent, too strong, no restraint. But I want my Pinot Noir less potent, less strong and with more restraint. I did not like this wine. I guessed it was from somewhere pretty warm, and definitely new world. Boy was I wrong.

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

The third wine of the evening was a 2012 Brys Estate Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Noir from Michigan. Apparently, Michigan winemakers consider 2012 one of the best Pinot Noir vintages yet, so this should be exciting. The color on this one was gorgeous: a red currant red, darker than wine 1, much lighter than wine 2. The nose was flowery, with some strawberry, rather intense smoke, but seemed quite closed at this point. On the palate, the wine felt creamy and heavy, which gave it a wonderful mouthfeel. But it is a mouthfeel I don’t expect or particularly cherish in a Pinot Noir, which I want more light footed and delicate. Still a solid showing. Nina guessed Michigan correctly, I had no clue.

Another established Michigan winery

Another established Michigan winery

Up next, a 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos  Pinot Noir, also from Michigan. Again, the color was spectacular, a bright and shiny red currant. The nose was full of roses, almonds and cedar wood, with hints of red berries. I thought the nose was gorgeous. The palate also started off nicely, with spice and pepper aromas, and a light footed feel to it. But then the palate turned out to be a bit harsh: There were bitter aromas kicking in that were rather striking. It also felt like the wine had a bit too much alcohol (which was not the case, we checked later and it clocked in at only 12% ABV, but felt more like 14), and that really turned me off. I couldn’t get over the harshness in the wine. My guess was, because of the perceived high alcohol, a warm climate wine, maybe Southern Italy.

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

Second to last came a 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley. New Zealand has definitely gained some serious street cred for its Pinot production. The color was similar to the previous wine, and the nose was awesome: strawberry jam with rosemary and sage aromas. It was crazy, but good crazy! I loved it. The palate was very herbal as well, thyme, rosemary and sage aromas, with strong acidity with some iron aromas, great lightness to it and some red berries. This was very unique and therefore impressive wine. I hadn’t come across such an herbal Pinot before. This was an exciting wine. Because of the iron aroma that I had come across before in an Oregon Pinot Noir, I decided to guess Oregon…

The final wine was a 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveé Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The color was more purplish, maybe black currant. The nose was chalky, intensely perfumy, with cocoa aromas. On the palate, the wine seemed rather bland: some cherries, some strawberries, plum, not very expressive though. Straight-out fruit forward style, but all a bit thin. I would not have recognized it as a Pinot Noir if I hadn’t know it had to be one, maybe more of a Grenache or so. I just didn’t find much that excited me about this wine. Not bad, but quite standard. My guess, because it was a bit heavy, was California.

So, recap: My guesses were mostly off. My ranking of the wines from best to least favorite, is 1 (2010 German), 5 (2011 New Zealand), 4 (2011 Michigan), 3 (2012 Michigan) and 2 (2007 Germany) and 6 (Oregon) – the last two share the spot, I couldn’t decide.

Combined with the others rankings (6 points for favorite down to 1 point for least favorite), this is the likability ranking:

First place: 2010 Heinrich Mertes Cuveé Lara – 23 points (ranked first by three people out of four)

Second place: 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir (New Zealand) – 17 points (ranked second twice)

Third place: 2012 Brys Pinot Noir and 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir – 16 points each (with the Arcturos being ranked first once)

Fifth place: 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveée Pinot Noir – 6 points

Sixth place: 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg – 5 points (ranked last by three out of four)

The tasting was fun, and it was kind of interesting to have a German Pinot Noir ranked first and last. The Heinrich Mertes was just such a great expression of the grape, to me it was a rather easy winner. The New Zealand Pinot Noir was unique in a good way, expressing some aromas that were unfamiliar, yet seemed befitting to the grape.

The pretty clear winner

The pretty clear winner

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2012 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling

America's go to riesling with Korean pancake

America’s go to riesling with Korean pancake

Just a quick alert: Sunday, I had my first Dr. L from the 2012 vintage. I know I am late to the party, but we had so many 2011s still stashed away and I wanted to get them out of the way first. I first wrote about the 2010 here, and let me quote more about the wine in general before:

“For those not familiar with the wine, just a few quick facts. Ernst (or Ernie) Loosen, the owner of Dr. Loosen Estate, is one of the major producers along the middle Mosel with vineyards in many prime sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen). He is a charismatic figure and has done loads for promoting German rieslings. The Loosen Bros. Dr. L is his entry wine produced for a global market. The Riesling grapes come from all over the place and are blended for this wine.”

You might remember that this has become my got to, everyday Riesling: easy to drink, with the right amount of residual sugar, and a solid bet. The price is decent (I wouldn’t pay that much for it in Germany, but for the US, the pricing is decent). So value-wise, it’s about as good as it gets for a decent entry-level Riesling. The 2011 suffered from the generally lower acidity in the vintage, but the 2012s are way more exciting now. And they are out on the shelves, so go ahead and stock some. They last for at least another year or two.

So, what’s to like about the 2012? More acidity than the 2011, making it fresher and crisper. There are nice apple aromas and some sweet pear, just an easy going, enjoyable wine all by itself on a warm or warm-ish afternoon.

In Ann Arbor, they are available at Trader Joe’s for $11.99 (I believe) andat Whole Foods for $12.99, but you can buy them for $8.99 at Costco. The best thing is, you do not need a Costco membership in Michigan to buy alcohol. If they ask you for the membership card at the entrance, tell them you only want to buy alcohol and you can go in. Then same story at the cash register. It’s super easy and very convenient (their wine selection is pretty good and very well priced).

So, what are you waiting for? Get a bottle and let me know what you think. You can always go and buy more if you like it!

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