Tag Archives: Seneca Lake

Villa Bellangelo – Finger Lakes Riesling and Chardonnay with a cool surprise

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…

Cool piece of shale bedrock.

Cool piece of shale bedrock.

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:

Chardonnay!

Chardonnay!

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.

Two of Villa Bellangelo's Rieslings

Two of Villa Bellangelo’s Rieslings

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.

A delicious hybrid

A delicious hybrid

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.

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Finger Lakes Riesling Launch – 2012 Vintage

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 - The line up.

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 – The line up.

Disclaimer: The wines were received as media samples from the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. Opinions are all my own.

Last week, I participated in the Finger Lakes Riesling Launch virtual tasting. For a couple of years now, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance has been presenting the new vintage of the region’s Rieslings in several events called Riesling Launch. Part of it are several Twitter tastings, in which wine writers and consumers can engage with wine makers. For this tasting, the Alliance was live streaming the wine makers of the particular wines that we were tasting. Writers had submitted questions beforehand, and there were to be answers to these questions…

So much for the theory. I have participated in a Twitter tasting with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance in the past (see here), and I had a great time. The possibility to engage with winemakers directly, to get answers from them, to exchange ideas, to connect, was awesome. It was overwhelming at times, trying, tasting, typing, reading, engaging, but it was fun. To me, I think the live stream was one dimension too much. It was impossible for me to taste, listen, type, watch, read, engage, and listen again…add to that that the stream just worked for the first half, and I can state that I would have been fine without the live stream. I think it’s an interesting idea, I just think the connection with Twitter and tasting wines is too much…

But to the wines. I have written about the region previously, so feel free to check out this post that I wrote for the Finger Lakes Wine Month back in May.

We had a couple of friends over, I made my Korean spicy-braised potatoes and later we moved on to cheese that our friends had brought. We tasted the wines in order from driest to sweetest, as suggested by the Alliance. The 2012 growing season is generally described as warm and pretty dry, which led to a lot of sugar in the grapes. Ultimately, this can lead to higher levels of alcohol in the wine. All wines were made with 100% Riesling grapes.

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 - The dry wines

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 – The dry wines

We started off with the 2012 Knapp Dry Riesling Estate KV. The winery was founded in 1984 and is located at Cayuga Lake tending to 40 acres under vine. The grapes for this wine came from one 1.5 acre plot (single vineyard, yay!!) called Block 11. The wine has 12.5% ABV, only 182 cases were produced, $18.95. It is a collaboration between the vineyard manager Christ King and the winemaker Steve DiFrancesco. The wine poured in a light yellow color with a sweetish nose of peach, white grape and lemon aromas. The nose prepared me for a semi-sweet wine (it just smelled so sweet), but fortunately the wine definitely tasted dry. It was citrussy and tasted quite nice. Very clean tasting, refreshing. This wine definitely reminded me of a German Riesling. There were slight, slight bitter aromas at the end which were no problem though. Nina thought it was more a feinherb-tasting wine (meaning a drier semi-sweet), but I disagree. To me, it was dry. Definitely an impressive start.

Next up was the 2012 Lakewood Vineyards Dry Riesling.  Lakewood Vineyards Winery was founded in 1989, but grapes have been grown on this family-owned farm since the 1950s. It has 80 acres under vine, ten of them Riesling. The four different blocks of Riesling that were used for this wine were fermented separately and then blended in January. Bottling begins in April. The wine has 11.7% ABV, 810 cases were produced, $12.99. The winemaker is Chris Stamp, grandson of the farm’s founder. This wine’s color was lighter than the Knapp, very light yellow. Its nose was floral, with nectarine aromas being very prominent. It was a beautiful nose. On the palate, the wine seemed a bit heavier than the Knapp giving it a great mouth-feel. There was a nice amount of acidity with pear and sweet apple aromas. The middle part was the best in this wine for me. It just opened up and became wide with a hint of creaminess. The finish then surprised with citrus aromas coming in. This wine really worked for me. Front and middle section were very lovely, the finish was decent. Add in the price tag and you have a stunner!

The last dry-labelled of the evening was the 2012 Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Riesling, another single vineyard wine. Lamoreaux Landing is run in the third generation, with holdings on Seneca Lake. The wine has 12.5% ABV, 400 cases produced, $19.99. In the glass, this Riesling was extremely light in color, almost looked as clear as water (I was surprised by how light the color of the first wine was, but we kept going lighter and lighter). The nose was screaming peaches at me. Peaches, peaches, peaches. Great nose, very fresh, too. I was excited. On the palate, though, this light-bodied wine was somewhat less impressive. The flavors were subdued, just some slight pear and strawberries. There was a tad too much heat for my palate. After half an hour it got a bit milder. I was somewhat disappointed by this wine. Maybe it came in the wrong spot after the very flavorful Lakewood, but it just did not seem very aromatic to me, which is something I want in a Riesling…tweets from other writers suggest that they really liked this wine. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think it was bad. It was just not aromatic enough for me.

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 - The semi dry and semi sweet

Finger Lakes Riesling Launch 2012 – The semi dry and semi sweet

We then entered the semi-sweet zone, one of my favorite zones in Riesling. I just think that some amount of residual sugar really helps bring out the aromatics. So I was excited to try the next two.

First up was the 2012 Lucas Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling. The winery is located at Cayuga Lake and has been around since 1980 tending to 32 acres of vines, only 5 acres being Riesling. The winemaker is Jeff Houck, the wine has 11.4% ABV, $13.99. I am not sure whether my bottle was flawed, but this wine did not work for me at all. The nose was weirdly devoid of fruit and same goes for the taste. Just nothing seemed to be coming together. I will therefore not comment on this wine.

The final wine was the 2012 Glenora Wine Cellars Riesling. The winery was the first on Seneca Lake, and the wine was also made by Steve DiFrancesco, the winemaker of the first wine. The grapes came from three different farms around Seneca Lake. 2,600 cases were produced and the wine has 12% ABV, $13.99. During the tasting in May, we had the chance to try a Glenora Gewürztraminer which I found pretty flavorful. The wine poured in a lighter yellow color. The nose was pretty, with honey, sweet apple and tropical fruit aromas. I liked it. Maybe a bit too much honey for a wine that is supposed to be medium-sweet, but pretty. On the palate, the medium-bodied wine first showed its 12% ABV. That was a bummer. Aroma-wise, it was great with papaya and pineapple. There was some acidity, but I wished there was more of it. The finish felt a bit flat, with bitter aromas and petrol. This wine started out nicely, the aromas were there, the weight was there. But then I feel like the alcohol took over. I wish it had clocked in at maybe 10.5% or so, with the added sugar, ok, but that might have brought a bit more balance. I can see that the lack of acidity was another problem, so at 10.5 it might have ended up tasting too sweet. A conundrum, for sure…this wine is still very young, so maybe it will need some more time to get the flavors together and for the alcohol to integrate better.

All in all, I was most impressed by the dry wines with the Lakewood being the standout wine here. That just worked for me. Light and flavorful, just like a dry Riesling should be. The Knapp was also a strong showing. The Lamoreux I will have to retry on its own one of these days. I really feel like it might have been harmed by the depth of flavors in and direct comparison with the Lakewood Riesling. This outcome was a surprise for me, given how much I prefer the medium sweet Rieslings in general. But that, to me, is also testament to the quality of these Rieslings…Finger Lakes Rieslings are definitely worth trying out.

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