I recently made my annual summer trip to the Finger Lakes of New York, where I caught up on old favorite wineries, a few new wineries, and a few new releases from the 2018 vintage. I also enjoyed the 30-year old Grass Roots music festival in Trumansburg on west Cayuga Lake, a kind of cross between Woodstock and Mardi Gras. You were welcome to bring in and freely guzzle _any_ kind of alcoholic beverage (and smoke _any_ dried herbal product), but if you wanted to buy a glass of wine or beer, you were stuck in Beer Jail, a roped-off area where you were stuck until you finished your drink or slipped it over the rope to a friend on the other side. At least there was a good amount of second-hand smoke to enjoy and that couldn’t be roped in.
Montezuma, Idol Ridge and Fossenvue Wineries
These three wineries are under the umbrella of the Martin family, who began with Montezuma Winery in Seneca Falls in 1999, and have added Idol Ridge and Fossenvue to their properties (these are next to each other in Lodi on east Seneca Lake).
Winemaker Phil Plummer poured an impressive and diverse number of wines, cider, and pet-nats (sparkling wine with no second fermentation). Tasting Highlights: (these wines are all made in small lots of around 50-100 cases each).
**Montezuma Reserve Dry Riesling 2018: The nose is mostly still closed but clean. Palate: dry, with lemon/citrus and mineral notes. Dense, rich texture (2-3 months in neutral French oak, some lees used to top up barrels). Great balance, finesse and length.
*Montezuma Marquette Pet-Nat NV: The color is cloudy garnet (cloudy is typical of pet-nat). Nose: a bit nutty, with fresh red briar fruits and rhubarb; actually smells just like a freshly baked strawberry rhubarb pie! On the palate, strawberry and rhubarb flavors continue with a yeasty crust component, only it’s totally dry with a zesty, long finish. Original, compelling and distinctive. Perfect for Thanksgiving.
* Idol Ridge 2017 Unoaked Chardonnay: Nose: gentle and fresh with a hint of clean yeast. Palate: plump but dry, round, fresh and bright (a little Valvinmuscat was added). A fun, versatile summertime white.
*Idol Ridge 2017 Smith Bros. Farm Riesling: these grapes came from the south shore of Lake Ontario. Nose: red apple with hints of raspberry and red cherry. Palate: fleshy, high acid on the finish. Mostly experienced in texture, but impressive. A long, slow ferment and 1.3% residual sugar means this will age well. Stylish.
*Fossenvue Airy Acres 2018 Riesling: Nose: hint of sulfur, some nectarine. Palate: broad and fleshy with zesty acidity and a sweet finish, kind of two-dimensional now but great potential to lay down for a couple of years, very promising.
*Fossenvue “Revisioninst” 2018: An original, very successful blend of press fractions of Blaufränkisch, Saperavi and Cabernet Franc. Nose: juicy, fruity with strawberry and watermelon. Palate: round, creamy and dry, but nicely fruity and original with rhubarb and strawberry flavors. Fun!
*Lemberger (a k a Blaufränkisch) 2015: dark color. Nose: boysenberry/blueberry and flinty clean earth. Palate: HUGE black pepper and black cherry. Impressive volume for this variety.
Swedish Hill Winery
Located in Romulus near the watershed boundary between Cayuga and Seneca lakes, Swedish Hill Winery also has three Finger Lakes wineries in its “stable”, including Goose Watch and Penguin Bay wineries.
While tasting, owner Dave Peterson came into the tasting room and greeted me. He still had 2016 vintage dry and semi-dry Riesling, and it tasted like it was only a year old. His Rieslings were impressive, but I was also taken with his fresh and delicate ros of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Tasting Highlights:
*Dry Riesling 2016 (0.6% R.S.): Nose: fresh green apple, lime and mineral. Palate: firm acid, chewy solid mid-palate fruit, very dry with high acid but still has a solid green apple fruit core. Could drink now or lay down.
*Blue Waters 2016 Riesling (0.7% R.S.): Some Cayuga and Vidal added, same Riesling base as the dry above but with more fruit aromas of grapefruit and peach. Palate: same high acidity as in the dry above with lime/citrus, but a broader mid-palate, nice peach and grapefruit with ripe apple flavors carrying through to the finish.
*Riesling 2016 (semi-dry 2.1%R.S.): Nose: a touch of botrytis? Apricot and peach aromas. Palate: richly fruity, with BIG peach, apricot flavors. Drink or lay down.
*Blue Waters Rosé Dry 2017 (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc): Fruity but dry, crisp, elegant and zesty.
Southeast Seneca Lake
Chateau Lafayette Reneau is one of the oldest wineries clustered near Hector on southeast Seneca Lake. Now owned by the Glenora Wine Group, I understand it is soon to have a new owner. Long-time winemaker Tim Miller is at the helm and is still making some of the top Rieslings in the region.
Dry Riesling 2017: Nose: still closed. Palate: firm acidity, large volume, broad texture, green and red apple flavors, chewy, young; needs time but solid, worth laying down.
*Meritage 2015: (65% CS, 25% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot). Nose: elegant red cassis from the cabernet, with black briar fruits, Bordeaux-like with gentle herb and spice notes. Palate: again, Bordeaux-like for finesse, ripe tannins, well-integrated tannin and fruit. Young, dry with a tannic finish, promising.
*Riesling semi-dry 2017: This wine is a party in a glass and was only just released. Nose: forward fruit cocktail notes in a house style of pineapple, peach and apricot. Palate: juicy, very fruity, balancing acidity and nice hint of apricot/botrytis on the finish, with good length.
Heading north from Hector, I stopped at Silver Thread Vineyards in Caywood. You have to drive a ways towards Seneca Lake from Rt. 414 to get there, but it’s worth it, even for the view from the tasting room. It is owned and run by the husband/wife team of Paul and Shannon Brock, and in addition to high-quality, small-lot vinifera production, they also farm using bio-controls instead of synthetic fungicides as much as possible in an approach called “bio-intensive”.
They also feature a separate tasting flight of Rieslings they make from vineyards around the Finger Lakes, which alone makes the winery worth the visit.
*Dry Riesling 2017: a blend of estate and fruit from the Doyle and Gridley Bluff vineyards. Nose: delicate, fresh, subtle mineral and green apple. Palate: lots of electricity and acidity, focused fruit. Still closed, lime and mineral flavors are huge. Can decant and drink now or lay down.
*Riesling Doyle-Fournier Vineyard 2017 (1.4% R.S.): Fruit from 40-year old vines. Nose: linear, lots of ripe red apple, hints of white peach. Palate: nice mid-palate concentration, powerful red apple and white peach flavors; impressive.
*Riesling, Gridley Bluff Point Vineyard 2017: From a vineyard high above the “Y” intersection on Keuka Lake. Nose: bright citrus/mineral typical of Keuka Lake. Palate: bright, ripe and zesty, tropical fruit with apricot/peach finish, lively acidity. Stylish, could drink now or hold.
*Gridley Bluff Point Riesling Select Late Harvest 2017 (2.4% R.S.) Nose of lemon/lime and mineral, followed by ripe peach and apricot. Palate: WOW—juicy, then electric acidity and length, with tropical fruit, peach and nectarine flavors, zesty acidity on the finish. 50 cases made.
*Good Earth STV Estate Cabernet Franc 2017: from old vines. Nose: lovely fresh delicate black cherry. Palate: WOW! BIG volume, spice, ripe red fruits, bright Finger Lakes acidity, vibrant, young and promising.
**Blackbird STV Estate 2016 (33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 66% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot). Nose: lovely fruit-forward scented, floral varietal fruit plus smoky earth undertones. Palate: vibrant acidity, loads of bright red cherry, strawberry, fresh ripe tannins, but wonderful fragrant red fruits.
*Blackbird STV Estate 2017 (tank sample): Nose of lovely fresh cassis, black cherry. Palate: juicy, forward black fruits, ripe and tannic, long finish. Impressive pre-bottling.
View of Seneca Lake from Boundary Breaks Vineyard
This relative newcomer west of Lodi has quickly established itself as a producer of top Riesling, and even bottles a number of its Rieslings as mono-clonal wines. With the opening of their tasting room a couple of years ago, they also branched out into other varieties while expanding their Riesling offerings to include sparkling to icewine styles. When I stopped to visit, owner Bruce Murray and his wife Dianna were serving guests in the tasting room. Tasting Highlights:
*Bubbly Dry Clone #356 2017: Nose: bright fresh lemon/lime green apple. Palate: zesty, smooth then really bright lemon/citrus finish, lingering and stylish. Forced carbonation but gentle, smooth bubbles.
*Dry Riesling 2018 Clone #239 (0.7% R.S.): Nose, faint but a razor edge of lime/citrus, and cilantro. Palate: forward, juicy and very fruity, from citrus through apple and peach. Could drink in a year or hold.
*Reserve Riesling 2018 Clone #198 (8% alc.): Nose: faint, closed, hints of fruit and mineral. Palate: juicy, ripe peach/apricot, also nectarine. Fruit-forward, acid on the finish, hedonistic, easy to gulp but will reward patient sipping and cellaring.
*Cabernet Franc 2017: Elegant nose of red and black cherry, some floral and strawberry notes. Palate: dry, ripe tannins with grip, flavors of red fruits. Still needs two years, very Finger Lakes in fresh style and promising for a lighter vintage.
*Harmonic Red 2016 (44% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cab. Sauv.) Nose: elegant “Right Bank” notes of garden herbs, black fruits. Palate: zesty acidity, lively black fruits, ripe tannins. A great Finger Lakes meritage blend. Big tannins, needs time, worth laying down 3-4 years.
* Harmonic Red 2015: a “Right Bank” (Bordeaux) style blend. Nose: mature hints of cigar box, cedar and cassis, with smoky black fruits. Palate: very Bordeaux-like; ripe tannins, black fruits, lively acidity, well-integrated, also in a classic Finger Lakes style
***Riesling Icewine 2018 (18.7% R.S.) This is legal icewine, picked frozen on the vine at 15° F. Nose: WOW! Impressed with the freshness, delicacy and finesse. Aromas of fresh apricot and nectarines. Palate: rich, juicy, LOADS of ripe tropical fruit, acidity shows only on the finish, just hedonistic and sexy as hell, but also elegant. Drinks like the Chopin nocturne in E flat.
Rating Key: * = very good, ** = exceptional, *** = outstanding