Part II: Seneca Lake
Fox Run Vineyards on northwest Seneca Lake south of Geneva makes a wide range of wines for all palates, but specializes in riesling. Long-time winemaker Peter Bell is one of the three partners/winemakers in the Tierce project, a dry, reserve-style riesling finished with a Stelvin (screw cap) that tends to need a couple of years of age to reach its potential. The two other original winemakers in the project were Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road Vineyards and David Whiting of Red Newt Cellars, also of Seneca Lake, have been succeeded by Peter Beecraft and Kelby Russell, assistant winemakers at these respective same wineries.
Tierce 2013 Finger Lakes: Nose: complex mix of petrol, peach, apple and jasmine notes. On the palate, high acid, lean and rapier-like minerality; fruit is still tight and needs time to emerge.
Dry Riesling 2014 Finger Lakes: Nose: cilantro and lemon/lime with green apple. On the palate, vibrant and lively, very dry, green apple flavors with a slate-like edgy acidity. A classic dry style.
♦Riesling Reserve 2011: In addition to the joint Tierce project, Fox Run occasionally makes a Reserve label in exceptional years that has received consistently high reviews. This one is indeed exceptional and received 94 points in the Wine Enthusiast. Nose: fascinating, a nice evolution of lemon and minerality like Grand Cru Alsatian riesling, with white flowers ripe peach and red apple. On the palate, the wine is juicy with citrus and red apple, also tangerine and mineral. Even at five years when most rieslings’ fruit is fading, this has evolved well and will continue to do so for another decade.
Cabernet Franc 2014: Nose is bright with red and black cherry, clean and freshly fruity. Palate is dry but balanced, a nice fresh Loire Valley style of red and black cherry, with acid and fruit nicely balanced.
Boundary Breaks is a relative newcomer of a winery located north of most wineries on Seneca Lake near the Ovid-Lodi town line. That they specialize in riesling is putting it mildly; until very recently it was all they had, and also put their money into developing their vineyards of single clones of riesling. This year I was pleased to see they had finally opened a winery and tasting room (formerly you had to make an appointment to taste in their kitchen). Also, they now offer a brilliant gewürztraminer and in the fall of 2017 they will offer a red Bordeaux blend. The tasting room is very tastefully designed featuring Doric columns that evoke the Greek Revival architecture evident in many homes dating to the mid-19th century in the region.
Boundary Breaks’ wines are all estate fruit, with 18 acres planted now and six more coming. Their “angle” on riesling is to make, and label, wines from different clones. Most of the Finger Lakes is planted with the (Geisenheim) clone #239, which is forwardly fruity, while the clone #110 which Boundary Breaks has added, carries heavier mineral tones combined with tropical fruit.
Gewuztraminer 2015: a nose with lychee and ripe apricot but focused and racy. Palate: tight with bright acid, much more acid (and vibrant) than most gewurztraminers, very young and lively. Will last a couple of years and needs another six months. Slight bitterness on the finish with spice tones adds a food-friendly dimension.
Riesling 2013 Clone #239: A classic Mosel-style nose: hints of petrol, slate, apple, white flowers. Palate: broad, yellow and red apple flavors, clean and fresh but not too edgy. Drinks easily for a dry style.
Riesling Ovid Line North 2014 (blend of clones): Medium dry, late picked. Nose: mineral/slate, ripe peach and apple. Palate: juicy red apple and ripe peach, plump but with fine balancing acid. 2.9% residual sugar. Complex, smoky petrol on the finish. Drink or lay down.
Riesling Reserve 2013 Clone #198 (9% alcohol). Classic Mosel-style nose; peach, mango, white flowers, with a hint of petrol. On the palate, racy lime and green apple. Juicy and firm with low alcohol, peachy fruit with balancing acidity, quaffable and surprisingly dry for 5.6% residual sugar.
♦Riesling Icewine 2016: Yes, this was made from grapes frozen on the vine, and is a true icewine. Normally I’d be hesitant to review an icewine that is so young since riesling icewines, typical of the grape, have high acid levels. This very elegant wine was a pleasant surprise. Nose: peach, vanilla, and crème brulée along with some smoky peachy petrol. On the palate, the wine is bright and lively with lemon and peach, with creamy sweet but with a fine acid finish. $60/half bottle but priced with others in this category and surprisingly elegant for such a young wine.
♦Dry Riesling Clone #239: ripe peach, petrol and flowers on the nose. The palate has solid red apple and nectarine flavors, white peach and huge fruit/acid volume. 0.9% r.s.
♦Riesling Reserve 2014 Clone #198: The nose is closed, then lots of flowers, pineapple and peach, a hint of sulfur. Palate: juicy, with huge fruit volume of apple, pineapple, peach and lively acid. Young, with lots of promise.
South of Lodi, the wineries on east Seneca Lake grow more dense as you drive further south. Idol Ridge is a newcomer with an expansive view of the lake to the north that offers a currant-flavored vodka in addition to table wines. This year they won “best non-fortified dessert wine” with their vidal blanc icewine in the New York State Fair wine competition.
Idol Ridge Reserve Riesling 2014 (1.8% residual sugar): A single vineyard wine, from late harvested fruit. Nose: lime/citrus at first, then fragrant white peach and red apple. On the palate, solid ripe apple, with vibrant acid. Drink now or hold for aging. A
Lamoreaux Landing Vineyards has an iconic 20th century interpretation of the Greek Revival architecture seen in the region, and used to be the northernmost visible winery on Rt. 414 driving north on east Seneca Lake. It still has an expansive view that is hard to equal in the region. Another hallmark of the winery is that it only grows and produces wine from the European vinifera grape species.
Lamoreaux Landing Round Rock Vineyard Riesling 2014: On the nose, lime and white flowers, yellow apple and mineral. Palate: flinty, with loads of slate, lime and green apple, crisp finish, will last.
Lamoreaux Landing Semi-Dry Riesling 2014 (2% residual sugar): Aromatics of lime and flint. Palate: a fine fruit/acid balance, juicy with nice apple/mineral notes.
Lamoreaux Landing Dry Rosé 2015: Based on cabernet franc. A hint of sulfur on the nose, with red cherry hints and a bit of herb. On the palate, bright red cherry/berry, zesty and fruity with strawberry flavors in the lingering finish. Stylish, a bit young still.
Silver Thread Vineyard is about a quarter mile south of Lamoreaux Landing on Caywood Drive. You first have to drive (slowly) past the Doyle Vineyards of chardonnay and riesling to the left, then the road turns left and after crossing a creek, turn right and you’ll see the sign on the right.
Owned by husband/wife team Paul (winemaker) and Shannon Brock (general manager and wine educator), Silver Thread began in the 1990s under original owner Richard Figiel who was the first in the region to obtain organic certification (1992-1997), but decided to farm sustainably without the certification. The Brocks follow in his sustainable farming tradition, having purchased the winery in 2011. Production is now 3,000 cases (with a big emphasis on single vineyard rieslings) with vineyards farmed at eight acres.
♦Silver Thread STV Estate Riesling 2015: The nose is Rheingau-style, perfumed ripe peach, red apple and nectarine. On the palate there is strong, full volume of peach and nectarine flavors, with balancing acidity. Medium dry. Drink or hold.
♦Silver Thread Doyle Fournier Vineyard Riesling 2015: From the vineyard adjacent to Silver Thread’s estate on east Seneca Lake. Nose: orange citrus fruits, also pear and yellow apple. Palate: broad, round, with lots of ripe peach and tangerine flavors and firm acid in the finish but richer and fuller than the 2014 version. Fine shalestone flintiness in the finish. Medium dry.
♦Silver Thread Gridley Bluff Vineyard Riesling 2015: From a vineyard on cooler Keuka Lake. The nose is fragrantly fruity but tight and racy in a Keuka fashion, with fragrant meadow grass notes much like a sauvignon blanc, but also with white peach. On the palate, lively acid, yellow apple, white peach flavors and lively acidity. Still tight and taut but will age well.
Silver Thread Gewurztraminer 2014 STV Estate: Nose: racy, with a spicy, floral aroma. The palate is lively, with tight acidity and ripe peach fruity, impressively riesling-like acidity for the peachy fruit. Stylish.
Silver Thread Pinot Noir STV Estate 2013: For true Burgundian fans who can handle a pinot with a light hue and firm, crisp acid, this wine has fragrant red and black cherries on the nose with hints of racy limestone. The palate is bright with lively red cherries. Vibrant and tight, it need time but represents the grape and the region well.
Chateau LaFayette Reneau and Atwater Vineyards are adjacent properties in Hector, southeast Seneca Lake, opposite the deepest part of the lake (over 600 ft.). Accordingly they can not only produce fine riesling, but ripen red Bordeaux grapes; the late Dick Reneau of the Chateau was most proud of his Proprietor’s Reserve cabernet sauvignon from exceptional years, which drank like classified Bordeaux growths.
Chateau has, over the years, arguably been the most consistent riesling gold medalist. They make a dry, semi-dry, and late harvest (half bottle) styles, but the dry and semi-dry have been the most notable. In recent years they have also introduced new reds like varietal syrah and cabernet franc.
Chateau Lafayette Reneau Dry Riesling 2014: The nose offers complex aromas of green apple, lime, cilantro and mineral elements. On the palate, the wine is round and juicy, with ripe apple, easier to drink than the nose suggests, forward and early-maturing (1% residual sugar).
Chateau Lafayette Reneau Pinot Noir 2013: The nose is clean and fresh, with smoky black cherry and spice. On the palate, firm acid and black cherry with lots of spice, reminiscent of Pernand Vergelleses. Will age.
Chateau Lafayette Reneau Syrah 2013: Nose: black cherry and white pepper. Palate: broad, juicy, smooth, with black cherry flavors, some spice, lively fresh finish. Stylish.
Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2013 Cabernet Franc: A perfumed nose of spicy strawberry with some black cherry. Palate: dry and tart, spicy with lots of strawberry, more like a pinot noir but classy.
♦Chateau Lafayette Reneau Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietor’s Reserve 2012: The nose shows ripe plum and cassis with some cigar box spice. On the palate, it is silky smooth at first, then suddenly punch dry tannins on the mid-palate with cassis and spice. Rich and smooth with loads of ripe black fruits, will age for decades.
Chateau Lafayette Reneau Semi-dry Riesling 2014 (2.8% residual sugar): The nose is oddly cheesy at first, then opens to apple and peach. The palate starts with high acid which balances ripe apple and peach flavors, with a long finish.
Chateau Lafayette Reneau Late Harvest Riesling 2014 (6% residual sugar, some botrytis): Nose shows pineapple and mango fruit but is still delicate. Palate: lots of weight, with ripe pineapple and mango flavors, fine balancing acidity.
Atwater Vineyards, owned by Ted Marks, is an excellent vineyard site as explained above, and once was farmed by former wine trade magazine publisher Bill Moffett. In tribute, Ted released an outstanding lemberger from 2013 with the designation of the Moffett Vineyard. Winemaker Vinny Aliperti is both talented and creative. Like many Finger Lakes wineries, anyone who drinks wine can pretty much find something they like here that is also well-made, but the quality and creativity are refreshing. It was actually Ted’s idea to create a wine called “Riewurz”, a blend of riesling and gewürztraminer, the blend varying on the vintage, with an aromatic wine that has more perfume than riesling but more acid than gewürztraminer. The “Big Blend” is a rich, full-bodied and original blend of syrah, the two cabernets, merlot and lemberger. There are two labels of “bubbles”, dry riesling and pinot noir which have been carbonated to a light, fun fiz and finished with informal crown caps. Tasting notes:
♦Atwater 2013 Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature: The phrase “brut nature” means the wine is given no dosage, or sweetening agent after it has been disgorged of the lees. Since sparkling wine grapes are harvested early for high acid, that means a pretty brisk, high acid drink, but it works brilliantly in this case. A fine mousse (18 months en tirage) yields to a nose of fine toasty dough with lemon curd. On the palate, flavors of lemon curd with lemon zest and a stony flintiness with bright sunlight. Zesty but not green, brilliant in hue and texture.
Atwater Riewurz 2014: Off-dry with a 50/50 blend of the two grapes. Nose: a great blend of the two grapes’ aromatics. On the palate, the wine is spicy with firm acid, lively and vibrant.
Atwater Pinot Gris 2014: Nose of spicy Asian pear, with a like spiciness on the palate, zesty. Really good acidity to balance; stylish.
♦Atwater Dry Riesling 2014 Navone Vineyard: This fine single vineyard wine comes from a neighboring site on southeast Seneca Lake and was aged for three months in neutral oak. The nose yields lemon/lime and cilantro, with red apple hints. On the palate, the wine is lively and fresh, with lime and red apple flavors. More forward than most 2014 rieslings, with a fine mouthfeel.
Atwater Vidal blanc 2014: Off-dry at 0.5% residual sugar, this is a pretty good substitute for riesling. The nose is lightly floral with lively lime/mineral notes. The palate has spicy pear flavors with a fine acid finish; stylish.
♦Atwater Dry Rosé 2015: A blend of 81% merlot and 19% cabernet franc, this fine rosé has a nose of lovely bright red cherry. The palate is juicy cherry with big matching acidity, very lively (0.6% residual sugar).
Atwater Riesling Bubbles 2013: Lots of ripe yellow apple with a whiff of petrol. On the palate, round, juicy and semi-dry, a fun easy riesling balanced with fine acid finish (1.8% R.S.)
Atwater Pinot Noir 2013: Nose of spicy black cherry. Palate: fine acid, black cherry flavors, good length with nice firm tannins on the finish, will last.
♦Atwater Big Blend 2013 (syrah, cabernets sauvignon and franc, merlot, lemberger/blaufrankisch): Dark and dense. On the nose—Wow! Briar fruits and dark chocolate! The palate is driven by lemberger/blaufrankisch, syrah and cabernet franc fruit, with lots of lively fresh briar fruits with zesty acidity. Who says the Finger Lakes can’t make a big sexy red blend? Alcohol refreshingly moderate at 13%.
♦Atwater Syrah 2013: Atwater was one of the first Finger Lakes wineries to make varietal syrah and with its warm location it makes a consistently fine one, in a Rhone style instead of West Coast or Aussie. Nose: classic white pepper and solid black cherry notes. On the palate, zesty and lively with fresh black cherry flavor and fine spicy finish; stylish and classic.