Part 1: Keuka Lake

As I explained in my previous blog post, these are notes on my second trip this year to the Finger Lakes of central New York. It gave me a chance to visit wineries I’d missed on my previous trip, and also to taste the early releases of the lovely, delicate 2017 vintage.

With my long-time tasting friend Paul Geisz I set out from Hammondsport on a wet October morning to stop and visit an iconic Keuka Lake winery, Heron Hill Vineyards. Owned by John Ingle (who has an eponymous vineyard of Riesling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris on Canandaigua Lake), Heron Hill went through a renovation about a decade ago that makes it look like a graceful Shangri-La in the Finger Lakes (voted one of the ten “Most Spectacular Tasting Rooms” in the world by  Travel & Leisure).


Heron Hill Winery, from their website.

Winemaker is Finger Lakes wine industry veteran Barry Tortolon. This was my first visit to Heron Hill under his winemaking, and it’s clear he’s taking Heron Hill to new heights.

Heron Hill Tasting Highlights (all wine Finger Lakes AVA)

  • Ingle Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay 2016: Nose: bright lemon and citrus. Palate: citrus and grapefruit. Young, vibrant, pure, needs time but very elegant. $24.99

 **Reserve Old Vine Riesling 2016: Sourced from the same Canandaigua Lake vineyard as the John Ingle label. Nose: still young, a little reduced, then complex mineral notes with green apple. Palate: Wow; intense concentration, green apple flavors, complex, but still young and closed. Firm acid all the way through. This is a long-distance wine for laying down for another 8-10 years, but will be well worth the wait, with lots of fruit and acid to carry it. $29.99 

  • Reserve Riesling 2015: Nose: opens to nice ripe apple and peach aromas. Palate: juicy but nicely dry, well-balanced. $19.99 
  • *Reserve Gruener Veltliner 2016: Nose: spicy green plum, almost juicy fresh white grapes. Palate: round but lively acidity and spicy white pepper. At 0.8% residual sugar, it’s a deft balance of fruit and alcohol and works well! $19.99 
  • **Ingle Vineyard Riesling 2017: Nose: delicate, fresh white peach. Palate: brilliant fresh apricot and white peach. At 1.3% R.S. still tastes almost dry, but so classic in style. Drinking this well now, will be best 2019-20, then will last another decade. $19.99 
  • *Eclipse Rosé 2017: The second year the Eclipse label has been used for a new rosé blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) from Long Island to join the red and white labels. Nose: juicy, fresh strawberry! Palate: still juicy but dry, loads of ripe red cherry and strawberry but dry, long, fresh and zesty! $13.00 
  • **Classic Cabernet Franc 2016: Bright garnet color. Nose: ripe red cherry, some black pepper. Palate: vivid, intense cherry fruit, huge volume, fresh finish, no veggies, outstanding Finger Lakes example for this variety (won Best Cabernet Franc in the 2018 New York Wine Classic). $21.99 
  • *Reserve Velvet NV: A ruby port-style red dessert wine, blended from the two cabernets and Merlot. Nose: clean, spirity cherry/berry fruit. Palate: bright fruit, vivid mid-palate of red fruits, smooth tannins on the finish. “Velvet” is a good descriptor. Balanced, fresh and bright. $29.99/375 ml.

 Our next stop was Azure Hill Winery which wasn’t officially open (they’d sold out of virtually everything) but co-owner/winemaker Joe Sheehy gave us a taste of his just-completed fermentation 2018 Zweigelt, which coming out of the tank, was very pretty, vibrant and full of ripe raspberry fruit. The previous vintages were a big hit with the public, and he has also planted Saperavi with high expectations.

A warm October rain came up Keuka Lake as we arrived at Keuka Spring Vineyards south of Penn Yan. This was a big year for the Wiltbergers, the family that owns and runs Keuka Spring Vineyards. Their 2017 Gewurztraminer won the 2018 New York Governor’s Cup, and they won Winery of the Year in that competition for 2016.

The Keuka Spring Vineyards Team (founders Len and Judy Wiltberger, far right), source www.Keuka

Tasting Highlights (all Finger Lakes AVA):

  • *Riesling 2017 (semi-dry): Tight, white flowers and green apple. Palate: juicy red apple, some ripe peach. Stylish! Great value. 1.4% R.S. ($17)

 *Riesling 2017 (semi-sweet): Nose: green and yellow apple notes, minerality and white flowers. Palate: broad, juicy mid-palate fruit but vibrant acidity. 3.4% R.S. ($17) 

  • **Gewurztraminer 2017 (NY Governor’s Cup winner): Nose: Alsatian, not lychee, more mineral and fleshy mango, not too flowery or fruity. Palate: solid fruit core, pretty dry, fine spiciness but fresh, clean finish. Outstanding balance and true to the classic model.

 *Cabernet Franc 2017: Nice violet hue. Nose: loads of black fruits: blackberry, boysenberry, and black pepper. Palate: bright ripe black cherry, vividly fruity, lively acid balance, nice ripe tannins, stylish.

 *Lemberger 2017: Nose: fresh briar fruits, some white pepper. Palate: WOW! Vivid, lively briar fruits, fun sangiovese-like spice, firm tannins and acid, great food wine or with dark chocolate.

  •  Wild Mountain Man 2017 (Lemberger and Cabernet Franc). Nose: fun, original black cherry and briar fruits, some pepper. Palate: some bright briar fruit and clean earth. Still young, promising. 
  • *Epic Reserve 2016 (cabernet sauvignon with merlot). Nose: impressive red, black fruits, esp. cassis. Palate: lively, ripe fruits, then long finish, fully ripe tannins, very good, will improve. 
  • **Miller’s Cove Red 2017 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc). This proprietary (mostly) meritage blend (which varies) is consistently among the best of Finger Lakes red blends and has previously won the NY Governor’s Cup. This newly-released vintage may do the same. Nose: complex broad spectrum of red and black fruits, esp. black cherry. Palate: lively, vibrant, dry red and black fruits, fine smooth tannins, young but promising.

 Next: Seneca Lake Revisited

Rating key: * = very good; ** = exceptional; *** = outstanding

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