Last April, the Long Island Merlot Alliance, formed by Raphael, Pellegrini Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Wolffer Estate Vineyards, released their first cooperatively produced merlot—2004 Merliance ($35). LIMA’s founders believe that merlot is Long Island’s signature varietal, and as such have dedicated themselves to its advancement and continued quality in our region.
But, LIMA isn’t the only group of New York wineries working together to create special wines from other signature grapes.
There are some that will argue the point, but much like merlot is Long Island’s current leader, the classic riesling grape rules the Finger Lakes region in central New York. What makes the Finger Lakes region so special is that—all things being equal—classic vinifera grapes shouldn’t even grow there. They have cold, harsh winters and “winter kill” vine damage remains a concern.
But, lucky for those of us who enjoy the fresh, aromatic wines made there—and those growing and making them—the very lakes that give the region its name make it all possible. These extremely deep, narrow lakes gather and hold a significant amount of heat in the warm summer season—enough to extend the grape-growing season into the fall just enough to ripen grapes as well as protect vineyards against potentially catastrophic early frosts.
As with any region—including our own—quality varies from producer to producer. And, in a region like the Finger Lakes, which is polluted with a great number ‘festival’ wineries that can seem more interested in hosting large event events and selling t-shirts than making fine wine, you can taste a lot of one-dimensional, simple, unbalanced rieslings before you get to the best—which are world class.
But now, three of the producers that I’ve been consistently impressed with—Anthony Road Wine Company, Fox Run Vineyards and Red Newt Wine Cellars—have joined forces to craft a special and unique dry riesling named Tierce.
It was smart for winemakers Johnannes Reinhardt (Anthony Road), David Whiting (Red Newt) and Peter Bell (Fox Run) to combine their considerable talents. Not only does Tierce, which is also bottled under a screwcap, help promote the region’s signature grape, but the result is a riesling that goes well beyond the sum of the parts. That’s no small feat considering how good their individual wines can be.
2004 Tierce ($30) is clean and focused effort from the moment you crack open that screwcap closure. In the glass, it’s an extremely pale, crystal-clear greenish.
The aromatic nose starts with a burst of fresh-squeezed lime with hints of lemon zest and distinctive wet stone aromas. The technical notes say that there is .2% residual sugar, but you can barely perceive the sweetness because of fresh, lively acidity. Lime and mineral flavors burst in the mouth and remain on a long, citrusy, slightly snappy finish. Fewer than 100 cases were made as a bit of a trial run, but as good as this wine is, I know that I hope they continue for years to come.
With so little made, there probably isn’t much left, but fear not—the 2005 bottling will be released in May, according to Bell. Much like it was here on Long Island, 2005 was a hot year in the Finger Lakes, so it could be an outstanding wine.