Riesling might rule the Finger Lakes, but don't be fooled--it's not the only game in town.
What wines shine in central New York? When I think about it, I think about Alsace--riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris all do well. I've written about the riesling quite a bit and we'll tackle pinot gris another day.
In the dream we are sleeping in the last row of Merlot
to the west, before the Cabernet Sauvignon;
the air is weaving, lush and humid,
as if we're on the highway making heat a noun, as in,
"Look, you can see the heat above the road."
Our feet are to the north, towards the buildings,
and there's a red bird chirping loudly at a brown bird
by my head. When I sit up, I see the raccoon scat,
pocked with tiny grape pips; he has stopped only a foot
before our feet. You're still sleeping.
Suddenly we have coffee and a tent,
you're awake, and we have just eaten breakfast:
campfire eggs and beans with stale wheat bread.
There is a tiny baby deer resting in your lap,
and the sky is shaping up to bring a storm.
I have a pocket-watch, and pull it from the pocket
of the seersucker suit that I'm now wearing--you're in jeans
and a crisp white tuxedo shirt--and say "They're coming,
I can feel it, time to go." I blink, big and slow; the deer baby's gone,
the tent is packed, the fire is out.
It will not rain, but the pressure's near intolerable,
we walk as if we're thigh-deep in a pool; I wipe your brow
with a cream-colored hanky; in the corner, woven black,
the letter G. We round the building, and the heat is even worse,
the sun was hiding on the north side, now it slaps us.
The parking lot is full, the grass is covered with cars,
there are even cars out on the street, everywhere
there are cars, and in each car are people sheened with sweat,
going nacreous as onions fried in butter; I can see through their
clammy melting skin to the dry dusty dust of their bones.
Then we're behind the bar, Aretha Franklin is playing,
everything is ready, you go to open the door, then you're on the floor,
they've run you over, ten, twenty, thirty of them, the bar is full, I'm moving glasses,
somehow you're beside me again, everyone has a glass, there is so much noise it's
unbearable, voices all saying the same thing in different ways, "It's so damn hot," "I'm
hot," "It's the humidity, I tell you," "Mom, I'm melting!" "Man, it's really warm."
Then, as if on cue, they all go silent, silent on a dime, and nothing moves.
Nothing happens, we're all a photograph, a moment caught in time.
Amy tells me later this must be when she woke, rolled over, and found me
roiling in my sleep, eyes frisking under eyelids, fingers twitching, mumbling
under breath; she tried to soothe me by patting my wet head.
In the dream, I'm at the bar still, it's still quiet. A woman in front of me
mouthes the words The Blush, and holds her glass out. The Rose?, I ask, and then
pour the wine. She looks down at the glass, then up at me and says, "Can you please put some ice in?" I am her then, watching me, as I say, "I'll give you the ice, but you'll have to put it in yourself, I don't want that on my conscience, I need to sleep at night."
Every since I wrote a post (and a similar column in Dan's Papers) a few weeks ago about wineries and the drunken idiots who sometimes visit them, I've heard from a lot of people--both directly and through other channels. Some have written to me saying that there isn't a problem at all. Others have recounted some of their own less-than-fun experiences. A few winery owners have even taken offense to what I wrote. More on that later this week I hope.
My original point was this: Sure, this stuff happens. Not that much as the Times would have you believe. But yes, It happens.
I have actually seen very few incidents myself, but there was a relatively minor one that I witnessed from about ten feet away on Saturday.
Nena, Jackson and I met some friends--who were doing a limo tour--at their third of four stops. We weren't there long, just long enough for a glass of wine on a painfully hot summer day, but a large group arrived after us and within about 20 minutes had broken two of the chairs on the deck and at least one wine glass.
A member of their group did come over to our table to apologize, but the tasting room employee that was pouring for them didn't say a word. He just kept bringing wines out and pouring samples.
I actually felt bad for the kid, he was clearly intimidated by the situation.
So, this has me thinking. Just how many of you have experienced this sort of garbage at the wineries and what has the reaction been? Leave a comment below.
A friend and reader sent this to me this morning. He's a Virginia resident and is on many winery email lists down in that neck of the woods:
Last week/weekend (July 19-23), I took the Acela train up to New York to visit my daughter. On Saturday evening, my friends all drove up to join us for a trip out onto Long Island. I'm embarrassed to say that after all these years I had never visited this other notable East Coast wine region, and we were all excited about visiting and tasting their wines. I envisioned tasting high-quality wines that I thought would be real competition to those from our region.
Well, not to worry, 'cause they've got nothin' on us! I was absolutely surprised that the quality wasn't higher. Many of their wines were overly lean, too thin - lacking body and elegance. Some were just downright mouth-puckering, face-scrunching acidic. Certainly, there was some high-quality, delicious offerings, but frankly, they were the exceptions. Over the years, I had seen many listings in consumer wine publications for Long Island wines and I guess I just assumed that their quality warranted the exposure they received in the press. But that's not the case. Not that they shouldn't be reported on, of course, but what is confusing, I think, is why Virginia is not reported on more frequently and extensively. The fact is that the press is just in the dark about what's happening in Virginia. We're producing many wines of great character, intensity and elegance from those varieties that we can ripen properly here.
They say the tipping point for Virginia wines is near. After my visit to Long Island, I can't help but think that, indeed, we're on the right track and it's only a matter of time.
(Note: Both my friend and I made some edits to protect the somewhat-innocent)
Now, my experience with Virginia wines isn't vast. I've had some very nice viognier and cabernet franc...and even an amazing petit verdot. Beyond that, I just don't have much experience with the wines....and that's why you'll never see me making generalized, blanket statements about Virginia wines.
The fact that this VA winery owner feels the need to bash Long Island wines to promote his own doesn't make me mad, not at all. In fact, it just saddens me. I've been covering Long Island wine for over three years now, and I've never once heard anyone in the industry bash Virginia or its wines. That this winery owner would bash another East Coast region is pathetic and I wonder just how many Long Island wines he tasted in his trip here.
Is every Long Island wine delicious and world class? Heck no. But it's completely unfair, and a bit whiny, to say what he did. If he sees this post, I hope that he'll send me his wines, which I'll taste blind against the same varietals from Long Island. Could be a fun exercise.
Vineyard 48 (formerly Bidwell Vineyards) might be a winery on the rise. In general, I've found their white wines to be their best, particularly the sauvignon blanc and riesling, which are actually better than some local bottlings priced much higher. But, the reds have been somewhat more inconsistent. A nice cabernet franc here. A soft, but integrated meritage there. And some others with somewhat coarse tannins.
2005, a soon-to-be-class vintage, provided an opportunity for complete grape ripeness and winemaker Matthew Berenz, formerly of Pindar, took full advantage. He's made the neophyte winery's best reds yet.
The Vineyard 48 2005 Vignetta ($32) is a meritage-style blend made with 44% cabernet franc, 32% merlot and 24% cabernet sauvignon and is a lightly opaque, medium crimson in the glass. The nose is an alluring melange of red cherries, raspberries, fresh sage and muddled mint leaves. Medium weight on the palate, there is a nice integration of ripe fruit, oak influence and tannins. Cherry is the predominant fruit flavor here, with herbs, a little earthiness, black pepper and a faint mint finish that lingers just a bit. This is by far the most ready to drink today of the current red releases.
Probably a little young to really enjoy now is Vineyard 48's 2005
Cabernet Sauvignon ($40). A deep, well-extracted violet, this one is a
little lacking on the nose, offering only austere dark berry and plum
fruit aromas. Fuller bodied than its blended brother, the tannins are a
little astringent and--despite ripe berry flavors and some earth--a bit
disjointed overall. It seems almost like Berenz is aiming for a
California cab here, but falling a little short. There is potential
here, but it's hard to know now if that potential will be realized.
Come back to this wine in another year or two to see.
Merlot rules the North Fork, right? Well Vineyard 48 just released one
of those too, a 2005 Merlot ($36). This deeply extracted red features a
ripe, rich nose with cherries, tobacco and a little spice. Super-ripe,
almost sweet, fruit flavors of red berry, cherry and red currant. A
little spice brings interest to this plump wine that is even a little
juicy. Drinking pretty well now, I'm excited to try this one again in the future.
The prices might be a little out of line, but I'll reserve judgment for now.
A few of you have been asking about our little guy, so I thought I'd do a quick post and share a picture. He's now six months old now and he's great. Loves to eat, laughs almost constantly and likes playing with the pillows (as you can see above).
It's one of my favorite local publications and the only one that I find myself reading cover to cover when a new issue comes out.
And, this marks the second vintage of my new EEE column "East End Oenophile." In this issue, I look at some of the first 2005 reds to hit the market and touch on the Italian and Italian-American influence on Long Island wine. I'm working on a larger feature story on that for another publication, so look for it soon.
It's been a while since we've done a LENNDEVOURS Q&A, so I tracked down Peter Carroll, who owns The Lenz Winery.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking? The first bottle of wine I remember TASTING, was a bottle of 3-Franc rot gut that I bought in Calais in 1962 when I was 13 years old and on a day trip to France organized by my school. We tasted it back in England and I can still recall the ‘volatile acidity’ (acetic acid, or vinegar flavor).
But the first bottle of wine I remember drinking in the sense you probably mean was a Chateau Yon-Figeac (probably a 1965-68 vintage). I was just starting my first job in 1973 and finally could spend more than 10 shillings for a bottle of plonk. The merchant said this particular wine “opened in the mouth like a peacock’s tail”. And so it did. I have been impressed with the power of auto-suggestion ever since!
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry? The event that made me enter the wine business was selling a house I owned in Westhampton Beach in 1983, just as the North Fork wine business was getting going. I decided to invest the profit from that real estate transaction, all $115,00 of it, into a vineyard and winery in Peconic. I had noticed the early vineyards going in and my interest in wine had been growing since that Yon-Figeac.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why? My current Lenz favorite is the 2001 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Because it’s just a very, very good wine. And growing cabernet is challenging on the east end of Long Island--even on the warmer North Fork. So producing one that is deep and rich and age-worthy is a real achievement. Thanks Sam (McCullough), our vineyard manager.
What has surprised you most about being a winery owner on Long Island? How long everything takes. When you decide to change a particular policy, it takes forever before it makes any appreciable difference in the marketplace.
For example, Lenz is generally credited with learning why the early wines on Long Island were having a problem. The soil here is high in aluminum. Aluminum is toxic to vines, even in small quantities, but it is generally ‘unavailable’ to the vine roots...provided the soil acidity is not too great. But our acidity level is naturally high and had been raised further by the potato/cauliflower agriculture that generally preceded the grapevines. The acidity/aluminum problem was affecting the vines pretty badly.
We figured out the problem and hit on a solution easily enough, in about 1989--Put a lot of lime on the ground to lower the acidity and render the aluminum inert. We decided to speed the process by using granular lime (more expensive) and cutting it deep into the soil rather than using only surface lime and waiting for its effect to sink down to the roots.
By 1993-1995 this had made a huge difference and the wines we released in 1995-1997 were of vastly higher quality than anything that went before.
This illustrates how a change in the vineyard can take nearly a decade to reach the consumer. When someone tasted a Lenz Merlot in 1997 and said, “Whoa! This is pretty good stuff!”, the origins of the improvement were way back in 1989!
This has taught me patience.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass? Other that our own wine, the things that we serve in our house are Pilsner Urquell beer, Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Alsatian rieslings, Alsatian pinot gris, New Zealand sauvignon blancs, and gin, the kind with lots of juniper flavor, and tonic.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy? No. But if I stretch, I guess I'd say Sauternes with seared foie gras. But to be honest, the problem I have here is less the combination than, remember that I'm English, that the foie gras just needs to be cooked more.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself.
Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that
would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience. First, I definitely agree with the premise. I invariably enjoy Lenz wines more when I drink them at a restaurant than when I taste them at the winery with Eric (Fry, the winemaker). In the latter case, the purpose of tasting is invariably to judge the wine in some respect. Such tasting is generally critical. There's little sense of just leaning back and enjoying it.
The key, I think, is relaxation. A perfect setting might involve dinner at the end of a day in which much else has been accomplished, with a mixture of family and friends plus at least one new acquaintance around the table. The food, too, might be a blend of old and new--dishes I knew I liked but with some new ingredients or a new approach to preparation.
And nothing to get up at 5 a.m. the new morning for. That helps!