As you probably know, this week we spent four beautifully relaxing days at a lakefront cottage just south of Penn Yan, New York -- smack dab in the middle of the Finger Lakes wine region. It's the off season up here, so Keuka Lake is quiet, almost eerily so when compared with the chaos that is often Long Island, but the riesling is providing plenty of excitement for us
Much like merlot dominates Long Island, Riesling rules the wine landscape up here. And, during our first afternoon tasting along the east side of the lake, I found what is my Riesling of the moment: Ravines Wine Cellars 2006 Riesling ($17).
No, it probably isn't be the best Riesling in the world, but it might just be the best in the region. And, in this moment (when I wrote this) -- sitting out on the dock, my toes near numb as they dangle in the frigid water, sipping a lightly chilled glass as I type away on my laptop -- there isn't another Riesling I'd rather have in my glass.
Deliciously minerally, with lime, orange blossom and crisp apple notes it's the dryness (many Finger Lakes Rieslings are made in an off-dry style) and a focused electric jolt of acidity that bring structure and lift this wine to new heights. Medium bodied and lingers on the finish, inviting another sip or bite of your meal. This is Finger Lakes Riesling at its most elegant and food friendly. Best of all, it's a great value.
Winemaker Morten Hallgren is doing exciting things with other grapes as well.
Morten, raised in Provence on his family's vineyard, has a diverse winemaking background that took him from France to Texas, to North Carolina, and finally to the Finger Lakes, where he is best known for his six years as head winemaker at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars.
In 2000, Morten and his wife Lisa bought 17 acres of land on a glacier-carved hillside on the eastern slopes of Keuka Lake. This land is located at the widest part of the lake, which allows grapevines to receive maximum benefit from its temperature-moderating effects. It has well-drained soils and is situated between two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter. These ravines are the namesake of the winery. When I visited, they had just plowed 6 acres behind the tasting room for planting later this spring with Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and petit manseng.
When I was there, I got to taste some of Morten's first vintages at Ravines-a Riesling, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a cabernet franc. All impressed, particularly the pinot noir, which is really just coming into its own.
Of the current releases, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) stood out-even if it was only bottled two days ago. And, for anyone who thinks that great wine can only be made with the classic grapes of Europe, think again. Ravines Wine Cellars 2006 Keuka Village White ($12), a blend of 80% Cayuga White and 20% Vignoles, was an affordable surprise that reminds me of the everyday blended wines from Alsace. The nose is fruity and fresh with loads of melon and peach with just a little floral character and minerality. Medium-to-light bodied, those same fruits dominate the palate with slightly tropical hints as well. There is a light sweetness to the wine, but more than enough acidity to bring balance.
I've said many less-than-nice things about Finger Lakes reds in the past, but Morten's 2005 Meritage ($25) deserves mention as well. I liked it enough to make it the only Bordeaux-style red that I bought the whole trip.
There are Finger Lakes wineries that are bigger and better known, but Ravines Wine Cellars is clearly one of the most exciting, with a great future ahead.