By Jason Feulner, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Finger Lakes Wine Country graciously invited me to a "sneak peak" media event last Friday to preview some rieslings that would be featured during the Finger Lakes Wine Festival throughout the weekend. The event was held in the media building on the grounds of the Watkins Glen International raceway, a sprawling circuit-style course that winds its way through a hill overlooking the Seneca Lake valley below.
Wineries that presented their 2007 rieslings during the media event included Dr. Frank's, Fox Run, Glenora, Hazlitt 1852, Lakewood, Lucas, Red New Cellars, Sheldrake Point, and Swedish Hill. Chefs from restaurants associated with participating wineries provided food pairings, including Chef Frank Caravita from Fox Run (pictured at right), Chef Deb Whiting from Red Newt, Chef Orlando Rodriguez from Glenora, and Chef Sam Izzo from Sheldrake Point.
As I had encountered in mass tastings before, the 2007 rieslings leave a strong general impression. The dry versions, at this point, seem to lack balance and while ripe and flavorful they leave the mouth confused throughout the tasting. The semi-dry offerings are usually more balanced at a sweeter level, and despite the fact that I do not enjoy the semi-dry style as a rule I found much more to hold on to with these rieslings.
"2007 was a very ripe year, so composing these rieslings from different lots was almost like a gamble," Bob Mindall from Sheldrake Point explained to me. Without strong acidity, the ripe flavors interplay very differently from each producer. I suspect that some 2007s will build well in the bottle, and others may fall flat over time.
All of the semi-dry rieslings I tasted ranged from good to excellent, with the Sheldrake semi-dry and Fox Run riesling showing very strongly. A few dry rieslings stood out even with their shortcomings. The select Hazlitt had a unique flavor, as well as the dry Lucas which had an organic smell and petrol finish that I found very interesting. Dr. Frank's dry riesling had a degree of acidic crispness and minerality that the other dry versions did not, which Fred Frank believes is due to the terroir of the vineyard site on Keuka Lake.
All of the food was excellent and skillfully prepared. After the tasting and dinner, a few of us were escorted over to the raceway campgrounds to see the "toga party" that kicks off the weekend-long wine festival. Some of the costumes were outrageous, but all were fun and people really seemed to be having a good time. Nearly all of the 1,000+ people in attendance were dressed up in some fashion. A few tents were set up with local wineries selling glasses or bottles to the revelers, and a live band played music on a stage.
I was not able to stick around for the rest of the weekend, but some of my relatives attended the official wine festival on Saturday, along with thousands upon thousands of other folks, and they had a good time.
As you can imagine, the Finger Lakes Wine Festival is a massive affair with numerous tents, over 80 wineries, with crowds and intoxication being very much part of the scene. If you can get past these distractions, it is an amazing opportunity to taste wines from many wineries without having to drive all over the region. For those who are looking for an experience beyond swirling what's in their glass, there is a party to be had all weekend.
The organizers are aware of the different needs of wine tasters, so
there are various demonstrations, classes, and seminars available all
weekend. I think the festival is a great event and offers a little
something for everyone.
Remember, wine is supposed to be fun.
As much as I enjoyed tasting some 2007 rieslings, I have to admit that I am really looking forward to what the 2007 reds will bring from such a hot, ripe vintage. "When we do barrel tastings, we keep looking at each other in disbelief that this wine came out of the Finger Lakes," Brandon Sieger, assistant winemaker at Red Newt shared with me.
We shall see. As the Festival indicates, wine is about celebration, and the Finger Lakes certainly has a lot to be happy about. The 2007 rieslings are mixed, but they come off of a strong '06 vintage that offered some true classics. If the reds of 2007 are as much fun as I think they will be, then let the party begin.