By Lenn Thompson, Founder and Editor
This is a post that I look forward to writing every year. I dread it too.
On one hand, it's fun to look back at all of the New York wines I've tasted over the past 12 months. On the other, how can I possibly choose a handful of the "best" wines, especially when I wasn't tasting them with this post in mind? For 2009, I have already promised myself that I'll come up with a formal process for the LENNDEVOURS wines of the year, but that doesn't do me any good for 2008 now does it?
The easy way would just be to look at my published tasting notes and pick the wines with the highest scores, but what about the wines that, for whatever reason, didn't actually make it onto LENNDEVOURS? And, if I went that route, couldn't you just look them up on your own?
Instead, here are a few wines from Long Island and the Finger Lakes that stand out in my mind as I consider the hundreds of wines I tasted in 2008. Some are the highest rated ones, others make the list for other reasons:
This local pinot made me do a doubletake when I tasted it blind in February. Aromas of wild mushrooms, raspberries, cherries and spice caught my attention. Then, that mushroomy earth character blended with cherry and crushed raspberry flavors, with a spinkling of cinnamon, clove and faint cocoa powder spice kept my it. A minerally note towards the end of a medium-long finish 'forced' me to drink this wine the rest of the evening. Definitely my favorite local pinot from 2008.
I don't know a lot about Amarone and I've only tasted a few of them, so I can't speak to how this local Amarone-style cabernet (some of the grapes were dried) rates against the real thing, but this was the most unique wine I tasted this year. It features dense, warming aromas of speck-wrapped roasted figs, anise, blackberries and vanilla. Big and even meaty, it shows layers of black licorice, fig and blackberry flavors with sweet, plush super-ripe tannins. This was an unplanned wonder (the grapes actually dried on the vines), so we may never see it again. For that alone, it belongs on this list.
This makes the list as the Long Island red I probably drank the most of this year. This blend of cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon balances power and elegance expertly. Cherry and other red fruit aromas are layered with brown spices, salt-cured black olive and faintly floral notes. Then, a medium-bodied palate unfurls with clean, pure red cherry flavors with cinnamon, anise and nutmeg spice, a little vanilla and earthy flavors that remind me of dried fall leaves.
This is a wine that makes the list for a few reasons. First, it is one of the first Long Island wines bottled under Stelvin closure (Paumanok's 2007 whites were the first). Second, it's a great wine that continues to evolve and change every time I taste it. It started off with clean melon, grapefruit and mineral character, but as it spends more time in bottle, I'm tasting more tropical notes and honeyed fruit. Lastly it's also a wine that I've used on several occasions this year to convert Long Island wine naysayers.
Ravines Wine Cellars 2007 Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
I fell in love with Finger Lakes riesling all over again on our trip to Keuka Lake in April. This wine hadn't been released then, but it shows everything I love about those wines. Floral aromas mingle with dried apricots and fresh lime and wet stone on the bright, clean nose. The palate is light bodied and lithe, but still fills the mouth with intense minerality, bursting citrusy-lime flavors and an undercurrent of apricots. The acidity is almost electric in its liveliness and the finish is lengthy, lingering with lime and slate notes. I have a couple bottles left and would hold them long-term... if only they had natural cork closures. I guess I'll need to drink them sooner rather than later.
This list would be incomplete without a Long Island merlot and this one earns its spot by not only being a terrific example of local merlot, but also being a great value at $30. Dark, almost inky purple and extremely aromatic with blackberry and blueberry fruit aromas accented by leather and minty notes. Similar flavors carries over to the full, well-structured palate that has a lengthy, minerally-graphite finish. The tannins are ripe, but plenty apparent, bringing grip and pointing to terrific aging potential. I wish I had more of this in the cellar.