By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
What We Drank is a little bit different this week. In honor of Regional Wine Week, organized by DrinkLocalWine.com, which started yesterday, I asked our contributors to pick a New York wine. Of course, that's no problem because we're all drinking local wines anyway.From Evan Dawson: Heart & Hands 2007 Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir
If blind tastings occasionally seem cliche, I would argue they are imperative in proving the strength of New York state wines to doubters. A brown bag can disarm biases.
This weekend, after sorting and stomping grapes at Heart & Hands Wine Company on Cayuga Lake (a post on the importance of sorting is on deck for later this week), I grabbed this bottle for a blind pour with a small group Saturday night.
I simply gave guests two glasses, one filled with this pinot, and another with the Tardieu-Laurent 2004 Saint-Joseph from the northern Rhone. I had a hunch that while these wines are wildly different, both are strong enough to escape any suspicion of local origin. I was right. Guesses flew around the room; one taster thought this bottle was a Spanish grenache, given its medium weight and spice.
Upon revelation came the now familiar -- yet always satisfying -- "Wow, is this really local?" Yes, it is. No, not everyone is making local wine like this. But when you know where to look, the results can be stunning. Especially for those who think New York state doesn't make wine with depth.
(This wine sells for $40 and is available on the winery's website and in a number of NY restaurants).
By now you've probably heard at least something about the 2005 growing season on Long Island -- the early, frost-free spring, the hot, dry summer...and the, in some areas, 20 inches of rain in 8 days in October, right in the middle of harvest.
Some wineries stopped picking chardonnay when the rains started (virtually abandoning that fruit) to get the reds in before the deluge. Others waited. And hoped.
Not surprisingly, 2005 reds can be pretty inconsistent from winery to winery. If your vineyard practices, location and (frankly) luck allowed, the winds that followed the storm dried your vineyard out. Again, if you were lucky, the great-before-the-rain season ripeness survived.
It did with this Peconic Bay Winery 2005 Merlot (ignore the mis-labeled "Lowerre Reserve"), with ripe, bright flavors of black cherry and black raspberry, with subtle spice, light toasty vanilla and, after several hours in my glass, a little earthy edge. The tannins were soft, ripe and seamless.
It's not the most complex merlot you'll ever taste from Long Island, but it was extremely satisfying over the course of the evening, with enough fruit up front to appeal to Nena and just enough complexity to keep me coming back to it of course of several hours.
The bottle didn't last the evening. In fact we had to open a bottle of something else after this was gone.
A late harvest chardonnay? Being a virgin to this style I couldn't resist when I saw it on the dessert drinks menu at Stone Cat Cafe on Seneca Lake.
In the glass, this Standing Stone offering was a lusty tiger-eye hue of amber, cloudy but not murky.
An initial whiff knocked me over with cranberry-juice cocktail and clover honey. As its fruit-gusher of a nose began to unpack itself I started to get a very distinctive and unexpected scent: fresh sushi.
I spent several minutes trying to pinpoint the smell, wading through memories of sesame oil, wasabi, seaweed, pickled ginger and raw fish, and after some consideration decided it was probably some kind of soy.
Within the somewhat expected finish of boozy citrus (if they make a bourbon orange julius this would be it) and continued honey I got a pleasant scent of almond extract.
A very interesting first experience with this incarnation of chard. But with nothing to compare it to, I can't decide whether that central soy/sushi action was cloying or intriguing.
I'd be interested to see more wines of this style from the Finger Lakes.
I guess you could say this one is pretty darn local, since the tasting room manager at Damiani lives about a block from me.
Sauvignon blanc is not grown too much in the Finger Lakes, likely due to its susceptibility to rot and cold winters, and vegetative growth/vine vigor.
This offering from Damiani Wine Cellars on the east side of Seneca Lake is estate grown and isn't too bad. A few tiny bubbles of spritz in the glass. Clean on the nose, a bit of sulfur, green apple and light grapefruit.
Balanced acidity and and full mouthfeel lead to a pleasing, medium-long, if slightly hot finish. Ever-so-slight oxidation (at least in this particular bottle) is obvious only on the very end of the palate (though the apple up front may have been a clue). It doesn't really have the vegetal or tropical fruit qualities typical of other styles of sauvignon blanc, so it's pretty nondescript.
It did go well with an edamame-tarragon risotto Sarah whipped up, giving some further evidence for me of the connection of Sauvignon Blanc with herbs in the anise family.
Unfortunately, the winery's sold out of this wine, but you may be able to find it at some retailers.
After visiting Leonard Oakes last week, I came away with that same feeling that ice wine will continue to steal the show up here as a common thread between wineries.
Leonard Oakes makes several types of wine and most of them are very small production, so I didn’t even realize that they made ice wine until this one was poured.
Even though I had a cold, the aromas of this ice wine were stunningly obvious. Hints of tangerine, mango and peach were all there, distinguishing it from many other simple, one-note syrupy versions.
For me ice wine should still have a backbone, and this one did with a great balance of acid and sugar.
All in all, another delicious estate grown ice wine from the Niagara region that can hang with the same quality offerings that Ontario charges three times as much for.
This impressive Bordeaux-style blend from a warm Finger Lakes vintage says as much about Damiani as it does about the region's ability to produce good red wine.
A winery that professes a strong belief in stressed vines and extended hang time, Damiani offers with this bottling a red that exhibits deep and complex flavors marked by chocolate and tobacco and currant with just a hint of dark cherry.
The finish isn't huge but it lingers. The oak is perhaps just a smidgen too strong with this one, so let it breathe for a few minutes to let the flavors really settle out in the glass.
Overall, this wine is great example of what is possible in a warm vintage in the Finger Lakes with a low yield, hands-on emphasis found in some of the region's smaller operations.