By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
Neil Miller's blog Stressing the Vine is one that I've been a fan of for some time, so when he expressed interest in attending TasteCamp, I was excited.
It's always fun to meet fellow bloggers -- especially ones so focused on local wines and food -- and Neil did not disappoint. I found him to have a very well-tuned palate and to be both entusiastic but pragmatic about local wines.
And now, our TasteCamp 2010 Q&A with Neil:
Had you ever had any Finger Lakes wines before? And if so, what was your impression of them? Yes. Very favorable.
After tasting a larger sampling of the wines being produced in the Finger Lakes, what is your impression now? I was glad to see that many of the 2009 rieslings were showing well, as this was the first opportunity I've had to taste examples of this difficult vintage.
I also was very pleased by the quality of several Finger Lakes red wines, especially the 2005 Shaw Cabernet Franc, the 2007 Tierce, the 2005 Fox Run Reserve Cabernet Franc and the 2007 Ravines Pinot Noir.
That having been said, however, I also still found many of the reds, especially the cabernet sauvignons, merlots, meritages and syrahs, overly lean and tannic. I entirely get the unique characteristics of cool-climate red wines, which I particularly enjoy in comparison to Mediterranean-climate reds, but I am not persuaded, and I don't expect the general wine drinking public to be persuaded, by the often-heard refrain that these wines are made to pair with food, or require extended cellaring.
High acidity and lower alcohol levels are great, but I can't overlook the fact that many of the red wines I tasted lacked concentration and depth of fruit, were over oaked, displayed overly harsh tannins, and/or were generally unbalanced and unfriendly.
Food might mask or mitigate some these issues, but in general I find this claim about food friendliness to be a self-serving rationalization that benefits no one, especially not the winemaker.
And I am equally skeptical that aging is going to significantly improve many of these red wines.
What, in general, impressed you the most? The remarkable generosity and willingness of the winemakers to share their best/rarest/most recent wines with the attendees, along with their candid views about winemaking.
I was truly overwhelmed by David and Debra Whiting's extraordinary generosity at Friday night's dinner at Red Newt Cellars and Bistro. Not only did David pour a lot of his library wines, along with Anthony Road and Fox Run, so that we could taste the entire history of the Tierce bottlings alongside the wines that went into them, while Debra served up an absolutely delicious dinner that paired beautifully with the 2007 Tierce, but they sent home each of the attendees with a surprise gift package of three Red Newt wines. It was an extraordinary, singular display of generosity, and was for me the high point of the weekend.
What, in general, underwhelmed you the most? The dinner served at the Stone Cat Cafe (not the BYOB wine tasting or the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the attendees). The Stone Cat should be ashamed of themselves for charging $60.00 for that uninspired, mediocre meal, especially since we brought and uncorked our own wines.What tasting or vineyard walk was and will be the most memorable for you? I'd have to say the Wiemer tasting, because it revealed how distinctive the wines were from the three designated vineyards.
After listening to Peter Bell of Fox Run and Morten Hallgren of Ravines discuss their very hands-on approaches to winemaking, which gave me the impression that they viewed winemaking as taking place at least as much in the winery as in the vineyard, I was glad to hear Fred Merwarth describe the less-manipulative methods he employs at Wiemer.
After so much online interaction with the attendees, which person surprised you the most in person? Of the attendees, I was very impressed with the New York Cork Report's own Julia Burke, for someone so relatively young her depth of knowledge of wine and winemaking was impressive.
If you had to pick one, what would your wine of the weekend be? The Anthony Road 2008 TBA was the most memorable wine of the weekend, followed closely by the 2007 Tierce, the 2008 Weimer HJW Vineyard Riesling, 2005 Shaw Cabernet Franc, the 2006 Fox Run Riesling, the 2007 Fox Run Port, and the 2008 Ravines Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling, not necessarily in that order.
Then again, I selectively sampled the Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake wines on Friday and Saturday, in part because I was already familiar with many of the wine/wineries, and because I had to drive back to Syracuse in the evening, and I wasn't able to attend Sunday's Cayuga Lake tastings, so I did not taste everything.