By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
After we had selected the Ravines 2007 Meritage as Finger Lakes Red Wine of the Year, we heard a remark from the adjoining room. "That's nearly a perfect wine." It came from Jim Silver, Peconic Bay General Manager and our host for the tasting.
He was not speaking in context, as in, "For a Finger Lakes red, that's a very good one." Silver, a lover of the Old World in particular, was praising the wine as one of distinction and class. "It's pretty exciting to see a wine like that come out of the Finger Lakes," he said.
The wine comes from the wonderful 2007 growing season -- wonderful for reds, at the very least. Winemaker Morten Hallgren changes his blend for the Meritage every year, but it's typically composed mostly of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. So what was the difference with this wine?
In the editors' opinion, structure. And Hallgren agrees.
"Think of the tannin structure as the skeleton on which to hang color, polysaccharides and aromas," Hallgren explains, noting that 2007 provided a much stronger natural base of tannin development. "If the skeleton isn't large enough, this wine will lack volume and length. If you leave the skeleton too bare, the wine will appear too lean and mean. This is the delicate balancing act you find in cool-climate areas."
Hallgren routinely spends 15-hour days during harvest tending to the banal-but-vital work to produce the best red wine this region will allow.
"Manually separating most seeds and sediments at the time of pressing allows you to avoid sources of astringency," he says, adding that not many Finger Lakes wineries are prepared to follow these labor-intensive techniques. "If you travel around the Finger Lakes during harvest, you will find most wineries closed by 5, 6 or 7 p.m. This is unheard of in Europe and I suspect in the more reputable California wineries. You simply do not have a way to play catch-up after harvest if you haven't done the necessary punch-downs, pump-overs or tedious pressing operations."
The fruit for the 2007 Meritage came from several vineyards, averaging 23 brix at harvest and weighing just under 3 tons to the acre. It sees only 20% new oak, with the remaining 80% divided among one-year, two-year, three-year, four-year, and five-year-old barrels. Hallgren uses 80% French oak for his Meritage, with the remainder American oak. "No heavy toast at all!" he adds.
Ever a seeker, Hallgren won't predict exactly how long the Meritage will age before declining. But he suspects it has a nice life ahead. "I can understand why some people believe there is very little good red wine in the Finger Lakes, but that's much too broad an assumption," he says. "I see very good red wines at a number of places. Anthony Road, Shalestone, just to name two. As winemakers, we just have to decide whether we want to work for it and sacrifice for it. If we do, there's something special within our reach."
800 cases made, 500 cases still available
Available in the tasting room and at a wide variety of retailers
January 2011 New York Cork Club Selection