By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
This week, we dedicate our What We Drank feature to Red Newt Cellars, winemaker Dave Whiting and especially Debra Whiting, who was taken from us and the world far too soon. And, we've invited members of the New York wine community and the extended NYCR family to take part as well. It's the least we can do for a woman and a family that has touched so many of us.
If you read this post and would like to send me your own submission, please do. I will keep adding onto this page as long as it takes to include everyone.
Evan Dawson, NYCR Managing Editor: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Viridescens
If you have a friend who proclaims a taste for modern, big reds, and doesn't believe such wines can come from the Finger Lakes, then I'd have you point them to Red Newt reds in hot vintages. Here's a perfect example.
This wine is unabashedly modern, ripe, and seamlessly melding the dark fruit, spice, and oak tones. It's about half cabernet franc, always a good start for a meritage blend from the Finger Lakes.
You know what? Don't tell your red-loving friend to try this wine.
Salute the Whiting style of wine appreciation: brown bag it, mix it in with other reds, and pair it with thoughtful cuisine. You'll have fun, you'll learn something, and you'll be reminded that food and wine are made for each other, like the Whitings we've come to love.
Tim Benedict, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards: Red Newt Cellars Salamander White
On a beautiful 4th of July in the Finger Lakes I was fortunate enough to have a back yard picnic with family featuring traditional summer fare -- grilled sausage with peppers and onions, corn on the cob and potato salad.
To honor the occasion, and our friends the Whitings, the wine selection was Red Newt Salamander White.
This wine was surprisingly dry for a mostly hybrid blend which was a pleasant surprise, and had plenty of citrus fruit that went perfectly with our meal. This is a great summer wine!
I have known Dave Whiting for much of my life and Deb in recent years. They have been great colleagues and I have always been so impressed with what they have accomplished on that little hill in Hector.
Godspeed Deb, till we meet again.
Carlo DeVito, East Coast Wineries: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Glacier Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc
I met Dave and Deb Whiting for the first time in the early 2000s, the first year they started the winery. He had left Standing Stone, where he had rightfully been a star, and was now out on his own. He was excited and nervous all at the same time. He and his wife poured for us. They were gracious and chatty, and couldn't wait to tell you about their wines, but they also suggested other wines we should be drinking.
They were selling other people's wines.
Just weeks ago I talked with him, while he was doing a tasting event at Union Square Wines. He did not remember it. But we did. We were fans of theirs from that moment on.
I finally got a chance to eat at the restaurant last year, and it was a tremendous pleasure. It was nice to go to a restaurant and not have to scour the list for one or two New York wines, and it was nice to know that everything was seasonal and local. It was the perfect marriage of food and wine, and the meal was terrific.
So last night Dominique and I paid our homage. We had mixed grill of beef and chicken (both local – I mean 2-3 miles away tops) and local chard. And while all of it was simmering on the stove or crackling on the grill, we opened up a bottle of Cabernet Franc Glacier Ridge Vineyard 2007.
The wine was this big, purple-y, earthy cabernet franc, filled with deep fruits – lots of dark plum, cassis, dark blackberry, and dark cherry, with a nice chewiness, a slight whiff of lavender and tobacco, and a smooth, velvety finish. A fantastic wine with solid alcohol (13.7%) and great mouthfeel. This was truly an exquisite red. Easily one of the best red wines in the Finger Lakes.
With the local foods, it seemed a good fit and a tremendous way to celebrate two lives who’ve been huge in leading the way for New York wine.
Lenn Thompson, NYCR Executive Editor: Red Newt Cellars 2006 Riesling Reserve
So many wonderful things have been said about Deb Whiting over the last several days. Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, it's not enough. It never can be. I only spent time with her -- in person I mean -- a handful of times but each time I was struck by her genuine warmth, her generosity and the way she made every single person in the room feel like the most important one there.
And that doesn't even speak to her food and talents in the kitchen. From one of the best burgers I've ever had -- local, grass-fed beef of course -- to a simple green salad -- her cooking always exemplified her belief that when the food is fresh and local, it needn't be complicated to be amazing.
I also had the distinct pleasure of working together with Deb on several "Local with Local" posts for which I picked a Finger Lakes wine and she created a dish to pair with it. Her enthusiasm for the series -- and for most anything "local" -- always inspired me. Still does, in fact.
Last night, Nena and I toasted Deb, Dave and the entire Red Newt family with this bottle of 2006 Riesling Reserve, a bottle I've been holding onto for a few years with that unknown "special occasion" in mind.
Last night just seemed like the right time to open it.
What a beautiful wine that has really developed and improved with a few extra years of bottle age. The crisp apple and bright lime notes are still there, but the body has filled out with a bit of richness -- with more than enough citrusy acidity and much more slate minerality than I remember.
Every time I ate at Red Newt, I thanked Deb for her hospitality and for what was always a terrific meal. She always made a point of thanking me for being there -- as if me being there was as or more important than her role in the evening. It was a genuine sentiment.
We'll miss you, Deb. But you're legacy lives on in every restaurant kitchen and tasting room in the region. You will never be forgotten.
Dave McIntyre, Washington Post: Red Newt Cellars 2008 Glacier Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc
I only met Deb Whiting a few times over the years, and wouldn't presume to consider myself a friend, though when I last visited the Newt in May 2010 for a Riesling vertical wine dinner, I think it was pretty clear to her and Dave that I'm a fan of everything they've been doing over the years.
Since I heard the news of the accident, I've shed more than a few tears, because even though we weren't close, I felt a bond with them. I ate at the bistro twice, and drink the wines whenever I have the chance, and love them both.
I opened a Red Newt Glacier Vineyards Cab Franc 2008 tonight in their honor. It was delicious, lively and cheerful, and I consumed it even though it clearly had much potential ahead. Somehow, that seemed fitting.
Paul Zorovich, @pzorovich: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Sawmill Creek Vineyards Riesling
I never met Deb Whiting, but my wife and I rarely miss an opportunity to eat at the Red Newt Bistro (sometimes multiple times in two days) on our frequent trips to the Finger Lakes, so I'm pretty familiar with her food. We usually drink the house wines when we're there -- how much more local can you get? -- and the last time we had lunch there, on my recommendation my wife got a glass of the Sawmill Creek Vineyard riesling. I'd first tasted it at an event here in New York City, and I thought then that it was one of the finest, most balanced dry rieslings I'd ever tasted. She agreed, although the Davis Vineyard riesling gave it serious competition.
We're members of the Times Union New York wine club, and recently our shipment included a bottle of the 2009 Red Newt Sawmill Creek Vineyard riesling. I still consider this one of the best examples of Finger Lakes riesling I can think of, with just enough acid, just enough minerality, and a hint of residual sugar.
When Lenn asked me if I'd contribute to this WWD, there was no question which bottle of Red Newt wine to open. I wish I had a few more bottles left.
Tom Mansell, NYCR Science Editor: Red Newt Cellars 2008 Viridescens
The word "viridescence" means having a green quality, but there are no real "green" notes in this 2008 Red Newt offering. Just about half-and-half cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc with a splash of merlot, the nose takes one from fresh-roasted coffee beans to rich blueberry to a hint of sulfury blackcurrant. In the mouth, the fresh acidity of the 2008 vintage supports alternating fruity honeydew and plum and savory rare beef and licorice notes. A soft but firm grip of tannins leads to a medium-long acid finish that leaves you wanting more.
This is a delicious wine and a fine example of how the best producers will make great wines (even reds) in any vintage.
As I have gradually ingratiated myself into the Finger Lakes wine industry, I have been most impressed with the overall feeling of welcome I have received. Nobody has exemplified the art of welcoming like Deb and Dave Whiting. From the Bistro to the winery, everybody at Red Newt is on point. That's the culture that Dave and Deb have cultivated and it resonates from a central core of mutual respect, friendship, passion for their calling, and overall joie de vivre.
Several weeks ago I began preparing to take a postdoctoral research job out of state. As I did I thought back on all the wonderful people in this industry I would be leaving behind. Dave and Deb where the absolute first ones that came to mind. The times I spent at the Newt are some of the most enjoyable I have had during my stay in the Finger Lakes. I just thought I would have a chance to say a proper goodbye before I left.
Deb's legacy lives on in every amateur chef who tries to make a ravioli out of seasonal ingredients she never dreamed should go in a ravioli, in every shopper who chooses the local farmers market or CSA over more convenient options, and in every perfect pairing of local food and local wine. Her spark of passion for local food has helped ignite a blaze of locavore culture that shows no sign of dying out. She was warm, kind, generous, and always smiling. We will miss her tremendously.
Anthony Ianni, @zinhead: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Glacier Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc
I first had this wine in August, 2010 while having dinner at Red Newt. Our waitperson was intimate with the wine and said based our conversation (about my palate) "You'll love it." We did and asked for two more to take with us. I couldn't keep my hands off one and drank it while sitting on the Seneca Lake shoreline. The other was opened July 4, 2011.
The wine was clear with a ruby core fading to a pink rim. A clean modestly pronounced and still youthful nose of raspberry, cherry and plum along with thyme, mocha slight tobacco and light smoke. The palate was dry with medium plus acidity, medium tannin and alcohol with medium plus body. The mocha note really carried through to the palate along with the red fruit/herbal component. Medium plus length which was very pleasant.
This was served with a variety of grilled meats including ribeye with a porcini rub and simple grilled chicken with herbs. The wine had no problem standing up to either.
To my taste this is exactly what I enjoy in red wine. Modest tannin balanced by an acidic backbone and not overpowered by excess alcohol. Perfect everytime. This wine was a spectacular effort.
Pete Slywka, Michael Skurnik Wines/Finger Lakes Wine Lover: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Riesling
I had my first proper introduction to the Red Newt wines on a solo trip back home to the Finger Lakes in July of 2009. I had set out blindly to see if my previous experience in wine would find me disappointed by what I would find back upstate. I happened upon Red Newt while looking over the regional winery map and had heard/read that it was worth the visit. Over a few days I was shown the great potential that existed around the Lakes.
Since that visit Red Newt has been part of every serious conversation I've had about the direction of the region. And, after reading Summer In A Glass it's hard not to feel the tremendous loss that the Whiting family has encountered.
Having been born on Cayuga Lake and finding my way into the world of wine it seems only fitting to savour a classic from the family. I've certainly had them in my thoughts.
This wine smells of home and perky youth. Initial green apple and peachy notes via the Mosel but rounded by something more tropical. A bit of orange and lemon zest and minerality with striking acidity that makes you want another sip. Beautiful finish with an integrity of sweetness usually reserved for the German Kabinetts. A riesling that should be held up as a model for balance in the United States. This 2009 is rockin'!
Jeff Houck, Lucas Vineyards: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Sawmill Creek Vineyard Riesling
Explosive floral nose with juicy peach and pear fruits. To borrow a note from Dave Whiting, this wine has a large yummy factor. This wine kept me wanting more.
Tasting it made me smile, something I appreciated this weekend.
Aaron Estes, NYCR Cheese Editor: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Curry Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer
I met Dave and Deb a couple of years ago when visiting the area for a long weekend with Lenn and Nena. I was taken by the passion that both expressed for the region through food and wine. Having lunch at the Bistro while Dave poured his wines for us was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
This Gewurztraminer from the Curry Creek Vineyards surprises me every time I have an opportunity to taste it. Most people know that I am typically not a fan of this grape. I usually associate gewurtz with drinking grandma's perfume after it has been steeped with potpourri for several houris.
It is because of this association that I would generally steer clear. This particular wine was a revelation for me when I first tasted it. I love the lychee and pear notes coupled with the ginger spiciness on the finish.
I couldn't believe that this was the same wine that had haunted me so many times before. It is because of this wine, and the care that is obviously taken with it, that I will continue to taste and drink gewurtz at every opportunity.
In my mind, this wine epitomizes the elegant characteristics of this grape and a perfect expression in the glass.
Kelby Russell, Fox Run Vineyards: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Davis Vineyards Riesling
Being away from home, let alone nearly the antipode of home, makes us all reach out for a reminder of where we come from. As a young winemaker traveling to learn from and share with other regions, however, there is also a degree of one-upmanship involved when pulling out a bottle of wine from home. I don't want to just be reminded of home, I want everyone else I share the bottle with to be jealous that their home is anywhere else.
Such was the case a few weeks after my arrival in Tasmania to work their harvest earlier this year, when I pulled out a special bottle from home to share with everyone I was working with. Having tasted it before I departed when I was selecting the best of the best from the Finger Lakes, I had no doubt how Red Newt's 2009 Davis Vineyards Riesling would provide the "wow" factor I desired. After dozens of pleasant enough Tasmanian rieslings, I wanted a wine that would remind me of where I came from.
Given how young the wine was (and how low the pHs were for 2009 Finger Lakes rieslings in general), it was no surprise that the wine needed a few minutes to breath and blow off some remaining SO2.
Shortly thereafter, the room was filled with the aroma of peach, ripe mango, and a flash of lime zest. Most surprisingly to my companions was the midpalate, however, as it beguiled them with gorgeous blood orange and honeysuckle aromas before finishing with a lightening crack of acidity. It was that crack of acidity that I had desperately missed (without knowing it) in every wine I had tried since departing.
Within five seconds I was not only reminded of where I had come from, but why I was looking forward to coming back. Not just for the gorgeous wines, like so many that Red Newt releases year after year, but especially for the Finger Lakes family that makes those wines possible.
For all the comfort and pride Red Newt's 2009 Davis Vineyards Riesling brought me, I plan on returning the favor ten times over for Dave and the Red Newt family.
Kevin Welch, Grape Management: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Sawmill Creek Vineyards Riesling
This past December during the week between Christmas and New Years I had my very first opportunity to visit Red Newt Cellars, a winery I had often enjoyed when attending the Finger Lakes Wine Festival.
I planned my tour of Southeast Seneca so I would arrive around lunch time in order to finally try firsthand the culinary samplings served up by resident chef Deb Whiting, whom I had repeatedly heard praises.
Although the Bistro wasn’t open due to my timing, Red Newt did offer a scaled down, but still very smart, café menu offered in a segregated section of the tasting room. Our lunch of course was fantastic and met every expectation, and at the conclusion I was lucky enough to personally thank Chef Deb Whiting. Although lunch was short, and my conversation with the chef brief, the experience offered an instant insight into the culinary success the Finger Lakes region is achieving, straight from its pioneer.
In remembrance of Chef Deb Whiting’s passing and the memorial service that was being held last night at Red Newt I found it fitting to open a bottle of 2009 Red Newt Cellars Riesling Sawmill Creek Vineyards. This current vintage has both citrus and light herbal notes on the nose.
At first sip lime takes center stage but is then accompanied with green apple. This semi-dry has no problem successfully balancing its residual sweetness with a strong acidic backbone. This wine will clearly get better with age.
Michael Gorton Jr, Undertaking Wine: Red Newt Cellars 2009 Saw Mill Creek Vineyard Riesling
It is hard for me to comprehend what the Red Newt Winery Family is going through with the sudden and tragic loss of Deb Whiting, wife, mother, chef and friend to many.
Dave, Ryan and Brenton are devastated I am sure. The entire Finger Lakes wine community is consumed in greif by her loss. It reverberates down here on Long Island as well, whether you met her or not, tonight, on July 5, 2011 as family and friends gathered at Red Newt Winery and Bistro in Hector, NY to celebrate Deb’s life, there were people that could not be there in person, like myself.
When Lenn offered others an opportunity to celebrate her life by tasting Red Newt’s wine and write some notes, I thought it was a great way to honor Deb and to those that never met her, or met her only once or knew her personally. In some small way, it helps us all to work through our feelings and pay tribute to a person who meant so much to everyone.
I was lucky enough to have one bottle of Red Newt -- a bottle of Red Newt Cellars 2009 Saw Mill Creek Vineyard Riesling. On the nose I was picking up some juicy lime and peach notes with hints of flowers and dried apple. There was a Asian tea-like aroma that developed over time in the glass with more of the floral notes taking center stage.
When I tasted this wine the lime and citrus notes jumped on my palate with hints of river rock minerality, peach and a lightning bolt of electric acid. Well balanced and delicious, it kept me wanting to take another sip. An enticing finish of apple, pear and a squirt of lime carried for a while.
Thank you Lenn for giving us this opportunity to celebrate Deb’s life and the fruit of the labor that David and the Red Newt team produce. Deb has left a legacy that will not be matched. The region will struggle to pull itself back together, but it will. Rest in peace Deb. And when I am up in Hector again, looking over the deck of the winery as I look at the lake at sunset, I know you will be there.
Mary Jane and Seth Kircher, The Copper Oven: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Gewürztraminer Sawmill Creek Vineyard
Following countless others, we turned onto Tichenor Road in Hector tonight at about 6:15 pm. Upon our arrival at Red Newt Cellars – just up the hill - the line to enter the tasting room was long enough to afford us a 25-minute wait.
Not surprisingly, no one minded.
Some in their Sunday’s best, others dressed for a summer day, the crowd that greeted us inside was not a cross section of the region’s food, wine and tourism enterprise but seemingly the whole of the industry in one room. Said another way, the friends and family gathered tonight was a true testament to Deb and Dave Whiting’s vision, hard work and enthusiasm for the Finger Lakes and its potential.
For this, we raise our glass to you.
Julia Burke, NYCR Beer Editor: Red Newt Cellars 2008 Circle Riesling
Since its release, this amazing riesling has been a part of my life on so many occasions that I can't think of Finger Lakes wine without it crossing my mind.
Red Newt 08 Circle impressed me on first sip with its beautiful balance. The gorgeous tropical fruit that's textbook Finger Lakes, the tightrope of acidity, that suggestion of sweetness that lingers long enough on the mid-palate to demand near-constant sipping, and the beautiful length of the wine all make it, to me, the very best way to bring the Finger Lakes to groups of friends and family at $12 a bottle.
I've enjoyed this wine standing around my best friends' kitchens cooking and talking, on my parents' patio in the middle of the summer, with roast turkey at Thanksgiving and with cheese and crackers on a weeknight.
It's my absolute epitome of what a good wine should be, and the fact that I'll think of Deb Whiting from now on when I enjoy it makes it all the more special to me.
What am I drinking? Community.
I spend a good part of my week traveling around New England encouraging people to "Buy Local," a movement that has spread across the country but was pioneered in the Finger Lakes by Deb Whiting.
So today I pulled a bottle of Red Newt 2007 Sawmill Creek Cabernet Franc that I had been stashing away and set out to enjoy my lunch. Egg salad pitas with fresh greens and arugula from my girlfriend's backyard garden would do the trick nicely.
As I enjoyed the silky tannin and beautiful dark cherry character of this wine, not to mention the subtle licorice to the nose, I was reminded of why I am involved in the wine industry in the Finger Lakes in the first place. Community.
I have worn several hats over the years, and have had opportunity to work in much larger communities with much larger payrolls and much flashier lifestyles. However, they lacked the family-like bonds that hold Finger Lakes wineries together.
These past several days have been difficult not only for those who knew Deb so well but for those who know the Red Newt family, who have seen Dave's infectious smile, and those who make Red Newt wines a part of their weekly meals.
A member of our family is hurting, and that grieves us all. People often come in to or tasting rooms and ask how the wine is at our "competition". They have no idea how far from the truth that is. This delicious bottle of cab franc is why I work in the Finger Lakes, but the flavors in the glass are secondary.
Jeff Bailey and Jerol Rickard, Lenz Winery: Red Newt Cellars 2007 Sawmill Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer
Jerol and I were first introduced to the Whiting family and Newt Cellars in mid May of 2011.
Eric Fry, winemaker of Lenz Winery, helped us select wines for our monthly wine tasting group. It was our turn to host the group and this time, we selected notable dry Gewürztraminers.
After the group assembled and tasted all fourteen wines blindly, it was clear that there were some beautiful wines in the mix. Both 2007 Red Newt Cellars’ Gewürztraminers were scored highly.
The Sawmill Creek Vineyards selection displayed crisp acidity, notes of bee pollen and aromas of orange peel and lychee.
Last night, Jerol and I once again enjoyed the 2007 Red Newt, Sawmill Creek Gewürztraminer with our dinner. Grilled yogurt, ginger and chili-marinated chicken thighs with grilled local vegetables paired perfectly. It is not by coincidence that the Whiting family’s wines have been consistently accompanied by memorable nights with great friends and family.