Riesling, as with any other kind of grape, can be made from multiple sites, where grapes from different locations are blended together, with each contributing a different characteristic to the wine. Or it can be made from a single vineyard. This is done either by design (a winemaker wants to make this style), by default (a winery only has one vineyard planted with Riesling), or by circumstances (a particular vineyard is producing grapes that are so extraordinary, that the producer wants to capture the terroir of this particular site at this particular moment in time). As Thomas Pastuszak, the wine director at the NoMad, explained, “Single vineyard wines don’t necessary mean better quality, but they can lead to something rather unique.” At this year’s NY Drinks NY, the annual tasting of New York State wines at the Astor Center in New York City, we had both. We also had representatives from each of the participating wineries giving us personal insight and history into the wines.
The first wine we tasted was the 2012 Falling Man Vineyard Riesling from Keuka Lake Vineyards on the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. Mel Goldman, the vineyard manager and owner, explained that the grapes were planted on a steep hill, harvested very late and the wine was not fined. Their website declared that the 2012 was “most feminine of Falling Man yet, with restrained minerality and great body.” There was a gracefulness to this wine that lingered on the palate, so “feminine” wasn’t that far off the mark. Next up was the 2013 Lahoma Knoll Riesling from Red Newt Cellars on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. Winemaker Kelby Russell noted that Red Newt has been making single vineyard Rieslings since 2004, and he used words like opulence and powerful to describe the wine. Sweeter than the first wine, the Lahoma had cherry and tangerine aromas and for me was screaming out for some spicy food.
Staying on Seneca Lake, we tasted the 2013 Old West Block from Standing Stone Vineyards. Owner Marti Macinski remembered that at the time the Riesling grapes at Standing Stone were planted in 1972 “most everyone said we were nuts.” The Vinifera Revolution had just begun and most wineries were not yet convinced that anything other than American Hybrids could be successfully grown in the Finger Lakes. Opinions changed in 1980 after a severe cold snap dubbed the “Christmas Massacre”. Despite the precipitous drop in temperatures, the Riesling vines at Standing Stone survived, further proving that Riesling not only could be grown, but that it was cold hardy. The wine was high in acidity with aromas of apricots and pears.
We continued our tour of the “Banana Belt,” a section on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake known for its microclimate, where winemaker Vinny Aliperti presented the 2013 North Block Seven from Atwater Estate Vineyards. Atwater also has a long history with Riesling, with the vines going back to 1988. The wine is labeled as “medium-sweet,” but with a tangy acidity the wine tasted more like “medium-dry.” The last wine discussed was the 2012 Gibson Vineyard Riesling from Villa Bellangelo. “I never set out to create a single vineyard Riesling every year, only when a particular vineyard speaks to me,” Chris Missick, owner and winemaker of Villa Bellangelo, informed us. This wine was fermented slowly to preserve the delicious fruit and fermentation was stopped when the sugar/alcohol balance was at its optimum level to create a rich, luscious wine.
So even though the focus of the tasting was narrow (one region, one grape, all single vineyard wines), the end result was a varied (and delicious) tasting. The wines ranged from “feminine” to “powerful” to “luscious.” Which is what I love about wine. Even when you try and limit your scope, the possibilities are still endless.