Finger Lakes Report 2018

This will be a Finger Lakes report (originally published by The Cork Report), compiled over several visits this summer. My interest in the region was sparked years ago, especially since Riesling has always been my favorite grape. However, in the last few years, as I began to visit the Finger Lakes and discover the people as well as the wines, I have come to understand it better. It is a unique region, known for its “lake effect” – the moderating effect of the Finger Lakes on the temperature and precipitation levels of the area. The effect allows for a warmer temperature in the winter, thus protecting the vines, and a cooler temperature in the summer. It is still a young region, with much potential for discovery. From the wines I have tasted, I find that Riesling does best from the white grapes, although sparkling wines, both from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, have a bright, crunchy acidity that make them quite refreshing. On the other side of the spectrum, Pinot Noir has potential. It is not an easy grape to grow, in any climate, but when done right, the FLX Pinot is earthy, full of cranberry and pomegranate tones, and shows the potential for development. I personally love FLX Blaufränkisch, or Lemberger, as it offers the sweeter, riper blackberry and plum tones, while still paying homage to the cool climate with its mineral and cooler toned palate. Another grape that plays in the same dark-fruited ballpark is Saperavi. This Georgian grape is not new to tough climates and thus does well even in years with less than perfect conditions. The more people I meet, and the more I taste of the region, the more I am impressed by their dedication to their vines and wines. And I cannot wait to go back to the Finger Lakes – it is quickly becoming a home away from home. 

Heart & Hands

I have had Heart & Hands on my list of “must visit” since day one. However, I was unable to do so in the prior years. This year, it was my first stop – and I finally met Susan Higgins in person. We began our visit in the cozy tasting room, bathed by the afternoon light. We spoke about the sustainable farming that H&H practices, and the importance of the limestone in the terroir of the region. But, most importantly, we spoke about the wines. The light hand, and the attention to detail comes through in the bottle – the Rieslings all had tension and bright freshness that speaks to my personal love for the grape. The Pinots are aged in French oak, but again, the light hand showed through. While the oak added a layer to the bigger wines, it was never prominent, never up front. 

2017 Heart & Hands Riesling Estate:
Unlike the riper 2016 version, this wine is bright and light. It is dominated by white peach on the nose and shows green peaches, melon, and apple on the palate. Sweet lemon and orchard fruit on the back, leading toward a zesty finish. Though perhaps not as complex as the riper years, this is fresh and bright in a way that makes the bottle disappear all too quickly. 

2016 Heart & Hands Riesling Seneca East Vineyard:
A beautiful example of Finger Lakes Riesling, a floral nose, ripe with lemon curd and grapefruit. The mid palate is leaner, orchard fruit dominating, peach and apple, with a core of acidity. I cannot wait to see how well this will age. 

2016 Heart & Hands Pinot Noir:
Aromatic Pinot, with rose and red cherry. The wine has 50% whole cluster vinification and perhaps gains the savory herbal tones from that. Ripe, rich cherry dominates the middle, earthy and spicy on the finish. Quite intriguing already. 

2013 Heart & Hands Pinot Noir Patrician Verona:
This shows a deep black cherry and earthy notes and purple flowers on the nose. Already integrated on the palate but still youthful, cherry tones, going from red to black. Elegant wine, with an undercurrent of herbs and acidity. Excellent already, with perhaps more to show. 

Boundry Breaks Vineyard

I am always on the lookout for Riesling, and I was told this was the place to find it. So we punched the address into the GPS and we were on our way to Lodi (in the FLX not California). We were really lucky, not only did we get to spend some time with the owner, Bruce Murray, but we also were able to taste two mini-verticals. I really love how Riesling ages, and I was impressed with the 2011s and the 2014s – they lost none of their vigor, while gaining complexity and starting to show touches of secondary development. I went back and forth between my preference, the #239 or the 198? For my palate, I went with the off-dry #198. I like the extra dollop of lemon curd in the middle and the aging potential it has. But there is no wrong choice here. 

2011 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239:
This library bottle has been opened for a few hours, and yet this is young and bright. The wine shows notes of pineapple with a solid core of savory herbs and ripe citrus. An impressive showing.

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239:
More mineral than the 2011, but lighter, more pineapple and grapefruit pith. Deep citrus notes, especially toward the finish. Quite nice indeed and with a youthful grace. 

2016 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239:
A young, bright Riesling, brimming with tropical fruit on the nose. Stone fruit, yellow peach predominantly on the front palate, but leaning toward orange and mango further back. Shows signs of late harvest ripeness and depth. Would love to see how it will age. 

2017 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239:
Impressive for a young wine, yellow flowers, honeysuckle, peaches and apples, mid is ripe but with white peach and ginger, lovely note of minerality and a bright acid on the backbone. Tangy, ginger notes on the finish. This is lovely now but I am sure will age and develop further. 

2011 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198:
Another library Riesling I was lucky enough to taste. This was impressive again, showing as youthful as I would have expected from Riesling made in Germany. The pineapple and mango on the nose shows resemblance to a Pfalz Riesling. The core is ripe, full of sweet fruit, but the acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, leading to a clean finish. 

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198:
Similar in power and citrus notes to the 2011, but the 2014 shows significantly more mineral qualities. Lemon curd and Meyer lemon in the middle, deep, complex and still with years to go. Absolutely lovely.

2017 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198:
The wine shows bright, yellow peach on the nose. Impressive kiwi, guava, currant leaf, and citrus on the palate. Like the 2011, the wine shows a quality similar to the Rieslings of Pfalz, tropical but with a core of minerality. Excellent. 


There is not marker on the road to Forge. However, once you find your way here, you won’t ever forget the way. My visit to Forge in 2017 was eye-opening, I was immediately impressed by both the unusual style of the wines produced, and the care the team placed on the organic work in the vineyard. Rick Rainey, one of the three partners at Forge, talks about their influence being from Burgundy, including making “white burgundy from Riesling”. The wines are laser sharp, elegant and with a crackling whip of acidity. One could see how Chablis is a comparison point for their Rieslings, but for me, the Wachau Federspiel is perhaps a more direct comparison. Both wines share a brightness and elegance, both very dry and yet, unlike the drier German wines, these lean in the pineapple and tropical fruit direction. Of course, these are merely generalizations, but perhaps they offer a direction since Forge wines are quite unique in the Finger Lakes. The Pinots are as unique, earthy, cranberry and quite floral. However, these wines are also lighter than some of the other FLX Pinot, more mineral driven, with an undeniable drinkability that is unforgettable. If you have not visited yet, make an appointment, and get ready for a whirlwind of jazz and wine. 

2016 Forge Dry Riesling Classique:
An easy wine to love, the Classique is a great introduction to Forge wine. Light, but stone and mineral driven, bright, hint of vanilla, good texture in mid. Palate shows some peach and grapefruit, leaning toward lemon and stone notes toward the finish. 

2016 Forge Cellars Riesling Les Allies:
Pretty wine, with floral and tropical notes on the nose. The palate is textured, as one expects from Forge. Lots of tropical fruit on the palate, with riper core of pineapple and lemon. Bright stony notes on the back palate, tart, leading to a mineral finish. 

2017 Forge Cellars Riesling Dry Peach Orchard:
This is a floral wine, showing yellow flowers and white peach notes on the nose. The palate is deep, brooding, salty notes over a ripe, pineapple and tropical fruit core. More mineral toward the back palate. Long tangy finish. I would give this some time - but it should reward. 

2016 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir Classique:
This year’s classique is showing the forest floor I expected but with a riper cherry note along with raspberry and smoke. On the palate, it reveals iron, cranberry and pomegranate notes along with the cherry. The wine is light but with a good core of tannin and acidity. Quite intriguing. 

2016 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir Leidenfrost Vineyard:
This Pinot is showing blue flowers, mineral notes, spicy and earthy tones. The acidity is bright here, but with a good cherry tone through the mid. Tart, dry wine, with a stony grip, needs some time to develop.

2016 Forge Cellars Pinot Noir Sawmill Creek:
A beautiful, unique Pinot Noir, with floral and elegant power. More cherry tones than the classique. Perhaps a touch less crunchy than the previous wine but the cherry tones in the middle are lusher, spicier with hints of mineral and plum. Elegance is key here - I cannot wait to see how it ages with time. 

Hector Wine Company

Our connection to Hector Wine Company started with Forge, because Alexandra Bond led our tasting there. She is the co-winemaker at Hector and we just had to come taste what she was up to. Hector is a lovely little hamlet, and the 414 road is studded with wineries, but Alexandra calls the Hector Wine Company an informal community center. And it is easy to see why – the comfortable, roomy tasting room, with a long bar, and a set of wines has something for everyone. As far as the wines, let’s go to white elephant in the room first – a Finger Lakes Syrah! It was absolutely delicious, red fruit, ripe, crisp but balanced. All the red wines were quite impressive – which is a testament to the work Justin and Alexandra do in the vineyard and in the cellar. Alexandra points to the lower yields and the careful selection of planting sites, as well as the hand-sorting for ripeness as the reason for their success with reds. The white wines are quite intriguing as well, with Alsace as lodestar – drier than most, with a richer, broader mid palate.

2016 Hector Wine Company Luminessence:
Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer blend, in a dry Alsace style. This is a floral, pretty wine. The core of white peach and grapefruit juice. The ripe tropical mid contrasts with the tart and zesty acidity. A unique and interesting take. 

2016 Hector Wine Company Cabernet Franc:
A powerful red for the region, with ripe black and blue fruit. There is a hint of tobacco on the nose. The mid is juicy with a ripe blue fruit core, hint of herb and tobacco leaf. Spicy finish. Well done. 

2016 Hector Wine Company Syrah:
This is an exciting wine, a Syrah from the Finger Lakes region seems almost impossible, and yet here it is. While the warm vintage is surely helpful, the wine shows a beautiful red fruit core. The lusher mid is rich, but still showing the cool climate notes expected. I really enjoyed this wine and am looking forward to trying it again. 

2015 Essence:
This is a Bordeaux blend, with majority coming from Cab Sauv. Red fruit dominate the wine, with layers of garrigue and savory herbs. Good power to the wine, ripe tannin, medium body.

Hermann J. Wiemer

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard needs no introduction; it is well represented throughout the US market as well as abroad. When I visited Belgium 15 years ago, I was asked to bring one bottle of New York State wine with me to open at a wine dinner – I chose a sweet Riesling from Wiemer. The wines in New York State overall, and Finger Lakes specifically have taken a large leap forward since then, but Wiemer has stayed at the front, both in their approach to the vineyards, and with their winemaking. The dry Rieslings especially have become irresistible, mineral, elegant and yet packed with ripe fruit. However, the sparkling wines are not to be forgotten, especially the excellent BdN – a rarity in the region. I allotted most of the day for my visit this summer; to walk the vineyard is always a pleasure here. First timers should allow an extra 15-20 minutes for the “Map” – the gigantic map of the vineyards hanging in the tasting room with detail down to the clone and rootstock information, elevation and year the vines were planted. It should keep a wine geek enthralled for a good portion of an hour given the opportunity. After that – dig into the wines! I cannot even list all of my favorites here, I had to omit the stellar Gewurztraminer, floral and yet bright (and a tough grape to make well in a humid region), the crisp Chardonnay and the earthy but ripe Cabernet Franc. 

2013 Hermann J. Wiemer Blanc de Noir:
I was already a big fan of the 2012 vintage of this wine but the 2013 takes this to another level. A big and powerful sparkler, masculine and textured. Loads of citrus in the mid, but balanced by acidity into a well-rounded wine. 

2017 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry:
The wine opens with white peach on the nose, the palate has a ripe core of peach and pear, along with herbal notes. The minerality is quite obvious and lends elegance to the wine. Dry finish with zest and herb. Excellent “estate” wine. 

2016 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry Reserve:
This wine is always one of my favorites. It plays the role of a serious kabinett trocken, with both the age-worthiness and the depth of the style. As usual for this wine, it leans towards the Pfalz-like tropical fruit, with orange and pineapple on the nose, in addition to the orchard fruit. There is a level of minerality at the core, with peaches and grapefruit. The finish is exhibits the zesty, tart notes of a bright Riesling. This is a perennial buy for me. 

2016 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry HJW Vineyard:
This always shows as the most elegant of the three singe vineyard bottlings. It is focused, with orchard fruit dominating. Peaches at the core, with mineral and stone notes. Ripe and dense but still light and elegant. There is a hint of sweetness on the back palate, leading to a dry, zesty finish. 

2016 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Josef Vineyard:
This is always my favorite of the three. It combines the power and ripe orchard fruit with elegance and minerality. The 2016 is a bigger vintage, thus this wine is almost a feinherb in style, with a richer and creamier palate. Ripe pear and peach notes, serious in the mid with a complex and long palate. Excellent. 

2016 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Single Select Late Harvest Josef Vineyard:
I have to say, this may be the best Finger Lakes wine I have ever had. It is an “auslese” style Riesling, made possible by the beautiful and ripe 2016 vintage, with about 50% of clean botrytis grapes in the mix. Rich nose of orange blossom, apricot and mango. The mid is ripe, peach and orange dominating, but with the bright acidity to keep the wine balanced. While obviously sweet at this point, I believe it will age into a more direct and savory wine in time. A stunner. 

2016 Lemberger:
This is one of the grapes that I feel does not get enough praise, especially in the Finger Lakes region. And the Wiemer Lemberger is easily one of the best. Bright red fruit on the nose, cherry and raspberry. On the palate it leans toward plum and blackberry along with the brighter acid core. While perhaps not as deeply complex as the Rieslings, this is an excellent red wine and incredibly food friendly. 

Standing Stone Vineyards

Standing Stone Vineyards is not a new name for the Finger Lakes, and their sweet wines especially were stellar for years. But now, under the guidance of the Wiemer team, their old vine vineyards are sure to see further jump in quality. My favorite is the Saperavi – first planted here in 1994. Whether vinified into the bracing and spicy rose, or the deep, brooding red wine, it shows an unusual depth and, as a red wine, a darker berry profile that is rare in the region. Their trio of Ice Wines are not to be missed; choose between the riper, softer Vidal, the floral Gewürztraminer or the richer Riesling… or take all three! 

2017 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewürztraminer:
Gewurztraminer is a difficult grape to grow, but, when good, its floral powers are impossible to resist. This wine shows the rose water and lychee notes the grape is famous for, but with the riper pineapple and mango that one finds in the Finger Lakes Rieslings. Hint of RS provides a roundness to the wine, leading to a tart, ginger-forward finish.

2016 Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi:
This grape does marvelously in the Finger Lakes, showing the dark plum and black fruit notes that rarely develop in the cool climate. Yet it keeps the brightness and backbone, without the ripe fruit making the wine soft. The touch of savory herb on the back palate adds to the complexity of the wine.

Dr. Konstantin Frank

I first met Meaghan Frank a year ago – at the NY Drinks NY: Women Winemakers Seminar. Of course, I have been drinking the wines her family makes for years. I was hoping to visit the winery and when my good friend, Annemarie Morse, asked if I wanted to join here, I was happy to accept. We began our tour with a look at the sparkling wine cellars and the history of the family. The Frank family history is directly intertwined with the story of the Finger Lakes Wine region itself. Four generations have taken care of these vineyards, carrying on the legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank. However, the family does not rest on their laurels, but continues to improve and innovate. A good example is the Rkatsiteli Amber, a wine aged in Amphorae to reconnect to the traditional Georgian vinification and preserve the fruit of the grape while creating the deep textural note that makes Georgian wines irresistible. 

2013 Dr. Konstantin Frank Blanc de Blancs:
Disgorged July 2018. Bright, light bubbles, hint of ginger and grapefruit. The palate is light, with citrus and hints of lemonade. That sweet citrus note continues toward the finish, adding zest and a sparkle. 

2016 Dr. Konstantin Frank Eugenia Dry Riesling:
Bright, mineral driven and very dry Riesling. Serious on the opening, if a bit light on the mid palate. Citrus driven wine, stone and flint. Nice and zesty medium length finish. 

2017 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli Amber:
Fantastic and unique. The wine spent 15 days on the skins and 5 days of cold soak. Honey, hay and grapefruit rind on the nose. Textured, crunchy palate, mineral notes, citrus - especially yellow grapefruit. Balanced and long on the finish. Really enjoyable - a lightly “orange” wine. 

2016 Dr. Konstantin Frank Saperavi:
I am continually impressed with how well this grape does in the cool Finger Lakes climate. The jammy, black fruit on the nose offer deep sweet notes of blackberry and plum. The palate has a textured, tannic black fruit. Sweet and savory herbs, good power in the mid palate, rich note on the finish. Simply delicious – now and perhaps in a few years.

Sheldrake Point Winery

Our favorite place to stay in the Finger Lakes is Trumansburg. A lovely town, with excellent food, and quite centrally located – giving us easy access to many of the wineries in the area. A short drive up the east coast of Cayuga Lake brought us to Sheldrake Point Winery. My initial interest was in their Gamay wines, an intriguing grape for the area. Gamay, famous for the delicious wines of Beaujolais, offers the red fruit and earthy tones of pinot, but with a riper and softer touch. I was intrigued by the possibility of this grape in the Finger Lakes. However, as we tasted through the lineup, I found the Riesling wines quite intriguing. And then we got to the sweet wines – which were truly spectacular. Especially the Cabernet Franc Ice Wine, full of strawberry and orange notes. 

2008 Sheldrake Point Riesling:
I am always interested in trying library releases; they provide a unique view into the way a wine can age in near-perfect conditions. This 2008 is an excellent example of this. Showing quite young, tropical notes dominating, but with undertones of yellow peach and sage. The mid is ripe, with a hint of late harvest fruit, and yet retaining a tang and notes of thyme. Rather intriguing! 

2016 Sheldrake Point Riesling Archival Riesling:
Ripe, tropical wine, lemon, kiwi notes along with floral and pineapple tones. There is a hint of mineral in the mid, though the wine is a bit soft and could use more brightness. Exotic version of Riesling, especially for the Finger Lakes. 

2016 Sheldrake Point Riesling Reserve:
Intriguing, this showed the masculine notes I expect from a Rhine Riesling. Ripe core but with good minerality and a bright, serious finish. There is a hint of RS on the back palate, but the finish is clean and dry. 

2015 Sheldrake Point Gamay Noir Reserve:
Gamay is an interesting red grape for the Finger Lakes. This wine is elegant and earthy, not unlike a lighter Pinot Noir, but with a more mineral and tannic core, riper fruit that expected from the nose. 

2013 Sheldrake Point Gamay Noir:
With a few years on it, this Gamay showed a deeply earthy tones, licorice and ripe berry flavors. The wine is proof of the age-ability of the grape in the Finger Lakes and, perhaps, is an interesting direction for a light red wine in the region. 

2017 Sheldrake Point Cabernet Franc Ice Wine:
If you are seeking something unique, look no further. Strawberry essence, bright orange, cherry pie notes with a hint of cinnamon. Delicious.

Red Tail Ridge Winery

On this trip to the Finger Lakes region, I had several set goals. One of them was to discover more about the red wines produced in the area. This led me to Red Tail Ridge, not only for their Pinot Noir, but also for the rare Italian grape – Teroldego. Hailing from northern Italy, it is a grape capable of giving rich, black fruited wines, balanced with a core of acidity. Since most cooler climate red wines tend to stay on the red fruit side of the scale, I am always interested in a grape that could offer the deeper blue and black fruit tones, and still keep the brightness and freshness that is a hallmark of the region. Teroldego seems like an interesting option – and the one I tried at Red Tail Ridge, even from a cooler 2015 vintage, proved the point. 

2016 Red Tail Ridge Winery Good Karma: A quite intriguing Riesling, with a kabinett level of sweetness. Sweet peach dominates, hints of ginger, needs a bit more acidity, but a pleasant if a bit round. 

2017 Red Tail Ridge Winery Gewürztraminer:
The wine shows roses, lemon and ginger notes. There is a hint of minerality and a bit of oiliness on the palate. Balanced, showing good citrus notes on the finish. 

2013 Red Tail Ridge Winery Riesling Block 907:
This is an Auslese-style wine, made from selected bunches of late-harvest botrytized grapes. A powerful, ripe and tropical wine. Yellow peach melds with honey and mango, the sweet citrus notes of botrytis show, both on the nose and the palate. Sweet lemon curd leading to a ripe finish with hints of tart orange peel.

2015 Red Tail Ridge Winery Pinot Noir Estate Grown:
The cooler year showed in the lighter, earthier tones of the wine. The mid palate shows herbs, rustic notes and tobacco leaf. The bright cranberry note and fresh acidity make the wine a great match for lighter cuisine. 

2015 Red Tail Ridge Winery Teroldego:
Vinified in neutral French oak, the Teroldego is an impressively powerful, but fresh and deeply fruit driven wine. Savory herbs in the middle support the dark blue and black fruit. While full of ripe fruit, the wine carries its rustic power easily, balanced by the core of acidity and tannin. Excellent. 

Cliff Lede Vineyards Tasting at Union Square Cafe

This was my first visit to Union Square Café since its move to East 19th Street. I was really looking forward to the lunch and to tasting the Lede Family wines. The two are a well-matched pair, classy, luxurious yet without pretense. The tall ceilings of USC, matched with the contemporary art throughout the restaurant, speak to the bright, modern atmosphere it conveys. The same can be said of the food, while classic in approach, it is fresher, brighter, and with an added touch of polish. 

We began our tasting with the 2017 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. Remi Cohen, the Lede Family Wines COO who led the tasting, spoke of the thought process behind this wine. Like the white wines of Bordeaux, this wine is about brightness; a fresh, mineral approach but with a layer of polish brought by the careful use of oak and stainless steel. While the roots of the wine are clearly old world, with its blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the fruit clearly speaks of Napa. The bright citrus on the nose is contrasted with hints of coconut and stone fruit. The palate open with grapefruit, green mango and lime, but then turns to show a lusher side of custard and sweet pineapple. The wine finishes cleanly, with a dry, spicy finish of basil and citrus zest. 

In addition to the Cliff Lede Vineyards, the Family also includes FEL Wines, with a focus on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. FEL Wines (a tribute to Cliff’s mother – Florence Elsie Lede) is situated on 44 acres in Anderson Valley and include the famous Savoy Vineyard, planted in 1991. We tasted the 2017 FEL Anderson Valley Chardonnay first, a whole cluster pressed wine, aged sur lie for ten months with limited malolactic fermentation. While clearly full of ripe sweet California fruit, the wine showed beautiful white flowers on the nose with hints of vanilla. The palate was ripe, with lemon curd and melon, but underlines by a fresher, zestier streak that kept one coming back for another sip. The wine finished with a hint of green peach and citrus rind. 

We also tasted the 2016 FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Noir as well as the 2016 FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir. Both wines see a similar vinification, with cold soak and maceration (the Savoy receives a longer maceration period of ten days) and are aged for 16 months in 60-gallon French Oak (about 40% new). Both wines are rich and powerful, showing the darker fruit and sweeter cherry tones one would expect in California Pinot. The Savoy Vineyard Pinot thou was clearly my favorite; while it too opened with blackberry and blueberry on the nose, there were hints of mint and sweet herb as well. The palate was redder, brighter of the two wines, with strawberry and pomegranate along for the ride. While a very young wine, this had a streak of minerality hiding under the lush fruit, perhaps hinting at the ageing potential. Long silky finish brings savory herb notes and a touch of coffee. Quite intriguing. 

We then moved on to the Cliff Lede Vineyards red wines. Cliff’s initial interest in Napa wines came both from his visits to the area and his interest in the great wines of Bordeaux. Thus, the inspiration for the red wines is, in its essence, Old-World. However, this inspiration is filtered through a fresh, modern look of Napa Valley and, with a layer of classical rock, present to the drinker a new vision of taste and of beauty. He acquired the estate, situated in the famous Stags Leap District, in 2002, and the winery, completed in 2005, was designed by Howard Becken. We began with the 2016 Cliff Lede High Fidelity, a Cabernet Franc dominated Bordeaux blend (51% Cab Franc, 34% Merlot, 14% Cab Sauv and 1% Petit Verdot). I was happy to see that the wines showed the classical notes of Cab Franc on the nose, tobacco with savory herb and a touch of pepper. The oak is well balanced here by the lush, sweet red and black fruit, with black cherry and plum dominating. The wine shows a powerful core and structure, for all its breadth, with plush, polished tannin and a streak of savory herb that keeps the wine fresh. This is already a pleasure to drink, a luxurious armchair of a wine but with clear aging potential as well. 

The 2016 Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon was likely my favorite wine of the tasting. A true California Cabernet, it opens with ripe, rich blackberry and cassis, as well as a clear milk chocolate note. However, just take one sip, and you will quickly discover the more structured, medium bodied wine underneath. Smoky spices, red fruit and a classic chewy palate. Herbs and tobacco round off the back palate, leading to a tannic, grippy finish that speaks to the bright future of this wine. I believe the ripe fruit will subside, giving more room to the more classic tones of this wine. I would love to revisit it in a decade. 

We concluded the tasting with the 2015 Moon Fantasy and the 2012 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignons. The Moon Fantasy name comes from Cliff’s love for classical rock – Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Cream’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. This is a big, brash wine, luxurious and self-involved, as a good rock star should be. Rich sweet fruit on the nose, dripping with lilacs and violets. Cigar box, cassis and black cherry on the palate, ripe and sweet, wrapping one’s palate in velvet. It is a powerhouse of a wine, but unlike the two previous reds, it is more approachable immediately. If you find yourself in a rich, soft armchair, as the sun is setting in the background, with a good book in hand, this may be your wine. The 2012 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon plays many of the same notes as the Moon Fantasy, but in a silkier, less obvious way. This isn’t a rock star per se, but perhaps a look back to the glamor days of Hollywood. Wood, tea, pepper notes speak of luxury, but the fruit tones are softened, less sweet, cleaner and brighter. They contrast the richness of the tannin and wood notes, creating a complex and powerful symphony. This is a wine to age, to let all the players find their tune. 

I want to thank both Remi Cohen and Katherine Jarvis for such an intriguing tasting. Remi’s knowledge of the wines and of Napa gave us a deeper understanding of Cliff’s vision for both Cliff Lede Vineyards and FEL Wines.  

Massanois Imports Annual Tasting 2019

This was my second year attending the Annual Tasting, and I want to extend my thanks to both, the Massanois Imports, all the producers present and the crew of City Winery. These are merely brief notes on some of the wines that I tasted. 

2007 Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Spätlese feinherb: This is aging beautifully, not much has changed since last year, a hint of the orange flower note on the nose (some botrytis) the wine was peach, mirabelle and mint. There is a hint of ginger on the long sweet and sour finish Still young but reaching into maturity. Light and bright - a perfect afternoon in a bottle. 

2016 Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Mülheimer Helenenkloster Riesling Eiswein: Stunning wine, ripe, with oranges, mango and ripe apricot. It is ripe, but the sweetness is balanced by a bright, mineral note. While it clearly shows notes of rich tropical fruit, there are lighter, brighter tones still hidden within. Given time, this should blossom into a beauty. 

2015 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Großes Gewächs:
This was a wine I was looking forward to, as I am quite fond of the 2015 vintage. It did not disappoint, the wine is thoroughly bright, with a deep mineral streak that speaks to its origins. While lighter than some, the wine shows white peach, pear and apple. I can see this aging into a classic MSR Riesling, and yet this trocken is quite delicious already. 

2010 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Auslese: This is a throwback Auslese, with a modern spatlese weight, yet rich with tropical notes and ripe peaches. There is a hint of pineapple and mango toward the back, but the mineral nature of the wine keeps it fresh. Quite impressive! 

2010 Parusso Barolo Bussia:
The 2010s are still quite young, but this Bussia is already showing a floral, rose and violet nose. Elegant mid, light color, with juicy red cherry fruit in the mid. The structure is still quite rustic, powerful tannins, with hints of tar and spice. This will age into an excellent wine. 

2015 Bruna Grimaldi Barolo Bricco Ambrogio: This was an elegant Barolo, floral on the nose, with spice, cherry and purple flowers. The mid is quite tight, though elegant, smooth tannins, and sweet cherry fruit. A beautiful young wine.

2015 Bruna Grimaldi Barolo Badarina:
Unlike the Bricco Ambrogio, this is a richer, darker expression of Nebbiolo, sweet raspberry, dark cherry and savory herbs in the mid palate. The mineral undertones keeps this wine in check, leading to a long and still quite tannic finish.   

2012 Bruna Grimaldi Barolo Badarina Riserva:
A serious, powerful wine from a tough vintage, sweet, ripe cherry fruit, darker toward the back palate, quite tannic, yet polished, with a savory herb on the finish. 

2017 Cascina Gilli Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco:
Seeing Paolo Vergnano in New York was an unexpected pleasure, having visited Cascina Gilli this past summer. Their Malvasia is an absolute pleasure, a guilty pleasure indeed, fruit salad, cotton candy, with a slight raspberry effervescence. Ripe and sweet, it has an underlying herbal structure and a refreshing citrus note. Delicious! 

2013 Cascina Guido Berta Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza:
This is a powerful wine, with earthy cherry fruit. It is still quite young, but the savory. Chewy mid is already hard to resist. 

2015 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Montornello:
A mineral expression of Sangiovese, bright red fruit, cherry, earthy tones, good power toward the finish. Quite elegant already and clearly with potential.

2015 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Capannino: Richer and riper than the Montornello, with darker, deeper fruit. Quite firm, more in need of time, but clearly with aging potential.

2013 Fanti (Tenuta San Filippo) Brunello di Montalcino Vallocchio:
A bright, fresh Brunello, elegant but with a more rustic, chewy mid palate. Great structure here, a wine that need decanting or, preferably, time. 

2015 Fongoli Montefalco Rosso Serpullo:
Juicy, ripe sweet fruit, medium bodied, deep mid, sweet and ripe finish. Quite intriguing! 

2012 Fongoli Sagrantino di Montefalco Fracanton:
This wine has spent six years in anfora, and the result is a fresher, brighter fruit flavor, ripe cherry and blackberry on the nose, powerful fruit in the mid, serious and needing time. 

2017 Anthony Nappa Wines Cabernet Franc Bordo:
An interesting Cab Franc from Long Island, with ripe fruit and bell pepper on the nose, good mid palate, red fruit, juicy and bright. Good long finish, with some herbs and spice. 

2014 Brittan Vineyards Pinot Noir Gestalt Block: Ripe, powerful expression, tannic and rich with blueberry and cherry tones. This is an intriguing expression of Pinot, taking the clarity of cooler climate fruit but with the richness and power that is quite unexpected. 

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