Although technically one of the last days of summer, it felt like a classic Finger Lakes fall day. The sun was bright but not glaring. The lake was blue and sparkling. The air was crisp and clear. Perfect weather for picking grapes, but we aren’t quite ready to do that yet (or more to the point, the grapes aren’t yet ready.)
So we took the time to taste through 6 vintages of Riesling, we talked about the vintage conditions each year, and we learned what flavors and textures develop over time. We started with the 2015 vintage. One long term barrel owner missed part of my introduction, and questioned how we got the 2015 through fermentation so quickly, as he sipped his first wine. I laughed, admonished him for not paying attention (pretty normal for Bob at these events) and explained that we were tasting the 2015 vintage pre-harvest, in grape form.
Bob took it in stride, and enjoyed tasting the grapes, while he quizzed Mike (in his typical engineer fashion) on how the refractometer works.
Technically these Vertical Tastings are for my benefit. By forcing myself to taste through several vintages of Riesling (or any wine, for that matter), I review the vintage conditions of each, and think hard about what winemaking issues we faced, and how we worked through those issues. Fortunately, most issues with Riesling simply reflect our stylistic choices. It is rare that we harvest less than optimum fruit with this variety that is so well suited to our growing conditions. Fermentation, blending and finishing is just a matter of recognizing the strengths and personality of the growing season.
Even though these events are mostly for me, our club members enjoy this unique opportunity to have some more in depth discussion about a single variety. They particularly seem to like the focus on Riesling as a very serious, age-worthy wine, as a contrast to what often seems like the critical view that Riesling is an entry level, simple and often sweet wine. And we are finding that our club members are more likely than the general wine tasting folks to think about aging their Riesling wines, at least those from Standing Stone Vineyards.
I do enjoy talking about Riesling, and reflecting on its importance to this region. No other grape has such widespread suitability to almost every site in the Finger Lakes. No other grape has such versatility that it tastes incredibly good when young, and ages with grace and dignity. And no other grape, at least in our opinion, works so well with such a wide variety of food and flavors. Delicious food from Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca helped us show both tried and true pairings and mix it up a bit. So – very traditional farmer’s sausage started us off to show the lovely balance of bright fruit and bracing acidity with garlic, onion and pork flavors. We took the fat up a notch with pate, then really messed with folks’ minds as we progressed to sauerkraut and pickled tomatoes. Thai chili sauce over goat cheese topped toasts demonstrated how Riesling and spice are great dinner companions. And Dano’s delightful spreads – pumpkin seed oil, Liptauer and Hotel Sacher – were immensely popular. And I issued my now standard challenge to all – serve Riesling with a rare grilled steak for an extra special treat.
I’m not sure about everyone at the tasting, but I am now thoroughly prepared for harvest – especially of Riesling.