Video: the Finger Lakes Wine Region

I’m just back from a trip visiting the wine regions of New York State. Here’s a short film giving you an idea of what the Finger Lakes, the largest of the wine regions here, looks like.

Over the next week or so I’ll be writing up the visits in full detail, explaining a bit about the wine regions of New York – and what makes them special – and also recommending some of my favourite wines and producers. For now, though, there’s just this short film to whet your appetite.

In Niagara, Canada: Stratus

I’ve been to Stratus a couple of times now. It’s such a distinctive winery, with a very modern design. This isn’t surprising: it was established by David Feldberg, president and CEO of the Teknion furniture business, and whose father Saul was the founder of the Global Furniture Corporation.

Stratus’ impressive winery relies on gravity flow and geothermal energy. In 2005 it became the world’s first LEED-certified winery.

The vineyard is 62 acres divided into 44 different plots with 16 different varieties, and it’s part of the Niagara Lakeshore subregion.

The winemaker here is the extravagantly bearded JL Groux, and he hails from France’s Loire Valley. His signature is harvesting at full maturity, and in a typical vintage, three-quarters of the vintage will take place in November. Initially, the idea at Stratus was to create complexity through blending, and while the Stratus White and Red are still the core of the range, varietal wines have been added. As this tasting showed, these late-picked blends do age well.

Stratus Chardonnay 2015
40% new oak. Fresh with nice intensity. Toasty, nutty edge to the bright pear and pineapple fruit. Has a slight cedary edge. Fresh style with a savoury character. 91/100

Stratus White 2014
54% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon, 5% Semillon, 5% Viognier, 1% Gewurztraminer. No new oak. Unusual stuff: fresh with a fennel edge to the citrus and pear fruit, with some table grape notes and a bit of green tea character. Has some subtle green notes. 90/100

Stratus White 2007
85% new oak. Supple and expressive with tangerine, pear and apricot notes. Has some spiciness with a bit of fine toastiness. Has developed really nicely. Very subtle green hints and nice fine toasty notes. Lots of life in this still. 92/100

Stratus Gamay 2015
13.7% alcohol. 15% whole bunch, then aged in old barrels. Sweet liqueur like cherry and berry fruits here. Very sweet and seamless but with a bit of spicy grip on the palate. Ripe fruit dominates this. Has nice brightness countering. Very attractive. 91/100

Stratus Red 2014
13% alcohol. 52% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 2% Syrah. 34% new oak. Fresh, vivid and crunchy with nice blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. Grainy and gravelly with nice structure and good acidity. Fresh style with ageability. 92/100

Stratus Red 2007
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 5% Gamay. 88% new oak. Nicely savoury with a gravelly, cedary edge to the attractive plum and berry fruit. Has developed really nicely into a savoury maturity, and the oak has integrated well. Fresh and structured. 92/100

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2015
35% new oak. Nice ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit with a slightly cedary, savoury twist. Ripe but balanced with nice warmth and concentration. 91/100

Status Decant Cabernet Franc 2015
In the very distinctive bottle from designer Karim Rashid. 50% new oak. Intense and concentrated with spicy oak and dark black fruits. Bold, firm and tannic with nice acidity. Very tannic and intense. 90/100

Stratus Botrytis Semillon 2016
81 g/l sugar. Complex and tangy with nice pineapple, apricot and lemon notes. Sweet but balanced with a lovely crisp, spicy finish. Has good concentration, but it feels quite light and expressive. 92/100

Stratus Riesling Icewine 2017
125 g/l sugar. Balanced and pure with sweet citrus, pear and apple fruit. Lovely acidity with a slight honeyed edge and some grapey characters. Not as intense as some icewines, but very pure and quite elegant. 92/100

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On jealousy

Jealousy is one of the ugliest of emotions. A quote, popularly attributed to Gore Vidal, reads thus: ‘It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.’ That sort of professional jealousy, common in the media, isn’t very nice. It raises its head at award ceremonies, and when one of your colleagues releases a new, positively acclaimed book, or when a friend gets a headline speaking gig you thought might have been yours. And how many writers, initially eager to nurture young talent, suddenly turn when they realise the talent they are nurturing has the possibility of eclipsing (or even simply coming close) to theirs?

When it comes to wine regions, there’s often a bit of jealousy around. There might be a producer who has been working hard for 20 years making good, solid wines in reasonable quantities. And then all the visiting journalists talk about is a young winemaker producing six barrels of funky natural wine who’s only in their second vintage. But it needn’t be that way. The most important thing when a journalist or influencer visits a wine region is that they come away enthused and excited. The wines don’t need to be commercially relevant and it’s not necessary for the winegrowers visited to have paid their dues. A rising tide floats all boats and if a region becomes sexy and gets some limelight, then that benefits everyone. There will always be trends and fads, and there’s always a fascination with the new, novel or esoteric on the part of journalists. Don’t waste negative energy on jealousy: if you do your thing conscientiously and well, your turn will come.

Jealousy also rears its ugly head in personal relationships. I’ve been in a couple of relationships over the last few years and, to be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a jealous person. But in these new relationships, it’s been a surprise when suddenly jealous feelings pop up out of nowhere, with minimal provocation. And it’s a very uncomfortable emotion indeed. I’ve had to take a step to the side, and look in, and say ‘what’s happening here?’ My conclusion is that it’s an entirely negative emotion, and it’s usually unjustified. It’s a shadow of psychology that has deep evolutionary roots . In a small tribal society (of the sort in which our current psychology evolved), you need to be a little bit vigilant, because in evolutionary terms a successful female mating strategy is to choose a kind, solid partner and then have kids via a more alpha-male type without the solid partner finding out. The safe guy will then raise this alpha-male-sired kid with all those strong genes. So males need to be a bit vigilant or they might end up raising someone else’s kids. This is, of course, not a justification for this behaviour. It’s just that it’s a potentially successful strategy on the part of the genes and thus such behaviour will likely maximize differential reproductive success. It’s a depressing reality. Fortunately, we also have empathy and personal morality which can help counter this sort of thing. Most of us want to be kind, good people, not selfish douches who can’t control our urges.

So that occasional jealous pang is a ghost from our evolutionary past, and the best way to deal with this is to silence the voice when you hear it. If you nurture jealous feelings, or give them air time, you will be miserable. And vigilance isn’t going to stop your partner cheating if that is what they want to do. Sometimes, of course, your partner may step over some agreed boundary, and a conversation will be needed. But most of the time jealousy is unfounded, and it can also be very hypocritical if you have different standards for what is acceptable for you and what is acceptable for them. It’s always good to do a quick personal inventory to check that you aren’t judging others more harshly you judge yourself. Ultimately it all comes down to trust. If you can’t trust your partner, then you have a big problem that vigilance and jealous feelings will not help in the slightest.

The best solution is to remember that another’s success is not your failure. You have your portion, and you don’t need more. Be grateful for what you get. By all means strive to do better, but don’t be so driven that anything less than number one – or all of the trophies in life – will satisfy you. You cannot be friends with jealousy.

From time to time it will knock; if you open the door and invite it in, it will consume you.

A lovely orange wine from Vermont: Iapetus Tectonic

I met Ethan Joseph of Iapetus Wine in Nova Scotia last year, and recently again with Nathan Kendall in the Finger Lakes. He gave me a bottle of his orange wine, made with hybrid grape La Crescent, fermented on skins. This shows lovely character and personality. Ethan is winemaker at Shelburne Vineyard in Vermont, which is where these grapes come from, but this is his personal project. He also makes a Pet Nat under this label.

Iapetus Wine Tectonic 2016 Vermont, USA
This is La Crescent on skins, 14% alcohol. It’s complex, dry and tangy with notes of citrus, spice, apricots and pear. This has a lively bite but it’s also quite structured and fresh, showing real detail and a nice acid bite. Bright and linear with purity and focus. A really lovely wine, beautifully packaged and a great bargain at $24. 93/100

Some impressive wines from Frankland Estate, Western Australia

I enjoyed revisiting these wines from Frankland Estate, and the current releases are really impressive. Head 250 km east of the Margaret River wine region in Western Australia, and you’ll hit the remote Frankland River region. With the coast quite a distance south, this is a cool climate wine region. Frankland Estate was established here in 1988 on the Smith family sheep station, and has established a strong reputation for its wines. Summers are warm and dry but the vines are dry grown, with their own Isolation Ridge vineyard organically farmed: there are very few pests and diseases here.

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Riesling 2017 Frankland River, Western Australia
Poison Hill is a 3 hectare vineyard located on a hill where the Heartleaf Bush, poisonous to all but indigenous animals, is found. It has white clay and weathered quartz soils. Whole bunch pressed, settled and cold fermented in tank. 13% alcohol. This is dry, mineralic and intense with lots of flavour. Taut citrus fruit with pretty floral notes, a bit of yellow plum and some nectarine richness. Lovely mouthfeel: this has a really nice linear quality with texture and fine spiciness, leading to a long finish. It’s quite structured but not at all austere, and really pretty. 94/100

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2017 Frankland River, Western Australia
Vines planted in 1988 on duplex soils of ironstone gravel over a clay sub-soil at 256 m. Most is stainless steel fermented at low temperature, but some is fermented in neutral oak. 12.5% alcohol. Very tight and linear with some grapefruit and lemon fruitiness, and keen acidity. Dry, mineral and intense with bracing acidity. Such a bright, vital wine that should age beautifully once it begins to unfurl. Has real finesse and fine spiciness on the palate. 94/100

Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward 2015 Frankland River, Western Australia
Named after Dr Harold Olmo, the Californian viticulturist who first identified the viticultural potential of the Frankland River in 1956. Mainly Cabernet Franc with some Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot from theIsolation Ridge Vineyard (duplex soils of gravel and loam over a clay sub-soil). Organic farming. Impeccable balance is the hallmark of this wine, which shows just what the Bordeaux varieties are capable of in this part of Western Australia. It has some sweet fruit – blackcurrant, blackberries and a hint of damson – but it’s not too sweet. The fruit carries itself quite delicately, and is supported by good acidity, a bit of cedary spiciness (although the oak is in the background, not up front) and some delightful chalky, green hints that add interest. Beautiful poise here: a wine made in a classically old world style, but with the generosity of fruit that has a bit of the new world to it. Should age effortlessly over the next couple of decades. 95/100

Frankland Estate Shiraz 2016 Frankland River, Western Australia
14% alcohol. From estate vineyards on ironstone soils. This has perfumed, supple, expressive black cherry and blackberry fruit with lavender, mint and ginger spice notes adding interest. There’s a bit of black pepper, too. Nicely expressive and detailed with a bit of grip on the finish. 91/100

Frankland Estate Chardonnay 2016 Frankland River, Australia
12.5% alcohol. This is textured and nicely weighted with a mineral edge to the toast, pear and peach fruit. It’s mealy and quite rich, but balanced by nice citrussy freshness. Lovely balance here. 92/100

These wines are available in the UK through their agent Berry Bros & Rudd

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Les Tourelles de Longueville 2013 Pauillac, tasted on camera

How does a second wine from a vintage widely regarded to be the worst of the decade shape up? I taste the Tourelles 2013 and discuss this question. And should wines be rated relative to their peer group, or should reviewers attempt, as best as they can, to give an absolute score across all styles of wines?

Heres my note:

Les Tourelles de Longueville 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Second wine of Pichon Baron. This is fresh, bright and balanced with sweet blackcurrant fruit, as well as supple cherry notes with a bit of gravel and spice. It’s medium weight and nicely poised, with well integrated green notes sitting alongside the smooth, sweet, focused fruit. This is not a blockbuster, but it’s all the better for it. There’s a lovely harmony, purity and balance here, and it should develop nicely. It’s definitely made in a lighter style, with more Merlot, but I think the people who score hierarchically and by vintage reputation are missing something here: it’s a really supple, fresh, pretty wine with plenty of structure and grip. Benchmark Claret. 91/100

Restaurants: The River Café, London

On the hottest day of the year, my first visit to the River Café. I know: it’s almost inexcusable not to have been before. This is a London institution. Originally opened in 1987, it’s located by the river in Hammersmith, and on a hot day the dappled sunlight of the outdoor seating area is just perfect.

The food? Beautifully crafted modern Italian, making the use of excellent ingredients. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said about this place. I really liked it. The wine list is good and, naturally, focuses on Italy.

It is expensive, yes. But you aren’t coming here for value-for-money. You are coming for great food, and a good experience. You pay for it, but this is one of the occasions when I don’t mind paying lots, because it is so good. And the place is heaving, so people seem to agree. On a nice day the sizeable kitchen here can serve a lot of covers when the extensive outdoor seating area is in use, and they must make very good money. But they do it so well.


In Marlborough, where big can be good: Rapaura Springs

Rapaura Springs is a somewhat surprising rising star in the Marlborough wine scene. They are owned by the Naylon family, and I tasted with Brendan Naylon and Sam Harrop who is a consultant here, helping out with winemaking and marketing. Matt Thomson is also involved on the winemaking side.

Rapaura Springs stems from the Spring Creek Vintners contract winemaking facility, which is a 6000 ton facility (big, but nowhere near the biggest in the region). They have access to good vineyard sources and this is the basis of the brand. Previously, they were making 40 000 cases for Coles, but now they’ve set their sights higher. Sam became involved in 2014 and began working closely with the winemaking team, doing trials, and encouraged them to start marketing single-vineyard wines at higher price points. Rapaura Springs have also recently purchased the St Lukes vineyard in the Awatere, which will increase their access to good fruit.

These are impressive wines, especially considering their price points.

Rapaura Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
60% Awatere, 40% Wairau. Brightly aromatic with nice green hints. Good texture in the mouth: polished and smooth with lovely weight. 88/100

Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Mostly Wairau Valley. Taut, aromatic and showing a twist of reduction, this is pretty with some floral passionfruit, a bit of flint. Crisp, stony and focused with lovely fruit. 91/100

Rapaura Springs Bull Paddock Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is a 30 hectare vineyard in Dillons Point. Nicely textured with good weight and focus, with a bit of savoury detail. Lovely acidity here with some saline notes. Understated with good concentration. 92/100

Rapaura Springs Pinot Gris Reserve 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Dry, textured, quite fresh and grapey with a bit of spiciness. Nicely focused with bright citrus fruit. Has nice spicy detail. 90/100

Rapaura Springs Chardonnay Reserve 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This has nice depth, with a touch of spicy matchstick and a subtle herby edge to the citrus and pear fruit. Quite linear with nice focus. 90/100

Rapaura Springs Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
All barrel. Very floral, bright raspberry and cherry fruit. Perfumed with a hint of ginger and spice. Supple and expressive with nice cherry fruit on the palate, with fine herbal notes. Nice precision here. 89/100

Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Textured and refined with nice density and a bit of spiciness. Nice concentration and texture with raspberry and cherry fruit and some well integrated oak. Ripe with a savoury twist. 92/100

Rapaura Springs Limestone Terrace Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
40% new oak. From limestone soils in Ward in the Awatere, this is supple and understated with real finesse to the red cherry fruit. There’s lovely acidity here with a red fruit focus and some floral freshness, as well as good acidity. Fine spices and some grip on the finish. 94/100
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Part 1, Te Whare Ra
Part 2,  Mahi
Part 3, Fromm
Part 4, Saint Clair Pioneer Block wines
Part 5, Spy Valley
Part 6, Two Rivers
Part 7, Zephyr
Part 8, Framingham
Part 9, Clos Henri
Part 10, Brancott, Stoneleigh and Deutz
Part 11, Meeting the Vandals
Part 12, The Growers’ Story (video)
Part 13, Novum
Part 14, Folium
Part 15, Villa Maria
Part 16, Corofin
Part 17, Hans Herzog
Part 18, Te Pa
Part 19, Giesen’s single vineyard wines

Could we smell better? Much better?

Do we have only very limited access to the sensory information that we are receiving all the time? As a wine taster, I’m particularly intrigued that my senses are capable of detecting a lot more in wine than my conscious perceptions are alerting me to. Here’s a case study that does seem to suggest this.

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), neurologist and author Oliver Sacks recounts the true story of Stephen D., a twenty-two-year-old medical student who had experimented with psychoactive drugs. [It turns out that this was actually an autobiographical experience, which makes it all the more intriguing.]

In a vivid dream, Stephen saw himself as a dog. He entered a world unimaginably rich and significant in smells. When he awoke he had experienced an incredible transformation. Not only could he see enhanced colors (“I could distinguish dozens of browns, where I had just seen brown before”), but also he had a dramatic enhancement in smell.

“I went into a scent shop. I had never had much of a nose for smell before, but now I distinguished each one instantly—and I found each one unique, evocative, a whole new world.” Stephen found he could tell his friends apart just by their smell, and his patients, too. “I went into the clinic, I sniffed like a dog, and in that sniff recognized, before seeing them, the twenty patients who were there—each had his own olfactory physiognomy, a smell face, far more vivid and evocative, more redolent than any sight face.”

This ability lasted only for some three weeks. Sacks reported that sixteen years later it had not returned, and that Stephen was occasionally nostalgic for the loss of this enhanced smell world.

is remarkable account raises some interesting questions. Do our brains deliberately limit the extent of our olfactory perceptions? The case of Stephen suggests that our sense of smell is potentially much more powerful than the version we experience. We tend to underestimate our olfactory abilities because we make the wrong comparisons. We often compare ourselves with dogs, who clearly are able to inhabit a world that is quite different to ours in terms of using smell to sniff the environment. For a while, Stephen experienced this dog-like sense of smell—a world that is closed to us. His case suggests that the brain might in some way be limiting our smell worlds, somewhere between the olfactory epithelium and where the conscious experience of smell is perceived. Lurking within us is a potentially much more powerful sense that has been downgraded through evolution, simply because it serves us no useful purpose.

There’s an intriguing thought here. For some reason, the particular psychoactive that Stephen used allowed him access to this raw information. It would be very interesting to see whether this is generalizable, and whether some chemical help could open up an enhanced olfactory world, elevating what many now consider to be a base sense to a higher one.

Given this extra dimension of smell, how would wine seem to us? Would it be a much more intriguing and richer experience? Or would we have to learn all over again about the different types of wines? Would we be potentially much more useful as tasters and critics? Would we suddenly pick up vineyard signatures much more clearly? It would be a fascinating experiment.

In Niagara: Rosewood

Ryan Corrigan and William Roman, Rosewood

Rosewood is a family run business. The vineyards were planted in 2003, the first harvest was 2006 and the doors opened in 2008. I visited with GM William Roman, and winemaker Ryan Corrigan. This visit was one of the big surprises of my Niagara trip, because quietly, since Ryan arrived, Rosewood have been making some of the most interesting wines in the region. He’s been here since 2016 and has changed the style of the wines, working in a more natural way, with impressive results. Rosewood is also a meadery, and Ryan has really got on board with making interesting mead.

They have 52 acres of vines on two sites, and total production is 6000 cases. In addition, Rosewood work with two growers to bring in Gamay and Pinot Noir. William’s father, Eugene, is a bee keeper, as was his father. Eugene was successful in the tech world, and began the meadery as well as planting vineyards. The Roman family is originally from Ukraine.

Bee wax!

‘We’re not trying to make wines that will appeal to everyone,’ says Ryan. ‘There’s so much mindless consumption.’ Ryan’s previous gig was with Pearl Morissette in Niagara, and although what he’s doing here isn’t exactly the same as Francois Morissette does, there’s clearly been some influence.

Terracotta amphorae

I think the wines are underpriced, but that’s great news for consumers. As it stands, William says that the honey business pays for everything else!

Rosewood Riesling AF 2017 (tank sample)
Picked first week in October, and aged on fine lees. Just 25 ppm total SO2. Arrested ferment, stainless steel, half inoculated half wild. Stony, bright and linear with good acidity. Very textural and complex with just a hint of sweetness (7 g/l). 91-93/100

Rosewood Follow The White Rabbit Chardonnay/Pinot Gris 2017
70% oak fermented with wild yeast in large puncheons, and 30% in stainless steel. Pinot Gris had 48 h skin contact. It will be unfiltered. Very mineral and a bit nutty with nice spiciness and some grainy structure. Has a bit of apple too. Textured and really mineral with some oxidative hints, but it works so well. Really textural. 91-93/100

Rosewood Renaceau Vineyard Riesling 2016 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Neutral puncheon for two years on gross lees. 18 parts SO2 added over two years. Honeyed and textured with some apple notes and refined, textured citrus fruit. Slightly oxidative but with real detail and lovely weight. Juicy, lemony finish. Long and fine. 92/100

Rosewood Sans Heir Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Niagara Lakeshore, Canada
18 months on lees in barrel. Beautiful stuff: waxy, nutty, intense with finesse and character. Has lovely guava and grapefruit notes. So expressive and textural with lots of personality. Old world style, and very fine. 93/100

Rosewood Le Provacateur Gamay Rosé 2017 Creek Shores
This is an experiment in saignee, with each barrel having different lengths of skin contact. This is unsulfured, raised in neutral French oak. Full pink/red. Textured and sweetly fruited with some sweet and savoury notes. Textured with a buscuitty finish. Apples, cherries and pears. Very nutty on the finish. 88/100

Rosewood The Notorious PTG Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Gamay press wine (73%), 27% Pinot Noir, no sulfites added. Slightly cloudy with vivid colour. Lovely vibrant cherries and raspberries with some meaty hints. Textured and smooth but with nice fresh bite on the finish. Chilled down, this is smashable and delicious. Lovely stuff. 93/100

Rosewood Blackjack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Nice fine grained structure here with smooth strawberry and cherry fruit. On skins for 32 days with no stems. Soft and smooth with a refined red fruit character and some elegance. Soft and smooth. 90/100

Gamay 2017 (no name yet)
‘This was the worst sorting experience ever,’ recalls Ryan. ‘We had a plague of ladybirds, in the clusters of the Gamay. The sorting took ages.’ The resulting wine is supple and elegant with lovely finesse. Bright cherry and raspberry fruit with a lovely fruity quality. Tangy and lively with nice supple fruit. 92-93/100

Cabernet Franc Renaceau Vineyard 2016 (tank sample of final blend)
20 months in barrel, 10% new oak. Treated like Pinot Noir, 100% whole cluster. Very fine, supple and grainy with lovely black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Nicely structured with purity and finesse, showing floral detail. Juicy, lively finish. A lovely wine. 93/100

Pyment (Chardonnay and Honey ferment in Cognac barrels)
Rich, sweet and textured with a nice graininess. So smooth with a lovely spiciness and a long finish. Has honey, spice and peach flavours. Pure. Very interesting. Will bring it up to 19% to keep it stable.

Ambrosia in a solera system. 100% mead. 20% alcohol. Nutty, sweet and intense with a nice spiciness. Honeyed and complex. Rich and very sweet.