New York State (3) Hermann J Wiemer, Finger Lakes

Hermann J. Wiemer is one of the champions of Riesling in the Finger Lakes. He hailed from Bernkastel in Germany, where his father was the head of the agricultural research station. Hermann studied at Geisenheim and then left Germany while he was still in his 20s, emigrating to the USA and planting a Riesling vineyard on the shores of Seneca Lake in 1976.

Oskar Bynke

We visited with co-owner Oskar Bynke. Hermann Wiemer retired from winemaking in 2004,  and retired completely in 2007. The winery was then sold to Oskar and the then winemaker Fred Merwath. Oskar studied agriculture in Sweden and also at Cornell in New York State.

Weimer has vineyards on both shores of Seneca Lake. It is the deepest of the lakes at 200 m depth so it has a better temperature-modulating effect, and as a result the vineyards around here have been the main vinifera areas in Finger Lakes.

The main challenge is whether the wines survive the winter. This is why Cabernet Franc and Riesling have been such a focus, because they are extremely cold hardy. Also, another challenge can be surviving spring frost damage, so later budding varieties like these have an advantage. The air flow from the lake effect reduces disease pressure, and the lakes help the seasons drag out which buys hang time.

Ladybirds can be a problem here, and in 2013 this was a particular issue. If they get into the ferments they can taint the wine, causing an unpleasant greenness. There’s a neighbouring farm with soybeans, and when these are harvested the ladybirds head to the vineyard. So Wiemer have purchased a vibrating sorting table to help get rid of any left on the bunches.

Cross-flow filter: much more gentle than traditional filtration

Grape berry moth is a problem too, and unfortunately people aren’t allowed to use pheromones for sexual confusion in New York State, which would help a lot.

The vineyards are on glacial-derived soils so there is lots of variation around the lake. Over the years Wiemer have figured out where things grow best. The northern sites have much deeper soils and are more vigorous, whereas some of the other vineyards are almost pure shale, and much less fertile.

The grapes are hand picked in many stages, to capture the nuances through the harvests. There are a lot of small fermentations going on. They also separate the pressings. The dry Riesling has 30 to 40 different lots of wine in the blend.

There is no inoculation here. So the later picks – in October – are much slower fermentations because of the temperature, which dips significantly at this time of year. Also there is longer time between the last spray and the harvest for the later pickings. The fermentations take six to eight months. It get’s very cold in the winter, and then they take off again in spring.

Wiemer don’t use sulfites on the press pad, because they are relying on wild yeasts. They work quite oxidatively and this also helps stabilize the wine. They like to work with pure juice and so they rack before fermentation.

Everything is farmed organically and there are 10 acres that have been farmed biodynamically for the last four years.

Total production is 18 000 cases, and of that 10 000 cases are Riesling. Wiemer also has a nursery, producing 700 000 vines a year for other wineries

These are very impressive wines.

Hermann J. Wiemer Cuvée Brut 2013 Seneca Lake AVA, Finger Lakes
Disgorged 2018. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Very fruity and appealing with nice open citrus and pear fruit. Nice depth and focus here. Very attractive with hints of toast and a touch of ripe apple. Nice weight. 88/100

Hermann J. Wiemer Blanc de Blancs Back to Zero Brut Nature 2014
Complex and focused with a lively, subtly herby edge to the lovely taut citrus fruit. Nicely complex with fine toast and spice. Lovely crisp, linear fruit. Very fine and expressive. 92/100 ($45)

Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Vineyard Riesing 2016
8.8 g/l g/sugar. Cooler site and shallower soils, with almost pure shale. Generous and concentrated with lovely bold melon, peach and citrus fruit. It’s rich and mouthfilling with generous, ripe fruit. Has lovely depth with a really nice concentration of flavour. Some sweetness here. 92/100 ($30 ish)

Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Riesling 2016
8.9 g/l sugar. Fresh, detailed and open with lovely tangerine and apple notes. Very rich and bold but also with delicacy and tension, showing a lively, almost electric finish with good balance between the ripe fruit and the acid. 92/100 ($30 ish)

Hermann J. Wiemer Josef Vineyard Riesling 2016
Plantings from the 1970s. These are the last grapes picked. Beautifully intense with lovely melon, pear and nectarine fruit, with a lovely citrus core. Rich, textural and sweet with lovely depth and focus. So pristine with great acidity under the concentrated sweet fruit. 94/100 ($30+)

Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Reserve Dry 2016
Rich, complex and quite dry, but with lovely intensity of fruit. There’s peachy richness but also some citrussy brightness. Really lively and expressive with amazing intensity of flavour. Very fine in a rich style. 93/100 ($25)

Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry 2017
Very expressive with lovely apple, pear, spice and fine herb notes. Nicely textured and weighted with lovely fruit intensity. Fresh and quite dry, but with richness of fruit. 90/100 ($20)

Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Semi-Dry 2016
11.5% alcohol. Usually the first-picked Riesling. Light and expressive with lovely tension between the acid and the sweetness (around 20 g). This is so pretty with citrus and pear fruit and a hint of apple. Such a pure, delicate Kabinett-style wine. 91/100 ($20)

Hermann J. Wiemer Gewurztraminer Dry 2017
Old vines, not much skin contact. Textural and complex with lovely weight. So pretty. Grown up and complex with nice phenolic, spicy complexity and bold melon, lychee and spice. Has lovely intensity with a long, spicy finish. This is a really impressive example of Gewurztraminer. 93/100 ($25)

Hermann J. Wiemer Chardonnay 2017
Fresh and tangy with bright lemon and tangerine notes. A bright, fruity, low-oak style with lovely freshness. Juicy and delicious with nice brightness. 89/100

Hermann J. Wiemer Magdelena Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2016
A fairly ripe site. Gravelly and delicious with nice fresh structured blackberry and black cherry fruit. Supple and with nice bright fruit. Has a bit of grip with a savoury, chalky, grainy structure under the fruit. Very attractive. 91/100

Hermann J. Wiemer Single Select Riesling 2016
From the Josef vineyard, with a grey label (used for special one-offs). This has lots of botrytis character: it’s powerful and spicy with lovely sweetness, notes of marmalade and apricot, and a lot of spiciness on the finish. Viscous, intense and delicious with lovely concentration and a long finish. 94/100

Hermann J. Wiemer Noble Select Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2015
Concentrated, powerful and limey with lovely complexity. Fresh citrus and marmalade with some melon and spice notes. Lovely intensity and depth with freshness and great balancing acidity. 93/100

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NEW YORK STATE WINE

FINGER LAKES

New York State (2) Ravines, Finger Lakes

My first visit in Finger Lakes was a good one. Ravines, located on Seneca Lake, is owned by Morten Hallgren. Morten was raised in Provence, where his family had a large château, and he was previously head winemaker with Konstantin Frank.

He began the current project when he bought 17 acres of land on Keuka Lake. Since the, Ravines has grown to include 130 acres of vineyards over a few different sites. Some are owned, some contracted.

The Ravines tasting room and winery are based in a converted century-old dairy barn, which was opened in 2002. It’s an impressive facility. As well as this facility, they also have a winery on Keuka Lake, which focuses more on hybrids. Like many wineries in the region, they make more serious wines from vinifera but rely on more commercial hybrid wines to sell to tourists and the local market in order to pay the bills.

Ravines Dry Riesling 2017 Finger Lakes, USA
Limestone and shale soils. Bright and linear with nice citrus fruit. Juicy and dry with nice concentration of fruit. Has purity with attractive apple and lemon notes. Has lovely weight and focus. Very pure. 90/100 ($18)

Ravines White Springs Vineyard Dry Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, USA
4 g/l rs. Delicate and fine with a tangerine edge to the sweet, slightly pithy lemony fruit. Delicate with high acidity and pretty, expressive fruit. Nuanced and detailed. So expressive. 92/100 (£23)

Ravines Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling 2014 Finger Lakes, USA
One of the oldest vineyards in the Finger Lakes, with limestone soils (it’s the end of the Niagara escarpment). This has a little development with nice lemon and tangerine fruit, with a lovely rounded texture and some fine, crisp acidity. Really refined with a lovely juiciness and real finesse. Quite mineral with well integrated acidity. 92/100 ($30)

Ravines Jeff’s Field Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, USA
From the Serenity Vineyard on the west side of Seneca Lake. This is so pretty and delicate with lovely finesse and purity. Linear and bright with a lemony edge. Fine and delicate with good acidity. Really taut and linear. 93/100 ($23)

Ravines Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Finger Lakes, USA
Delicate and fresh with nice pure citrus fruit and notes of passionfruit and tangerine. Crisp, bright and really well balanced in a light, fruity style. Really well made. 88/100 ($19)

Ravines Keuka Village White 2016 Finger Lakes, USA
This is made from the modern hybrids Cayuga and Vignoles. Fresh, clean and fruity with a subtle herbal edge to the fresh citrus fruit. Fruity and clean with a hint of sweetness on the finish. Nice fruity stuff but has a short finish. 86/100 ($13)

Ravines Gewurztraminer 2017 Finger Lakes, USA
Quite a dry style with crisp lychee, citrus and table grape fruit with some nice texture. It has some brisk acidity with a bit of grip, but overall it’s delicate and pretty with nice complexity. Very stylish. 90/100 ($20)

Ravines Chardonnay 2015 Finger Lakes, USA
The grapes are partially dried before processing. Toasty, mealy and quite nutty with smooth pear and peach fruit. A rich, smooth style with a hazelnut and bread edge. Stylish. 88/100 ($20)

Ravines Pinot Rosé 2017 Finger Lakes, USA
Lively, bright and citrussy with some tangerine and red cherry, and hints of cranberry. A dry style with nice focus and acidity. 88/100 ($16)

Ravines Pinot Noir 2015 Finger Lakes, USA
Delicate and fresh with elegant red cherry fruit. Supple and pretty with a bit of structure and spicy grip, but very fresh and bright and elegant in style. Lighter Pinot with lovely purity. 91/100 ($25)

Ravines Cerise 2016 Finger Lakes, USA
A blend of Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch (same as Lemberger). Very juicy, bright and fruity with nice juicy cherry and plum fruit, with a twist of raspberry. Some cranberry brightness. A lovely bright, summery red with a bit of spiciness on the finish. 91/100 ($19)

Ravines Maximilien 2014 Finger Lakes, USA
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This is fresh, gravelly and detailed with supple, blackcurrant fruit and nice chalky, grippy notes. Very stylish with good structure. Quite impressive. 90/100 ($25)

Ravines Cabernet Franc 2016 Finger Lakes, USA
This is really expressive with nice juicy cherry and berry fruits. Fine grained and detailed with lovely purity and sweet fruit backed up by nice acidity and structure. A really pretty wine. 90/100 ($22)

Le Petit Caporal 2015 Finger Lakes, USA
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot from the Two Gorges and Argetsinger vineyards. Fine, supple and refined with lovely juicy bright raspberry and berry fruits. Very fine and expressive with good acidity and a lovely mouthfeel. Has structure but also some delicacy. 92/100 ($35)

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NEW YORK STATE WINE

FINGER LAKES

  • Ravines
  • Hermann J. Wiemer
  • Fulkerson
  • Glenora Wine Cellars
  • Bellangelo
  • Anthony Road
  • Fox Run
  • Dr Konstantin Frank Vineyards
  • Bloomer Creek
  • Red Newt
  • Silver Thread
  • Nathan Kendall
  • Lamoreaux Landing
  • Swedish Hill
  • Boundary Breaks
  • Thirsty Owl
  • Osmote

New York State Wines (1) Introduction, and the Finger Lakes

In August, I travelled to New York State, to take a good look at the wines being made here. Of chief interest were wines from the Finger Lakes and Long Island, the two most significant regions in the state. They’re geographically quite far apart, but they have one thing in common: proximity to water moderates the hot summers and cold winters so it’s possible to grow interesting wine grapes here. In this series of articles, I’ll tell you about the producers I visited, report on my favourite wines, and try to argue why these regions, little heard of outside of the USA, deserve more attention.

Some history

The Eastern United States has a long history of growing grapes for wine. The English made a permanent settlement here in 1607, and by 1609 they had made 20 gallons of wine from grapes found growing in the wild. Vitis vinifera, the Eurasian grape, arrived from Europe in 1619, but repeated early efforts to make wine from these vines were doomed to failure because of the presence of downy and powdery mildew, and, of course, phylloxera. And the wine made from grapes found growing wild wasn’t all that good: they have small bunches with small berries, and the resulting wine is quite low in alcohol and very high in acidity, although it does have good colour.

The first commercial winery in the USA was in Spring Mill in Philadelphia, established in 1786. They made wine from Alexandra, which is what is known as a chance hybrid. The hybrid grapes, resulting from a cross of native varieties with each other, or with Vitis vinifera, produced much more acceptable wines than simply picking wild-grown grapes. To a classic European palate, these wines were a little unusual, but they were to all intents and purposes wine, and there was a market for them. To this day, the various iterations of hybrids, with their disease resistance and cold tolerance, remain important for New York State wine, although since the 1950s some success has been achieved with Vitis vinifera, particularly in the more privileged sites, such as near water bodies where winter lows are moderated.

Riesling, the star of the Finger Lakes

Alexandra was the first hybrid variety to be planted. This was followed by another chance hybrid, Catawba, in 1802. By the late 1850s this variety was responsible for a third of the USA’s wine. Isabella (1816), Delaware (1849) and Concord (1853) were other important hybrids. In the second half of that century, the largest wine-producing states were New York, Ohio, Missouri and New Jersey.

Niagara, a hybrid

So if the Eastern United States – and in particular the Finger Lakes – was such a big deal, what happened to change things? After the repeal of prohibition, all the states had a chance to create their own liquor laws. It turns out that California enacted very liberal and enlightened laws, and they also had a relatively trouble free climate as far as wine was concerned. And, in addition, they also had the marketing genius of the likes of Robert Mondavi who really put the state on the map. So California soared ahead, and New York State was left doing its own thing, quite content to service the local market with no ambitions to change the world.

New York State has five main wine regions. First we have the Finger Lakes and then Long Island, the two regions this series will focus on. Then there is the Hudson River Valley, which covers a large area but which has relatively few vineyards. Lake Eyrie is on the south shore of the eponymous lake, and is a large region of some 30 000 acres of vineyards. But most of these grapes are Concord, used to make grape juice, although there are 23 wineries operating in the region. Then there is the Niagara Escarpment, which is an extension of the Canadian Niagara region, although less developed. The proximity of Lake Ontario provides the climate-moderating effect here. A sixth AVA region is the Champlain Valley, bordering Vermont, but this is really tiny.

 

Finger Lakes

The largest wine region in New York State is the Finger Lakes, up-state not far from the Canadian border. To understand the Finger Lakes wine region, you have to understand its history. For most of its life, this wine region has been all about supplying local demand. It has a climate that is challenging for viticulture, but which, in concert with its soils, is capable of producing some really smart wines. But serious, high quality wine hasn’t typically been what the local market has wanted.

Finger Lakes from the Air

Finger Lakes is in New York State. But it’s actually quite a schlep from New York City – it’s closer to Toronto, about a six-hour drive upstate or a similarly long train ride from New York, or more conveniently, a flight from Newark into Rochester, which is how we got there.

The climate here consists of very cold winters, and relatively short summers. But once summer gets going, it can be hot and humid. And there will definitely be some growing season rainfall. The key factor here for viticulture is the presence of the lakes after which the region is named. These provide a moderating effect, stopping it getting too cold in the winter, and then cooling things down in the summer. Then, at the end of the season, they act like radiators helping the vines finish their job of ripening the grapes. The lakes are only 12 000 years old, formed when the last glaciation event. These were fjords of the Ontario lake at one time.

The key viticultural challenges are winter lows, which can kill vines, and then the disease pressure that comes from the humid summers. It was for this reason that the focus here was traditionally on hybrid grape varieties which are cold tolerant and disease resistant. The hybrids are still grown here and currently represent about 35% of the vineyard area.

Three waves of hybrids

A native vine showing the small bunches of small grapes

Hybrids are actually quite interesting, and they can be split into three waves. First, we have the original crosses and the native American varieties. These are the likes of Concord, Catawba, Delaware and Isabella, many of which were chance crossings. Then we have the 2nd generation: the French-American hybrids, produced to combat phylloxera. The roll call of these includes Rougeon, Marechal Foch and Seyval Blanc. Then we have the 3rd generation, produced in the latter part of the 20th century at Universities such as Cornell, Minnesota and Michigan: this would include Cayuga, Vinoles and Traminette. The newer crosses taste less hybridy, and yet still retain cold hardiness and disease resistance.

One important character in the history of Finger Lakes is Philip Wagner, who was a journalist with an interest in winemaking. Wagner moved to London in the 1930s for work, and there discovered reference to the French hybrids, known as hybrids producteurs directes (HPDs). On his return to the USA he found that many were already in vine collections in the USA, and so he began a nursery, and ended up championing their use in the state. These new hybrids made some very nice wines.

After prohibition, four large companies emerged who came to dominate the Finger Lakes, and the wine production of New York State.

The four pioneering companies

The first is Pleasant Valley Wine Company, founded in Hammondsport in 1860. By 1865 they were producing 20 000 bottles of ‘Champagne’, labelled as Great Western Champagne. This won a gold medal at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. In 1961 Pleasant Valley was sold to the second major company, Taylor Wine Company. This was established in 1880 when a cooper, Walter Taylor, moved to Hammondsport and then ended up making wine. Taylor was sold to Coca Cola in 1977. The third was Urbana Wine Company, which was founded in 1865 and traded as Gold Seal Vineyards. By 1870 they were making 120 000 bottles of Champagne and 50 000 bottles of still wine. Notably, Urbana hired Charles Fournier, the young cellar master of Veuve Clicquot, in 1934. Urbana was sold to Segram in 1979. The fourth of these companies was Widmer Wine Cellars, which started in 1888 on Canandaigua Lake.

The emergence of vinifera

It was Dr Konstantin Frank who first really pushed the cause of Vitis vinifera varieties in the Finger Lakes, and his story is a fascinating one. Born in 1899 into a wealthy ethnic German family in Ukraine, Frank became a noted agricultural engineer, eventually earning a PhD. Although his family were on the wrong side in the post-1917 revolution war, they lost their land but remained in their part of Ukraine, where Frank got a job renovating and managing a huge state-owned vineyard. He replanted it with grafted vinifera vines, and famously developed a special plough to earth over the vines for the winter – winter cold was one of the viticultural challenges here. This saved a lot of labour. Then came the second world war, and Frank and his family had to flee the Nazis, then flee the Russians (as an ethnic German things wouldn’t have ended well), and then at the end they managed to find their way to an American-occupied area. Eventually, the family resettled in New York.

As soon as he could earn enough money, Frank headed to Geneva, in the Finger Lakes, where he attempted to get a job more suited to his professional skills. The problem was that although he spoke a number of languages, English wasn’t one of them. Frustratingly for Frank, he could only find low level agricultural work, even though he’d been running a sizeable agricultural college in Ukraine. But he was fortunate to meet Charles Fournier of the Urbana Wine Company. Fournier himself had an interesting background: he came to the USA in 1934 after being headhunted from his role as winemaker with Veuve Clicquot.

The partnership between Frank and Fournier was to prove pivotal in introducing vinifera into the region, although Frank’s insistence that vinifera was the only way to go didn’t endear him to his bosses, whose company was making good money out of wines made from hybrids. Frank, who by all accounts became progressively more stubborn and difficult, left Urbana in 1962 (some accounts say he was fired, others say he had had enough) and began his own vinifera-only winery, which is now one of the leading producers in the region.

The Farm Winery Act

The most significant factor in the development of the Finger Lakes was the Farm Winery Act, passed in June 1976, and it was in response to a crisis. The large wine companies relied on a network of growers. In 1974 and 1975 there were two large harvests, and because the major companies were buying in around a quarter of their needs from California (wine, to blend in with their own), a surplus began to develop. In 1975 Widmer’s only bought part of their contracted harvest, and in in 1976 Taylor’s bought less than the full crop of their 400 growers. But the cost of a winery licence was prohibitively expensive, at $1600 a year, putting off farmers from making wine themselves. The 1976 Act changed this, and slashed the cost to just $125 a year, making it feasible for smaller operations to begin making and selling wine. There were 19 bonded wineries in New York in 1975, and this number rose to 100 in 1985, and currently sits at around 420.

The Finger Lakes is currently in flux. Previously, they have mostly relied on a direct sales model to the local market. This was fine when there were 100 wineries, but now there are 420 plus brewers and distillers, everyone is chasing the same customers. There is a need to sell more widely, and to export. If you sell direct you need a range of wines to satisfy your customers. This can result in large ranges that lack focus, and which carry product lines that tourists like (cheaper, sweeter wines from hybrids) but which have little market potential elsewhere.

There is still a market for sweet hybrid wines

So the region can be split roughly into two bands of producers. First, those with local aspirations, who make a good deal of their money from inexpensive hybrid-based wines, many of which are quite sweet. Then there are producers focusing on vinifera, making more ambitious wines with export potential. Some do a bit of both, of course. On this trip I didn’t like everything I found (it’s very rare for that to happen), but I found plenty of interesting things. The star grape is clearly Riesling, but Cabernet Franc is also strong. Chardonnay is up and down, but Blaufrankisch (which many call Lemberger, the German name) does pretty well. There’s also some interesting Gewurztraminer, and oddities like Rkatsitelli.

Producers (profiles will be added in the coming days)

  • Ravines
  • Hermann J. Wiemer
  • Fulkerson
  • Glenora Wine Cellars
  • Bellangelo
  • Anthony Road
  • Fox Run
  • Dr Konstantin Frank Vineyards
  • Bloomer Creek
  • Red Newt
  • Silver Thread
  • Nathan Kendall
  • Lamoreaux Landing
  • Swedish Hill
  • Boundary Breaks
  • Thirsty Owl
  • Osmote

Visiting Zarate with Eulogio Pomares, one of the most exciting producers in Rías Baixas, Spain

Zarate is a family winery based in Meaño, in the Salnés Valley in Rías Baixas. Since the 1950s this winery has been an important player in working with the Albariño variety. Back then, most of the wines in the region were red, but such has been the success with Albariño, the region is now 99% white and has grown susbstantially over recent decades.

Eulogio Pomares

Since the 2000 vintage, Eulogio Pomares has been viticulturalist and winemaker here. He’s one of the most highly regarded winemakers in Rias Baixas. As well as making the Zarate wines for his family, he also makes wines under his own name in a cellar he shares with Rodrigo Mendez in Xil.

As well as Albariño, Zarate also grow the indigenous red varieties Caiño Tinto, Loureiro Tinto and Espadeiro. Altogether, there are 6.5 hectares of vines here, split into 11 plots in two villages, both in Salnés.

In the cellar where Eulogio makes his own wines: note chestnut barrels, amphorae (new) and a wax dipper

For the last 3 years Eulogio hasn’t used SO2 during fermentation; it’s only used after the first racking in December or January. He needs to use it to block malolactic fermentation, which is usually undesirable in Albariño. Typically, he will bottle with 40 ppm total and 20 ppm free, which is quite a low level.

2017 was a difficult vintage in the region because it was too dry and warm, and unusually, acidity levels were low. So he harvested by acid: the first vintage ever he has potentially had too little acidity.

Zarate Albariño 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain
From Val do Salnes. Focused, fresh and crisp, with pure citrus fruit and a linear personality. Juicy acidity. Fresh and delicate and lemony with nice acidity and subtle tangerine hints. 91/100

Zarate Balado 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain
This is fermented and aged in stainless steel, and spends 6 months on the lees with no battonage. The grapes come from the middle zone of Salnes. Taut and linear with crisp grapefruit and lemon notes. Very focused with clean fruit. Pure, expressive and with potential for development. Tending to austerity. 93/100

Zarate Balado 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain (tank sample)
Lively and focused with high acid (8 g/l) but also texture. Has tension with ripe citrus fruit, pear and a hint of mandarin. Lovely acid core here. 92-94/100

Zarate Tras da Viña 2012 Rías Baixas, Spain
This spends 24 months on lees in stainless steel with no battonage and no malolactic. Very fine and detailed with a slightly creamy, dairy edge to the grapefruit and lemon. Bright with lovely mineral complexity. 93/100

Zarate Tras de Viña 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain (tank sample)
Decomposed granite soils. Lovely weight: fruity with mandarin and lemon fruit, and a crystalline texture. Has nice graininess. 92-94/100

Zarate El Palomar 2004 Rías Baixas, Spain
Barrel fermented with full malolactic fermentation in a large foudre. This is the second vintage of this wine. Complex with some nuts and honey. Rich palate showing some evolution with pear, lemon and tangerine and spice. Tangy and lively with great focus. 94/100

Zarate El Palomar 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain
Full malolactic in large foudres. Complex, broad and textured. Has a hint of creaminess and nice depth. Pretty and expressive with apricot, yellow plum and some lemons. Very fine. 92-94/100

Zarate Albariño 2009 Rías Baixas, Spain
This has developed very nicely. Still fresh and appealing with some slight cabbage notes, nice citrus fruit and hints of tangerine and apricot. Has brightness and focus. 92/100

Zarate Fontecón Rosé 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain
1500 bottles made. Caino Tinto, Albarino and Espadheiro. Full pink in colour, this is supple and fresh with red cherry and a bit of citrus fruit. Very fine and expressive with nice juiciness. Supple and bright with nice density and focus. 91/100

Zarate Espadeiro 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain (tank sample)
Concentrated juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. Sappy and vital, with hints of ginger and spice. 88-91/100

In Euologio’s other cellar, we tried a few things.

Eulogio Pomares Carralcoba Parcelarios (I) 2015
This is from a vineyard close to the sea, with alluvial granite and river stone soils. This was fermented in a 1000 litre chestnut barrel. Astonishingly complex with nuts, pear and spice on the nose. The palate is crystalline with apples, lemons and grapefruits, as well as nut and honey richness. So intense and vital. Very fine. 95/100

Eulogio Pomares Carralcoba Parcelarios (I) 2016
So pure and textural with refined, fine-grained mineral citrus fruits. Has lovely lemon, grapefruit and fine herb notes. Concentrated and refined with fine texture and a linear personality. This is profound. 96/100

Eulogio Pomares Carralcoba Parcelarios (I) 2017 (cask sample from 1000 litre chestnut barrel)
Fine and pure with a hint of min. Lovely texture and finesse here with a prettiness to it, as well as a slight salinity. Very pure.

Eulogio Pomares Fento Albariño 2017
Very fresh and linear. Pretty with nice freshness and texture. Expressive and pretty with precision. Ripe and attractive. 90/100

Albarino 2017 from Xil, sample from foudre. Lovely texture and fruit with some spiciness. Textural but still has freshness.

Albarino 2017 from Xil, sample from amphora. Nice rounded texture, with richness and depth. Lovely palate here: really nice. He loses 3 litres a week through evaporation through the terracotta.

Albarino 2017 in Acacia, skin contact with stems for four weeks. Such perfume. Textured and powerful with lovely weight. In the mouth there’s a bit of grip.

Albarino 2017 with flor, in a bota from Sanlucar. Very complex and tangy with some nuttiness and apple hints. Fine, rounded and expressive, slightly salty, and refined.

Espadeiro 2017, a new plot inland. So light, pure and refined with some sappiness. Such lovely texture: a lighter red that’s almost a rose. Late ripening red grape with big bunches.

Caino Tinto 2017, whole bunch. Very bright and intense. Sappy with some grip. Good structure. Bright and primary and very good. This will be the Carrolceba Tinto.

Eulogio Pomares Desiguales Caiño Tinto 2016
Just 500 litres made. Whole bunch fermentation. Perfumed with red cherries, raspberries and some subtle green notes. Very focused, fresh and textural on the palate with some smoothness and also good acidity. Natural and fine. 94/100

Eulogio Pomares Carrolceba Caiño Tinto 2016
Fresh, perfumed red fruit nose. Bright, crunchy and elegant cherry fruit palate with freshness and a bit of grip. Juicy, refined and pure with nice elegance as well as a bit of flavour impact. 93/100

UK agent: Indigo Wines

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New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards, the dinner

Last night was the dinner for the New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards. The judges and associates gathered to eat well and drink some interesting booze. The senior judges had been tasked with sourcing interesting wines which were then poured blind. Wine of the night for me was the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 from magnum. The surprise? How tannic and impenetrable the Vincent Paris Cornas Geynale 2015 and the Sorrel Hermitage 2015 were. Here are some pictures from the event.

Murray Cook

PJ Charteris

Kate Radburnd and Jane Skilton

James Millton

JP and James Rowan

Huw Kinch and Murray Cook

Greg Lane and Matt Kirby

Ant Mackenzie

Lauren Swift and Jack Glover

Kyle Thompson

Sophie Harris

Helen Morrison

Barry Riwai and Kyle Thompson

Jannine Rickards and Angela Willis

Jane Skilton and James Rowan

Francis Hutt

Judging the New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards

PJ and the two Glover bros

For a long time the main wine competition in New Zealand was the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. After last year’s competition they decided to pull their sponsorship and focus on their own Fine Wines of New Zealand initiative. So New Zealand Wine Growers have filled this gap with a new competition: New Zealand Wine of the Year. While the structure and roll call of senior judges is similar to the old competition, things have been tweaked a bit by the chairs, Warren Gibson and Ben Glover, to help make the results more robust.

A short film of the judging:

I’m taking part as one of the two overseas judges, along with PJ Charteris. We’re in the middle of judging at the moment, with two days gone and two to come. Altogether, 1361 wines have been entered this year, which is good number. The judging is being held at Alexandra Park, which is home to The Auckland Trotting Club, where a form of horse racing called the trots is practiced. This is something we just don’t get in Europe, and it sounds very odd.

Judging in Australia and New Zealand is a bit different to the approach I’ve experienced elsewhere. The methodology stems from the show circuit – each region in Australia has traditionally had its own wine show, where initially the goal was to encourage quality when winemaking was a bit patchy in places. The old Australian shows were notoriously hierarchical, when senior judges – almost always older men – would rule the roost, walking up and down large flights of wines, sniffing and pulling forward the good wines and sending the bad ones to the back. Everyone would wear white coats, and your performance as a judge would be assessed by how well you fell into line with the senior judges.

The long flights remain, but fortunately these days the Antipodean shows have become more about getting teams to work well together to find the best wines. We judge in panels of five, with two associates (whose scores don’t technically count, but in reality they do have influence, even though this is supposed to be a training role). Everyone tastes and makes notes, and then when we’ve all finished we sit down, give our scores in, and then begin a discussion process. Where one of the seniors flags a gold, we’ll call those wines back, and then they are flighted in a random order so we don’t know what they are, and we judge them again. This removes the personal element: there’s no sense that this is ‘my’ gold, and I don’t get tempted to horse-trade with other judges and ‘their’ gold.

After we’ve finished deliberations, the chairs come over and have a look at our work, to make sure we haven’t golded a donkey of a wine.

Of course, no-one knows the identity of the wines on the tasting floor. So it will be exciting to see the results, which are released later this month.

 

Some lovely wines at Greg's place

A bit after the fact, but I discovered some notes on my phone from a really lovely day’s drinking with some wine trade crew at Greg Sherwood’s place back in late July. The notes are a little terse, as they were taken on an iPhone, but I felt that these wines needed to be recorded. I’ve already written up the rosés that we started with.

Savage The Girl Next Door Syrah 2017 South Africa
[Top left in picture.] This is a Syrah from a tiny vineyard planted on the estate Duncan lives on in Nordhoek. It’s hand-tended, and only 760 bottles of this were made. It’a quite a stunning wine and I rated it even higher more recently. Lovely focus. Generous and supple with some peppery hints. Sleek and focused. So fine. 95/100

The Juice Asylum Il Terzo Grado 2017 Tuscany, Italy
Second vintage of this lovely, smashable wine, which is imported by Woodwinters. It’s a co-ferment of organically grown Sangiovese and Merlot, with the grapes coming from Montepulciano. Juicy supple and fresh with grainy cherry and plum fruit. Some sweet juicy fruit with a lovely green hint. 92/100

Jean-Luc Jamet Syrah Valine 2014 Northern Rhône, France
Pretty smart wine. Peppery and expressive with plums and spice and black cherry. Lively and juicy with real focus and finesse. 93/100

Rinaldi Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 Piedmont, Italy
Focused sweet cherry and plum fruit. Lovely bright fruit with some supple cherries and herbs. Very fine and detailed 93

Garnacha not Guerra Vino Rosso 2016 Italy
This is made by Mick O’Connell in Sardinia. Fine, supple and fresh with sweet cherries and plums. So fresh and elegant with vivid red fruits. Elegant and bright. 93/100

La Garagista Lupo in Bocca Rosé 2016 Vermont
Another lovely wine from Deirdre Heekin in Vermont made with latest-generation hybrid varieties. Apples, pears and a bit of spice. Supple and fresh with a bright juicy quality. Textured and natural. 89/100

Château Latour-Martillac Blanc 2001 Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Bordeaux
A serious white Bordeaux with a bit of age on it. Complex and toasty with lovely citrus and grapefruit nuts and fennel. 92/100

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva 2004 Rioja, Spain
Glad I have a few more of these tucked away. A complex, nutty white wine with a lemony core. Powerful, youthful and tangy with lovely marmalade and spice detail. Just beginning its journey. 94/100

Rafael Palacios As Sortes 2016 Val do Bibei, Ribera Sacre, Spain
Serious stuff, which should age well. Generous pear and peach fruit with nice tangerine and lemon notes. Lovely complexity and depth. 93/100

Kutch Chardonnay 2016 Sonoma Coast, California
This is proper stuff. Taut and fresh with bright citrus fruit and a mineral edge. Bright and fine with lovely brisk lemony notes and a mineral core. 94/100

Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014 Burgundy, France
Fresh lemony and bright with great precision. 93/100

Ceritas Marema Chardonnay 2016 Sonoma Coast, California
Tight fresh and citrusy with lovely bright lemon and pear fruit. Crystalline and precise with bright crisp citrus fruit. Very fine and linear. 93/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Asterley Bros Dispense Amaro, where England meets Sicily

Had this the other night at the fab Luca. It’s an English Amaro from Asterley Bros.

I nurture a secret affection for Amaros. It stems from my time with the Canadians, judging the National Wine Awards for the last five years, and visiting often. The Canadian crew have a big thing about Amaros, and in particular, Fernet Branca. Fernet is an acquired taste, but thanks to them, I acquired it. We even drink it on the bus, heading out or back from evening events.

There’s no tight definition for an Amaro. It’s a herbal liqueur, based around bitterness, and the whole category is very well explained in this article in Saveur. Notice that Fernet Branca is last. Avoid Fernet Menthe unless you are a bit crazy in the head. It’s mintier (if that were possible) and sweeter than Branca.

The most famous Amaro is Campari, which is a sort of Amaro for cowards, but which is perfectly fine as a base for a negroni, as is the new Bitter from Martini.

This Asterley is really good. It’s made by two brothers in Forest Hill, London. One of them is married to a Sicilian, hence the desire to produce this most Italian of drinks. In the mix are 24 botanicals including gentian, hops and wormwood. It’s blended with their signature vermouth made from English Pinot noir grapes. The result is pretty compelling.

How do you drink it? In Argentina, where Fernet Branca is like a religion, it’s mostly blended with coke, which is a travesty. Instead, pour over ice and sip after a meal. Or if you are like the Canadians, share a bottle on a bus.

Some highlights from the Wine Society (2 of 2)

Some more highlights from The Wine Society tasting on Thursday.

Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla NV Spain
£5.95 The Wine Society
15% alcohol
This is such a bargain. Salty, tangy and yeasty this has nice bright fresh apple and citrus fruity notes, in an elegant, bright style. Nice purity. 91/100

Avaniel 2017 Ribeira del Duero, Spain
£8.25 The Wine Society
13.5% alcohol
Fine, fresh, aromatic and pure with lovely fruity cherry notes. Floral, bright and juicy with nice weight and some seriousness as well as fun. Who needs oak? 90/100

Château Fontestau 1996 Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France
£18.50 The Wine Society
This has aged really nicely. It has a slightly faded colour with a brick-red rim. Lovely classic nose of herbs, spice, undergrowth. Restrained and elegant on the palate with some cherry fruit and nice maturity. So good to be able to get well aged Bordeaux at this price. 93/100

Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
£26 The Wine Society
14% alcohol
This is pretty special: it’s not your fruit-bright New Zealand style, but instead has some savoury complexity. Supple and refined with spicy cherry and strawberry fruit and some fine savoury notes, with minerals and herbs. Understated and fine. 94/100

Domaine Le Noblaie Chinon ‘Temps des Cerises’ 2017 Loire, France
£10.95 The Wine Society
13% alcohol
Lovely floral nose with some chalk and fine herb notes. Linear, juicy and fruity on the palate with brightness, freshness and poise. A classic Loire Cabernet Franc of some class. 91/100

Château La Dornie Saint-Chinian 2016 Languedoc, France
£9.50 The Wine Society
13.5% alcohol
Supple, bright and slightly smoky with a mineral edge to the stylish cherry and plum fruit. Some herb/garrigue complexity. Grown-up Languedoc red with nice personality. 90/100

Some highlights from The Wine Society (part 1 of 2)

Some lovely wines, as usual, at The Wine Society press tasting yesterday. Here’s my first six-pack of good buys. Lots to like in the £10-15 range, which is handy.

Domaine Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2016 Burgundy, France
£12.50 The Wine Society
13% alcohol
Fermented in 500 litre barrels. Fine and lemony with lovely pear fruit richness and a subtle nuttiness. Stylish and complex with a hint of baked apple, and lemony focus. 92/100
(available 28 Sept)

Deltetto Langhe Favorita Servaj 2017 Piedmont, Italy
£12.50 The Wine Society
13% alcohol
Favorito is the local name for the Vermentino grape variety, and Servaj translates as wild. Delicate and pure with nice fruit. Expressive tangerine and pear notes, with real focus and delicacy. 90/100
(available 22 Oct)

Von Kesselstatt Niedermenniger Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 2016 Mosel, Germany
£10.50 The Wine Society
9.5% alcohol
This is from the steep Herrenberg vineyard in the Saar, and it’s a bargain. Off-dry and juicy with grapefruit, apricot and pear fruit. Very fruity and linear. 91/100
(Available 19 Nov)

Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais L’Ancien 2016 France
£11.95 The Wine Society
12.5% alcohol
Very floral with a green sappy and beetroot edge to the cherry and raspberry fruit. Bright, fresh and sappy with raspberries to the fore. Light and expressive and quite pure. 92/100

Martin Wassmer Spätbrugunder Markgräflerland 2015 Baden, Germany
£14.95 The Wine Society
13.5% alcohol
Juicy and linear with nice sappy freshness and some mineral undercurrents. Appealing cherry and plum fruit with well integrated oak. Really refined. 93/100
(available 28 Sept)

Clos Alivu Patrimonio Rouge 2017 Corsica, France
£14.95 The Wine Society
13% alcohol
100% Nielluccio, which is the same as Sangiovese. Very floral, bright and fruity with expressive, pure red cherry and raspberry fruit. Linear, with a bit of structure. Quite delightful. 91/100