Taste NY: Finger Lakes Riesling Showdown and a Question of Price

Vinted on December 9, 2009 binned in wine review, wine tasting

Earlier this week, my wife and I had the pleasure of dining with fellow wine-geek and wine-blogger David McDuff and his wife at the center of my Asian-fusion culinary universe, Teikoku.

Aside from generally enjoying each other’s collective company, our get-together had another purpose, which was to (finally, yes, finally) sample some of the wines sent to us via fellow wine-geek and wine-blogger (and fellow currently-suffering-Steelers-fan) Lenn Thompson as part of the Taste NY program.  On deck were six NY Finger Lakes Rieslings, all from different producers, to be evaluated in the only real way that Rieslings can be truly evaluated – in the company of excellent food.  The wines:

David consistently offers up amazing tasting notes and wine evaluations on his blog, and this event was no exception – earlier this week he posted his thoughts on the six sample bottles that we tasted.  His notes are lucid and entertaining, and he nailed our collective perceptions of the wines that night (the only change I’d make to his observations would be in my personal order of preference, which would have put the Dr. Frank dead last because I’ve had previous vintages of this wine that were excellent, and thus my disappointment level on tasting the `07 was quite high).

What David didn’t mention in his write-up was that he’d kindly brought along a different Riesling for comparison.  Not from the Finger Lakes, at $18 that mystery wine was priced at the lower end of he spectrum of the NY wines on our evaluation list that evening, and it had me rethinking the entire QPR proposition of FLX Rieslings…

The mystery wine was an entry-level offering from Keller, the venerable Rheinhessen producer.  It was clearly a young wine, but with potential to age due to its strong acidity structure, and it positively exploded from the glass with elegant floral characteristics that the Finger Lakes wines lacked.  On the palate, it deftly – almost ‘hand-held’ – guided me through its quince, citrus and acid qualities into a finish that lasted nearly 30 seconds.  In comparison, it made the palate profiles of even the better FLX offerings on the table seem like clumsy grocery clerks spilling their entire grocery bags full of flavors all over the floor of your tongue.

What surprised me the most was how much my ‘QPR meter’ was reset after tasting the Keller.  It’s not that the FLX wines were bad, thought they were certainly different.  But, as David hinted in his recap, it underscored the need for balance.  If you’re going to offer a Riesling wine that is $10 more expensive than that Keller, then you need to deliver the goods.

I’m not questioning the general price-points of Finger Lakes wines, as many of them are of small enough production (taking place under difficult conditions) that a certain price points are needed just to remain viable.  But there is a marked difference between being able to see wine at those prices within the walls of a tasting room, and being able to play competitively in a wider market.

While I was – and remain – genuinely impressed by the continued quality and potential of FLX wines, in my opinion they’re not-quite-there-yet when it comes to offering competitive Riesling alternatives on wine store shelves nationwide.  Whether or not they can do that remains to be seen – but they’re clearly heading in the right direction.

Cheers!

25

 

 

    Comments

  • @voxinferior


    to a certain extent, you've simply underscored the dilemma (in terms of QPR) faced by many wines from smaller American wine regions. Consider the best wines in your own back yard (I know there are some nice Chardonnays and you probably know of other wines) -think of the other great wines you could get for the $25+ you're probably paying for those wines. Here in Virginia the best Cabernet Francs and Viogniers are usually similarly priced – and I could easily find better & cheaper Chinons or even Viogner VdP (or whatever the new designation is) . There certainly was a time (some would say now!) when Oregon wines were widely perceived as overpriced. For that matter, consider almost any CA Syrah! I would have expected FLX wines to escape this issue since it's a more established wine-producing area, but perhaps that makes no difference. In any case, while it was interesting to note the differences between the German and FLX wines, the QPR argument isn't really much of a shocker.

    • 1WineDude


      Totally agree – in some cases, it's the cost of production in those areas. I don't know the answer in terms of how to escape the dilemma (if I did, I suppose I'd be consulting for FLX wineries! :-).

  • Evan Dawson


    One other point I would make: A decade ago we used to hear many more FLX producers talk about emulating Germany. I never liked hearing that. Today, I'm glad to see that our producers are learning more about sense of place and delivering what the region does best. In most years (not 2007), that leads to almost effortless cut, electric wines, and the challenge is balancing that cut with layers of richness and nuance. The best pack fennel, lime peel, white peach, and a variety of other elements. The worst – and there are too many in this category – are shrill, severe, off balance. But the bottom line is that the optimal FLX style is not a German knockoff but a gorgeous Riesling in its own right, and the best are there. Our wines of the year post will go up today, and we'll highlight some of those wines. You'll note that the prices are higher with these, and that's almost always due to more sorting, careful labor and more time involved. But the best of these wines can compete even in higher price ranges.

    Cheers!

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Evan – great to have you chime in on this – excellent comparison to LI. Similar challenges there, I think, especially with production cost. I agree with you on Wiemer, they're clearly setting the bar in terms of the quality possible from the region.

  • 1WineDude


    Great, ***GREAT*** point – the future, in terms of going after quality, is not to emulate Germany or any other world wine region, especially since the lower production and overall costs of doing business would make them less competitive anyway with those more established regions. Finding what makes FLX unique and capitalizing on tat means that they'd need fear far less competition.

  • Lenn Thompson


    Joe: Thanks for finally getting around to this, Joe ;) I know. I know. We'll blame David for being difficult to schedule with. ;)

    What made you choose these 6 out of the 12 wines that were a part of TasteNY? If I'm right, the other 6 wines top out at $20 and go down to $13, so I'm wondering if you had chosen some other wines if your 'value' comment would be different. Not saying that price affects balance of course. Having the $26 Sheldrake and $25 Heron Hill in this flight definitely skews the price impressions here. Plus, tasting them blind against the Keller might have been interesting too. Blind tasting always is.

    I don't think that anyone, even winemakers in the Finger Lakes, would argue that they are still improving, learning what different sites offer and how best to treat the grapes once they come in. But they'd also, I think, argue that they aren't trying to be Mosel. They aren't trying to be Wachau. They aren't trying to be Alsace — not anymore anyway. They are trying to make the best Finger Lakes wines that they can make with the unique attributes that their own region and vineyards bring. I don't drop the terroir word often, but they are still learning and exploring theirs. Keller knows it's terroir and can target it year in and year out I imagine.

    If I had to do TasteNY over again, I wouldn't have tried to get a variety of vintages involved, and I wouldn't have tried to do 12 different wines from 12 different wineries. I would have picked my top 6 and done only wines from vintages I consider high-end (06 and 08). It's a learning process for the organizer too.

    Curious to see what you think of the other wines though.

  • David McDuff


    Thanks for all the kind words, Joe.

    Evan and Lenn both bring up great points. I wasn't looking for nor would I want the FLX wines we tasted to emulate Germany, Austria, Alsace, etc. The expression of their own terroir is definitely much more important and I do believe that that's where the best FLX producers are headed. Again, it's balance that's key, and too many of the wines in our six-flight lacked it.

    I actually had brought along the '08 Keller QbA Riesling, brown bag at the ready, to act as a ringer with the expectation that we might be tasting blind. As blind tasting didn't turn out to be on the agenda, I thought it made the most sense to save it for after the meal.

    PS: The Keller goes for $17 in the NJ/PA/DE markets.

  • 1WineDude


    Hey guys – thanks for the comments. I chose the selections more-or-less randomly. I agree that the future of the FLX should be in continuing to define / find its own identity. In the comparison with German wines, I was highlighting that there are factors in quality and price that mean that FLX wines still have road ahead to cover in finding themselves. The comparison may not be fair when it comes to the grand scheme of things, but it's fair in terms of comparisons that consumers like me might make when it comes down to choosing a Riesling to purchase from the wine store shelf.

  • Jason Malumed


    What's up, Joe. Jason from Penns Woods Winery here. Thought I'd chime in since I'm from Cornell in the Finger Lakes and have had many of these wines in the past. I gotta agree with you 100% here, the Hermann Weimer rocks. Fox Run I've had as well and have been really surprised with the quality. You should check out Tierce. Its a collaboration between "the best" Riesling producers Fox Run, Anthony Road, and Red Newt (http://tiercewine.com/web/). I've heard real good stuff about it, but have never had the chance to try it out. Of course, I'd put our Traminette up against any of those guys too!

  • 1WineDude


    Hey man – nice to hear from you!

    I wonder if anyone out there (Len, Evan?) can comment on the Tierce…

    I like how you worked in the Traminette plug :-)

    Cheers!

    • Evan Dawson


      Here's a piece we did a year ago tomorrow, detailing the process:

      http://lennthompson.typepad.com/lenndevours/2008/

      Thus far it has been very strong. Not lacking in acid, it takes electricity close to the edge. Interestingly, it's bottled under screw cap and when we opened an '04 Tierce earlier this year, there was much more petrol/rubber tire than there had been previously. While petrol is a hallmark of older Riesling, it can also be an indicator of some reduction, so that's something to watch. Overall it's been a very thoughtful wine, not unlike Long Island's Merliance.

      • 1WineDude


        Sweet – will be fascinating to see how that develops. Might not be too early for that petrol to come through, so it might not be reduction… though if it's giving some rubber tire action as well that could be an indicator of reductive stuff going on…

        • Evan Dawson


          My thoughts exactly. And at this level, I like it, but too much more will tip the scales.

          Joe, any thoughts on screwcap closures and the resulting ageability? Seems like everyone has a different idea on this.

          • 1WineDude


            Funny you mention that – I touch on that briefly in today's (Thursday) post!

        • Evan Dawson


          My thoughts exactly. And at this level, I like it, but too much more will tip the scales.

  • 1WineDude


    Hey man – nice to hear from you!

    I wonder if anyone out there (Len, Evan?) can comment on the Tierce…

    I like how you worked in the Traminette plug :-)

    Cheers!

  • Jason Malumed


    Always gotta work in the shameless plug!

    *coughcough* – http://www.pennswoodswinery.com – *coughcough*

  • 1WineDude


    Interesting tidbit – thanks!

  • Jason Malumed


    But on a serious note, I was watching an interview with Heidi Barrett (from Screaming Eagle, right?? jk) and she said that she got her start working in Germany, and that's where she truly learned what "balance" was. She said that the Germans are masters in that regard. When you wrote about the "mystery wine", I think that fact is definitely evident.

  • Rick Rainey


    Ravines Riesling 2007 – $15 retail. You should give that a shot next time.

    RR

  • Mark Cochard


    Dude is spamming permitted in a blog reply :) Just little nudge to Jason.
    You gotta invite me to one of these gigs.

    Seems that good vintages for reds in the FL are inferior vintages for rieslings.
    Are you guys getting warmer up there, climate change and all that?
    I know 09' really sucked for reds for us in PA. We have some optimism for the whites.
    What is the consensus for 09' for the 09' FL rieslings?

    Jason, How did you guys do in 09' with reds.

    • 1WineDude


      Hey Mark – awesome to 'see' you here on the virtual pages of the blog!

  • Plano Electrical Contractor


    Keep working ,great job! This was what I needed to know.

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com

Google+

Labels

Vintage

Find