Another in our series of reports on Finger Lakes wineries from our recent visit.
Tasting Room Manager Francis Dallaire calls Damiani Wine Cellars a “speed bump.” Set on a beautiful perch overlooking the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, it is easy to see how visitors naturally want to slow down and spend time at this stellar wine location.
Damiani is a bit of an anomaly. While the Finger Lakes is best known for its exquisite Riesling, Damiani has built its reputation on knock-out reds.
A flight of whites began the tasting. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc uses grapes from Sawmill Creek and the tropical aroma busts forth. The 2011 Dry Riesling has refreshing minerality with flavors of gravel and apple. Only 250 cases. The 2011 Chardonnay has a great nose, a rich body and offers a toasted barrel flavor. We circled back with the 2011 Semi Dry Riesling. It has 2.0% residual sugar and a delicious lush texture.
I was surprised to learn that Damiani also offers sparkling wine. The Damiani philosophy is that every day is better with bubbles and the 2009 Sparkling Brut was one of our highest rated wines on our trip. Perhaps it was the sun sparkling on the Seneca Lake, perhaps it was bubbles tickling our palate at 10:30 in the morning, or even the mellow vibe of the tasting room – but we loved this wine. It is made using the Methode Champenoise and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Dry, biscuity and bubby!
We were ready to rock the reds! The 2010 Pinot Noir offers black cherry and spice. The Finger Lakes continued to impress with Lemberger with Damiani’s 2011 Lemberger. It’s a “wild berry attack” with a dash of cherry Lifesaver and spice on the finish.
Now we moved into the zone of awesomeness! The 2010 Meritage isn’t considered a reserve wine – but we may need to campaign to give it that moniker. This is a well balanced wine that radiates complex flavors from a Cab Franc (44%), Cabernet Sauvignon (37%) and Merlot (19%) blend.
Francis was a fountain of knowledge and a master of the side-by-side tastings. We were able to contrast the reserve wines against the regular releases. The 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve, from the Davis Vineyard, was much darker and had dynamite concentrated berry and smoky flavors. The 2010 Merlot Reserve delivers a nice plush raspberry and bramble taste.
The reserve wines all top out at more than $40, but are well worth it. The Syrah Reserve was unavailable, but we sampled the 2010 Cab Franc and Cabernet reserves and were impressed. The Cabernet was a bit lighter bodied than its California cousins, but it is a rewarding glass nonetheless.
We timed our visit just right. as we were wrapping up the tasting – and picking out bottles to buy – a bus pulled up and a crowd that had just visited a nearby distillery was headed our way. This was our first visit to Damiani, but it is now firmly etched on the “must visit” list for our next trip. It’s a red wine lover’s haven in a land known for whites.