Some may say that the winemaking fortune of the Finger Lakes rises and falls with the Riesling grape. But those who do are missing out on some premier bottles of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and red blends. The TWAV tasting team gathered last week for a wine dinner focused on Finger Lakes reds in conjunction with a virtual wine tasting hosted by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.
We found during recent virtual tastings that they can be hectic. Between tasting eight bottles in one hour, tweeting or posting to Facebook, and viewing the streaming discussion with wine makers, there wasn’t much time to converse and enjoy the wines. So we decided to put the focus on the wine through a wine dinner preceding the virtual tasting.
Our lineup included one Pinot Noir, three Cabernet Francs and four red blends. We individually rated the wines on a scale of 1 to 5.
As we enjoyed an appetizer course of sushi and egg rolls we sampled the Billsboro Winery 2012 Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape that is notoriously difficult to grow. The wine is light-bodied with a smooth texture. It is cherry on the palate with a touch of sourness and earth. This is a food wine and would pair well with barbecued fish. It retails for $25. Rating: 2.83
Next up was the Hosmer Winery 2011 Cabernet Franc, which was paired with Curried Pumpkin Soup and a kale salad with warm bacon dressing. This is a natural expression of Cab Franc that shines through. The flavor is peppery and robust. It offers layers of luxurious red and blackberry flavor. This was our top pick of the evening! Rating: 4.08
Batting third was the Chateau Lafayette Reneau 2010 Cab Franc. This is a smooth wine with mellow flavors of cherry and berries. Our tasting panel felt the wine was a bit thin and didn’t have the spiciness they sought. (Upon tasting a day later, we had a more positive opinion.) Rating: 2.15
Heron Hill 2011 Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc has a different flavor profile than the other featured Cab Francs. The flavors are delicate spice and forest with light red cherry. This is a wine that grows on you as you sip. Paired nicely with cedar plank salmon and carrot-broccoli fritters with dill and yogurt sauce. Rating: 2.70
Leading off the second flight was the Fox Run 2010 Cabernet Franc-Lemberger blend. Cab Franc and Lemberger is a classic blend that is really making inroads in the Finger Lakes. The Fox Run blend is 54% Cab Franc and 46% Lemberger. It has a full, beautiful nose of leather and jam. On the palate there is pepper and a bit of smoke. Great pairing with a delicious mushroom pasta with truffle oil and caramelized onions. Rating: 2.63
Swedish Hill 2010 Optimus is a nicely balanced blend of 49% Cab Franc, 28% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon that plays nicely on the palate. Starts with a pop but then mellows into elegance with cherries, vanilla and smooth tannins. A top pick in the second flight. Rating: 4.00
We decanted the Damiani 2011 Meritage for more than an hour and paired it with beef tenderloin, herbed potato wedges and asparagus. It is tart and tastes young, but provides full flavor. Aroma of the wine cellar and flavors of black fruit. Rating: 3.80
Finishing up with a bang, we moved to the Hector Wine Company 2012 Essence. This is a Merlot-driven blend (43% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cab Franc and 7% Syrah) from an up and coming Finger Lakes winery. It’s a chewy wine with robust berries and full body. It’s aged in a combination of French, Hungarian and American barrels for nice complexity. It was a perfect accompaniment for our double-chocolate cookies and chocolate covered strawberries. Rating: 4.00
The winemakers, vineyards and wineries in the Finger Lakes continue to raise the bar on the quality of red wines. Lesser known in other wine regions, Cabernet Franc is truly a star here. Some Bordeaux-style blends are also outstanding. Lemberger is coming on as well and we like that. Always better to find a grape that thrives in your terroir than to try to duplicate California. Pinot Noir will continue to bedevil winemakers, but it can be done in the Finger Lakes and done successfully.
A tip of the cap to the wineries and winemakers who participated in the tasting as well as the members of the TWAV tasting team who cooked, sampled and rated the wines.