Monday, January 27, 2014

Shalestone Vineyards: Finger Lakes Winery Visit

Another in our continuing series of reports on Finger Lakes wineries.
Shalestone Vineyards is the black sheep of Finger Lakes wineries – or perhaps I should say red sheep. The Finger Lakes region is best known for its crisp white wines like Riesling and Gerwurztraminer. Shalestone’s focus, however, is strictly red wine.
This was our first visit to Shalestone, which opened in 2008. The winery is based in Lodi, on the east side of Seneca Lake. The tasting room is small and rustic with a great view and a large bar made from a slab of wood. Mark this down if you want to avoid busloads of tourists – they actively discourage groups of more than eight people.
In most Finger Lakes wineries, we start with a large number of whites and then, almost as an afterthought, progress to a few reds. Here, however, we jumped right into the endgame.
First up was the 2011 Pinot Noir. Pinot in the Finger Lakes is a labor of love. It can be done, but winemakers have a real handicap compared with Oregon or California. The 2011 is a good Pinot with notes of cherry and earth.
Harmony is Shalestone’s blended red table wine. This vintage was 42% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an everyday wine with a sweet touch and bit of tartness on the finish.
Our tasting team spilt on the 2010 Cabernet Franc. One of our team gave this a top rating for the nice sour cherry flavor with hints of oak. It lacked the trademark pepper of Cab Franc and so for that one or our crew gave it a lower rating. Cab Franc is the flagship red of the Finger Lakes and this one certainly is worth checking out.
The 2009 Synergy is another red blend, this one with even parts Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (42%) and Merlot at 16%. This has cranberry flavor swirls with a bit of brambly earth.
For me, the highlight of our tasting was the 2010 Lemberghini. It features 50% Lemberger with 35% Merlot and 15% Syrah. The flavors are concentrated with deep plum and red berry flavors highlighted by some nice oaking. The price is only $18, so I took a bottle home with me.
To round out our tasting, we sampled the smooth 2010 Merlot, a dynamic and rich 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and finished with the Red Legend, a Cab Franc/Lemberger/Merlot blend.
Rob Thomas is the winemaker and contributes to the charm of Shalestone. During our tasting he engaged in a long commentary on the philosophy of winemaking. For him, it is all about the balance. Another pointer is that if you should judge a wine on the third sip. Red wines are best when they deliver layers of flavor.
Shalestone is doing something unique – carving out a reputation on Finger Lakes reds. Armed with 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Lemberger and Pinot Noir, Rob Thomas is a red wine evangelist. The results so far have been impressive.
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