Friday, January 15, 2021

Ravines Wine Cellars Dazzles With Small Production Gems

Ravines Maximilien, Cab Franc & Dry RieslingPioneering winemaker crafts European-style wines in the Finger Lakes.

Rock The Ravines

Ravines Wine Cellars was one of the first Finger Lakes wineries that captured our hearts. Setting out on a road trip from Ohio on the advice of neighbors we aimed for a wine destination we were told would perfectly suit our palates.

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In our salad days, the first wines we enjoyed were sweet white wines from Germany. For years we opted only for sweet Riesling wines and similar ilk. Perhaps it is inevitable, but as years came and went, our palates became drier and we became more discerning in our wine.

Riesling was set aside, because we believed it was only sweet (as opposed to the world’s most versatile white grape!). Then we learned of the Finger Lakes and their refreshingly dry style of Riesling. We packed up the car and headed for the promised land.

Keuka Lake was one of the first stops on that trip back in 2009 as we swept from west to east. It was there we were first introduced to Ravines, the passion of winemaker Morten Hallgren and his chef wife Lisa. The winery has since expanded to include not only the original tasting room on Keuka, but a production facility and tasting room on Seneca Lake near Geneva.

International Roots Run Deep

Morten is Danish by birth, and grew up on his parents’ winery in the French Côtes de Provence. While Lisa trained in the culinary arts, Morten gained a degree from one of France’s top winemaking school and went to work in Burgundy’s famed Medóc region.

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Wine positions in Texas and the Biltmore Winery in Asheville, NC, then led Morten to a chief winemaker position at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes. The job allowed the couple to see the potential for crafting premium cool-climate wines in the region. They purchased their original parcel of 17 acres of land on the steep eastern slop of Keuka between two ravines and began making wine. The holding has since expanded to 130 acres.

Food Pairings with Ravines WineMorten describes his technique as transparent winemaking, striving to grow the best grapes possible while being good stewards of the land. Sustainable farming and organic methods are used in line with this philosophy.

A Taste Of Excellence

We were delighted to have the chance to taste three of Ravine’s current releases: 2017 Dry Riesling, 2018 Cabernet Franc, and the 2018 Maximilien red blend.

2017 Dry Riesling

We paired the Dry Riesling with teriyaki-glazed salmon steaks. The wine is an example of what makes Finger Lakes Riesling the best (in our opinion) in the United States.

The grapes come from the White Springs Vineyard and the 16 Falls Vineyard, one vineyard is on each side of Seneca Lake. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and aged on light lees.

The wine has delicate flavors of juicy apple and citrus perfectly balanced with light acidity. It’s all bound together with flowing minerality. It’s a perfect food wine, as we discovered with our meal. At an SRP of $17.95, this is a great bargain. Ravines also has single vineyard Rieslings, and we love the Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling.

2018 Cabernet Franc

The standout red in the Finger Lakes is Cabernet Franc, which does particularly well in cool climates. This bottle was a delight from first drop to last.

I put on my chef’s apron to whip up Shrimp & Corn Cakes with Salsa for our pairing. Fainter souls might have opted for a white wine, but I know Cab Franc can be a melodious match with a wide range of entrees. My faith was justified.

The wine undergoes oak aging, but the accent is on balance and minerality. It's a beauty that rocks with juicy plum, strawberry, and herbal notes. The wine gets malolactic fermentation, which contributes to the soft and smooth texture. French and Slovenian/Austrian oak barrels were used. At $21.95, it’s an amazing value.

2017 Maximilien

One of my favorite reds during my first visit more than a decade ago was the Meritage. Red Meritage is the US equivalent of a Bordeaux blend and the use of the name is limited to a winery’s best red blend. I was disappointed to learn that Ravines no longer made Meritage – but I was soaring again when I learned that they had simply named their premium red blend Maximilien.

Maximilien is a 54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon formulation. It opens with tart cherries and blackberries with a distinct savory note. Maximilien puts the focus on rich, expressive fruit. It gets 17 months in French and American oak, with 18% being new. There is a note of sweet oak and on the finish, there is an enjoyable toasted oak flavor.

This wine expresses the spirit of Finger Lakes red wine excellence. There is no need to mimic a bombastic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead, the terroir and fruit lead in another direction: red wines that are accessible, artistic, and true to the grapes. This is a red wine bonanza at $24.95.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

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