Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New Finds in the Finger Lakes

- In our travels in the past week, we came across a new winery, a new distillery and a new brewery. The growth of the Finger Lakes beverage industry continues unabated with new places opening up monthly:

O'Begley Distillery is not really new (they opened their main distillery near Rochester in 2011), but they have just opened a new place on the west side of Seneca Lake, right beside Starkeys Lookout Winery and just across from Glenora Winery. I had just finished performing at Starkeys Lookout when I noticed that cars were parking in what was a closed convenience store. Further investigation led to a tasting of O'Begley liquors.
   Per the O'Begley website "O’Begley produces Traditional Irish Style Whiskey, using a small-batch pot still process. Our grain is locally grown and each batch is carefully crafted from grain milling to bottling at our distillery in Pittsford, New York".  I am much more within my comfort zone tasting wine, but I had the pleasure of being led through a tasting by their master distiller Andy Walker:

 Poitin, 100 proof, 375ml, $35. I had never heard of Poitin but Andy explained that it was  basically Irish moonshine that home distillers would traditionally make in Ireland. This one garnered 93 points from Tasting Panel magazine and had a mild sweetness to it.

 Old Kilfountain Poitin, 86 proof, 750ml, $45, aged 14 to 18 months in reused bourbon barrels.

 Pioneer Green Single Malt, 100 proof, $35. Andy explained that this was made using a rare process where the barley sprouts and is heated. This adds an herbaceous quality to the liquor.

Dubh Reserve, 121 proof, 375ml, $40, aged 14 months in new charred oak. This was my favorite, with nutty overtones and the smoothest finish of them all.

Young Single Malt, 123.6 proof, 750ml, $90. This had the highest alcohol content, but it had nice citrus overtones that offset the strength of the alcohol.

- On the east side of Seneca Lake, just north of Finger Lakes Distillery, we came upon a new brewery Grist Iron Brewing Co., which has a beautiful new tasting room and restaurant overlooking the lake. Their website tells of the genesis of this project: "What happens when a contractor, a funeral home director, innkeeper, CT tech/home-brewer, grantmaker, and a nurse get together over a pint? They decide to build a brewery! And that folks is how Grist Iron Brewing Company was born."

This looks like a cool place to come and have a pint and a bite to eat when you are on the east side of Seneca, and it is one of the few places that is open fairly late in that area: Monday 11am-10pm, closed Tuesday, open Wed. and Thurs. 11am-10pm, Fri. and Sat. 11am-11pm, and Sun. 12-10. I tried a flight of their beers (four 5oz beers in a flight for $10):

Cream of the Crop Ale, 5.25% alc., made with local honey. Nice integrated hops and honey, with a nice balanced structure.

Front Porch Citra Imperial IPA, 8% alc., Citrus aromas lead to an incredibly intense hopfest of flavors. I admit I am not an IPA fan, way too hoppy for me, but the man sitting next to me just raved about this beer. That's why there's variety.

Chapter 28 Table Beer, 2.89% alcohol, This was my favorite and a very interesting beer, with table beer having its roots in medieval Europe and also known as small beer or mild beer. It looks dark and deep, but it has the body structure of a lite beer, but with beautiful tones of coffee and chocolate that go on forever! Grist Iron claims a pint has under 100 calories and, at only 2.89% alcohol, you don't have to worry about putting a few pints down.  Now this is my kind of lite beer.

Peach Orchard Pale Ale, 4.2% alcohol, Another nicely balanced beer with the peach providing a nice counterpoint to the hops, with juicy peach fruit on the finish.

Hand tossed Artisan Pizzas are available from $11 to $13 and Grinders for for $11 to $14, with a variety of Appetizers available.  It looks like they also bought the next door Seneca Springs Resort, which they have renamed The Inn at Grist Iron, so they have rooms available also. And they have a lot of Live Entertainment. Cool Place, I'll be back.

- Also, in our travels over on Keuka Lake, we came across a new winery just north of Dr. Frank Wine Cellars on the west side of the lake. Like O'Begleys, it's not an entirely new place, but is a new retail sales and tasting location for Point of the Bluff Winery. Point of the Bluff was started on the bluff in Keuka Lake in 2007 by local businessman John Rodenhouse, who called upon Mike Countryman, the former award-winning winemaker at Casa Larga (he was responsible for the perennial award-winning Casa Larga ice wine Fiori Vidal Ice Wine) to help him get the project moving.

Initially, they were just going to sell the grapes from the bluff vineyard to area wineries, but Countryman decided to produce an ice wine. The project grew from there and they now have just opened their tasting room just up from Dr. Frank. I tasted 3 Rieslings, but they also have a Rose' coming soon, all sourced from the bluff vineyard with 6 acres of Riesling and 1 acre of Pinot Noir planted on the very steep slopes of the bluff.

2013 Dry Riesling, .2 RS, $18.99, Steely almost tannic intense minerality that drives the structure the whole way through to the finish with fresh classic Keuka lime on the palate. Probably too intense for the casual Riesling drinker, but, for mineral-lovers like me, this may be one of the most structured and ageworthy Finger Lakes Riesling I have tasted.

2012 Semi-dry Riesling, 1% RS, $16.99, Not as intense as the Dry Riesling and with a shorter finish, but more accessible.

2012 Ice Riesling, 16% RS, $64.99, This is what Countryman is famous for, making multi-layered Ice wines. This starts with aromas of candied pineapple and then the flavor profile expands exponentially to reveal layers of apricot, honey, tangerine, even licorice on the sub-palate, A little sugary on the finish, but filled with flavor.

- Rob Lane

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Damiani Vertical Riesling Tasting 6-6-15

Damiani Wine Cellars Winemaker Phil Arras and Owner Lou Damiani discuss Damiani Rieslings
   I attended the Damiani Vertical Riesling Tasting last weekend, where 6 years of Damiani Rieslings were poured from 2008 to 2012, along with a barrel sample of the current 2014 vintage. Owners Lou Damiani and Glenn Allen were on hand, joined by winemaker Phil Arras to discuss the vintages and answer a wide range of questions presented by the attendees from optimal temperature for serving Riesling (slightly chilled) to optimal fermentation temperature for Riesling (I knew cooler slow fermentations were best, but I was surprised that some of these Rieslings were fermented at extremely low temperatures).
   Damiani opened in 2004 focusing on red wines and have won many accolades for their red wines. But as I always say, the best red wine producers are often some of the best white wine producers, producing whites that are nuanced and ageworthy. Thus was my quest to find out if these Rieslings could withstand the test of time.

2008 (Semi-dry) Riesling: Powerful slate mineral with a hint of vanilla on the nose, a touch of oxidation in the aromatics (not unexpected for a 7 year old white) but none on the palate; abundant lemon/lime acidity on the front, still structured and not flabby, and sufficient mineral on the finish. It has peaked, but still very drinkable.

2009 (Semi-dry) Riesling: Fresh lime aromatics, with the structure softening nicely; more lemon zest than lime on the front, into juicy stone fruits in a long finish, showing beautifully right now and it still has some years left. This one and the next one were my favorites.

2010 Dry Riesling: Balanced citrus and mineral aromatics, austere structure and very dry (but that was after 2 semi-dry's), more floral elements than fruit elements on the palate, with a touch of that signature Riesling kero-aging. This was the only dry Riesling among the bunch and it stands up there with the best of the Dry Rieslings in the Finger Lakes. This has some years left.

2011 (Semi-dry) Riesling: Damp stone on the nose, a touch of tannin on the superstructure, less RS showing with pure smooth lime from start to finish, holding up very well.

2012 ( Semi-dry) Riesling: Beautiful nose with floral, lime, and layered minerality; Juicy peach palate but of shorter duration on the finish, maybe this one will build with age.

2014 Semi Dry Riesling (Tank sample): This wine had a great story to go with it. Winemaker Phil Arras told of how a hale storm severely bruised the grapes used for this wine and they really did not know if the grapes would be worth using, but they went ahead and used them anyway and it turned out to be very good. So when he went to name this wine, he thought of his son who had been born with a heart defect and needed open heart surgery at 5 months old, but recovered wonderfully, as did the grapes for this Riesling. So they will name this wine Rhysling in honor of his son. Some other humorous hale-inspired names that were considered were "What the Hale", "Go to Hale" and "Hale of a Riesling".
They opted for natural fermentation and whole cluster pressing for this one with extended lees contact. This wine is currently showing huge peach aromatics; on the palate I get beautiful lavender, lime and dried peach skin tones. It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the bottle. A portion of the proceeds from this wine will go to a childrens cardiac charity.

So as I've experienced before, Finger Lakes Rieslings can be very age-worthy and very expressive as they age. I know it's hard to do (mine disappear quickly), but try to put a few of your favorite Finger Lakes Rieslings in the cellar for a while and see how they age.  -Rob Lane