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Tuesday Tributes: Best of the Blogs
How A Californian Was Blindsided by New York Riesling

By Charles Olken

We Californian wine folk can be a prickly bunch. We argue about terroir, about ripeness, about oak. You name it and we have several positions on the all sides of the issue. But somehow, when it comes to Riesling, we are mostly silent.

Oh sure, there are Riesling proponents here and there. My good buddy Dan Berger has championed the grape, but even though he has legions of followers, his love of Riesling has not produced much reaction here. This is Chardonnay and Cabernet country, and while we are also becoming Pinot Noir territory, which does suggest that we can grow cold-loving grapes like Riesling, we are simply not doing much with the grape.

Those of us, and I am one, who find a well-made, fragrant, balanced, and yes, somewhat sweet Riesling to be just the ticket as an aperitif and with a variety of dishes, have turned to Germany and lately to the few Washington State Rieslings that trickle their ways into our golden climes. And now, there is another source, and one which comes closer to the light and elegant stylings from Germany than anything we have seen here on the left coast.

I refer, as the title of the piece would suggest, to Finger Lakes Rieslings, from upstate New York. In the Connoisseurs’ Guide coverage of the grape last year, we were lucky enough to be able to bring in the Rieslings of half a dozen producers and were very impressed by their quality.

And just this week came more reminders. At dinner on Saturday night, we chose a glass of Riesling from New York’s Red Tail Ridge as a solo sipper while looking at the menu. Admittedly, I choose it because I was surprised to see a New York wine on a San Francisco wine list, but there it was, and I have liked Finger Lakes Riesling. The wine list did not note that the wine was fairly sweet, and, frankly, it should have because sweetness, far more than alcohol level, does influence how one wants to use a wine. In this case, I would have chosen it anyhow, but had the list noted that the wine is also labeled “Semi-Sweet”, I am guessing that it would have received far less play than it did.

But here is where labeling and numbers simply do not help. Absent some discussion of balance, and a way for wineries to somehow indicate how a wine actually presents itself, “sweet” is still a dirty word in the wine world. That this wine labeled “Semi-Sweet” was so blessed with acidity that it achieved brilliance balance both as a bright, perky aperitif and also as an accompaniment, in the second glass ordered, with a pork chop grilled with a light sweet glaze on top.

And here is where Best of Blogs comes in. Yesterday, I was perusing some of my favorite websites and came across an article on Palate Press entitled “Nine New York Wineries To Watch”. Not only do I have a New York City brother whose summer place is out on Long Island in the midst of that area’s growing wine country, but I have just had a most delicious upstate Riesling. To my pleasant surprise, there was Red Tail Ridge right smack dab in the middle of the essay by Lenn Thompson, one of the voices behind the very good blog, New York Cork Report. So, now not only do I have a new winery to follow, but I also have a very good primer on a New Yorker’s thoughts about other good wineries.


by John Cesano
Posted on:5/3/2011 3:08:59 PM


California's best Rieslings may very well grow in Potter Valley, where the cooler than neighboring valley night temperatures allow development of both flavor and acidity.

Berger, who you mention, is particularly fond of McFadden Vineyard Riesling. Our 2006 and 2009 both throw the varietally correct notes one expects in an Alsace Riesling but rarely gets in a California wine, and are easier to get to for most of your readers.

The residual sugar of the McFadden Rieslings is balanced by acidity, allowing wines that taste great in the glass, and pair brilliantly with many foods.

Come up and visit our tasting room in Hopland.

John Cesano                                                    Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager

Lake County Rieslings
by Steve Devoto
Posted on:5/4/2011 7:28:47 AM

It's nice to see that note about rislings from our neighboring Potter Valley. I suggest also looking at rieslings based on Lake County grapes: Bonterra, Shooting Star from Steele Winery and Hagafen.  All have won gold and best of show in recent competitions. The all remind me mostly of rieslings from the Mosel.

...and more to come
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:5/4/2011 7:54:56 AM

In June, you'll get to taste one or two truly stellar Fingre Lakes Rieslings...and maybe a few other varietal wines as well.

I'm trying to detremine how many bottles I can safely carry with me on the train.

CA Rieslings/NY Riesling
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/4/2011 8:46:51 AM

There have been, are and will be attractive CA Rieslings, but they are not exactly Germanci to my taste. The NY Rieslings simply come good at lower Brix, higher acidities and lower pHs and remind much more of Germany than ours do. I will try to track down the McFadden and Shooting Star Rieslings as I have not had them. We do get to try the Hagafens and they are often quite good.

As for how many will come from NY on the train, might I suggest a couple of dozen? :-}

wines not from the left coast
by Colorado Wine Press
Posted on:5/4/2011 9:35:32 PM

Charlie - I'm glad that you enjoy NY Rieslings! When people take their CA/OR/WA blinders off, they might just be pleasantly surprised at what they find from other wine regions. Many states other that California produce very good wines. Sure, they also produce many poor wines, but so does California! The key is knowing where to look and not to be afraid to try new things.

We'll keep a glass ready
by John Cesano
Posted on:6/9/2011 5:21:36 PM

Charlie, finding a McFadden Riesling is pretty easy. We sell out of our McFadden Vineyard Hopland tasting room. Dashe sells their McFadden Farm Riesling out of their DCV tasting room. Chateau Montelena sells their McFadden Farm Riesling out of their tasting room in Calistoga. All are great, each one from the same vintage a different expression of winemaker's art, different flavors latent pulled to the fore. It might be best if you could arrange a horizontal tasting of all three. I hope to meet you when you visit us up in Mendocino County. -John

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