Finger Lakes Riesling: A Portrait in Minerality
Mid-August marked my first trip to New York, I arrived a day ahead of the Wine Bloggers Conference, granting myself time to acclimate to balmy Upstate New York and perhaps more importantly, time to do a bit of exploring. My friend and fellow wine writer, Thomas Riley was in town ahead of schedule too, and the two of us set out to roam the Finger Lakes wine trail at a leisurely pace.
Our second stop was at one of the region’s oldest and most respected wineries, Herman J. Wiemer, a tasting room experience that proved to be extraordinarily interesting. Our host, Oskar Bynke led us to a large map of Herman J. Wiemer’s estate vineyards. The map, suspended behind a simple tasting bar serves as a stunning and informative visual backdrop that conveys not only a sense of the variable topography surrounding glacier-carved Lake Seneca, it also provides a birds-eye view of each distinct parcel, it’s soil profiles and myriad clones.
As we tasted, Oskar explained key differences between the wineries’ three estate vineyards. The HJW vineyard is the oldest site, established in 1976; it’s also the coolest, least sheltered of the trio. The vines are a mile from the river’s edge, at about 800 feet elevation. Poor, gravelly soil offers good drainage and serves to limit vine vigor. As one might expect the HJW Riesling is the most austere, and notably the most acid-driven wine in their portfolio. It’s nervy, with a kind of twitchy energy, like a doe emerging from a lean winter. Fruit is not the foremost expression; rather there is poise, tension and intensity, lime pith, lovely textural minerality punctuated by saline.
By comparison, little sister Magdalena is a much younger site. Planted in 1999, the vine’s roots burrow and bore into richer rich Honeoye silt loam soil, and the vineyard is more sheltered than HJW. The change in mesoclimate is dramatic—Magdalena produces a rounder and fleshier Riesling, with vivid aromas of forest honey, apricots, white flowers and baking spice. On the palate, it’s quite lush, displaying stone fruit and and that pronounced acid backbone that is so typical of the region as a whole.
Josef shares similar soil type, but its vines are older and are on a steeper slope. True to form, the Josef Vineyard is a warmer, more protected site, and the wine is bears a similar countenance to it’s little sister, with showy notes of white peaches, honeysuckle and pear. Arching acidity finds its course through layers of glycerol-laden stone fruit and delicate traces of minerality.
Two weeks prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference, I’d had the opportunity to taste an impressive lineup of Oregon Rieslings. By contrast, the Finger Lakes Rieslings are lean, without a morsel of fat. Nor are they comparable to the great Old World regions, like the Mosel—those wines, even the drier styles are often generously honeyed and inlaid with spice and glycerol.
Finger Lakes Rieslings have a poetry that is uniquely their own, a fingerprint that communicates place. As to the winery itself, It’s a worthwhile destination for anyone exploring the Finger Lakes, and certainly, the winery has been garnering the press it deserves.