Sharing a bottle of wine has long been a social activity. The team at Cultivate Wines believes it should be a socially responsible activity as well.
Cultivate’s founders Ali and Charles Banks believe that with this mission, for-profit companies have the potential to impact the world. For every dollar in sales, Cultivate gives ten cents back to local communities. Since its launch in 2011, Cultivate has donated more than $400,000 to charities that help fund opportunity and hope.
The Banks have decades of experience in find wine — as the former owners of Screaming Eagle and owners of Terroir Selections, whose profile includes Sandhi, Mayacamas, Mulderbosch and Leviathan.
While the wines for Cultivate come from all over the globe, they share qualities that make them approachable and easy to drink. Director of Winemaking Nat Gunter searches for vineyard sites and growers with unique stories or personalities. The winemaking team tastes thousands of juice samples to ensure quality and variety.
For an introduction to Cultivate Wines, the Amateur Gastronomer suggests the Dream Walking 2010 Chardonnay or the Copa Cabana 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère.
The Dream Walking Chardonnay comes from Mendocino and Santa Rita Hills in California. It’s a classic California Chardonnay, with aromas of apple and tropical fruits introducing a palate of Meyer lemon, pineapple, golden apple, chamomile and marzipan. The wine is smooth and round in the mouth, with lingering notes of citrus and sweet almond.
The Copa Cabana is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenère and 10% Syrah from Curicó in Chile’s Central Valley. It’s a ripe and juicy red, with a crowd-pleasing mix of fruit and spice. Flavors of boysenberry, blackcurrant, plum and blackberry jam mingle with black pepper, clove and leather. Smooth tannins give the wine a nice texture and finish.
Cultivate Wines are wallet-friendly too. The Dream Walking Chardonnay costs $18, and the Copa Cabana costs $12.
The Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is everything you look for in a Napa Cabernet. Its intense dark fruit aromas draw you in. The palate is lush and layered, with rich blue and black fruit flavors that are enhanced by the finesse of a skilled wine maker. The velvety texture coats your mouth and the finish goes on and on so you can’t help but linger over every sip.
This wine is a true tribute to place, starting with the name. It honors the Wappo Indians, known as “The Brave Ones,” who settled on Mt. Veeder in the 1800s.
The grapes for the Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon are grown on Mt. Veeder’s rugged terrain, at elevations ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 feet. The unique growing conditions result in small berries with concentrated flavors, and produce a wine that is expressive of the mountain and the soil.
Winemaker Chris Carpenter (well-known to Napa wine aficionados for Cardinale and Lokoya wines) adds the finishing touch. His knowledge of the terrain and passion for winemaking are evident in each bottle.
From your first sniff of fragrant ripe black cherry and blueberry, you know that this will be a delicious wine. The berry notes expand on the palate, and are layered with dark chocolate, tobacco, violet, a hint of vanilla and gentle wet shale minerality. Chewy tannins add to the luscious mouthfeel, and the finish is long and satisfying.
If serving the wine at your holiday gathering this year, the AG recommends decanting it for fuller enjoyment.
For more information on the wines of Mt. Brave visit www.mtbravewines.com. The wines may be purchased on the website.
Looking for a new great value wine to try this fall? Try one of these three reds:
Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho Red 2012
Set a place at the dinner table for this medium bodied, food-friendly wine from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The wine is a blend of indigenous grapes Aragonês (40%) and Trincadeira (35%) along with Touriga Nacional (20%) and Syrah (5%). Vibrant berry aromas introduce flavors of cherry, raspberry, and cassis. The fruit is layered with white pepper, clove and subtle toasted oak. If you’re not familiar with the wines of Portugal, Esporão offers an excellent introduction.
$10, 14% alcohol by volume
Rib Shack Red 2012
With its smoky and earthy flavors, this wine from the Western Cape in South Africa is the perfect pairing for barbecues and tailgates. The wine from Douglas Green is 60% Pinotage and 40% Shiraz. Intense tobacco, leather and wood smoke aromas and flavors are supported nicely by black cherry, boysenberry and plum. Silky tannins give the wine a smooth mouthfeel, and the finish is satisfying with lingering dark berry and mocha.
$10, 13% alcohol by volume
Dead Bolt Winemaker’s Red Blend 2011
Juicy and jammy, this wine can warm you up as the temperature drops. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Shiraz from California by Australian winemaker Philip Laffer. Black plum, baked cherries and sweet tannins make for a bold first impression. This is followed by a silky finish that has a touch of nutmeg. From the flashy label to the full flavor, this wine is anything but shy.
Earlier this month Kobrand Wine & Spirits brought its Tour d’Italia to the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead. Winery owners and winemakers shared their latest releases with members of the wine trade and media.
Among the many delicious wines there were a number of standouts. Take a look at the AG’s picks in the snapshots below (click to enlarge), and look for them at wine shops and restaurants in the Atlanta area.
Piedmont (Northwest Italy) — Michele Chiarlo Veneto (Northeast Italy) — Masi Agricola Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Northeast Italy, east of Veneto) — Fernando Pighin & Figli Tuscany (Central Italy, on western side) — Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, Tenute Silvio Nardi
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association Reports on the 2013 Harvest
By Monty and Sara Preiser
Most of those receiving our column do not have the opportunity to read press releases periodically sent out by the varying industry trade associations. One of the most interesting groups on an ongoing basis is the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. Rather than babble and self- congratulate like some other associations, the NVG puts out facts that keep us reading and instruct us on the state of the vine, so to speak. Below are excerpts from the August 7, 2013 press release as sparsely edited by us, but only for ease of reading.
The Napa Valley harvest, which is now underway, is forecast to be of average yield but high quality. Medium rainfall levels, a warm spring, and a heat wave in late June/early July, are producing smaller berries and loose clusters – signals of high quality. Valley-wide, harvest is taking place 10 to 14 days earlier than 2012.
Though rainfall has been average for the season, minimal rain and a warm spring forced grape growers to use a variety of viticultural practices to mitigate heat damage, including:
• Early spring irrigation and, during the heat wave, afternoon watering. The latter was accomplished by micro-sprinkling and pulse watering to allow careful water management.
• Less canopy management (allowing natural shade and dappled sunlight), and the use of shade cloth to protect the grapes in their early growth stages.
• Early “suckering” (a “sucker” is a clone of the mother plant that grows from a root far from the plant’s base) to remove unwanted growth.
July 2013 was the warmest Napa July since 2003.
April 2013 was seven degrees warmer than 2012. It was almost as warm as 1997, which produced a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon vintage.
The weather helped cause much uniformity throughout the growing season (uniform bloom and uniform harvest), which is key to a good vintage.
Demand for Napa Valley Grapes:
2012 harvest value was over $650 million.
2012 average ton was valued at $3,500.
2012 average ton of Cabernet Sauvignon was valued at $5,000.
There is a worldwide concern following the discovery of “Red Blotch,” a virus that appears to reduce the Brix levels of infected vines. Napa Valley grapegrowers, ever vigilant (our comment) test for the virus before planting to ensure they are planting “clean” vines.
Current replanting echoes the replanting of the 1980s, forcing a decrease in supply in the short term.
Demand for Napa Valley grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, remains high. All 2013 grapes have been sold.
Many vineyards are equipping vineyard managers and supervisors with iPads, which allows broad sharing of information, once held only by vineyard senior staff and the winemaking team; the iPad’s camera to send immediate, geo-tagged photos of areas of concern, which then allowing immediate action; and fun pictures, like a major brand delivery truck getting ‘stuck’ in a vineyard.
There were minimal shortages this spring. In fact, labor shortages are being eliminated since grape growing is now a nearly year round enterprise.
Napa is the only county in California to assess all growers. The money raised has been used to build three farmworker centers, where individuals benefit from lodging, meals, laundry, and recreational amenities.
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers Farmworker Foundation (the only one of its kind in the nation) has educated over 4,000 farmworkers through programs stressing quality in the vineyard, safety, and personal success tools such as financial advice and information on various community services.
Our final comment: Everyone out here is already salivating over the 2012 vintage, and it looks as if we may get a stunner right on its heels.
It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.
Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.
Driving along the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, you can’t miss Chimney Rock’s bright white Cape Dutch-style estate. Though the building was influenced by architecture in South Africa (where the original owner worked as an executive at Pepsi Cola), the wine has always been true to place.
“Our wine should paint a picture of the appellation,” said Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock’s winemaker. Elizabeth visited Atlanta in June and shared the winery’s history and a taste of their current releases.
Hack and Stella Wilson purchased what was then the Chimney Rock golf course in 1980. They dug up the first nine holes with the ideal of making small production, high quality estate-grown wine. Today Chimney Rock is owned by the Terlato family who, in partnership with the Wilsons in 2001, dug up the second nine holes to plant more vines. Elizabeth joined as winemaker in 2002.
Chimney Rock’s focus is on red wine, Bordeaux varieties in particular. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a small amount of Malbec are grown on their Stags Leap District estate. Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris are grown just north in Rutherford. The goal is to grow the best fruit possible. To achieve this Elizabeth is very active in the vineyards, pruning vines and monitoring the grapes’ growth.
Elizabeth’s passion for wine and winemaking is clear when she speaks about Chimney Rock. “I think about this as abstract art,” she said, “because it’s about shape, about texture.”
The artistry comes in once the grapes have been harvested – blending the grapes, stirring the lees and determining the use of oak – to produce high quality wines that capture the essence of the Stags Leap District.
“I think there’s an honesty to our wines. We want to be truthful to the vintage and place.”
With the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Elizabeth aimed to showcase the purity of the fruit. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, and did not spend time in oak or undergo malolactic fermentation. There was some stirring of the lees to give the wine a more creamy mouthfeel.
You won’t find grassy notes in this wine. The 2012 Chimney Rock Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and lively, with crisp flavors of stone fruit, white peach and golden pear.
Rich, lush and layered are the adjectives that come to mind when describing the 2010 Elevage Blanc. The Bordeaux-style white wine is a blend of 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Sauvignon Gris. New and used French oak as well as lees stirring were used to enhance the flavors and texture.
The Elevage Blanc is wonderfully aromatic and velvety smooth. Mouth-filling flavors of white apricot, nectarine and lemon meringue are layered with white flowers, chamomile and a hint of vanilla. This is a wine that can age for an additional five to fifteen years.
Elizabeth’s objective with the 2009 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon was to show off Stags Leap District fruit. The wine spent 18 to 20 months in French oak barrels, and has a small percentage of Merlot.
The 2009 Chimney Rock Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon is intense yet refined. Aromas of black cherry introduce a palate of ripe dark fruit. Blackberry, cassis and plum mix with sweet cedar and vanilla. It’s smooth and supple in the mouth, and culminates in a satisfying finish with lingering berry notes.
While the Stags Leap District Cabernet is all about the fruit of the AVA, the 2010 Elevage is all about the texture, according to Elizabeth. The proprietary red is a blend of 56% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot (the percentages of grapes vary each year in both the Elevage and Elevage Blanc). The wine was aged in 100% new oak barrels from Burgundy, selected because they impart more elegance to the wine.
The 2010 Elevage is a wine to plan your meal around. Soft, velvety smooth and sophisticated, it’s the most feminine of Chimney Rock’s red wines. The Elevage has delicate flavors of cassis, blackberry and boysenberry, woven together with layers of black pepper, black tea and vanilla. Big tannins are balanced by the wine’s acidity. Ending with a long finish, the Elevage is a pleasure to sip. This wine can age for an additional 8 to 10 years.
A wine tasting starts with the eyes – a look at the bottle label or the name on a restaurant’s wine list. A look at the name and label of a Colliano wine may lead you to incorrectly guess the wines are from Italy.
You’re right to think that Colliano could be Italian. The grapes are grown a stone’s throw away from the northeastern border, in Slovenia. These neighboring wine regions – Collio in Italy and Goriška Brda in Slovenia – grow the same grape varieties and have a similar Mediterranean climate, as well as the low rounded hills that give the regions their names. “Colli” and “brda” are the Italian and Slovenian words for hills.
Now that the region has been demystified, you’ll find that the wines of Colliano are just as approachable. Made from mostly familiar grape varieties, the two whites and a red are easy to drink and food-friendly.
The 2011 Colliano Ribolla Gialla is made entirely from Ribolla Gialla (also called Rebula), a white wine grape that is indigenous to this border region. Its taste and acidity will appeal to fans of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, with flavors similar to a dry Riesling adding complexity. The palate is a mix of lemon, grapefruit, white peach and orange peel, with a hint of vanilla and cedar. The finish is crisp and dry, with lingering notes of unsweetened wildflower honey. Pair the Colliano Ribolla Gialla with salads, white fish or shellfish.
The 2011 Colliano Cuvee White is a blend of 40% Ribolla Gialla, 30% Chardonnay and 30% Sauvignonasse (a white wine grape that despite the name, is not related to Sauvignon Blanc). The flavors of the Ribolla Gialla are balanced out nicely by the round Chardonnay, with Sauvignonasse adding acidity. The wine has notes of Meyer lemon, white apricot, golden apple and white flowers. Malolactic fermentation and oak aging give the wine added finesse and a creamy yet supple mouthfeel. Pair the Colliano Cuvee white with grilled white meats, fish, pastas or cream-based dishes.
The 2011 Colliano Cuvee Red is a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend with the freshness of a New World wine. Flavors of cherry, plum and red currant are layered with violet and subtle cedar. Acidity from the Cabernet Franc adds texture and structure. This is a wine to enjoy with food – pair the 2011 Colliano Cuvee Red with grilled steaks, roasted chicken, game meat or semi mature cheese.
As an added bonus, these Slovenian wines are wallet-friendly, costing approximately $15 a bottle.
Enjoyable to sip, great with food and a price tag of less than $20, Colliano wines from Slovenia are ready for the spotlight.
“Reinventing Chile” is more than just a tagline for De Martino. It’s both a mission statement and a vision – to produce wines that are not just exceptional for Chile, but truly world-class.
“We want to show people that Chile can produce exciting wines,” said export director Guy Hooper, who visited in Atlanta in March.
De Martino was founded in 1934 by Pietro De Martino Pascualone who came to Chile’s Maipo Valley from Italy. De Martino is still family owned and operated; today the third and fourth generations of the family work in the winery.
De Martino is committed to the environment. They began organic farming in 1998, and were certified organic in 2000. In 2009 they became the first carbon-neutral winery in Latin America.
The grapes for De Martino wines come from their 740 acres in the Maipo Valley as well as other locations in Chile. In their aim to produce the best wine, the winemaking team has sought out the best conditions for each grape. The Chardonnay comes from the Limarí Valley, a cool climate region approximately 12 to 14 miles from the Pacific that has similar soil to Chablis. The mild to warm climate of the Maipo Valley is best suited for Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Syrah comes from the rocky soil of the Choapa Valley, located at 2,500 feet above sea level. Click the map to enlarge.
“Limarí is the future of Chilean Chardonnay,” said Guy, pouring a taste of the 2011 Legado Reserva Chardonnay. Clean, pure and authentic, the wine has elegant citrus and white flower notes. The use of older oak barrels softens out the acidic edges but does not overwhelm the crisp fruit flavors (half of the wine spent 8 to 9 months in used French oak barrels). This is an ideal Chardonnay for those who have gotten tired of the over-oaked trend.
De Martino achieves its goal to produce world-class wines with its Carmenere, as befitting the signature grape of Chile (De Martino was actually the first Chilean winery to export Carmenere).
Love Carmenere or never tasted it? These wines are for you.
The 2011 Estate Carmenere has spice and black pepper aromas, with flavors of ripe cherry, gentle tannins and a touch of sage and sweet oak on the smooth finish. The 2010 Legado Reserva Carmenere has notes of black cherry, boysenberry and black pepper. It’s velvety smooth in the mouth, with well-balanced acidity and restrained tannins that make it a great pairing with grilled meats.
De Martino’s Cabernet Sauvignon shows just how well this grape is suited for the Maipo Valley. The 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is fresh and fruit-forward with flavors of boysenberry, black currant and a touch of bell pepper. Forty percent of the wine spent 4 to 5 months in used French oak barrels, which adds an extra layer of complexity.
The grapes for the 2010 Legado Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon came from two vineyards – one with colluvial soil and one with alluvial soil. The first produces grapes that add intense flavors and aromas to the wine, while the second adds finesse and freshness. The Legado Reserva spent 12 months in used French barrels. This wine has flavors of black cherry, fig and mocha, with an elegant structure that makes it easy and pleasing to drink.
Great care was taken in the vineyards to ensure the grapes would not burn or over-ripen, to make sure that the wine would not have too high an alcohol content. The Chardonnay, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon are 13.5% alcohol by volume.
Guy ended the tasting with the impressive 2010 Legado Reserva Syrah. Reinvent Chile this wine does – whereas Syrah is generally grown in the warmer Colchagua Valley, the grapes for De Martino’s Syrah come from the Choapa Valley in northern Chile. Located in the Andes Mountains at Chile’s narrowest point, the Choapa Valley is dry and rocky. It gets an average of 4.5 inches of rain per year, versus the Colchagua Valley’s 23.2 inches. This results in a lower yield of high quality, high acidity grapes.
The Legado Reserva Syrah is supple and elegant, with flavors of plum, blackberry and cherry, and the faintest hint of vanilla from 14 months of aging in used French oak barrels. This wine exemplifies how world-class Chilean wine can be.
De Martino’s focus is not just on producing premium wines – it’s on producing wines that are a good value. Most of De Martino’s wines (including the wines in this article) are in the $10 to $20 range. All are intended to pair easily with food. Look for De Martino wines at grocery stores, wine shops and restaurants.
Big in flavor but not in price, Clos LaChance wines are easy to drink and can be enjoyed at a variety of occasions.
Located in San Martin, in the northern part of California’s Central Coast, Clos LaChance is family owned and operated. Bill and Brenda Murphy focus on creating wines of distinction using sustainable winegrowing practices and a mix of modern winemaking technology and old world philosophy.
The grapes come from 150 acres of estate vineyards in San Martin and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc is 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Semillon. Fresh and floral, this white wine has flavors of lemon, lime, white grapefruit and white peach, with a hint of sweet honeysuckle and subtle grassy undertones. Gentle acidity gives the wine a pleasing mouthfeel, and the finish is clean and refreshing. Enjoy the Clos LaChance Sauvignon Blanc as an aperitif or with salads, white fish, shrimp or spicy dishes. ($11, 13.9% alcohol by volume)
The 2010 Estate Zinfandel includes 11% Petit Sirah. The wine was aged for 14 months in 20% new American oak barrels.
Ripe berries dominate on the nose and palate. Flavors of blackberry, cherry and boysenberry are complemented by a touch of white pepper and thyme, with lingering spice on the smooth finish. Pair the Clos LaChance Zinfandel with grilled meats, barbecue or pizza. ($15, 15% alcohol by volume)
The 2009 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon includes 12% Malbec and 2% Merlot. The wine spent 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels and 5% new American oak barrels.
Bright and fruit-forward, this wine has flavors of black plum, blackberry, cherry and raspberry. Layers of cedar and tobacco add depth. Well-integrated tannins give the wine a velvety mouthfeel, and the finish is soft with a lingering hint of vanilla. Pair the Clos LaChance Cabernet Sauvignon with beef, lamb, hamburgers or grilled or roasted red meats. ($15, 13.8% alcohol by volume)
Regular readers know that the Amateur Gastronomer is a fan of Riesling from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. But how do their red wines taste? We were invited to find out in a virtual tasting, sipping the wines while learning about them via a live online broadcast. As we discovered, French grapes and Bordeaux-style blends fare quite well, and some lesser-known grapes stand out.
Watch the winery representatives talk about the wines below:
The first wine was the 2011 Blackbird from Silver Thread Vineyard. The sustainably farmed vineyard was established in 1982 and purchased by Paul and Shannon Brock in 2011.
The Blackbird is a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot. Each variety was harvested, fermented and aged separately; the wine spent 8 months aging in French and American oak barrels that had an average age of 6 years.
Though 2011 was a difficult year – it rained 70% of the days in September and October – owner Shannon Brock said they were still able to harvest good quality grapes.
The 2011 Blackbird was light to medium bodied, with flavors of raspberry, tart blackberry and a hint of spice on the smooth finish. Because older oak barrels were used there is not a lot of noticeable oak – a technique winemaker Paul Brock used to emphasize the fruit and vineyard character. ($22, 12.5% alcohol by volume)
The second wine was the 2007 Optimus from Swedish Hill Winery. The Peterson Family began planting grapes in 1969 to sell to other wineries, and started making their own wine in 1985. Today Swedish Hill is one of the largest wineries in the Finger Lakes region.
The 2007 Optimus is a blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged in small oak barrels for one year.
Unlike 2011, 2007 was a great growing year, which came through in the lush cherry and red currant flavors in the wine. A hint of vanilla and black pepper added finesse, and the finish was soft and satisfying. ($25, 13.2% alcohol by volume)
The third wine was the 2010 Cabernet Franc from Heron Hill Winery. Heron Hill planted its first grapes in 1972 and produced its first vintage in 1977.
The Cabernet Franc contains around 10% percent Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. As winemaker Bernard Cannac explained, it is a field blend, as that is how the vines are planted. The grapes were fermented together and the wine spent 14 months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.
Fresh berries abounded on the nose and palate, with flavors of cherry, raspberry and cranberry layered with cedar, tobacco, violet and herbs de Provence. Good acidity and supple tannins gave the wine a silky and upbeat mouthfeel. ($25, 12.5% alcohol by volume)
Next came the 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve from Damiani Wine Cellars. Winemaker Lou Damiani and grower Phil Davis started the winery in 2004. This wine is a standout for Damiani Wine Cellars, which makes single vineyard and single variety wines only in exceptional years.
This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc from Lou’s home vineyard of one acre. Twenty percent of the wine spent 3 months in new American oak, then 6 months in French oak barrels that were one year old.
The Cabernet Franc had mouth-filling flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and blueberry jam, with gentle notes of spice and an elegant finish with lingering vanilla. ($43, 13.9% alcohol by volume)
The fifth wine was the 2010 Lemberger from Rooster Hill Vineyards. Lemberger is another name for Blaufränkisch, a red wine grape grown throughout Central Europe, most notably in Austria. A number of Finger Lakes wineries produce wine from this grape. Lemberger is similar in taste and in style to Pinot Noir, Gamay or light-bodied Merlot.
Amy and David Hoffman opened Rooster Hill Vineyards ten years ago. Their Lemberger is made from estate-grown fruit, and aged 21 months in 100% French oak barrels. Light bodied and reddish-purple in color, this wine had flavors of red and black cherry, sweet strawberry and freshly-ground black pepper, with a touch of baked fig on the finish. ($25, 12.4% alcohol by volume)
The sixth wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir from Atwater Estate Vineyards. The 80 acre vineyard dates back to the early 1900s and was purchased in 1999 by Ted Marks.
The wine is 100% Pinot Noir, made with grapes that are grown on Dijon and Beaujolais clones. The wine spent 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 10% were new.
From the first sip, the Atwater Pinot Noir was a really lovely wine. It was more Burgundian in style and flavor (rather than Californian), with notes of Bing cherry and raspberry. Subtle cedar and sandalwood flavors emerged as the wine had time in the glass. The texture was velvety smooth, the finish soft and satisfying. ($17, 12.5% alcohol by volume)
The seventh wine was the 2011 Essence from Hector Wine Company. This winery is a little less than three years old, and opened during the 2010 harvest. It is owned and operated by viticulturalist Jason Hazlitt and winemaker Justin Boyette.
The 2011 Essence is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. The wines were aged separately in small oak barrels for 10 to 12 months, then blended and bottled.
After tasting the Bordeaux blends it was interesting to see how Syrah can give a red blend added oomph. Aromas of red berries and black pepper introduced flavors of red cherry, plum, and violet, with a hint of baking spices on the silky smooth finish. ($25, 12.5% alcohol by volume)
The virtual tasting ended on a high note, with an unusual wine from McGregor Vineyard. Their 2008 Black Russian Red is a blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni. These grapes originate from Eastern Europe; Saperavi is a main grape used to make wine in the country of Georgia, and Sereksiya Charni is an obscure variety from Moldova.
The McGregor family established their vineyard in 1971. They planted what John McGregor called “oddball” vinifera grapes to see what would work; through trial and error they found out which grapes did best in the Finger Lakes’ climate.
The Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni grapes were harvested by hand. After undergoing fermentation and malolactic fermentation the wine spent 26 months in American oak barrels.
In tasting the Black Russian Red you can almost visualize winemaker Jeff Dencenburg taking these rugged Eastern European grapes and taming them through the fermenting and barrel-aging process. The wine was dark purple in color, with aromas of blackberry and plum. These flavors expanded on the palate, with layers of boysenberry, red and black currant and sweet oak. Smooth tannins gave the wine a velvety mouthfeel. The finish was long with a lingering hint of vanilla. ($54, 12.4% alcohol)
Some final conclusions after tasting these red wines from the Finger Lakes:
• In these light to medium-bodied wines, the flavors of the grapes stand out. Good acidity makes them food friendly, and the moderate alcohol and low oak exposure don’t overwhelm the delicate flavors.
• There are talented winemakers right now in the Finger Lakes who know when and how to blend multiple grapes to produce the best wines.
• 2010 seems to have been a standout year for Finger Lakes wines, and winemakers say 2012 was a good year as well – look for wines from these vintages.
• Don’t think that Finger Lakes wines are all white or sweet – the red wines are well worth a taste!