New York Wine Report 2: Heron Hill, Standing Stone, Cascata, Cascade Mountain & Brotherhood,

While I was happy to check out a couple of interesting new wineries at the Hunter Mountain Microbrew and Wine Fest on September 27 (see first report), I was equally pleased to see a few familiar faces: specifically, HERON HILL and STANDING STONE, two of the better vineyards from what could rightly claim to be New York’s premium wine-making region, the Finger Lakes, in the far northern reaches of the State.

The last time I tasted with HERON HILL, it was in their new tasting room on Seneca Lake. (Read that report, from 2006, here.) Interestingly, I found my notes from the Hunter Festival to be consistent with that last experience. The 2007 ECLIPSE WHITE (now a blend of 47% Chardonnay, 29% Pinot Blanc, and 24% Pinot Grigio) was again clean, precise, friendly and pure, with some bright apple flavors and refreshing minerality. The 2007 INGLE VINEYARD RIESLING, named for the winery’s premium, sustainably-operated vineyard west of Canandalgua Lake, was very very light in color but had really vibrant – I jotted down the word “fantastic” – apple flavors, with just the slightest (1.7%RS) hint of sweetness. At $13, this was an absolute bargain, and I’m not surprised to know that it’s won its share of awards. It is, however, but one of several different Rieslings turned out by wine-maker Thomas Laszlo, including a 2007 SEMI-SWEET RIESLING made, so I was led to believe, under duress, to satiate the tastes of those who can’t drink wine without a hefty dose of sugar. (That would, per my last post, include many of those in attendance at Hunter.) So forewarned, I didn’t imagine much liking this wine, but it was, I noted with damning faint praise, “actually quite pleasant,” and at $13, again well-priced.

Heron Hill’s other Rieslings include entry-level Dry and Semi-Dry Rieslings at similarly low prices and, just in case you think they’re a little too generous, a Late Harvest 2006 Ingle Vineyard Riesling at $50 and a 2003 Riesling Ice Wine (hand-harvested in Mid-December) at a stunningly expensive $100. You won’t be surprised to know that neither of these dessert wines were on pour at Hunter. There was, however, a 2007 VIDAL BLANC LATE HARVEST, 9.5% alcohol and 13.5% RS, a little more powerful than the 2005 version I tasted back at the winery. A caked pineapple and apricot aroma led into a luscious little with with a light and delicate finish, some sugar sticking amiably to the back palate. Pleasantly priced at $20.

Heron Hill Winery’s tasting room on Route 14 off on Seneca Lake. Photo taken from my visit to the FInger Lakes in late 2006.

Heron Hill produces a couple of Pinot Noirs each year and just introduced its first Blaufrankisch, both grapes that I believe can do well in the Finger Lakes with a good winemaker. Neither, sadly, were on pour at Hunter. Instead, I made do with the 2005 ECLIPSE RED, a roughly 50-50 blend of Long Island Merlot and Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. “Nice purple color and well-rounded plump taste,” I wrote, “but I’m not sure I actually like this more than (a similar blend from) Silver Stream.” I notice that it’s been reduced to just $14 online, at which price it’s another bargain. Based on the sole taste, my jury remains out on the reds, but I came away once again extremely impressed by Heron Hill’s whites.

Over to STANDING STONE, whose 2008 RIESLING, from limestone and shale soil, was much more golden in color than that of Heron Hill, offered up ripe pear flavors as well as good acidity. The 2.5% Residual Sugar was barely noticeable. OR, as the winery itself notes, “While the residual sugar says “semi dry” many are fooled into believing it is dry.” Highly satisfying to the pocket book, too, at just $14.

While talking to the pourer and recollecting my fondness for Standing Stone’s Cabernet Franc and my disappointment at visiting the winery on a wet November Saturday in 2005 only to find myself in the company of a bus full of drunken tourists, a bottle of 2007 CABERNET FRANC mysteriously emerged from behind the counter. (It was neither on the tasting sheet nor for sale). Purple in color, I got bell pepper and spice when I stuck my nose in the glass, but I found it a little light – “very modest” – on the palate, despite the oak ageing. That said, it was true to the varietal and not overwhelmed by the wood. $20.

Standing Stone’s 2006 PINNACLE RED is 80% dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that’s typically a disaster in the Finger Lakes (I’ve tasted some clunkers) but which appears to thrive in Standing Stone’s “Banana Belt” location. Certainly, and for all that there was some strawberry poking through – sometimes a sign of under-ripe Cab Sauvignon – this wine quickly belied its northern State roots, with blackcurrant flavors taking over and some cedar-tobacco elements rounding out a very smooth wine. I noted that it was, in some ways, more redolent of Cab Franc (of which there’s only 10% in the blend, the remaining being Merlot) than Cab Sauvignon. I’ll put that down to the cooler climate. Just 12.2% alcohol but most impressive in flavor, and more-than-fairly priced at $23.

The barrels at Standing Stone standing in front of the winery’s vineyards, and a misty Seneca Lake, back in November 2005.

Finally, the 2008 VIDAL ICE comes from grapes picked after “they have frozen several times,” but before they have frozen completely. (I.e., not as late in the season as those of Heron Hill.) Very very very golden in color, it exuded caramel and toffee flavors with honey, too, succulent on the palate with a waxy, sugary, marzipan finish. Both the Vidal and Vignoles grapes thrive in the Finger Lakes, reaching – especially in their Late Harvest and Ice Wine versions – a thrilling exuberance worthy of serious consideration. This was an exceptional wine and well worth its $25 tag.

Late in the afternoon, I stumbled (not drunkenly, I hasten to add) upon another Finger Lakes winery, one of which I’d somehow not noticed on previous visits to the region, despite its central location in Watkins Glen off of Seneca Lake. CASCATA WINERY was founded by a couple of college professors back in 1995, one of whom has subsequently passed away. I was highly impressed by both the “very vibrant fruit” in the 2008 DRY RIESLING and the “more orangey and spicey flavors” of the 2008 GEWURZTRAMINER, grapes grown in Seneca Lake if not necessarily by Cascata itself. (Though at $18, I can’t recommend the Riesling above those of Heron Hill or Standing Stone.) I then allowed myself to taste a 2007 RED BOUQUET comprised of Foch, Leon Millot and Baco Noir. “Very acidic” I noted before swiftly moving on.

And yet, should that sound like an indictment of red hybrid grapes, we should back up to CASCADE MOUNTAIN which, like its Hudson Valley neighbors Adair and Whytecliffe, is passionate about its hybrids, which appear to be so well-suited to the local soil. A VINTAGE SEYVAL BLANC, raised in stainless steel, is typically light in color with juicey grapefruit and grassy tones, like an early harvest Sauvignon Blanc. A lovely picnic wine. The PRIVATE RESERVE WHITE blends Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc, with some oak ageing although, I have to say, to lesser effect. The VINTAGE COUER DE LION is predominantly Foch with some Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend; I’ve been highly impressed by this in the past, feeling that it lives up to its Beaujolais-like ambitions, and was happy to see that the winery had sold out of it by late Sunday afternoon, if disappointed not to taste it agian. There was still some VINTAGE PRIVATE RESERVE RED, which I believe to be 60% Cab Sauvignon, 40% Foch, and oak-aged; it had a pleasing peppery element to balance out its strawberry-blackcurrant notes. While I recognize that the blending of classic vinifera with widely disparaged hybrid might appear blasphemous, do yourself the favor of tasting Cascade’s wines if you get the chance. Year in, year out, they do a great job.

This photo is even older, but the latest Cascade Seyval Blanc is as good as ever.

Passing over a handful of wineries that concentrate almost exclusively on fruit wines, I’ll conclude with those of BROTHERHOOD, which loves to announce itself as “America’s oldest winery.” Brotherhood makes such a wide assortment of wines, from grapes up and down the State including its own location south of Newburgh, that I tend to figure they can’t be any good, and yet they typically prove otherwise. The CARPE DIEM SPUMANTE, made from Moscato, had a delicious orange note, pronounced zest and proved itself a delightful little bubbly for just $13. The 2006 PINOT NOIR lays claim to being “Burgundian,” and while it has none of the ethereal subtlety of that region, its dark cherry flavors and full body demonstrate the ongoing potential for the grape in New York State (especially in the Finger Lakes, from which I believe these grapes came). And I’ve come to learn that Brotherhood does an excellent job with its CABERNET SAUVIGNON, grapes from Long Island, which in this 2006 example, was thin in color but strong in flavor, with good body, well-rounded texture and succulent dark fruit.

Thanks to Hunter Mountain for gifting me a couple of comp passes and enabling me to taste through such a variety of New York Wines, from Long Island to the Finger Lakes and back to our local Hudson Valley. Yes, there were a few that were bad, and a handful that were ugly (hot pepper-infused wines are beyond the limit of what I want to drink), but as those that I’ve concentrated on here hopefully confirm, there was no shortage of good wines either. Allowing that the best of New York State’s wineries were missing in action, consider these but the tip of the iceberg and, especially if you live in the Empire State, ask your local wine store to stock local wines – and buy them when you see them. Almost all the producers reviewed here care as deeply about their wine as any other farmer cares about his or her crop. As long as they’re planting the right grapes for the region, they have to chance to make great wine.

More on New York Wine at iJamming:
Long Island White Wines 2009 Tasting: Sauvignon Blanc, Blends excel
My visit to the Finger Lakes August 2006, here, here
and here
My visit to the Finger Lakes 2005 part 1, part 2; Best Case Scenario
New York W(h)ines part 1
New York W(h)ines part 2
Cabernet Franc in New York State

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