Wines In Niagara

A local perspective

Tag: sake

Masaki Sushi — A taste of Japan in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara food

By Michael Lowe

The dining landscape in Niagara-on-the-lake has taken a notably Asian turn. Masaki Sushi, now about a year old, seems to already have a base of local followers. Continue reading

A journey to Finger Lakes: Part II

Beginning Note: How lucky can a guy get? On Day Two of Tastecamp, a bloggers’ tweetup of sorts with the Fingers Lakes wine region as our destination, I never thought a useless piece of trivia, imbedded in my mind at a very young age, would ever amount to anything but grief and gut-wrenching shock and horror at what has gone so terribly wrong. But, as our rather large and intrepid group of wine writers, bloggers, videographers, photographers, foodies and wine lovers gathered for an extensive tasting at Fox Run Vineyards, perched on the stunning shores of Seneca Lake, winemaker Peter Bell wanted to test the minds of those who had come to taste his wines.

Sam Argetsinger vineyard.

Riesling is king in the Sam Argetsinger vineyard.

It would be a skill-testing question and, for the person who came up with the answer first, a nice bottle of Fox Run 2005 Port-style wine from an older vintage would be theirs. The first question, wine related, was far too difficult for us so Peter searched deep into his brain for something certainly nobody would know: “Who can tell me the last year the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup?”

Well, instinctively, I jumped to my feet and blurted out the answer that weighs heavily of every Leaf fan’s mind: “1967.” Peter, obviously not a long-suffering Leaf fan like me, immediately said that was wrong and I quietly sat down, confident that 1967 was correct but not willing to press it. Peter, who lived in Toronto a while back, had for some reason thought the Loafs won in 1968. A bit of Googling in the crowd helped him refresh his memory, and a great bottle of Port now rests in my cellar back in Niagara to be enjoyed next year when the Leafs win the Cup (yeah, right).

Yes, Day Two of Tastecamp, a fabulous wine-tasting adventure organized by Lenn Thompson and Evan Dawson from the New York Cork Report, was another wild day of tasting, eating, walking through vineyards, trivia (I’m king of the world!), and a BYOW dinner and boat tasting free-for-all that was all together one heck of a fantastic day. Here’s my Day Two blog post:

•••

8:30 a.m. comes quickly after a late night but it was highly anticipated as some of us got to visit the very vineyard where Ravines Wine Cellars sources grapes for its single-vineyard Riesling. Argetsinger Vineyards is about a 40-minute drive from Watkins Glen, where we were staying. It’s a beautiful jaunt around Seneca Lake in the brilliant morning sun.

Sam Argetsinger showing off his vineyard.

Sam Argetsinger showing off his vineyard.

We arrive and are greeted by Sam Argetsinger, a colourful character and a down-to-earth man who should have been born into the Iroquois nation as he recites stories about Mother Earth and her relationship with his vineyards.

When he gathers us around him to tell the story about Thundering Voices, appropriate after a hellish storm the night before, we listen and believe him when he says the Creator had it out with Mr. Thunder one day and finally decided (after some divine persuasion) they could work together for the good of the people who would one day all live together in harmony (OK, it was something like that). Fact is, as we walked through his spectacular vines, that look straight down into Seneca Lake, we could feel Mother Nature all around us. You got the feeling that Argetsinger is just a caretaker of the land, here to nurture vines so that others (like us!) have some great wine to enjoy.

Which is just what we did. Following our brisk vineyard walk, Morten Hallgren, owner/winemaker of Ravines, which buys all five acres of riesling grown on the property and bottles it as a single-vineyard wine, showed up with some nice morning frittata and a bottle of Ravines Argetsinger Riesling 2007. Never has a frittata gone so beautifully with a riesling as the sun beat down in the quiet stillness of this amazing vineyard. It was a beautiful beginning to another day in the Finger Lakes.

Morten Hallgren.

Ravines winemaker Morten Hallgren pours some morning riesling.

Some notes on Argetsinger Vineyard:

• Started growing grapes in 1870
• Mostly riesling planted but also chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and some hybrids
• Hallgren purchases all the riesling

    •••

    With our bellies full of frittata and riesling we headed back to the other side of Seneca Lake to Fox Run Vineyards where a large walk-around tasting inside the winery awaited us before lunch and a full tasting of Fox Run wines.

    Here are some tasting highlights:

    Anthony Road Martini-Reinhardt Selection Riesling Berry Selection 2008 — It’s $65 for a half bottle, but well worth the dough. 60% of the fruit for this super-sweet wine is botrytised, which, for me, means wild honey notes on the nose to go with peach, mango and guava compote. It’s lush and layered on the palate with wave after wave of sweet fruit that finds some balance in the bright acidity. An exotic, thrilling wine.

    Fox Run tasting.

    Tastecampers enjoy a walkaround tasting at the Fox Run winery.

    Lamoreaux Landing Yellow Dog Vineyard Riesling 2009 — I enjoyed all the wines from Lamoreaux Landing. This one is perfectly balanced with pure grapefruit, lime and citrus on the nose that all follows to the palate, adding a touch of quince in a slightly off-dry style. The 09s from Finger Lakes are showing great, refreshing acidity, and the wines with a touch of residual sugar are more appealing to my palate.

    Red Newt Cabernet Franc Sawmill Creek Vineyard 2007 — Big cherry fruit with subtle spice notes on the nose of this elegantly styled red. Love the basket of red fruit flavours, oak and spice that work in harmony on the palate.

    •••

    Next we made our way down to the Fox Run tasting room for lunch and a vertical tasting of two very different styles of riesling.

    Fox Run, founded on the site on an old Dairy Farm, first planted vinifera grapes in 1985. The estate grapes thrive on glacial soils made of broken shale and sandy loam, which winemaker Peter Bell said gives the wines “a vibrant expression of terroir.”

    Fox Run.

    A nice photo from Fox Run provided by the winery.

    Our first tasting was a vertical of reserve riesling from the current 2008 vintage back to 2001. The reserve, the top riesling at Fox Run, is made from a single block of fruit at the top of the vineyard. Bell describes the 2008 style as a “truly electric” wine with plenty of acid zip, intense flavours and lengthy finish. The reserves are  generally finished dry, as are most top rieslings made in the Finger Lakes. A couple of highlights from the reserve tastings:

    Fox Run Vineyards Reserve Riesling 2008 — Notes of fresh-squeezed citrus, carambola, kiwi and just a hint of minerality at this stage. It’s firm and tight on the palate, promising big things in the future after the tangy-tart fruit integrates with the acidity. Very fine.

    Fox Run Vineyards Reserve Riesling 2001 — If this is how Finger Lakes rieslings taste with a little age, put some down in the cellar! A lovely golden colour with aromas of toast, petrol, lanolin, sweeter citrus and rounded nuances. It’s superb on the palate, tamed, round and totally enjoyable. This is why I love aged riesling.

    Tricia.

    Fox Run's assistant winemaker, Tricia, in this photo provided by the winery.

    And a couple of highlights from the semi-dry vertical tasting at Fox Run:

    Fox Run Semi-Dry Riesling 2008 — Great nose of fresh peach, quince and ripe tropical fruits. There’s a touch of orange/nectarine on the palate with subtle honey notes to go with rounded out citrus fruit.
    Fox Run Semi-Dry Riesling 2003 — The sweeter rieslings from Fox Run are quite interesting. The 03 has a mandarin orange nose with peach marmalade, citrus rind and honey notes. The palate reveals a raw petrol, almost lanolin/waxy note hidden in all that sweet, but balanced, fruit.

    •••

    Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard is a mecca of sorts for riesling aficionados. Quite simply put, Wiemer is synonymous with Finger Lakes riesling and if you don’t like what’s made here, you might as well just turn around and try another wine region.

    “Everything we do here is geared toward dry riesling,” Fred Merwarth, winemaker and vineyard manager, tells us as we settle in for a tasting in the tank room of the winery as a violent storm raged outside.
    The winery makes 12,000 cases of wine a year with 3,600 cases of dry riesling produced from 95% estate grown fruit on three vineyard sites that were first planted in 1973.

    Wiemer

    Note taking at Wiemer winery.

    Wines are made in very small lots with a focus on subtle differences between vineyard site blocks within vineyards and even clones within varieties. The resulting wines are magnificent. Here are some highlights.

    Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard 2008 — Definitely on my top 3 list of wines I enjoyed in the Finger Lakes over three days. An exquisite nose of quince, mineral and citrus. It’s a lot less severe and sharp-edged on the palate than some other rieslings tasted over the weekend with rounder peach and citrus fruit and an understated bead of minerality running through the core. Sensational!

    Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve 2008 — This is what Fred calls his “house style.” A nose that shows apple, lemon-lime and obvious wet-stone minerality. The acid is assertive on the palate resulting in mouthwatering flavours of citrus and green apples. Very nice balance showing already.

    Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve 2003 — From the famed Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, this is gorgeously aged riesling showing aromas of petrol, apple and citrus that’s all rounded out and balanced with juicy acidity on the palate.

    •••

    The formal part of our tastings were over for the day, but the wine wasn’t about to stop any time soon. So we piled into two buses and headed up the eastside of Seneca Lake for Tastecamp’s famed Bring Your Own Wine dinner, this time being held at the Stonecat Cafe featuring organic and regional cuisine.

    BYOW dinner.

    The carnage from the BYOW dinner.

    The idea of the dinner, aside from a fine meal, is that each guest brings a special bottle of wine to be enjoyed by everyone. Most people tend to bring regional wines from their home state or, in my case, Ontario. But wine lovers being wine lovers, many people brought three or four bottles of wine and soon regional wines are being upstaged by international blockbusters as bottles started overwhelming the meal and taking over the table.

    I had brought a Vineland Estate St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2008 and a Ravine Riesling 2008, both from Niagara, to compare two very different terroirs (bench and lake). Both wines were well received, with the St. Urban probably closer to the style of wine most of the bloggers assembled drank on a regular basis.

    Ravine is a stylistic wine made quite differently from the steely dry rieslings produced in the Finger Lakes.
    Now, after that much wine and food, one would think bed would be a welcome respite. But, nooooo. These people like to party. It was back to hotel, a splash of water on the face, and onward to a boat docked in Senaca Lake for phase two of the BYOW extravaganza. More wine flowed, more discussion about Finger Lakes wines and something quite extraordinary.

    Sake.

    The sake that blew us all away.

    Richard Auffrey, from Stoneham, MA, who blogs as the Passionate Foodie, has another passion, sake. The man loves his sake. And he was bound and determined to convert some wine lovers over to his elixir of choice.

    He brought along a Watari Bune Junmai Daiginio ($125 a bottle) made by the Huchu Homare Brewery in Ishioka. It blew me away. Such rich, smooth and subtle flavours of flowers and stone fruits that change with every sip. I couldn’t believe I was drinking sake. Definitely a memorable experience.
    Note: Day 3 of Finger Lakes will be posted soon.

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