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SommSelect’s “Explore 4” surveys the vast landscape of wine and breaks it into small, digestible bites. Each month, we select four bottles that fit a theme, allowing members to experience a diversity of styles while developing their own palate preferences. It’s an ongoing exploration of wine through a sommelier’s eyes and there’s no more effective, and enjoyable, way to learn about wine.
In this edition of the Explore 4, we check in on New York State’s Finger Lakes region. For many wine lovers, this remote region exists only in the abstract, but anyone who has visited retains the indelible images of a world-class winegrowing terroir: vineyards climb steep slopes that rise from the banks of some of the deepest freshwater lakes in the US.
Home to some of the most highly acclaimed American-made Riesling with an ever-growing array of cool-climate specialties—sparkling, white, red, and sweet wines. Here is what is in the box:
Empire Estate, Blanc de Blancs Brut MV
This sparkler is sourced from 11 different vineyards around Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka Lakes—the three key lakes of the region in terms of high-quality wine production. Crafted from 100% Riesling in the Charmat (tank) Method, the wine is assembled lot-by-lot (i.e. fruit from each vineyard is vinified on its own), with some lots fermenting in stainless steel and some in neutral oak barrels. There is more textural heft to this sparkling Riesling than is typically found in a German sekt, yet there is still plenty of racy acidity giving it the appropriate amount of nerve and “cut.” We tasted it alongside some grower Champagnes and it acquitted itself well!
Ravines, Estate Dry Riesling 2020
Winemaker Morten Hallgren and his wife, Lisa, herself a trained chef, founded Ravines in 2001, their winery and tasting room is situated on the eastern shore of Keuka Lake, in Hammondsport, and is home to their 59-acre White Springs Vineyard, a steep-sloping, east-facing parcel in soils of loam over limestone. This flagship “estate” Riesling is crafted in a resolutely dry style, using fruit from both Keuka and Seneca Lake vineyards.
Keuka Lake Vineyards, Vignoles 2021
Along with stalwarts such as Riesling and Pinot Noir, Keuka Lake is perhaps the benchmark producer of Vignoles, an obscure hybrid variety which has maintained a stronghold in the Finger Lakes (there are about 100 acres planted in total). The small-berried, thick-skinned white can be fashioned into both sweet and dry wines and is known for its exotic aromas and viscous texture. The estate is situated on Keuka Lake, with vineyards wrapping around the southern end of the lake in Hammondsport.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard & Winery, Seneca Lake “Field Red” 2021
The Hermann J. Wiemer vineyards extend over 90 acres on the western slopes of Seneca Lake, and their holdings include some of the very first Riesling and Chardonnay vineyards to have been planted in the region. Sourced from an assortment of parcels on the west side of Seneca lake, this red is not just a blend but a “co-ferment” (i.e. all its component grapes are fermented together) of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Blaufränkisch. The wine, aged only in steel, is a juicy, forward style meant to be consumed young.