Tonight I had the opportunity to taste through four Pinot Noir produced in the Finger Lakes district of up-state New York. I have to admit that this was the first time I tasted through any Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes - all of my previous experience being with Riesling, Chardonnay, Red blends of Cab Franc / Lemberger / Merlot, but really no Pinot Noir.
I was expecting wines to be lighter in color and probably lighter in flavors, and I was certainly wondering what the quality level would be with these wines. Even though the Finger Lakes has been growing grapes and making wine for many, many years, there is still a relatively young wine industry for world class wines such as Pinot Noir. But, having said that, there is the know-how and certainly the talent to make quality wines - the question just comes down (in my mind at least) to the climate and what it truly allows you to do (remember Pinot Noir is ultra finicky and very challenging to produce).
First observation is the packaging. These wines all carry very attractive labels - one of which (Atwater) is screened on rather than a paper label - and could easily sit in any Pinot Noir section in a retail shop. The Damiani label, which comes from a relatively young winery, looks like a thrown back label to the 60s or 70s (but I like it!), and the Ravines is very Sonoma. The Heart & Hand was my least favorite label (kind of boring), but they get points for using the Vino-Lock glass closure.
Second thing that struck me was the color of the wines as I poured them in the glasses. Each of these wines display classic ruby red color with good persist ency all the way to the rim. You can see through all of them (like most cool climate / quality Pinot), but the youthful color in each has good intensity, which was impressive.
Tasting through these wines I found the wine making in each to be sound, showing character of wines made in a very modern yet classic approach. Each wine had elegant fruit which was relatively youthful (especially in the Heart & Hand) balanced with good acidity and a bit of oak aging. I checked each producers website, but only found one (Heart & Hand) that described technical details of the wine making and elevage. My tasting suggests that each of these wines spent some time time in oak (probably all French) with a portion of the oak being new. This was confirmed only with the Heart & Hand which ages their Pinot Noir in French oak for 10 months - 23% of which is new. This is a fairly standard formula for Burgundy and the wines reflect this style.
Tasting through each wine presented a unique set of flavors and styles, but all within an acceptable range for I would consider to be classic cool climate Pinot Noir. My look at each winery website suggests that Pinot Noir is relatively young (at least in these vineyards) in the Finger Lakes as most of the wineries and wines seen to be less than 30 years and in a few cases only as much as about 12 or 13 years old. This is not a negative - in actuality I see it as a positive as the wines I tasted were of good quality and show that there is tremendous potential for this varietal in this region.
I found each of these wines displaying good balance of acid and tannins and fruit quality, again reflective of quality wine making. The style in these wines reminds me of village level Burgundy, and in fact I would find it somewhat challenging to really pull these out of a line-up if tasted blind against some Burgundy. These colors and flavors are not for the New World Pinot Noir lover. Anyone enamored with Russian River Valley or Willamette Valley Pinot Noir will take one look at these and dismiss them as being to light and lacking in intensity, when on the other hand someone who appreciates Burgundy and other cool climate Pinot Noir for their finesse and elegance will be taken quite easily with these wines.
Here are my notes / impressions of these four Pinot Noir:
Ravines Wine Cellars, Himrod, NY
Pinot Noir Finger Lakes, 2007
I tasted this one first and after going back through each wine several times, this is my favorite of the bunch. It displays great fruit and acid balance with depth and length of flavor. There is an underlying wood component that really pushed the red fruits forward but will develop more earthy notes and allow this wine to age well over the next 3-5 years. Great balance of deep fruit and length compliment the finish. I was impressed here and expected to find that there would be a higher price tag - winery retail $22.95
Atwater Estate Vineyards, Burdett, NY
Pinot Noir Finger Lakes, 2007
Taller bottle and a screened on label make for an impressive package. The wine was just a bit closed with respect for the fruit - it did open up after about an hour - but again there is an underlying wood component that suggests attentive wine making. This wine comes from three vineyards, which appear to be on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, one of the best micro-climates in the region. Some of these vineyards also appear to have been planted in the 1970s (although the website was not specific). Again I found good concentration of fruit and I could see this wine going for about 3-5 years, as well. Winery retail $18.00 / 458 cases made.
Heart & Hands Wine Company, Union Springs, NY
Pinot Noir Finger Lakes, 2008
This wine stood out a bit as there was definite lighter fruit component on the nose. My initial thoughts were that they used some carbonic maceration here - whole berry ferment? - which gives the wine its youthful, bubble-gum quality. In any event they have certainly captured the ripe strawberry / raspberry flavors of a young, cool climate Pinot Noir. There is a Vino-Lock seal on the bottle so there I am guessing that the wine making here is probably as attentive as they are to the packaging. I found this wine to be impressive and quite pleasant to drink, and I feel it would reward with a couple of years of bottle aging. Winery retail (only) $19.99 / 251 cases made.
Damiani Wine Cellars, Hector, NY
Pinot Noir Finger Lakes, 2008
This is the only wine that left me wondering. My initial thoughts, based on the presence of fine bubbles in the glass a overly chewy level of acidity and a very dry feel on the palate - was that there might be something off here. I also get this "heavy" feeling in my sinus after tasting this wine, and that only happens when I taste a wine that is a bit funky - usually with a bit of sulphur that needs to blow off. I have come back to this wine about 4 times over the course of two hours and I still get the same feel. Unfortunately so, because otherwise the wine seems to be well made with deeper fruit than the other three and a finish that is darker and more intense / rustic that the first three. I think that I would like to see another bottle, but it does appear to be a sound wine. Winery retail $25.00 / 221 cases produced.