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Wine: Can New York Rieslings age, too?

Can Riesling age? Of course! you say. Anyone who has tasted an old spatlese from the Mosel or trockenbeerenauslese from the Rheingau knows that Riesling can age spectacularly. But what if I directed your attention away from Germany to a younger wine region that is building a modest name for itself with the grape -- say, perhaps, the Finger Lakes in upstate New York? Would you be so quick to answer?

We tend to think of white wines as designed for early consumption, when they are fresh and vibrant. And New York's finest Rieslings are delightful upon release, so most probably don't linger in collectors' cellars. But winemakers tend to be nerdy about such things, so when I visited the Finger Lakes earlier this year, I had the pleasure of experiencing two vertical tastings of several vintages with the winemakers.

The first was Peter Bell, the talented winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, on the northwestern side of Seneca Lake. Bell poured nine wines. Five were dry -- starting with the 2008 Reserve and going back through dry Rieslings from 2007, 2006, 2003 and 2001. The 2008 Reserve was rich and focused, showing the lime flavor and bracing acidity that is increasingly defining the Finger Lakes signature for Riesling. The 2007, from a hot year, seemed more advanced and petrolly, a characteristic Deutchophiles would appreciate. The 2001 had turned tropical, exhibiting mango, orange and pineapple flavors.

Bell's second flight featured four sweeter wines, including the delicious Fox Run Riesling 2008, which I recommended in yesterday's column. This was followed by the 2006 Reserve and the 2004 and 2001 Rieslings. (Like most Finger Lakes wineries, Fox Run makes several Rieslings with varying levels of sweetness. Fortunately, Fox Run and many others have begun indicating the sweetness levels on the label.) The sugar helped these wines age; my favorite was the exotic 2004, while the '01 had taken on an appealing nutty character.

The second tasting occurred a few days later over dinner at Red Newt Cellars, a winery and bistro combination located in Hector, on Seneca Lake's east side. Red Newt is the creation of the talented husband-and-wife team of David and Debra Whiting -- he makes the wine, while she helms the bistro with fresh, locally sourced food. (Debra made her reputation with cheesecake, so save room for dessert.)

Over dinner for about two dozen paying guests, David Whiting served three vintages of his Reserve Riesling, 2008, 2006 and 2003. "These were the best three vintages of the last 10 years, and also the coolest," he said. Of those vintages, 2008 was slightly warmer and produced a softer, more supple wine, while 2003, the coolest, yielded a more austere wine. In true Goldilocks fashion, I preferred the '06, which was spicy, citrusy, fat and luscious.

So if you find some older New York Rieslings in your cellar, don't despair. They might be settling in for the long haul.

-- Dave McIntyre

By Dave McIntyre  | September 30, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags:  Dave McIntyre, wine  
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