Friday, January 21, 2011

What's In The Bottle: 2006 Reserve Riesling

We’ve been discussing this wine quite a lot recently, because we’re tasting our 2010 Rieslings, and are wondering if Riesling 6 will merit our Reserve designation.  
Unanimously at Fox Run, we agree that in order to be called “reserve”, a particular wine or blend has to be more than unique and of particularly high quality; it has to say something about Fox Run.  That is, our reserve wines are incarnations of our wine fantasies—they are the epitomization of our ideal Fox Run Vineyards’ wines.
In the case of Riesling, we are talking about aroma complexity, the coexistence of intensity and delicacy, silky mouthfeel, and most importantly:  balance.  We’re not talking about garden-variety balance here.  Simple harmony is not enough—we want a racy undercurrent which doesn’t compete with the rest of the wine, but manages to support it, and to lend an edge without compromising deliciousness.
Is it a tall order?  You betcha.  But we’re talking about fantasy, remember?  And so while Fox Run has produced beautiful Rieslings year after year, we’ve only called three of them “reserve”.  
Our first reserve Riesling declared itself in 2005.  It was extremely dry and gossamer.  Ethereal lime was softened by wisps of nectarine and mango.  It was a mineral-driven beauty in what is unofficially dubbed the “Finger Lakes Style”.
Rieslings in that Finger Lakes dry, flinty, austere and yes, Johannes, “elegant” style have captured the attention and admiration of serious wine lovers from all parts of the world.  
In 2006, we had to answer a difficult question:  can a reserve Riesling from the Finger Lakes be made in a semi-dry style?
The question was posed by the wine, really.
As is our custom, during vintage, at least one of us tasted every Riesling every day.  Riesling is a transparent wine—low quality grapes or inept winemaking will be painfully evident in the finished product, so we monitor Riesling fermentation health with helicopter-parent vigilance.    
During our daily Riesling reviews, we get to know the character of our various tanks of wine, lovingly referred to as “Riesling 1”, “Riesling 2”, “Riesling 3”, etc.  These aren’t quality designations, but references to time.  
Our vineyard spans approximately 58 acres, and is divided into patchwork blocks.  Each block is planted to several grape varieties, sometimes determined by the suitability of the site, sometimes determined by the need for more of a particular variety as the vineyard expanded to its current size.  
At harvest, each variety is picked at its appropriate time, one block at a time.  The grapes from each block are processed individually, and the resulting wines are kept separate until we are sure we know where the wine belongs:  is it semi-dry material?  Dry?  Reserve?   Our reds remain distinct wines until the following winter when we at last get them out of barrels.
The first block of any variety processed is called variety 1, and, not surprisingly, we go up from there.  
Despite the clinical names, we become intimately connected with these wines during vintage.   This is especially true of our Rieslings.  
The transformation these wines undergo as they mature from brand new baby to gawky teenager is really quite something.  We learn what flavors should cause concern—stalling fermentation?  Act immediately.  A hint of something Vaseline-like?  Well, that’ll turn into rock and smoke—gorgeous.  
When the fermentations have completed, we slow our monitoring.  We still taste all of the Rieslings, but on weekly or twice-weekly schedule.  At this stage, we’re assuring that the predictions we made during vintage are borne out.  And we’re looking for superstars.  
It was about this time in 2007 that I received an early-morning phone call from Peter.  He said, “I think I have found our Reserve, but I want to know what you think.”  I couldn’t wait to get to the winery.
When he showed me the wine, it was instantly clear:  this wine was extraordinary.  But, it was semi-dry.  We wondered if consumers would be confused by the switch from a dry to a semi-dry Reserve.  We wondered if a semi-dry Riesling would be an appropriate choice for a reserve Riesling from the Finger Lakes.  
We asked ourselves if the wine was delicious (yes), and complex (yes) and serious (yes).  Above all, it was a perfect semi-dry Riesling from Fox Run.  That made the decision easy. 
We reaffirmed that we weren’t making reserve wines for critics, but as a personal offering of our vision, rendering the question of appropriateness unimportant.  We couldn’t imagine a more brilliantly balanced, more delicious semi-dry wine.  
And we trusted consumers to understand the reason for the difference in styles from year to year, and to be excited about the expression of vintage in the various wines.  They did not disappoint us.  
Furthermore, the critics loved the wine as well, raving about its explosive flavors and poise, and proving that we alone are at risk of defining our Great Wine with narrow parameters.  
When the wine was bottled in the spring of 2007, it displayed a stunning mélange of apricot, mango and lime with a huge dose of juicy tangerine—a departure from Fox Run’s more typical range of flavors.  Our Rieslings tend to feature lime (juice or zest) and minerals with fleshier, tropical notes tucked in the background.  The rich orange notes here begged for a touch of sweetness and a supple mouthfeel, which were provided by the little bit of residual sugar we left in the wine.  Acid streaked through the lushness, enlivening the rich flavors and imparting true electricity.  It was stunning—that poise, that balance.   What a wine.  
So, tonight, I sit with a bottle before me, curious about the changes wrought within.  I’m pouring a glass, and will share my notes with you.
Nose:  lemongrass, peach, lime juice, bit of orange zest—vivid orange is no longer the dominant aroma.  Rich and golden with a touch of something green and fresh—clover and bay leaf—first signs of petrol?  River rock underneath it all.  Some aged Riesling character showing.  The fruit aromas no longer appear parade-style, one after the other—beautifully integrated and slightly muted.  Developing layers of vanilla nougat and toasted hazelnut and almond.  Entrancing.
Mouth:  Wow!  Acid still prominent.  Very fresh.  Mouthfeel is soft, but not the least bit flabby.  Ah, there’s that tangerine--burst of juicy orange and lime, plus some raspberry notes.  Age is more apparent on the nose than in the mouth.  Some hazelnut creeping in, plus some creaminess towards the finish.  Acid does not persist as long into the finish as I remember, but the flavors linger after the perception of acid fades.
Lucky me, that’s what’s In The Bottle tonight.  
I think I have some rice noodles, scallions, soy sauce, ginger, lime, bok choy and chicken in the kitchen, and I am predicting there’s a delicious food/wine pairing in my very near future.  The slight sweetness in the Riesling acts as a countermeasure to spicy heat, so I may brave a dash of sriracha—yum.
If you bought some of our 2006 Reserve Riesling, thanks, and I hope you held on to some—this baby’s aging beautifully.
We’ll keep our eye on Riesling 6; it’s got a tough act to follow, and we won’t compromise our vision.  As spring waxes, we’ll let you know if 6 will be a delicious component of our semi-dry Riesling, or if it’s destined to be a Superstar.  
By: Tricia Renshaw, Assistant Winemaker

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  1. After reading this, I felt compelled to revisit the blog of 12/22/10 where Peter shared both your and his descriptions of your various tanks of Riesling. Interesting that #6 didn't appear (to me) to stand out at that time. Is there a lesson there?

  2. Todd,

    That's a very good question. The fact is, Riesling 6 sometimes tastes distinctive and Reserve-worthy, and sometimes it doesn't, though it never shows as an uninteresting wine. We plan to keep an eye on it. Often Rieslings transform themselves in the late winter and early spring months. You will no doubt read about its fortunes in our blog.


  3. 2006 was one of the first vintages that I really tasted a wide array of Finger Lakes riesling and your reserve that year was a standout for me. A real "a-HA!" wine, really.

    At first I was surprised to find so much RS in a "reseve" bottling, but wow, the acidity was ripping and the fruit-to-stone balance screamed classic (or what I knew as classic at the time) Finger Lakes.

    I have a couple left in my cellar and I'm thinking it might be time to uncork one.