Monday, March 21, 2011

A Little Information Is A Dangerous Thing

by Dan Mitchell, Regional Sales Manager & Resident Wise Man

Wine questions can be tough to answer. For years I have harassed Peter for information and was sometimes frustrated when he would answer my question with "I can't tell you why". In retrospect he could tell me, of course he could, but what he was really saying was "the answer is so complicated you will only get confused with the answer". Agreed. I spent six years in the tasting room before making the transition to full time on the road. I answered a lot of questions myself in that time (with Peter's information) and learned a long time ago that the answer to most wine related questions is "It depends on the wine".

How long should I age wine before I drink it? It depends on the wine.

Should I chill wine or serve it at room temperature? It depends on the wine (and the room!).

Was it a good growing year? It depends in the wine.

This last question though comes up quite often. Taking a good look at, and taste of, our 2008 red wines has given me a new perspective on what to look for in a Finger Lakes growing season. Too often a growing season in many areas of the world is measured by the success of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, at least in consumers minds, and the Finger Lakes is no different. Two varieties. How strange that a region that so many discount as one that can't produce great reds receives extra criticism if the growing season is cool and wet. Cool weather in a cool climate region? Odd.

Just off the top of my shiny unburdened scalp I can think of 14 vinifera varieties that grow in the Finger Lakes. There are dozens of native grape varieties here and hybrids too numerous to count. How does one think that one growing season is going to produce great fruit across this wide spectrum? Hybrids of course do well every year, why have a hybrid that doesn't. Natives are beyond hardy. As Pete Howe puts it, the best way to prune concord is to cut it off at the base, it will be back next year. The danger of broadly rating the growing season is that casual wine consumers can make pre-judgements based on what they have been told. This conversation has happened several times over the past few years:

"Would you like to try the Dry Riesling?"
"No, I only like dry wines."
"Maybe you would like to try the Chardonnay?"
"Is it white? I only like white Chardonnays."
"You're in luck."
"Oh wait. 2006? That wasn't a good year. I'll pass."

2006 was panned as a growing season for the most part while our 2006 whites received the highest honors in recent years! The 2008 reds, or the signature vinifera reds for the Finger Lakes anyway, have been showing very well despite a year that produced Cab Sauvs and Merlots that will be too soft for what many expect from those varieties. Meanwhile the Cab Franc, Lemberger, and Pinot noir are beautiful, delicious, fruit forward glasses that rival their highly touted 2007 predecessors. The 2008 Pinot noir is delicate, subtle, suggestive, and feminine- everything a Pinot noir should be. That being said, are we more interested in having a hot dry growing season that will get attention for two varieties that Mother Nature only affords us occasionally or a cool partially wet growing season that will evenly let our whites and reds shine? The task at hand is to take the time and effort to change peoples minds and educate them on what great reds should be; not big dense jammy monsters you can lay down for 15 years (not that many do anyway) but instead soft, accessible, food friendly dinner offerings. I didn't say it would be easy.

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