Friday, May 27, 2011

In The Post Riesling Hour Haze...

by Evan Dawson - Author of Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes

I have the pleasure of standing in for Peter Bell this week - or sitting in, or writing in, if you like - and I'd like to spill a little news about Riesling. It comes from Peter, and I don't know what he'd think about me writing it here, which is all the more reason to post it now and hope he's cool with it later. After all, a colleague in the news business taught me years ago: Don't ask for permission; ask for forgiveness.

Here's the news: The 2010 vintage is going to take longer than usual to assess for Riesling. Think that's not a big deal? I think it's significant, because right around now is when a pile of 2010 Finger Lakes Rieslings will hit the market, and it's difficult to figure out how they're evolving. On top of that, there is a tremendous amount of (generally well founded) hype surrounding the 2010 growing season. But does that hype promise too much for Riesling?

Tasting with Peter a few weeks back, he explained that by around April or May, winemakers have a pretty clear handle on how the previous year's Riesling will show and evolve. Some years, like 2009, feature a spine of acidity and a depth of fruit to provide for long-term cellaring as well as short-term enjoyment. Other years, like 2007, portend a wine that should be consumed in short order, lest it begin to fade with a few years distance. Some years the fruit steps forward; other vintages see that classic Finger Lakes steeliness and precision taking over.

And yet here we are, with May rolling into June, and Rieslings from 2010 are still maturing. Yes, 2010 was just about the longest, warmest growing season in recent recorded history. And no, it was not a drought year like 2007, which means varieties like Riesling weren't scorched and potentially fat. So what is 2010, exactly?

Peter says he's going to reassess this summer. That patience is wise. Having tasted dozens of tank samples from producers across the region, here's my take: Peter is wise to wait, but there is a very high bar of quality about to be unveiled. Plenty of growers and winemakers decided to pick when the fruit was ripe but the acids were intact, a kind of marriage on the vine that only happens once in a while. Some had to make acid adjustments, but others found the wines nicely balanced without much help. 

If the acids are integrated, expect 2010 to be a special Riesling vintage, albeit very different than the cooler 2009. If the acids are jarring, then make plans to consume the wines at a younger age than most, like 2007. But I expect most wines to offer a kind of harmony and aging potential that true Riesling lovers will celebrate.

And don't tell Peter, but the wines that he and his team have made are giving hints of something outstanding. I don't say this because I'm camping out on his blog. I'm no cheerleader. There will be disjointed Rieslings from 2010. And Peter can handle tough criticism from writers like myself. I simply have tasted enough 2010 Rieslings to know that I'm an optimist, and a buyer. 

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