Should fans of US wine pay less attention to the west coast and a little more to the east?by Barry Smith / March 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
The wine world is always on the lookout for something new. A new region, grape variety, or method of making. What’s more, wine lovers are faithless. No sooner have they fallen in love with Assyrtiko or Albariño than they begin to migrate to Aligoté or Arneis. So where should we look for the next big thing?
In North America, the wines from California have a well-established track record, but wines from Washington State and Oregon are beginning to make their mark; in particular, the Pinot Noirs from Willamette (rhymes with dammit).
Similarly, the wines from Ontario look set to challenge British Columbia’s long-held reputation as Canada’s best winemaking region.
So should wine enthusiasts in the US be looking east to the wines from New York State? That’s not entirely clear. Many New Yorkers talk enthusiastically about local Rieslings and several of the city’s wine bars and restaurants now feature New York wines on their lists. So are East Coast wines the coming thing? I tasted several on a recent trip to the Big Apple.
Best known are the Rieslings from the Finger Lakes: a scenic part of upstate New York where the lake temperatures moderate the harsh winters. There are over 100 vineyards here, many looking over the water, and they produce clean, appetising wines that make a perfect aperitif.
Some are very good; silky and flinty, though they still lack depth of flavour. There is none of the complexity of German Rieslings from the Mosel, and none of that firm, lime-edged acidity you’ll find in the Australian Rieslings from Eden Valley. That may come with time.
Oddly, it was the reds that impressed me more. Many are dreadful, of course, as you would expect from vines planted in the soils of Long Island in what were once potato farms. The farmers realised that there was slightly more money to be made in viticulture, selling their bottles at the cellar door or in the adjoining tasting rooms.
The grape varieties I expected were there: Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, with the latter made on occasion by carbonic maceration as you would make a Beaujolais Nouveau. The grape that surprised me most was Merlot. For however cruelly it was portrayed in the film Sideways, I think of Merlot as a warm climate grape, flourishing in the sunshine of California or the fierce summer heat of Bordeaux.
And yet, on the North Fork of Long Island, in a microclimate all of its own, the Merlot ripens and produces interesting wines, capable of ageing.
In the right hands, the 2010 vintage seems to have produced some excellent wines, the best of which was the Lenz Old Vines Merlot. A classy nose with red fruits and that darker, tarry note one finds in Chilean Carménère, but here more subdued and more integrated. On the palette: soft, warm, generous; rich in alcohol but not aggressive, with a long, developed finish.
An impressive effort but at a price that left me thinking of other fine bottles I could have been drinking. And that’s the problem. You can try something of quality from this new region but you will have to fork out as much as you would for an excellent bottle from France or Italy.
Given the small quantities produced, don’t expect to see these wines on restaurant lists around the world. Just like Swiss wines in Geneva, you can expect these wines to be mainly consumed locally, in New York.