Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Drinking out loud. 

Filtering by Category: "Riesling"

Health Check: My Collection

After a harrowing tasting of one of my bottles the other week, I've been very concerned about the state of the others.  Did I royally fuck them up via poor storage? Nervously, I brought two bottles over to my friend's apartment as refreshments for a photo shoot.  One white, one red.  How'd they fare?

Hermann J Wiemer, Magdalena Vineyard, Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2011 - Yee-haw, this Riesling was just as amazing as when I first tried it over the summer.   It was all about the peach and apricot upon first sniff, but then limes and grapefruits came through, quickly followed by slate.  On the palate, it was like bushelfuls of orchard fruits had been dumped into the glass, but again, citrus to the rescue to keep it zesty.  Although it was classified as a dry Riesling, I did sense more residual sugar than anticipated. The high acid and viscous body gave it depth and interest and I'm sad that my sole bottle of this wine is gone. 

Domaine Anne & Jean-Francois Delorme, Mercurey, Burgundy, 2009 - This pinot noir started tight; I faintly detected blackberry, raspberry, a bit of plum and while the scents of soil and earth were apparent, the alcohol was rather prominent on the nose.  The first few sips didn't do much to boost my confidence; the alcohol was giving off some major heat and the whole thing tasted a bit flat.  Fuuuuuuccccckkkk. Luckily, it just needed a bit of time and air. As it evolved it became more lush and round on the palate.  The tannins and acid found they groove, giving the flowering fruits a richness to their flavor. I breathed a massive sigh of relief. 

I think they're going to pull through, but fingers crossed….

Brooklyn Oenology

In recent years, Brooklyn's become synonymous with culinary trailblazing. Pickles? Chocolates? Ice cream? Salsa? Mayonnaise?  The borough's producing high-end versions of all these pantry staples, while challenging palates on the spectrum from familiar comfort foods to completely foreign cuisines. Given the burgeoning DIY attitude and homegrown pride of the borough, it makes plenty of sense that eventually someone would attempt wine.

I first became aware of Brooklyn Oenology a few years ago at a large wine tasting event.  I was intrigued by the concept of wine being made in Brooklyn as it felt like the one agricultural frontier still untapped in the borough, and after tasting through, I was rather impressed by the results. I soon learned it was spearheaded by a woman, Ali Shaper, which piqued my interest even further.  It stayed on my radar and eventually I had the opportunity to meet her and learn about BOE in depth.

Like many people I've met in the wine industry, her route was rather circuitous. She graduated from college with an engineering degree; however, after working for a while in the industry, she realized the passion wasn't there and quit her job.  From there, she started working in a tasting room in a vineyard in the Hudson Valley, which led to various positions in the wine and hospitality industry, from which her entreprenuerial spirit formulated the seedlings for BOE.  

She produces wine in a commercial winery out on Long Island, which she likens to renting time and space in a commercial kitchen, a common practice for chefs and bakers.  Currently BOE does not grow their own grapes but instead purchases them from other vineyards around the state, much like a negociant.  She says this allows her to purchase the grapes she wants and produce the exact style of wines she loves.  

In 2010, she opened the BOE tasting room in Williamsburg, which is not only a showcase for wine but a communal meeting place and event space. What's unique about BOE is the concept of terroir goes beyond the soil here and instead is thought of as New York culture. She proudly serves wine and beer from other winemakers, strengthening community ties. Bottle labels for BOE are designed by local artists and the shelves proudly display foodstuff from local food artisans. New York culture is the essential sense of place, not the plot of land where the vines grow.

Down the road, she has plans to purchase a vineyard plot and start growing her own grapes, an evolution for BOE.  For now, though, the wines shine and tease of the palate with the potential of what's to come.

Photo courtesy of

BOE Shindig White, 95% Vidal Blanc, 5% Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2011
Vidal Blanc, also known as Ugni Blanc or Trebbiano, was a prominent player during the Finger Lakes trip, which had a range of hits and misses so we approached this wine like a frenemy.  On the nose, a light ginger essence gave way to pineapple an minerality. On the palate, this snappy white was reminiscent of a Vinho Verde; green apple, lime and a hint of sea salt tingled with medium acid but finished rather quickly.  This is one easy drinker.

BOE Chardonnay, North Fork, 2010
This chard was aged in old French oak, so it was mercifully free of uber-oaky tones. Instead, our noses were caressed with sweet cream, butter and a little bit of pear. The palate showcased some of these tones as well but an almond nuttiness tempered the dairy.  Medium acid and medium body gave this wine some structure and was one of the rare chardonnays that I wasn't mad at. 

Tousey Winery, Rebellion Rose, Blaufrankisch, Hudson Valley, 2012
Good ole Blaufrankisch, or Lemberger, as many of the Finger Lakes wineries called it.  This was a little more lush than some of the leaner ones tasted on the Finger Lakes trip.  I'm interested to know if it's the Hudson Valley soil, or the vinification, that made the difference. The nose was tart and juicy with aromas of cranberry and dark cherry.  Drinking it, Thanksgiving came to mind with the sweet n' tart profiles and acidic berries. The underripe green notes that often come through in a Lemberger weren't there, but the lighter style body and medium acid were still present.

Thirsty Owl Pinot Noir, Finger Lakes, 2010
Thirsty Owl was a winery that came to our attention while on our trip but as we didn't make it over, this was a great opportunity to try one of the wines. Like many of the pinots we saw in the Finger Lakes, it was translucent in color.  However, the lack of pigment belied the flavor in the glass. On the nose, a little bit of plum, earth and a horse-y funk rode around with some green pepper. On the palate, the plum came through along with some branches and a hint of mocha.  It was very light bodied and could be a good summer red.

Roanoke Vineyards, Marco Tulio, Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, North Fork, 2010
On the nose, prune, plum and ketchup made an appearance on the boldest red we tasted. However, cherry shyly appeared in the beginning of the tasting, only to be strong-armed out of the way by the riper fruits. Medium acid and medium plus body, this wine was definitely California dreamin' when it was made. 

We finished the tasting with Atsby Armadillo Cake Sweet Vermouth, Long Island, NV.  Spirits are definitely not my area of expertise, but this vermouth, which can be drank straight or mixed for cocktails, imparts the flavors of whatever it was infused with; in this case, it was botanicals and citrus, which gave it a semi-sweet herbaceousness, versus a honeyed sweetness.   

Keep tasting, friends....

Road Trip: Finger Lakes Part 3

Excited by our great tastings yesterday, we were ready for our last day of wineries on the trolley tour.  We knew we would be at some of the more touristy spots so managed expectations accordingly, but were still hopeful there would be some quality quaffing.

Our first stop was at Wagner, the Disneyworld of Finger Lakes wineries.  You enter into the gift shop and are immediately taken on one of the rides  (the tour of the faciltity with a Production 101 schpiel) followed by the tasting options (both wine and beer are up for grabs).  You can then get lunch at their cafe (with the un-Disneylike surly staff).  Be sure to buy some of your favorites on the way out!
We went through the wine tasting and here's where we encountered Melody, the aforementioned grape engineered in a Cornell University lab, designed to be light on the nose, ghostlike on the palate, but enough of a simple presence on the tongue to encourage more drinking.  None of what we drank was really our style, so we headed over to the brewery, which was a pleasant surprise. In particular, we enjoyed the Amber Lager, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, and the Doppelbock.  The beers trumped the wines at Wagner. 

 What we quickly learned is that many of the touristy spots offer flights of dry wines or sweet wines.  We always opted for the dry after seeing the frightening Catawba and other native grapes on the sweet runs.

After WagnerWorld, we hit up Standing Stone. Their 2012 Riesling displayed pleasing notes of citrus and warm tropical fruits complimented with the terroir-driven minerality and a decent amount of acidity. At this winery, I was also introduced to their 2011 Semi-dry Vidal, a grape with tons of pineapple and warm weather fruits, a butterscotch tone but a very short finish.  Upon further research, I learned Vidal is a hybrid of Ugni Blanc (also known as the Italian grape Trebbiano) and Rayon d'Or, created in the 1930s by Jean-Louis Vidal, designed to stand up to cold and harsh winters.  They also had several red varietals, the most interesting of which was 2010 Dark Red.  Made from the Saperavi grape, native to Georgia (as in Eastern Europe, not the South, y'all), the wine was intense ruby in color with flavors of macerated blackberries, black tea and soil. 

Lakewood Winery followed but nothing really drew us in.  Their 2010 Cabernet Franc was agreeably smoky but the Rieslings were oddly lower in acidity that what we normally expect in a Riesling. The absence of zing left them feeling unstructured.  

Then,  beacon of light arose on the trail:  Fox Run Vineyards.  This was one of the wineries on our "must-try" list and we were looking forward to what they had to offer. Their Tierce Riesling 2010, which is actually a collaboration among Fox Run, Anthony Road and Red Newt,  was served at the Presidential Inauguration this year, so expectations were high.

Again, we optioned for the dry flight which contained  Chardonnays reminiscent of ones found in the Languedoc-Roussillion, Pinot Noirs more aromatic most of the others we've tasted, as well as a Lemberger/Cab Franc blend, two grape varietals were were coming intimately familiar with. However, it were the Rieslings that jarred our palates awake.  The 2012 Dry Riesling had the now-familiar citrus fruit and stony aroma profiles with intense orchard fruits joining on the tongue. I had to keep going with their Rieslings, so the 2010 Riesling 12 was next on my lineup.  A few tropical fruits appeared on this sweeter-style Riesling but a very light smokiness wafted on the finish, giving it some intrigue.  My flight ended with their 2011 Reserve Riesling, the pinnacle of this tasting. It was off-dry so sugar tingled on the tip of the tongue and it married the zest of citrus fruits again with the more tropical tones. The flavor profile was somewhat simliar to the 12 but there was a gorgeous balance and complexity to this wine.  

How do you follow up with a tasting as spectacular as Fox Run?  You drink beer.  At our final stop, White Springs winery, we fled from the wine tasting table when we got a whiff of their sickly-sweet wine cooler and moved over to the Glass Factory Brew House table. Again, we found a rather elegant Doppelbock as well as a quaffable IPA
While the second day was a bit uneven in terms of what we tasted, we still came away with a deep appreciation for the region and the wine culture that has developed.  I'm eager to go back and delve even deeper into this burgeoning area.

P.S.  If anyone can tell me what these palate-cleansers are, I'll buy you a bottle of Riesling.  They taste exactly like Pop-Tart crusts.  Mmmmm, Pop-Tarts.

Road Trip: Finger Lakes, NY - Part 1

It's July 4th weekend and with the garbage and tourists piling up on the streets, it's time to hit the road and get the hell outta town.  Destination?  The Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  An easy domestic getaway, the region has been on my radar for a while now as I've wanted to see the counterpoint to the Long Island wineries.  The Summer of Riesling campaign has also put a spotlight on some of these producers and the unique qualities of their wines. 

Although there are technically eleven lakes, The Finger Lakes wine region primarily consists of four: Seneca, Cayuga, Canadaigua and Keuka. The region has been producing wine from local grape varieties since the 1800's but it wasn't until Dr. Konstantin Frank came over in 1953 that European varietals, vitis vinifera, which are the grapes we associate with the vast majority of the wines we drink, were produced and the region began to flourish.  Furthered by the work of Charles Fournier and Hermann J. Weimer in the 1970's, the Finger Lakes began producing notable wines, particularly German varietals. 

The region is still creating wines from native grapes, vitis labrusca, such as Cataba, which are often rather sweet. Think Manischewitz.  No, really.  Manischewitz, is, in fact, produced up the Finger Lakes region.  While I have a soft spot for the Manny (hey, those seders can run for a mighty long time and a gal needs sustenance), these wines are not going to be my drink of choice.

Whites tend to be the superstars in the wineries, but there is quite of a bit of Cabernet Franc and Lemberger (more commonly known as the Austrian Blaufrankisch) being produced as well.  They are lean, tannic, vegetal and a bit spicy.

What's especially interesting in the growing interception of science in the winery and not just in vinification techniques and vineyard management.  Some wineries have actually been working with Cornell University to engineer grape varieties.  At Wagner Vineyard, for example, they've birthed a new grape called Melody which is meant to be very light with almost no finish so you're left wanting to drink more. And more.  Let's call this a classic study of quantity over quantity.

Finally, some of the wineries have begun dabbling in beer, and often with surprisingly good results (better than the wines in the two circumstances we encountered.  But more on that later).

So, pack your bags and away we go...

Starstruck: Jancis Robinson

Do you have a celebrity crush?  Back in the day, it was boy bands like New Kids on the Block that made me swoon.  Like any tween fan, I wallpapered by bedroom with pictures torn out from Teen Beat and my friends and I would endlessly debate which band member was cutest.  Looking back, I feel deeply sorry for whichever parent had to chaperone us to their concerts and endure endless hours of teengirl squealing.

Recently, Jancis Robinson, wine expert, writer and critic extraordinare, came to New York for one of her only area appearances to promote her new book American Wines. That woman is tenacious.  Not only did she write (in my opinion) the ultimate tome to wine, The Oxford Companion to Wine, she penned the massive Grapes last year, only to follow up with American Wine this year.  When I learned of her visit, I raced to buy my ticket, a good month and a half before the actual event. I did contain my shrieks of excitement, but my, how times have changed.

My wine geek crush was solidified at this talk: she is witty, spunky and incredibly intelligent. She spoke about the American wine industry and its evolution as well as wine culture in our country.

Currently, she's been really enjoying NY Finger Lakes dry rieslings and some cabernet franc and merlot wines from Long Island. She also feels Virginia wines are up and coming - definitely a region to keep an eye on.  She gave some history on Washington State's industry and how it was started by rogue French winemakers who wanted to be freed from rigid French regulations and laws. The resulting wines are growing exponentially in quality and are, I would imagine, very personal and passionate. Speaking to pure Americana, she mentioned that Chrysalis Winery in Virginia and another in Missouri are growing Norton, a native American vinifera, rather successfully and that the University of Minnesota is working on hardy winter vines designed to withstand the wintry  midwestern climate.

She believes retailers are contributing to Robert Parker's influence and feels many shops rely on his rankings to sell wine.  Rather than seeking out new and intriguing producers, they fall back on Parker's rankings, which does a disservice not only to the customer but to other producers.  She also remarked on the evolution of wine service and how there are many "celebrity" sommeliers who seem to be the tastemakers. However, the finest attribute of a good sommelier is humility as one can never know it all. She admitted that she herself is always learning.

In the Q&A session, the question was raised about the importance of knowing the winery, regions, etc., when tasting versus in a sterile room? Unsurprisingly, she believes the viti, vini and cultural factors are hugely important when examining wine.  The only time she feels a sterile room is beneficial is when tasting a small selection of similar wines, such as the tasting precluding en premier sales in Bordeaux.

I practically floated over to the tasting that followed the lecture, riding on the euphoria of hearing her speak.  In total, there were about 8 wines represented, but I was only able to capture notes on three.

So, how are American wines doing?

Gruet Blanc de Noirs, NV, New Mexico (approx $15)
This is actually a sparkling wine I've had before and I must say, it's a great value.  It's very similar in flavor profile and mouthfeel to prosecco, with the slightly buttered toast, pear and apple tones coming through on the palate.  It's easy to drink on its own but would definitely be a fantastic bellini or mimosa base.

Chateau Grand Traverse Lot 49, Riesling, Michigan (approx $21)
I wanted to like this one so much.  The Gruet guy, although not representing this wine, said it had that great slate and minerality often found in German Rieslings.  Truthfully, I tasted almost NOTHING.  I'm not just talking about the slate and mineral, I'm saying I could barely detect any flavor whatsoever.  I really had to dig in there to even detect some slight tones of fruit.  It lacked the acidity and viscosity I love in a  riesling.  Here's hoping this was just a fluke bottle.

Bookcliff Cabernet Franc Reserve, Colorado
Cabernet Franc can be a finicky sucker.  If done well it can evoke dark fruits, spice and tobacco.  This wine, unfortunately, hasn't achieved greatness yet.  It was really stemmy, green, and tasted like underripe peppers, all the markings of an underdeveloped cab franc. I think it has potential, though; maybe in a few more vintages it will really hit its stride.

Keep tasting, friends....