Furthermore, May is a perfect time to take the Riesling dive: It’s Riesling Month, as designated by the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. Of course, there’s no need to limit your sips of these yummy wines to the fifth month of the year, but with so many special events at Finger Lakes wineries, you have extra incentive to plan a road trip this month.
Rieslings are the perfect warm-weather vintage, and they range in sweetness from dry to semisweet to sweet, meaning you can select a bottle to suit everyone’s taste. There’s no lack of choices out there, either, as the Finger Lakes’ reputation for fine Riesling wine continues to grow, especially those Rieslings fashioned by lesser-known wineries.
“I think it’s the more obscure guys who bear watching,” says Gary Decker, owner of Vinomania, on Pearl Street near Columbus Bakery. “The new breed is starting to do things a little differently, trying an Alsatian style. It’s a German influence, but drier. They don’t want the sweetness that a lot of Rieslings have.” He lists among those notable wineries Zugibe Vineyards in Geneva, Ravines Wine Cellars in Keuka Village, Castle Grisch Estate Winery in Watkins Glen and Long Point Winery in Aurora.
Rieslings are derived from a white grape that originated in the Rhine region of Germany. In 2004, the Riesling grape was the world’s 20th most grown variety, but in terms of importance, it is counted as a top three, alongside Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling is a variety that is “terrior-expressive,” which means its character is influenced by where the grape is grown.
Which is where the Finger Lakes come into play. “I think it’s a real simple thing,” says Decker in explaining the explosion of upstate Rieslings. “It’s well known that New York state has the same type of climate as Germany, which is famous for Riesling. The grape doesn’t get as much time to develop, so the result is a green-apple acidity balanced by the sweetness of the fruit.”
In addition to dry and semisweet Rieslings, New York wineries have devised the sweet, dessert ice wine variety. “They leave the grape on the vine longer and it becomes more concentrated because of that,” Decker explains. “As it starts to lose water, it condenses and builds up a higher sweetness. They’re usually harvested after the first freeze, in November.”
With May as Riesling Month, however, there’s no reason to wait until late fall to see what Finger Lakes wineries have in store. The largest of the wine trails, Seneca Lake, is offering its popular Riesling to Visit Passport, featuring free flights of wine at participating wineries. Valid through Aug. 31, the passport can be purchased at www.senecalakewine.com for $12 plus tax. Here are some other Riesling-centered events:
• Heron Hill Winery hosts a five-course Riesling pairing dinner at Lento Restaurant in Rochester on Thursday, May 13, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets cost $65 and can be purchased by calling (585) 271-3470.
• Fox Run Vineyards holds a vertical tasting of its Rieslings with winemaker Peter Bell at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, 800 S. Main St., Canandaigua, on Saturday, May 15, 4 p.m. Rieslings from 2001 to 2006 will be poured. Tickets cost $40; purchase them by calling (585) 394-7070.
• Also on Saturday, May 15, 1 p.m., join Hermann J. Wiemer for a wine-tasting experience with winemaker Fred Merwath. All of the wines that will be poured have received a score of 90 or higher (out of 100), from Wine Spectator magazine. Tickets cost $80 and can be purchased by calling (800) 371-7971.
• Riesling Hour takes place Mondays, May 17 and 24, in this virtual tasting that begins at 8 p.m. To participate, open a bottle of Finger Lakes Riesling with friends or family. Then log onto your Twitter profile or onto your Facebook page to post comments, photos or videos of your experience.
Other events to mark Riesling Month take place in subsequent weeks. For details on those, visit www.rieslingrocks.com. A handful of Finger Lakes hotels is offering special overnight packages so that you can prolong your stay in the land of lakes.
One final word of advice from Decker: Don’t be in such a rush to open and consume that bottle of Riesling. “The German winemakers will tell you they don’t want you to drink their Rieslings for five years or so,” he says. “The American public is so quick to buy and consume. Some of these Rieslings will do better if you sit on them a little bit and let some of the acidity come down through aging. A 2009 Riesling, if you drank it now and drank it a year from now, you’d taste the difference. The acidity will come down and the flavor will come into its own.”