Local Rieslings capture gold medals in France

John Christensen
These Seneca Lake Rieslings were the only North American Rieslings to be honored with gold medals at the Riesling du Monde” competition in Strasbourg, France.

At the  exclusive “Riesling du Monde” competition in Strasbourg, France earlier this month, five Finger Lakes wineries were selected as among the best Riesling producers in the world.

Gold medals were awarded to Anthony Road Wine Co.’s 2009 Dry Riesling ($15.99), Fox Run Vineyards’ 2008 Reserve Riesling ($30), and Belhurst Estate Winery’s 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling ($17.95). Silver medals were awarded to Red Tail Ridge Winery’s 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling ($15.95) and Keuka Lake Vineyards’ 2009 Dry Riesling, Evergreen Lek Vineyard ($20).

These are the only American wineries to bring home medals this year, and three of them happen to be in Yates County. Unlike many more promotional type competitions, “Riesling du Monde” only rewards the absolute top entrants with their medals.  More than two-thirds of the wines entered won none at all.  

2009 was a particularly difficult year for winemakers in the Finger Lakes, being the coolest growing season in a decade, according to Hans Walter-Peterson of Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It makes it difficult to find the balance between the fruit and acidity,” said Ann Martini, an owner of Anthony Road Wine Co. on the northwest side of Seneca Lake, “but Johannes Reinhardt (AR’s winemaker) is a master at that. The gold medal is a real tribute to him and his passion for winemaking.” Anthony Road has medalled at Riesling du Monde five years in a row. While Anthony Road’s 2009 Dry Riesling is sold out, they expect the 2010 vintage to be available by late May.

The appearance of the 2010 wines is a much anticipated event since the 2010 vintage is reputed to be the best in quality and yield in 20 years. According to Jim Trezise of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, the harvest was early and the quality excellent. The Finger Lakes had ideal weather all year, resulting in a very early harvest, reducing the risk of a killing frost, and exceptional grape quality. Since “great wine is made in the vineyard,” this is likely to yield superb wines.

The terroir of the individual lakes and vineyards can have as much impact as the vintage. Keuka Lake Vineyards’ 2009 Dry Riesling has the distinct mineral tones for which the well-drained, gravelly, glacial soils on the southwest side of Keuka Lake are renowned. Owner Mel Goldman added, “You have to like drys to like this one. It has pronounced acids with a complex, lingering finish and pleasant, slightly floral aromas with a hint of ripe lime and honeydew melon.”

Red Tail Ridge on the northwest side of Seneca Lake, describes their 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling as having, “Aromas of nectarine and peach with faint notes of fennel seed, kiwi, citrus and gingered pears on the palate, followed by a citrus peel finish.”  

Belhurst has the distiction of winning gold in their very first year. Belhurst’s Rieslings are crafted by winemaker Tim Miller, one of the best in the business, with the help of a four-member tasting team including retail manager Kristine Fiorilla who describes their semi-dry as, “A true Riesling; well-balanced and very smooth with honey and fruit notes.”

Fox Run’s, “Reserve” is not a mere marketing idea. It is only produced in years when winemaker Peter Bell determines that the grapes of a particular block will yield an exceptional vintage, and in any of the different types Riesling can be made. The 2008 Reserve Riesling was a dry, with lots of acidity and fruit notes of kiwi, red berries, as well as jasmine. Their gold medal winner at the 2008 Riesling du Monde was the 2006 Reserve, a semi-dry. “Peter spends a lot more time with them. Wines are like children. You see their potential and you guide them along that path,” according to winery owner Scott Osborn.