Keuka wine is among top 100

John Christensen
Morten Halgren of Ravines Wine Cellars with the 2009 Dry Riesling that has been ranked among the Top 100 Wines of the World.

Wine Spectator magazine has named Ravines Wine Cellars’ 2009 Dry Riesling to their list of the “Top 100 Wines of the World for 2011.”

Ravines Wine Cellars is located on the east side of Keuka Lake.

Ranked at #72 with a 90 point tasting score, earning such a distinction is about more than just a great glass of wine. “To be included, a wine must combine a high score, a reasonable price and what we call the ‘X-factor’—the excitement generated by a rising-star producer, or a benchmark wine, or a significant milestone for the region it comes from,” says Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator.

More than 17,000 wines from around the world were reviewed in blind tastings, and that tiny group of 100 were chosen based on four criteria: quality, value, availability, and that “excitement.”

 “I knew right from the crush that this Reisling was going to be wonderful. It was so much like ’06. Very different from ’07 and ’10,” says Ravines’ owner and winemaker Morten Hallgren, explaining that 2009 was an exciting vintage for Rieslings. Cool, rainy years bring up an acidity that imparts structure and balance for Reislings and Chardonnays.

Great wine has been the passion of Morten and Lisa Hallgren, his  wife. Together, they have created one of the region’s most distinctive wineries, crafting exceptional and accessible wines by weaving together European winemaking traditions with New World innovation.

Born in Denmark, Morten was raised in Provence in the South of France, renowned for both its food and wine. His family owned and operated a 270 acre estate whose first vineyards were recorded in 1307. He received an advanced degree in both Enology and Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, one of the world’s top winemaking schools, and spent his first harvest in Bordeaux. After moving to the U.S. to study astrophysics and working for a time in West Texas, he worked at the Vanderbilt family’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., the most visited winery in the country. He was then offered a job by Willy Frank to be chief winemaker for Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars in Pulteney.

In 2000, the Hallgrens purchased a 17-acre parcel at the widest part of Keuka Lake, where the vines would receive the maximum benefit from its moderate micro-climate, with sloping, well-drained, mineral rich soils. The two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter, are the source of the winery’s name.

Since the beginning, Hallgren has bought his Riesling grapes from only three growers, among them the legendary Sam Argetsinger, and only from selected plots of the vineyards. The grapes are hand picked and sorted, giving Hallgren a better evaluation of the potential, and allowing a gentle pressing, followed by a long, cool fermentation. The result in ’09 was great acidity. “In fact, I had to deacidify. It has great backbone,” he declares. This is the second year in a row that Ravine’s Dry Riesling has scored a 90 in Wine Spectator, proving their success is about more than just nature and luck.

Rather than making a wide range of wines to appeal to every taste, Morten decided early to focus on just the dry winemaking process he learned in France. His seven labels all make the most of his expertise, including an excellent, truly dry Dry Rosé, the wine favored in the village squares of Provence. But it is his skill with the cool weather-loving Reisling grape that has won Morten his reputation.

Two months after opening in 2003, Ravines’ 2002 Dry Riesling won Best Dry Riesling in the World Riesling Cup at the Eastern International Wine Competition. Since then, they have won numerous medals in international wine competitions, and received glowing reviews in major publications. Most recently, Eric Azimov in the New York Times named it the “Number One Wine for Thanksgiving,” and Wolfgang Puck chose it for his Spago restaurant in Los Angeles.

Now, after being on Wine Spectator’s Top 100, a singular distinction for a Finger Lakes winery, the 2009 is completely sold out among the national distributors, but there are still a very few bottles hidden away in some retail shops, if you ask for it. As its closest alternative, look for the less celebrated, but almost as excellent, 2006. Failing that, wait for the 2011 Dry Riesling to be released. It too is very promising. The good news is that because of all the well-deserved praise, Ravines has doubled their production of the ’11, giving many more people the opportunity to sample and love one of the best wines of the Finger Lakes.