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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ravines Wine Cellars, One of the Finger Lakes' Finest

The majority of my previous experiences w/ Finger Lakes wines were courtesy of Vintage New York, a creation from Rivendell winery’s Robert Ransom. Vintage, much like Ransom’s Hudson Valley winery, offered locals the opportunity to sample wines from Fork to Finger, where I had my first samplings of Lamoreaux Landing sparkling wine, Standing Stone Riesling, Wagner & the like. Ransom’s concept was a smart one, serving as an all-encompassing ‘New York Winery’ tasting room of sorts, where all wines could be sampled and purchased on the premises. The tasting room abutted a wine bar, carrying a broad spectrum of New York wines to be paired w/ various foods from said state. Smart business plan huh? Well New York apparently didn’t think so, as both Vintage sites in Soho & the Upper West Side eroded to sluggish sales & couldn’t compete w/ rising neighborhood rents. Thankfully the postmortem on Vintage proved the notion not in vain, as the ‘eat local-drink local’ baton has been successfully passed to NY’s Wine & Culinary Center of the Finger Lakes.

Suffice to say my background on the Finger Lakes was hardly extensive, so I did my best to stuff preconceived notion in the trunk as I hit the grape trail, getting my virginal palate acquainted w/ over a dozen new producers during the holiday weekend. I’d figured Hermann J. Weimer would be the top dog, considering the breadth of distribution in the city & previously contented purchases I’d made. Konstantin Frank was sure to be solid, but what of the others? Throw darts at a board, see what sticks. Had I been told an upstart winery that purchases most of their fruit would steal the show I’d certainly question the source. The source, in this case, was my own palate.

The finest winery I visited:

Ravines: While the bulk of Finger Lakes wineries offer a range in styles from bone dry to more than slightly sweet (some even feature a sweetness scale on the side of the bottle- talk about a knee in the nuts to the indecipherables from Germany), but Ravines’ scale would be best dubbed as dry, drier, driest. The winery was started by Morten & Lisa Hallgren, a European tandem from the South of France. Morten’s pedigree is there, coming from a family that owned a 270 acre estate (170 of which were vineyard) called Domaine de Castel Roubine. While Morten’s chromosomal connection is undeniable, his scholastic route, achieving advanced degrees in Enology & Viticulture at Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier didn’t hurt. Nor did his apprenticeship at Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux. He finally landed a winemaking job stateside under none other than Konstantin Frank, culminating in the creation of his own label to start the 21st century. Though I’d never tasted nor heard of Ravines Wine Cellars before my trip, they are hardly a local secret.

Truth be told, the wines are nothing short of fabulous. The dry whites merge searing mouthfuls of Chablisean minerality w/ smoky flint notes reminiscent of Pouilly Fume. Ravines Riesling is an Old World palate’s dream. Morten’s staff was pouring ’06-’08 vintage, smartly holding back enough stock to demonstrate the benefits of ageing to consumers (not to manipulate demand a la Bordeaux). The ’06 vintage, a lean year that had its share of problems w/ dilution, had a nose of pure diesel & smoke. The palate was trim, yet subtly layered in dried honey, gun-flint, chive & lime notes, reminding me a bit of a Francois Cotat Sancerre. The ’07 showed contrasting ripeness, w/ dried pineapple, crushed rock & an unnamable Chablisean character. The frame was gossamer, w/ high toned fruit flavors that sailed on and on. The ’08, a tightly coiled embryo, seemed chiseled out of stone, w/ hay, floral and green fruit flavors contracting through the taut, firm finish. The gem of the collection, a single vineyard designated Riesling, comes from the Argetsinger plot. The ’08 was a full bodied, opulent, mineral-rich Riesling. Brooding, wrapped in a penetrating core of ginger, lemon peel, key lime and stone fruit flavors that seem backward to the point of intimidation, yet structurally impressive. This on'es built for the cellar. The ’08 Sauvignon Blanc was a touch angular, yet beguiling in its own right. The flinty nose of grass, savory herb, grapefruit & lime expanded & grew in complexity as the wine warmed. The inner-mouth perfume was a ricochet of scent, fleshing out a bit on the finish. The ’08 Pinot Gris was just bottled and suffered accordingly, though its honeysuckle & melon notes were round, juicy & ample, in spite of being bottle-shy.

I’d said previously that Pinot belonged in Finger Lakes fizz, well it doesn’t do a terribly bad Rose either ;) The winery was still pouring their ’08, a soft nose of berry and briar turning creamy and well textured in the mouth, finishing w/ a snap. The ’08 Pinot Noir was easily the most impressive offering I’d had during my tastings and also one of the lightest in color. The succulent nose of bing cherry, flowers and underbrush was a kinky display. The entry was sappy, middle-weight in presence & pushed by soft, gentle tannins. The ’07 Cabernet Franc was stellar, perhaps the best of the trip. A meaty, seared edge dominated the aromas, but the palate was all polish, tugged by a tarry, graphite grip on the finish. The Meritage, an ’06, was a long, red-fruit flavored Claret-doppelganger, keen on verve and finesse.

While the ambient conditions make Meritage blends & Pinot Noir somewhat challenging in the Finger Lakes, Ravines displays a deft touch w/ all varietals. The reds distinguished themselves in terms of balance, energy & superlative texture, yet the Rieslings stole the show & are arguably the best bone-dry Rieslings versions in the state, if not the country. I'm betting on door number 1 and number 2, Chuck. I’m hardly an advocate of wine clubs (I can count the number I belong to on the fingers of one hand), yet the 20% off the already modestly priced Ravines line-up made it impossible to resist. 14 bucks and change for Riesling this good is something worth shouting about, particularly for fans of Alsace, Clare & Eden Valley Riesling.

Wine Rating
Rose ’08 87 points
Dry Riesling ’06 90 points
Dry Riesling ’07 92 points
Dry Riesling ’08 91+ points
Argetsinger ’08 93 points
Sauvignon Blanc ’08 90 points
Pinot Gris ’08 87 points?
Pinot Noir ’08 87 points
Cabernet Franc ’07 90 points
Meritage ’06 88 points

*As I’ve already drunk a case of them I do offer one bit of serving advice:
Decanting is a must & they show best when they’re a bit warmer than fridge temp.

Other top producers to follow...


Blogger dpinzolo said...


I represent Ravines' wines in NYC and would love to correspond.
Could we?

Friday, August 06, 2010  
Blogger Brad Coelho said...

Absolutely- send me an email at:

Saturday, August 07, 2010  
Blogger elena said...

I was looking up Ravines Wine Cellar and other vineyards in the Finger Lakes region when I stumbled upon your blog. I too am a native of Brooklyn and was wondering if you have any advice about other vineyards in the Finger Lakes region that you would like to share.

Monday, September 27, 2010  
Blogger Brad Coelho said...

Absolutely. Whereabouts are you from in Brooklyn? Ravines is at the driest end of the spectrum for Finger Lakes Riesling, with Hermann Weimer's 'dry' Rieslings showing a bit more delicacy and more RS along w/ Anthony Road. The single vineyards from Wiemer are arguably the best Rieslings in the region, but Red Newt, for my palate, makes the best Gewurztraminer (2 SVDs and a regional bottling). For sampling Finger Lakes wines in the region, Red Newt's wine bar adjacent to the winery is the place to go. Konnie Frank may have been the first, but I don't consider them to be the best anymore. Atwater Estate, Sheldrake Point & Fox Run also make noteworthy Rieslings. If you're into an obscure Red, try Damiani's Blaufrankisch (Lemberger), one of the most interesting reds the region has to offer. For sparkling, my favorite is Lamoreaux Landing. I keep hearing great things about Hearts & Hands Pinot Noir but I've yet to try it for myself. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010  

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