Category Archives: FLXtra

FLXtra: SIXTH EDITION! – Riesling Oregon says Hi to Riesling New York (Part 1 UPDATED!)

When I retasted all the wines described below two days after they were opened (something I frequently do with young wines to see how they develop through contact with the air) I found some of them very changed. I’ve therefore UPDATED this story with some additional comments in italics.

 What do the Rieslings of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest have to do with those of New York State in the Altantic Northeast? At first glance the question might seem pretty stupid, because Riesling is the Number One Vitis vinifera grape grown in New York and in Oregon Riesling is a speciality occupying a tiny part of the vineyard area that Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris dominate (together more than three quarters of everything!) However, on the crucial level of taste there are many similarities. Both types of Riesling can be very high in acidity and are often modest in body, although Oregon Rieslings tends to be a little bolder than their cousins from New York (probably because of the rather warmer, drier summer). Turn back to the statistics and look at the number of acres planted rather than those percentages and they really aren’t so far from one another: at the last count 1,034 acres of Riesling in NY and 700 acres in OR when New York last counted (2011). Look at the picture above and you might think that I tasted the 2014 dry Rieslings from the Brooks, Chehalem and Trisaetum wineries in their native Oregon, but actually I did so in a garden in Geneva, FLX where the above picture was taken.

Yesterday was a perfect dry here in Upstate New York, or as I’m starting to call it the Wild West of the Northeast. A beautiful still evening followed the warmth and sunshine, and with the aid of light jacket it was entirely possible to taste outside. That’s something I normally avoid because the wind can whip all of the aromas out of your glass leaving you with the impression that the wine has no nose, or that you don’t. The eleven 2014 Rieslings I tasted were all recently bottled and are all made to be able to age for some years, in the case of Brooks with a decade or more of aging potential built in. And the 2003 Brooks Riesling (regular quality) I tasted in Oregon last summer proved that this really works. This means they were all a bit on the shy side, and in need of aeration or bottle age. However, that’s as it should be at this early phase in good Riesling wines’ life.

The first thing that the wines proved is that 2014 is a remarkably ripe vintage for Oregon Riesling, although the level of ripeness was far from uniform, some wines being exotic in their richness for this context, others fitting into the “norm” for the state fairly easily. In spite of this none of the wines were low in acidity, however far you stretch of that term. The second striking thing was the radical differences in style between the wines of the leading trio of Oregon Riesling producers (for that is what they unquestionably are). I promise that even if you are rather inexperienced wine taster, if you had tasted with me and at the end I’d presented you with one of the wines blind then asked you to identify the producers you would have managed this! I like that, because in my book the beauty of wine is a many-faced creature.

To my mind 2014 Wichmann Dundee Estate Riesling from Trisaetum is the most beautiful wine James Frey has ever produced, and in 2013 he produced a string of beautiful Rieslings! It reminded of the hauntingly beautiful face painted on a wall in Downtown Portland, OR pictured above. Here is a wine with a stunning combination of intensity and delicacy, of fruity charm and savory depth that unhesitatingly said, DRINK ME! Sadly, there are just 1,800 bottles of this beauty. I’m less sure of the dry 2014 Estate Reserve, because of the obvious oak aromas, but time will perhaps help integrate them better. I certainly prefer the forthright apple, raspberry and floral aromas of the 2014 Coast Range Estate to it, because this wine is at once juicy and crisp. At least there are more than 4,000 bottles of this one!

Freshly opened the dry 2014 Ribbon Ridge Estate from Trisaetum wasn’t very exciting, but two days later it had literally blossomed showing some lovely floral and spicy notes. It also tasted much more juicy and vibrant, and this is a real crowd-pleaser that is easier to understand than the more austere and powerful wine from the Dundee Wichmann Estate.

Chehalem’s 2014 Rieslings are all precisely balanced in the more succulent style that winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry has developed since taking over from her father Harry (who’s wines were more steely and austere, but often developed very well). The 2014 Corral Creek Vineyard is the brightest of them, and although still very youthful it is bursting with white fruit aromas (pear, apple and peach). At once exciting and delicious, this is a wine with a great future that I hope to also experience. The 1.1% / 11 grams per liter unfermented grape sweetness are seamlessly integrated, and together with the lively acidity and 12.5% alcohol (it tastes like a bit less than that figure) they make it an extremely flexible wine for the dining table. The 2014 Ridgecrest Vineyard is almost as impressive and the 2014 Three Vineyards blend is slightly more juicy and direct, as a regular bottling at a more modest price should be. In short, these might well be Chehalem’s best Rieslings to date.

With two days aeration the balance of the 2014 Corral Creek Riesling from Chehalem had got even more impressive, and the aftertaste was even longer. This is one of the stars of the vintage in Oregon and America. 

For the 2014 harvest Brooks moved into their new winery and also started bottling some of the wine from each vineyard they source their blended Willamette Valley Riesling from as single-vineyard wines. About half of those bottlings were in this tasting, and the other half are in the tasting of medium-dry and medium sweet 2014 Oregon Rieslings that will follow in a few days time. Even this first half of that group of wines proved conclusively that moving into a beautiful new facility hasn’t in any way changed winemaker Chris Williams (pictured above) commitment to the powerful and austere style of Riesling that Jimi Brooks developed. The 2014 Orchards Fold Vineyard Riesling is a good introduction to this unique style (in all of North America) because the wine isn’t too steely and has a lot of lemon and apple character. Both the 2014 Sunset View Vineyard Riesling and 2014 Yamhill Vineyard Rieslings push into new territory for the winery, these dry wines weighing in at 13.7% and 14.3% alcoholic content! For me, the bottling from the Yamhill Vineyard, i.e. the one with the highest alcoholic content, is the more impressive at this stage. I love the candied pineapple aroma and the rich, complex mouthfeel, followed by a seriously (salty) mineral tasting finish. I never had an Oregon Riesling with anything even vaguely resembling this balance before. To experience this new continent of flavor you will have to be quick after this wine is released, because there are just 900 bottles of it for the whole of Planet Riesling.

Of the 2014 Brooks dry Rieslings that from the Vitae Springs Vineyard had tasted austere to the point of severity when freshly opened. However, two days later it tasted more weighty and positively textural with a note of ripe pear and I ended up drinking a big glass of it with considerable pleasure. Then it was also apparent that the 2014 Yamhill Vineyard wine owes some of its considerable richness to noble rot. That sometimes exerts a negative influence on dry Rieslings making them taste bitter and or heavy, but this wine has neither of those problems. It will be fascinating to see how this dramatically contrasting quartet develop during the coming months and years!

And what is the conclusion to be drawn from all this for FLX Riesling winemaking? I think it is, that in spite of all the challenges winemakers here face, balancing wines with high alcoholic contents is not one of them, in fact given the standard of viticulture the top producers have reached balancing the FLX Riesling wines isn’t that difficult if you accept the principal that a wine with 0.9% – 1.2% / 9 – 12 grams per liter unfermented sweetness could be harmoniously dry. The other night Red Newt’s ravishingly beautiful 2013 The Knoll Riesling showed what is possible here if you start with ripe clean fruit and are relaxed about the analytical figures for dry wines can do for the balance of FLX Rieslings.

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FLXtra: FIFTH EDITION – Peter, You Can Ring My Bell

This is Peter Bell, the winemaker of Fox Run winery in the FLX as very few people see him, but I promise you this wasn’t the only photographs of him I took this afternoon in his lab-office which looked this way. And just after I arrived there at 2pm he told me that, “this morning somebody who will remain nameless referred to both of us as loose cannons.” That’s almost exactly the opposite of his image as the friendly senior professor of FLX winemaking through who’s “school” many then aspiring and now more or less  established winemaker have passed.  Every region needs wineries of this kind where standards are high across the board and there’s an openness about all the work that was necessary to reach this standard, because they both radiate a culture of excellence and propagate the knowledge of how this can be done. In Peter Bell’s case he did that without trying to indoctrinate his”pupils” about the “right” methods, although he he never left them in any doubt about what he thinks is right. The man is an open book and he has a heart of gold…

Then there’s the “bad” Peter Bell pictured above who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and is totally focused when the winemaking chips are down. I would have got all this much earlier, if my first experiences of the FLX wines just over a decade ago hadn’t included so many green and aggressively tannic red wines (because it’s ancient history I won’t bother to say who produced them). Certainly it’s easier to make good white wines in this climate (today it was warm and humid, felt like it would rain any time all afternoon, and it did rain a lot during the last weeks) than it is to make good reds, but I took a view that was too narrow.

The Cabernet Francs and Lembergers from Fox Run were some of the wines that convinced me that in future I would have to take the FLX reds much more seriously. Not “getting” the reds properly meant I missed the field of winemaking endeavor where Peter Bell is perhaps the greatest talent in the entire region. Every single red wine he poured for me this afternoon was impressive, and he knew exactly what wasn’t perfect about those that missed the bullseye. In particular, I have to recommend the 2012 Cabernet Franc & Lemberger, a perfumed red with ripeness and a dry elegance; great value for around $20. As he so aptly said about it, “the different tannins of these two grapes agree with each other nicely.” The barrel samples I tasted suggest that 2014 is another excellent vintage for the Fox Run red wines.

Riesling is Peter’s other love and the Fox Run 2013 and ’14 Rieslings are all spot on in the house style, which means medium-bodied with bright aromatics and a lot of freshness, but nothing funky at all. There are about 24,000 bottles each of the Fox Run  2014 Dry Riesling and 2014 Semi-Dry Riesling so these are not unimportant wines for the region, and I promise you that part of me always mentally calculates what the quality x quantity of a wine is in estimating it. 2,400 bottles of slightly better quality wine is not nearly as significant out there in the RWDW (real wine drinking world) as ten times that quantity! However, in the limited production category Peter also has an amazingly vibrant sweet 2014 Riesling in what I call “Spätlese style (after the German category of the same name), called Hanging Delta.  This grew on what geologists call a hanging delta, which means a river delta that was left high and dry by sinking waters (in this case the sinking waters of Seneca Lake). Even the terroir septic Peter Bell had to admit that the special soil of this site (sandy and gravelly) must be a factor contributing to the racy excitement and effusive (fresh pineapple!) aromatics of the wine.

Sorry wine geeks of the western world, but I have to agree with his terroir skepticism , because as he said, “You can take one lot of grape juice, split it between two tanks and ferment each with a different yeast and the wines will turn out very different. And that difference will be permanent!” That’s a painful winemaking truth many producers who are considered seriously “cool” by the wine scene don’t want to publicly admit to, but as I pointed out in Edition Two truth is the whole point of this blog.


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FLXtra: FOURTH EDITION! – Alsace & Austria Rieslingtest

The idea of tasting Alsace and Austrian Rieslings next to each other blind has a compelling logic – both are full-bodied dry wines from rather warm and dry climates – but for some obscure reason, or no reason at all, it’s years since I did that. So, I was delighted when the FLX winemakers’ tasting group organized by Peter Bell of Fox Run winery (more on him soon!) invited me to join their blind tasting of those two categories. This also had the effect of announcing to the FLX wine industry (some of whom never read this blog) that I’m here for a while, and allowing me to get an idea of how this community sees Riesling and how its members communicates internally about wine in general. I promise you that they aren’t as chaotic as the tasting table looked towards the end, when I took the above picture!

I wasn’t surprised that the seven dry Austrian Rieslings in the tasting were generally well liked by the group, because they generally had a freshness and clarity that fit the FLX white wine context, but also a ripeness grape growers here are often challenged to achieve, sometimes can’t achieve and long for. The highest rated wine of the tasting was the rich and succulent, 2013 Hochrain “Smaragd” from Franz Hirtzberger in Spitz, Wachau which brilliantly managed to carry a touch of noble rot due to its lively acidity. However, just a whisker behind it for the group (I expressed opinions, but did not give numerical ratings) was the 2010 Gobelsburger Riesling from Schloss Gobelsburg that costs just $19, or less than a third of the Hirtzberger wine’s price, and we could clearly see why this medium-bodied wine with a great balance of freshness and ripeness  (and an attractive grapefruit note) is so popular. I’d agree that it is a great value for this price.

Three things surprised the group on the winemaking front, and their surprise says some important things about the regional perspective. Firstly, they found it hard to get their heads around the fact that, in warm years when high alcoholic content is a danger, many Austrian winemakers bring in part of the crop early enough that they get some wines with “only” about 12.5% alcohol. The effects of climate change in the FLX are clear to everyone who sat at the table today, but they were faced with the serious danger of picking grapes for dry Riesling that were so ripe the wines could have ended up with way too much alcohol. Secondly, many in the group were surprised by how long (3-6 months) the Austrian winemaker leave their dry white wines on the full lees (deposit of dead yeast) after fermentation, because this is not traditional in the FLX. It is, however, being adopted by more and more winemakers here with generally very positive effect for the harmony of the drier wines.  Lastly, there’s what you can see in the glass pictured above, the natural carbon dioxide retained by all of these wines that accentuated their freshness and liveliness. Screw caps, which effectively seal the carbon dioxide in the bottle, meant that even the 4+ year old Gobelsburger had those tiny bubbles.

From the early 1990s Alsace went through a long phase when many winemakers had lost touch with the consumer’s demand to know where they are in terms of sweetness, and for some years too many wines that looked like they were dry from the label were too just too sweet for most savory food. Thankfully, during the last five years there has been a major course correction back in the direction of the region’s tradition for full-bodied properly dry Riesling. This lead to the amount of noble rot and over-ripeness in those wines being dialed back and my excitement was rekindled as a result. It was fascinating to follow the group discovering these things for themselves and pictured above are the four wines they more or less unanimously went for.

Of these the 2010 Grand Cru Osterberg Riesling from Kientzler was the most controversial, since it was high in acidity and quite austere in style (normal for this site and producer), but the freshness for this age amazed everyone at the table. The more exotic aromas (mango and ginger) and richer texture of the 2011 “Calaire” Zind-Humbrecht garnered a lot of praise, even if the wine struck some as slightly corky. For me, the 2011 Grand Cru Rosacker from l’Agapé was the most mineral wine of the entire tasting and had a delicate peachy aroma too; a charming and characterful wine. Yes, modern Alsace Riesling can also do charm! It was rather amazing how the 2012 Grand Cru Brand from Albert Boxler carried its 14% alcohol, the apple and lemon notes being anything but opulent, the finish clean and bright in spite of the power.

For some obscure reason, or no reason at all, I failed to get a picture of the last wine, although I brought the bottle of the 1997 “Cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach with me from NYWC (New York Wine City). This polarized the tasters, some feeling it was too developed, but to be fair almost none of them were aware of the wine’s age when they tasted it. There was quite some astonishment when it turned out to be 17+ years old. To my mind it had an attractively toasty mature character, was powerful and succulent, yet dry and elegant. I don’t think there are any dry or medium-dry FLX Rieslings of comparable age that matured this well, but I can imagine that some of the best wines made here in recent years might do so. That is if someone can resist drinking some of them for that long!

All of this leaves me wondering how different would have been the perspective of a group of NYWC somms on the same wines have been…

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FLXtra: THIRD EDITION! – A Land Shaped by Water

The thunderstorm which broke just after 5am in the FLX region  – I’m often awake around then, being a light sleeper – reminded me that this isn’t just a region dominated by water – I’m staying in Geneva at the northern tip of Seneca Lake, the largest body of freshwater here – but it’s also a piece of land that was shaped by water in its solid form. During the many glacial periods of the last two and a half million years the ice sheets covering much of North America gouged ever deeper trenches in this part of what is now Upstate New York that filled with water each time the glaciers melted. During the current interglacial periods it continues to form this landscape, water from the high ground between the lakes draining into rives and streams that have cut (and continue cutting) deep ravines into the lake banks, particularly where they are steep. Often these rivers cascade over slate cliffs creating spectacular waterfalls, but I never managed to get a satisfactory photo. The truth is that I never tried that hard, because every tourist goes for that one and I never wanted to feel like I was one of a herd.

I gathered the three objects pictured above on the shore of Lake Seneca, which has a very narrow dark shingle beach. My guess is that they originated in one or more of those ravines where slate (bottom left) and sandstone (right) are exposed, fragments of those rocks were detached through weathering and get bounced around by the fast flowing water which rounded what were originally jagged-edged shards of rock. They reminded me of when the Hyugens probe landed on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan in January 2005 it sent back extraordinary images of a landscape strewn with pebble-shaped rocks (mostly larger in size than pebbles, therefore better referred to as cobblestones). Even as a non-scientist I could immediately see that they’d been shaped by movement in a fast-flowing liquid. By the way, the scientists who studied all the Hyugens data very closely are pretty sure that the rounded rocks on the surface of Titan are mainly composed of water ice and the liquid which shaped them was methane (a gas at FLX temperatures). But back to Seneca Lake, and the largest of the three objects at the top of the picture. It’s a piece of driftwood, but in certain lights looks extremely like a piece of red-brown sedimentary rock with a layered structure. Stuff likes this is rapidly broken down by fungi, other microbes and small fauna once it gets in the soil, but pebbles like these can be found in the soil of many FLX vineyards, even when they are far from the lake shores (indicating they were almost certainly formed during earlier interglacial periods).

This is quite a complex region when it comes to geology and soil types, and to these factors must be added the complexity of site location, most notably exposition and inclination, proximity to the nearest lake and the depth of the nearest part of that lake, surrounding topography (which influences wind exposure and cold air flow), plus many more factors. Deciding what grape variety to plant on what rootstock where in the FLX is a science in itself! I was thinking about all of this as the heavy rain fell this morning and I slowly drifted back to sleep. When I arrived here I was carrying a heavy load of exhaustion with me that I’m still in the process of lightening. Only when I’ve done so will I feel confident to report on the wines in a manner that differentiates between the more and less successful. That’s the reason for this short posting. Please be patient!


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FLXtra: SECOND EDITION! I dwell in Almost Impossibility –

This is how the view out of the window of the room in Geneva, FLX (Finger Lakes) I am staying in looked just over three months ago the last time I was here. In that short time this wine region has flipped from deepest winter to the beginning of high summer. See the photograph below taken just a few minutes ago for comparison.

The change of season and the location has greatly stimulated my mind and I have scribbled many short notes to myself that seem to contain a wealth of possibilities. The subject of possibility and impossibility was already on my mind after last week the social media were full of discussion as to whether a woman’s portrait should appear on the new $10 bill, and if so who it should be. On Twitter I suggested Emily Dickinson, because she was, “a great poet and a better person than Andrew Jackson on $20 bill!” Actually, I feel that for ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Cherokee native Americans Jackson should come off the $20 bill (as important a change as taking down the Confederate battle flag in Charleston, SC) and Emily Dickinson should replace him! Possibly, that idea will get me into more trouble, but so be it, for this is my sincere belief.

Writing that tweet set my mind on a track of which I reach the end (so far as I can tell now) with this posting. My favorite Emily Dickinson poem is I dwell in Possibility – (466), and it inspired the following commentary I’m calling My Prose. My prose is often full of positive energy that might lead to me and/or you to new possibilities, and it sometimes joyfully celebrates those possibilities, but it never does either of those things innocently. Rather, this energy and joy are always hard won, because they must be discovered in these troubled and troubling times.

When I look back to the 1990s I see  ten years (1991 – 2001) when many people were naively optimistic, particularly about what the internet and other new technology would do for the world, but there was also much genuine optimism as a result of the end of the Cold War. With the current partial return of the Cold War, plus the terrible hot wars in Syria, the Ukraine, Yemen, etc, and the very real possibility of much more terrible wars that optimism is necessarily in short supply.  Wikileaks and the still unfolding Snowden revelations and the evil they have exposed in many countries around the world, don’t make me feel confident that some kind of old-fashioned optimism can be regained. I have, of course, only mentioned the bad things that immediately came to my mind, but as the news from Charleston, SC during the last days reminded us all, a megaton of other shit that’s going down right around us.

This is the background to my work, to which must be added the obstacle course I encounter in that work itself, meaning the smoke and mirrors of the wine industry, particularly where prices and margins are both high (one almost always goes hand in hand with the other). Hence the dark tone of My Prose and the cautiously positive note on which it ends:


I dwell in Almost Impossibility –

A far harsher Place than Poetry –

More numerous of Flight and Other Connections-

But superior also for Strife and Disputes –


Of Chambers as the Densest Scrub –

Almost impregnable on foot –

And for a distant Horizon

The Scant Knowledge on the Internet –


Of Visitors – the most daring Colleagues –

For Occupation – This long hard Struggle –

To spread wide my narrow Hands –

To gather the Elusive Truth –


Only after I wrote the above lines did I notice the flag of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA hanging outside the house (my host Kelby Russell is a graduate of Harvard) and on it the motto VE-RI-TAS; truth. That made this “little game” I have played with Emily Dickinson’s astonishing original seem all the more appropriate.

Tomorrow’s edition of FLXtra will return to the theme of what makes this region special, both on the natural and human levels, and in particular how those factors make it special for Riesling.

Namu Amida Butsu


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FLXtra: FIRST EDITION ! – A Greyhound Bus to Geneva, FLX / In Praise of Microclimate Wine Bar

Welcome to an exciting new publication making an extended guest appearance at STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL for about the next four weeks. Let me explain a little what this is all about. As regular readers well know, I’ve written about the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York), the most important wine region of this state many times before on these pages. This time is different though, and not just because I will be staying much longer than I ever did before. I am here for Deep Immersion Riesling Therapy, a process with many aspects of which this publication is just one. The goal is to explore the FLX Rieslings, but also to experience them in the context of the region’s very varied other wines and that of the Rieslings produced elsewhere in the US, and the world. This is all about opening the doors of perception to the many shades and tones of the FLX, and savoring that beauty unreservedly. Of course, everything has at least two sides, and the Riesling beauty of this region is also a set of problems and challenges facing the FLX wine workers, and the society to which they belong. I am definitely here in order to become part of this world (if temporarily) and I am certainly not here to dodge any (possibly unpleasant) truths about this place

Sometimes there’s no point in hesitating, much less in procrastinating, and I could feel in my bones and every other fibre of my being the need to leave NYWC (New York Wine City). So, yesterday afternoon I took a Greyhound bus from the Port Authority Building in New York to Geneva at the northern tip of Seneca Lake, the longest, widest and deepest body of water in the FLX. The picture above was taken at sunset as, somewhat delayed, we approached Geneva. Heavily laden with luggage, including a box of Rieslings from Oregon (more about them in a few days) I struggled from the bus stop up the hill to the redbrick house of my wine worker friends Kelby Russell and Julia Hoyle. I felt relieved to have made it, but also that I wouldn’t have really made until I’d had a drink in my temporary home. So, I threw my stuff in the second floor bedroom overlooking this leafy street and headed out.

Having been excited to “discover” the Microclimate wine bar during my last stay in the FLX, at the beginning of March when Geneva was still covered in a thick layer of ice and snow, it was my goal. Last night I finally met Stephanie Mira de Orduna, one of the partners along with James-Emery Elkin, and we had quite a long conversation before I told her who I am and about this story. Everyone but me was drinking wine, and several people had ordered flights of five different wines to taste. I was desperate for beer, feeling shattered (in more ways than one) and dehydrated. Stephanie expertly poured me a Julius Echter Hefeweizen, a German wheat beer with yeast in the bottle, in a way I never saw before anywhere in America. Her expert hand, and a cylinder of inert nitrogen gas, enable her to pour every single wine on the list by the glass! And the selection of wines would be considered creative in NYWC. I promised to return for some “wine orgies” during my stay. More important still is the unique atmosphere of the place, which Stephanie describes as being, “a wine bar / tourist information centre / meeting forum.” The fact that Geneva has a place like Microclimate (it’s been here for over three years) says a lot about the town’s unique vibe, and that too is an important part of my story: WATCH THIS SPACE!

All comments and corrections rate welcomed by FLXtra and guest articles may be submitted (text only please). All views expressed are those of the author, not of anyone else mentioned in the text unless they are quoted. Namu Amida Butsu!

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