New York Riesling Diary: Day 26 – FLX Top Secret

However well you think you know the wines of a region there’s always another surprise out there waiting to make you fall off your chair, and that’s the real reason that I do this strange, ridiculous, arduous and fantastic job. As those of you who follow me on twitter (@PigottRiesling) already know, last weekend I was in the Finger Lakes (FLX) on a Top Secret mission, and this involved exactly zero wine tasting. After I arrived on Friday afternoon, I had to concentrate on that mission to the exclusion of all else, and thankfully it appears to have been successful. All will be revealed when I know if that impression turns out to be correct. When I’d done all I could, I realized that there were a couple of hours “free”, so I headed out to Red Tail Ridge winery between Geneva and Penn Yan on the western bank of Seneca Lake. I’d already tasted a couple of good wines from this producer, but I hadn’t got a clear picture of the winery and its products, because the time interval between those experiences had been rather large. In my experience, this always makes it difficult to come to a conclusion, so there was no substitute for tasting a long row of the wines in all one go at some point; better sooner than later.

At 3pm on Saturday afternoon the Red Tail Ridge tasting room was hopping and I was lucky they could fit me in at one of the three tasting tables. I was already impressed by the 2013 “Sans” unoaked Chardonnay and the barrel fermented Chardonnays, which are both very honest and well made wines with far better balance than a slew of the competitors from the West Coast. Then, when I got to the Rieslings they figured out who I am and suddenly there was the winemaker Nancy Irelan (pictured above with her husband Mike). Together we tasted the 7 different (!) Rieslings ranging from properly dry up to dessert and they were all pristine, aromatic and elegant.

How many FLX winemakers are equally talented at making dry Riesling as making sweet wines from my favorite grape? Very few and Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer heads that short list, which means that Nancy is in the very best company! How does the California native who founded this winery just a decade ago do that? Attitude and attention to detail are the answers, I think. As she told me, “drinking a glass of wine should be seamless. It shouldn’t interrupt the conversation or anything else you’re doing.” Note Nancy’s omission of the obsessive-compulsive, pseudo-science of wine pairings and her mention of that old-fashioned analog activity, conversation.

Then she poured the 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Blaufränkisch, which were two of the most expressive and polished red wines I ever tasted from the FLX. There were no green aromas in either of these wines, no edgy tannins (Blaufränkisch easily gets those in regions as cool as this), no inkiness or chewiness due to over-extraction (frequent Pinot Noir problems in this region) that distracted from the positive aromas and flavors, much less excessive oak masking those things. Red winemakers of the FLX please take note that this is your stairway to red wine heaven; forget power, go for balance and fragrance!

On top of this, Red Tail Ridge is the most energy-efficent winery I ever saw (I mean anywhere on Planet Wine), exclusively using geothermal energy. The investment in that technology was considerable, which requires a leap of faith that few are willing to make, but the payback can be enormous. This system paid for itself in just two and a half years and the monthly energy costs for the cellar are below $500. That’s something not only the local wine industry could learn from.

PS If you already found out what my FLX secret, either by chance or deduction, please don’t spread it around, but please spread the word about these joyful FLX wines!


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