In my recent exploits attempting to gain employment back home in Melbourne I trialled at the now 18-year-old Punch Lane Wine Bar & Restaurant. The venue is a staple in the city centre, having been an early proponent of the now famous lane way culture here. Whilst here I met with James Dossan, a certified sommelier originally hailing from Sydney, who is managing this venue. James runs a monthly tasting group for friends who are in the industry, which includes sommeliers and wholesalers alike. Each of them has is or will study wine and thus the tastings are designed to improve everyone’s skills in analysis. A theme is chosen and each member brings a bottle to be tasted blind. Continue reading
Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2009
Very delicate nose, slight celeriac apple cinnamon. Insanely well balanced and complex, lacks depth somewhat, subtle oak and lees notes.
Sketchs Riesling 2009
Nice mineral kerosene, very concentrated rich and zesty style. Lime zest and peach.
Pinot Noir 2009
A little sour, not enough fruit. Too dry and bland.
Barrel-aged Iced Chardonnay 2008
Rich viscous, volume and caramel.
Iced Riesling 2009
Quince paste, sharp and yet rich.
Tawse ice wines
Felsock Vineyard Riesling 2008
Concentrated bright fruit, bold fruit profile and good lines.
Tete de Cuvee Chardonnay 2008
Very bold bright peach and lime fruit, with a complex floral and pear nose. The palate is very rich and layered, yet quite light and clean. Citrus complexity and balance would be even better with food.
Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2008
Dark cherry and game notes combine to create a very savoury fruit nose. Subtle yet opulent and rich, silky and soft. Hits an amazing sweet spot between fruit and savoury elements rarely achieved in new world pinot noir, but very youthful.
Hidden Bench Tasting Room
My second day in the Finger Lakes had much better weather thank goodness; it was a bit sketchy driving back to the motel in heavy rain at night (and by night I mean 5:00 p.m.) The Finger Lakes like the Niagara Escarpment were formed in the last Ice Age by glacial movement which not only tore up the gouges the lakes sit in but also shifted a lot of minerals and soil. This makes the region incredibly diverse in terms of terroir. It is also a fairly large region, taking about 1.5 hours to get from the most North East point to the most South West point. It’s lovely driving this time of year, as most of the trees have lost their leaves and it is quite stark. There are numerous small towns throughout upstate New York, looking quite rural but not poor. During the Summer this place gets pretty busy, and there is a lot to see, do and taste. The wines aren’t enough of a draw-card like they are in the Napa, but in a few years the 50% of the US population who live within a days drive will be flocking here to gobble up the wines.
Quick question; how many readers actually knew that they made wine in New York State? If you answered yes, how many knew that grapes were grown here dating back to 1829. Much like in the West Coast, Prohibition and phylloxera all but destroyed the wine industry here, and it wasn’t till after the end of WWII that it was re-established. Until the 1960s varieties planted here consisted of either native varieties or hybrids between French and American varieties. Many might think that it is simply too cold to allow grapes to ripen sufficiently. Similar to the Niagara Peninsula, the vineyards in the Finger Lakes are planted near large bodies of water which have a moderating influence on the micro-climate, reducing the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures allowing for a more even ripening. It gets pretty cold in winter here though, so grafting onto European vinifera varieties onto native root-stocks is vital to survive the severe cold.
I haven’t had the greatest luck in terms of timing for most of my visits in North America. This has been mostly due to vintage, but in some cases due to the big Wine Spectator tasting in NYC. The bad luck I experienced in the Niagara Peninsula on this particular Saturday was due to a promotion they have running every weekend in November, which is essentially a passport weekend. You buy a ticket and enjoy a bit of food and wine at as many wineries you can visit in one weekend. There were considerably more people in the region than normal, so I was contending with crowds. This was especially apparent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, closer to Niagara Falls with larger wineries closer together. Niagara-on-the-Lake is also very flat, which in my opinion doesn’t make for great wines, but is easier to drive around I guess. Below is a photo I took above the Niagara Whirlpool.
The Niagara Peninsula in Ontario has a lot going for it. Sure, it is one of the most marginal and challenging climates for growing wine grapes, but it was so many other assets at it’s disposal. For one, as a cool-climate region it is poised to capitalise on the increased interest in cool-climate food-friendly wines both domestically and overseas. They have also garnered serious attention for their ice wines, trumping some famous European regions in a number of competitions. The Niagara Peninsula is also conveniently located only an hour or so from Toronto (their biggest market), right next to one of the biggest tourist attractions in North America (Niagara Falls), and less than a days drive to over 50% of the US population. Their agritourism is some of the most sophisticated I have seen outside of California, and they are doing pretty well. If only they could have more consistent vintages…
Wineries don’t need to be on the vineyards they source fruit from. They don’t even need to be in the same region. Wineries in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) source fruit from Walla Walla (Washington). Wineries West of the Cascade Mountains in Washington source fruit almost exclusively from the East of the state. Red Mountain, a quarter of the size of the Walla Walla AVA, actually produces more fruit, but very little of the wine is made there. If a winemaker wants to make a particular style of wine, they will find the fruit they need. Many wineries deal with the tyranny of distance in different ways. Numerous wineries in the Western part of Washington were established close to Seattle, such as in Woodinville. The town of Walla Walla has been set-up as a wine tourism oasis. The Willamette on the other hand is naturally blessed with being less than an hour from Portland, but the Southern Oregon regions are not so lucky. The fruit for the wine may travel far, but visitors to wineries shouldn’t have to, and wine tourism hubs are as common as shopping districts in town.
|Very cool labels in Walla Walla, Washington
The first winery in Washington was founded in the 1950s. Ironically it was founded in the Eastern part of Washington, which is generally too cold and wet for viticulture. It was however, less than an hour from Seattle, their primary (and only) market. Washington is the second largest producer in the United States behind California, and nearly 99% of all grapes are grown West of the Cascade Mountains in the dry, warm and irrigated parts of the state. In terms of visiting wineries the best place is Woodinville, less than an hour from Seattle. Just don’t expect any vineyards.
Chateau Ste. Michelle