Work in Progress

What is it about good red wine that really puts a region on a map? Chances are, if Napa Valley wasn’t so successful with cabernet sauvignon her sauvignon blanc would fail to fill Yountville’s bistros and Calistoga’s mud-baths with throngs of America’s well-heeled. This isn’t to imply that Napa sauvignon blanc isn’t delicious but simply to state: white wine just doesn’t have the same appeal. Ah but Alsace, you say? How many of those in love with Alsace arrive at her doorstep tongue-tied from tannic Bordeaux and penniless from trysts with Burgundy? Most people, it seems, discover Alsace only after many years spent in frustration with other (and typically redder) appellations. Yes, from Willamette’s pinot noir to Walla Walla’s syrah, a region really causes a stir with a good bottle of red.

It’s widely known in the East that New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes have made great strides with riesling. In its June 15th issue, even that most revered (and often lambasted) Californian fount of wine authority, The Wine Spectator, shined a little bit of sunshine on this region highlighting a few of the area’s better producers. With that, most would agree that the Finger Lakes’ final frontier lie in quality red wine. Atwater Estate Vineyards, located on Seneca Lake’s scenic eastern shore, is part of the new vanguard attempting to raise the bar of quality for this region on the verge.

Atwater Estate Pinot Noir showed a pale raspberry-red in the glass being lightly extracted and brilliantly clear. To the nose light red fruits such as raspberry, cranberry and cherry were evident as was a light leafiness. On the palate this New York State pinot noir was lean and high in acidity offering little fruit extract. Although this pinot lacked depth and offered little texture to the mouth, it was a bright, pure and simple expression of the grape. While Atwater Estate was aromatically interesting and impressive for its purity, it was too thin and hard-edged, lacking in fruit tannin and suppleness. In short, it could strum a decent guitar but couldn’t carry a tune.

It would be foolish to dismiss this wine completely because it did show certain qualities well. Additionally, the wine-making seems quality focused, showcasing a lean, food-friendly style of pinot. Yet, one can’t help but hope for subsequent vintages yielding better, more convincing wine. Perhaps increased plantings of more diverse pinot clones will continue to improve Finger Lakes’ pinot noir. Better red wine will certainly benefit the region enormously. In the end, this wine is but a work in progress and recommended drinking only for those curious students and academic drinkers-of-the-vine. Hedonists will be sorely disappointed!

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