With the intense crush period over, wineries have an opportunity to celebrate, thank their regular customers/wine club members, and even unload a few last cases for the year. The past two weekends, we were able to attend two holiday parties and one barrel tasting. All were fun, and all were quite different.
First up was a holiday party and library tasting at Billsboro where, with the help of talented chef Samantha Buyskes, owners Vinny and Kim Aliperti went hog wild. “Sam” is an incredible presence on the local scene. She has run restaurants, taught classes, gone on field trips to Italy, competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped” program, and even trained as a butcher and worked in a high end locovore shop called “The Piggery” near Ithaca. She prepared an assortment of appetizers in two courses, each of which was paired with two Billsboro wines. One appetizer was a braised and seared pork belly paired with 2011 Cabernet Franc and 2013 Pinot Gris that was simply heaven.
The next event at Rooster Hill Vineyards was more of the classic holiday party genre with tastings of current releases and some library wines along with appetizer grazing and ingling. Winemaker Barry Tortolon made available a 2007 Cabernet Franc and a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Every experience with the 2007 vintage elevates it another notch in our view. Although 2010 and 2012 were similar to 2007 weather-wise, it is hard to believe they will ever measure up to what 2007 has become.
Last up was the annual barrel tasting at Keuka Spring Vineyards, where winemaker August Deimel continues to innovate with both the format and the wines. This year featured four flights consisting of:
- a 2014 barrel sample of Cabernet Franc/Lemberger Rosé;
- 2014 barrel samples of Gewürztaminer – one single vineyard and one blend – and a semi-dry Riesling;
- The traditional make-your-own Bordeaux blend exercise with 2014 Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and;
- A comparison of released 2013 Vignoles with the 2014 barrel.
As can be seen above, surprises started from the very beginning with the Rosé. As with last year, it was a field blend of Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, but instead of using skin contact to color the white juice, August and Meg Tipton drew off juice from successive pressings of the grapes until the juice started to pick up color. They then segregated the slightly colored juice and barrel fermented it, and as the process continues they will blend back in some of the clearer juice and arrive at what we imagine will be a quite pale finished wine. You may “color” us quite intrigued and excited about the result.
The second flight brought up a discussion of winter damage, as the Preemption Vineyard that has been a substantial portion of the Keuka Spring Gewürztaminer produced almost no fruit this year. This created a challenge for August and Meg, because working with the same fruit from year to year gives them a better sense of what to expect. Using a new source required them to be nimble, but in the long run they may find something they really like. We sure did! And the semi-dry Riesling in a somewhat difficult Riesling year was simply classic.
Meg led us through the red blend exercise, and what really stood out for the first time was how distinct and different the components were, Cabernet Franc being a cherry bomb, Merlot being rich in chocolate, and the Cabernet Sauvignon showing a darker plum. Meg explained the recent switch to délestage that we reported on earlier, whereby on a daily basis red juice is pumped out of bins and then showered over the grape skins. This might have explained the bright fruit we tasted.
Curiously, where our favored formula in years past has been Cab Franc forward, after a few trials we arrived at a 60/30/10 Cab Sauv/Merlot/Cab Franc blend. Of course, as Meg explained the exercise was somewhat artificial since the wines were still not through secondary (malolactic) fermentation. Nonetheless, we will be interested to compare our hunch with August’s and Meg’s professional judgment in a few months.
Discussions on other topics made the time fly by, with one of the most interesting being KSV’s deeper involvement with Flextanks as a oak aging alternative. August explained that the role oak plays in red wine is one of the hottest topics in oenology research these days. Although the important of oak has been assumed for centuries, another way of looking at it is that oak was simply 16th Century Tupperware, and if there are more sustainable alternatives, then we need to consider what we are doing and why.