Finger Lakes Riesling, The FLXCursion Conference and Beyond
Riesling has a reputation in the Finger Lakes. Our signature grape is often portrayed as sweet and fruity, a fun drink for the summer, but not something that more serious wine drinkers would appreciate. Thankfully, this perception is changing as many wineries producing fantastic dry Rieslings that emphasize a completely different range of notes. (Click here to skip to some of our favorite Finger Lakes Riesling wineries).
In fact, like its noble counterpart Chardonnay, Riesling can be vinified in a wide range of styles and made with a variety of methods rendering it un-Riesling-like in some circumstances. Conferences like FLXcursion celebrate cool climate wines with seminars, dinners and a grand tasting.
FLXcursion was touted as “a global celebration of Riesling, its companion wines, and its terroir,” and it certainly delivered on that promise. Over the course of three days, representatives from ten countries shared their take on this grape in educational seminars, in a tasting tent, and over the dinner table. The goal was to showcase all that this grape has to offer, and how it is being interpreted differently across the world.
The Grand Tasting
The three-day event began with a Grand Tasting, featuring producers from cool climate wine regions around the world who brought their best to show how their wine stacked up against others. While there were a range of fascinating wines like Baco Noir, Blaufrankisch, Gruner Veltliner, Albarino and more, Riesling was the star.
There was an impressive array of Rieslings from as many different areas as possible: Clare Valley in Australia, Niagara Peninsula in Canada, Mosel in Germany, Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan, Marlborough in New Zealand, Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, and more! It was fascinating to see how much the grape could change based on place alone, and the different styles and production methods that people were experimenting with.
In addition to wine tastings by winemakers and distributors, the Grand Tasting had a VIP class hosted by Riedel demonstrating the importance of using the correct glass when enjoying wine. Each participant was given four Performance Riedel glasses, and the appropriate wine for each glass. Then, we shifted the wines to incorrect glasses and saw an amazing shift in smell- almost all became more alcohol forward and less aromatic!
The seminars were the highlight of FLXcursion, offering a deep dive into Riesling and other cool climate wines on topics like soil composition, aging and fermentation methods, new versus old techniques, and faults in wine.
The seminar on lees contact and vessels was fascinating. Attendees tasted through Rieslings that had been aged or fermented in different types of vessels, like steel, oak, earthenware and concrete. Each of these changed the wine in different ways, emphasizing a variety of characteristics the others did not.
The session also included a sampling of wines that had been aged on the lees, where the wine remains in contact with the dead yeast that in other cases would be filtered out after fermentation. Wines that are aged on the lees often become creamy and richer, with increased complexity and depth of flavor.
Riesling Variety on the Finger Lakes Wine Trail
Really drilling down into classic Riesling characteristics and variation highlighted how some producers are using oak to add body, texture and flavor; how some have begun carbonating their Riesling using a variety of methods; how it can be aged on the lees to introduce new flavors; and that sweet can be an amazing thing when done right.
Since FLXcursion won’t be back for another three years, we recommend taking a tour through the Finger Lakes to taste through a wide variety of Rieslings made in different and unique ways that will forever change the way you think about this grape.
Here are five Finger Lakes wineries that have a fascinating range of Rieslings that will make you rethink what this grape has to offer.
Hermann J. Wiemer: This is a great winery to explore sweetness and terroir in Riesling, and it should come as no surprise this tops our list since its co-owner, Oskar Bynke, was a founder of FLXcursion and an evangelist of Riesling. Their single-vineyard Rieslings show how diverse microclimates and soil can impact wine, and their Noble Select line is a good place to change your mind if you think sweet Rieslings are simple. The notes of citrus, ginger, petrol, honey, orange blossom, will leave you wanting more than a single sip of these delicacies.
Buttonwood Grove Winery: In addition to their single-vineyard Rieslings and a Riesling Ice Wine, Buttonwood Grove produces a Riesling that has been whole-cluster pressed, fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels, and rested on the lees for four months! How’s that for ticking every box on the uniqueness scale? Compare it against their more classic Rieslings for a fun tasting.
Bellangelo: Like others, they have wines in a range of sweetness and from different vineyards, but what sets them apart is their Bench series, which includes an experimental Riesling that was not only aged in oak, it went through malolactic fermentation, the process of converting tart malic acid in wine to smooth lactic acid. The result is a super textured, yet softer Riesling, that offers a fun comparison to the Rieslings you normally consume.
Nathan K: For Riesling aged on the lees, check out Nathan K.’s wines, available at Hickory Hollow. His Dry Riesling are aged sur lie (a.k.a. on the dead yeast cells) for a period of time, giving them a weightiness and body you don’t normally find in this grape.
Boundary Breaks: This winery specializes in Riesling, they have everything from Dry to Sweet, Still to Sparkling, and will happily talk about the merits of this grape the entire time you’re there. Make sure to check out their force-carbonated sparkling Riesling and the Riesling ice wine, produced by letting the grapes freeze on the vine before picking and fermenting creating a highly concentrated and complex finished product.
Weis Vineyards: It shouldn’t be surprising that a German focused winery is doing great Riesling, but these newcomers shouldn’t be ignored. Weis provides a different take on Riesling with their low-alcohol Winzer Select Riesling A coming in at only 9.5% ABV to their big and bold Winzer Select Barrel Aged Riesling, with the classics in between. At the Grand Tasting we also got a preview of their Riesling Ice Wine, and it is liquid heaven.
Forge Cellars: For a deep dive into terroir, head to this winery where you can taste through a range of different vineyards as well as blends of all of each, all while learning about the unique land beneath the vines. They are devoted to showcasing the specific flavors of each location, fermenting them in separate neutral oak barrels, then blending to produce the final product or keep separate as a single vineyard release.
Did you ever think there could be so much diversity in Riesling? Well, we obviously think the Finger Lakes is a great place to start, but there are also plenty of options around wine growing regions to tickle your curiosity. So, if travel isn’t on the horizon, do a little research, a little shopping and have some fun getting to know the complexities of this noble variety.