Red Newt: tasting some of the Finger Lakes’ best wines with winemaker Kelby Russell

Kelby Russell was in town, so I caught up with him at his importers, The Wine Treasury, to taste through the Red Newt range with him.

Red Newt is one of the leading wineries in New York State’s Finger Lakes wine region. I interviewed him last year, so if you’d like some background, this is where to go here.

What about recent vintages? ‘2020 was a spectacular vintage,’ he says, ‘kind of like 2012.’ Some people have likened it to 2016, which was another celebrated vintage in the region, but Kelby says that 2016 was an excessively hot, dry vintage, whereas 2020 was more even. ‘It was very good for reds and A- for Riesling,’ he says. ‘I don’t necessarily like warmer-vintage Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.’ But last year wasn’t as impressive. ‘2021 wasn’t the worst vintage we’ve had but it was pretty poor. It just didn’t stop raining.’

There’s also been an upturn in sales of Finger Lakes wines in the UK, and Kelby says that as well as Red Newt, he knows that Wiemer and Hosmer are also selling well here. ‘It felt like three years ago these wines existed in the market, but sold in bits and pieces, and now they are selling in pallets.’

There are two ranges here from Red Newt. The Kelby James Russell label is used for special projects and more esoteric wines that don’t necessarily fit into the main portfolio.

Kelby James Russell Dry Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.6% alcohol. This was an incredibly hot dry vintage. From the Nut Road Vineyard. Complex nose with aromatic lime, spice and a touch of honey. The palate is expressive and complex with lime and a touch of waxiness, with lively spicy characters, finishing dry. There’s richness here but also structure, and it’s nicely textured. 93/100

Red Newt Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.8% alcohol. This is very fine and beautifully expressive with a mineral core to the lemony fruit with some pear and white peach notes. There’s a bit of richness but overall the delicacy and finesse is the key factor. Tapering finish, with some fine herbal hints. 94/100

Red Newt Dry Riesling 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.6% alcohol. Probably the worst vintage in the last 30 years in the Finger Lakes, although their vineyards didn’t suffer too much (Kelby thinks this is because they fruit thinned the previous year, a heavy crop year, and so their vines hardened off properly for winter). This is a beautifully expressive wine with expressive fruit: there’s some melon, pear and even some peach and apricot, with a gentle texture and good but not high acidity. Lovely crystalline fruit here with some citrus on the finish, as well as a hint of white pepper and jelly. Lovely stuff. 92/100

Red Newt The Knoll Riesling Lahoma Vineyards 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.8% alcohol. This is taut and quite structured with lovely vivid citrus fruit. It’s compact and intense with sweet pear, apple and spice notes as well as some lemony brightness. There’s good concentration with some delicacy as well as good structure. Compact. 94/100

Red Newt Lahoma Vineyards Riesling 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
8.6% alcohol, pH 2.91, 63 g/l residual sugar. From this vintage this is a particular block hand picked and whole cluster pressed, full solids ferment, and left on lees 10 months before bottling. It has a monstrously reductive ferment. Off dry and textured with sweet citrus fruit and lovely juiciness. There’s a subtle spiciness here as well as good volume in the mouth. Finishes a little stony. Juicy finish, tapering nicely, with high acidity countered by the sweetness. 92/100

Kelby James Russell Grüner Veltliner 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.7% alcohol. This is from the Knoll vineyard, and it is barrel fermented and aged in old French oak. Lively, bright and chiselled with keen lemony acidity and a touch of white pepper on the finish. So keen and vital with a brightness to it, but it definitely tastes like Grüner. 93/100

Red Newt Pinot Gris 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.6% alcohol. Since 2006, Red Newt has had a single vineyard Pinot Gris source. Overnight on the skins before pressing. This is quite distinctive: appley and lemony with some subtle nutty notes, a hint of cheese, and a hint of table grape richness, finishing lively. Lots of personality. 90/100

Red Newt Gewurztraminer 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
13.5% alcohol. This is powerful with a spicy edge to the bright grape and lychee fruit. There’s sweetness to the fruit with good definition. Dry and expressive, finishing with white pepper on the finish. Lovely precision here: rich dry. 93/100

Kelby James Russell Dry Rosé 2021 Finger Lakes, New York State
13% alcohol. Cabernet Franc, three days on skins. Pale pink in colour. Fresh, textured and delicate with a slight dusty texture to the lime, pear and cherry fruit, as well as some rose petal hints. Dry, expressive and delicate. 90/100

Red Newt Glacier Ridge Vineyard Syrah 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State
12% alcohol. 20 year old vines in a very sheltered site (Syrah is susceptible to winter cold). Very peppery and bright with a grainy structure under supple sweet black cherry fruit. It’s savoury, peppery and quite supple. Very cool climate in style, with a distinctive savoury character, and a touch of clove and mint on the finish. Delicious in this light, cool style. 90/100

Red Newt Kelby James Russell Cabernet Franc 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.5% alcohol. Same fruit as the rosé, and same pick as the rosé. Nutt Road Vineyard. This is pale in colour with lovely delicacy. It’s floral and fruity with redcurrant and red cherry notes. The palate is delicate and fine with lovely red fruits and a really exotic character, but also light body and some elegance, with a touch of sappiness. Apparently, this picks up weight as it ages, which I can believe. 94/100

Red Newt Cabernet Franc 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.5% alcohol. 50% stems. Stainless steel. Lovely intense blackcurrant and black cherry fruit here with a chalky, gravelly edge. Quite Loire-like in style. Very structural with nice fruit intensity. This is really lovely. 93/100

Red Newt Glacier Ridge Vineyards Finger Lakes 2015 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.9% alcohol. Brooding gravelly nose with sweet black fruits. The palate is complex with some stony, mineral character, a bit of development and sweet fruit. Grainy and tart on the finish with a lovely savoury twist. Drinking beautifully now, and showing great balance. 93/100

Red Newt Glacier Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
12.5% alcohol. Sweetly aromatic with sweet red cherries and plums. The palate is juicy with grainy structure sitting under the sleek red fruits. Has a hint of autumnal character here. Juicy finish with some stoniness. Lots of tannin here. 90/100

Red Newt Glacier Ridge Vineyards Merlot 2012 Finger Lakes, New York State
This has some nice development with sweet black cherry fruit and some lush blackberry, as well as fine chalky hints. Creamy, elegant and textured with lovely balance. This is in a very good place with a hint of chocolate and fine spices, with a bit of oak in the mix. Very expressive. 93/100

Red Newt Tango Oaks Riesling Sekt 2015 Finger Lakes, New York State
Traditional method, disgorged a la volee. Going to give it a 2 g dosage. Grippy and fresh with nice citrus fruit. Intense and structured with lovely fruit. Complex, quite rounded, showing some richness. 90-92/100

Red Newt Tango Oaks Vineyard Noble Dry Riesling 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
14.8% alcohol. Not noble rot at all: all the clean fruit 3 November pick. Lovely aromatics of jelly, lychee and sweet citrus. The palate is concentrated and rich: it smells sweet but it’s bone dry and there’s a lovely jelly sweetness here to the fruit. The alcohol adds to the impression of sweetness, too. So distinctive. 94/100

Red Newt Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
First time they’ve ever done this. Harvested on Boxing Day: it was so cold we picked during the day. Viscous and intense with powerful, pure melony fruit. It’s soft and luscious, with amazing intensity. So rich, powerful and expressive. 94/100

UK agent The Wine Treasury

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