Beyond the sea: a tasting of Rieslings influenced by bodies of water

Lakes have been important in making viticulture possible in many regions. Think of Niagara in Canada: without the lake effect (cooling down summers and warming up winters) you wouldn’t have a wine region. And the Finger Lakes are vital for this New York State wine region. This tasting, part of the 2023 FLXcursion, was actually held at Heron Hill winery overlooking Keuka lake. The idea was to explore the influence of water bodies on the wines, but besides this, it was a really good collection of wines to taste.

Sommer Handwerk Riesling 2021 Burgenland, Austria
Neusiedlersee is a big 22 mile long lake, but its shallow with an average depth of six feet. It’s possible to walk from Austria to Hungary through the lake. This is grown from the hilly western part of the region, on the Leithaberg. Schist, gneiss and quartz soils, facing the lake. The eastern part is much flatter. Unfiltered and unfined with low sulfites. This is a beautifully expressive Riesling with texture and fine mineral notes, and even some salinity. The acid is beautifully integrated. So textured and layered, this is really fine. 94/100

Sandahl Oh Deer Riesling 2018 Badascony, Hungary
Lake Balaton is a rift lake, formed by volcanic activity. 48 miles long, 10 ft deep on average, almost 9 miles wide at its widest. 4 hectares of soils, and this wine comes from a very rocky plot. Basalt soils, with sediments from the Pannonian sea. This is really mineral and expressive with sweet cherry, lime and pear notes, and a lovely grainy, savoury, saline mineral twist. Nice juiciness here with a hint of sweetness to the fruit (6.8 g/l rs), and a slight stoniness. 93/100

Martins Lane Simes Vineyard Riesling 2021
Lake Okanagan is 84 miles long and is at 1100 feet elevation, and gets as deep as 750 feet. This vineyard is a 7 hectare block with 1 hectare of Riesling at the bottom. The lake effect is as a buffer of temperature. Clone 49. 8 h maceration, settle the wine, then ferment mostly in stainless steel (20% in neutral oak), and the first time it sees SO2 is just before bottling. Concentrated, bold and vibrant with keen acidity (20 g/l acid, 28 g/l of sugar and 10% alcohol). Lime, pear, some apple and vibrant acidity, with some sweetness balancing the acidity beautifully. Concentrated and intense with real detail and purity. 94/100

Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling 2022 Central Otago, New Zealand
The vineyards for this wine are nowhere near lake Dunstan, the artificial lake that is such a big feature of the Cromwell Basin in Central Otago, but it’s interesting to try. Off dry and mineral with lime, pear and green apple. Really zippy acidity with lovely balance between the sweet fruit and acid. Good concentration. 93/100

Skeleton Road Riesling 2021 Lake Erie, Ohio
From the extreme northeast of Ohio. Minerally and fresh with zippy citrus fruit and a touch of pear. Quite delicate and pure with some nice purity. Has a sense of transparency and finishes dry and stony. 90/100

Michigan was the source of the next flight. The great lakes here, especially Lake Superior, make viticulture possible. Lake effect snow from Lake Michigan also gives some winter insulation.

St Julian Braganini Reserve Mountain Road Riesling 2021 Lake Michigan Shore
Bold and quite rich with lime and pear, as well as a touch of apricot. Bold, showing lots of fruit and a touch of sweetness. Has nice texture and depth. Lovely and enjoyable. 92/100

Left Food Charley Terminal Moraine Vineyard Riesling 2020 Michigan
Very lively and intense with a mineral, spicy edge to the bold lemony fruit. Vivid with spicy lime character and nice intensity. Has high acidity. Lovely stuff. 93/100

Mari Vineyards Jamieson Vineyard Dry Riesling 2016 Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Dry, stony and mineral with nice intensity. There’s a touch of pith and some subtle development, with good acidity. Great concentration and complexity: ageing really well. 93/100

The next flight was Niagara in Canada. Alluvial streams run through the vineyards in Niagara, with traces of the lake’s presence (it’s receded quite a bit from its highest level). This adds some interesting extra elements. Bedrock is dolomitic limestone, with varying depths of over material over the top. The lake effect is critical here: Ontario is a deep lake that very rarely freezes over, and this stops the winters getting too cool. The other important factor is the presence of the escarpment, running roughly parallel to the lake. 

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Dolomitic limestone here: lots of it. Complex and lively with sweet citrus fruit and a touch of sweetness, as well as really high acidity. Intense, pure and concentrated with a sweet limey edge. Very powerful and intense. 94/100

Dobbin Dry Riesling 2019 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
High limestone site. This is generous and mineral with nice texture, showing some depth. There’s a lovely mouthfeel with some riper melon and pear notes as well as some limestone. Such a textural wine. 93/100

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2017 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Powerful, lively and intense with a distinctive mineral complexity. Limey and dry with great concentration. Has a little development with nice pithy hints, and a long lemony finish. 94/100

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013 Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Canada
High elevation, a long way from the lake. Cold summer, picked in mid-October. Complex and intense with apricot, melon and lime, with good acidity. It’s mineral and is developing really nicely. Has a hint of sweetness, but the acidity counters it so well. Lovely complexity here. 94/100

Finally, the Finger Lakes, with four wines represented.

Hillock & Hobbs Dry Riesling 2021 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes
Shallow top soils, with some vines going straight into the shale. East/west row orientation, running down the slope. Crystalline, pure and lively with beautiful citrus fruit. Dry and crystalline with beautiful elegant fruit. There’s good acidity, but it’s integrated beautifully, and there’s good concentration. Quite thrilling, especially from such a tricky vintage. 95/100

Heron Hill Ingle Vineyard Riesling 2020 Canandaigua Lake, Finger Lakes
Light, gentle and fruity with nice purity. Has a soft texture and supple citrus and pear fruit, with a bright finish showing some mineral undercurrents. Nicely balanced, with a lovely delicate, fine finish. 92/100

Red Newt Cellars Lahoma Vineyard Riesling ‘The Knoll’ 2020 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes
A special vineyard on the west side of Seneca Lake (getting the afternoon sun, which is less direct), towards the south. Powerful, lively, complex and showing beautiful intense citrus fruit with some honey, a twist of cabbage, and some finesse. Beautifully expressive with keen acidity and a touch of sweetness balancing this out. Such precision here. 94/100

Sheldrake Point Reserve Dry Riesling 2019 Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes
Fermentation stuck twice for this, and it took a long time to finish. 11% alcohol, 6 g/l sugar. Tropical and exotic on the nose with some melon and apricot as well as some spicy citrus. The palate has nice development with some toast and spice, as well as lovely crystalline citrus fruit, and nice acidity. Very stylish and appealing. 93/100

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