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A Virtual Finger Lakes Tasting Room Visit
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 20, 2020
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Ravines Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes, Sparkling Brut 2012 ($35); Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2016 ($30), and "Cerise" 2017 ($18):  This column, like so many recently, opens in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic which has prevented us all from meeting face to face.  A fellow Master of Wine, Charles Curtis, announced he would organize a Zoom tasting with the owners of Ravines Wine Cellars, a fine Finger Lakes winery.  The winery would make a discounted three-pack of wine available to participants and we would taste the wines together in a live-remote wine tasting.

Seven months ago, I would have declined an invitation to participate in a remote tasting, because in-person tasting opportunities abounded in New York City.  These days, I saw a real opportunity.  The quality of the wines made the experience pure pleasure.

The three wines included a 2012 sparkling Brut that spent six years aging on its lees in the bottle; Ravines’ signature, single-vineyard Dry Riesling from 2016; and a Pinot Noir / Blaufränkish blend from 2017 — every one of them impressive and highly recommended.

Ravines is an artisanal family winery in the Finger Lakes wine region.  Morten and Lisa Hallgren came to making wine in the Finger Lakes from Copenhagen and San Antonio respectively.  They founded the winery in 2001 when they purchased their first parcel of land, 17 acres between two deep ravines on the steep eastern slopes of Keuka Lake.  As winemaker for another Finger Lakes winery, Morten knew the local growers and their vineyard sites.  He signed on to purchase grapes from two of his favorite sites, Argetsinger Vineyard and 16 Falls Vineyard, and has used those grapes in the Ravines wines every year since.  Ravines now boasts 130 acreage of estate vineyards and 85 percent of its production is from estate fruit, but grapes from Argetsinger Vineyard, 16 Falls Vineyard and White Springs vineyard are still used every year.

There is much more to say about the Hallgrens and their winery, including Morten’s considerable winemaking experience in France and the Finger Lakes, the critical international acclaim that Ravines Dry Riesling attracted from its earliest days, the inspirational role that the wine played in the growth of Finger Lakes Riesling, and former chef Lisa’s role in building support for the wine among restaurateurs in New York City.  But the wines themselves beckon.

The 2012 Ravines Brut Méthode Classique is a fairly full-bodied, rich, flavorful, concentrated dry bubbly with noticeably creamy texture.  Its base is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in roughly equal proportions.  The base wine did not undergo malolactic conversion (ML is challenging in the Finger Lakes because of the high acidity of the juice) and so the wine’s acidity remains high.  But the rich texture balances that acidity perfectly in your mouth; that texture is due to long aging of the wine on its lees, about six years.  Despite that long aging period, the wine’s flavors are not particularly tertiary or autolytic.  For every suggestion of mushroom or toast, there are notes of ripe lemon and red fruits, for a fresh, fruity flavor profile tinged with minerality.  This is a world-class, serious sparkling wine.

Ravines 2016 Riesling from Argetsinger Vineyard is superb. Its aroma shows pronounced apricot, peach, mandarin, lemon peel and floral notes along with a stony and slightly smoky minerality (a signature of Argetsinger Vineyard, Morten explains).  In your mouth, the wine is truly dry but with a strong, fruity flavor profile.  This wine verges on full-bodied for a Riesling but it is not at all heavy due to its very high, counterbalancing acidity.  I consider this an authoritative Riesling — not to mention flavorful, concentrated and world-class.

The final wine in our remote tasting was the most modest of the three, 2017 "Cerise," a red wine that’s a blend of 59 percent Pinot Noir and 41 percent Blaufränkish.  And yet, for its modest $18 price tag, the wine is terrific, not to mention fun.  The aroma is fragrant with red and black cherry (hence the name, Cerise) and floral notes along with a whiff of smoke and a suggestion of black pepper.  It’s a dry, medium-bodied red with soft and fine tannins, as you would expect in Pinot Noir, but with a spicy edge, probably from the Blaufränkish.  Morten explains that Blaufränkish is one of the few varieties that blends well with Pinot Noir.  In the blend, Pinot Noir (from Dijon clones) contributes softness while Blaufränkish (from White Springs Vineyard) contributes structure.

“Our driving idea in red winemaking is not to over-do it,” Morten explains.  His use of oak is not excessive, the handling of the grapes and wines is not excessive.  These techniques play to the reality of the Finger Lakes and its wine potential.

All these wines are available on the Ravines website. I highly recommend them.

Ravines Brut 2012, 95 Points
Ravines Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2016, 94 Points
Ravines "Cerise" 2017, 91 Points  

More by Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW:    "On My Table"