Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TasteCamp: Ravines Wine Cellars

I first got a chance to taste the wines of Ravines Wine Cellars back in 2009 at the Boston Wine Expo. I liked several of their wines and it was one of the wineries that convinced me of the potential of the Finger Lakes region.

At TasteCamp East 2010, after our Heron Hill Grand Tasting, we drove to Ravines Wine Cellars (pictured above) for a private tasting. It is a small winery, created and operated by Morten and Lisa Hallgren, a Dutch Winemaker/Oenologist and his Chef/Foodie wife. Their objective is to create "elegant and food friendly wines using Old World winemaking traditions with New World innovation." They specialize in dry European-style wines and produce about seven to eight thousand cases of wine annually.

Morten was raised in the Provence region of France and his family owned and operated Domaine de Castel Roubine. From the age of fifteen, Morten began working at the family winery. He eventually received an advanced degree in both Enology and Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, one of the world’s top winemaking schools, and spent his first harvest in Bordeaux, at Chateau Cos d’Estournel.

Eventually, Morten moved to the U.S. and spent six years working as the chief winemaker for Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars. In 2000, Morten purchased his own land and vineyards in the Finger Lakes region. The estate is situated between two deep ravines, which became the namesake for the winery.

Morten presided over the tasting, sharing his thoughts about his wines as well as on the Finger Lakes region in general. He came across as very straight-forward and sincere. He mentioned the debate between the quality of westwide and eastside wineries. The westside gets the early sun and the eastside gets the late afternoon sun, and consequently their grapes are usually riper. He also stated his belief that wineries should not label their wines as "estate" because most wineries are only first and second generation, and "estate" vineyards really need many more years before it can be determined whether that label is appropiate or not.

He also added that the Finger Lakes is a remote region and thus it is very easy to become insular. So, Morten feels the region needs to acquire a broader perspective, which will be helped by an influx of fresh, new wine makers. That is probably true of many wine regions, though more so the more isolated area. Plus, he does not believe the region will ever have organic wineries as the climate is not conducive to such.

We got to taste nine of their wines, including Riesling, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Meritage, and Merlot. Lisa (pictured above) assisted with the tasting and even made the crackers which were on the tables to help cleanse our palates. They were simple crackers but quite delicious, and I would usually not mention crackers, but these were much better than the usual. Plus they were homemade, and that is a rarity when most crackers come from store bought boxes.

The tasting began with three vintages, 2006-2008, of their Dry Riesling ($16.95-$18.95) as well as the 2008 Dry Riesling ($24.95) from the Argetsinger Vineyard. My favorite of the Rieslings was the Argetsinger, where the grapes come from one of the oldest Riesling vineyards in the region. The nose presented an alluring aroma of green apple and floral notes. On the palate, I was enthralled by its complexity, an interesting blend of green apple, citrus, mineral notes, and hints of herbs. It was crisp and dry with a long and satisfying finish. The 2006 Dry Riesling also impressed me, just not as much as the Argetsinger. It was similar to the Argetsinger in many respects, just to a slightly lesser degree.

The 2008 Dry Pinot Rosé ($14.95) seemed to me to be somewhere between an Old World and New World style. It had an almost orange color with a mild red fruit aroma. On the palate, it was mostly dry with bright strawberry flavors. A pleasant wine, perfect for the summer and would be a nice accompaniement for many different foods.

The 2007 Pinot Noir ($22.95), which I had previously tasted last year, actually seemed better to me this time, possibly due to its additional time in the bottle. Besides its red fruit flavors, there also seemed to be some earthy and spicy notes in the wine, reminscent of a Burgundy. Those later flavors had not been so apparent the last time I tasted this wine. Thus, I enjoyed this wine very much and would recommend it.

Ravines is producing some very good wines, which are reasonably priced, and I suspect the quality will only continue to improve as Morten hones his wine-making skills in this region. Morten and Lisa are both passionate individuals, and their love of wine is contagious. If you are visiting the region, you should stop by for a tasting. Or maybe Lisa will be back next year at the Boston Wine Expo.

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