Megapost: “Ices of March” vertical Finger Lakes ice wine tasting at Sheldrake Point

I actually found out about Sheldrake Point’s “Ices of March” event from facebook, which is interesting from a marketing perspective.  Anyway, I thought this was a unique opportunity to taste several ice wines, a specialty of cooler climates like the Finger Lakes, and one benefit to our cold temperatures.  The {vertical tasting} ($20, including a fancyman glass) featured four ice wines, with accompanying blue cheese, walnuts, paté, and orange-flavored cookies.


Left to right: 2007, 2002, 2004 December Harvest, 2004 January Harvest

From youngest to oldest:

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sheldrake Point 2007 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.6%
Residual Sugar: 16.5% (165 g/L)
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $65 for 375 mL (half-bottle)
The 2007 looks pretty much like any normal riesling would, pale yellow in color, though noticeably thicker in the glass on swirling. It also smells like a Finger Lakes riesling, with characteristic light floral and citrus notes. Also, it’s got a little stonefruit (I wrote “peach”) and pineapple thrown in there. On the palate, lively acidity stands up to the considerable sweetness very well, for a very fresh, zingy feeling. Lemon and lime join the party on the palate, kind of like Sprite. (Interestingly, all of these wines have quite a bit more sugar than Sprite [~110 g/L]). Really great, and not just for dessert. This {well-balanced} wine plays nicely with blue cheese and walnuts, and would likely compliment spicy foods (e.g., Thai or Indian) pretty well.
Rating: 3.5 corks corkcorkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 December Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.8%
Residual Sugar:15.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $90 for 375 mL
This wine was bit more golden in color. Muted fruit aromas compared to the 2007 give way to more honeyed character in this one. I imagine the honey character also comes psychologically as a result of the increased viscosity of the wine. It’s also got a long finish.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 January Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling (grapes from 2003 season harvested in January 2004)
ABV: 12.2%
Residual Sugar: 19.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $100 for 375 mL
The apparent crown jewel of the tasting, this wine was served at a Governor’s Ball at the White House in 2006.


Kerosene? In my Riesling? It's more likely than you think.

The label says 2004 but the grapes were from the 2003 vintage and harvested in January 2004, so for all intents and purposes, this is a 2003.  It’s starting to show its age. It’s just beginning to develop the aroma of “petrol” (a nice way of saying “kerosene”).*  This aroma is common in older rieslings and found especially in German rieslings (probably because many German rieslings will not be released for years after bottling, while FL wines usually come out ASAP.)  I have to say that the petrol is not a bad thing in this wine, and in fact it adds an interesting layer of complexity. I also noted some citrus peel in addition to peach aromas.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2002 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: 20%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $70 for 375 mL
The oldest and darkest of the bunch, with its deep gold color, is on the verge of browning. I noticed two things right away on the nose. First, a whole lot more of the petrol character than the 2003. Secondly, and unfortunately, this wine is a bit {oxidized}. In all fairness, it’s possible that I got a bad bottle. However, I actually got a re-pour (for an errant fuzz in the glass), and the wine remained the same. If the whole lot of wine tastes like this, they really shouldn’t be selling it for $70, or maybe even at all.
Rating: 1 cork cork

Overall, I enjoyed the tasting. The wines were served to small groups (in this case, me and 5 friends) so it was like a private tasting. The host was informative but a bit blabby. At a certain point I just wanted some quiet so I could taste the wine. Others, though, got a lot out of it. I still find ice wine in general a bit pricey for me. And though they went out of their way to pair with some non-dessert foods, I’m not sure I would crack a $65 half bottle to down with dinner. For me, I’ll leave it as an appetizer or dessert, both of which it’s perfectly suited for.

Ice wine is usually made by leaving the grapes on the vine until winter.  When cold temperatures come around (~15-18 F, according to the tasting room manager), the frozen grapes (the ones that haven’t {rotted} or been eaten by deer or just fallen off the vine) are picked and immediately pressed. 128816664704197436Out in the cold, most of the water inside the grapes will freeze, but a more concentrated solution of sugars and acids will not, producing {must} with very high sugar and high acidity.  The resulting juice is fermented (though usually not without difficulty), leaving a wine with a normal amount of alcohol for a wine (~12% abv) and high residual sugar. The labor-intensive process justifies the high price, as it is a pain in the butt to pick in sub-freezing temperatures, crush solid grapes, and ferment juice that is so high in sugar that yeast have a hard time surviving due to osmotic stress (Ref: Erasmus et al., “Genome-wide expression analyses: Metabolic adaptation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to high sugar stress”, FEMS Yeast Res., 2003.)

Published in: on 16 March 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (3)  
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Rogue’s gallery

JanKris Picaro 2004
Varietal: 50% Zinfandel 25% Merlot 25% Cabernet
ABV: 13.8%
Appelation: Paso Robles, CA
Price point: $8 (bought a 5-pack from wine.woot for $40 plus $5 shipping)

The 5-pack.  image from wine.woot

The 5-pack. image from wine.woot

Looks: The label. It is so purple!  And gold!  Plus, it looks like the Girl Scouts logo.  It probably doesn’t go too well with Thin Mints though.  Actually, maybe.  That might be interesting to try.

Copyright infringement?  Encouraging girl scouts to drink wine?

Copyright infringement? Encouraging girl scouts to drink wine?

As for the wine, a tinge of reddish orange is peeking through the normal deep purple of a young wine; it’s starting to show its age, but just slightly*.
Nose: Honestly, at my first sniff i got an interesting aroma: shellfish. like shrimp shells. Further down, i got sawdust, like a freshly cut 2×4. Eventually this led into some dark fruit, blueberryish characteristic cooked fruit zinfandel notes.
Palate: At first sip, I felt this in my cheeks. The {astringency} puckered them right up, an experience that I’ve rarely had in a non-experimental wine before. That being said, it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. I like a wine that firmly announces its presence in one’s mouth, like a medieval herald’s trumpet (you know, with the big banner on it). Dun da da DAH! WINE! It’s a bit woody, maybe owing to time spent in barrels, likely American oak.
It also had a hint of sweetness, which called me back to the fruit*. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has a bit of residual sugar. On the palate I was reminded of a wine I had a little while ago, Viña Borgia (garnacha). It had a tinge of bitterness to go along with the astringency, what one might call “oaky tannin“.
Rating: 2 corks corkcork

This wine was actually free. After purchasing this 5-pack on wine.woot I was asked to “lab rat” the wine. These things happen when you’re a well-respected wine journalist like myself *snort*. In short, I got a free bottle of Picaro in exchange for a timely tasting note (shared above). I’m not sure if my note encouraged anyone, as I really wasn’t too big of a fan. However, I believe that woot sold out of their holdings of the wine, so apparently price was more of a factor than the lab rat tasting notes.

In contrast to the Long Point Zinfandel (grown somewhere in CA), this Zinfandel had a lot of acidity. The high acidity intensified the effect of the astringency, which was probably brought in by the Cabernet Sauvignon portion of this somewhat unusual red blend. All in all, it wasn’t that great. In fact, even for $8, you could probably do much better (think Chile).

Color changes in 1, 5, and 25 year-old wines.  This is the only adequate picture of this phenomenon I could find.  img from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ.

Color changes in 1, 5, and 25 year-old wines. This is the only adequate picture of this phenomenon I could find, since all the wine journals seem to be printed in black and white. img adapted (read: stolen) from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ.

*Science! As red wines age, their color drifts from bluish-purple to brick-red to brown. Color in red wines come from contact of the juice with the grape skins. In the skins live compounds called anthocyanins. These polyphenolic compounds (or if you want to market a bit better, ANTIOXIDANTS) can be found in several different colors depending on the state of the wine (pH, oxidation, etc.) (Ref: Mirabel et al., “Copigmentation in model wine solutions: occurrence and relation to wine aging”, AJEV, 1999) As the wine ages, the reddish types begin to dominate over the purples. The rate at which this occurs can depend on the fermentation and storage conditions.

Once the wine starts turning brown, it’s oxidizing (more on oxidizing in a future post). For more info on color and wine, check out this page. While I kind of disagree with their statements about quality and age, it’s interesting to see a color spectrum for wines.

Published in: on 12 March 2009 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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