In last month’s column on classic grapes, I mentioned (in passing) a few notable stars that easily qualify for the category, but whose stature perhaps falls a mere cluster under the trellis top of global recognition and, for that matter, wine grape dominance. Of course, these things are debatable, especially from those whose treasured wines consist of said notable stars; namely merlot, cabernet franc and syrah, as well as chenin blanc and riesling.
Wait, what? Riesling?! Yeah, you heard me…riesling.
The acclaimed British wine critic and German wine expert, Stuart Pigott once wrote, “Riesling has long been favoured by wine connoisseurs as the aristocrat of white wines.” He’s absolutely right. But, for those wine fans who don’t view themselves as such, yet do appreciate what a cool-climate grape like riesling has to offer in terms of style, finesse and subtlety, they too would agree. You’d be hard-pressed to find a grape that possesses the range riesling does, from absolutely bone-dry bottlings to luscious, viscous dessert wines. As Pigott concludes, riesling is “simultaneously crisp and juicy, tart and flowery, with a distinctive acidity fundamental to its structure.” Picked early, at the very end of, or even after harvest, riesling can offer outstanding results.
Riesling’s origins can be traced to the Rhine countries of Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland, where an abundance of legendary, generational producers bottle some of the greatest rieslings in the world; but it has also found great success in Australia, New Zealand, parts of South America and of course, the United States, most notably in Washington and New York State, specifically, the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York. It is there, along the east-central shores of Seneca Lake, the deepest of all eleven lakes, where Boundary Breaks Vineyard is located.
Husband and wife team and co-owners, Bruce Murray and Diana Lyttle started Boundary Breaks just over a decade ago, on a 120-acre family farm purchased by Bruce in 2007. The first plantings were in 2009 and first release was 2013. A mutual love of riesling and the Finger Lakes area, both Bruce and Diana are native upstate New Yorkers, was the impetus for Boundary Breaks Vineyard.
As for the wines…
If you’re looking for an approachable, crowd-pleasing, everyday riesling, then you have to open a bottle of Boundary Breaks Ovid Line North 2018 Riesling. This is Boundary Breaks core bottling, medium-dry, with 11% ABV and a very modest amount of residual sugar. Rich in both tropical and citrus fruits, its acidity can carve for days. With additional hints of strawberry and honeysuckle, OLN 2018 is a fun wine, lively and fresh, yet perfectly balanced for its intended style. Delicious on its own, yet certainly ready for an array of light culinary fare. Priced well under $20, it’s very affordable, but not a ‘cheapy’ riesling…value wins here.
For those who have enjoyed the endless wonders of a great dry riesling, you have my word that the Boundary Breaks 2018 vintage of Riesling Dry #239 is a wine you must have. For me, dry is how riesling truly shines. While its fruit characteristic is up front and stony in nature, there’s enough old-world hints of petrol and glycerin to really take you back in time. The weight is ample and the finish never ends. The number 239 is a clone number, given to this particular variation of the riesling grape; and of the various clonal choices available to plant, #239 is well suited for the Seneca Lake environment and marked by both its acidic nature and dryness. To add to the stature of this wine, Wine Enthusiast Magazine has twice named Riesling Dry #239 to its list of Top 100 Wines in the World, and previous vintages have consistently received 90+ point scores. And while I don’t always hang my hat on scores, landing a spot on this list deserves recognition, and the wine itself deserves one’s full respect and attention. Priced in the low $20s, it’s a steal.
And finally, riesling as dessert…
Ice Wine is a dessert wine made from grapes that are left in the vineyard after harvest, into the winter season, to dehydrate under the rays of the sun. With temperatures often reaching 15 degrees Fahrenheit (or lower), any water that’s left in the berries turns to ice. These dehydrated grapes/raisins give the Ice Wine juice an earthier, honey-flavored quality, which is a hallmark characteristic of this wine. The most famous and expensive Ice Wines are produced in Germany; and Canada is also highly touted for their precious bottlings as well, where their use of the Vidal grape is quite reputable. In the United States, predictably enough perhaps, New York is also a producer of fine Ice Wine…Cue Boundary Breaks Riesling Ice Wine 2019.
As mentioned earlier, Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes, pushing 700 feet deep at its core. Because of this depth, it actually does NOT freeze; however, air temperatures commonly drop well below freezing, and this coupling of low air temps with moderating lake influence produce a very unique micro-climate, conducive to great Ice Wine.
Rich with honey tones and viscous caramel, Riesling Ice Wine 2019 is a gorgeous wine. There’s no loss of acidity, so you know it’s true riesling, but the textural elements really surprise here and the unexpected balance is superb. This has winter written all over it, but I would absolutely drink it all year round. It’s priced in the $60s, reflective of its superior quality and limited production and it’s worth every dollar.
Get to know the wines of Finger Lakes and start at Boundary Breaks. To quote Pigott one last time, “Boundary Breaks belongs in the first league of North American Riesling producers.”
I hope we all have a safe 2021, and here’s to a wonderful year of wonderful wine. Until next time… Happy Vino’ing!