Welcome to The Cork Club. I’ve partnered with a great wine and cider shop in Ithaca, NY – The Cellar d’Or – to bring the best and most interesting wine from the East Coast and Midwest straight to your door. It’s pretty simple. I pick two wines each month that never exceed $60 total before shipping and they are shipped directly to you. These aren’t bin ends or mass-produced, factory wine garbage. These are real wines, made by real people. These are the wines that I’m drinking myself and most excited about — from producers you’re never going to get anywhere else.
Late last summer, when I visited the Finger Lakes ahead of judging the 2019 New York Wine Classic, I stopped in to taste and talk with Nathan Kendall, winemaker at both his family’s winery, Hickory Hollow Wine Cellars, and his eponymous label Nathan K. Wines. I’ve known Kendall for several years now, but I had never visited Hickory Hollow and I wanted to catch up on what he was doing with both wine lineups.
As we tasted through the whole shebang – including some library wines he had open because a writer far more prominent than me had been in not long before me – one thing was obvious: Kendall seeks to make wines that are distinctly Finger Lakes in their expression, without tasting the same as everyone else’s wines.
“When I moved back [to the Finger Lakes]in 2011, I found most rieslings tasted similar. Same approach in the cellar. Cultured yeast, temp control, stainless steel, no lees aging, bottled to trap fermentation aromas. The wines tended to be a little to lean,” Kendall told me in an email recently. “I was motivated by my time in Germany, where all the Grosse Gewächs were in barrel on the lees. So, I work with half stainless and half barrel, natural ferment, no temp control, and aged on gross lees until the following summer. The idea was to create Riesling with more texture and nuance.”
You’re going to taste that in this month’s first pick, Nathan K. Wines 2017 Dry Riesling. It’s all about the texture here – more weight than you typically expect from Finger Lakes riesling and quite dry with juicy, lime-driven acidity. Flavors range from lemon to grapefruit to pretty florals. A lot of actually-dry riesling in the Finger Lakes ends up tasting and feeling like little more than lemon water. That’s not the case here. There is a flavor intensity and a focus here that is really impressive. Think you don’t love riesling? Given this one a try. It’s yet another expression of this expressive grape.
The second wine in this shipment, Nathan K. Wines 2017 Pinot Noir is made from a 50/50 blend of pinot grown on either side of Seneca Lake (at Tuller Vineyards and Leidenfrost Vineyards for people who know the region well). You’ll hear people call pinot noir the “heartbreak grape” but Kendall thinks it is perfectly suited to the Finger Lakes.
“Pinot is consistent here. We’re able to get it off early and ripe every year as it’s an early-season variety,” he said “So, I don’t really see ‘bad’ vintages for it.” That said, he considers 2017 a “classic Finger Lakes year.”
I never rate wines based on tastings with winemakers. I prefer the controlled environment of my home, but I do write notes and also scribble a star next to wines I might like for this club. This pinot has two stars next to it in my notebook. There is a core of ripe, sweet red berry fruit here along with layers of leaf tea, savory mushroom and delicate florals. The tannins are silky and well-integrated and lead into a long, elegant finish that shows a nice bit of freshness as well. This is a stunner of a wine that not enough people know about.
As always, let me know what you think of the wines! We’ll have more deliciousness coming your way next month!