Heron Hill Hits The Highnotes
Not all are worthy winetasting stops but one clearly is, Heron Hill. Unlike the other mega-wineries, Heron Hill actually has been around for a while, and it shows in the quality of their wines.
John and Josephine Ingle planted their first vines in 1972 and built their new winery on a hill overlooking Keuka Lake. Today, the grapes used in Heron Hill wines come from two main locations in the Finger Lakes region; Ingle Vineyards, situated on the western slopes of Canandaigua Lake, and Heron Hill Vineyards, located on the western slopes of Keuka Lake. Heron Hill Vineyards, located at the winery, contain chardonnay and riesling that are some of the oldest vinifera vines in the Finger Lakes region.
Housing almost 80,000 gallons of stainless steel tanks and 10,000 gallons of oak barrels, the production facility was built into the side of the western hill overlooking Keuka Lake. The design allows Heron Hill to use gravity feeding rather than pumping much of the time.
Tasting at Heron Hill costs a little more than some of the region's other wineries, but you get to taste a lot of wine. And, up and down the lineup are very good wines. Heron Hill makes a very nice chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot noir and cabernet franc. The reds are a little short on the finish, but are nonetheless respectable with interesting aromas and a medium body. There are no fewer than 5 different rieslings, all quite good.
The best value in my book is the Ingle Vineyard Johannisberg Riesling 2004 at $17.99 a bottle. This wine has wonderful aromas of apples, dried apricot, melon and a splash of citrus on the finish. Slightly richer is the Riesling Reserve 2005 at $29.99 a bottle.
Really interesting was the flight of dessert wines. The Late Harvest Riesling 2002 at $35.99 was quite nice, loads of honey with a splash of peach. It lacks a bit of acidity, but is otherwise delicious. Then there was the Ingle Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2004 at $49.99, which shows terrific aromas of flowers and peaches with good balance.
Then there's the big guy, the star of the show, a Riesling Icewine 2003 for $99.99. You read that right -- $99.99. Though not billed as such, it's another single-vineyard icewine, and Heron Hill thinks they've got something special here. They describe it as a "bouquet of flowers and exotic fruits intermingling with mineral undertones."
On the one hand I want say, give me a break. Mineral undertones? I've never in my life tasted mineral undertones in a late harvest or icewine. And, the price is in the stratosphere, blowing past the best Niagara wines and cozying up to the best German icewines. It can't be justified. But, on the other hand, it's a fine, fine icewine. It not only has the bouquet of flowers and exotic fruits, it has a lovely citrusy twist at the end that gives it an awesome finish. Winemaker Thomas Laszlo cut his winemaking teeth in both Niagara and Tokaj, Hungary, some of the best dessert wine regions around, and it shows.
Whether or not you agree $100 is appropriate for a Finger Lakes icewine, think of the fun you can have noodling over this one for a $10 tasting fee for both icewines. (I bought the $50 Ingle Vineyard Icewine, by the way.) You just don't get that kind of opportunity in too many places. Don't let the wedding mill setting fool you, Heron Hill is a terrific place to sample a whole lot of good wine. And the views are lovely from their hilltop perch.