Digging Through the Cellar: An Old Finger Lakes Wine Tasting

When does wine go bad? This is a conversation I’ve been hearing a lot recently, and one that is beginning to shift. Unless something goes wrong in the process of winemaking, packaging or aging, wine doesn’t really go bad… it just gets more interesting.

Some local wine, like single-varietal reds, Bordeaux style red blends, or late harvest Rieslings, are meant to be aged. Other wines, like white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, force carbonated sparklings, or Rose are, most of the time, meant to be consumed in the year they are released.

We decided to see what happens when wine that is supposed to be drank immediately is tucked away in one’s cellar and aged.

Our friends Stan and Joyce led the charge and hosted the party, and invited us each to bring some wines that we thought may have been “over the hill”, past their prime, or just some oddball wines to help clear out space in our wine racks.

Finding Older Finger Lakes Wine

My partner and I don’t really have wine in our cellar that is over the hill: 1) we don’t have a big cellar so we’re diligent about drinking the stuff that isn’t meant to be aged, and 2) we haven’t been collecting long enough to get oddball older wine.

Luckily for us, I have a friend at work who has some older bottles of wine that were sitting around his office as decorations. He was more than happy to clear out some of the clutter and give us a couple. Thanks, Allen!

I felt like this was a great test as well- I’ve seen a lot of wine bottles used around people’s kitchens or on bar carts, stored in the wrong way for decades… and I’ve always been curious about what happens when you open one of these.

We ended up with a 1989 Widmer Seyval Blanc, and a non-vintage Heron Hill Table White. To track down the age of the latter, I contacted Heron Hill. According to Chelsea, their marketing manger, the label was used from 1987 to 1997, but given the look it is probably from the 1980s. She spoke with owner, John Ingle, who said that the wine was most likely a blend of Riesling, Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay, and would have been made to be off-dry with lots of fruit forward notes.

Drinking Old Finger Lakes Wine

We started the night with the Heron Hill Table Wine (est. 1980s). Once the cork was pried out, we were struck immediately by the dark golden color of the wine. The nose has notes of butterscotch, candied orange peel, hints of nuttiness, and some funky, earthy notes. The palate was silky and oily, with a hint of acid, and a grippy finish. Overall, the wine was actually pretty good, and really interesting to try. Win!

Next, the 1989 25th Anniversary Serv-rite Seyval Blanc by Widmer. It has notes similar to the Heron Hill Table White, but they were more subdued, and it didn’t have the acid on the palate. There were also some weird funky foot or dirty sock tastes when you sipped it, and nothing else. This did not hold up well- it was also stored on a shelf in an office, exposed to lots of light, so we weren’t expecting much.

1996 Poplar Ridge Marechal Foch was our next bottle, and it came out of the bottle as a not so pleasant brown color. It has a nose of sour cherries, prune juice, and not much else. On the palate it had a certain meatiness to it, that left a weird wet cardboard sensation on your tongue. As we let this wine sit a little, the sour cherry dissipated, and the raisin notes increased making it a little more pleasant (just a little). As one of our group said, “I’ve had worse tonight.”

1986 Cordon Noir by Baldwin Vineyards from the Hudson Valley was opened next. Immediately, we knew we wouldn’t be drinking this wine- it had been corked. Corked refers to the presence of TCA (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole). This is formed when natural fungi occurring in the cork comes in contact with certain cleaning products used in wineries. Corked wines are less common now, but it used to be a fairly normal hazard, with up to one bottle per case having cork taint. One other wine that night was undrinkable due to cork taint- a 2001 Semi-Sweet White Blend from Casa Larga.

Next, we went for a bottle that had a higher potential for still being tasty- a 2007 Ravines Pinot Noir Rosé. It has notes of candied grapefruit, raspberry, strawberry leather, with an oily mouthfeel that ended with clean slate, and stonefruit. It was delicious. We’ve heard the Rose wines don’t age well, but this is proof that it isn’t always true! It definitely didn’t have the bright citrus and fruit notes of a new vintage, but it was interesting and fun to try.

2004 Keuka Springs Chardonnay was opened next, and it has a nose of almonds, apricot, and alcohol, with funky, old apple and apricot notes on the palate. This wine didn’t hold up very well, but was most likely meant to be enjoyed at least a decade ago.

Final Tasting Notes

This night was super fun- not all that delicious, sometimes a little nasty, but very interesting.

Some wines didn’t hold up great with time- but they weren’t meant to, or they were stored improperly, or they had cork taint. When the winemakers created them, they did so thinking people would drink them soon, not leave them in their cellars and drink them twenty years later.

What this showed me, was to give wines that don’t necessarily have a reputation for aging a chance, and see what can happen. The Heron Hill table white and Ravines Rosé were wonderful surprises!

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Damage at the end of the night… 3 with cork taint, 2 undrinkable for other reasons, and some bottles we just opened for fun at the end to help clear our palates.

 

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