Robert Parker 88 Points: "The 2017 Dry Riesling is mostly unoaked, but about 5% was aged for six months in used French oak. It comes in very dry and at 12.4% alcohol. Showing fine concentration and rich fruit on opening, this rolls around the palate beautifully. You have to wait a while, until it airs out and warms up, before you find the underlying acidity you know is there. Then, it is bright and lively, the fruit and acidity balancing each other beautifully. It has unusual intensity of fruit flavor while remaining dry. The next day it is in perfect shape, impeccably balanced and gentle, with just a little acidic pop on the finish. That second impression was good but not nearly as good as the first impression. It had pretty much shed all the baby fat at that point, seeming a lot more typical and not nearly as interesting. It should continue developing for a couple of years and hold well for several more.
When I tasted these wines, I basically said first "Wow!" and then "Really?" These 2017s seemed rather different than what I normally see—more richness with the acidity balanced more by concentration. (This is not the only estate where I saw that.) In that style, they seem pretty fine, but they are not the norm stylistically. That prompted an email to winemaker Kelby Russell. He said that 2017 was "indeed a bit of an outlier vintage, to say the least! The 2017 regular Dry for [Empire] is, in fact, as dry as it claims—and all of that, if not more. There was some shifting in terms of fruit sourcing that I pulled off starting that year, however, leaning a bit more into the richer/denser vineyard sites (which are much harder to come by overall)." He said 2017 was marked by an atypically cold summer with quite a bit of rain (after late August it was struggling to get above 55 degrees Fahrenheit), and then there was a "stunning stretch of weather" from Labor Day until winter (sunny and in the 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit range). They saw "hang times on our fruit that we rarely can achieve outside of our top sites, as everything was hanging cleanly and ripening slowly. So, lots of flavor development from hang time but not necessarily over-the-top sugars or crashing acid." Russell said, "The Reserve would be the quintessence of 2017 oddities for EE. It was a single vineyard that I finally had picked on November 20th (!), a date that is almost hard to believe is real. Beautiful fruit, great concentration and a nice slow ferment in tank." To me, these taste more like the somewhat off-dry Mosel style (ignoring sugar issues) in lushness rather than the steely Dry Rieslings I usually see in the Finger Lakes (compare the 2014 Anthony Road, revisited in this issue) and from Russell in particular. These are fascinating, but they do have some questions to answer in the cellar."
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