Robert Parker 91 Points: "The 2017 Dry Riesling Reserve is unoaked and comes in at 13% alcohol. Very dry on paper (one gram of sugar versus over six of total acidity), this is nonetheless perfectly balanced on all fronts with big fruit. First, it will by no means strike you as austere. It is full-bodied on opening. Then, it adds more intensity of both structure and flavor while remaining amazingly clean, friendly and bright. Secondly, the fruit is gorgeous, lush and just bursting with flavor. The first impressions are awfully good ones, if rather surprising ones. I expected more intensity, less fruit. The next day, if anything, it showed even more flavor and even better balance, but it doesn't quite have the energy I often expect from Dry Riesling in the Finger Lakes. I still loved the refined grip on the finish and the understated bit of mouth pucker, although it is never truly hard-edged, always perfectly balanced. At times, it was even a little delicate. This may not be the most classic in the brand, but it has its own set of virtues. Hopefully, it will age as well as I think. Winemaker Kelby Russell added that "the Reserve would be the quintessence of 2017 oddities" for Empire Estate.
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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