"Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me…"

by Katie Pizzuto on November 17, 2008

in Finger Lakes,Riesling,Wine

fightingwhitesIf I had a dollar for every time I served a riesling at a wine tasting and watched someone wince at the mere mention of the name, saying “Oh, no, I don’t like riesling—too sweet for me” I’d be…well, I’d be not so broke. I’m good enough at what I do to be able to maintain composure and explain that it’s a commonly held misconception about rieslings, but what I really wanna do is give them a wedgie. In the end, though, it’s really not their fault because there are, in fact, a lot of rieslings out there that would give Welsh’s white grape juice a run for its money…and a lot of that is readily found stateside.

The Finger Lakes region of New York has been a go-to spot for riesling ever since Dr. Konstantin Frank decided nearly 50 years ago that European varietals could thrive there. Nowadays, rieslings from that region run the gamut from simple, unoffensive quenchers (usually “semi-dry”) to focused, balanced wines capable of aging (usually “dry”). Problem is, sometimes those you think of as dry are labeled semi-dry and those that are labeled dry seem like they’re semi-dry. What the hell did I just say? Basically, that choosing a NY riesling can be a tightrope walk. It’s impossible to tell from the label what style of riesling you’re gonna get. Dry rieslings can sometimes be overly tart and green, and semi-dry can sometimes be inspiring, with little or no perceptible sweetness because it’s balanced. It’s hit or miss—something we actually kinda like when we’re playing angels vs. demons!

Please welcome to the ring, in the “demon” corner and wearing the red trunks, Bully Hill Riesling. What you gotta love about Bully Hill is that it doesn’t offer wine tastings, it offers a wine show. Tie-dye-wearing hosts pour wines for their audience while they tell jokes, sing and all but pull you up on the counters to dance. Its founder, Walter Taylor, was the black sheep of the Taylor wine family in the Finger Lakes, and wasn’t even allowed to use his own name on his Bully Hill wines (making him even more of a cult figure for college-going tourists). That’s really cool and all, but the wine? It doesn’t say “dry” or “semi-dry” on the label, which shows just how much they want to help out an unknowing consumer. And for as often as I praise a winery that steps outside the box with their packaging and marketing, I always add that they have to back it up with great juice. Bully Hill? Baby got no back.

In the opposing corner, our “angel” for this battle is Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling. Hermann Wiemer, funny enough, was once the winemaker at Bully Hill. His own winery, though, is a sort of sacred temple for serious riesling. No stand-up comedy, no song and dance, just great wine. His dry riesling (he makes a semi-dry as well) is NY’s finest, and among this entire country’s finest. If you want to dance on tables, there are always the city’s strip joints, but it ain’t gonna happen in Wiemer’s tasting room.

Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling ($16) – Pretty tropical and stone fruit, but dry and crisp with a touch of honey. Really well balanced.

Bully Hill NV Riesling ($9) – Fruity, nutty, and flacid with an unpleasantly odd sweetness (think Jerry Lewis).

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan Kropf November 17, 2008

What an outstanding blog on Finger Lakes. I really dig the imagery you use…beautiful writing!

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2 erikagwen November 17, 2008

I got to the blog today and before I read it I looked at the picture, and I said “get the funk out, is that Bully Hill i see!?”

It is!!!

Look, I’ll agree, the riesling, blech. But I have to admit, I haven’t found a riesling I like yet. But please, Katie, give Bully Hill another chance. Yes it’s a show and not a tasting, but really the Cab Franc is great, the Pinot Noir is not bad, and the Chambourcin will make a bad night good.

I don’t just say all this as a life long fan of Walter S. ___ or the winery (until I was 13 I thought all wine had a goat on the label), but as someone who truly loves their wine (and no not all of it).

But if you want to try some, call the winery, ask for Dustin & tell him that Erika said you need to try the Dirty Parrot.

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3 Katie Pizzuto November 18, 2008

@Alan….thanks! I aim to please!!

@Erika…I guess my goal will be to convert you as much as you’re trying to convert me…what is it about every riesling you’ve tried that you haven’t found a single one you like yet?? Then maybe I can tell you what to hunt down! As for BH, I went there when I was in college and had a BLAST. It was a place where wine drinking wasn’t taken so seriously and “soberly” so it made you feel at ease. But as my tastes have evolved, I just can’t drink the stuff. I LOVE Cab Franc…it’s one of my absolute favorite grapes if done right. And several folks in the NE do it justice, but Bully?!? I’m afraid to try it :-) And as for calling Dustin and telling him to send me some Dirty Parrot (is that a horny Jimmy Buffett fan?!?) I’d be willing to give it a try, but not if I actually had to PAY for it, simply for fear that it’ll be a few bucks down the drain that would’ve bought me a bottle of Les Heretiques!

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4 erikagwen November 18, 2008

I’m from the region so while I know there is some crap there, I do find it hard to admit.

but, I’ll will say, for a great finger lake Cab Franc, go with Dr. Konstantine Frank’s; it really is wonderful.

Dirty Parrot is what the girls and I started calling, must to the label artists chagrin, Bully Hill’s Chardonel (and the artist too. poor guy everytime he passed us we yelled “hey dirty parrot” and yes this was last year not in college). The parrot on the label is all coy looking and almost teasing.

Another Keuka favorite is Heron Hill. It’s about a mile down the road from Bully Hill. I’m a fan of their Eclipse. I actually have a bottle of that stashed in my closet at my dad’s house waiting for me when I get to NY for thanksgiving.

There was a nice lesson I did get from Bully Hill one year: Napa is for autoparts (www.napaonline.com)

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5 erikagwen November 18, 2008

oh hey I forgot about the riesling thing…yeah no I have not found one yet that I like. same thing with pinot grigio…

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6 Katie Pizzuto November 18, 2008

Awww, don’t think I’m dissing the region Erika….just BH! Being from Jersey, I’ve had plenty of Finger Lakes wines, and not only is it NOT all crap, but it gets better every year. Dr. Frank’s juice I totally agree with….he and Wiemer are my 2 favorite producers, hands down. I’ve also heard good things about Heron Hill, though I haven’t tried the Eclipse (dig the name!). Tell ya what….let’s get together, you and me. I’ll bring my “convert Erika to riesling” wine and you bring your “convert Katie to BH” wine :-)

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7 Katie Pizzuto November 18, 2008

Agree with the pinot grigio that’s found in the US….and yet, every time I work a tasting, that is what is most often asked for: “Do you happen to have any pinot grigio?” NO! Try some friggin’ torrontes with a chaser of shut the hell up!

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8 Coupe 60 November 18, 2008

Katie I’d like to see you try the Dirty Parrot as well …

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9 Katie Pizzuto November 18, 2008

Coupe, I’m too old to try the Dirty Parrot…I stick to the Funky Chicken.

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10 Larry Swain November 19, 2008

Dear Katie,

Ok, I’m biased. My darling spouse, who will undoubtedly read this, turned me on to your blog, and we think its a great blog and are both now faithful readers. BTW, that referred to spouse is the Erika above….

I’d like to make a few points, starting with Riesling….

Unlike my darling spouse (DS for short), I do like Riesling. I haven’t tried any NY ones though, since I only really discovered NY wines through DS, and since DS doesn’t like Riesling….well, we don’t buy any. My favorite US Riesling (not that I’m expert) was Chateu St. Michelle from Washington State, I haven’t had any in years but have very fond memories of a quite tasty Riesling.

Re: Bully Hill, I have to agree with DS on that one, and not just because she’s my DS. I was very, very dubious about this Bully Hill place, but I have to say they make some very good wines….some I don’t like as well and can do without, but some very good ones. DS mentioned our favorites, and believe me, Dirty Parrot is good, matched with my curry chicken, apoplectic fits. Its that good.

Do try the Bully Hill Cab Franc, it is good. As good as ol’ Konstantine Franc? Probably not, but then we be poor folk and can’t really afford Konstantine stuff all the time. But seriously, neither Dirty Parrot nor BH Cab Franc will make you wish you’d spent the money on Les Heretique (which isn’t a put down of LH, one of our house wines!)

On to Heron Hill, DS tried some on a trip without me and brought some back and I was quite impressed. Very tasty and we definitely will be back for more when we can.

Keep up the good work!

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11 Larry Swain November 19, 2008

PS: I’ll send DS anywhere you name for such a wine comparison! As long as she brings back a few bottles for me…..

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12 Katie Pizzuto November 19, 2008

Larry…glad you’re chiming in!! First of all, I just finished pouring the Chateau St. Michelle riesling last week at a tasting…definitely a great domestic. If you do get a chance, though, try the Wiemer or Dr. Frank’s (BTW, he was again named “Greatest Wine Producer” in the Atlantic Northeast region by Wine Report 2009.) You won’t regret it. As for the Bully Hill, I’m sticking by the fact that I can’t stand their riesling. Any others that you’d like to send your DS on a mission with, feel free—I never turn down a challenge, especially to turn someone on to riesling. I promise I’ll send her home with a bottle or two! Bully Hill…if you’re listening, consider this the glove smack across your face—you’ve been challenged to show me you can do more than gimmick. Care to accept?!?

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13 Anthony November 20, 2008

Wow Havent heard about Bully Hill in a LONG time, but a very good cheap wine. Great Blog Katie

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14 Melissa Dobson November 22, 2008

Hi Katie,

I think you bring to light the polarity that exists between the serious, quality-driven and not-so-serious, gimmicky wine producers in the Finger Lakes region. I love the image you included.

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15 Katie Pizzuto November 22, 2008

Thanks, Melissa…as one of our resident experts on the wines of the FLs, I’m glad you liked the post! And I couldn’t agree more—it’s definitely a region where wine making has formed a sort of dichotomy…but as I said in one of the comments above, the quality is getting better year by year, so let’s hope the gimmicky producers get a little more serious about the juice they market!

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16 Larry Swain November 23, 2008

Katie:

Well, we’ll be in upstate NY Tuesday through Friday morning this week if you’re going to be in the area too.

Or if you have an alternative proposal of how to carry off this mutual test tasting, we’re all ears. Send an email or something with ideas!

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17 Morgen McLaughlin December 6, 2008

Thanks for writing about Finger Lakes Rieslings. In fact over half of the 100+ wineries in Finger Lakes Wine Country produce at least one riesling. Many of these wineries are producing Rieslings in dry and slightly off-dry styles.

The new Finger Lakes Wine Country website has a winery database that allows one to search by varietal. So now it is easy to search for the Riesling producers.

http://www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com

Riesling Rocks!

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18 Katie Pizzuto December 7, 2008

Thanks for the link, Morgen! Will definitely check it out…I’m way overdue for a visit up there!

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19 Jonathan Hull March 14, 2009

Katie;

I had lunch at the Union Square Cafe a few weeks ago and was pleased to see that they had Wiemer’s Riesling on the wine list. Although I wish NY was better represented there.

Riesling is the grape of the 21st century. It is also a grape underdog. It’s not appreciated it and is the ultimate food wine. The grape has great flexibility, as it can be made, dry, semi dry, sweet, late harvest and ice wine. This grape grows very well in New York State and I want to bring awareness of the grape and the wonderful wines it produces.

Won’t you join me at http://www.TheNewYorkRieslingExperience.com May 2nd & 3rd from 12-5pm at Applewood Winery in Warwick NY

Jonathan Hull
Winemaker

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20 Katie Pizzuto March 16, 2009

That’s great…I love Union Square Cafe anyhow, so to know they’re serving a fantastic FL riesling is even better! Unfortunately, I wonder if part of the reason that NY wines in general are underrepresented is because they aren’t marketing themselves well (and loudly) enough?!? Let’s hope that all changes quickly. I look forward to seeing you at Applewood for the tasting!

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