Ravines Wine Cellars is a Finger Lakes treasure. In the hands of its owner, the talented winemaker Morten Hallgren, Ravines has been making its mark on the region ever since the winery’s birth in 2000.
In his enthralling book, Summer in a Glass, wine writer (and news anchorman) Evan Dawson recounts how Morten Hallgren’s meandering journey as a winemaker brought him to upstate New York, where he purchased a 17-acre parcel of land on a glacier-carved hillside along the Eastern slope of Keuka Lake, where he founded Ravines. (See the link to Evan Dawson’s highly recommended book at the end of this post.)
Today, Morten Hallgren makes handcrafted wines from grapes grown in his own vineyard as well as grapes sourced from expert growers in the Finger Lakes region. His meticulous, hands-on approach to winemaking has yielded magnificent wines that are well worth seeking out.
Take his 2008 Chardonnay, which I’m featuring here. The vines are grown on a plot with a micro-climate perfectly suited to Chardonnay. Once harvested, the grapes are brought into the winery, where 20% of them are spread on screens and dried for a period of four weeks – a method used since ancient times for making dessert wines and even red wines like Northern Italy’s famous Amarone.
During the four-week air-drying process, Hallgren and his team bring the grapes out to dry in the sun during the day, then wheel them back into the barn at night, where they’re kept well ventilated. And if this weren’t labor-intensive enough, they continuously pick out the moldy grapes so as not to contaminate the whole tray.
But something magical happens during those four weeks: the grapes gradually lose their moisture and their flavors and sugars slowly concentrate. They will eventually yield an incredibly rich and flavorful juice.
After the grapes are pressed, the resulting juice is fermented in aged French oak, which imparts only a subtle nuttiness that doesn’t overwhelm the gorgeous flavors achieved during the laborious drying process.
Truly, this is small-production winemaking at its best. The result is a unique Chardonnay with extraordinary aromatics. Let’s take a sip!
Ravines Wine Cellars 2008 Chardonnay
Producer: Ravines Wine Cellars
Region: Finger Lakes
Residual sugar: 3gr
Serve lightly chilled
Pour the Ravines 2008 Chardonnay in a glass and you’ll think you’re looking at pale liquid gold. Beautiful and vibrant, the wine has a playful glow.
At first sniff, your nostrils instantly fill with powerful aromas or pears, white blossoms and citrus fruit. Delicate nutty notes also emerge. You’ll want to keep dipping your nose into your glass, just to take it all in – a remarkable thing, really, when you consider that Chardonnay is not known as a particularly aromatic wine.
When you finally take a sip, all those gorgeous aromas expand on the palate: lemon curd, ripe pears, delicate hazelnut and herbal notes. The wine is full, luscious and velvety with bright acidity and, above all, fabulously flavorful, lingering on the palate in the most delicious way.
The first time I tasted the 2008 Chardonnay, I instantly thought of pairing it with this autumn harvest salad with fennel-roasted apples, grapes, blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts. When I finally had a chance to serve them together, I knew I had the right match. The wine’s powerful flavors were a perfect complement to the flavors of the salad, especially the oven-roasted apples. Its bright acidity was in synch with the apple cider vinaigrette. The Chardonnay’s delicate nutty notes harmonized with the hazelnuts and its luscious texture was heavenly with the blue cheese.
Beautifully balanced, intensely aromatic and downright seductive, the 2008 Chardonnay is also a perfect food wine. Not only is it delightful with the autumn harvest salad, it would pair magnificently with a myriad of other dishes: like these butternut squash and leek latkes with pan-roasted cumin, this radish-top soup and slow-roasted radish roots with fennel, this artichoke risotto with lemon-herb pesto, or a cheese tray served with fall fruits… (To name just a few!)
Finally, when you consider its modest $19 price tag, the 2008 Chardonnay is a steal. I’ve already stashed away a few bottles in my small cellar. They’ll have to tide me over until the next vintage is ready to be savored.
Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes, Evan Dawson (Sterling Epicure, 2011)
Evan’s book is beautifully written, soulful and downright addictive.