A burgeoning brunch in Astoria: finger foods and Finger Lakes

I recently attended a brunchtime tasting that was chock full of up-and-comers: set in Astoria, home of a burgeoning food scene including quality markets, cafes, and eateries, we tasted a range of wines from Red Newt Cellars and Atwater Vineyards,  both from the emergent Finger Lakes region of New York, together with some tasty small plates served up by Winegasm, a wine bar and restaurant just steps away from Astoria’s famed butcher shop K&T Quality Meats.

What I found was more evidence to support my proposition from my post on Finger Lakes wines from a few months ago – that this is truly a wine region worth watching (and tasting).  The highlight of the day for me was Red Newt Cellars’ 2009 Lahoma Vineyard Riesling (about $20-22).  Despite coming from young vines (less than five years old, I was told by assistant winemaker Brandon Seager), the 2009 Lahoma Vineyard bottling had many of the things that get me excited about a riesling – a nose that offered not just fruity aromas but also a flinty minerality and a touch of petrol.  These qualities are hallmarks of Old World riesling but something I’ve never found in, say, rieslings I’ve tried from Washington.  Edge goes to the Finger Lakes on this count – there’s terroir here that I’m interested in, that is distinct from other top riesling regions around the world.

One thing that surprised me is how well the Red Newt riesling paired with foie torchon with mandarin chutney.  The residual sugar in the riesling combines nicely with the delectable richness of the foie gras, which I might have otherwise thought to pair with a red because of the dish’s meaty intensity.  If you make it out to Winegasm, ask for this even if you don’t see it on the menu.  You will be rewarded if they have some on hand.

Another riesling-based wine that I appreciated was the Atwater Celsius 2010 sweet table wine.  Nice, not over the top in its sweetness, with apricot notes and a floral quality.  The controlled dollop of sweetness had just the balance I was looking for to wrap up a nice afternoon of hors d’oeuvres.

I also had the opportunity to sample some reds from Red Newt and Atwater, including pinot noir, cab franc and a blend that included cab sauv, lemberger, and syrah.  While the reds (tasted alongside yummy bacon-wrapped prunes) showed some promising characteristics – delicacy, herbal aromatics, varietal correctness – I wasn’t as taken with them.  But there is potential, especially with the pinot noir for my palate, so I will be keeping an eye on how the Finger Lakes reds improve in future vintages.

One more wine worth mentioning for those looking to get their riesling fix in a slightly more budgety way was the 2010 Red Newt Cellars “Circle Label” riesling ($10-12).  An appellation blend priced to compete with the “Kung Fu Girl” rieslings of the world, this is a smooth, fruity riesling with just a touch of mineral. Green apple and other orchard fruits are evoked, and a citrusy acidity keeps this fresh, while a touch of residual sugar makes this appealing and approachable for the average consumer looking for an affordable entry level peek into the Finger Lakes.

I attended this event free of charge as a guest of the organizers at Winegasm.