Oct 132014
 

It’s Drink Local Wine Week 2014, and we kicked it off with a trip to TasteCamp in Hudson Valley, New York. For those in the know, New York is one of the top five wine producing states in the nation. When most people think of New York wine, however, they would most likely choose the Finger Lakes and maybe Long Island. Hudson Valley wine wouldn’t be high on their list. Well, I’m here to tell you that they make some pretty damned decent wine in Hudson Valley.

Is it the caliber of Napa Valley or Willamette Valley? Well, no, probably not. They still have some growing up to do; ironically, since they claim the oldest continually operating winery and oldest planted vineyard in the country.  They haven’t quite found their identity like the Finger Lakes has with cold climate varieties such as Riesling and Long Island has with Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Cold climate varieties show a lot of promise, as do several hybrid varieties. Cabernet Franc could also be a contender.

That said, they have all the right ingredients. First, they are in the backyard of the biggest wine market in the country. By far, New York City is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to the wine business. But, because they are so close, Hudson Valley wine has two major advantages: access and price.  Second, they have enthusiastic winemakers who work together to promote the overall Hudson Valley wine community. I was told by Yancey Stanforth-Migliore at Whitecliff Vineyard that they frequently meet with other winemakers to taste and critique their own wines. Third, they’re not afraid to ask for help. Several wineries we visited use outside consultants from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and beyond. Ben and Kimberly Peacock of Tousey Winery regularly consult with Peter Bell at Fox Run Winery, arguably one of the best producers in the Finger Lakes area. And finally, they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Unlike many wine regions who emulate Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Napa, by planting Chardonnay and Cabernet everywhere and try to produce “international-style” wine, Hudson Valley wines seem to embrace their uniqueness, whether intentional or not.

The attendees to TasteCamp had the opportunity to taste dozens of wines. The following are some of the standouts.

Millbrook - Hudson Valley Wine

The converted barn at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery

In 1979, John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner of Agriculture, purchased the old Wing Dairy Farm and converts it to wine production. A few years later, in 1985, Dyson hires winemaker John Graziano and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is established as a commercial winery. Today, the winery farms roughly 140 acres, which probably places it among the largest in the Hudson River Region.  The winery is a converted barn and is really something to behold. It’s rustic, yet it really works for the area. I liked their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 ($30) and Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Chardonnay 2012 ($25).

Winemaker Cristop - Hudson valley Wine

Winemaker Kristop Brown with a little intro for TasteCamp attendees.

Robibero Family Vineyards

Harry and Carole Robibero purchased their 42 acre estate in 2003, and began making their own wines in 2007. Today, their winemaker, Kristop Brown, is pushing the Robibero family to grow and improve. They are small now, but have plans for gradual grown, and will be planting a new vineyard soon. I liked the New York State Cabernet Franc 2012 ($40) and the New York State Traminette 2013 ($19).

Benmarl Winery

Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, it’s 37 acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. The winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1. Matthew Spaccarelli is Winemaker and General Manager, and he makes arguably the best Cabernet Franc I tasted all weekend. I liked the Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.99) and the Ridge Road Estate Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 (N/A).

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore literally built Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery from the ground up in what was an empty field thirty years ago. They built the winery, they planted the vineyards, and they made the wine. They have a sweet story. They are both avid rock climbers and met each other while climbing the nearby Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge can be seen from the winery, and is the inspiration for the name of the winery. I liked the Estate Bottled Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2013 ($22.95) and New York Riesling 2013 ($16.95).

Tousey Winery - Hudson valley Wine

Tousey Winery may be humble, but they make damn good wine.

Tousey Vineyard

Tousey Vineyard began as a family-run enterprise (and still is today) by Ray Tousey. The winery is now run by Ben and Kimberly Peacock – Ray’s daughter.  They are kind of the new kids on the block, but as such they bring a more modern sensability to a pretty traditional area. Kimberly and Ben are young and enthusiastic, and it shows in their wines. Their strong suit is their Rieslings, but they are make reds under a second label. I liked the Estate Grown Hudson River Dry Riesling 2013, Estate Grown Hudson River Riesling 2013, and Estate Grown Hudson River Reserve Riesling 2013. I don’t think the 2013 wines are officially released, hence no prices listed.

Hudson-Chatham Winery

I’ve known owner Carlo Devito for years. He was largely responsible for organizing TasteCamp this year. Quite frankly, he has a screw loose, but you’ll never meet a nicer guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. But, he’s also a brilliant marketer and built Hudson-Chatham Winery into a powerhouse. His signature grape? Single Vineyard Baco Noir. I kid you not. And it’s good! I’ve had the priviledge of tasting through several vintages and several vineyards. they are really unique and something to seek out.

There were also several creamery visits, a distillery tour and tasting, and some sightseeing around the Hudson Valley, but that is a tale for another post and perhaps another blog.

Mar 252014
 
Turkish Wine

Courtesy of Wines of Turkey

A five hour drive from Istanbul (not Constantinople 😉 ), Turkey’s Ankara province is home to Vinkara’s main vineyards and winery, which were established by the Gürsel family in 2003 in the village of Kalecik. This newer venture is part of the continued renaissance of Turkey’s viticultural and winemaking history, which originally dates to 7000 BCE.

Like many other Turkish wineries, Vinkara has hired an international consultant – in this case, Italy’s Marco Monchiero – as their winemaker. But, its main focus is decidedly Turkish. Although Vinkara’s plots include international varieties, it is the indigenous Narince and Kalecik Karasi that the company is widely promoting as they debut their wines in the U.S. (Does the world really need another Chardonnay or Merlot?) Moreover, 60% of its plantings are dedicated to Kalecik Karasi, along with the preservation of other important Turkish varieties.

The white Narince (pronounced Nah-rin-djeh), which translates as delicately, hails from the mid-Black Sea region (Tokat), situated a little closer to the coast than Kalecik. This variety is produced by Vinkara in two guises – regular (aka unoaked) and Reserve. The Reserve is treated to 14 months in oak barrels and it unfortunately shows. When tasting the two wines side by side, the overwhelming preference among the four of us was for the unoaked version. Perhaps the variety is just too delicate for so much time in oak (Kavaklidere’s Prestige Narince only spends nine months in oak and seemed much more balanced to my palate on previous tastings).

Also available in unoaked and oaked styles, the Kalecik Karasi (pronounced Kah-le-djic-car-ah-ser) is a red grape whose name stems from its origin’s proximity to the village of Kalecik, translating as “black from the small castle” given that Kalecik is home to –you guessed it– a small castle. This low tannin variety offers lovely freshness and bright red fruit character on the palate. Much less delicate than the Narince, the Reserve Kalecik Karasi wasn’t hurt by its 14 months of oak aging.

Choosing to drink these wines provides a refreshing change of pace, and, with the exception of the Reserve Narince, I found them to be well balanced, well made wines with good fruit, nice acidity and good length.

The company’s circular logo, prominently featured on every bottle, displays not only its name and location, but also the phrase “This is the time, my love, to pour the wine…” And I agree; you might say, it’s a Turkish delight.

For more information on Turkey’s wines, regions and its indigenous grape varieties, please see the Wines of Turkey website.

Oct 142013
 

 

Grapes on a Train

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

From walk-around wine tastings and dinners with winemakers to clever titles and cute comparisons, it’s challenging for wine public relations people to create something new and different for the press and trade. However, the folks at Complexity – New Zealand  have certainly succeeded with their Grapes on a Train event held in late September.

“All aboard!” came the shouts from the conductors as we assembled on the platform at New York Penn Station very early on a Sunday morning. We were about to embark on a unique journey, partially retracing the tracks of the famed 20th Century Limited.

Operated by the New York Central Railroad  from 1902 to 1967, the 20th Century Limited provided express service from New York to Chicago, making the journey in only 16 hours.  The passenger train was known for its high level of service, complete with its signature red carpet rolled out in the station platforms on either end. As journalists and sommeliers, we were similarly given the red carpet treatment when we entered the Hickory Creek train car, hooked up behind the regular Amtrak service to Montreal. This historic, Pullman car was part of the 20th Century Limited’s re-launch in 1948 and has now been restored to its former glory, used for private events held along Amtrak’s existing routes.

Given its remarkable history, the 20th Century Limited has been prominently featured in books and Broadway we well as movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.Thankfully, instead of being greeted by villains and spies, the group was welcomed aboard by winemakers from some of New Zealand’s top wineries.

Upon departure, we headed north past beautiful views of the Hudson River and fall foliage on our way to Canada. But, while the scenery was stunning, our true itinerary was New Zealand, as the winemakers presented several seminars with guided tastings.

The seminars were led by the winemakers, all members of the Complexity-New Zealand consortium. This portfolio crosses wine regions and emphasizes New Zealand’s high quality wines, with membership currently limited to 17 producers.   We kicked off the day with a general introduction to New Zealand – its history, its culture, its people and its land. With the stage set, we then moved onto the varietally-focused tastings.

Wines on the Train

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

 

Sauvignon Blanc with Brett Bermingham, Winemaker of Nautilus Estate and Tim Heath, Winemaker at Cloudy Bay
It’s nearly impossible to speak about New Zealand wine without mentioning Sauvignon Blanc as the grape that put New Zealand on the world stage. However, the discussion centered on the diversity of Sauvignon Blanc, looking at differences among grapes grown on gravels compared to those grown on clays as well as among the Wairau and Awatere Valleys situated within the greater Marlborough region. In this regard, clay soils provide more herbal/green notes and less tropical fruit. As New Zealand producers become more experienced and their vines become more mature, it is expected that more sophisticated styles of Sauvignon Blanc will be seen in the future. Among the most interesting wines tasted in this session (and perhaps of the entire event) was a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from 1996, which showed that although these wines are best enjoyed in their youth, they can provide complex aromas and flavors with age. Among the younger wines, I really liked the Mud House “The Woolshed” Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Aromatics Seminar with Rudi Bauer, Winemaker of Quartz Reef and Ben Glover, Chief Winemaker at Mud House Wines
Less well known than Sauvignon Blanc, the aromatic white varieties of New Zealand can be traced back to the 1980s when Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris were first planted. Rudi suggested that these varieties were more about purity of varietal expression than about winemaking, additionally emphasizing the link between aromatics and acidity. Rudi acknowledged that you don’t always know what you are getting from Pinot Gris, but with Riesling, the standard of quality is better. He felt that the reason Pinot Gris was way behind Riesling in its development was that the initial stock had come from Geisenheim, when the focus was on quantity, not quality. As progress is made, alcohol levels are coming down as are sugar levels. Consequently, Pinot Gris wines are becoming more food friendly to support cuisine along with a trend toward longer time spent on the lees, resulting in wines with more richness and texture. My favorite wine of the session was the Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris 2012 , Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand.

Pinot Noir with Matt Dicey, General Manager and Winemaker of Mt. Difficulty Wines and Ben Glover, Chief Winemaker at Mud House Wines
Although Matt admitted that Burgundy is a reference point for Pinot Noir, he also emphasized the word, Tūrangawaewae, which is Maori for “where we stand,” an indigenous concept similar to that of terroir. Building on this aspect, he mentioned the regional and vineyard differences as well as the increased exposure to UV light in New Zealand as compared to vineyards in the northern hemisphere. Moreover, Central Otago fruit is credited with delivering darker fruit flavors, while Marlborough is generally more savory in style. With wines from both of these regions, the session tasting provided further confirmation of this diversity. My favorite was the Villa Maria Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah with Nick Picone, Senior Winemaker of Villa Maria Estate
Nick referred to the wines in his session as “hidden gems,” suggesting that most people know a whole lot less about these wines than others from New Zealand. Turning first to Chardonnay, he noted that premium NZ Chardonnay is typically hand picked, whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented with good freshness and a purity of fruit. Wines from the warmer north are picked earlier and at lower sugars, while wines from the cooler south with have more lime and citrus notes, with intense minerality in those from Central Otago. When discussing Bordeaux style wines, which are best associated with Hawkes Bay, Nick attributed the turning point for this region to the establishment of the Gimblett Gravels. Finally, he spoke of New Zealand Syrah, which he described as being closer to the Rhône Valley in style than to Australia, despite the geographic proximity. I was impressed with the Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2009, Auckland, New Zealand.

After arriving in Montreal, we stopped at the hotel to freshen up before heading to an evening BBQ, held at a rented house in the Mont-Royal neighborhood. From the home’s rooftop, we could see the Olympic Park, but the fall weather pushed most of us inside where we proceeded to enjoy a delicious meal accompanied by an enormous selection of wines. Having been to New Zealand several years ago, I was especially pleased to see wines from Amisfield, Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga, all places we visited (and tasted at) on our trip.

The next morning, it was off to the airport for the flight home, packed with luggage and great memories of a fun and festive virtual visit to New Zealand.

Jun 262013
 

Riesling holds a special place in the hearts of many in the wine trade. From sommeliers to wine buyers to collectors, ask any of them what varietal they prefer to drink, and chances are that many of them will tell you: Riesling (that and/or Pinot Noir). That includes me.

Consumer Perception

Unfortunately, Riesling suffers from a slight image problem. Blame it on Blue Nun if you wish (which, by the way, didn’t have a Riesling varietal wine until recently), but many American consumers view it as a sweet wine their grandma drank (if she wasn’t drinking beer). California producers perpetuated the problem by making off-dry Riesling wines in the 1970s and 1980s. Not that there is anything wrong with sweet wines. I love them myself, but global tastes have migrated toward a drier style in wines in general (mostly).

Enter the wines of Alsace. Alsace is a region in France on the border of Germany which specializes in wines made from German varieties, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Sylvaner. Most Alsatian Rieslings are almost entirely dry (i.e. no detectable sugar). The folks at the Wines of Alsace felt that it was a grave injustice to this noble variety to pigeon-hole it as “sweet” wine.  True, it can produce off-dry versions, but its innate acidity paired with Alsace’s unique location typically yields a dry, mineral-driven Riesling.

The Truth about Riesling

To combat this perception, The Wines of Alsace have published the infographic below. When I asked Louise Jordan at Teuwen Communications why they decided to take this approach to promoting the wines of Alsace in the U.S., she had the following to say:

The reason we created this infographic is because the majority of consumers still think all Riesling (not just Alsace) are sweet. And that simply is not true. We were also addressing the idea that consumers have a hard time understanding what exactly IS sweet. That is why we wanted to compare it to other beverages that are not typically thought of as sweet, such as skimmed milk. It is to start a dialogue about where Riesling is placed in the consumers’ minds, but also so they understand what is going on in their mouths when they taste something actually a lot sweeter than the average Alsace Riesling.

She goes on to state that every single wine or grape variety infographic she has seen from a whole range of sources always puts Riesling in the off-dry or sweet category. She makes a point that this is just simply not the case for all Riesling and a disservice to consumers when over-simplified all the time.

You might be as surprised as I was by the sugar level in these beverages. It’s an interesting concept, and one worth exploring.

For those interested, beginning in July, fans can submit their favorite dry Alsace Riesling and food pairings to @drinkAlsace using the hashtag #TryDryAlsace on Twitter for the chance to win two Riedel Grand Cru Riesling glasses. The contest will conclude July 31st with the announcement of a winner.

Riesling Infographic

Credit: Wines of Alsace

Mar 072012
 

True & Daring 2007 Riesling Bottle ShotThe oldest white wine I’ve ever tasted was a Reinhold Haart Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpchen from the 1921 vintage.  In a half bottle.  Opened the day before.  The wine was originally in a full bottle, one of the last three the estate had in their cellar.  Owner Theo Haart opened the full bottle for his grandfather’s 80th birthday but knew we would visit the estate the following day so filled a half bottle and then gassed and re-corked it.  We tasted the wine over 24 hours later and it was still fresh, vibrant and very much alive at 80 years young.  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it considering a half bottle of newly released Fino Sherry at 15.5% ABV oxidizes within 24-36 hours of opening.  Yet another mystery of the wine world.  So why is that Riesling ages so much better than practically any other white wine, much less any wine?  I’m convinced it has something to do with the grape’s inherent high natural acidity combined with generally less alcohol found in the finished wines.  Add residual sugar to the mix in the case of the Mosel Spätlese and you have a magic recipe that will consistently result in years, even decades, in the cellar.

But the aging phenomenon is not just limited to the fruity styled wines.  I’ve enjoyed bottles from Australia and New Zealand that were several decades old and still possessed a great deal of freshness and youth.  These older dry Rieslings remind me of aged fine white Burgundies in terms of their aromatic complexity and layered palates.  And they are wonderfully versatile when it comes to pairing with food.  An old vintage of Riesling goes with practically everything except for red meat and some believe that even that gap can be bridged with enough age.  Hanno Zilliken, of Weingut Geltz- Zilliken in the Saar Valley, once told me that a good 25-30 year old Spätlese was a perfect match with venison, wild boar and other local game.  I tasted one of his older vintages soon after with wild boar carpaccio and was instantly converted.

But finding an older Riesling is not exactly an easy task.  In today’s wine world where instant gratification and quick inventory turnover are the rules of engagement, it’s challenging to find a bottle that’s had some decent cellar time.  Recently, I did come across an outstanding dry Riesling from New Zealand with five years of age.  The wine, the 2007 True & Daring, had literally just been released.  Owner Hennie Bosman was emphatic in expressing his belief that good Riesling can only show it’s best with some age.  To that end he will only release his wines after five years of age.  The 2007 did nothing to dispel that rumor.  The primary ferment was done in stainless steel and the wine shows a great deal of varietal intensity in the aromatics with the secondary vinous notes just starting to appear.  Flavors suggest white flowers, preserved citrus, white peach, kiwi, chamomile/herb and a touch of mineral.  The palate combines the rounded texture from five years of bottle time with the rapier, mouthwatering acidity.  In short, a delicious white ready to enjoy now and over the next 15 or so years if you have the patience.