Monday, March 23, 2009

Report from ... New York Tasting - February 18, 2009

New York ... State of wine

A couple of summer’s ago I was in New York state tasting their wines in the Finger Lakes area … in fact I wrote a couple of articles about it in two newsletters (#63 & #65). It has been quite a while since New York Wines crossed the border to let us try their wares en-mass. Sure we see them at the Wine and Cheese and Gourmet Shows in Toronto, but this time they were on their own and I was more than happy to get another taste of the wines from down-under-Ontario …

New York by the Numbers and Regions …

There’s a lot to learn about New York wines and the easiest way to get some footing here is to pile a whole bunch of numbers on you and from that you can take what you will - but what I hope you come away with is that they are not just screwing around with wine in New York State, they are giving it some serious due.

- There are 8 AVAs in New York State (Lake Erie, Niagara Escarpment, Finger Lakes, Hudson River, Long Island, North Fork Long Island, Hamptons, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake) of which the Finger Lakes and Long Island are the two “key” areas.

- The Finger Lakes boasts the highest amount of wineries with 96, next comes Long Island with 50 and the Hudson River with 33 - so that means there are plenty of wine soaked vacations that can be had by visiting.

- For those interested in when NY got into this whole wine business, it would seem they have been at it for some 300 years, the first record of grape growing was in 1647 when the Dutch put the first vineyard on Manhattan Island … seems they grew buildings better than grapes, that’s why they moved out of the city to more hospitable terrain. The first commercial winery was established in 1827.

- There are some 34,000 acres of grapes, 1384 growers, and 255 wineries. 26% of the grapes grown are for table wine.

- NY is still dealing with a majority of American (read: native) varieties (70%), with another 17% being French Hybrids and only 13% Vitas Vinifera (European varietals).

- Of those viniferous grapes Chardonnay (23%), Merlot (20%) and Riesling (15%) are the top three. The majority of Chardonnay is grown on Long Island (56%); Merlot is lumped in with his buddies, the Cab brothers: Sauvignon and Franc) and 80% of these can also be found in the Long Island area. Riesling is a big grape for the Finger Lakes, 90% of New York’s supply is grown there.

- Other grapes of interest: 56% of the state’s Gewurztraminer and 90% of the Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the Long Island area; 55% of the Pinot Noir grown can be found in the Finger Lakes.

The Wines of New York ... (beware, they are not cheap)

Enough with all these percentages and numbers … time to tell you which wines and wineries you should be visiting when you cross over the border, and which ones are worth sneaking back in quantity - I mean declaring to customs on your way back. We sat for a structured tasting where 10 wines were sampled; from Merlots and Meritage to Rieslings and White blends … here are my structured tasting top 3 -

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery 2005 Cabernet Franc ($47.20 - Hudson River) … astonishing wine made from 100% estate fruit … black cherry, cinnamon, a touch of spice, black raspberry, vanilla, pepper - unfiltered, so look for sediment - smooth and very good tannin structure - this one’s a real star.

Dr. Frank 2006 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes) … one of the forefathers of NY wine and a torch barer for the Riesling grape. Pretty nose, nice fruit, pleasant and crisp acidity with a nice finish. It’s cool climate Riesling so you should be able to put the fruits in here - think Ontario, then double the price.

White Springs Farm Estate Winery 2007 Gewurztraminer ($22.60 - Finger Lakes) … this is a beauty with rose and orange peel on the nose; the rose petals continue in the mouth with a good touch of spiciness and wonderful finish.

As my “almost made the top 3” selection I would have trouble turning down a glass of Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards 2005 Meritage ($54.35 - Long Island) … another unfiltered number that was complex on both the nose and palate - white pepper seemed to be the mainstay on both.

The Best of the 50 others …(with selected notes)

The tasting continued upstairs with 50-free pour made from a wide range of grapes available for tasting these wines were the best of their tasting flight.

Riesling - 9 wines:
Hermann J. Wermer 2007 Riesling - $26.15 … Finger Lakes
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Riesling - $25.40 … Finger Lakes
Paumanok Vineyards 2007 Riesling - $33.20 … Long Island

Chardonnay - 8 wines:
Millbrook 2007 Chardonnay - $36.00 … Hudson River
Nose - vanilla, smoky, woody and buttery … Taste - caramel, butterscotch with dollops of white fruit - yum.

Pinot Noir - 2 wines:
Millbrook 2006 Pinot Noir - $28.00 … Hudson River

Merlot - 8 wines:
Jamesport Vineyards 2004 Merlot - $32.00 … Long Island

Cabernet Franc - 7 wines:
Macari Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Franc - $47.00 … Long Island
Prejean Winery 2006 Cabernet Franc - $22.00 … Long Island
This one is all cherry made in a very easy drinking style.

Red Blends - 7 wines:
Bedell Cellars 2005 Musee … Long Island
I’ll hold off on the price until after I tell you about it … a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Stellar nose and palate. Nose is full of luscious fruit: mainly black fruit and black cherries. On the palate I thought for sure this is a “ringer” (from somewhere other than the rest of the tasting) - but after checking the label and making them open another bottle I was convinced – this is New York wine at its finest. Chocolate, mocha, coffee, cocoa, blackberries … wow. A little hollow in the middle, but that might come around with age. Currently the beginning and the end are powerful and delicious. Sit down, cause this kind of spectacular comes with a cost attached … $83.95. I still had trouble believing this kind of red wine came from New York, a state noted mostly for its white wines … if this is an example of the kind of wine they can make down there then watch out California – sure they have a few years to catch up but they are well on their way.

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