- Steven Kolpan
- Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Steven is co-author of Exploring Wine, which has sold more than 125,000 copies, and was nominated as Best Wine and Spirits Book by the James Beard Foundation. Steven is also co-author of WineWise, a consumer-friendly guide to the wines of the world, which won both the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Award for Best Wine Book of the Year. He is also the author of A Sense of Place, a history of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola / Rubicon Winery (foreword by Francis Ford Coppola) that received the prestigious Versailles Award for Best American Wine Book in 2000. He is a contributing editor and the wine columnist for The Valley Table and Salon.com. In 2007, Steven Kolpan was named Wine Educator of the Year by the European Wine Council. He has been a member of Slow Food International for 20 years. Steven Kolpan lives just outside of Woodstock, New York.
Until recently, the outstanding quality and the amazing value of Spanish wines has been a well-kept secret in the United States. Certainly, Sherry - especially fino and manzanilla styles - has always had a small cadre of fortified aficionados, and some adventurous red wine lovers swear by the reserva and gran reserva wines of Rioja, but even the most wine-stained wretches among us have had little if any experience with Spain’s finest wines.
Well, now the secret is out, and the American wine market has been flooded with great Spanish wines. Consumers are beginning to pay attention, as wine merchants and sommeliers can hardly contain their infectious enthusiasm for the sparklers, whites, rosés, and reds of Spain. For anyone who is bored by the trying trinity of Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot, and who seeks a new sensory experience, the days of a wine world awash in predictable and over-priced plonk are – happily - coming to an end. And Spain is perfectly positioned to inhabit this exciting new world with wines that are compelling, delicious, food-friendly, and that deliver excellent value.
Currently, Spain has 63 regulated wine regions (each a denominación de origen (DO), the equivalent of a French appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). Two superior regions – Rioja and Priorato – are entitled to the denominacion de origen calificada (DOC) designation. Five to ten years ago, perhaps a half-dozen denominacines were represented in the American wine market – Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedès, Rías Baixas, Cava (for sparkling wines), and Jerez (Sherry). Today, these wine regions have even stronger representation in the US, but are joined by wines produced in Alicante, Bierzo, Jumilla, Montsant, Navarra, Priorat, and Rueda, Toro, and Valdeorras, among many others.
Spain is, after Italy and France, the world’s third-largest wine producer, and has more acres planted with vines than any other country. The vines are stressed, due to poor soils and a rain-starved climate coupled with no widespread use of drip irrigation technology. Vines must dig deep to find the water and other nutrients they need to survive. This is all good news for making good wines. Vineyard grape yields are naturally low, and the vines, especially the thousands of acres of old vines, produce berries with complex flavors and good sugar-to-acid balance.
While Spain is best known for Sherry and red wines, part of its “secret” has always been that dry Spanish rosados, especially those produced in the Navarra DO and made from the Garnacha (Grenache) grape are among the finest rosé wines in the world. And Spain is the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world. Cava is produced almost entirely in Catalonia, the Spanish province anchored by Barcelona, and is 100% méthode champenoise. Cava is wonderful as an aperitif or with food, and is one of the single greatest values in sparkling wine – or any wine, for that matter. It is easy to find fine Brut or Rosé Cava for under ten dollars (with vintage wines and special bottlings just a few dollars more). The largest producers are Freixenet and Cordoníu, but also seek out Segura Viudas (especially its elegant Reserva Heredad and Aria Estate bottlings) and Cristalino, Marqués de Monistrol, Paul Cheneau, and Sumarroca.
Spanish whites can be a revelation. The Rías Baixas DO, located in the cooler Atlantic province of Galicia, produces the dry, medium-to-full-bodied varietal-labeled Albariño. A perfect match with intense fish stews – cioppino, zarzuela, bouillabaisse, zuppa di pesce – Albariño is a singular wine, only somewhat reminiscent of a bone-dry Riesling from Alsace. Look for Morgadio, Vonta, Martin Codax, Nora, Condes de Albarei, and Santiago Ruíz, among others ($14 – 25).
The Rueda DO focuses on the Verdejo grape and produces lovely aromatic dry whites. Sauvignon Blanc is the new grape on the block here, and Rueda does it justice, with varietal labels and 100% of the grape in the bottle. Look for the delicious Verdejo-based Naia, as well as selections from Marques de Riscal and Valle de la Vega ($8 -15).
Penedès, a region that has found great commercial success largely due to a considerable part of the Cava DO resting inside its borders, also produces fine white wines from Spanish as well as French vinifera, and blends of both. White wines run the gamut from the familiar - Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, and even Gewürztraminer – to the previously unknown – Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo (the three basic grapes of sparkling Cava, but also used for still whites). Look for Miguel Torres, Can Feixes, Parès Baltá, Segura Viudas, René Barbier, and Cavas Hill ($6 - $20).
Sherry may be an acquired taste, but once bitten by the Sherry bug, it becomes an itch that must be scratched. There is just nothing better with tapas and other “small bites” consisting of fish or veggies, or cheese, or pequillo peppers, or whatever – than dry Sherry. The three basic types – fino, amontillado, oloroso – are elaborated by individual artisans making proprietary Sherries in a wide variety of styles. Just try a chilled fino with a plate of olives and a young Manchego cheese, and from that day forth you’ll always have a bottle in the fridge. Popular producers: Tío Pepe, Osborne, Lustau, Domecq, Sandeman, Barbadillo, Hidalgo, and many more ($8 and up).
The red wines of Spain. Where to begin? Classic reds come from Rioja (DOC) and Ribera del Duero (DO), and are based on the noble Tempranillo grape. Tempranillo is as important to Spain as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux or the Napa Valley, as Syrah/Shiraz is to the northern Rhône/Australia, as Pinot Noir is to Burgundy, as Malbec is to Argentina. The beauty of Tempranillo is that when the grape is made into a fine wine, it oxidizes (ages) slowly, due to healthy doses of skin tannins, alcohol, and juicy acidity.
Rioja is in many ways the perfect choice for serious red wine lovers. Three basic styles – Crianza (aged at least two years after vintage, released in the third), Reserva (aged at least three years, released in the fourth), and Gran Reserva (aged at least five years, released in the sixth), reflect the respective powers bestowed upon the wine by vintage selection and age. Because all Riojas wines must be tasted and approved before release by the provincial consejo regulador (Rioja’s regulating council), the savvy wine lover gets a wine that is always close to ready-to-drink, and in the case of Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, can improve a bit with a few more years of bottle aging. Fine Rioja marries well with hearty dishes – lamb, beef, stews; the lighter Crianza bottlings make a comfortable match with white meats and grilled fishes. Rioja, whose prices are on the rise, is still one of the great values in classic red wines, with bottles starting at about $8 for Crianza, $12 for Reserva, and under $20 for Gran Reserva wines. Some labels to look for: Montecillo, Martinez Bujanda “Conde de Valdemar,” Faustino Martinez, Campo Viejo, Cune, Contino, Marqués de Arienzo, Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Murrietta, Marqués de Riscal, Muga, and La Rioja Alta, among many other estimable producers.
Ribera del Duero, where Tempranillo is known as Tinto Fino, is thought by many to produce the finest red wines in all of Spain. Certainly, the wines can be great. The most famous wine made here is Vega Sicilia (founded in 1864), whose “Unico” bottling – a blend of Tinto Fino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec - is aged for 12 years before release, and sells for about $300. per bottle. The 1970 Unico is drinking perfectly right now, but Ribera de Duero also produces a myriad of fine reds at much more reasonable prices. Led by Alejandro Fernandez, who established his Pesquera winery in 1972, the wine growers of the region have proven that they can make incredible wines and gain a foothold in the ultra-premium world wine market. Look for the Crianza and Reserva bottlings from Alejandro Fernandez/”Pesquera,” Valdubón, Antonio Barceló/”Viña Mayor,” Teòfilo Reyes, and Condado de Haza. Prices start in the low teens, and can rise steadily, until you get to the stratosphere for Vega Sicilia and the very new, very pricey, very hard-to-find Dominio de Pingus, which is made by a young, Danish-born winemaker, Peter Sisseck.
I mentioned the whites of Penedès, but this DO produces great reds as well, again made from both Spanish and French vinifera vines. The various microclimates of Penedès allow wine producers to grow pretty much any grape they like, and make good wines from those grapes. Tempranillo is a very important grape here, but so is Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre), and Cariñena (Carignan). In the US market, Miguel Torres represents Penedès with great aplomb, with a wide variety of reds. Coronas (85% Tempranillo/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) is a tasty red for white and red meats at under $10. Gran Coronas flips the blend (85% Cabernet Sauvignon/15% Tempranillo) for about $20. Mas la Plana - single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – is an extraordinary expression of the grape and the terroir of Penedès, for about $48. Also, look for the value-driven wines of René Barbier, and the exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon from Jean León.
The truly “New Spain” speaks to denominaciones with which few of us are familiar. Bierzo (DO), led by the innovative artisan, Alvaro Palacios, produces extraordinary reds from the Mencia grape. The red wines of Jumilla (DO) focus on the Monastrell grape (the Mourvèdre of the southern Rhône Valley), and are great values. Priorato (DOC) has become the home to some of the most sought-after Spanish wines ever produced. The group known as the “Gratallops Pioneers,” again led by the peripatetic Alvaro Palacios have focused on judicious blends of Garnacha, Cariñena, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Palacios’ biodynamic Clos l’Ermita, at $350 per bottle, is thought by many to be the best wine ever produced in Spain. His Las Terasses and Clos Dofi are somewhat less steep in price, but still extraordinary. While you can find fine wines from Priorat for under $20, the best can be quite expensive. Look for Clos Magador ($90), Morlanda Crianca ($48) and its “Prior Terrae” bottling at $200. Prices come back down to earth with Scala Dei “Negre” at $15., and its “Cartoixa” bottling at $27, as well as Acapella from Cellars Gratallops for $25. And here’s a hint: look for reds from Priorato’s neighboring tiny DO, Montsant, still undiscovered. I have fallen in love with the 2001 Fra Guerau from Viñas del Montsant, a full-bodied blend of seven grapes, dominated by Syrah and Garnacha. An amazing wine at an amazing price: $12. Also look for Isis ($20) and Laurona ($28).
No discussion of Spanish wines would be complete without at least a mention of a “secret” that has been hiding in plain sight for centuries – Brandy de Jerez. Once you have tasted the best of these fine spirits, Armagnac and especially over-priced Cognac will seem almost wimpy by comparison. Rappers and hip-hoppers may never sing the praises of Brandy de Jerez, but you will. For $30 to $50 you can have the great Gran Reservas, including Cardinal Mendoza, Carlos I, Conde de Osborne, Gran Duque de Alba, and Lepanto.
Right now you can find Spanish wines from at least 25 denominaciones in the US, and it is hard to go wrong with any of these wines. Every style of wine is represented at every price point, and in almost every wine you choose, you will get both extraordinary quality and extraordinary value.
Spanish wines: the secret is out…spread the word.
Wine is about enjoying and enhancing the pleasures of a wonderful meal with friends and family, about good conversation, about getting to know each other better. A glass of wine with dinner is a small and quiet reward at the end of the workday, or it can be an integral part of a well planned -- or better yet-- spontaneous romantic evening. While it is true that there is a lot to learn about the fascinating subject of wine, there is no direct correlation between your level of knowledge and your level of organoleptic enjoyment.
As with so many subjects that appeal both to the instinct and the intellect, to the mind and the soul, wine has its myths. One of the major myths about wine is that older wine is better than young wine, and that fine wine must be “cellared” and aged until ready to drink. If you believe this myth then it follows that you can’t possibly be passionate about wine unless you own (or desire to own) a bunch of bottles collecting dust in a well-organized subterranean netherworld. You must also pay attention to “wine experts” who periodically announce how long you should “hold” your wine before drinking.
Hear the sound of that cork popping? That’s another myth exploding.
Let’s examine the facts:
• Better than 93% of all the wine produced in the world is consumed within one year of its vintage (the year in which the grapes were harvested); more than 96% within two years, and a whopping 99% of the world’s wine is consumed within three years of its vintage.
• In the United States, 87% of all wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours of purchase (this, of course, includes restaurant wine purchases), and 97% of all wine purchased is consumed within two weeks of the purchase date.
Bearing these facts in mind, a question arises: Do homeowners who love wine really need a wine cellar in their home? Building a wine cellar or other elaborate wine storage system seems like such an elitist thing to do when we realize that for much of the world, wine is a daily beverage that accompanies food, and when consumed in moderation gives a healthy dose of pleasure to the people of many nations -- rich and poor.
So, if you are among the many who enjoy wine with dinner and maybe have a few special bottles that you are saving for a special occasion laying down in the cupboard, do you need a wine cellar?
Frankly, there are ideal conditions for storing wine (55ºF temperature / 75% humidity, and in relative darkness), but we rarely store our wines ideally. White, sparkling and rosé wines are usually kept in the fridge, and reds are often shunted off to a too-warm corner or closet. And yet, the overwhelming majority of wines survive to please another day.
If we don’t have ideal storage conditions for our wine (and most of us, including me, don't) there are a few simple guidelines that we can follow to ensure that our wines will be in good shape to enjoy with a good meal.
• Once you put your wines in the fridge, leave them there until you are ready to enjoy them. Moving wines from a cool area to a warmer area, and then back again can play havoc with the cork, due to expansion and contraction. Once the seal between cork and bottle loosens, your wine is headed towards premature oxidation, which will ruin the taste of the wine.
•The cooler, darker, and quieter the place, the safer the wine. The enemies of wine in the bottle are heat, light, and vibration. The cooler and darker the storage area, the longer it will take the wine to mature. Also, make sure there is not a lot of vibration in the storage space; vibration, too, is rough on corks, and when the cork moves, you've got the problem of quick oxidation. Oxygen, which in controlled amounts is the agent for aging wine, becomes the enemy of wine when the cork slips. Again, once you find a safe place for your wines, don't move them until they are ready to sit on your table.
•Lay the bottles on their sides. With the possible exception of sparkling wines, whenever possible lay bottles down, especially if you plan to keep the wine in storage for more than a few weeks. Angled in this way, the cork is kept moist and expanded, and is less likely to crumble, which if unchecked will allow too much air in the bottle, leading to more oxidation and a fouled wine.
• If you have a cellar in your house, use it. The temperature underground fluctuates less than 15 degrees Fahrenheit all year round and the changes are usually subtle. As long as your cellar is in the 50ºF-65ºF range you've got a natural wine storage area in your home. If you use a small area of your cellar for wine storage feel free to employ an inexpensive humidifier or dehumidifier to adjust moisture in the cellar, but it certainly is not essential for the casual wine collection.
• Don’t kill spiders in your wine storage area. Spiders are our friends because they love to eat mildew, a widespread fungus in damp cellars. Mildew attacks and degrades labels and once again, corks, leaving an unattractive, smelly, and destructive residue. If you are arachnophobic, don’t use your cellar for wine storage, or just learn to love spiders.
Have you noticed in the above guidelines how susceptible wine corks are to multiple problems? Is it any wonder that there is a certifiable trend away from corks towards plastic-lined metal screw caps, cellulose “corks,” or rubber stoppers, even for premium wines? Cork may make the ritual of opening the bottle more romantic, but as a stopper for fine wines it has many problems, not the least of which is the increasingly serious problem of “corked” wines; the wine is ruined by the presence of 2,4,6-trichloranisole (TCA), a chemical compound that is probably connected to the chlorine used to bleach corks. The wine smells like a moldy old book and tastes even worse. Cork taint is a problem in as many as 8% to 12% of wines produced all over the world (Portugal produces about 85% of the world’s supply of wine corks), and it as likely to appear in a $40 bottle as it is in a $4 bottle -- or a $400 bottle.
The reason I bring up TCA and “corked"” wines is to illustrate that you can store your wines in absolutely pristine conditions, and still encounter problems beyond your control. It goes without saying that we are fooling ourselves if we believe that our wines were stored in perfect conditions prior to purchasing them. Retailers have become much better at storing wines, but it is still a common sight to see wine for sale sitting in the window of a wine shop, literally cooking in the blazing hot sun. Before the wines reach the retail shop they may have has spent time in a steel shipping container whose interior temperature is easily 100ºF, only to be transferred to a distributor's warehouse that is nearly as warm in the summer and dreadfully cold in the winter, and then roughly handled as the wines are placed in the cargo area of a delivery truck, which may or may not be air-conditioned.
With all that can go wrong -- and sometimes does -- it is amazing how hearty a product wine really is. Because most wines are reasonably shelf-stable, anyone can start a wine collection utilizing a minimum of care and just a little bit of money. Of course, if you want your wine collection to make a pan-aesthetic statement of architectural, sculptural, and environmental integrity, you can easily spend as much on your wine cellar as you do on your wines. Again, I maintain that the inner and profound beauty of wine is in the bottle enjoyed at the table, not the bottle itself laying in the dark, but I certainly respect anyone who employs the same grammar and principles of beautiful yet functional design for their wine cellar as they do for their home.
A custom-designed formal wine cellar can be a sizeable investment, and will bring joy to the wine collector or connoisseur. But is it a good investment? Does an aesthetically pleasing wine storage area add to the resale value of the Upstate House?
Brenda Graf, a realtor at Westwood Metes & Bounds in Ulster County remembered that “I sold a house with a temperature-controlled wine cellar to a French couple who liked wine and liked the cellar, but it was hardly a major focus of the sale. They were much more interested in the beautiful grounds, the stream, etc. I don’t believe that the wine cellar added any real value to the sale."
Shawn Jackson is a realtor for Caldwell Banker/Currier Lazier in Orange County. Jackson talked about a “$1.5 million house with a wine cellar and small in-home winery. The room impressed me and it created a quality in the home that could only help the sale, make the sale a little easier. A contributing factor, yes, and depending on the buyer I suppose it might have added $10,000 to the sale, but probably not.”
Shari Jones sells real estate for Irving Kalish Real Estate in Woodstock, NY and also believes that while a formal wine cellar can be a nice part of the house, it adds no real dollars-and cents value.
Jones summed up her position tidily when asked which home addition would add more resale value to a home, a wine cellar or a half-bath.
"Absolutely the half bath. No contest. No question."
Clearly, storing wine at home is no big deal if you use common sense. So, why do some people insist on formal wine cellars in their homes? It may sound funny to those of us naïfs who believe that wine is for enjoying and sharing with friends, but some homeowners consider wine storage --be it a cellar or a series of attractive shelves – an important decorative element in their homes.
According to Michael Babcock, president of www.wineracks.com, located in High Falls, NY, “Anyone with more than 12 bottles of wine should have some type of racking just for the ease of it. The larger the collection, the more a formal space is required, for both proper storage and organization of the wines. Many customers like to showcase their collection in their homes, so for them the decorative element is a must.”
Babcock asks his clients some basic questions when they approach him for a custom-designed wine cellar or for any of the numerous prefab storage configurations offered on-line by his company.
“We start by asking the customer some basic questions: How large is the available space? How many bottles are they interested in racking? Is the cellar to be a showplace for entertaining or purely functional? Are environmental controls – for temperature and humidity – required? What species of wood for the racks? What are the budget constraints? Are there any specific or special requirements for racking or bottle display required?”
Then, the staff of www.wineracks.com gets busy fulfilling the needs of the customer, installing the wine racks. It appears that customer need is healthy and growing. According to Babcock, “We do a high volume business in our prefabricated racking lines. We offer storage systems for just about any situation, from a counter top in a small apartment, to racks under the staircase, to systems that can handle thousands of bottles. We do see a movement for more custom racking as Americans are becoming more interested in wine & food, and seem to be spending more time entertaining at home.”
When it comes to his own wine storage needs, Babcock walks the walk. “I live in a town house with space constraints, so I have a 400 bottle free-standing self-contained wine cellar.”
Earlier this year, I was asked to be a judge of the 4th Annual Hudson Valley Commercial Wine Competition, conducted under the auspices of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association (HVWGA). I looked forward to participating, as the competition provided an opportunity for me to taste some of the best wines produced in the Hudson Valley.
On April 26th, the competition was held in a model house at Brook in Waterland, located on the 200 acre Bentley Farm in the town of Stanford. Brook in Waterland is a project conceived by Dutch investors to sell 25 homes, inspired by 17th century Dutch architecture, clustered on the farm, leaving 140 acres of the farm preserved as agricultural land and open space. The view from the kitchen of the home is a six acre vineyard, which will be planted to Cabernet Franc. The model home where the tasting was held was 4,650 square feet and had a price tag of about $3 million. Good luck, Brook.
I arrived bright and early, along with my fellow judges: Bob Brink, Fine Wines Manager for Arlington Wine and Spirits in Poughkeepsie; Chris Gerling, Cornell University Agricultural Extension Associate for Enology in New York State; Harriet and Bill Lembeck: Harriet is a highly respected wine educator in New York City and author of the 6th and 7th editions of “Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers, and Spirits.” Bill loves wine and is an excellent taster; Bill Rattner, Wine Director for the Xaviar’s Restaurant Group; Jennifer Redmond, manager of Enthusiastic Spirits and Wines in Gardiner; and Brian Smith, a professor at The Culinary Institute of America, and the co-author (along with Michael Weiss and myself) of “Exploring Wine” and the upcoming book, “WineWise.”
The tasting and competition revealed that Hudson Valley wines and wine producers have come a long way, but still have a long way to go. I tasted a small number of superb wines, a larger number of drinkable wines, and several forgettable-to-undrinkable wines. My tasting notes, provided by the HVWGA as a perceived benefit to the winemakers, range from “Excellent wine, beautifully balanced, good acidity and complex tannins” to “Please stop making this wine,” and “Good job! A lovely wine,” to “Tastes like a science project gone bad.”
Indeed, the tasting was uneven. It was an excellent day for Millbrook Winery and its winemaker, John Graziano, as it racked up many gold medals and first-place accolades. It was, surprisingly, a very bad day for Riesling, my favorite white grape on the planet. Personally, I thought it was a good day for hard apple ciders, but what were they doing in this wine tasting?
It was a mixed day for hybrid-based wines. Hybrids are grapes that are a biological cross of the species vitis vinifera – grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, along with the other usual suspects – and native grapes, which belong to such species as vitis labrusca or vitis riparia, such as Concord or Niagara. Well-known hybrids in the Hudson valley include Seyval, Vignoles, Baco Noir, and Chancellor. Hybrids are popular here because they are disease-resistant and can survive extreme weather conitions. I admit to not being a big fan of most hybrid-based wines I’ve tasted, although I find myself becoming a sucker for a simple, fruity white, Traminette, whose vinifera parent is Gewürztraminer.
At the tasting, I also found out about Hudson Heritage™ wines. To be a Hudson Heritage white, all grapes must be grown in the Hudson River Region American Viticultural Area (AVA), and must be 70%-85% Seyval, with the remainder of the blend made from any or all of the following: Vidal, Vignoles, Cauyuga, and Traminette. The wine may be up to 2% residual sugar, cannot undergo malolactic fermentation (which changes fresh, fruity, high-acid flavors to rich, creamy flavors), cannot be exposed to oak, and must be bottled in a Hock style bottle (thin, tapered bottle, closely identified with German white wines).
Red Hudson Heritage wines must be made from Hudson River Region grapes, and may include Noiret (35%-55%), DeChaunac (35%-55%), and other hybrid grapes (from 20% to 30%). Oak aging is allowed, residual sugar must be less than 1%, malolactic fermentation is allowed (common for virtually all red wines), and must be bottled in a Burgundy style bottle (closely identified with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottles).
I will repeat here what I said at the competition: I love the idea of Hudson Heritage™, but I strongly disagree with the idea that only hybrid grapes represent the “heritage” of Hudson Valley wines. There are wonderful Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc wines produced in the Hudson Valley, but they cannot claim the mantle of Hudson Heritage, according to the HVWGA. I think it is a mistake to encourage growing hybrids in the Hudson Valley by saying in effect that these hybrid grapes – grapes made from genetic crosses of vinifera and native grapes or by crossing multiple hybrids to produce yet another hybrid – are the grapes that matter in the Hudson Valley. Some of my fellow judges agreed with me, some strongly disagreed. I think that Hudson Heritage, as currently defined, is a step backward for Hudson Valley wines, and discourages new plantings of grapes that may give the Valley a place at the table with fine wines from other regions of the world. Hybrids are not going to do that.
On with the tasting. We tasted flights of wines grouped by varietal and/or style for about three hours. The groupings included: Hybrid White, Hybrid Red, Sparkling (including hard ciders), Vinifera White, Vinifera Red, Off-Dry Whites (some of these were quite sweet), Fruit Wines (other than grapes, including apple, peach, pear, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry wines), Dessert wines, and Ports.
Here are the winners of the 4th Annual Hudson Valley Wine Competition by class and variety, along with some notes on my personal preferences:
Brotherhood Winery NV Blanc de Blancs
Silver Medal, Best Sparkling Wine
(I preferred the Applewood Winery Stonefence 2006 Hard Cider, which won a Bronze Medal)
Benmarl Winery 2006 Seyval
Gold Medal, Best in Class and Best White Hybrid
(I agree; a fine example of Seyval)
Best Hudson Heritage:
Whitecliff Vineyards 2007 Awosting White (Seyval/Vignoles)
(An off-dry wine, very pleasant, very easy to drink; good for spicy food)
Millbrook Vineyards 2007 Tocai Fruilano
Gold Medal, Best in Class, Best White Vinifera
Millbrook Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay
(This is how I voted, so I must have liked these wines. Very fine. The Tocai Friulano is singular and exceptional, the Chardonnay is one of the best made in New York State)
Labrusca (Native) Grape:
Hudson-Chatham Lindenwald White Niagara/Diamond
Silver Medal, Best in Class
(Fruity, semi-sweet sipper)
Benmarl Winery 2006 Baco Noir Gold Medal, Best Red Hybrid
(Baco Noir has been growing at Benmarl for a long time, and the winery produces one of the best Baco Noir wines in the country. I really enjoyed this wine.)
Millbrook Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Franc
Gold Medal, Best in Class, Best in Show, Best HV Wine
Millbrook Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc Block 3
Oak Summit Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir
Silver Medal, Best in Category
(In general, I agree with my fellow judges, although I gave the edge to Block 3 Cabernet Franc; both wines were excellent. The Oak Summit Pinot Noir was also very fine; ironically, John Bruno’s Oak Summit Vineyard is located in Millbrook, and the wine is made by Millbrook winemaker John Graziano for Oak Summit. A blowout for Millbrook.)
Bashakill Winery 2007 Osprey (Vignoles)
Silver Medal, Best in Class
(The wine was light and sweet, with a short finish)
Brookview Station 2007 Pomona (Apple/Pear)
Gold Medal, Best in Category, Best in Class
(interesting wine; semi-sweet with a nice balance of flavors)
Brotherhood Winery NV Ruby Port
Gold Medal, Best in Class
(Not my style, but several other judges enjoyed it).
Clinton Vineyards NV Cassis
Gold Medal, Best in Category, Best in Class
(Clinton has rescued black currants from obscurity in the Hudson Valley, and made a truly exceptional fortified wine, fruit-driven, off-dry to semi-sweet; a showstopper)
Warwick Valley Winery NV Pear Liqueur
Gold Medal, Best in Category
(Actually a liqueur, not a wine; a fruit-based spirit infused with Hudson Valley pears and pear brandy. Delicious)
The competition was followed by a lovely lunch at a new Hudson Valley Restaurant, Red Devon, in nearby Bangall, where we were able to pair Hudson Valley wine winners with the winning food of chef Jim Jennings. Red Devon, named for the cow bred on the restaurant owners’ farm in Millbrook, is committed to local food and farmers, and a “green” dining experience. Red Devon also has a take-out/eat-in market, with prepared local foods and wonderful breads baked on the premises. We enjoyed an extraordinarily fresh pea soup and excellent lamb chops “from the farm down the road,” according to restaurant manager Kelley Jefferson.
It was a wonderful experience to taste the great food from the farm down the road with the great wines from the vineyards down the road.