- 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.
What makes a wine “great”?
Traditionally, the great wines of the world have shared several things in common. First, if the wine is based on a single grape varietal, then a great wine must stand as a classic example of that grape type; “varietal character” is the baseline for a great wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, should deliver vibrant aromas of black cherries, black currants, black plums, black olives, and eucalyptus or mint/menthol in a young wine. As the wine ages, the bouquet emerges, featuring hints of cedar and cigar box. Great Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied, in-your-face red wine, with a high degree of tannin – that’s what creates astringency or even a bit of bitterness on your palate – as well as a high degree of acidity – that’s what makes your mouth water, and encourages you to have another bite of food, another sip of wine.
True varietal character is the easy part of defining a great wine, because a $9 Chardonnay can have as much varietal character as a $90 Chardonnay. So, varietal typicity is a given in considering the greatness of any wine. After making sure that the wine tastes like the grape, things get a bit more complex, a bit more difficult, a bit more illusive. The next question in judging the merits of a potentially great wine is “Does the wine exhibit a sense of place, what the French call terroir?” In other words, a Syrah from Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, California may be a great red wine, but does it speak to the soil, climate, and other environmental imperatives that define the terroir of Paso Robles? And surely, that sense of place in the Paso Robles Syrah will be incredibly different from the terroir of an Old World Syrah, such as a great Hermitage from the northern Rhône Valley of France. Both wines will exhibit black fruits, with a good tannin/acid balance. The Paso Robles Syrah will likely be more fruit-forward, bordering on black fruit jam on the palate, while the Hermitage will offer more restrained fruit, earthy flavors, and a kick of cracked black pepper both in the nose and on the palate. Both wines are capable of greatness, because each speaks to its sense of place – each is a wine with an address.
Up until recently, “greatness” in wine has had everything to do with the history of the wine-growing region, so that the most obvious place to look for great Pinot Noir or Chardonnay has been Burgundy, France, which has grown these grapes almost exclusively for the last six hundred years. For Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s been Bordeaux (the Left Bank), and it’s also been Bordeaux for Merlot (the Right Bank). Germany is the classic home to Riesling, and benchmark Sauvignon Blanc has always been closely identified with the Loire Valley of France. In Italy, it’s Tuscany for Sangiovese and Piedmont for Nebbiolo. You get the picture. The classic wines of the world have long been identified with Europe, and it’s hard to argue with the quality of historic wines that are the product of hundreds of years of great passion, hard labor, and pitch-perfect terroir.
I have the greatest respect for the classic wines of the world, but I think it may be time to redefine the idea of what a great wine is. In the past 20 years or so, the world of wine has changed in fundamental ways, creating a seismic shift in the way wines are produced, where they’re produced, and how and by whom they’re consumed. Today, many wine lovers may look to the Napa Valley for great Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Oregon for Pinot Noir, New Zealand for Sauvignon Blanc, Australia for Syrah (under the name Shiraz), the Finger Lakes of New York State for Riesling. At the same time, we still recognize Italy as the premier producer of great Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. The wine world has expanded, and especially in the United States, we have never had the opportunity to taste as many great wines as we do today, and these wines have many places of origin, many addresses.
My own feeling is this: when it comes to judging a great wine, there is only one arbiter of that greatness. It’s not Robert Parker, it’s not the Wine Spectator, it’s not the media, it’s not the “experts.” It is you. You know what you like, you know what you really like, and you know when you’ve tasted something so wonderful that words fail to describe the ineffable greatness of that moment, that wine. I’ve been at this a long time, and many more times than I can count, I have had the pleasure of sharing wine with folks who have little or no experience tasting wine, but when they taste a great wine, they know it. They may not know the winespeak to couch that greatness with jargon, but it is wonderful – and a relief - to listen to their honest appraisal of why they love the wine that just passed their lips.
Few wine professionals would think of the vineyards of New York State as a set of classic growing regions, and from an historical perspective they would be correct. But that’s as far as it goes. Recently, I’ve been tasting some extraordinary wines from New York, and I have found some great wines that have earned a place at the table with other great wines of the world. To be honest, I’ve also tasted quite a bit of just-average wines from New York State, but I’ve tasted more than my share of just-average wines from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, India, China, and beyond. I have no burning desire to taste any of these wines again, but the point is that no matter where the wines come from I’m happy to kiss a lot of frogs knowing that eventually I will kiss a princess (or two, or three…).
Some of the Great Wines of New York State that I’ve had the pleasure to taste recently all have one thing in common. They are all estate bottled, meaning that the wines are produced only from grapes grown on the vineyards owned by the winery; no grapes are purchased. This is important when considering a great wine. While fine wines may be produced from purchased grapes, producing site-specific estate bottled wines speaks directly and eloquently to the issue of place, of address, of terroir. The combination of ripe, healthy grapes grown with care “on the estate” and the artistry of the winemaker make for singular wines that could not be produced anywhere else by anyone else. Notice also that these are handcrafted, small-production wines, all of them fewer than 1,000 cases, most of them six hundred hundred cases or less. By way of comparison, large producers such as Gallo, Fetzer, or Chateau Ste. Michelle each produce several million cases of wine each year.
Cabernet Franc, “Block Three East,” Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, Hudson River Region 2005 / $35. / 177 cases made
A magnificent red wine made by John Graziano. A blend of 95% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot, the Block 3 East spent 13 months in small oak barrels. Produced from a small parcel within a small vineyard, the wine is intensely aromatic, even in its youth, with black fruits: plum, currant, blackberry and olive on the nose and the palate. Produced from fruit grown in the cool Hudson Valley, the acidity of the wine is refreshing, while the relatively soft tannins are bracing and balanced. A singular wine of great complexity, and an extraordinary achievement. While this wine can easily age seven to ten years, it is enjoyable with food right now. A great partner for braised short ribs, rack of lamb, game, roasted poultry, powerful pastas, and hard cheeses. Without a doubt, the best Hudson Valley wine I’ve ever tasted, and one of the best wines – from anywhere – I’ve tasted over the last year.
Merlot, “Estate Selection,” Lenz Winery, North Fork of Long Island 2001 / $25. / 950 cases made
Made by Eric Fry, this wine is unique; a New World Merlot that tastes distinctively Old World. On the nose, take the pleasure of mature black fruits – cherry, plum, and raspberry – swirling in a nexus of earth, cigar box, and pinecones. The wine is unfined and unfiltered, so as not to strip one iota of character from its flavor. Unlike the unctuous California-style Merlots that I don’t really enjoy very much, this wine reminds me of Pomerol in the Bordeaux region (it may be a cliché, but it fits this wine. In a blind tasting I sampled the 2001 Lenz Old Vines Merlot [$55] vs. the 2001 Château Petrus [$1,200]. I scored it a tie and I was not alone in my assessment. With ten wine professionals tasting, one point divided the two wines. This wine has already aged for eight years and although it is drinking beautifully now, it will improve for at least another five years. An excellent wine to pair with grilled or roasted red meats, feathered game, roasted vegetables, and hard cheeses.
Gamay Noir, Whitecliff Vineyard, Hudson River Region 2007 / $16.95 / 600 cases made
Made by Michael Magliore in Gardiner, New York. Michael and Yancey Magliore first planted vineyards in 1979, and since the 1980s, Whitecliff has produced some of the best wines in the Hudson Valley. The Gamay Noir is no exception. Gamay is the red grape of the Beaujolais region in southern Burgundy, but Whitecliff’s Gamay really doesn’t taste like Beaujolais. Crisp, clean, red-fruit driven, balanced, with a light-to-medium body and a very long finish, the wine is reminiscent of a lighter Pinot Noir, and pleasantly so. I have tasted cool-climate Gamay from Canada and was never impressed, but the Magliores have nailed it, producing a wine with a truly unique style. This is what I call a “crossover” wine – great with grilled fish, vegetable dishes, white meats, leaner red meats, a burger, a picnic. In warm weather, you can even chill this wine a bit to bring out its freshness, its exuberance. An unusual and highly successful wine.
Tocai Friulano, Channing Daughters Winery, Hamptons, Long Island 2007 / $24 / 408 cases made
Made by Christopher Tracy. This is the most important white grape of the Friuli region of Italy, where it is now known simply as “Friulano.” The Channing Daughters version is bone dry, medium-bodied, with cleansing acidity. The nose is redolent of almonds, spices, flowers, and citrus, especially grapefruit. The citrus/grapefruit theme is carried over to the taste, creating an extraordinarily refreshing wine. 59% of the wine was fermented in stainless steel, and 41% of the wine spent about three months in barrels, and then all of the wine was transferred to a large stainless steel tank, where it spent another three months. The result is an incredibly fresh, clean, food-friendly wine, for which the classic match would be prosciutto e melone, but it would also be wonderful with a myriad of fish dishes, including pasta with clams or seafood risotto. I would love to try this wine with oysters on the half shell with just a squeeze of fresh grapefruit juice. Channing Daughters is the only producer of Tocai Friulano on the East End of Long Island (Millbrook is the only producer in the Hudson Valley, and that wine is quite good, too).
In December of 2008, Governor David Paterson announced that New York State faces a deficit of more than $9 billion in the coming fiscal year, and perhaps as much as $16 billion for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. He outlined some proposals for both saving money and generating revenue, including some programs that would directly impact the wine industry, wine retailers, and wine consumers of New York State.
First, Paterson proposed a near-tripling of the excise tax on wine, from the current $18.5 cents per gallon to 51 cents per gallon. As painful as any new taxes are, especially during the current state and national economic meltdown politely called “a recession,” this still would mean that New York State’s excise tax on wine would be below the national median of 65 cents per gallon. So perhaps this tax increase, which will add about 20 cents to a bottle of wine, is understandable, maybe even a good idea if it helps to prop up the state’s revenue stream.
Next, the Governor proposed a devastating blow to the New York State Wine & Grape Foundation, which promotes New York State wines. Representing an industry that generates well in excess of $3.5 billion, the Foundation has a total current budget of $3.8 million. Of that total, $2.8 million is provided by taxpayers ($1 million from the governor’s executive budget and $1.8 million from the state legislature). The other million dollars is provided by the private sector, including wineries and wine-related businesses.
Paterson’s proposal to cut almost 70% of the Wine & Grape Foundation’s total budget seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. New York State has long struggled to grow and improve its wine industry, and its Wine & Grape Foundation, under the dynamic leadership of executive director Jim Tresize, has done a good job of promoting wine and encouraging wine-related businesses (restaurants and lodging, for example). Also, about $1 million of the Foundation’s annual budget is granted to Cornell University for important wine-based research, as part of the university’s agricultural extension program. Researchers share their work with grape growers and wine makers throughout New York State. In light of its dramatic multiplier effect on the state’s economy, support of the Wine & Grape Foundation seems like a no-brainer public investment for a governor who has claimed that he wants to take an active role in revitalizing the depressed economy of upstate New York (the Finger Lakes region produces more far more wine than all other wine regions in New York State, combined).
Perhaps the most controversial of all the wine-related proposals made by the governor in his budget speech is the idea that New York State will be able to raise millions of dollars in licensing fees by allowing wine to be sold by any store that now holds a license to sell beer. This would mean that supermarkets, convenience stores, specialty food stores, even gas stations with beer licenses would be able to sell wine in New York State. There are 19,000 possible venues that could take advantage of this change in the law, which is far more dramatic than it appears at first glance.
Currently, wine and liquor stores in New York State are limited to holding one license per owner. Store owners (who, under state law can’t sell beer or food) cannot open two shops, much less a chain of stores. If Governor Paterson’s proposal is approved by the state legislature, this would mean that supermarkets that already sell beer will be able to sell wine. So, chains such as A&P, Stop&Shop, Hannaford, Whole Foods, etc. will be able to sell wine in each of their stores in New York State, not just one. Certainly, this will lead to a windfall of license fees for the state, and many consumers might applaud the convenience of being able to pick up a bottle or two of wine for dinner in the same store that they purchase their food.
But let’s dig a little deeper. What impact will this have on our local and regional economy? How many Hudson Valley wine shops will close? How many people will lose their businesses, their jobs, and their medical insurance? How many will have to enroll in publically-funded Medicaid to provide health care for themselves and their families? How many people will lose their homes or will be unable to pay rent? Does the increase in licensing fees and a bit of customer convenience justify such possible economic pain and real human suffering?
How will large supermarkets, which are allowed to sell beer 24 hours a day, now conform to state, local and regional wine laws (i.e., in Ulster County wine can be sold until 9 pm; in Dutchess County, until 7pm)? How can a 16 year old supermarket cashier actually sell a bottle of wine to a customer, when the minimum age for working in a wine shop is 18? Will supermarkets be held to the same strict standard as wine shop owners are when it comes to the letter of the State liquor laws? Last December, a wine shop in the Rochester suburb of Henrietta was fined $10,000 for selling wine gift bags. The law, according to the State Liquor Authority: ok to give the gift bag away, but selling the bag constitutes “a separate business.” Using that definition, isn’t selling lamb chops in the same store you sell wine a separate business?
In researching this article, I tried to interview, via e-mail, representatives of supermarket chains and specialty shops, but they declined to formally participate. However, in an article that appeared in December of 2008 in the Poughkeepsie Journal, Jeanne Colleluori, who is a spokeswoman for Wegman’s supermarkets, which are based in Rochester, said, "We have supported this idea for decades because we believe it's a great service to the customers." As for official word from the State Liquor Authority, in the same article SLA commissioner Noreen Healey stated that wine/liquor retailers wouldn't be adversely affected by Paterson’s proposal because they'd still be the only stores in the state selling hard liquor.
“85% of our business is wine,” according to Carol Matthews, proprietor of Hurley Ridge Wine and Spirits in West Hurley, just two miles outside of Woodstock, who has been a wine retailer for 35 years. Hurley Ridge, my “local,” is a small shop with an excellent selection of wines, and great customer service, but Carol is worried that adoption of the governor’s proposal may lead to the collapse of her business.
“New York is only one of 15 states where you can’t buy wine in supermarkets, so perhaps change is inevitable, but not now, not in this economy. I’ve been ‘lucky’ and I guess I should be thankful. Business in 2008 was only off 9% from 2007; the holiday season down about 2.5%. If the law changes, I expect to lose 30-35% of my business, and that’s just not sustainable.”
With a total staff of four (all women and all customer service-oriented), Carol fears that what the governor is after amounts to “a quick fix, but with a lasting negative impact of businesses closing and people losing their jobs. The idea of having to lay off any of our people is heartbreaking to me; they all need their jobs, and I need mine, too.”
“There’s no doubt that our customers like coming here for the great selection and great customer service – service makes such a big difference – but convenience may be perceived by many as just as important. Our customers are still buying, but they are downscaling their purchases because of the economy. If that pattern persists, it’s just too easy to pick up a mass-market inexpensive wine in a supermarket instead of making a separate trip to our store.”
Carol Matthews’ insights are echoed by Tim Sweeney, proprietor of Stone Ridge Wine & Spirits. Tim and his wife Laurel opened their store in Stone Ridge fourteen years ago, and maintain a lovely shop, where service and selection are paramount to the customer experience.
According to Tim, “I see no positive opportunities for small business in this proposal; it’s unfair and predatory. Not only will it be a blow to thousands of stores, it’s being done without any consideration to possible expansion or growth. I’ve built and grown a fine wine shop with an eye on small esoteric wineries that provide affordable wines for all consumers. Because we are a wine destination, I feel it will not impact us much as some shops, but it will certainly have an impact on our bottom line.”
Paterson’s proposal is, no surprise, Topic A among wine retailers; it has yet to hold a prominent place in customer consciousness, but Tim has noticed that “everyone who’s discussed this with me is not in favor of it. The general consensus is that this is just another way to take business away from Main Street and bolster the ‘Big Box’ mentality” (author’s note: the largest wine retailer in the United States is Costco; Wal-Mart is second).
Tim continues: “What is particularly devastating is that there is no give and take with this proposal. We are still limited to one store per owner and are not allowed to add any additional products to help increase our revenue stream. Allow owners to have multiple licenses. I’m always working on ideas to expand my customer base, but this proposal will put store owners in a position of just trying to maintain market share rather than expanding. The governor could not have picked a worse economic time to propose this. We are all feeling the crunch.”
Tim points out that he doesn’t think implementation of a new law is inevitable. “As store owners, there is already a movement afoot to work in concert through lobbying channels to have the proposal removed.” Indeed, just as I was completing this article, a trade organization, “Last Store on Main Street” was formed, with a public website dedicated to defeating Governor Paterson’s proposal: www.lastmainstreet.com
The Marino family owns Mid Valley Wine & Liquor in Newburgh, NY, and have been wine merchants for 51 years. In an interview, Robert Marino, Jr. expressed his concerns about Paterson’s proposal.
“We think that his proposal is likely to be implemented as a minor part of an overall push to solve some of the state’s budget shortfall. The number cited as a potential increase in revenue – about $100 million in licensing fees – will be offset by an increase in unemployment, business failures, and bankruptcies. For us, I would project a drop in sales from 20% to 40%, largely from reduced sales of national wine brands. We expect that most new outlets will focus on a few dozen labels to a few hundred labels depending on available space and perceived customer demand.”
To be successful and to expand his business, Robert looks to continuing emphasis on customer service. “We feel that we provide good, even superior customer service today. In addition to having a knowledgeable and helpful staff, we continue to formally train our staff, offer in-store tastings to customers, and provide our customers with educational opportunities through wine courses. We see these activities as helpful in retaining our customer base, but we are aware that many of our present customers don't participate in these special offerings. Part of our plan is to largely rely on internet activity to acquire new customers who will hopefully replace those we lose to other types of outlets.”
Tim Buzinski and Mei Ying So are the proprietors of Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon. The couple opened their shop in August of 2006, and have worked hard to develop a local and regional customer base. Both graduates of The Culinary Institute of America, their in-store tastings often feature delicious food that they prepare (under New York State law, food cannot be sold in a wine shop, but it can be given away).
Tim and Mei Ying seem hopeful that if they continue to do the things they do well they will be able to keep and grow their business. At the same time, they are quite concerned about the impact of Governor Paterson’s proposal on their business and their lives, both as wine merchants and as involved citizens of the Hudson Valley and New York State.
“Our current strategy will probably remain the same regardless of changes in the law. We will focus on hand-selling most wines and intensive customer service, finding value for our customers in lesser-known regions, grape varieties, and producers. We will continue our community involvement and working with local charities as we continue our focus on wine education and weekly tastings.
“It seems that the state is attempting to legislate without getting feedback from the people who are already in the trenches, the thousands of people whose lives these laws will affect. We’d like to be considered as part of the proposal. The state should be getting knowledge and feedback from the people who live with these laws day to day. More communication – perhaps a simple on line survey – would at least make us feel that we matter.”
I am writing this article on October 19th, 2008 (literally at the very moment that Colin Powell is endorsing Barack Obama on Meet the Press), but by the time you read this, Election Day will have come and gone. Barack Obama is our new President-Elect. If I’m wrong about this, don’t even bother reading the rest of this piece, because we’ve got really big problems that even good wine can’t defeat. But it is the 2008 Presidential Election and its seemingly endless campaign that provided the impetus for this article.
I can’t tell you how many friends and colleagues told me that “If Obama doesn’t win, I’m moving to Canada.” For many this was bluster-in-defeat, but for some the statement was sincere, representing an escape from the political nightmare of the last eight years, and the possibility of four more years of the same to follow. In an attempt to lighten the sullen gloom-and-doom mood of the conversation, I pointed out with all the faux joviality and jocularity I could muster that should my pessimistic peeps decide to make the move, at least they would be able to enjoy good Canadian wines.
Canada, our neighbor to the North (note to Sarah Palin: you can see Russia from there. Remember Sarah Palin?) has a lot going for it, including nice people, universal health care (John McCain attacked the Canadian health system as “broken.” Remember John McCain?), fine universities, good restaurants, and terrific wines.
Canadian wines, eh? As Sarah would say, “You betcha.” In these days of global warming (get to work on this one, Barack and Joe; give Al a call), Canada is the rare spot that can produce cool-climate wines featuring moderate alcohols and high levels of refreshing acidity. Canada’s best wines are whites, but they can produce some excellent sparklers and very good reds.
About 80% of Canada’s wines are produced in the province of Ontario, mostly in the Niagara Peninsula Designated Viticultural Area (DVA). From the Hudson Valley, you can be in Canada’s wine country in about six or seven hours (be prepared for possible long waits at the border; thank you, W.), and visiting Ontario to enjoy its food and wines makes for a nice post-election-decompression-relaxation long weekend. Gone are the days when you’d pay for a cup of coffee with a US $10 bill and get $12 back in Canadian dollars, but its not as bad as visiting Europe, where the Euro is so strong and the dollar so weak that you feel like you come from a Third World country that happens to issue credit cards (aren’t you glad we bailed out Wall Street?).The other 20% of Canada’s wines comes from the province of British Columbia and its picturesque Okanagan Valley DVA. BC’s capital city, Vancouver, is a wonderful place to visit, and is food-and-wine central for Canada’s west coast.
The modern Canadian wine industry began about 35 years ago, growing by fits and starts. Today, there are more than 300 wineries in Canada (about 125 more than New York State, 200 less than Washington State, 2,000 less than California). Canada has staked a claim as a fine producer of white wines, especially Riesling and Chardonnay, and sparkling méthode champenoise wines made from the classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Canada is also the world’s largest producer of Icewine, a sweet nectar made from frozen grapes, but with a compelling vein of acidity that cuts through any cloying sweetness and refreshes the palate. Canada’s best Icewines are made from Riesling grapes, but other grapes are used, including the hybrid varietal, Vidal. Canadian winemakers also produce red Icewine made from Cabernet Franc, and even sparkling Icewine.
Icewine production began in Franconia, Germany in 1794, and German producers have produced small amounts of this rare and expensive wine ever since. Until relatively recently, Germany was the world’s largest producer of Eiswein, but due to the impact of global warming, Germany’s Icewine production has been sporadic over the last five or so years. In 2007, there was no Eiswein produced in Germany, where, by law, you need temperatures of -19ºF/-28.3ºC to make the wine, and winter temperatures got no colder than 15ºF/-9.5ºC. The same year was a near-perfect Icewine vintage for winemakers in British Columbia. But even in BC, Icewine harvests are occurring later and later in the year - late November/early December.
A half-bottle (375ml) of Canadian Icewine will cost anywhere from $40 to more than $75, so it is obviously a rare - and wonderful – experience, best savored on its own, but also a good match with blue cheeses and fruit-based, not-too-sweet desserts. I have almost-never seen a fine bottle of Icewine produced in a full bottle; a half bottle should serve six, as the appropriate pour is about two ounces per person. Serve it very cold.
Not limited to Icewine, Canada produces other, more familiar wines, and they are often great values. The still and sparkling wines of Canada are, due to cool climate-driven high acidity, refreshing and food friendly. The wines range from bone-dry to super sweet, but just about all of them feature clean, crisp fruit flavors. The Rieslings, especially the dry to off-dry styles from the Niagara Peninsula are worth seeking out, and pairing with spicy Asian dishes, charcuterie/sausages, or pork. A sautéed trout with a healthy dose of fresh lemon, or smoked Nova Scotia salmon served with a dry Canadian Riesling is my idea of culinary Nirvana.
Canada’s vineyards enjoy long days with a lot of sunshine, so that mouth-watering acidity is counterbalanced by ripe fruit flavors. Chardonnay from Canada is, thankfully, not over-oaked, letting the mineral and fruit of the grape speak for itself. Gewürztraminer, mostly produced in the off-dry style, is fragrant and spicy. Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) is substantial, with hazelnut aromas and moderately high acidity. And don’t forget to look for Canadian Sauvignon Blanc, redolent of green grass in the nose, and green apples and green figs on the palate. Think Green (and with Bush soon gone and Barack in the House, hopefully we can turn our thoughts into action).
In my experience, the best Canadian red wines are made from the Cabernet Franc grape; I’ve also had some pretty good Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais). Reds from the Niagara Peninsula tend to be lighter, while Okanagan/British Columbia reds are usually somewhat more full-bodied.
Is it easy to find a wide selection of Canadian wines in the Hudson Valley? Not yet. But the wines of several producers are available, and you should not hesitate to ask your local wine merchant to order some of them. Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs, Henry of Pelham, and Peller Estate are producers that make great wines and have national distribution. My favorite Canadian wines are produced by the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring winery. Cave Spring wines, grown and produced in the Niagara Peninsula, are also available in the Hudson Valley. Most Canadian wines live in the $15 to $25 retail community of the wine world, and represent good value. Of course, Icewines are far more expensive and represent an occasional indulgence.
With any wine from Canada, look for the VQA (Vintner’s Quality Alliance) seal on the label. The VQA ensures that the wine is made only from grapes grown in Canada, and that the wine is produced there, too.
So, the good news for all of us is that Canada produces some great wines worth seeking out, worth enjoying, And the good news for me and especially for my relieved friends who worked so hard to elect Barack Obama president is that we’re free to celebrate his election with a glass of Canadian wine, and none of them had to leave the country to do it. Welcome home to all of us.