Frankly, my dear, I give it a “damn good”

Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs 2002

A cool spring afternoon with some bubbly. Click to visit the Dr. Frank website

A cool spring afternoon with some bubbly. Click to visit the Dr. Frank website

Appelation: Finger Lakes Champagne (now, before you get all grumpy, let me assure you that this sparkling wine is legally allowed to be called “champagne” in the U.S., see this article for more details.)
Varietal: Pinot Noir 95% Pinot Meunier 5%
ABV: 11.1% (marked 12% on the bottle, but this data is from winemaker’s notes on the Dr. Frank website)
RS: 1%
Price Point: $30
Looks: Faint yellow with lots of bubbles
Nose: Subtle fruit around. Later it gets mushroomy, earthy. What I thought of was our middle school pool. Not necessarily the chlorine smell, but the mix of locker room and warm humidity. Don’t misinterpret that, it’s a good thing, because swimming for gym class was the best gym class.
Palate: Wow. Rich {mouthfeel}, very full-bodied. A little bit of yeasty, bready aroma sneaking in on the palate. Acidity balances this wine nicely, and the touch of residual sugar smooths everything out. Very balanced, full-bodied, and complex. I really, really like this wine.
Rating: 4 corks corkcorkcorkcork

Lots of bottles.  The crude cell phone pic does not begin to capture the number of bottles.  Click to enlarge

Lots of bottles. The crude cell phone pic does not really capture the sheer number of bottles. Click to enlarge

Keuka Lake makes its debut on Ithacork and comes out swinging! Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars has become one of the most well-known wine producers in the Finger Lakes. This is likely due in part to the fact that they were the first to successfully make wine with {vinifera} grapes in the region. Also, they are darn good at it. In fact, when I arrived in Ithaca, one of the first names I heard in reference to wine in the Finger Lakes was Dr. Frank. I had the opportunity to tour the winery as part of a winemaking class at Cornell. On the tour, we were afforded a rare opportunity to see the cellars of Chateau Frank, the sparkling wine production house. A lovely elderly (but quite spry) woman, the wife of the late Willy Frank (Dr. Konstantin’s son) gave us the cellar tour and we were able to see bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wine at various stages of the famous Champagne process. You can read about it in the wikipedia link, but briefly, base wine is bottled with a dose of sugar and yeast and a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. The bottles are left on the yeast for a long time, usually on the order of years before the yeast is disgorged and the champagne is bottled. It was awesome. If you like this wine, or you like your bubbly a little sweeter, may I suggest the Célèbre crémant, made with riesling grapes! It is also fantastic.

This wine is a great example of sparkling wine in the Finger Lakes. To make sparkling wine, winemakers usually start with base wines that are high in acid and relatively low in sugar, something that cool climates can produce without even trying. Even though sparkling wine is labor- and equipment-intensive, many of the sparkling wines I have had from the Finger Lakes (Lamoreaux Landing is another good bet) have been excellent. I think that sparkling wine has the potential to be huge in this region. One last note: to many people, sparkling wine is something only drunk on special occasions, celebrations, or hungover mornings with orange juice. I had this wine with a sub from Wegman’s, and I’ve previously been known to pair sparkling wine with Southern fried chicken. There is lots of great sparkling wine out there, and sometimes opening a bottle is cause enough to celebrate!

Some of the rich mouthfeel that shows up in sparkling wines can be attributed to extended contact (aka tirage) with yeast lees (i.e., yeast cells). Over time, yeast cells will die and undergo cell lysis, or autolysis. Products of yeast autolysis include mannoproteins, which have been shown to increase perceived body and mouthfeel in wines (Ref: Alexandre and Guilloux-Benatier, “Yeast autolysis in sparkling wine – a review”, Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research, 2006). Basically, long periods of aging (in this case several years) will cause the dead yeast cells to break up, releasing nucleotides, enzymes, cell wall bits, and other insides into the wine. How long to age the wine on the lees and when to bottle is a winemaking decision, and according to winemaker Paul Brock (Lamoreaux), sparkling wine that is on the shelf is generally ready to drink, as all the aging has been done in the cellar.


Megapost: “Ices of March” vertical Finger Lakes ice wine tasting at Sheldrake Point

I actually found out about Sheldrake Point’s “Ices of March” event from facebook, which is interesting from a marketing perspective.  Anyway, I thought this was a unique opportunity to taste several ice wines, a specialty of cooler climates like the Finger Lakes, and one benefit to our cold temperatures.  The {vertical tasting} ($20, including a fancyman glass) featured four ice wines, with accompanying blue cheese, walnuts, paté, and orange-flavored cookies.


Left to right: 2007, 2002, 2004 December Harvest, 2004 January Harvest

From youngest to oldest:

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sleek, stylish bottle on the 2007

Sheldrake Point 2007 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.6%
Residual Sugar: 16.5% (165 g/L)
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $65 for 375 mL (half-bottle)
The 2007 looks pretty much like any normal riesling would, pale yellow in color, though noticeably thicker in the glass on swirling. It also smells like a Finger Lakes riesling, with characteristic light floral and citrus notes. Also, it’s got a little stonefruit (I wrote “peach”) and pineapple thrown in there. On the palate, lively acidity stands up to the considerable sweetness very well, for a very fresh, zingy feeling. Lemon and lime join the party on the palate, kind of like Sprite. (Interestingly, all of these wines have quite a bit more sugar than Sprite [~110 g/L]). Really great, and not just for dessert. This {well-balanced} wine plays nicely with blue cheese and walnuts, and would likely compliment spicy foods (e.g., Thai or Indian) pretty well.
Rating: 3.5 corks corkcorkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 December Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 12.8%
Residual Sugar:15.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $90 for 375 mL
This wine was bit more golden in color. Muted fruit aromas compared to the 2007 give way to more honeyed character in this one. I imagine the honey character also comes psychologically as a result of the increased viscosity of the wine. It’s also got a long finish.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2004 January Harvest Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling (grapes from 2003 season harvested in January 2004)
ABV: 12.2%
Residual Sugar: 19.5%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $100 for 375 mL
The apparent crown jewel of the tasting, this wine was served at a Governor’s Ball at the White House in 2006.


Kerosene? In my Riesling? It's more likely than you think.

The label says 2004 but the grapes were from the 2003 vintage and harvested in January 2004, so for all intents and purposes, this is a 2003.  It’s starting to show its age. It’s just beginning to develop the aroma of “petrol” (a nice way of saying “kerosene”).*  This aroma is common in older rieslings and found especially in German rieslings (probably because many German rieslings will not be released for years after bottling, while FL wines usually come out ASAP.)  I have to say that the petrol is not a bad thing in this wine, and in fact it adds an interesting layer of complexity. I also noted some citrus peel in addition to peach aromas.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkhalfcork

Sheldrake Point 2002 Riesling Ice Wine
Varietal: Riesling
ABV: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: 20%
Appelation: Finger Lakes
Price point: $70 for 375 mL
The oldest and darkest of the bunch, with its deep gold color, is on the verge of browning. I noticed two things right away on the nose. First, a whole lot more of the petrol character than the 2003. Secondly, and unfortunately, this wine is a bit {oxidized}. In all fairness, it’s possible that I got a bad bottle. However, I actually got a re-pour (for an errant fuzz in the glass), and the wine remained the same. If the whole lot of wine tastes like this, they really shouldn’t be selling it for $70, or maybe even at all.
Rating: 1 cork cork

Overall, I enjoyed the tasting. The wines were served to small groups (in this case, me and 5 friends) so it was like a private tasting. The host was informative but a bit blabby. At a certain point I just wanted some quiet so I could taste the wine. Others, though, got a lot out of it. I still find ice wine in general a bit pricey for me. And though they went out of their way to pair with some non-dessert foods, I’m not sure I would crack a $65 half bottle to down with dinner. For me, I’ll leave it as an appetizer or dessert, both of which it’s perfectly suited for.

Ice wine is usually made by leaving the grapes on the vine until winter.  When cold temperatures come around (~15-18 F, according to the tasting room manager), the frozen grapes (the ones that haven’t {rotted} or been eaten by deer or just fallen off the vine) are picked and immediately pressed. 128816664704197436Out in the cold, most of the water inside the grapes will freeze, but a more concentrated solution of sugars and acids will not, producing {must} with very high sugar and high acidity.  The resulting juice is fermented (though usually not without difficulty), leaving a wine with a normal amount of alcohol for a wine (~12% abv) and high residual sugar. The labor-intensive process justifies the high price, as it is a pain in the butt to pick in sub-freezing temperatures, crush solid grapes, and ferment juice that is so high in sugar that yeast have a hard time surviving due to osmotic stress (Ref: Erasmus et al., “Genome-wide expression analyses: Metabolic adaptation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to high sugar stress”, FEMS Yeast Res., 2003.)

Published in: on 16 March 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (3)  
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