Wine Blogging Wednesday 62: A grape by any other name…


This month, for Wine Blogging Wednesday, Boston wine bigwig Dale Cruse selected a very clever theme. The idea: drink wines called by their lesser-known synonyms. For example, if you like Zinfandel, have a Primitivo. This exercise is also interesting because regional names tend to denote regional winemaking styles. (Think about Syrah vs. Shiraz!)

In this case, since it is Regional Wine Week (and since I forgot to stop at the wine store on the way home), I decided to hit on what has become a bit of a touchy issue in the New York wine community.

Blaufränkisch or Lemberger?
Same grape, two goofy names, and strong opinions about said names.

(Note: these wines were tasted together, blind, in identical ISO 9000 glasses)

Channing Daughters Blaufränkisch 2007
Appellation: The Hamptons, Long Island, NY
Grape: 75% Blaufränkisch (or whatever you want to call it), 25% Merlot
ABV: 12.5%
Price Point: $25
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: from the website: Estate-grown in the Hamptons. “…[A]ll the fruit was hand-picked, de-stemmed, crushed by foot and punched down by hand. The wine was handled minimally and bottled by gravity.” 12 months in older oak barrels.

Hedonic Notes: Brilliant bluish-purple color. Smells like purple, and according to Homer Simpson, purple’s a fruit. Kind of a black raspberry thing. A little H2S at first, but that blows off quickly. An herbal component is thrown in for good measure. The acid backbone shines through, all the way to the medium-length finish. It might be a tad too acidic for me. The {astringency} that comes in at the end seems a bit late and not really necessary. A little woody/cardboard as well on the finish. This wine has its really good moments, particularly after swishing around for a little while, but it’s far from perfect.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks

I’ve written about a Channing Daughters wine before, the Meditazione. This winery is doing some really innovative things on Long Island, and I’m all about more people growing this grape. I wish more Channing Daughters wines were available up here, as I’ve found interesting characteristics in almost all of the wines that I’ve tasted from there.


Keuka Spring Lemberger 2007
Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: 100% Lemberger (or whatever you want to call it)
ABV: 13%
Price Point: $19
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes: Estate-grown, harvested at 21 Brix (pretty ripe). Whole berry fermentation, cold soak before and extended maceration after fermentation (for color and tannin extraction), mix of older and new French oak.
Hedonic Notes: Wow. Big, pure fruit up front. There is distinct citrus which brings to mind a sort of mixed berry marmalade. Beyond the fruit is a toasty and vanilla oak component which I rather like. It is integrated very well. Acid is present but subdued in the mouth by substantial alcohol, which also contributes to a nice, full-bodied {mouthfeel} without running {hot}. The mid-palate is a fruity blast of cherry. It just keeps on giving into a long, slightly earthy finish. Lovely. Good to the last glass.

Rating: corkcorkcorkcorknocork 4 out of 5 corks for a wonderful effort from Keuka Springs, who continues to surprise me with great offerings.

Honestly, when I tasted these two, I thought that this one was the Long Island. Not because it was better, but because of the noticeable oak. It was a mistake, though, since Channing Daughters isn’t your typical Long Island winery and they make very judicious use of oak. Shows what stereotypes can do. When I found out that this one was the Finger Lakes Lemberger, I was very pleased.

A note about names: Lots of people seem to prefer the name Blaufränkisch and I’m not sure exactly why. I talked about this a little bit before, but I’m convinced it must be the ümlaut. The name itself has become a cause célèbre to some naïve people who feel as fancy as a maître d’ when they are able to coördinate their sentences to put a smörgåsbord of diacritical marks on words like açaí, El Niño, and crème fraîche. They say that Lemberger reminds people of Limberger and thus stinky cheese. I say whatever helps people remember the name of the wine is fine by me. Blaufränkisch just seems a tad too Teutonic to be memorable to the average consumer. Lemberger is like hamburger! In fact, I would love this wine with a hamburger. Or even a frankfurter. Not that it really matters, but for the record, I am in the Lemberger camp.

Thanks to Dale for hosting a thoughtful and thought-provoking WBW.


Who says the Finger Lakes can't make bold, dark reds?

Who says the Finger Lakes can't make bold, dark reds?

The Lemberger was cold soaked and given extended maceration for maximum extraction of color and tannin. Cold soaking, leaving the grapes in cold storage for a day or two after harvesting and usually adding dry ice, can have several purposes, including weakening the cellular structure of the skins to promote the release of color compounds. I sort of did this with my strawberry wine, but only because I forgot to buy yeast that day. You’ve got to be careful with extended maceration, though, especially if your fruit isn’t ripe. In this case, the Lemberger seemed to be pretty ripe. Overly long macerations, I’ve found, can lead to a spicy aroma that is not unlike potpourri. I have detected this aroma in many Finger Lakes reds, and I think that some tend to overextract in hopes of gaining the most possible color in a region that sometimes has trouble adequately ripening reds. This is one reason I think Lemberger has such a bright future in this region. It ripens well in the cool climate and provides stunning purple color. In my winemaking class last year, one group’s project was a thermovinified (must heated at 65C for a bit before fermentation) Lemberger, and the result was extremely purple.


Monday matchup: Cabernet Franc/Noiret blends

I haven’t reviewed a wine in a while, so here are two! It’s not every day you see a comparison of blends of Cabernet Franc and Noiret, a relatively new hybrid grape developed by Cornell. But this isn’t really your everyday wine blog.

Note: I tasted these two wines together, blind, in identical ISO 9000 glasses. I did this partially because I received the Stoutridge as a sample from the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess. For more details about samples, see the sample policy.

Fulkerson Winery Burntray 2007

Picture 15

Appellation: Finger Lakes
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $12
Closure: Red molded synthetic cork

Technical Notes: 9 months in French and American oak.

Hedonic Notes: PEPPER! You are the hot dog guy in BurgerTime and this wine is Peter Pepper. Black pepper but also zingy white pepper are right up front on the nose. There is an interesting floral component, too. On the palate is a structured acidity, with some dark fruit and oak around but not so well integrated. A bit of {astringency} on the gums. It’s a little bit thin for me, but if it had a bit more {mouthfeel} I would really like it.

Rating: corkcorkcorknocorknocork 3 out of 5 corks for a fun, easy drinker with a spicy edge.

I’ve already written positively about my visit to Fulkerson Winery (on the west side of Seneca Lake). Unfortunately, this particular wine is sold out at the winery, but they have just released a non-vintage Burntray, which is 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Noiret.

Stoutridge Vineyard Cabernet Franc Noiret 2007
Appellation: Hudson River Region, NY
Grape: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Noiret
ABV: 12%
Price Point: $28
Closure: Natural cork

Technical Notes:From the website:

We are a gravity winery, meaning we never use pumps or filters in our winemaking. In addition we do minimal chemical processing to our wines. We do not “fine” our wines with gelatins, tannins or clays. We do not add water or sugar nor do we chemically adjust the acidity of our wines. We use minimal sulfites in our wines and we do not add sulfites or sorbates to wine after they are made. The wines are very nearly unprocessed and in a very natural state.

Hedonic Notes: At first sniff of this wine, I thought something was wrong. I got this odd, labrusca-type smell. While Noiret does have some labrusca parentage, the other Noiret wine certainly didn’t have a Welch’s grape juice aroma. Then I tasted it.

Bubbles mean fermenation.  Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine.  I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

Bubbles mean fermenation. Welcome in champagne, unwelcome in this wine. I broke the screen on Sarah's camera at the Wine Festival (sat on it), so pictures are a bit hit or miss lately.

… The light effervescence on my tongue was unexpected, as was the ferocious acidity. I looked down at the glass to see tiny bubbles around the rim, which stuck around long after I had poured. Unlike Don Ho, though, these tiny bubbles in the wine did NOT make me happy. This wine had undergone a re-fermentation in the bottle. The off-the-charts acidity made me think that it had not fully completed {malolactic fermentation}. Now, MLF can be a real bugbear for winemakers, and it’s tough to tell exactly when it’s finished without an enzymatic assay or special test strips (both quite expensive). As the technical note states, the winery strives to use low sulfites. In this case, any sulfiting was not enough to dispatch the malolactic bacteria. In addition, this wine was unfiltered, so surviving malolactic bacteria probably paraded right into the bottle, where they were able to happily convert at least a little more of the malic acid into lactic acid (releasing CO2 in the process). This was OK in my winemaking class, where we were clearly amateurs and our MLF got stuck after about three weeks, but for a commercially released wine, re-fermentation in the bottle is totally unacceptable.

I wish that was the only thing wrong with this wine, but it was also {oxidized}. The sharp tinge of acetaldehyde on the back of my tongue was unmistakeable. When wines are unfiltered, winemakers generally rely on racking to clarify wine before bottling. Racking (i.e., settling wine, then decanting it off of the sediment into another tank or barrel) exposes wine to oxygen, so additional racking steps may have led to oxidation in this wine. After a day, the oxidation was even more pronounced and getting worse, while the Fulkerson was still very drinkable 2, 3, and 4 days after opening.

This could have been a bad bottle, but something tells me there is something systematic about at least one of the faults that I discovered. This could be one of those cases where “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” Are you listening, Alice Feiring?

Rating: halfcorknocorknocorknocorknocork 1/2 out of 5 corks for reminding me of our batch of Pinot where MLF got stuck and the wine oxidized while we waited for MLF to restart.

I feel bad because I investigated Stoutridge after hearing a glowing recommendation from a reader about the winery (Sorry, Matt!). This wine apparently won a gold medal at the New York Food and Wine Classic, AND Debbie sent it to me, so maybe it was just a bad bottle. At any rate, I would like to try more wines from the Hudson Valley, in addition to giving this one another shot.

Science: Grape Profile: NOIRET
Noiret (nwa-RAY) marks the first {hybrid} grape I’ve had since I decided to begin my quest to drink wines made from 100 different hybrid grapes, and it’s a good one to start with. It was released by Cornell University in 2006, though it had been available for test runs by growers since 1994. It has a complex interspecific parentage, being a cross between Steuben, commonly a table grape, and the not-so-artfully-named NY65.0467.08, of which one of the parents is Chancellor. Its lineage includes vinifera, labrusca, and ruspestris grapes. Its major aroma characteristics seem to be black pepper and some dark fruit. In general, when I think Noiret, I think pepper.

According to John Iszard, Fulkerson has apparently been making wine from Noiret since 2003 and they are very pleased with its performance. I have heard through the grapevine (HA!) that vegetative growth (i.e., favoring leaves and shoots over fruit) can be a concern with Noiret, and viticulturalists at the Geneva Experiment Station are still experimenting with different rootstocks to control vine vigor. This grape’s performance so far makes it promising, especially given the complexity that a little pepper can add to a wine. Look for this one to appear as a blender in many wines in the future.

For the full details on this grape, see this bulletin released by Cornell.

Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: the VIP experience

On both days of the festival, when the day was almost over, I found some respite from the madding crowd. A saving grace for me was the occurrence of impromptu “tweetups” organized by Morgen McLaughlin (aka @FLWineLady) in the Riesling Room. I use the quotation marks around “tweetup” because while some of the involved parties were active on Twitter, many had barely heard of it. The attendants were mostly winemakers, bringing their wares to taste among other winemakers, discussing Brix, clones, and other winemaking processes. This was the stuff I was most interested in, and I got to meet a lot of cool winemakers, including Jeff Houck of Lucas Vineyards, Jonathan Oakes (winemaker at Leonard Oakes and rising star in the Niagara wine region), Tim Benedict of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Aaron Roisen of Hosmer, and assistant winemaker Justin Boyet of Atwater Estate Vineyards. I even ran into New York Cork Report Niagara Escarpment Editor (and aspiring winemaker himself) Bryan Calandrelli.

The winemakers poured some very good wines and talked about different issues, like skin contact, different sites in the Finger Lakes, and the right Brix to pick Cayuga White at before it starts to develop the labrusca “foxy” character. Not much critique of the wines, but lots of casual discussion among peers. I was definitely in my element, asking questions when I didn’t feel too intimidated. This was what I was looking for, some serious wine talk.

seriouscat copy

Wine. Serious Business, right?

I don’t want yesterday’s post to be interpreted as negative altogether. I had a great time at the Festival, on both days, and while I didn’t taste every wine in the tasting guide (not even close), I think I got up to about 100. Considering the throngs of people, that’s not too bad. Sunday was a lot calmer than Saturday, and I did actually get a chance to talk with the pourers (and in some cases, winemakers) that were working. There were far fewer shenanigans on Sunday. It was actually quite pleasant.

In fact, I should give a shoutout to a winery that I hadn’t had anything from before that impressed me with just about every wine they poured, Keuka Spring Vineyards. I bought a half case from them, my only wine purchase of the festival. Big ups to the Crooked Lake Red, a red blend with a lot of character, featuring the Rougeon grape.

The Festival tries to appeal to all kinds of wine consumers, but it’s really just a big party. Some people like frat parties, some like cocktail parties, and some like tea parties. This year, Saturday was the frat party while Sunday was more like a cocktail party. There’s no reason for wine cognoscenti to thumb their noses as the proletariat guzzle their sacred drink. On the other hand, there has got to be a better way to get consumers interested in wine than relying on novelty and appealing only to the lowest common denominator. Underselling the high-quality wines while playing up the sweet and simple ones may be a good way to get consumers to drink wine, but what then? Maybe I was a bit off when I considered the “dichotomy” of our wine culture. Rather than a discrete separation there must be a continuum of wine consumers with varying amounts of knowledge and experience. Where do these new wine consumers turn when they want something beyond the simple? What happens in between wine naïf and wine connoisseur? These are probably the types that would attend talks and tasting sessions about enjoying wine (e.g., the Riesling Room). These are the ones that likely make up the bulk of the continuum, like a bell curve. Perhaps these are the ones that the wine festival should target. I like what Hazlitt did with the winemaker’s corner, and I like the idea of the Riesling Room. I would love to see more ideas like this.

There is a lot in play here, and the sample is likely skewed. After all, in terms of the Festival we are talking about a sample population willing to pay up front for all they can drink on a hot summer day. I’m out of my league here. I have said many times that I understand molecules, but that I don’t understand people. The system we live in is much too complex to be understood fundamentally, especially from someone like me who naïvely expects predictable and rational behavior. This could also be the reason I am so drawn to infomercials and Evangelical Christian radio programs.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Festival. I would go again next summer. If I go on Saturday, though, I’m not going to be driving myself and I’m not going to be spitting. Hell, maybe I’ll even go to the toga party. How does that Red Cat song go again?

If you’d like a completely different, more descriptive, and Thompsonian (Hunter S., not Lenn) take on the Festival, check out the reaction of my friend Brian, my compatriot and cameraman for the festival. Ithacork takes no responsibility for his views, motorcycle analogies, or spelling.

One of my biggest gripes at the Festival was the fact that almost every white wine I tasted was ICE COLD, probably because it had been sitting in an ice bucket or cooler all day. Whites coming out of the fridge are likely going to be around 39-40 degrees F (4C), but when wines sit in an ice-water mixture they get even colder. I’m not one of those who goes around saying that your all your whites should be served at exactly 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but 33 is cold, especially for those of us with more sensitive teeth (read: winos with hardly any enamel left…). If you serve ice-cold wine, you’re not only doing the taster a disservice by giving him a brain freeze, you are muting the aromas of the wine.

All right now, fellas.  What's cooler than being cool?  NOT serving your wine ICE COLD.

All right now, fellas. What's cooler than being cool? NOT serving your wine ICE COLD.

In a paper in the Journal of Sensory Studies, the temperature effect was studied extensively. In the cases of red and white wine, aroma intensity was found to be significantly lower at lower temperatures. This makes sense, since aroma compounds are generally less volatile at lower temperatures (in general, this effect is also non-linear). As for acidity and sweetness, contrary to what you might have heard, temperature in this study had no statistically significant effect on acidity or sweetness in white wines. (Ross and Weller, “Effect of serving temperature on the sensory attributes of red and white wines”, Journal of Sensory Studies, 2008).

Published in: on 30 September 2009 at 2:54 am  Comments (3)  
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Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: Part 2

I’d like to add some comments to the video I posted on Friday. Ahem…

The Finger Lakes Wine Festival sounds like a great idea. For me, it sounded like a great way for me to taste all kinds of wines from Finger Lakes producers that I don’t often get a chance to taste. In case you don’t know, I do the bulk of my buying and tasting of local wines in the tasting room, where I can talk to employees and taste all the wines I want. Some of these wineries are an hour, hour-and-a-half away, so I am admittedly weak on, say, Keuka Lake. So on paper, this festival which brings in hundreds of wines from across the Finger Lakes (and some other regions like the Niagara Escarpment) looks like a great idea.

Apparently they will give these things to just about anybody!

Apparently they will give these things to just about anybody!

I should have realized when the shirtless guy screamed “Let’s get hammered!” on the way in. I should have realized when the first person dropped a glass and hundreds of people let out waves of “OHHHH”s for about a minute. I should have realized when I saw a woman hold out her glass for a pour (still attached to her neck by a lanyard) and simply say “Sweet.” I should have realized that this was that kind of party.

And hey, I’m not above “that kind of party”. There is very little that I am above, especially when it comes to alcohol. But, since I was (somewhat) on the clock, I was spitting, and there is just something about being the only sober person in a sea of very drunk, rambunctious people.

I found some comfort in the Riesling Room, set up by Finger Lakes Wine Country. It was a quiet, roomy place to do some serious tasting of some great Rieslings and even listen to some talks about growing and tasting Riesling, with a $3 entry fee on top of the admission price. I’m certain that the $3 contributed to the muted atmosphere. Even in the Riesling room, though, it was still “that kind of party”, featuring a short survey of about 5 Finger Lakes Rieslings of varying levels of sweetness that resulted in stickers saying “I like it sweet”, “I like it dry”, and “I go both ways.”*

What?  It means I like my Riesling both dry AND sweet. Oh.  Well, I can see why you would think that, but my taste in wine actually has nothing to do with my sexual preference.

What? It means I like my Riesling both dry AND sweet. Oh. Well, I can see why you would think that, but my taste in wine actually has nothing to do with my sexual preference.

Most wineries were pouring from the bottom of the list. Usually, in tasting rooms, the wines are presented from dry to sweet, and things like Catawba, Niagara, etc., are the sweet stuff. In retrospect, why would a winery bring its really good stuff if everyone there is just going to slug it down, not appreciating the hard work that went in to growing, harvesting, vinifying, blending, cellaring, and bottling the wine?

The dichotomy of Finger Lakes wine culture (and perhaps wine culture in general?) had hit me square in the face. Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards is a great example of this dichotomy in action. They make Red Cat, the biggest selling wine in New York State. They move 100,000 cases a year of the stuff, which is marketed as “hot tub wine”. There is a Red Cat mascot (of whom I unfortunately didn’t get a picture) parading around the festival like Donald Duck in Frontierland.

However, Hazlitt also makes some very good {vinifera} wines. In their enormous tent (as seen on the video), they had set up a “Winemaker’s Corner” where I found winemaker Tim Benedict, bedecked in Hawaiian shirt and wide-brimmed beach hat, pouring the vinifera wines. While the line for Red Cat and others was packed, the winemaker’s corner seemed rather lonely. I found violets in the Cabernet Franc, a good balance of fruit and flowers in the dry (0.4% RS) Gewürztraminer, and light petrol over a nice Semi-Dry Riesling.

Thinking of this, is it any wonder that when I enter a tasting room I am often asked if I like “Dry or Sweet” wines? Is this the tasting room staff’s way of determining if I am either (a) a wine snob or (b) part of the unwashed masses demanding that my wine taste like grapes? For the record, my response is always “I want to taste everything.” In fact, I even had a dry Niagara at the Festival (it… reminded me why people make Niagara sweet).

Some writers argue that New York state should focus on vinifera wines if we are to be a major player on the world stage. I agree in that I like many vinifera wines better than hybrids, but one reality of the Finger Lakes is that growing vinifera grapes is time-consuming and expensive because of the care they require in a cool, moist climate like this. Furthermore, the benefits of selling the cheap stuff are likely not limited to the financial. How many wine lovers are brought into the wine world drinking Blue Nun or Manischewitz or white Zinfandel? True, many will continue to pound the plonk for the rest of their lives, but some will rise above it, expanding their palates to more interesting, more complex wines. If even a few see cheap, sweet wine as a gateway between soda and Sauvignon, then so be it.

So, is it just a sad truth of Finger Lakes wine that you’ve got to sell the simple, sweet stuff so you can make the complex, delicious stuff? Events like this seem to reinforce the fact that the average wine consumer in the Finger Lakes is the woman reaching out and saying “Gimme something sweet.” For the sake of this region, I hope not. Should events like the Wine Festival should attempt to educate consumers about the high-quality wines that the Finger Lakes produces? Or should they exist to sell product? What do you think?

Tomorrow: The VIP experience at the Festival, plus some Wine Festival Science!

*Sexual innuendo abounds in the wines presented at the Festival. Here’s a sampling of some of the wines and slogans offered:

  • “I got Nautie” (sticker)
  • “Spit or Swallow” (sticker)
  • “I go both ways” (sticker)
  • Naughty Virgin
  • Hot Sin
  • Forbidden Nights
  • Pecker Head Red
  • 69 Ways to Have Fun
  • Well Hung
  • Lonely Seaman
  • Seneca Steamer (OK that’s not outright innuendo, but you may have heard a similar term somewhere on urban dictionary)
Published in: on 29 September 2009 at 1:15 am  Comments (9)  
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Ithacork goes to the Finger Lakes Wine Festival

Back in July, I attended two days of the Finger Lakes Wine Festival on the track at Watkins Glen International Speedway. I thought it would be a great opportunity to taste a bunch of wines that I haven’t had the opportunity to try, either because they are far away or I hadn’t heard of the winery. Well, I did try a lot of wine, but I also experienced a good bit of people watching. Here’s a video wrapup, filmed and edited by my cameraman and long-time friend Brian.

Just to preface: I do like some of the wines made with hybrid and even native grapes. I am definitely not anti-hybrid. What I’m not really a fan of is hybrid and native wines with way too much sugar in them, which is EXACTLY what most wineries at the festival were pouring the most of. If you can sit through the 5 minutes, enjoy.

More comments and some notes on particular wines in a later post.

Published in: on 25 September 2009 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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