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.


The Arist-rkats!

Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli 2006

In Soviet Russia, wine crushes you! (apologies to Yakov Smirnov)

In Soviet Russia, wine crushes you! (apologies to Yakov Smirnov)

Appelation:Finger Lakes
Varietal: Rkatsiteli
ABV: 11.4%
RS: 0.75% (the website says 0.75 g/L, (0.075%) but that is bone-dry. probably a typo.)
Price Point: $18
Looks: Lemon yellow with a tinge of green
Nose: The floral notes remind me of both riesling and gewürztraminer. The biggest fruit in this basket is pineapple*, with some regular apple. Also, it kind of reminded me of a pear crème brulée I made one Valentine’s day. Actually, now that I think about it, we had rkatsiteli that day too (a different one, Westport Vineyards from Massachusetts)! Isn’t life grand?
Palate: Tangy acidity is singing the melody here. Just a little bit of residual sweetness backs it up like a nice descant, and a great, full {mouthfeel} rounds out the chord. I’m in a musical mood today, probably because I’m in the middle of 7 shows of Bernstein’s MASS, which you should see this weekend if you are in Ithaca. It’s got a long finish, too.

Rating: corkcorkcorkcork

I admit it, I’m a Frankophile. Dr. Frank’s has been in the news as of late, though not for the usual plaudits. The other day, their 3-year-old overflow tasting room burned to the ground. However, nobody was hurt, and the winery was open for tasting the very next day! Talk about unfazed!

Anyway, I love to try grape varieties I’ve never had before, and unless you emigrated from Georgia, chances are you haven’t had a rkatsiteli wine. The grape is Eastern European and apparently grown a lot over there. Dr. Frank appreciated its cold-hardiness and brought it to the Finger Lakes, where I must say it is doing pretty well. I’m sure it’s tough to market, except to people like me who will buy any wine that they’ve never heard of. I mean, if you thought blaufränkisch was a mouthful, then forget this one. By the way, according to Wikipedia it’s “rkah-tsee-tely”. Whatever you call it, it went great with Sarah’s beer/cheese/ham soup, with which we finally demolished the last of the Easter ham. It’s all about the little victories.

Many components of pineapple aroma come from a group of compounds called ethyl esters. Wine grapes generally contain only low levels of esters. So why does the wine smell like pineapple? Ethyl esters are generated during fermentation by yeast. In short, fatty acid chains are combined by yeast enzymes (EHT1 and/or EEB1, ethanol O-acyltransferases) with ethanol and form these fruity-smelling compounds. To me, ethyl hexanoate smells particularly pineapple-y, as does ethyl decanoate, but the latter is slightly more metallic. Generally ethyl esters will take less time to hydrolyze and equilibrate than acetate esters (which we’ve talked about before), which explains why pineapple is still hanging about after a few years in the bottle. (Ref: Saerens et al., “The Saccharomyces cerevisiae EHT1 and EEB1 Genes Encode Novel Enzymes with Medium-chain Fatty Acid Ethyl Ester Synthesis and Hydrolysis Capacity”, J. Biol. Chem, 2006)

The reaction in question.  Stolen from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ., again.

The reaction in question. Stolen from G. Sacks, Cornell Univ., again.

The same reaction, in simpler terms.

The same reaction, in simpler terms.

Published in: on 24 April 2009 at 2:55 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

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.