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.