Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New York Wine! (Made Right Through the Heart of It)

By Amanda Schuster

Think wine in the US started in California? Fuhgeddaboudit. New York is where it all began, kids. In the 16th century, the Dutch and Huguenot settlers were the first to cultivate wine grapes. The oldest continuously operating winery in the US (meaning, they never shut down during Prohibition, got away with it because they produced sacramental wines), the Brotherhood Winery, first known as Jacques Brothers, was established in 1837. The country's first bonded winery, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company (also known as the Great Western Wine Company), was established in the 1860s in Steuben County.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Cellars in the Finger Lakes, NY
But being first doesn't always mean best. For a long time, New York wines languished behind the better reputations of west coast rivals once they established themselves. Most of the first New York wines were Labrusca varieties such as Concord, Diamond and Baco Noir, in sweet styles that were embraced by certain drinkers, but ignored by much of the "serious" wine community. All that changed in the 1950s, when Dr. Konstantin Frank emigrated from the Ukraine to work at Cornell University's Geneva Experiment for a closer study of vinifera grapes. Recognizing certain regions for their receptive growing conditions, he was determined to kindle the passion for European varietals in the New York region. In 1962, he established Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Cellars in the Finger Lakes, and his Rieslings in particular were well received. In 1976, the New York Farm Winery Act was enacted to assist wine-makers in their farming prospects, and encourage quality production. By the 1980s and 90s, more and more vintners became interested in the region's various terroirs and microclimates, producing wines from grapes best suited to the conditions, and continuing to experiment with local yeasts and modern methods.

Today, New York has a thriving wine industry, with award-winning wines from across its regions. Because of the similarities to the microclimates in Germany, AVA's such as the North Fork, Hudson River and Fingerlakes have found great success producing German-Austrian varietals such as the aforementioned Riesling and Gew├╝rztraminer, along with Northern Italian ones such as Tocai Friulano.

Raphael Winery in Peconic, NY

In recent years, Cabernet Franc became the breakout star of red wines, because of its ability to adapt so well to local vineyard conditions, and also for its versatility. As a dry red table wine, it is often lush, with intricate levels of dark fruit and savory spice, matching well with everything from picnic food to a steak dinner. It also works well as a blending grape, as it does back home in Bordeaux. Cab Franc can also stand up to long periods on the vine, lasting into late harvest for dessert and ice wines.

Speaking of, New York has come a long way from its cloying past when it comes to sweeter wines. Thanks to a long ripening season, wonderfully elegant dessert wines from around the state are highly sought after. Though ice wine can get a little gimmicky (and some may argue that certain producers have ways of cheating the process), fantastic examples have emerged that are well worth the cost of the precious juice when shortcuts aren't taken. 

Though once relegated to Europe, Vermouth is also trending on the scene. Producers use locally made wines and infuse them with a mix of herbs and spices, honoring European methods and tradition while giving it a certain "je ne sais Empire State" update. 

If you haven't tried New York wines yet or in a long while, with so many producers making great juice across the state, now is a great time to give them a swirl.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Amanda Schuster is a native New Yorker, but without much of the accent. The mobile landscape of the city has taken her on a whirlwind journey from Medieval historian, photo archivist, jewelry designer and invitation specialist to earning her sommelier certification in late 2005. After working as a retail wine and spirits buyer and freelance brand promoter, she turned to the one thing that has stayed a constant all these years – her love of writing. She has published dozens of articles on cocktails, spirits, wine and other culinary interests, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favorite cocktail is a Manhattan.

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