Uncorking New York
Think of wine in the United States, and chances are you'll immediately visualize the West Coast: sunny California and perhaps the rainy but mild Pacific Northwest. Wine-related thoughts about New York State are not likely to pop into your head.
Why is such a major wine producer so little-known? A combination of factors have held back the Empire State on the national wine scene ... but watch for this to start changing.
If the climate in California's wine regions is somewhat like that in Mediterranean France, Spain and Italy, New York's is more like Germany; indeed, New York's long, narrow and deep glacial-cut Finger Lakes even look a bit like the Mosel or the Rhine.
Until recent decades, that continental-style climate, with its freezing winters, has held back the development of Vitis vinifera vineyards, the familiar wine grapes that dominate the fine-wine market. New York has been better known for Vitis labrusca, strong flavored grapes normally used to make sweet, syrupy wines that more closely resemble Welch's grape jelly than Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel; even the more ambitious wineries typically compromised on "French-hybrid" grape varieties, designed to withstand fierce winters that can kill vinifera but that only rarely yield world-class wines.
Eventually, though, a few pioneers, including Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemer in the Finger Lakes, fought the odds to grow classic European wine grapes and, particularly when they specialized in varieties appropriate to colder climates, such as Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they won competitions and earned a growing reputation.
But even as the wines got better, another problem stood in the way: In contrast with California's liberal wine sales and shipping policies, New York law forbade the state's wineries to ship wine out to consumers, as it denied its own citizens the right to buy wine across state lines. As a result, and in the absence of any real national demand to move New York wines into traditional distribution channels, the state's wines were (and largely remain) unknown in the rest of the world.
But last year's Supreme Court decision on wine shipping, which banned disparate treatment of in-state and external wineries in interstate commerce, may have opened the gates. Thanks to enabling legislation passed over the wails of the distribution lobby, New York wineries are now free to ship wine direct to consumers in other states where the law allows; and to the extent that this change increases visibility and demand for the wines, wider distribution is likely to follow.
NIAGARA WINE GATHERING:
The gathering, like the similar annual "MoCool" wine-lover gathering in Michigan in August, is strictly social, non-profit and non-commercial, with participants agreeing to share the actual costs of wine touring and a Sunday wine-and-food picnic. If you live within reach of the Niagara Falls and Buffalo area (on either side of the U.S./Canadian border) or will be traveling in the region the weekend of June 10-11, you're welcome to participate. Check out the details on our WineLovers Discussion Group,
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2003 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($15.99)
This is a pale, transparently clear but distinctly golden wine. White fruit and stoney slate aromas display the odd but pleasant minerally scent that Riesling-lovers call "petrol." Its full, ripe flavor hits the palate with a surprising burst of tangerine, shaped by firm, steely acidity. Rich in texture but fully dry, its tangy citrus flavors linger in a very long finish. Excellent Riesling; it would be intriguing to see it served "blind" in a flight of Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace. (May 14, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Almost too rich for more delicate seafood and fish, this one seems made for veal and pork dishes. It went very well with simple veal burgers made in the style of Italian polpette meatballs.
VALUE: With the exception of a few dessert wines and a handful of sought-after producers, Riesling in general remains a good buy around the world. No complaints about value at this mid-teens price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Riesling is one of the most long-lived of whites, and this wine's good fruit and sturdy structure suggest it would fare well in the cellar. It would certainly be safe to keep it five years or more under good storage conditions.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
In my "VALUE" comments on Friday's wine tasting report, Henry Estate 2003 "Umpqua Cuvee" Oregon Pinot Noir ($15), I questioned an apparent $39 price for a wine that sells in wine shops for $10 to $15. As it turns out, the $39 price (plus $9 shipping) is for three bottles, which is not a bad deal if you can't find this good Pinot locally.
TALK ABOUT WINE ONLINE:
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Introducing The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only Program
Many of California's highest-rated and most coveted wines sell out before most wine consumers ever have the chance to purchase even one bottle.
Wines like these are even difficult for The California Wine Club to find. In fact, the club sometimes acquires so few cases of a special wine that it's not possible to feature them as a regular selection or post them on the website, so these special treasures are instead offered to a select group of customers.
Now 30 Second Wine Advisor readers can join California Wine Club's By Reservation Only program, offering you selective access to these rarities, only the wines you want, with no commitment and no obligation.
Here's how it works:
To add your name to The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only program please call 800-777-4443 or email email@example.com.
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Some highlights of recent articles on WineLoversPage.com that I hope you'll enjoy:
For the Love of Port: The Dynamic Douro
Hot topics in our WineLovers' Community
U.S. vs. New Zealand Pinot Noir
Wines for beginners
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Remember Sideways? (May 12, 2006)
Affordable Spanish red (May 10, 2006)
Is ritual necessary? (May 8, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Trompe la bouche (May 11, 2006)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, May 15, 2006