Wine Blogging Wednesday is back again–this time for its 37th edition, hosted by none other than Dr. Vino himself. The theme is "Go Native" and the good doctor has asked us to drink a wine made from indigenous grapes.
As someone who writes about, and tastes, a lot of New York wines, there are a lot of non-vinifera wines that cross my palate. And, I could have dug around in my cellar for a New York-made concord wine and followed the letter of the law exactly. But frankly, most of those wines aren’t my cup of tea?
Instead, I wanted to find something that would be a good example of non-vinifera wine. One that would prove that quality wines can, and are, made with grapes outside of the vinifera family.
Thanks to winemaker Morten Hallgren of Ravines Wine Cellars, I was able to do just that.
Morten, who was raised in Provence, is making some of the best wines in the Finger Lakes. With a diverse winemaking background that took him from France, to Texas to North Carolina, he is best known in these parts for his six years as head winemaker at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars.
In 2000, Morten and his wife Lisa bought 17 acres of land on a glacier-carved hillside on the eastern slopes of Keuka Lake. This land is located at the widest part of the lake which allows grapevines to receive maximum benefit from its temperature-moderating effects. It has well-drained soils and is situated between two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter. These ravines are the namesake of the winery.
I’m tasting my way through Ravines’ current offerings this week, but the most surprising by far has been the 2006 Keuka Village White. The bottle doesn’t hint at the grapes inside, but this wine reminds me of an affordable blend from Alsace–like Pierre Sparr Alsace One or Hugel’s Gentil.
The nose is fruity and fresh with loads of melon and peach with just a little floral character and minerality. Medium-to-light bodied those some fruits dominate the palate with slightly tropical hints as well. There is a light sweetness to the wine, but more than enough acidity to bring balance.
You might be thinking that I totally ignored this month’s theme. Don’t those Alsatian blends feature grapes like riesling, Gewürztraminer and pinot blanc? They sure do, but remember that this wine reminds me of those blends, it isn’t one.
This wine is actually a blend of 80% Cayuga White and 20% Vignoles. Vignoles usually finds itself destined for dessert wines, but that isn’t the grape I’m focusing on for WBW. Instead, let’s talk about the Cayuga White.
Yes, it’s a cross between Schuyler and Seyval Blanc–two hybrids–so not technically a native grape, but, it was developed at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York (that’s in the Finger Lakes) specifically to succeed in the sometimes-challenging growing conditions there.
It is a hardy variety with some bunch-rot disease resistance, but can easily result in foxy, grapy flavors if not picked early enough. Clearly the grapes that went into this wine were picked before those flavors developed, because this is the first Cayuga-dominated wine I’ve tasted that I’ve actually enjoyed…and would buy and drink again. It’s not a wine to contemplate, but it’s absolutely balanced, fresh and delicious.
Grape(s): 80% Cayuga, 20% Vignoles
Producer: Ravines Wine Cellars
AVA: Finger Lakes
(3 out of 5 | Very Good)