By Jason Feuler, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Last weekend I attended a reception at Hunt Country Vineyards on the northwestern tip of Keuka’s left branch to celebrate the first available vintage of Valvin Muscat. This hybrid is, like the name implies, a genetic relative of the ancient and prolific muscat grape which is grown the world over, but usually in warmer climates.
The few muscats I’ve had in the past were aromatic, food-friendly whites with good balance. How does its cousin compare? Actually, quite well. The Valvin Muscat I tried at Hunt Country left me with most of the good impressions of a muscat and the mid-palate did not suffer from the same flatness that plagues many hybrids. Overall, it was very good white by any standard.
Chris Wirth, the winemaker, is pleased with his creation. "We had some experimental rows planted for the last few years, and they were turning out very nicely. It didn’t take long for us to decide to release a vintage of this grape."
Valvin Muscat is known genetically as 62-122.01 and was first developed in 1962 by the Cornell Experimental Station in Geneva. "When the Cornell folks test the drinkability of wines they don’t filter and prepare them for general consumption," explains winery owner Art Hunt, "so sometimes good grapes can seem a little rough. When I first tasted the Valvin it was great, and I knew that this would be a good grape to experiment with and produce."
Art’s wife and co-owner Joyce Hunt took the opportunity of the Valvin Muscat’s release to ask local restaurant Snug Harbor in Hammondsport to prepare some dishes to pair with the new wine. The result was a pleasing buffet of spicy shrimp, smoked lake trout salad, and white truffle macaroni and cheese. All the dishes were fantastic on their own and each paired with the Valvin Muscat very well, showing both the skill of Snug Harbor’s chef and the flexibility of muscat in general.
Hunt County has been a winery since 1981, but it is in fact a six-generation family farm that stretches back well into the 19th-Century. The tasting room has one of the best patron-friendly setups of any Finger Lakes winery and the hospitality extends to the warm personalities of Art and Joyce who graciously introduced me to as many guests as possible. The premier of Valvin Muscat was a fun and informative event.
Hunt Country is not the only Finger Lakes winery to have bottled Valvin Muscat, but they are one of only a few and their efforts have produced a food-friendly, drinkable white that should appeal to both lovers of vinifera and those who seek out wines for casual summer sipping. Hunt Country’s Valvin Muscat will retail for $14.99. I am curious to see how the public responds to this varietal and whether or not other Finger Lakes wineries will begin to produce it as well.