The Hudson River region of New York produces a number of notable wines made from French hybrids, essentially a cross of Vitis labrusca (the species of grapevine native to North America) grapes and Vitis vinifera (the more familiar European species). The area has a centuries-old custom of growing grapes and making wine—Brotherhood Winery was established in 1839 and is the nation's oldest continuously operating winery—but it's the new wave of winemaking that shows promise. Here are 5 Hudson valley wines to seek out this fall, whether you're up north to view fall foliage or just looking for interesting bottles in local NY stores.
Clinton Vineyards Seyval Naturel NV On the east side of the Hudson River, Clinton Vineyards has been around since the 1970s and the focus is on one grape only: the singular Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid grape that grows in the cool climate regions of England and North America. High acidity and crisp character lends itself well to the production of sparkling wine, as exhibited in this cheeky, vivacious Champagne-method bubbly, which has a tart lemony taste and waxy finish. It makes a mouth-watering aperitif.
Benmarl Winery Apis 2010 Skin Fermented Chardonnay Located in Marlboro, on the west side of the Hudson River, this idyllic 37-acre estate grows Lemburger (also known as Blaufränkisch), Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Baco Noir (another hybrid grape), as well as hosting a few beehives (Benmarl also produces honey) and roaming sheep that munch on weeds (natural herbicide!). Benmarl recently stopped using insecticides in the hope that beneficial insects will help keep the soils healthy and dynamic. In 2010 they experimented with a long skin contact white wine by keeping Chardonnay grapes on the skins for 4 days during fermentation. The wine went through malolactic fermentation in barrel, spent 14 months in used French oak barrels and was blended with about 25 percent of a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that had no skin contact. We tasted the wine after three weeks of bottling, the result was a deep golden hued wine with perceptible tannic structure and a saline mineral finish.
Tousey Winery 2011 Rebellion Rosé Further north up the east side of the Hudson, Tousey makes honey and produces wines that have a clear European influence (the winemaker is from England). They make a lovely Riesling, with hints of white flower, lemon peel and chamomile, from one hundred percent Hudson Valley fruit, but it's their Blaufränkisch pink that we particularly enjoyed for its invigorating acidity, hints of menthol and fresh red berries. The grapes spent ten hours fermenting on the skins before pressing. Winemaker and owner Ben Peacock tells us that Blaufränkisch does particularly well in NY due to its affinity to cool climate regions.
Millbrook New York State Chardonnay 2011 It's not unusual for the region to vinify grapes from other winemaking areas of New York State. This bright, clean Chardonnay is made from about one-third fruit from Pellegrini vineyard on Long Island, one-third from Hazlitt Vineyard in the Finger Lakes, and one-third from estate-grown fruit at Millbrook, on the east side of the river. According to the winemaker, Long Island fruit provides aromatics, while the Finger Lakes gives flinty flavors, and their own fruit offers more body and texture. Fifty percent of the grapes were barrel fermented, while the rest fermented in stainless steel.
Hudson-Chatham Winery Empire 2009 From a winery that is pretty far north up the Hudson Valley, this is a blend of Merlot from Long Island, Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes and Baco from the Hudson Valley. Unfiltered and un-fined, the wines are blended and then aged in three separate lots: French oak, American oak and stainless steel. When the wine is almost two years old, it is blended, bottled and aged for another six months before release. Think of this wine as a Bordeaux-style blend with a little local character.
About the Author: Pameladevi Govinda is a New York-based freelance writer whose contributions have appeared in Imbibe, Vibe, Decanter, Daily Candy, Spain Gourmetour and more. She has also worked and written for some of New York's best wines shops including Astor Wines & Spirits and Chambers Street Wines. She currently writes and sells wine for Thirst Wine Merchants in Brooklyn's Fort Greene area.
Thanks to the The New York Wine & Grape Foundation for the recent tour of the region.