Tastin’ France 2019

My initial interest in the tasting was to try more of the wines from Alsace. As many of you know – I am a big fan of both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. This was a chance to try a few more from a region that doesn’t get nearly as much exposure, and thus is often overlooked, especially in Riesling discussions. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from trying some Champagnes and a few Gamay wines as well. 

Champagne Gratiot & Cie 

Champagne Almanach #1 Brut – with 85% pinot Meunier in the blend I was expecting a more masculine wine. However, this showed classic notes of bright citrus, white flowers and savory herb in the mid palate. The citrus notes become creamier and lusher toward the back, adding to the sheer appeal of the wine. 

Champagne Almanach #2 Intense – One of my favorite sparkling wines from the tasting. This wine spends 6 years on the lees and contains 55% of wine from 2011 and 45% of reserve wine. Made in a slightly more old-fashioned style, it plays off the slightly nuttier, dry fruit notes while still showing the bright green apple and the chewy texture. Richer middle with almonds and pineapple notes add to the complexity of the wine. 

Champagne Almanach #4 Vintage 2009 – With 9 years on lees, and 83% Pinot Meunier (17% Pinot Noir) this is a complex and masculine wine. Rich, powerful Champagne with ripe lemon and curd notes. It needs more time, but is already an intriguing wine. 

Champagne Almanach #0 Brut Nature – With no dosage, the wine is brighter, juicier and fresher than the other wines. Racy, lemon and lime dominating, with a zesty finish. 

Champagne Secret d’Almanach 2012 – Quite unique, with 100% Pinot Meunier from Saulchery, with 2cl of Pinot Meunier grape juice used as dosage and only 26% going through malolactic. The wine is floral, mineral with a bright citrus note as well as a deeper tropical fruit toward the finish. 

Champagne Desire Gratiot Rose de Saignee 2014 - Wow, very much like a red wine, earthy, spicy and with red berry tones. The wine is made of 60% Pinot Noir, with a 15 hour maceration to achieve the color. Quite dry, made in extra-brut style (3.5 g dosage), showing cherry tones and spices in the mid. Really excellent. (Only 980 bottles made) 

Champagne Gardet 

Champagne Gardet Brut Tradition – Truly classic, lemon, white flowers, brioche. The palate is citrus dominated, light and bright. This is a celebration waiting for the cork to pop. 

Champagne Gardet Brut Reserve – with 8 years on the lees and 25% reserve wine, this is a complex and rich example. Sweet cooked green apples, citrus, nutty notes, with a cinnamon touch on the finish. 

Champagne Gardet 2012 Extra Brut – Impressive, mineral, fresh lemon acidity, good power in the mid palate. Long refreshing finish. 

Champagne Gardet Prestige Charles 2004 – Absolute stunner. Floral, nutty, apple and pear notes, minerality to the max in the mid. Unusual and intriguing wine – a must try. 

Champagne Charles Collin 

Champagne Charles Collin Blanc De Noirs – Surprisingly mineral, stone, flowers, bright citrus. This is a lovely wine and a great qpr. 

Champagne Charles Collin Cuvee Charles Brut – The majority (75%) of the wine comes from the 2013 vintage, with 25% from 2009. There is a clarity and power to the wine that is undeniable. Citrus notes are underlining a richer, nuttier note with savory herbs and grapefruit. Really excellent.

Domaine Bott Freres 

Domaine Bott Freres Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg de Ribeauville – I am always happy to find bright examples of Alsace Riesling. This is one of them – floral, with stone fruit and pineapple. The mid palate is ripe, tropical fruit, pineapple and grapefruit, but very dry, with bright minerality. While the wine needs time – it is already an excellent example. 

Domaine Bott Freres Gewurztraminer Tradicion 2017 – With about 30 grams of RS, this is a pretty, supple wine. Rosewater notes on the nose are quite clear, but the mid is ripe with exotic fruit. Delicious. 

Domaine Bott Freres Gewurztraminer Reserve Personnelle 2017 – Like the above wine, but with every note amplified, with more power and a minerality that hints at a much more complex wine, given time. Hints of orange blossoms deepen the already exotic melon and mango on the palate. 

Domaine Dussourt 

Domaine Dussourt Riesling Scherwiller 2015 – Floral, light and quite dry (5g RS) with lemon, dry apricot and green plum. 

Domaine Dussourt Gewurztraminer Fronholz 2016 – Lychee, rosewater, tropical mid, with lemon curd. Orange and mango. Really excellent and in need of time.
Domaine Dussourt Pinot Noir Rouge D’Alsace 2015 – This was a surprise! A rustic, earthy and savory wine, herbs, cherry – leaning toward sour cherry. Deeply interesting, it would be fun to sit with a glass of this wine. 

Famille Horcher 

Famille Horcher Riesling Selection 2014 – Lemon and herb on the nose, hint of pineapple and stone fruit. Quite masculine in the mid palate. Serious finish.
Famille Horcher Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Mandelberg 2017 – Stunning wine, floral, but more mineral than exotic. Roses and wet stone, the mid is deep, lovely olive oil quality of gewurz comes through; the 35g of RS are perfectly balanced by the bright acidity. This is excellent.
Famille Horcher Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives 2012 – Rich, BA level of power with 80% botrytis grapes. Candied oranges, dry apricot, true dessert wine in fashion, but fresh for all its power. 

Domaine Naturabilis 

Domaine Naturabilis Morgon Cuvee Ancestrale 2017 – It was very hard to choose between these two very different expressions of Gamay. The Ancestrale is made in barrel, giving the wine a rounder, softer palate. There is a ripe cherry component, with good structure and long finish. 

Domaine Naturabilis Morgon Cuvee Antique 2016 – This cuvee was made in amphorae, and this gave it a very different fruit profile and texture. The nose is darker, with plums and spices. The mid palate is richer as well, with dark fruit, rustic texture and bright acidity. Delicious! 

A Day Trip to the Hudson River Region

(originally published on The Cork Report)

We left the city early, at 7:30 on a Friday morning. The plan was to start at Hudson-Chatham winery in Ghent, our northernmost appointment, and make our way back to the city by the evening. It was a chilly morning in New York, especially for late March, but we were not prepared for what met us on the road. About half way up, right around Stormville NY (pun intended by nature perhaps?), we drove into a snowstorm. Oh, it was pretty of course, once the shock wore off, with a touch of danger from the slippery road. However, we were rewarded by a lovely landscape as we pulled up to the winery itself. 

We were met by the owner of Hudson-Chatham Winery, Carlo DeVito, and he took us through the lineup as well as the history of the winery and the region. The winery is “old-fashioned” according to Carlo, everything is done by hand, pressed in an old wooden press, aged mainly in old French oak barrels. The winery is known for its hybrid grape wines, like the Baco Noir, Chelois, Leon Millot and Seyval Blanc. Partially this has to do with the harsher, colder climate of Columbia County, but that is not the only reason. Preserving the history of these grapes and the wine that was made from them is important to the winery. I, personally, have never had these wines before, and I was surprised at the quality and depth of the wines. While there is value to the idea of “uniqueness”, the wines must be good – and these were! 

We began with the 2016 Estate Seyval Blanc, an intriguing white grape created in the 1920s by Bertille Seyve and his son-in-law Villard, thus the name. The wine was light, with bright citrus and green apple notes, green tomato and hint of mint. We moved on to the Chelois, tasting two very different versions, one from the Casscles Vineyard and the Estate version. Chelois is another hybrid grape, developed in the late 19th – early 20th century to fight the phylloxera. It is a red grape that produces light, bright wines, with pinot-like fruit notes. The 2015 Chelois Casscles Vineyard had a pretty, translucent pink-with-orange color, with an earthy nose mixed with savory herb. The palate is light, with red berries and herbs, quite bright toward the finish. The 2016 Estate Chelois was significantly darker, riper and richer wine, with raspberry notes above the earthy and herbal tones. The mid is full of cranberry and red currants, iron and mineral notes. Its bright acidity is refreshing on the palate and leads to a chewy, mineral and tart cherry finish. I really enjoyed this one. 

We then moved on the grape that brought fame to the Hudson-Chatham winery in the first place: Baco Noir. Another hybrid grape from the late 19th century, Baco Noir earned its place by creating wines that have deep color and juicy ripe fruit while being quite hearty, able to resist very cold winters and ripen well in cooler climates. We tasted through five different wines made from Baco Noir. My two favorites were the 2016 “Old Vines” and the 2013 “Block 3”. The 2016 Old Vines Baco Noir opens with a rich raspberry, hint of cherry and an earthy, underbrush note. The mid palate shows ripe cherry, with a very pinot-like savory herb toward the back, great balance of acidity and a grip toward the back. It finishes with a lovely tart cranberry note. The 2013 Block 3 Baco Noir, taken from the “cellar stash”, was an interesting look at how this wine can age. The nose was raspberry tea, bergamot, quite perfumed and floral. The mid was showing the same ripe cherry tones that I found in Old Vines, with sage and savory herbs. Long, tart cherry and spicy finish showed a hint of maturity, but was significantly more complex than the 2016. I am rather intrigued to learn more and taste more of these grapes. 

Our second stop was at Tousey Winery, only thirty minutes to the southeast, and yet completely out of the snow… oh well! We were met by Ben and Kimberley Peacock, the young owners of the winery. This is an absolute passion project for the couple, as Ben grew up in England and Kimberly, though born in the Hudson Valley, spent twenty years in Denmark. Kimberly’s father Ben Tousey, a honey farmer in Hudson Valley, created Tousey Winery to sell his “Crème de Cassis”, and when the young couple came for a visit – they saw the opportunity to create something of their own – a full-fledged winery, focusing on the vinifera grapes grown in New York. Building a winery from scratch took time, and effort – but I must say I was immensely impressed with the wines, and even more so, with the clear vision and passion I saw in Kimberly and Ben. The wines we tried were clear, bright expressions of the grape, while speaking of place, they also spoke of the grape itself, with a classic, old-world sensibility that shows a light hand in the cellar. They grow majority of the grapes themselves already, with 85% of the wine made from estate vineyards. 

We began with the Chardonnay, and the 2017 Tousey Barrel Fermented Chardonnay – the only wine Ben vinifies in American oak. He feels that Virginia Oak “is a great marriage between the oak and the fruit” in this wine and I must agree. While I am usually not a fan of American oak, as it can often overpower the elegant New York Chardonnay, here I was surprised to find that the hint of vanilla and coconut does not detract from the deep citrus and lemon curd of the wine. This shows a light hand with the oak, but also the beauty of the fruit. The green apple and lemon of the palate lead to pear and peach notes toward the finish that left a zesty impression with a hint of herb. This, with the next wine, are absolute crowd pleasers – and would match up with a variety of dishes seamlessly. 

The next wine was even more surprising, a bright and tropical Sauvignon Blanc! The 2017 Tousey Hygge was Ben’s present to Kimberly. Hygge is a Danish concept, a feeling of comfort and coziness. Ben sourced the grapes from the Finger Lakes, as it is a better climate for Sauvignon Blanc. The label reflects Denmark as well – with its Royal Copenhagen Blue color providing a counterpoint to the citrus yellow. The wine itself, sadly sold out, is absolutely delicious, with a core of ripe tropical fruit, grassy, musky nose and a zesty, refreshing finish. One of the best Sauvignon Blancs from New York I have tasted. We then tasted several vintages of their Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine, The Loic. The 2011 Tousey Loic BdB (disgorged in 2014) was my favorite, showing green apple, citrus, brioche and earthy tones on the nose, with a core of juicy, ripe lemon and apple fruit, leaning toward cream in the mid palate. Absolutely delicious. 

We finished with two vintages of Pinot Noir, the 2013 that had some age and the recently released 2017. Pinot Noir is a wonderful, if difficult grape, and when done well, can really reward the grower and winemaker. I was impressed by both vintages we tasted. The 2013 Tousey Pinot Noir showed a touch of development already, with a floral nose of roses and violets, along with ripe cherry tones. There were hints of tar that reminded one of Piedmont. The palate was ripe with dark cherry, tart and refreshing, leaning toward earthier tones and spices toward the back. The finish was long with savory herb and earth. While I would not put this away for a decade, this is showing good short term potential and is an excellent example of cool climate Pinot. The 2017 Tousey Pinot Noir was the brasher, brisker brother of the 2013. The lighter vintage showed itself in the redder, tarter cherry and cranberry fruit on the palate, with the back learning to sour cherry and pomegranate tones. The nose already showed a hint of earth, higher toned than the 2013, with the finish exhibiting touches of bitter almond and herb notes. I will be looking for more Pinots from Tousey! 

Our last stop of the day was at Fjord / Benmarl. Situated in Marlboro NY, just below Poughkeepsie, it is an easy ride from the city, and one that I plan on making again, once Spring paints the hills green again. We were met by Matthew Spaccarelli, who took us first into the vineyards. Benmarl is a historic winery, on 37 acres overlooking Hudson River – and Matthew is overseeing the replanting and recovery of its historic vineyards. The steep slopes of the hillside are sure to provide both the sun and the air needed to ripen grapes in the Valley, insuring the continuation of the growth that the winery has seen in the past decade. Fjord is Matthew’s own project, along with his wife, Casey Erdmann. It allows them to focus on the unique microclimate of the Hudson Fjord. After tasting a few wines from barrel, including two very different expressions of Cabernet Franc, we returned to the tasting room. Even though I have had the wine before, I had to ask for a taste of the 2017 Fjord Albariño. This Spanish grape is known for the light white wines that provide fruit and refreshing brightness – a perfect summer afternoon. This one has that in spades, brimming with pineapple, ripe citrus and almond notes, it is a refreshing reminder that sunshine is not far away. 

We also tasted through several Benmarl and Fjord red wines. I found the 2015 Fjord Cabernet Franc to show well already, even though it is clearly young. The nose was ripe, with black and red berries and savory herb. The palate showed sweet tobacco leaf, blackberry and a note of bitter chocolate. I would give it some time to unwind, and it is sure to please. The 2017 Benmarl Merlot opened with hints of leather over the ripe black fruit. The palate was juicy, rich but balanced by savory herb and spice. Good medium finish was refreshing, with touches of black pepper and cedar. The 2017 Benmarl Proprietors Reserve, Benmarl’s Bordeaux blend, showed ripe blackberry, cassis and cherry on the nose along with hints of iron. The mid palate was broad, with tobacco leaf, textured tannin and ripe blackberry. This is a powerful wine, though quite approachable even in its youth.  

NY Drinks NY Grand Tasting 2019

These are brief notes from the amazing NY Drinks NY Grand-Tasting last week. It was such a pleasure to see so many friendly faces and to meet new people. I cannot wait to start my travels to Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes once the weather warms up again.

Paumanok Chenin Blanc 2018: As always – this is an absolute fun to drink, year in and year out. This year’s version is bright, juicy with ripe tropical notes and a well-balanced palate. It is sure to please – especially on a hot summer afternoon. 

Paumanok Assemblage 2014: This wine has evolved since I have last tried it – a year and a half ago. It shows great classical notes of a Bordeaux blend, ripe black fruit, cassis, plum and blueberry. There is excellent structure here, with savory herb, ripe tannin, bright acidic structure and a long tart finish. 

Macari Pinot Meunier 2015: An unusual wine, earthy with notes of forest floor and red berries. The mid is light, raspberry, tart cherry, but with a brighter back palate, good grip and an earthy, spicy finish. 

Macari Cabernet Franc 2015: Quite impressive, ripe and with sweet cherry fruit. Good power in the mid palate, juicy but with serious structure. Will be picking a few up to drink over the next few years and watch how they develop.  

Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry 2017: This is easily one of my favorite “estate” Rieslings in the Finger Lakes. It is light, dry but with a good tropical note on the nose, the mid palate has both white peach and ripe melon. Good medium length finish is full of zest and ginger. Delicious! 

Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling HJW Bio Vineyard 2017: This is a serious wine, with ripe fruit and bright acidity. The herbal undertone is enhanced by the power of the mineral and stone on the palate.  

Keuka Spring Vineyard Classic Gewurztraminer 2016: Gewurz is a tough grape, you have to love it to make it at all, and love it a LOT to make it well. This is an excellent version indeed, rich, spicy, and full of rich lychee and rosewater on the nose. The mid palate has the characteristic oily note, with ripe melon and tropical fruit. Good texture as well. Can’t wait to visit in the summer. 

Keuka Spring Vineyard Humphreys Riesling SV 2016: Interesting expression of the grape. This Riesling is just slightly off-dry,  white peach, light citrus in the mid, ginger and lemon zest toward the finish. 

Whitecliff Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc 2017: Made from all Hudson Valley fruit with 30% new Hungarian oak, this wine had an impressive structure and polish. A solid, red and blue-fruited core, savory herbs, good structure. Tobacco notes become more powerful toward the back with tart cherry notes and a hint of spice. I would love to sit with a glass of this wine.

Fjord Cabernet Franc 2015: Blackberry and savory herb note on the nose, palate is ripe but mainly with red fruit, cherry, lighter blackberry notes. Tobacco leaf toward the back, finish with a hint of spice. Needs some time to develop. 

Boundary Breaks Riesling Reserve #198 2017: I really enjoyed this beautiful wine, made in a style similar to a Mosel Kabinett, with a bright but autumnal sweetness. Rich orchard fruit, peach and apple notes, riper toward the back, with a deep “sweaty” Riesling note. Great balance – but it needs a few years to really shine. 

Dr. Konstantin Frank Brut Rosé 2013: Impressive, masculine sparkler, with strawberry notes on the nose and brash, citrus and red berry palate. Long, refreshing finish, with a zesty, ginger note. 

Dr. Konstantin Frank Saperavi 2016: I love this wine; it is chock full of tart cherry fruit, rustic but with a depth and sweet fruit in the mid palate. Long finish, tart and refreshing. Absolutely delicious. 

Red Newt Cellars Riesling “The Knoll” Lahoma Vineyards 2015: This wine reminds me of an Alsace Riesling, ripe tropical citrus, grapefruit notes, dry but textured and powerful on the palate. Quite intriguing! 

Benmarl Estate Baco Noir 2015: Ripe nose of raspberry and bitter chocolate. The wine is light, but with great balance and acidity, long mineral note toward the finish. Riper cherry and strawberry fruit on the back palate. 

Arrowhead Red 2015: A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – quite ripe with plum, blackberry and dark cherry fruit. The palate is chewy, with a ripe core of fruit and a rustic finish. 

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