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. 

Treasury Cider in Hudson Valley

A Snow Covered Orchard – Treasures Only an Hour Away from the City! 

I first met Josh Morgenthau in New York City, during the New York City Cider Week celebration. Something clicked right away, with the first sip of Treasury cider. It was passion. Apples don’t leave a lot to hide behind, there isn’t a lot of alcohol or heavy tannin, there isn’t an overabundance of fruit. This is why there is so much cloyingly sweet cider out there – it is a mask. Don’t get me wrong, I love sweet and semi-sweet cider and wine. However, they must have complexity, depth and fruit to balance the sweetness. The cider I tasted from Treasury, Counterpane, was an excellent example. Made from a blend of cider apples with the wonderful Porter’s Perfection and Brown Snout leading the way, it had both body and fruit to match. 

Even back then, in November, we already discussed a visit, and though the winter is not the most “picturesque” season in the orchard, I was looking forward to a nice drive to the Hudson Valley. Fishkill Farms has a long history in Hudson Valley, founded by Henry Morgenthau in 1913. Its orchards, on the hills of the valley, are a picturesque mix of old and young trees, with the ancient apple trees just steps away from the young, densely planted and trellised dwarf and semi dwarf varieties.
My wife and I met with Josh and Stacy Dedring (the assistant cider maker) in the morning, and began by taking a tour of the cidery. The press alone is worth the visit, a 100-year old press that was originally used to press steel, it towers above the bins of fresh apples. I cannot wait to see it in action, perhaps next fall. 

We then “walked” (hopped, skipped and climbed) over to the barrel room. Josh has several interesting blends in the barrel, the old wood adding a roundness to the cider, and the two we tried from the barrels show lots of promise. The final blending, of course, will determine much of the character, but the purity of fruit and the floral depth of both blends was encouraging. 

My favorite part was, of course, a drive (and a walk) through the orchard. Covered in snow, the old trees looked sleepy but happy. It is hard to describe in words, but I can just tell these trees are loved and cared for. Standing on a ridge, looking down a row of old apple trees, to the “big barn”… if you haven’t visited Fishkill Farms yet… the Spring season is almost here.
Fishkill Farms Cider is named “Treasury” as an homage to Henry Morgenthau Jr., who served as Secretary of the Treasury under FDR. We tasted through the lineup, including some recent releases, together with Stacy. 

My top three were the Burr Knot, the Centennial and the Counterpane (the 2018 uses Cherry as well as apple). The “Burr Knot” is the most “geeky” of the three, with a nose of donut peach, bright and ripe, tannic acidic mid palate that broadens toward she back showing a nuttier, riper side. The finish is moderately long with green almond and zest. 

The “Counterpane” Cider – a deep pink with an orange hue, is a pure pleasure. An earthy, cherry and strawberry nose leads to a bright, fresh palate of red berry, mint and nutmeg. There are light notes of herbs on the back palate that give structure to the cider, leading to a spicy and fresh finish. 

My favorite was the “Centennial”; the most “classically” built dry cider of the bunch. It opens with a yeasty, red apple skin and apricot nose, leading to a ripe grapefruit mid, with orange zest and a good tannic grip toward the back. The finish is long, zesty and with rustic tannin, adding to the depth and complexity of this cider.  

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