ROCHESTER, N.Y.— About 20 years ago, when I began to discover the growing excellence of many New York wines, what came to mind were chickens and eggs, or horses and carts.
Over the last few days, a trip to a multi-day wine symposium for industry types proved it again: The quality of New York wines keeps rising. But now their relative obscurity gets to be almost comical. Except that one wine publication is beginning to get it.
A recent article in the Wine Spectator focused on Finger Lakes Riesling and its excellence. A bit late, but hey, they’re getting it.
The dilemma facing New York wineries is similar to that of other states facing similar situations: as quality grows, the ideal situation is to sell it around the country. But if there is no demand for it in new markets, then opening such markets is a waste of time and money.
Take, for example, Finger Lakes Rieslings. Most are superb and have been for decades. The fact that almost none are available on liquor store shelves is the result of some instinctive prejudice against them: even in Manhattan, such wines are hard to find.
Now we are starting to see excellence in more Eurocentric styles of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Syrah. Moreover, at a recent luncheon here, we had four wines from the so-called Minnesota varieties, made from the likes of Brianna, Marquette, and Frontenac.
Talk about varietal prejudice. I can’t see any major wine publication ever suggesting these are fine wines. Yet with lunch the other day, I liked them all.
Mainstream they are not, but if that’s all that Mother Nature allows you to grow — they are winter-hardy — then that’s what you grow. Sure, the flavors may be different from many wines, but only the naïve or snobs would allege that “different” — “bad.”
Before this, Cornell released Noiret, Valvin Muscat and Corot Noir as new varieties, and each makes a lovely wine, albeit with unusual aromas and flavors.
Now we have Arandell and Aromella, two new grape varieties that were certified Wednesday as excellent by Cornell University, which has done yeoman research into grapes that can grow in very cold climates.
Aromella is a delicate, floral/spicy white grape that makes a wine with a bit of the spice character seen in Albariño. Arandell is a medium-weight red grape reminiscent of Lemberger or Gamay, and lends itself to a modest red wine that seems to need no oak aging to deliver a delightful, elegant red wine.
All this and a lot of tech talk took place at Viticulture 2013 here, an every-third-year event dedicated to topics such as cool-climate varieties and that often features many of the wines of the region.
New York is the third-largest wine-producing state in the nation, and one reason for its growth is directly linked to quality. Now all that needs to be done is to gain recognition for that quality so national distribution can become a reality, not a just pipe dream.
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Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at email@example.com.