True Confessions: Outside of the Finger Lakes region of New York, I’ve never given much thought to New York wines. There’s not exactly a huge New York wine presence here in Virginia. A few years ago, a wise wine friend gave me some advice: “The wine world’s a big place, don’t drink the same thing all the time. Go taste something new!” And over the years, I’ve become more and more attracted to new-to-me wine regions and grapes. So, when I got word the Hudson Valley was the theme for this month’s #winechat, I heard that voice again:
Go taste something new!
For the uninitiated, #winestudio is a live, 4-week long, wine tasting and education series that takes place each Tuesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter. It’s hosted by Protocol Wine Studio, and usually focuses on a singular theme, but wines and/or wineries change each week. Wine Studio participants are always well-prepared and enthusiastic. Special thanks to Debbie Gioquindo of Hudson Valley Wine Goddess for serving as our official tour guide this month.
Here’s the Hudson Valley Highlight Reel:
History & People: The Hudson River is named after English explorer, Henry Hudson, who “discovered” it in 1609 (Hudson discovered the Hudson River in the same way Al Gore discovered the Internet). Hudson had been looking for a passage to China when he ran into the Hudson River. When Hudson arrived, the area was already home to Native American tribes, the Algonquins and the Mahicans. You see why discovered is the wrong word.
Fast forward 170ish years . . . the Hudson River played a key role in determining the outcome of the Revolutionary War. The British wanted to control the Hudson River to cut off New England from the rest of the American colonies. But the Americans weren’t going to give up control of the Hudson without a fight. The Battle of Saratoga, fought on the shores of the Hudson River, would be the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Colonist victories there convinced the French to enter the war on the side of the Americans, and spurred the eventual British surrender. That really doesn’t have anything to do with wine, I just like history. Well, wait. General George Washington’s favorite wine was Madeira. And I don’t think I’d be going out on much of a historical limb to say he probably indulged in a glass or six of Madeira after receiving word of the British surrender at Saratoga. There. Now they’re connected.
French Hugenots were the first to plant grapes in the Hudson Valley, in 1677. But it was a Quaker named Robert Underhill who first cross-bred native and European grapes, making them hearty enough to survive the harsh Hudson River Valley climate (sometime around 1827). [Raising a glass of thanks to Mr. Underhill!]
It’s important to note the Hudson River Valley began as an agricultural community, and remains so today. In our first #winestudio chat, Dutchess County Tourism pointed out, “Agriculture is a driving economic force in the Hudson Valley, and a way of life. There are farms around every corner, some owned by the same family for generations”.
Geography & Climate: The Hudson River Valley was created over 14,000 years (at the end of the last Ice Age) when ocean levels rose and flooded the valley floor. This created a long finger of water, running over 300 miles from north to south. (I wish I could see that on time-lapse photography). The southern half of the Hudson River is an estuary, mixing fresh water with ocean salt water. The flow of the Hudson River changes direction every six hours, due to the pull of ocean tides. That’s something the Mahicans surely noticed, since their name for the river was Muhheakantuck, which means, the river that flows both ways. By way of comparison, Hudson means Son of Hud.
Hudson Valley winemakers have done a great job listening to their terroir, and planting grape varieties that can not only withstand, but thrive in the harsh weather conditions of the valley. Winters freeze hard in the Hudson River Valley, and summers tend to be hot and humid, which can cause problems with mold (the bad black rot and mildew kind, not the good botrytis kind). However, the Hudson River captures ocean breezes from the south, which help to moderate temperatures in both summer and winter. Vines are planted on hillsides to maximize sun exposure, and ultimately, ripening.
Geology: Hudson Valley soil is composed of glacial deposits of shale, slate, schist and limestone. That soil profile gives the wines a distinct mineral taste — abundant in all the wines we tasted.
Three types of grapes are grown in the Hudson River Valley:
- Chardonnay – the most widely planted vinifera grape in the Hudson Valley.
- Cabernet Franc
- Pinot Noir
- Gamay Noir
- Seyval Blanc – the most widely planted white grape in the Hudson Valley.
- Baco Noir
- Vidal Blanc
- Frontenac – a cross of the hybrid Landlot 4511 and cold-hardy Vitis riparia.
- Traminette — a cross of the French-American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and the German Vitis vinifera Gewürztraminer.
White Cliff Vineyards White Rose White Wine 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/85
That’s White Rose, not Rosé — the little accent makes a big difference. This wine is named after the White Rose rock-climbing route on the Shawangunk (say that three times fast) Ridge. It’s a field blend of 25% Gewürztraminer and 75% Traminette. During the #winechat, I asked White Cliff if it was a true field blend, in that you get what Mother Nature gives you, or if they tried to control the output. White Cliff told us, “there is minimal interference, but I do practice my winemaking protocols to make sure the product is consistent and clean.” And clean it is! Wow, the nose on this wine!! I think perfume girls are giving out samples of this at the mall. The Gewürztraminer signature very present. Lychee building to a crescendo of lemon. Bone dry with a mineral finish.
Brotherhood Sparkling Chardonnay NV ⭐⭐⭐/86
Brotherhood Winery has the distinction of being the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery. You could win Final Jeopardy with that little bit of knowledge, so file it away somewhere safe. Brotherhood has been making sparkling wines since the 1800s, releasing their first vintage in 1839. Produced using the Charmat method, the Chardonnay is very present in this sparkler. Loaded with flavors of green apple, lemon and yeast. And there’s that mineral edge again. Marzipan lingers on the finish. Trivia: Brotherhood’s Riesling is on the White House Wine List.
Millbrook Winery Tocai Friulano 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
Tocai Friulano is a grape variety native to the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, grown mostly in the southern and western foothills of the Alps. Only small quantities have found their way to the US, and Millbrook has some! In 1995, Tocai Friuliano lost a legal challenge in Europe over its name, and is now known simply as Friulano. But, Millbrook is in the USA, not the EU, so they don’t have to play by Europe’s rules. This wine is a perfect salute to the end of summer! Refreshing, with super acidity. Pear, grapefruit and melon flavors, and there’s those rock notes again. Ever wonder what would happen if Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling got married and had a baby? That’s this wine! Will definitely seek out more.
Millbrook Winery Cabernet Franc 2012 ⭐⭐/84
Blended with 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. A wallop of tannins up front, but mellows with exposure to air. Flavors are bing cherry and green pepper. Some spice and pencil shaving notes (hello slate!) on the finish, with a little surge of acid that’s pulling my focus. It’s begging for food — wish I had some grilled meat — that might soften the edges a bit.
All of the Hudson Valley wines we tasted are solid, well-made wines — all expressions of a unique terroir. One distinct characteristic revealed itself in all of the wines, and it’s one of my favorite things to find in a bottle of wine — rocks! From here on out, it’ll be tough for me to think of Hudson Valley wines as anything other than Rock Stars!