Eat Drink Local Profile #40: Riesling and Rosé

Dr. Konstantin Frank testing the wine at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars on Keuka Lake. Photo Courtesy fingerlakeswinecountry.com

The Ingredient:

Riesling and Rosé, two wines that are, collectively, our sixth of the 11 Ingredients of the Day.

The West Coast may have California wine country, but don’t underestimate our coast’s vineyard terroir. Forget Sonoma, and for a second, forget Europe, too. It’s time to get to know the serious grape-growing regions in our backyards, located right here in New York: Long Island (the newest), the Hudson Valley (the country’s oldest, literally), and the Finger Lakes (the largest, and pretty award-winning, too). We may be big drinkers in New York (in fact, more wine comes through here, internationally, than anywhere else) but we’re also the second-highest wine producing state in the country, stacking racks of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling and ice wines beyond the state’s borders. We grow a load of Concord grapes (yesterday’s Ingredient of the Day), along with American and French hybrids, but what we really do well here is Riesling and Rosé.

Why They’re Important:

As heard at Monday’s Eat Drink Local week Edible Institute, it’s an exciting time for Long Island wine, which is now in its fourth decade of production. Forty years may seem long, but as you know, wine needs time to produce and mature, so it really takes a while to know what sort of wine we can make from new terroir. On the Institute’s drinks culture panel, Bedell Cellars CEO Trent Preszler, recently returned from PhD work in Cornell University’s viticulture department, spoke excitedly about the unique land he’s discovering on Long Island, which makes its wine taste like no other — like the native flora, with hints of beach plums and seaside minerality, even — for the same reason cheese is only as good as a herd’s grazing goods. (It’s a sentiment echoed by Bedell winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich, who we profiled not long ago.) So it would stand to reason that New York wine goes best with New York-grown food.

The very first New York wine (at least the first to be legally documented) was produced in the 1600s upon Dutch and Hugenot arrival to the Hudson Valley, and it would take until the 1800s to get into commercial production — and European influx to shake things up. America’s first winery — and oldest (it’s still be in operation) — is Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, which has been churning out bottles for over 300 years. Warwick Winery and Distillery in Warwick is also doing some great things with liquors, but the HV wouldn’t be the biggest wine trail on the scene.

In 1951, Ukrainian expat Dr. Konstantin Frank — a well-respected viticulturist in his own town — came to New York for a job with Cornell University’s Experiment Station in Geneva (the birthplace for most New York apples). He had a theory for improving New York wine: to use a proper Vitis vinifera grape for the area. Seems simple enough, but as he could only get a janitor’s job, that advice was stifled until he finally bent the ear of French Champagne producer Charles Fournier at nearby Gold Seal Vineyards and began producing his own wine a decade later. With proper varietals for the state’s terroir, including Riesling, the Finger Lakes became a major player in the industry. So I guess we should also be thanking that last glacier advance, which left the area with those gorgeous finger-like lakes surrounded by sloping hills of gravel, shale and heavy clay deposits, all of which make for very happy vines.

Rosé is another beast altogether, and can be made three different ways. (1) By crushing grapes and leaving skins in contact with its juices for a few days, then removing them before fermenting. The longer skins remain in the process, the more intense the wine will be, both in terms of color and taste. (2) As a by-product of red wine fermentation by letting some of the juices bleed out, thereby extracting rosé and leaving the remaining red wine to intensify. Or (3) — the least common, most frowned upon method — by blending red and white wine. (Sounds more like an experiment in color dying.) New York’s cool-climate wine growing conditions mean that excellent, dry rosé can be made even in vintages when red grapes don’t fully ripen, and in years when they do, the rosé permutations available to the creative winemaker are that much more bountiful.

Last but not least, big props to New York’s Farm Winery Law of 1976, which brought model action that would enable grape farmers to turn their crop into wine right on the premises and to sell that wine directly to the public in what we know now as tasting rooms — and prompted other states to do the same. The state’s 19 wineries became 63 by the ’80s and now we’re beyond 200, and growing faster than ever as curiosity for farm life resurfaces.

Why We Love Them:

We love the cool, crispness of a good Riesling and the lightness of local Rosé. We also love that we have access to a cluster of a wine trail right on Long Island and multiple trails along the Finger Lakes, just four hours from here. But we really love that these viticulturists are not just after trends; they’re looking to make really good wine by studying the really good land we have in New York, from the sandy soil of Long Island to the hilly lands upstate. Many Finger Lakes wines are now giving Europe a run for its money. Just look at Bloomer Creek Vineyard’s complexity — their bold Gewürztraminer (along with three other wines of theirs) was recently cast in a tasting menu at Counter, conceived by guest Chef Anita Lo (owner of the celebrated Annisa restaurant). The vegetarian bistro, Counter, now has Bloomer’s Chardonnay on the menu. Keep a tab also on Sheldrake Point Winery, second consecutive winner of Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine and the New York Wine & Food Classic.

Where to Find Them:

Look into FingerLakesWineCountry.com to follow upstate trails or Long Island wine country’s official website for those closer to home. Or head to the Hudson Valley to tour the oldest winery in America — tours go year-round at $10 a person, $5 a flight, and $6 for a tour without a tasting, though we’re not sure why you’d want to do that. Also, familiarize yourself with our list of Eat Drink Local winery partners, and of course read our travel story on visiting East End wineries in this issue of the magazine.

In addition, with our Eat Drink Local Week restaurant partners, this week you can find Riesling at DB Bistro Moderne with a seafood “vol-au-vent” with vegetables jardiniere. The North Fork Table and Inn‘s $68 kick-off menu will have a Catapano yogurt panna cotta with red wine-poached figs and Concord grape syrup paired with a 2007 Riesling from Himmel in Aquebogue. Radish also has a panna cotta on order but with Rosé wine jelly. Look to Scimshaw for a Napoleon puff pastry with salmon and Paumanok Riesling cream; The Green Table for a $30 lunch or $45 dinner with a $5 add glass of wine from Paumanok or Shinn Estate. And find Bloomer Creek Vineyard Riesling from the Finger Lakes by the glass at Wallsé, where they’ll also have a bunch of organic cocktails for your non-wino tablemates.

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