Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rock the Rieslings, Part 3: American Beauties for Thanksgiving

Dr. Konstantin Frank's Semi-Dry Riesling graces the table at a U.S. Department of State state dinner. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State.


a basic word association with the term “Rieslings” and the majority of the time people will mention wine, white wine, Germany, Austria or Alsace.  Perhaps 1 percent of the time someone will mention New York State’s Finger Lakes Region.

Now don’t giggle. And please un-scrunch the nose. It’s not polite. This isn’t "Sesame Street’s" “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.” Times have changed, and so have New York State wines.

New York State Wines, Back In The Day
For those with short memory spans, owing to chronological considerations (as in not yet having been born), New York State wines of the ‘70s and ‘80s were once synonymous with … well … how to put this nicely ... rocket fuel. Yes, that will do.

While beautiful fertile valleys, an overabundance of Appalachian water, and wild grapevines ambling along the wooded lanes cried out “WINE COUNTRY,” the locals made wine with what grew in abundance: Concord grapes, the same sweet jammy fruit used for … well …  Concord Grape Jelly.

Right. Not so great wine, but people could make a lot of it. But then again, the ’70s were well known for quantity over quality. Remember the heyday of McDonald’s hamburgers by the sackful? Remember Kentucky Fried Chicken by the bucket? Remember Taylor and other jug wines of old? Some are avidly trying to suppress the memory. From such a high volume of truly terrible wines came the reputation of American viniculture in the Late Leisure Suit period: unredeemable.

Map of the Finger Lakes Region. Image from Wikipedia.

But this is only part of the story. California vineyards began to experiment with varietals such as Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, producing wines far superior to that of upstate New York. American winemaking, defined by West Coast producers, began to emerge from its dark ages. New York seemed to be left behind.

New York State Wines & Rieslings
While many New York State vineyards sold their harvests to Smuckers Jelly Co. and large wine conglomerates, a tried-and-true business venture, some opted to take a walk on the wild side. Concord jelly completes childhood with its peanut butter and jelly, but kids grow up. What about the grapes for adulthood? Smaller literally mom-and-pop producers began to take the grapes and the region (terroir, definition 1) very seriously, thinking outside of the Concord box.

Riesling is always a good choice for Thanksgiving turkey or any other kind. Photo courtesy of Clemson.

One of the first commercially successful wineries to match the specific type of grape (varietal) to the winemaking potential of the soil (terroir, definition 2) was that of Frank Konstantin. Trained in viniculture in Europe, he realized that the climate and soil in the Finger Lakes Region mirrored that of the finest winegrowing regions in Germany.

Eureka! he cried, I think. Then he imported grafts of the traditional grapes cultivated for select wine production in Europe (vinifera). And thus the fine winemaking tradition of Upstate New York took hold. One of those vinifera varietals is Riesling.

Much like the coffee sensation boomed in Washington State, peaked in Seattle and spread across the United States, so did the American Riesling movement boom in New York State, peak in the Finger Lakes Region roughly 10 years ago, and is slowly spreading throughout the wet and cold northern U.S. states and southern Canada, especially Ontario. But the finest, by far, are produced in the Finger Lakes Region

Riesling Finger Lakes Dry Falling Man Vineyard 2010 has a predominant peachy note. Image courtesy of Keuka Lake Vineyard.

How Good? THAT Good
A biased boast? Apparently not. It’s one thing for little ole me to say they’re great, but it’s another thing when the U.S. Department of State serves a New York State Riesling at an official luncheon for the Chancellor of Federal Republic Germany Angela Merkel. That’s gutsy!

That’s like serving Californian Champagne to the Prime Minister of France! Now one might think that perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had a momentary lapse of judgment, but considering that she was First Lady for eight years and presided over numerous official state functions, I think not.

Rock the Rieslings for Thanksgiving
New York State Rieslings are that good. From dry to sweet, from tart to smooth, from citrus-based to mineral-tinged, below are a selection that will compliment roasted turkey, braised root vegetables, cornbread stuffing, tangy cranberry sauce and even pumpkin pie. True American beauties for a traditional American meal.

To find the wine that works for you, brush up first, Then read the descriptions below.

Wonderful wines for Thanksgiving dinner:

Vintner's Reserve 2008 (Riesling) from Hosmer Winery tends toward a sweetness that is not at all cloying. Image courtesy of Hosmer Winery.

Keuka Lake Vineyard
Riesling Finger Lakes Dry Falling Man Vineyard 2010,
$30 online,
A bold, gorgeous saucy wine that people will notice, the fruit tends more toward peach than to citrus and the rich flavors linger nicely – perfect for a leisurely Thanksgiving feast.

Hosmer Winery
Vintner's Reserve 2008 (Riesling)
$25 online,
The acidity makes the wine seem a tad sweeter than it actually is – sweet in the way that a roasted vegetable might be sweet: delicately so. The guests will be impressed.

Anthony Road Wine Company
2011 Dry Riesling
$16 online,
The white wine for red wine drinkers, AR’s 2011 Dry Riesling has a minerally tart aftertaste (finish) without any bitterness whatsoever. Sample to believe the beauty of this wine!

Heron Hill Winery
2010 Ingle Vineyard Riesling
$20, on sale online,, $15
Brace for impact upon uncorking! The scent (nose) of pure petrol might scare lesser souls, but the hearty full rich flavors are well worth the risk. Heron Hill Rieslings are always spot-on.

The 2011 Dry Riesling is one for red wine lovers. Photo courtesy of Anthony Road Wine Company.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
2010 Dry Riesling
$16 online,
On the mineral-lemony end of Rieslings, Dr. Frank’s 2010 Dry Riesling compliments vegetables and cuts through the heaviness of gravies and creamed spinach. Long lasting flavor (finish) will make the most jaded smile.

Semi-Dry wine for dinner or even dessert

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
Dr. Frank 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling
$14 online,, at this writing, six bottles left!
What Madame Secretary Clinton served Chancellor Merkel in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. Lovely sweetness reminiscent of fruit and honey. Mouthwatering lusciousness.

If you like, buy! These wineries craft quality not quantity, often producing a mere 100-150 cases per vintage. Some wines of distinction have already sold out:
2010 Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling
2008 Anthony Road Semi-Dry Riesling

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Next: "Argentinean Wines: Beyond the Typical Malbec."

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