Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Light and Lovely Reds of the Hudson Valley

Never was the difference between east and west coast wines more apparent than during my recent visit to the Hudson Valley, New York, as a participant in a wine blogger weekend known as Taste Camp.

I am no fan of the heavy, jammy style of red wine that can be found in countless bottles from California.  While subtler styles exist, there is no arguing with climatic differences between the coasts.  California’s got a lot more warm sunny days and the grapes get much riper.  California’s weather can ripen the grapes that give us bold Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon among other heavy-weight pours..

On the East Coast, we have icy, snowy winters, a lot more rain, and uneven summers.  In short, our climate demands different grapes – and they create a completely different style of wine.  I, for one, often prefer the more subtle North East style.

Hudson Chatham Baco Noir
Baco Noir is a curious variety that I’ve never had from other wineries.  Hudson-Chatham winery owner Carlo Davito poured a number of versions of this wine, including Old Vines.  His wines were translucent and had subtle earthy flavors and sour cherry notes.  They were welcoming wines that didn't need to overwhelm the palate in order to interest the drinker.  There was a dimensionality to these wines, which was in stark contrast to many one-dimensional wines I have tasted from hotter climes.

Whitecliff Gamay Noir
This winery's Gamay Noir is another light wine that is made from the same grape as Beaujolais in France.  I might try serving it chilled in the summer with charcuterie or even burgers.  The style is easy, fresh, with strawberries on the palate and crisp acidity – a wine to enjoy in its youth.

Tousey Cabernet Franc
Moving up in weight class is Cabernet Franc.  This is a grape that can do quite well in the North East, including on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes.  Here in the Hudson Valley, winemaker Ben Peacock gets a fuller-bodied wine than Carlo’s delicate Bacos – but still with a far lighter style than any California Merlot.  The fruit flavors are blackberries and raspberries with a slight spicy edge.  I enjoyed his 2012 Cab Franc with a roasted chicken; it is the perfect heft for poultry. 

Victory View Vineyards MarĂ©chal Foch
Perhaps the boldest wine I tasted during the weekend was from another little known grape, MarĂ©chal Foch.  I myself had experience imbibing this wine from family vacations in Nova Scotia.  Winemaker/owner  Gerry Barnhart explained that he wanted to choose grapes that would grow well in their climate, and that this one is a hardy variety that can withstand tough winters.  I found it a balanced red wine with strong black fruit character – a hearty pour for stews and red meat, but still with lighter tannic structure and no cloying jamminess. 

The Hudson Valley is a quick two hour trip from New York City, and all of the wineries listed welcome visitors.  It is a particularly lovely weekend getaway in the autumn.  But don’t just go for the scenery – enjoy these beautiful wines that offer balance, delicacy, or even boldness – but always with a typical Yankee restraint.