Tag Archives: Blaufrankisch

Red Wines from the Finger Lakes

Regular readers know that the Amateur Gastronomer is a fan of Riesling from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. But how do their red wines taste? We were invited to find out in a virtual tasting, sipping the wines while learning about them via a live online broadcast. As we discovered, French grapes and Bordeaux-style blends fare quite well, and some lesser-known grapes stand out.

Watch the winery representatives talk about the wines below:

The first wine was the 2011 Blackbird from Silver Thread Vineyard. The sustainably farmed vineyard was established in 1982 and purchased by Paul and Shannon Brock in 2011.

The Blackbird is a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot. Each variety was harvested, fermented and aged separately; the wine spent 8 months aging in French and American oak barrels that had an average age of 6 years.

Finger Lakes red winesThough 2011 was a difficult year – it rained 70% of the days in September and October – owner Shannon Brock said they were still able to harvest good quality grapes.

The 2011 Blackbird was light to medium bodied, with flavors of raspberry, tart blackberry and a hint of spice on the smooth finish. Because older oak barrels were used there is not a lot of noticeable oak – a technique winemaker Paul Brock used to emphasize the fruit and vineyard character.
($22, 12.5% alcohol by volume)

Swedish Hill OptimusThe second wine was the 2007 Optimus from Swedish Hill Winery. The Peterson Family began planting grapes in 1969 to sell to other wineries, and started making their own wine in 1985. Today Swedish Hill is one of the largest wineries in the Finger Lakes region.

The 2007 Optimus is a blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged in small oak barrels for one year.

Unlike 2011, 2007 was a great growing year, which came through in the lush cherry and red currant flavors in the wine. A hint of vanilla and black pepper added finesse, and the finish was soft and satisfying.
($25, 13.2% alcohol by volume)

The third wine was the 2010 Cabernet Franc from Heron Hill Winery. Heron Hill planted its first grapes in 1972 and produced its first vintage in 1977.

The Cabernet Franc contains around 10% percent Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. As winemaker Bernard Cannac explained, it is a field blend, as that is how the vines are planted. The grapes were fermented together and the wine spent 14 months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.

Fresh berries abounded on the nose and palate, with flavors of cherry, raspberry and cranberry layered with cedar, tobacco, violet and herbs de Provence. Good acidity and supple tannins gave the wine a silky and upbeat mouthfeel.
($25, 12.5% alcohol by volume)

Damiani Cabernet FrancNext came the 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve from Damiani Wine Cellars. Winemaker Lou Damiani and grower Phil Davis started the winery in 2004. This wine is a standout for Damiani Wine Cellars, which makes single vineyard and single variety wines only in exceptional years.

This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc from Lou’s home vineyard of one acre. Twenty percent of the wine spent 3 months in new American oak, then 6 months in French oak barrels that were one year old.

The Cabernet Franc had mouth-filling flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and blueberry jam, with gentle notes of spice and an elegant finish with lingering vanilla.
($43, 13.9% alcohol by volume)

The fifth wine was the 2010 Lemberger from Rooster Hill Vineyards. Lemberger is another name for Blaufränkisch, a red wine grape grown throughout Central Europe, most notably in Austria. A number of Finger Lakes wineries produce wine from this grape. Lemberger is similar in taste and in style to Pinot Noir, Gamay or light-bodied Merlot.

Amy and David Hoffman opened Rooster Hill Vineyards ten years ago. Their Lemberger is made from estate-grown fruit, and aged 21 months in 100% French oak barrels. Light bodied and reddish-purple in color, this wine had flavors of red and black cherry, sweet strawberry and freshly-ground black pepper, with a touch of baked fig on the finish.
($25, 12.4% alcohol by volume)

Atwater Pinot NoirThe sixth wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir from Atwater Estate Vineyards. The 80 acre vineyard dates back to the early 1900s and was purchased in 1999 by Ted Marks.

The wine is 100% Pinot Noir, made with grapes that are grown on Dijon and Beaujolais clones. The wine spent 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 10% were new.

From the first sip, the Atwater Pinot Noir was a really lovely wine. It was more Burgundian in style and flavor (rather than Californian), with notes of Bing cherry and raspberry. Subtle cedar and sandalwood flavors emerged as the wine had time in the glass. The texture was velvety smooth, the finish soft and satisfying.
($17, 12.5% alcohol by volume)

The seventh wine was the 2011 Essence from Hector Wine Company. This winery is a little less than three years old, and opened during the 2010 harvest. It is owned and operated by viticulturalist Jason Hazlitt and winemaker Justin Boyette.

The 2011 Essence is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. The wines were aged separately in small oak barrels for 10 to 12 months, then blended and bottled.

After tasting the Bordeaux blends it was interesting to see how Syrah can give a red blend added oomph. Aromas of red berries and black pepper introduced flavors of red cherry, plum, and violet, with a hint of baking spices on the silky smooth finish.
($25, 12.5% alcohol by volume)

McGregor Russian RedThe virtual tasting ended on a high note, with an unusual wine from McGregor Vineyard. Their 2008 Black Russian Red is a blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni. These grapes originate from Eastern Europe; Saperavi is a main grape used to make wine in the country of Georgia, and Sereksiya Charni is an obscure variety from Moldova.

The McGregor family established their vineyard in 1971. They planted what John McGregor called “oddball” vinifera grapes to see what would work; through trial and error they found out which grapes did best in the Finger Lakes’ climate.

The Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni grapes were harvested by hand. After undergoing fermentation and malolactic fermentation the wine spent 26 months in American oak barrels.

In tasting the Black Russian Red you can almost visualize winemaker Jeff Dencenburg taking these rugged Eastern European grapes and taming them through the fermenting and barrel-aging process. The wine was dark purple in color, with aromas of blackberry and plum. These flavors expanded on the palate, with layers of boysenberry, red and black currant and sweet oak. Smooth tannins gave the wine a velvety mouthfeel. The finish was long with a lingering hint of vanilla.
($54, 12.4% alcohol)

Some final conclusions after tasting these red wines from the Finger Lakes:

•  In these light to medium-bodied wines, the flavors of the grapes stand out. Good acidity makes them food friendly, and the moderate alcohol and low oak exposure don’t overwhelm the delicate flavors.
•  There are talented winemakers right now in the Finger Lakes who know when and how to blend multiple grapes to produce the best wines.
•  2010 seems to have been a standout year for Finger Lakes wines, and winemakers say 2012 was a good year as well – look for wines from these vintages.
•  Don’t think that Finger Lakes wines are all white or sweet – the red wines are well worth a taste!

View the wineries on a map:


View Finger Lakes Wineries in a larger map

Austrian Wines at the Miami Wine Fair

If you’re a wine novice, the best way to get a quick education is to attend a wine tasting.  For a lot of learning and tasting crammed into a short amount of time, you can’t beat the Miami International Wine Fair.

Miami International Wine FairHeld at the end of the September, this year’s wine fair featured more than 1,500 wines from 20 countries.  It’s a bit intimidating when you first walk into the convention center, especially if you don’t have a game plan for where to start.

One of my favorite things about the Miami International Wine Fair is trying new or unfamiliar varietals.  My first destination: Austria.

Austrian wines are sometimes overlooked because of their lesser known and hard to pronounce varietals.  Sure you’ll find Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (often called Blauburgunder) from Austria, but it’s those other varietals that will give you a real sense of Austrian wine.

Austria’s most popular white grape is Grüner Veltliner.  It produces food-friendly dry wines that have citrus and apple flavors with high acidity and minerality.  Grüner Veltliner can pair with shellfish, seafood, poultry, spicy foods and Asian cuisine.

At the Miami International Wine Fair I found a pair of nice Grüner Veltliner wines from Dürnberg Wine Estate.  This winery is located in Weinviertel, Austria’s largest wine growing area located in the northeast of Lower Austria.

Austrian white winesThe Grüner Veltliner 2007 Select (middle bottle in photo) is fermented in stainless steel to preserve its crisp fruitiness.  It’s very aromatic, with fresh green apple and herbal notes.  On the palate, flavors of green apple, pear and tart white grapefruit are enhanced with a hint of pepper.  The limestone soil of the vineyards gives the wine a nice minerality that’s well balanced with bright acidity.  The Grüner Veltliner 2007 Select is $18.

Slightly higher in quality and price is the Rabenstein Grüner Veltliner (far left bottle in photo).  It’s made with grapes from 50 year old vines and aged on fine lees in oak casks.  Sophisticated and silky in structure, this white has notes of golden apple, ripe sweet lemon and white pepper.  It is more well-rounded and less citric than the 2007 Select.  The Rabenstein Grüner Veltliner is $23.

I also enjoyed Dürnberg’s Blanc de Noirs 2007 Select (far right in photo).  It’s a white wine made from Zweigelt, a red wine grape.  Zweigelt is the most widely-grown red grape varietal in Austria and is a cross of the Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent varietals.  It is similar in taste and style to Gamay, used in wines from Beaujolais.

The Blanc de Noirs has fresh red berry aromas, with flavors of raspberry and strawberry on the palate.  Lively acidity and a hint of sweetness make this wine refreshing and pleasing to drink.  It’s a nice match for fish, chicken or turkey, or enjoy the wine on its own.  A bottle of the Blanc de Noirs 2007 Select costs $18.

Austrian red winesFor another taste of Zweigelt I tried the 2006 Aconit from Anton Schoefmann.  This red wine is a blend of Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and St. Laurent from Lower Austria.  It’s light to medium bodied and dry, with flavors of cherries, strawberries and a hint of cedar.  Soft tannins give the wine an elegant mouthfeel.  A bottle of the 2006 Aconit costs $19.

Next I moved on to Blaufränkisch, a more full-bodied red grape.  It is the second most important red grape varietal in Austria after Zweigelt.  Blaufränkisch wines typically have flavors of dark berries, black cherries and spice, with medium tannins.  This varietal is grown across Central Europe and is in the Hungarian red blend called Egri Bikavér, also known as Bull’s Blood (click here for more on this type of wine).

For a taste of Blaufränkisch I tried the Lenz Moser Prestige Blaufränkisch Barrique 2007.  This wine is from Burgenland, the easternmost state in Austria.  Deep ruby red in color with some purple, the wine has aromas of berries and vanilla.  Blackberries and cherries give the wine a juicy and rich taste, enhanced by notes of vanilla and spice.  Soft tannins give the wine a firm yet supple structure.  The Lenz Moser Prestige Blaufränkisch Barrique 2007 costs $23.

Austria produces a variety of delicious sweet and dessert wines.  Click here for my article on Kracher, a family winery in Burgenland.

When it comes to Austrian wines, you must try a bottle — even if you can’t pronounce the name.

Stay tuned for more articles on wines from the Miami International Wine Fair