Richard Leahy is a wine writer and consultant who has been reporting on the wines of Virginia and Eastern North America since 1986. He became well-known in the Eastern wine industry as East Coast Editor for Vineyard & Winery Management, and is the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Editor for the ground-breaking Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America (2000), a regional editor for Kevin Zraly’s American Wine Guide. and assisted Steve DeLong on his recent Wine Tasting Notebook. Mr. Leahy is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, professional organization of leading wine journalists based in the U.K.
Richard was the Executive Director of the Virginia Wine Experience in London in May 2007. Richard coordinates the conference program for the Eastern Winery Exposition, a major wine industry trade show for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern wine industries that takes place in Lancaster, PA annually in early March. - C. DeVito, Editor
With business in New England I stopped en route in the Hudson Valley to visit some wineries. I had hoped to visit three or four but became pressed for time and could only do a “quickie” tour visiting one heading east and one heading west. However both wineries were well worth the visit as I expect more of this old region is, home to the oldest continuously operating winery in the country (Brotherhood).
The Hudson Valley has long been pooh-poohed by wine sophisticates in the Big Apple, and while the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions have gained renown in the last decade with vinifera-based wines, the Hudson still has its strong suit in French hybrids, while often making vinifera wines from grapes brought in from those two other New York regions. However, the Hudson has also become a hotbed of the farm-to-table locavore movement, and the rise in its prestige for food sourcing for ambitious restaurants has shone a light on its now-respectable wine region as well.
Hudson Chatham WineryIn fact, Wine Enthusiast magazine recently had an article on the Hudson Valley which mentioned the wineries as well as the locavore movement, and one of those wineries was Hudson Chatham Winery, located about 15 minutes south of I-90 off the Taconic State Parkway south of the town of Chatham (1900 State Route 66, Ghent, NY 12075). While the winery makes perfectly fine vinifera wines from Finger Lakes fruit, its own vineyard is exclusively planted to French hybrids, a common situation in the Hudson Valley due to lack of the cold climate-moderating effect that the deep Finger Lakes or the Long Island Sound provide in those regions that allows them to plant cold-tender vinifera varieties.
I had heard that baco noir was a strong suit in the Hudson Valley, but the grape does not enjoy a good reputation. However, some baco specialists (such as Henry of Pelham Winery in Ontario) claim that if baco noir is treated with respect in the vineyard and winery, it will provide a fine red wine, and I have seen this happen, so I was pleased to discover that Hudson Chatham has an old vine reserve baco that reminded me of a fine Piedmontese red like dolcetto d’Alba or possibly barbera. On this brief visit I realized that baco noir has real potential for top quality in the Hudson Valley, and that local wineries are realizing that potential.
The Hudson Chatham baco noir estate old vines 2010 had an impressively dark violet color, an autumnal nose of dried cherries/plums and a bit of smoke, and smooth dark fruits on the palate with lively acid and spice in the finish.
I was also impressed with the seyval blanc 2012 (Hudson Valley) was very good, with an aromatic nose of grapefruit and melon. On the palate it was zesty with vibrant racy citrus and loads of grapefruit; a great food wine for summer.
The estate seyval block 1 2012 was barrel fermented in French oak. The nose was complex butterscotch with hints of pineapple. On the palate there was loads of zesty acidity but enough toned down by oak, with complexity and fine long minerality in the finish, a stylish wine.
The third excellent French hybrid wine showed that looking down on hybrids without tasting them first is grape racism. It was a nice surprise to taste a rare varietal leon millot 2011 (Castle Vineyard), with a nicely purple hue, clean earthiness on the nose, with smoky cherry notes, and on the palate, a fine fruit/oak balance with solid red fruits and a smoky finish.
A fun Hudson Chatham wine is their Hudson River Valley Red 2012 which is a hybrid red blend with 20% carbonic maceration and some grapes ripasso (concentrated through drying). The nose is smoky with smoky strawberry rhubarb hints. Palate is juicy with forward fruit, not sweet but easy and gently fruity.
Non-hybrid wines (with brought-in fruit) were also solid. A dry Riesling 2011 (Finger Lakes) had racy slate/flint notes with lime accents on the nose, with a palate of solid apple fruit with a grapefruit core. The wine drinks dry but is still fruity.
I was also impressed with the cabernet franc 2011 (Long Island) for a tough year; it had a light cherry nose, fragrant strawberry juice, light but clean and fresh.
I was even more impressed with the merlot 2011 (Long Island) with 24 months in 2 year old French oak. The nose is clean cherry with sage; on the palate it’s juicy and fresh and forward but dry; stylish.
DeVito is both versatile and consistent in quality. His cabernet sauvignon vintage port 2009 had classic cassis with smoky juiciness on the palate with fine tannins and well-balanced acid.
Perhaps the best red was the Empire Reserve 2010 (Merlot from Long Island, Cabernet Franc from Finger Lakes, and Baco Noir from the Hudson Valley). Bottled after 2 years and aged 6 months in the bottle, the nose has lots of cherry and dark bass notes of clean forest floor. The palate is closed but elegant, with a fresh Italian feel; stylish and promising.
The most original and impressive thing I tasted at Hudson Chatham was a cider from a 100 year old orchard with heirloom varieties. The nose was fine and complex but elegant. On the palate, it was vibrant with fine acid, fresh and crisp, but resembling champagne more than most commercial ciders, with a lively bead and tight fruit/acid balance.
After departing Hudson Chatham I had to drive to Rhode Island but returning en route to Pennsylvania I made a point of stopping in the Black Dirt fields of Warwick Valley near the New Jersey state line to visit the winery named after the Valley, which also produces Doc’s Cider.
Doc’s Cider (apple and pear) are a commercial success distributed in 22 states but I’m much more impressed with the still wines, and most especially the distilled products which are the best for quality/price ratio I’ve yet seen.
As at Hudson Chatham, Baco Noir is the local varietal star. As a table wine, it makes Black Dirt Red (NV) which is an unoaked, off-dry juicy quaffable and versatile wine. The nose is lovely clean black cherry and roses. On the palate, it is juicy and fruity with lots of zesty black cherry as good as any unoaked chambourcin.
Another successful baco product at Warwick Valley is Winston’s Harlequin Port made in a ruby style and fortified with New York brandy. The nose has chambourcin-like cherries, lots of spice and smoke, but clean. On the palate, the port is juicy, rich and lively with black cherry, pepper, oak hints and a clean finish.
Now for the star of the Warwick Valley line, the distilled products.
Bartlett Pear Liqueuer (18%) finished in oak. Nose: amazing pear and spice but no harsh heat. Palate: smooth, some sugar, nice complex oak nuances in finish. Original, stylish.
Black Currant Cordial (18%) Nose: wow! Amazingly vibrant fresh currants. Palate: juicy, zesty, bursting with lively fruit/acid balace, juicy and full but fresh finish. Outstanding.
Grappa (40%). Nose: subtle and fine, no hot alcohol esters. Palate: incredibly smooth, no coarse or burning texture, just smooth and fine all the way. Great value for $15/3735 ml. Gold medal in a major competition this year.
For a winery seemingly out on the edge of nowhere, Warwick Valley has a lot to offer, as does the Hudson Valley as a whole.
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