Whitecliff Vineyards TraminetteIt has been unseasonably warm this fall so far. The end of September, and 80 degrees or more… while the weather may not be exactly seasonal, it has meant that those summer wines get a chance to shine a little longer. Between this climate and my ongoing “eat local, drink local” kick, a ton of New York wines have made a debut at my table. Today’s wine, a grape I only discovered this past year, is a summer favorite that should last anyone with an adventurous palate well into autumn, if not beyond.

New York has several AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), of which I consider five to be important right now: Hudson River, Finger Lakes, Long Island, Lake Erie, and the Niagara Escarpment. The Hudson River region, a lovely valley that has been designated as a National Heritage Area, is home to the oldest vineyards still active in the state, and produces excellent Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, among other things. The Finger Lakes region is now internationally known for its Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and I put it at the top of my list of New York AVA’s. Long Island has a maritime climate that is ideal for Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Lake Erie is still dominated by bulk production for grape juice; however, some serious artisanal wineries are beginning to crop up, putting forth delicious whites and reds for those willing to hunt.

Today’s wine, the 2012 Whitecliff Vineyards Traminette, is a Hudson River native. A hybrid based on Gewürztraminer that is brand new on the viticultural landscape, having only been crossed in 1965, Traminette’s standout features include excellent quality and character, high yields, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its parent. In case it isn’t obvious, I just love this stuff. In the glass, a nice pale straw color, with perfumed aromatics and a floral palate. I noted delicate aromas of lychee, orange blossom, baking spice and dried rose petals. It finishes bone dry, and is a great companion to Asian fare. At $16 a bottle, you really just have to find some and see for yourself.

To balance my previous post about Thanksgiving Pinot Noir, I want to review this holiday’s other most commonly enjoyed wine. Riesling, whether fully trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (off-dry, having between 1% and 2% residual sugar), is the perfect foil to turkey and its dinner companions. It has the added advantage of being the shimmering queen of white wine, but that is, of course, just my opinion. Let’s see what I can do to sway you to my side.

Weingut Robert Weil is one of the Rheingau’s younger wine estates, located in Kiedrich, a village that was first recorded in 950 AD. It is, however, also one of the finest, producing a range of wines along the whole spectrum of sweetness as categorized by German winemakers. Michael Broadbent considered Robert Weil “the most consistently brilliant winemaker in the Rheingau.” Thanks to the fabulous terroir of the vineyards in the Rheingau, with their rich mineral content and exceptional drainage, the wines exhibit remarkably distinct elegance, complexity, and nuance. Generally fruit-driven, but not overly forward, Weingut Robert Weil Rieslings exhibit a dancing whirl of acidity around their lush fruit cores, showing extract and poise far beyond what most white wines are capable of reaching. Weil wines are truly wonderful examples of Riesling’s potential.

This example, the entry-level 2011 Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Trocken Riesling, shows a pale gold in the glass. Once poured, I find typical vibrant fruity aromas of lemon zest, stony peach, with a hint of sandalwood and wet stone. More bright citrus fruit in the mouth, with a tingling acidity that makes this wine seem electric, the texture rounded out by chalky mineral elements. The quenching finish leaves you ready for more, and pairs beautifully with Thanksgiving trimmings – although it could just as easily be enjoyed on its own. A pure steal at $17.

Summer. When we all pack up – at least once during these hot months – and go somewhere new, our suitcases cruelly overfed with laundry and comically bad book choices. After trials endured only during vacation trips – colicky babies, parking tickets, being lost for hours – we settle back into our normal lives with, if not relief, at least a renewed sense of calm. At the end of each trip, I, at least, just want something wet and delicious to wash away the dust of travel. Something with a nice chill to it, something from the Loire. Yes, I do become that ridiculously specific – wouldn’t you want the perfect glass of wine to round out the perfect nightmare: airports?

Well, I do. And the wine I plan to sip on after returning from Carmel, CA (a great AVA, or American Viticultural Area, in its own right), is… ok, no. Time to derail this post and talk about how fantastic Carmel is as a wine region and travel destination. In typical man fashion, I offer this list:

1) The town’s full name is Carmel-by-the-Sea. What? Elf-wine!?

2) After going into down and hitting one of any number of choice spas and salons and art galleries, you can hit local wine shops to taste delicious finds from Galante Vineyards and Scheid Vineyards, to name but two.

3) The ocean. The ocean, the ocean, the ocean.

Alright, spontaneous list done. The real draw of wines from Carmel is their sheer value. The Carmel AVA is located in Monterey County, known for its rich, full-bodied wines. Mountainous, but with a nice marine climatic influence, you can find astonishingly good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot here (these comprise 70% of total grape production). The terroir is ideal for all of the traditional French Noble grapes – exceptional drainage in the soil, long growing season, and nice temperature swings in the summer leading to slow maturation of the grapes. Beyond Cabernet and Merlot, both Bordeaux varietals, vineyards are now exploring with Burgundian vines as well: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

But I digress too far. Tonight’s post, after all, isn’t about a Californian wine, or even a Bordeaux/Burgundy wine: tonight, we go in the opposite direction: a long-aging white, a sheer, delicate-yet-layered beauty made entirely from Chenin Blanc. Not only that, it’s produced by one of the progenitors of the biodynamic wine movement, Nicolas Joly. He is, perhaps, the most famous “wild man” of French winemaking.

Savennières is an appellation in the Loire Valley which is predominantly famous for Chenin Blanc, a classic grape in its own right. Savennières is one of those rare white wines that can be kept in the cellar for years and show great improvement in complexity and depth. The 2003 Nicolas Joly “Coulée de Serrant” Savennières, which I got OFF THE WINE LIST at a restaurant for a piddling $35 (it retails for around $100 in newer vintages), will be the perfect way to round out this coming vacation. The color was a lovely gold in the glass from all those years aging in the bottle, and the nose showed aromas of marzipan and pear, as well as a lovely floral element. The mouthfeel was just… huge, rich like cream but still acidic enough to be springy. Fruity notes like pear, tangerine, and apricot frolic in the supple curves of this wine, which shows a nice long finish. It paired perfectly with Korean BBQ. If you can find a bottle for $35, DO. IT. You will not be disappointed… as opposed to that time you actually tried to redeem those rewards with United.

With Thanksgiving just finished, I thought I’d dash down another quick entry about one of my favorite New York State wines, produced by a pioneering family I have written up before: the Franks. Dr. Konstantin Frank, responsible for developing many Vinifera grape varietals and hybrids, such as Seyval Blanc, on New York soil. Their wines are always of high quality, consistently delicious, and remain good values from the Finger Lakes region. As it also happens, I find these wines perfect for the holiday season: they are generous, have some depth, but don’t crowd out anything else on the table. This wine, in particular, demonstrated some of its aging potential when I opened it while trying candidates for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. It has come a long way, to say the least.

In the glass, the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling is still a pale straw color, tinged green. The first swirl elicits aromas of summer peach, flint, and a touch of pear and petrol. In the mouth, this wine reveals an almost viscous texture balanced to incisive acidity, demonstrating great focus at this price point. In this 2008 vintage, we can easily observe the Riesling transparency: that sense that the fruit, each singular element of its personality, is right there. Finishes nice and smooth, with more soft peach notes, and some really interesting honeyed notes wreathed with a touch of smoke. 12% ABV; heavier than most German takes on what is essentially a Kabinett. I would pair this with… yep, turkey. Or possibly glazed pork loin with potatos and steamed vegetables. $16 nabs you a delicious Thanksgiving. Do it.

Just watched Captain America, and the most prominent theme, besides ‘MERICA!, seemed to be “hooray for the little guy.” So this post is a celebration of one of the little wines, a wine with of small stature and little renown… a bottle with a secret and startling strength. Heroic, searingly-youthful-yet-sometimes-muscular wine. That’s right: a French wine. Sorry, ‘MERICA?

So let’s address the grape: Picpoul. Picpoul grows mostly in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, particularly in the Picpoul de Pinet appellation, and is a very straightforward grape, with fresh, clean fruit aromas. White wines made from Picpoul tend to be green-gold in color, medium-bodied, with lively citrus notes and a zest that makes them perfect for summer quaffing. They’re casual, approachable, and simple.

This particular Picpoul de Pinet, the 2010 Domaine de Guillemarine bottling, is right in line with what I’d expect of this white. Straw gold in the glass with a tinge of green, very pale and crystal clear. A nose just chock full of lemons, lime zest, and slight gooseberry notes. The citrus carries right through in the mouth, with snappy acidity and a quenching finish hinting at stony mineral. You won’t find a better wine for Friday movie nights, provided the genre is action, the theater is outdoors, and it’s August. All that flavor for a price even the little guy can tackle: $12.

Yesterday I went to Jones Beach with some of my most loved friends, and did the right thing. I brought a bottle of chilled white wine. Now, what makes a wine compatible with the beach? It needs snappy acidity, for one; all that brine in the air will overwhelm a wine lacking bite of its own. Defined fruit aromas and flavors are also critical. I am not looking for a supremely well-integrated wine, not with all those ocean scents in the air: salt tang, smoke, motor oil, suntan lotion, hot human – complex wine is wasted in such context.  Better to have something eminently drinkable, something you can share with friends and enjoy without breaking a sweat – not over the wine, at least.

Many wines fit this bill just fine: Albariño, Ugni Blanc, “bare” Chardonnays that have seen no oak, Vinho Verde… but only one has really held my attention this summer of 2011: Grüner Veltliner. The star grape of Austria, Grüner Veltliner produces wines that have a really interesting full texture paired with bright acidity, citrus or pear-driven fruit, and notes of spice. Quenching, ubiquitous, and cheap: the recipe for a good hot weather beverage. Perfect for the sun and sand.

This bottling, the 2009 Franz Etz Grüner, reflects the growing season that year; 2009 was  warmer in Austria, resulting in fuller-bodied wines with more round fruit notes. A nice pale green-yellow in the glass, good clarity, with aromas of lemon zest, dandelion, white pepper, and petrichor – the scent of rain on stone. An exceptional mineral component, which carries through the lush yet focused mid-palate, showing more citrus fruit. Crazy texture, like buttered linen. Bright acidity is well-balanced, and every component just shouts “Drink me! DRINK ME!” Finishes nicely, too. Friends, this is a 1L bottle you can get for $13. Act now.

Just this past weekend, I went camping with a bunch of friends at Lake Francis near Pittsburg, NH. Mind you, this is 20km south of the Canadian border. We’re talking Canadian air on US soil. So close to Canada you could taste the “eh?” with every breath. Moose crossings. Bear sightings. Fishing, hiking, chopping wood. And the best camping I’ve done in a long time. Obviously, we brought several wines on the trip, but the nearness to our northerly national companion made me think it was time for a review of a wine I tried some while ago, my first Canadian white wine ever: the 2007 “L’Acadie” Blanc from the winery Domaine de Grand Pré in Nova Scotia.

Who’s even heard of a Canadian wine that wasn’t ice wine? Nothing wrong with those, but seriously, my knowledge base didn’t even include Canadian wine before I actually went to Canada on a segue from Europe and tried a few at a restaurant on the water. And… they’re pretty good. Not just “wow I didn’t pour it out” good, but “man I should buy a case of this” good.

Domaine de Grand Pré focuses on grapes indigenous or specifically grown for Nova Scotia, distinguishing it from many other wineries in the area who produce their wines using predominantly “global” varietals popular in the Old World and New, like the Noble grapes Chardonnay and Merlot. Instead you find wines like this 2007 “L’Acadie,” consisting entirely of Seyval Blanc. Hardy stuff, the Seyval Blanc grape, well adapted to this cool climate.

The result? It shows a pale straw color in the glass, with a nose dominated by fresh hay and cut grass, thyme, and grapefruit zest. A fun texture in the mouth, round and almost buttery like a Friulano, but not nutty by any means. More citrus fruit and strident acidity lead to a quenching finish. Great summer beverage… eh? This lip-smacking wine, which paired well with baked sole, will cost you $15 Canucks, or about $16 US. Cross the border and raise your glass.

Riesling is, as I repeat constantly, my beloved grape. A Riesling’s haunting flavors, piercing acidity, the beauty of Riesling grapes on the precarious slopes of the Rhine, the delicate shimmer of a Riesling… nothing compares. Germany, of course, remains the source of all the best Rieslings (although Austria and Australia both produce wines that occasionally force me to drop my jaw). That said, New York’s showings are becoming increasingly satisfying! I love the wine that is the subject of this post: the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling.

Dr. Konstantin Frank merits special attention. He was, after all, the first winemaker in New York State to adopt the Vitis vinifera grape, and produced delicious wines nearly from the get-go, at that. Many years after his initial debut of the traditional European grape species, Dr. Frank continued to have detractors – now, thankfully, those objections have been washed away by the profundity of his descendent’s wines. His grandson, Frederick Frank, runs the family business with an extremely talented band of winemakers, specialists with a global perspective. All this, and seeing the place means you get a trip to the Finger Lakes!

Their 2008 Dry Riesling is the first wine I have tried by this producer, having read many articles about the quality of their lineup. Let me make an account of why it is beautiful. This wine is beautiful because it is a crystalline pale straw tinged with green in the glass. This wine is beautiful because of its lemon-lime citrus and green apple aromas accentuated by slate stone and floral notes on the nose, followed by a steely mineral mouthfeel. This wine is beautiful for its strident acidity, piercing the faithful like lightning. Definitely on the mean side in that regard, but the mineral and apple fruit makes it balanced to my tastes. Great snappy finish. Pair this wine with pork chops, or fresh lobster or crab. Pair it with oysters. Pair it with itself. $14.

How long has it been since I tasted a South African Sauvignon Blanc, or any wine from this country, that caught my fancy? Too long. That it happened, and at a random tasting in Chelsea, was more than cause enough for a purchase and this subsequent post. Sauvignon Blanc, by the way, is one of my favorite white varietals. Among the other “noble” grapes, Riesling shows itself through transparency and grace, and Chardonnay makes you reel with its sensuality and layered opulence; Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is the crisp, snappy, kissed-by-chlorophyll grape that hints at scents of growing things. I consider it my go-to white wine for any occasion where I’m not sure what I want.

The maker of this wine, Buitenverwachting, is based in Constantia, a founding estate near Cape Town at the very tip of South Africa. Established in 1796, this farm has been producing wine since the mid-1800’s. Buitenverwachting is Afrikaans for ‘beyond expectation,” which certainly applies to the wine itself. Through changing fortunes, the farm remained intact, although decades passed where no wine was produced at all – until the Mueller family restored the vineyards in 1980, and started producing wines of unique aromatic quality and international acclaim (or so it is said; the one I tried was tasty at least). Cape Town being a coastal region, the climate is moderated nicely by cooling sea breezes. The vines are situated on sloping fields of deep granite soils, allowing them to take root and get to business. Speaking of which, this is apparently the choice wine for business and first class seats on several international airlines!

On to the wine itself: our 2008 Buitenverwachting “Beyond” Sauvignon Blanc is a serious value, crackling with individualistic style. A pale green-gold in the glass, the nose is loaded with aromas of lemon and lime zest, lavender, pine sap, and gooseberries, backed by pronounced herbal notes (think spearmint and sage). More citrus fruit and herbal elements, green pepper and dusty spice, complement a snappy mouthfeel, with lively acidity tingling against a touch of residual sugar. A few years have given it a honeyed note as well. Firm finish, not quite tart; right up my alley. Pair with shellfish prepared just about any way you like, or lightly herbed sautéed whitefish. $10.

I am all about Riesling, and feel that not enough people share my passion. Glass after glass, this wine proves to be the most delicious and intriguing one I know. It is not reliably fine (perfect terroir and great skill on the part of the maker are needed), but achieves heights of finesse that can leave me dazzled. The key to great Riesling is that transparency, the sense that every nuance of the wine is right there, shimmering like a visible curtain of honeyed air and perfume. Even average Riesling, however, can prove an interesting experience.

This Riesling, the 2008 J&H Selbach Bernkastel Kurfurstlay, is one such wine, showing some good fruit and complexity beyond what I expect at this price. A nice straw gold in the glass, with lively aromas of peach fruit, lime zest, and floral notes on the nose, leading to more juicy peaches in the mouth balanced by quenching acidity. Some nice mineral here, too. Medium finish. I would drink this with baked or glazed pork and apples, or salmon with mango chutney.Or by itself, all evening. $11.