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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: New York State of Wine

From Long Island to the Finger Lakes, New York is home to an incredibly diverse wine scene. And while there are so many great wines to look at, Cabernet Franc is making a name for itself as a grape that can produce a large range of styles.

Paul Brady, brand ambassador of New York Wine & Grape Foundation and a Top 40 Under 40 Tastemaker, sat down with Tasting Director Alexander Peartree to talk about this versatile grape and why it deserves your attention.

Alexander Peartree: Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Alexander Peartree, the tasting director here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode I’ll talk with Paul Brady, brand ambassador to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 Tastemaker for 2019. So, we’re here today to chat about our love of New York wine, specifically Cabernet Franc, which is the red grape that finds a home in the state’s three major wine regions.

From the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley to Long Island, this grape produces a range of styles, and deserves a bit more recognition. Join us as we delve into details, and, of course, pop open some wine and discuss some recently rated and excellent examples of Cabernet Franc. So, welcome Paul.

Paul Brady: Thank you very much for having me.

AP: In your role as the brand ambassador for The New York Wine & Grape Foundation, you’re constantly traveling around, informing people about New York wines and sort of amping them up. Is there something that you kind of use to unite all three regions or talk about in New York State as a whole, to kind of get them excited about the region.

PB: Yes, and I think that Cabernet Franc is a great grape and wine to talk about in terms of that sort of unification. On the other hand, it’s another grape that is excellent for making wines in many different styles. So, I do think that Long Island has their own house style of Cabernet Franc, and red wine, and white wine—and in general, just wine in general—as well as the Hudson in the Finger Lakes and even the Niagara Escarpment.

So, it probably is the grape, if there will ever be one, that will sort of unite the state in terms of a favorite grape. That being said, one at one of the fantastic things about the state that I truly believe is that these regions are so capable of diversifying themselves and presenting different expressions of the same grape from region to region.

AP: So, we’re talking about the three main regions, but they could not themselves be more different geographically, and also climate-wise. There’s so much diversity in the soil types and the temperatures, so it is interesting that this one grape is able to perform well in these three areas.

And it provides something a little bit different: these expressions are not the same, and you can find something more racy in the Finger Lakes, or something more full-bodied in Long Island. So, there’s something for everyone out there.

PB: Yeah. And it’s one of the things that, you know, cool or cold kind of viticulture is so — what’s kind of so great about it is that we really get truly different vintages each year. And we got to taste a number of different vintages, you and I, talking about Cabernet Franc, and it’s just remarkable how different they are. And again, that’s really what I sort of like about our cold climate here.

You know, all these regions that we’re talking about definitely are situated in what we would consider a cold climate for wine grape growing — Long Island perhaps the warmest of them all, being right on the ocean. They do experience a maritime climate, and have some warm front. So, it’s a couple atmospheres different of cold climate viticulture, but definitely still would qualify as such.

The Hudson Valley gets clobbered pretty good during the winter, along with the rest of Central New York, and then the Finger Lakes, pretty cold harsh winters up there as well, but there is that sort of magic effect of the two deep lakes there, Cayuga and Seneca, that really do warm the area up.

So most definitely cold climate viticulture. but it’s pretty remarkable if you’re ever able to go to the Finger Lakes in the winter and, you know, stand in a vineyard on the edge of Cayuga or Seneca Lake. Travel about 20 minutes in any direction and it’s gonna be colder—it might be snowing where it wasn’t before when you’re on that lake—and it’s actually one of my favorite times to be there, to sort of really kind of feel what you otherwise only read about in books.

AP: Since we’re talking about the Finger Lakes, why don’t we delve into Cabernet Franc and the Finger Lakes. From my own personal tastings, I’ve sort of sussed out there’s a few different styles of the grape. For red wines, there’s more oaked styles and then there’s unoaked styles, or more restrained styles. And then of course there’s rosés, which I think are phenomenal from the Cab Franc grape. One that I’m kind of excited about, as far as an unoaked red, is the Lamoreaux Landing T23 Unoaked Cab France. It’s an amazing expression of the grape that Lamoreaux has been doing since 2002.

So this is by no means something new for them, and they’ve stuck with it year after year, producing something that’s very light and elegant and racy, and plays on the more savory side of the grape and more peppery-herbal, but in certain years it definitely shows nice fruit expression, so you get sort of that crunchy cranberry flavor that I think a lot of people are really into.

PB: Myself included. I think that particular style sort of lighter, unoaked Cabernet Franc, and this one from Lamoreaux that we’re talking about from the 2017 vintage—and T23 is actually a reference to Tank 23, again sort of reminding us that this wine came from a vessel other than oak. And it’s an expression of Cabernet Franc that is pretty wonderful year round. It’s something that I would drink year-round. You can leave it in the fridge for up to 45 minutes, sort of just adding to its versatility.

I would say, it can go with so many different kinds of food, and really is the expression of Cabernet Franc and red wine in general that I like to drink often. I really love light reds, high in acidity, but still with a good firm backbone of tannic structure to sort of make it a complete wine.

And the 2017 vintage, I’m really really liking the reds lately from that from that year. It was sort of a mild and rainy year up until September and October when we saw a lot of sunshine, and really sort of was a nice closing to the vintage, and as a result I find these Cabernet Francs and other reds from that year to just have this snappy kind of pop to them, making them really good with all sorts of different kinds of food or just to drink on their own.

AP: Yeah and by no means is this just Lamoreaux producing excellent, you know Cab Franc or lightly oaked Cab Franc. Hickory Hollow is also making a great one, Fox Run has been doing one at least for a few years now, and on the lighter oak side there’s Osmote and Boundary Breaks, and these are—while those do show some oak, it still is more on the lighter, more snappy side of things than on the oaked side of things. So why don’t we move on to rosé, because I mean how can we not talk about rosé?

PB: ‘Tis the season.

AP: Absolutely. So the Anthony Road Cab Franc rosé is the one that sticks in my brain, and as I was tasting it I was kind of blown away by not only its structure—it does have a good amount of structure for a rosé, it’s a little bit deeper in color and the tannins are a little bit more pronounced than I would say some of the other rosés I’ve tasted from the Finger Lakes. But it still has amazing ripeness and such bright acidity. And then again there’s that telltale herbal spiciness from the grape that sort of brings it all together. So, it’s one of my go tos.

PB: And you’re right. Anthony Road definitely has that reputation for making excellent rosés. They make a few different styles of it: not all of them make it down here to the city, but Cabernet Franc for sure. In the past they’ve made them from Lemberger, sometimes they’ve blended them, they’ve used Merlot as well. And going back to when Johannes Reinhardt was the winemaker there is when I first started drinking those wines, and you’re absolutely right. And Peter Becraft today is sort of continuing that excellent reputation of the Anthony Road rosé production. It’s something that they’re into, and it shows. You know, when you taste them, you can tell that I think that rosés are important to that winery.

AP: And one thing I should say about the Finger Lakes in general is all of these wines—and at least all of the wines that we’ve been talking about—are so incredibly priced. It’s kind of an oddity to find wines in the Finger Lakes that are over that $25-30 mark. A lot of them are homed in at under $20, or maybe a little bit over $20. So, there is a lot of accessibility in their pricing, and I think the quality is there as well. So, for those of you that are looking for more bang for your buck, I think the Finger Lakes is a great place to seek out.

Why don’t we move on to a different piece. We’ll move on to Long Island.

PB: Yeah. Long Island is almost exclusively vinifera grapes. So definitely a little bit different from upstate. And they really do have something going on with the reds. Pretty recently, I was able to taste various red wines made from different grapes going all the way back to the 1995 vintage, and the results were really really stunning.

It’s a great reminder that you know it’s easy to say ‘well, why even make wine in such a harsh cold climate like New York State?’ Well all you have to do is taste how gracefully and powerfully these red wines from a place like Long Island can age right up there with the heavies from Napa or Bordeaux. So incredible aging potential for the red wines in particular and Cabernet Franc sort of leading the charge out there, just like the rest of the state.

AP: Absolutely. And so earlier this week we opened up a bottle of the Osprey’s Dominion 2013 Cab Franc and I personally was blown away by it. It was absolutely delicious. I think it was a wonderful expression of the grape. It definitely showed a lot of intensity and attention to it. There’s a really nice sort of sinewy line of tannins that holds it all together and it—while it was drinking lovely then I think it definitely has a few more years on it as well.

PB: Definitely. I mean even with that you know six plus years of bottle age on it, that wine is going to keep going. 2013 is a vintage that the Long Island winemakers love, love to revisit and love to talk about. Again, just something that makes it fun. I mean, all these vintages are so different. We’re talking about 2013, 2015 and 2017 primarily today. The ’15 that we have is from Macari Vineyards and ’15 again a very good vintage out on Long Island, finished up with a nice sunny warm harvest that year and another one that the wineries love to bring out. And this is a great example of it.

AP: Yeah. So, what we’re drinking right now is so the Macari 2015 Reserve Cab Franc. The fruit on it is pristine—it’s just got a wonderful cranberry, like ripe cherry flavor to it—but the acidity and the tannins kind of hold it all together, and it’s just a wonderful delicious wine that you could easily edge for a few more years.

PB: Another really great food wine. And again, I think I truly believe that so many of the lines in New York City are capable of being paired with just—most foods. It’s really like the pairing is the wine with the food.

AP: Absolutely. So why don’t we move on to the Hudson Valley. It’s geographically between the Finger Lakes and Long Island and it’s to me…it kind of hedges the bet of both of them. It is a much cooler climate than Long Island, traditionally they have done a lot more with hybrids and natives, but now they’re, they’re sort of revamping their focus on vinifera. And for them Cabernet Franc is leading the charge. I know that they’ve recently come out with the Cabernet Franc Coalition

PB: Shout out to the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition! Really, I was at their tasting earlier this year. Mostly the 2017 vintage, but did get to taste some 2018s as well. And yep, Cabernet Franc showing strong from the Hudson Valley.

AP: And so one that I tried recently is the Whitecliff 2016 Estate Bottled Cab Franc. Whitecliff is a tiny, tiny vineyard, tiny winery and they only grow about eight or Nine acres of Cab Franc.

So not too many bottles of these lying around, but it is available especially in the New York City Hudson Valley area. And then other producers—I mean, while the Hudson Valley itself is rather small, there is a great community of winemakers up there that are really focusing on quality and they’re focusing on vinifera grapes that many people are familiar with. So, beyond Cabernet Franc there’s also Riesling and Pinot up there. And Millbrook and Fjord: those are some of my favorites whenever I’m tasting.

PB: Yeah. I mean Millbrook—I was able to taste a number of different red wines from them, both Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, going back with 10 plus years of age on those and those wines aged beautifully. I can remember a 2005 Cabernet Franc from Millbrook that—a little bit like the 2013 from Osprey’s Dominion that just kind of had that in a blind tasting—I think I would probably call it Right Bank Bordeaux. I mean it just had that texture and weight and sort of leatheriness to it, and then you mentioned Fjord. Fjord’s another winery in the Hudson Valley. Matthew Spaccarelli, the winemaker and vineyard manager there, experimented with lots of different styles of winemaking in some vintages. He’ll not add any sulfur in other vintages, he’ll change his approach, and really is just another veneer on who’s playing to the strengths of the different vintages.

AP: So, beyond Hudson Valley Finger Lakes and Long Island, is there another region that you think is a region to look forward to in the future for Cabernet Franc or even other, other grapes?

PB: I think, yeah. Definitely the Niagara Escarpment is one to look at, and it can be a little bit confusing because there is a Niagara wine region on the other side. So, where Ontario—

AP: So where is the Niagara Escarpment?

PB: Sure. So it’s pretty close to Buffalo. So the Niagara Peninsula, which is in Canada, so you have Lake Ontario to the north,  Lake Erie to the south, and then the Niagara River to the east, creating again another pocket of freshwater lake viticulture up there.

Excellent region there in Ontario, doing a lot of the same grape growing as we do here in New York State.

And so, if you go into the other side of the river there, so then we’re on the New York side of the Niagara Escarpment, it’s typically referred to as the Niagara Escarpment over there, whereas the Canadian side often gets called the Niagara Peninsula, so that’s one way to sort of separate the two.

So, Niagara Escarpment, definitely an area to watch. Because of its situation by those sort of larger Great Lakes, the climate is a bit different there: it is a bit warmer, the winter is a little bit less harsh. They do you still have that same kind of vintage variation, and that need to really, really intensely work well in the vineyards because of humidity and precipitation and things like that, but the results are equally as exciting. And the winery that we work pretty closely with called Arrowhead Spring doing a number of different red wines: both blends and single varieties bottling, including Cabernet Franc.

AP: And they’re focusing mostly on vinifera, or do they also have natives or hybrids?

PB: There are hybrids in labrusca but what I’ve mainly been able to taste throughout my career has been vinifera varieties from the Niagara Escarpment.

AP: Well I mean it’s certainly something to keep an eye out for. And are they planting more vineyards even as we speak? Are they growing the area, or is it a slow development?

PB: They’re definitely working hard to develop that area and I think it’s, again, it’s, it’s one to watch. There’s definitely wineries to visit, if you’re passing through. Like a good trip would be if you’re in the Finger Lakes, and then you’re heading up to into Ontario, stop on the New York side of the Niagara Escarpment, absolutely, to visit the wineries there.

It’s one of the more sort of easier regions to hit three completely different operations. Finger Lakes side, New York side, Niagara escarpment, and then into Canada, into Ontario. That’s it. That’s a long weekend right there.

AP:  Very cool, absolutely. That sounds great. All right, well, thank you Paul for joining us. Happy to talk with you about New York wine and Cabernet Franc.

PB:  Cheers. Anytime, always happy to be here. Thank you Alex.

AP: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Wine Enthusiast podcast. Hopefully by now you’re excited to try some New York Cabernet Franc. While we talked about a lot, here are three to seek out: the Anthony Road 2018 rosé of Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, 90 points, $18; Macari 2015 Reserve Cabernet Franc from the North Fork of Long Island, 90 points, $40; and the Whitecliff 2016 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc from the Hudson River region, 90 points, $26.

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