Monday, May 13, 2013

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars: Finger Lakes Winery Visit

Another in our series of Finger Lakes winery reports from our recent trip.

If there is a Mecca for Finger Lakes wines, it is Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, NY. Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the “Vinifera Revolution” a movement that forever changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and the United States.

Today the Finger Lakes produces world-class wines and there is no better place to experience it than “Dr. Frank’s” on Keuka Lake. We were able to catch a quick lunch at Bully Hill and then rumbled up and up until we reached the winery’s perch overlooking Keuka Lake.

Upon arriving we learned that winery manager George DiTomasso would be doing a special tasting for us. There are tastings and then there are tastings, we would learn.

Our tasting took place in the new tasting room, which has windows looking out onto the deck to a vineyard and the sun-dappled waters of Keuka beyond. Early Thursday afternoon was an ideal time for a tasting as the winery was uncrowded.

We could not find a more congenial and knowledgeable host! The production of sparkling wines has come a long way in New York State, but the finest certainly is the Chateau Frank  sparkling wine. It was there we began.

While Konstantin Frank pioneered the growing of “noble grapes” in America, it was his son Willy who spearheaded New York’s sparkling wine revolution using the traditional method and grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Today Dr. Frank’s employs five winemakers, one of whom is dedicated to sparkling wines.

We were able to sample three vintage sparkling wines, the 2006 Brut, the 2007 Blanc de Blancs and the 2007 Blanc de Noirs.The Brut is a beautiful wine with all the characteristics of French Champagne. It has a touch of sweetness that the Green Dragon enjoyed. The Blanc de Blancs is made with 100% Chardonnay and the Blanc de Noirs is 100% Pinot Noir. The latter sparklers both had more of a crisp and dry finish. These are wines worthy of any fine meal or occasion.

After the bubbly opening, we moved to the still white wines and began with a pair of Grüner Veltliner. The 2011 Grüner has a touch of floral and herb flavor notes and is a top pick for the summer. This contrasted with the 2010 Grüner Veltliner Reserve. The reserve is aged in oak barrels which imparts a unique toastiness and new dimensions to this grape.

The demonstration of white wine mastery continued as we sampled the 2011 Pinot Gris and 2010 Rkatsiteli. The Dr. Frank Pinot Gris vineyards are the oldest in the US while the Rkatsiteli is the oldest vinifera grape known to man, being identified in ancient wine press sites dating back to 3,000 BC.

George is not only a wealth of wine knowledge but quite a culinary advisor as well, sharing ideas for pairings and recipes. The Rkatsiteli has acidity, citrus flavors and a wonderful olive smell. This matches very well with stuffed grape leaves.

We next tried two Dr. Frank signature wines, the 2012 Gewürztraminer and the 2012 Dry Riesling.  The Gerwurz has orange and honey notes balanced by great acidity. The RS is only 1.1%, so this is not overly sweet. A great pick for Asian fare and one of my top wines of the tasting. The Dry Riesling is iconic, a wine that is really a masterpiece that expresses the terroir of the Finger Lakes. It has a rocking minerality with a long flavor tail of lemon. The acidity is dialed in to provide a nice pop without overdoing it.

We sampled through the 2012 Pinot Noir Dry Rosé (very refreshing!), the 2010 Pinot Noir (good match with tuna) and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (from the oldest Cabernet grapes east of the Rockies). We then hit upon on of the most unique wines on our trip: 2010 Cuvée d’Amour.

The Cuvée d’Amour is made with vitus amurensis, grapes native to southern Siberia and northern China. Through cross-breeding a winter-hardy grape has been developed and this is thought to be the first commercial bottling of vitus amurensis in the US.

The wine is dense in body with wild raspberry flavor notes. The wine is aged in oak and compares to fine Bordeaux or Barolo. The wine retails for $34.99 and we had to have a bottle!
Pricing is worth mentioning. To the benefit of wine lovers, Dr. Frank has made an effort to hold the line on pricing. Their flagship Dry Riesling is just $14.99 while wines of comparable quality easily sell for twice that much. Their estate wines range from $12.99 to $19.99 with reserves a bit higher. The sparkling wine, done in the labor-intensive methode Champenois, are still all under $30.

Happily, Dr. Frank has wider availability than most Finger Lakes wineries, which has also helped raise the profile of Finger Lakes wines. The experience at the winery, though, should not be missed. With a range of 34 wines available, a picturesque setting and friendly and knowledgeable staff, this is one destination you don’t want to miss.

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