The Ultimate Cider Guide (for the Hudson Valley)

By Christopher Matthews

It has been a tough year and half for just about everyone, and that light at the end of the tunnel seen this past spring has dimmed considerably in recent weeks, unfortunately. But despite the difficulties and setbacks during this pandemic, the craft cider scene in the Hudson Valley continues to grow apace, a decade-plus renaissance that is reaching critical mass in terms of volume and distribution. It is part of the cider sector explosion in New York State, which has grown 450% over the last ten years and sports the largest number of cider producers in the U.S. (over 140), according to the New York Cider Association.

As an ueber local cider fan and (non-commercial) cider-maker, it was a great honor to be tapped to write the lead article for the recently published 2021 Hudson Valley Ultimate Cider Guide, which shines the spotlight on 19 cideries across the Hudson Valley and Capital Region.

My assignment was to break down what goes inside that glass (or can) of local cider. I broke it down into apple choices (i.e. those that work best for cider); orchard practices; the process to get the apple must; the cellar work (re: fermentation); styles and flavors in the final products; and finally, the packaging of the product. The associated graphic cleverly explains the flow of the article:

One of the most exciting aspects of the Hudson Valley scene, and a tribute to the local cider producers’ longer-term perspectives, is the increase in cultivation and production of true cider apples, be they American heirlooms, like Golden Russet or Black Twig, or classic European (mainly English and French) cultivars, such as Dabinett and Kingston Black. Just as quality wine comes from wine, not table, grapes, great ciders involve particular traditional and heirloom varieties, which were in short supply in the Hudson Valley not even a decade ago, despite being a major apple-growing region. This transformation has been quite remarkable, and is leading to exciting, world-class results.

A toast, then, to Hudson Valley craft ciders, and fingers crossed for a quality (and copious) apple harvest for the 2021 vintage!

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A Hard Cider Hat Trick

By Christopher Matthews

Both good things and bad come in threes. For my hard cider entries in the 30th Annual Hudson Valley Homebrew Competition last month, however, it was a rare and perfectly positive trifecta: not only did I take 1st place in the Standard Cider category with my 2019 “Hudson Valley Antiques #3”, but I also garnered 2nd and 3rd place, too, running the table for the ribbons.

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Win, Place and Show for Matthews’ Cider

While I have won my share of cider awards in recent years at the Hudson Valley Competition, and have set myself a very high bar (especially last year), sweeping an entire category had never entered my thinking. It’s obviously gratifying, showing that my process, from apple selection and blending decisions, to the fermentation and cellar work, is yielding consistently excellent — and drinkable — results. It also makes me thankful… Continue reading

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Bordeaux 2017: Despite Adversity, a Solid Vintage

By Christopher Matthews

The 2017 vintage in Bordeaux was…complicated, and rife with pitfalls: an epic spring frost, the worst since 1991; damaging hail storms; a dry but cloudy summer; and rain in mid-September, adding drama to the harvest period. Overall volume fell around 40% compared with 2016, a blockbuster vintage.

Against this backdrop, my expectations for the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) event, held at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan on 20 January, and debuting the 2017 vintage, were somewhat subdued. But as the cliché goes, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the clear takeaway from the UGCB’s 2017 “premier” was that the Bordeaux Grand Crus not only persevered in a trying vintage, but also succeeded in producing some excellent wines that will represent good (earlier drinking) value.

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The packed UGCB tasting at Cipriani

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Jefferson Vindicated: Virginia Wines Wow Wine Media Guild

By Christopher Matthews

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson is smiling.

The Founding Father, third US President and first oenophile-in-chief tried mightily to establish European (vinifera) grape varieties in his gardens and vineyards around Monticello, but encountered only failure, for reasons he mainly could not see in the early 19th century, like the American root louse (Phylloxera), and the many East Coast mildews and fungal diseases.

Autumnal Petit Verdot in Afton Mountain Vineyards. Afton, Virginia, USA. [Monticello AVA]

Virginia’s Monticello AVA

Fast forward to last week, when the Wine Media Guild (WMG) held a “Wines of Virginia” tasting and lunch at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan.  Not only is the leap from 19th century failure to today’s thriving Virginia wine scene breathtaking, but also the strides made in the last three decades in the Commonwealth, which has transformed into a world class wine region, attracting some of the best wine talent from around the globe. Jefferson would have been stunned by the excellence; I certainly was. Continue reading

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Fjord, Hudson-Chatham and Cab Franc: Big Winners at 2019 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition

By Christopher Matthews

On a beautiful early September day at the Dutchess County Fairgounds this past Saturday, the  Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition (HVWSC) once again took place. As usual, some results were expected, some were surprising, but overall, the judging experience this year pointed to continued improvement in the Hudson River Region’s (HRR) quality of wine-making.

Not for the first time (as in 2015 and 2017), there was a tie for the coveted Winery of the Year award, which went to Fjord Vineyards (a previous winner) and, for the first time, Hudson-Chatham Winery.  Both made impressive showings. Fjord took the Best Hudson Valley Wine (made with HV fruit) for its 2018 Rosé of Cab Franc (as well as Best Rosé); Hudson-Chatham showed its world class facility with both French-American hybrids (e.g. a Gold medal for its Estate Chelois), and vinifera-based wines (e.g. a Gold medal for its Pinot Noir, which came out of my panel).

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Fjord Vineyards co-founder Casey Erdmann

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Whitecliff’s “Olana” Cab Franc Strikes Gold at NY Wine Classic

By Christopher Matthews

At a recent — and first-ever — group tasting of the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) wineries, one of my standout wines was Whitecliff Vineyards2017 Olana Vineyard Cabernet Franc.

It seems that I am not alone in my opinion…because Whitecliff’s Olana just scored a Gold medal at the 34th Annual NY Wine Classic, “The Oscars” of New York wine competitions, organized by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

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Considered by many the Hudson Valley’s signature red (vinifera) grape, Cab Franc is also popular across other New York state wine regions, especially in the cool-climate Finger Lakes, where it also can shine. Some 42 of the 685 medals awarded at this year’s NY Wine Classic were Cab Franc-based wines, including the winner of the prestigious Governor’s Cup (Best-in-Show), Six Mile Creek Vineyard‘s 2016 Cab Franc (Finger Lakes region).  Only nine of the Cab Franc wines that earned medals won Double Gold (5) or Gold (4) in the competition, however, which puts Whitecliff’s Olana in some elite company.

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Whitecliff’s Michael Migliore with his 2017 Olana Vineyard Cab Franc

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A Big First: HV Cab Franc Coalition Showcases New Releases & Cellar Gems

By Christopher Matthews

In its first-ever group tasting, the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) kicked off  with an impressive bang on 30 May 2019, hosted by Nostrano Vineyards in its picturesque, wine-country setting. The eight legacy coalition members — Benmarl Winery, Fjord Vineyards, Glorie Farm Winery, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, Milea Estate Vineyards, Nostrano Vineyards, Robibero Winery, and Whitecliff Vineyards – presented a combination of barrel samples, new releases and some killer older vintages of their Cabernet Franc-based wines. The big takeaway: the HVCFC’s aim to promote Cab Franc (CF) as the Hudson Valley’s “signature red” vinifera grape is paying big dividends, not least in an impressive array of accomplished, highly drinkable wines.  

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A view of Nostrano Vineyards’ property

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Va, Va Vaucluse! Le Pigeoulet Rouge

By Christopher Matthews

The Vaucluse, a French district (département) in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, lies in the heart of southern Rhone Valley. And while the Vaucluse is not well-know here, neither geographically nor in terms of wine, it encompasses many of the most revered southern Rhone wine appellations (AOCs) and Crus — Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras — as well as the ubiquitous Cotes-du-Rhone AOC (and its accompanying Villages). 

Owning and operating vineyards across these famous Rhone districts, the Brunier family also produces wines in the less-exalted Vin de Pays de Vaucluse designation, which is less strict and more flexible than a typical AOC in terms of grapes allowed, yields, viticultural practices, etc. But in the Brunier’s case, its Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, Le Pigeoulet Rouge 2017, is absolutely equivalent in quality to the better known appellations; the Vin de Pays category is used only so that it can mix grapes from two different AOCs — Cotes-du-Rhone and Ventoux — which is not allowed at the AOC level.

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The result is compelling.           Continue reading

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Back in the Winners’ Circle: Matthews’ Homebrew Cider

By Christopher Matthews

I made quite a splash with my (hard) cider at the recent 2019 Hudson Valley Homebrew Competition (HVHC). Not only did I take First and Third Place in the “Standard Cider” category, respectively, but also Best in Show – Cider, and 2nd Best in Show (Non-Beer).

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The winning hardware

My big “Best in Show” winner was part of my “Hudson Valley Antiques” series (HVA #1, in this case), which focuses on heirloom apple varieties grown in the Hudson Valley that excel in cider production. Without disclosing exact (proprietary!) proportions, HVA#1 was composed of Black Twig, Empire, Baldwin and Golden Russet apples. My other prize winner – “Golden Empire” – continues my previous success with the blending of Empire (often my own fruit) and Golden Russet apples.

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The winning HVA#1, pre-fermentation

What made this 2019 triumph all the sweeter was my two-year absence from the winners’ circle, and the learning and knowledge gained from that experience. Continue reading

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A Cheverny for All Seasons: Domaine du Salvard

By Christopher Matthews

A lingering late-winter cold spell here in the northeast US probably has most folks still jonesing for substantial comfort food dishes, paired with big, hearty reds to wash them down. This is a natural — and laudable — reflex.

But as time goes on, I find myself increasingly attracted to more aromatic, medium-to-light bodied red wines with zesty acidity, lower alcohol levels, supple tannins and bright, clear fruit – regardless of season. Elegance over brawn. And the fact is, these types of wine, like the Cab Franc-based reds of the Loire Valley (Chinon, Bourgueil, Samur-Champigny) and the Gamay wines of the Beaujolais Crus (e.g. Morgon, Fleurie, Julienas, etc.), also stand up well to, and even excel with, robust, wintery fare.

Recently, I had a stellar example of such a wine: the Domaine du Salvard 2017 Cheverny Rouge.

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