2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition: Benmarl Sweeps Top Awards

By Christopher Matthews

One year ago, Benmarl Winery shared the coveted Winery of the Year award (with Tousey Winery) at the 2017 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition (HVWSC).

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At the 2018 HV competition, held this past Saturday in Rhinebeck, NY, part of the weekend-long 2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest, Benmarl’s stellar wines made sure there was no “co-” in the Winery of the Year award this year. And it’s easy to see why: not only did Benmarl win Best in Show for its stunningly good, Champagne-like 2012 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine (which also took Best Sparkling), but it also took Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (made with Hudson Valley fruit) for its unctuous 2017 “Sweet Sarah” dessert wine (75% Vidal, 25% Traminette), which was also Best Dessert Wine. Add to the list a Double Gold for its 2016 Proprietor’s Reserve Red (vinifera) blend, and its Gold medal-winning 2017 Seyval Blanc (from my panel), and you have a richly deserved result for Benmarl. Impressive.

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Benmarl’s busy booth at the 2018 HV Wine & Food Fest

Still, it was far from a one winery show. Continue reading

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At 2018 NY Wine Classic, Cider Makes Strong Showing

By Christopher Matthews

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At last week’s 2018 New York Wine Classic, the 33rd annual “Oscars” of the NY wine industry, some 853 NY wines competed for medals (Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze), the coveted “Governor’s Cup” (Best in Show), Winery of the Year and multiple other Best-in-category and Best-in-class awards. In terms of headline results, Keuka Spring Vineyards’ (Finger Lakes) 2017 Gewürztraminer took the “Governor’s Cup”, and the estimable Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery won Winery of the Year (click here for the complete results).

But an important development in this year’s Classic was unrelated to wine: 71 hard cider entries came from several regions across New York State, including Central New York, Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, Long Island, Hudson Valley, Niagara Escarpment, Thousand Islands, and Upper Hudson Valley, reflecting the vibrant – and growing — NY State craft hard cider scene.

There were three categories for cider at the Classic this year: Best Modern Cider, Best Specialty Cider and Best Heritage Cider. Continue reading

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Hudson Valley Cab Franc Takes Flight

By Christopher Matthews

For well over a decade, there has been a growing consensus among winemakers in the Hudson Valley (HV) that Cabernet Franc is the best red vinifera grape variety for the region. As an observer of the local wine scene, I reside firmly in this Cab Franc camp.

Likely a native of southwest France, and the primary red grape in France’s Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc is a parent (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. It is lighter in body and color than its offspring, and it both buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, too.

Not only does Cab Franc grow well in the HV’s highly variable climate, but it’s also one of the most winter-hardy red vinifera varieties, able to withstand (normally) vine-killing temperatures of -10 F  — a common occurrence in the HV’s often frigid winters. Another important factor is its versatility in the cellar, owing to its relatively lean tannins, medium body, and multi-layered fruit profile – berries, cherries, plums and cranberries – and excellence as a blender. Think cool-climate Cab Franc reds, like Chinon from France’s Loire Valley, with the possibility for bigger, more complex Cab Francs in stellar vintages. Over the last decade, a Cab Franc-based wine has garnered the Best Red accolade seven times at the annual Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.

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HV Cab Franc

In 2016, this HV Cab Franc “consensus” grew into something more official – the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) – aiming to encourage more vineyard plantings of the Cab Franc grape, and to boost recognition of the HV’s distinctive, “terroir-driven” Cab Franc wines. Continue reading

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Inspiring Bordeaux “Quartet” at the Wine Media Guild

By Christopher Matthews

Normally, the Wine Media Guild of New York’s annual Bordeaux lunch takes place in January, when the Union de Grand Crus de Bordeaux’s (UGCB) show comes through town as part of a national tour. But January’s unpredictable weather — and the harried schedules of producers during the UGCB campaign — led to a postponement from January 2018 to this past Tuesday, a beautiful, sunny day in May in Manhattan.WMGlogo

It was worth the wait.

With thanks to WMG co-chairs Pat Savoie and Charles Scicolone for organizing, our exceptional Grand Cru “ensemble” was composed of  Château Beychevelle (Saint-Julien), Château Guiraud (Sauternes), Château Latour Martillac (Pessac-Léognan) and Château Kirwan (Margaux). Each house brought a range of wines from outstanding vintages (from 1998/2000, to 2015)  for the walk-around, and some older vintages showed up at the lunch, all of which took place at Il Gattopardo.

This focused, manageable tasting/lunch illustrated top-flight Bordeaux’s enduring value: a benchmark for age worthy wines of complexity and finesse, stimulating both to the palate and the intellect, and versatile at the table.

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Bordeaux 2015: A Très Bon Vintage

By Christopher Matthews

That was indeed my impression from the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) tasting recently held at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan, where the newly released 2015 vintage was on full display.

Touted as great (or near great) by many in the industry (media included), the 2015 vintage – at least from the large sample provided by the UGCB – lives up to the hype: in the main, these Grand Cru wines are aromatic and elegant, with depth and structure, charming fruit, supple tannins…and aging potential.

Without a blizzard to thin the crowd this year (see post on previous UGCB tastings), the  event was a packed affair, with the attendees buzzing with the vibe of an exciting vintage. Just trying to make it to a spit bucket was often a contact sport!

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Bordeaux hounds!

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Rosé Champagne at the Wine Media Guild

By Christopher Matthews

Cross one of the bucket list…  

After years of work conflicts and scheduling bad luck, I finally made it to one of Ed McCarthy’s annual December Champagne tastings for the Wine Media Guild of New York (WMG)!

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And after whiffing so many times on this yearly event, things actually worked out in my favor, given Ed’s choice of theme this year: Rosé Champagnes, with a record number of Champagnes to sample (22 in all).

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Ed McCarthy, Mr. Champagne, in his element

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2017 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competion: Whitecliff Wins Big…

By Christopher Matthews

…with its 2016 Vidal Blanc from the Hudson River Region (HRR)!

Not only did Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery win Best in Show with its Vidal Blanc, but it also took Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (using Hudson Valley fruit) and Best White Wine, a well-deserved trifecta for one of the HRR’s stalwart wineries. Well done!

Vidal Blanc is a versatile French-American hybrid grape that is winter-hardy, disease resistant and widely cultivated in the Northeast US, including the Hudson Valley. It’s also one of the most successful of these hybrids, which can sometimes be an acquired taste. No such problem with Whitecliff’s winner, a pretty, floral wine with citrus and stone fruit notes and excellent balance.

 

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The Vidal edged out Robibero Family Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Franc for Best in Show, but for the second year in a row, Robibero took Best Red Wine with said (classic) Cab Franc, further underlining Cab Franc’s growing recognition as a signature red vinifera grape for the HRR. Continue reading

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