Most things change, and very few stay the same. But a dependable constant in the Hudson Valley wine scene has been — and remains — the quality and excellence of Whitecliff Vineyard and Winery.
Whitecliff owners Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore and winemaker Brad Marz keep going from strength to strength, evidenced by their impressive showing at the 2022 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition (HVWSC) in Rhinebeck, NY this past weekend. By taking the Best in Show and Best Red with its classic 2020 Cabernet Franc, Best Sparkling with its 2016 North River Rosé and a Double Gold for its 2021 Vidal Blanc, Whitecliff also earned the well-deserved accolade of Winery of the Year.
Back in the saddle
Personally, it was great to be back as a judge after a two-year hiatus. Prior to 2020, I had happily worked as a HVWSC judge for over a decade, but the pandemic took out the 2020 competition completely, and in 2021, I had to miss the party due to family reasons. So, on a beautiful September day at the Dutchess County fairgrounds in the midst of the annual Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival, it felt right to be back at it, judging the eclectic, evolving and, yes, improving HV wine scene (along with some other adult beverages).
Coming out of my excellent and efficient panel (a big shout out to Kevin Ostrowski and Kathleen Wilcox!), Whitecliff’s 2021 Vidal Blanc was a Double Gold highlight, full of verve and mouthwatering Gala apple fruit, finishing long and clean. Vidal Blanc is a versatile French-American hybrid grape that is winter-hardy, disease resistant and widely cultivated in the Northeast US, including in the HV. It is also one of the most successful of these hybrids, which can sometimes be an acquired taste. Whitecliff has a deft hand with this variety, showing its quality potential. Our panel also conferred a Gold on Baldwin Vineyards 2020 Chardonnay Oak Reserve, a classic and balanced example of an oak-kissed Chardonnay, along with nice orchard fruit/pear notes. The Silver-winning 2021 Unoaked Noiret (a red hybrid grape) by Quartz Rock Vineyard sported great red fruit aromatics.
A clear signature
At this point, it is safe to say that Cabernet Franc has cemented its status as a – perhaps THE – signature red vinifera grape of the Hudson River Region (HRR). In addition to the Best Red and Best in Show, Cab Franc also took the Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (made with HV fruit) in this year’s throw-down – Milea Estate Vineyard’s Double Gold 2020 Cabernet Franc – and it figured in the Best Rosé, too, Benmarl Winery’s 2021 Dry Rosé (58% Cab Franc, 21% Cab Sauvignon and 21% Merlot). Of the 13 HVWS competitions that have been held to date, a Cab Franc-based wine has won Best Red 11 times, passing the test of time with aplomb.
On the other hand, for a relatively small wine region in terms of overall production, the HRR grows a large number of diverse grape varieties, ranging from Chambourcin to Traminette on the hybrid side, and from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir in terms of vinifera. And experimentation in the vineyards continues. In fact, three relative newcomers to the Valley — the cool-climate, vinifera whites, Riesling, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner – have created a buzz, and are showing up and medalling in the competition, like City Winery’s 2020 Vin de Glaciere Riesling (which won Best Dessert Wine), Fjord’s Gold Medal-winning 2021 Albariño and Millbrook’s Gold-medal winning 2021 Proprietor’s Special Reserve Grüner Veltliner.
As a (hard) cider aficionado, and in light of the vibrant craft cider sector in the HV, I would, however, like to see more entries from the local cideries going forward. And ditto for craft spirits (more whiskies, please!).
Beyond these quibbles, the takeaway is this: the top wines from this competition would be competitive anywhere.
Once again, a big thanks to Debbie Gioquindo and her crew for running an excellent show!
The other “Best” awards were:
Best Cider: Merchant’s Daughter Ciderworks 2017 Clara Reserve
Best White: Robibero Winery 2021 Siena (85% Chardonnay, 15% Riesling)
Best Spirit: Ten Mile Distillery Listening Rock Gin
For the complete results, click here.