Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Tasting the Winemaker's Vision
OCTOBER 30, 2009
Wall Street Journal

One of the things we've most enjoyed about visiting wineries over the years is the opportunity to taste the winemaker's vision. Having several wines to taste through gives us a pretty clear window into his or her passion. There emerges, over a few sips, a prevailing arc that spans the entire production, from reds to whites. It's almost like a fingerprint, distinctive and telling.
We recently had the pleasure of cramming two parents' weekends into one weekend at our daughters' colleges. After kissing ZoĆ« goodbye on her forehead—Dottie on her tippy toes—and reminding her to use her hand sanitizer, we loaded the car for the drive home with a couple of stops in mind along the way. After watching the entire growing season of apples along our route through New York's Hudson Valley, we wanted to buy some, fresh off the trees. Our second goal was to visit one of the valley's wineries, 10-year-old, 3,200-case Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery, whose lyrical white wine we'd been served recently at an elegant little restaurant.

The winery and tasting room are in a pretty spot, set amid the owners' 70 acres, with a beautiful view of the Shawangunk cliffs. White-netted vines lined the way, protecting late-ripening grapes from predators. A guy in a cap, who turned out to be winemaker Michael Migliore, who owns the winery with his wife, Yancey Stanforth-Migliore, waved us into a parking spot and then disappeared. Inside, for a fee, we chose six wines to share: Awosting White, the winery's most popular wine, an off-dry blend of Seyval Blanc and Vignoles; three of its estate-grown red wines (Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc); Sky Island Red, a Bordeaux blend; and a fifth red, Redtail, a light, sweet blend.

The white was pleasant and interesting, but the estate-grown reds really rang our bells. They were elegant, focused, true to their varietal type and ripe, not an easy feat for so cold a region. What struck us so, though, was the consistent vision of the wines. Though they were white and red and ranged from dry to sweet, they had a restraint to them, a vision in which everything—including the winemaker—took a back seat to the fruit itself. And the fruit was delightfully pure and real. There was nothing showy about the wines. They just tasted good, offering a kind of relaxed gracefulness and easy balance that would make them good on the dinner table.

We left with a bottle each of our favorites, the Pinot Noir ($19.95) and the Cabernet Franc ($20.95), and immediately went home and tried them with lamb chops. Wines often taste better at the winery for many reasons, including the scenery, but these were even more impressive with food. Each was varietal in its own way—the Pinot was hauntingly earthy, the Cab Franc was sharper, more focused—but the vision of both as food wines was true.