Sunday, September 05, 2010


So last night, we had two sets of friends for dinner. Bob abd Linda from Hudson Valley Wine magazine and Steve and Lilly Casscles. Steve is the winemaker at Hudson-Chatham Winery (with which I am affiliated, in full disclosure here). And my wife Dominique. We all took turns tasting all the grapes.

The fun part of the evening was the grape tasting. Bob had put in a number of experimental plants, vines, in at his property. And we were here to taste the grapes. In order to find out what worked well at his place, he planted a large cross section. Now, here in the third year, were the results. He wanted us to taste the results, and wanted thoughts from Steve, who is both a grower and a winemaker. It being harvest time, this was a perfect time for such an endeavor.

We used a refractometer to gauge the sweetness of the grapes. They are measured in degrees. The word of sweetness calibration is Brix. The optimum measurement would be somewhere between 21 and 25 Brix. Many of Bob's grapes were in the high teens and low twenties. He had done alright!

The most fascinating thing to me was that in some grapes, you could see how the wine got it's flavor from the grape. You could actually taste the connection. It seemed much easier to identify those flavors with the white grapes, as opposed to the red grapes, which go through much longer maturation processes, and get enhanced with wood and extraction.

Most of the grapes were hybrids. There were a few vinifera.

Here were the tasting notes on the grapes.

White Wine Grapes:
Riesling - No surprise, I thought these were the best. They are the small unlabeled bunch on the tray. You could taste the wine in the grapes. There was no mistaking what these were.

Muscat - Delicious. There were actually two different muscats. They were sweet with big round flavors. Very fun. Again I could taste the wine in the grape.

Traminette - These were nice. Not bad. I'm not a Traminette fan.

Out in the vineyard we tried some Seyval Blanc. The difference between 19 Brix and 24 Brix was night and day. The higher grossing berries were an amber color, and were almost too sweet to eat like table grapes. The ones at 19 BrIx had more acidity and were a light, yellow-green.

Red Wine Grapes:
Chelois - This was one of my favorite. The grapes were very tasty, and you again could taste the wine. The most obvious connection from the grape to the wine in the red set.

Baco Noir - Honestly, a bit of a disappointment, as a novice. The grapes didn't taste all that great, and I could not taste the wine that matched to the juice I was tasting. Perplexing, since Baco is among my favorite wines.

Zwiegelt - Great tasting grapes. Big and velvety juice. I think this has a real opportunity to make an impct here in the north east. A really nice surprise.

Foch - Marchel Foch is one of my favorite hybrids. It's a great blender, and a wonderful middle wine. The grapes were very tasty, but I couldn't taste the wine in them. The grapes would make fine table grapes, except they were so small.

Chambourcin - Long time backseat hybrid has stepped out in a bold way in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Chambourcin is now coming on like a load of bricks. There are many good Chambourcins out there right now - one such outstanding example is Hopewell Valley Vineyards. Good tasting grape. The grapes had a big, jammy flavor, and you could taste the wine in the grape.

We went out into the vineyard, and tasted Chancellor. It ranged from 17 Brix to 24 Brix. Again, the difference in taste was amazing, although in the red grapes showed little color difference, after the true color has least with Chancellor.

Steve led the conversation, and he and Bob were quite animated in their discussion. Also, I was sidelined, having to attend the grill, as the meat sizzled and charred. Everyone was surprised at their own reactions, except Steve, who's been growing grapes for more than 20 years.

Overall, a wonderful experiment. And a great way to educate wine lovers. We'll do this again next year. More wineries should do this as educational events for their best customers around harvest time. A very enlightening experience.