Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Red Tail Ridge Dornfelder (NY)


When people mention the grape Dornfelder, I kinda feel alot like Jim Mora, the old football coach immortalized by Coors Light commercials..."Dornfelder? Dornfeld?! Are you kidding me?! Dornfelder?!"

And that's exactly what I wanted to say as Mary and Tom Hack, of East Chatham Wine and Spirits poured me my first glass of Red Tail Ridge Dornfelder, part of their Obscure Red Varietal Series. I was in polite company, and didn't want to act like a jerk (why humility struck me at this odd moment I don't know). But I held my nose and tried it.

I also have a prejudice against that other German grape that just rolls off the tongue - Lemberger! Ah! Or Blaufrankish (which is better but not exactly sexy for a wine name - unless you have Helmut Newton shooting Charlotte Rampling for the label. German reds....so perplexing.

I was first introduced to Dornfelder at one of the grape schools run by Cornell University Extension folks. I did not like it immediately. First off, the name would be a tough sell...it didn't even sound like anything anyone had ever heard. Not only would it be a hand sell in the tastingroom, but it would be a disaster at wine shops. The second was that the wine itself was not very good....university employees are not always very good winemakers.

According to wikipedia, Dornfelder is a dark-skinned variety of grape of German origin used for red wine. It was created by August Herold (1902-1973) at the grape breeding institute in Weinsberg in the W├╝rttemberg region in 1955. Herold crossed the grape varieties Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe, the latter which bears his name, to create Dornfelder. Helfensteiner (Fr├╝hburgunder × Trollinger) and Heroldrebe (Blauer Portugieser × Lemberger) were both crosses created some decades earlier by Herold.

Dornfelder received varietal protection and was released for cultivation in 1979. It was named in honour of Immanuel August Ludwig Dornfeld (1796-1869), a senior civil servant who was instrumental in creating the viticultural school in Weinsberg.

Dornfelder has become quite popular in Germany since it performs well under viticultural conditions which traditionally were seen as more suitable for white wine production. Traditionally, the red wines of Germany were mostly pale and light-bodied, but new breeds of dark-skinned grapes led by Dornfelder have allowed the production of more internationally-styled reds. Dornfelder has a depth of colour, good acidity and the ability to benefit from barrique aging and the associated oak flavours. Higher-quality European Dornfelder wines are velvety textured, slightly floral, often show flavours of plums, blackberries or cherries, and are typically oaked. Sometimes the wines have a hint of sweetness.

Dornfelder is the second most grown red wine grape variety in Germany. Some Dornfelder is also grown successfully in many northern European regions, such as England , where it was introduced in the 1980s. It is also a popular crop in colder locations in the United States.

Mary had made a tremendous dinner - roasted pork (succulent), roasted potatoes done to a perfect crispiness, and cabbage done in the German tradition. Everything was so good!!! Incredible.

OK, OK...the wine.

According to Red Tail Ridge's tasting notes, "This wine is a blend of our estate 2009 and 2010 vintages of Dornfelder. Brambly aromatics infused with black cherry, strawberry preserves and dried fruit. Traces of menthol and cassis. Medium to light body on the palate with more dark fruit, dried fig and brown spices. Velvety texture with a tart finish."

According to the notes, the wine was aged in older French oak which explained the hints of vanilla in the wine.

Now, the other thing you need to know, is that wine is made in the vineyard. And nowhere is that more evident than if you plan a trip to Red Tail Ridge Vineyards. Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan do an incredible job of training and maintaining their vines. Their canopies look like topiary, they are so perfectly trained. Anyone spending that much time with their vines is going to have tremendous fruit to work with. Mike and Nancy are at the top of the heap that way.

So, now of course, here is my Mea Culpa....it was fantastic. Like a wonderful light Rhone-ish style red, it was full of flavor, bright acidity, and great mouthfeel, with a good, long finish. I took small sip after small sip, afraid of running through it too quickly...but alas, I was fooling no one, especially the Hacks.

The wine was incredible. While I am still somewhat cold to Blaufrankish, I was incredibly impressed by the Dornfelder. So...apologies to those nice Cornell Extension people I tormented, and to all of those trying to make Dornfelder. This was the best example I have had of the wine. And if this is a harbinger of things to come, well, I have to start learning German!

Congrats to Mike and Nancy...a great gamble and risk...and a great wine! Fantastic! A revelation!