Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A New Look and Great Wines From Shawm Kime and Thirsty Owl (NY)

Thirsty Owl Wine Company has won many awards over the years. They are a well known producer in the Finger Lakes. But a recent tasting at NY Drinks NY was an absolute eye opener!

First off, they've got a lovely new repackaging going on. Cleaner, more sophisticated. Really attractive. A terrific new rebranding! This may have been happening for some time, but it was the first I'd seen of it. My fellow tasters included.

shawn kime

Shawn Kime is the winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Thirsty Owl. Shawn has been with Thirsty Owl since opening their doors 16 years ago, and he’s been making Thirsty Owl’s signature wines ever since. Originally from Romulus, NY, he attended and has degrees from Morrisville College and Cornell University. Since the age of 14, Shawn has spent most of his life working in agriculture, and got his start in the winemaking industry spending two years working for one of the earliest Finger Lakes Vinifera growers.

“As a Finger Lakes native, I am proud of the fact that we are producing cool climate varietals that are on par with any region in the world. We are subject to seasonal variation here, and I like the fact that we have the opportunity to embrace those variables. Every Vintage is, and will be, different. Our goal is to make changes in the vineyard and winemaking based on the year to produce wines that not only reflect our region but the growing season. I can recall what the weather was like from every year when I think about the wine we made. I don’t think winemakers from California or Australia can say the same thing. My favorite thing about my job? Change. It’s never the same thing from one week to the next. Winemaking and grape growing are very seasonal and cyclical in nature.”

Shawn has done a terrific job at Thirsty Owl, and has had some good backing. I feel that this recent tasting shows a winemaker coming into his own as a master. He has gone from making big, consumer friendly, big selling wines, of a more refined sensibility. That's not a backhanded compliment. Shawn made some stellar wines in his lifetime. But this newest tasting showed a refined, restrained, artufl new winemaker, who has really come into his own as a top maker.

First up was the Thirsty Owl Pinot Gris 2017. This was a wonderful wine, a classic varietal version of the grape. Lovely aromas and lots of zippy acidity. Easily the biggest wow of the tasting! You must try it!

Thirsty Owl Riesling 2017 was lovely. All the right notes for a Riesling to hit. Lovely tropical notes. Lots of green apple. And wonderful acidity. Wonderfully balanced. Complex. Refreshing. Beautiful!

Thirsty Owl Diamond 2017 was as solid as ever. Shawn has always had a way with Diamond. They make the best Diamond in the business. This had layers of lovely fruit notes, and a terrific finish. Fabulous....as always! 

Another wow was the Thirsty Owl Pinot Noir 2017. Lovely notes of bright and dark cherry. A hint of smoke, blueberry, and vanilla. A wonderful, smooth easy finish. Straigh forward, but very refined. Layered. Subtle. Very, very pretty!

Congrats to Shawn, and GM Jon Cupp! And the staff! Terrific stuff from Thirsty Owl!!!!!

Two Incredible Whites From Keuka Lake Vineyards (NY)

I am a big fan of Keuka Lake Vineyards. I especially am enamored of their Leon Millot, which I think is the best expression of the fruit that exists on the planet. But they make other fine wines. And I loved two of their newest vintages at the recent NYDrinksNY.

Mel Goldman is the owner at Keuka Lake Vineyards. And under his watchful eye the vineyard has continued to gain sttention from serious wine drinkers. While he had done extremely exceptional work with rieslings, he has also produced some terrific wines from some obscure grapes. 

Mel's real secret weapon is the wonderuflly talented Staci Nugent. Staci is the winemaker at Keuka Lake Vineyards. Raised in the Finger Lakes, Staci's first exposure to the world of wine was through an undergraduate wine appreciation course at Cornell. After college, she headed out west to California to attend graduate school for genetics, but also spent weekends pouring wine and lending a hand in the cellar at Thomas Kruse Winery in Gilroy.  It was during this time that Staci decided to switch careers. 

Staci entered the wine program at the University of California at Davis and received her Master's degree in Viticulture and Enology. She followed with hands-on winemaking experience in back to back vintages across hemispheres: Ornellaia in Italy, Hardy's Tintara Winery in South Australia, and Williams Selyem in Sonoma, California. Befor joining Keuka Lake, she also worked at Dr. Konstantin Frank and Lamoreaux Landing.

I have been a long time fan of Keuka Estate Vineyards Dry Riesling Fallling Man Vineyard. The 2015 vintage showed all the classic notes one wants from a quality Riesling. On the nose tropical fruits abounded, with strong hints of apple, honeysuckle, tropical fruits, lychee, and a hint of petrol. On the palate with was a big Grannysmith apple bomb, with a big citrus ending. Absolutely wonderful!

Keuka Lake Vineyards Vingoles Turkey Run Vineyard 2016 was the huge stunner though. I am always partial to Vignoles, and this was no exception. This wine was impressive!  Apricot, peach, apple, and pineapple all explode out of the glass. Ripe pear and grannysmith apples come across on the palate. Hints of honey and hibiscus also there. A lovely, tart ending keeps the wine balanced and refreshing. An amazing, amazing glass of wine!! Fantastic!!! One of the show stoppers at NYDrinksNY! 

Congrats to Staci and Mel, and the rest of the folks at Keuka Lake Vineyards!

Monday, April 22, 2019

CLASSIC! 10 Year Old Bottle of Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider NV (VT)

I have always considered Farnum Hill as a First Growth house of cider making. The consistency and quality are far beyond many newer, flashier cider producers. Stephen Wood and his staff are simply tremendous. 

Wood has been making ciders for as long as I have been covering east coast wines, at least 15-20 years. And his ciders have never been better. He even took the time to write an entertainng and informative book:


I recently went down into the cellar to find something intriguing. And I suddenly found a truly dusty bottle of Farnum Hill Semi-Dry. This is a non-vintage product, but this bottle was at least 10 years old. In late March 2019 I was eating some lovely Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

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In wonderful company, I popped the cork on the bottle. The first notes were baked apple and fresh bread. Then some wherry-ish notes wafted over the bottle. I wasn't sure if I'd overstepped the aging of this fine cider or not. We poured into a glass and it was copper in color. 

On the palate we got baked pears and apples, hints of sherry, caramel, and lovely fresh acidity at the back end. It was spectacular! A terrific cider. An absolute testament to the quality of Steve and his staff's cider making. Truly amazing stuff!


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tremendous: Ethan Joseph's Iapetus Tectonic 2017 (VT)

Ethan Joseph has made a name for himself becoming the winemaker at Shelburne Vineyards. He grew up on Mt. Lake, a small area in northern NJ. He grew to love water and the great outdoors. This eventually led him to the shores of Lake Champlain and the University of Vermont, where he pursued a degree in water resources, and subsequently discovered a passion for winegrowing.

He started at Shelburne early in 2008, and became obsessed with the science, art, and mystery of wine. In almost 11 full years of self-education and first-hand experience he has grown immensely. He was also fortunate enough to have the full backing and support of Shelburne's owners Ken and Gail Albert. With this kind of backing, and passion, Ethan has made huge strides, and can now be counted among New England's best wine makers. 

Ethan's newest and most daring and unique project to date has been Iapetus Tectonic. Tectonic is a unique white wine made by allowing white grapes to ferment on their skins. It is named after the awesome forces they lay miles below our feet.

Iapetus Tectonic 2017 is a white wine made from 100% La Crescent, grown at McCabe’s Brook Vineyard in Shelburne and Mt Philo Vineyard in Charlotte, both in Vermont. The grapes were destemmed and a gentle crushing, and the resulting wine went into a stainless steel tank to ferment in the skins. This wine also went through malo-lactic fermentation,which was induced by addition of a commercial malo-lactic bacteria culture. Pressing was performed after a fifty-day maceration on skins. Three-quarters of the wine was sent to neutral oak to age sur lie with weekly battonage for three and a half months and the other quarter was aged in stainless steel. After seven months, the lots were blended and allowed to come together prior to bottling. A total production of 132 cases was made.

This is the first time I've heard of anyone doing this kind of extended maceration with Frontenac Gris. Also, it continues a big trend of wineries pushing the limits of white grapes to extract immense and giant flavors which I am a huge fan of.

Unfiltered and unfined, Iapetus Tectonic 2017 is a big, chewy, beautiful white wine. The nose has hints of tangerine, orange marmalade, apricot, melon, raisin, white and white pepper, with floral hints and rose hips. The wine has hints of peaches, apricots, ripe pear and ripe red apple. Tropical fruits abound. Lots of acidity keeps the wine honest and tantalizing. Tremendous.

You must try this wine!

Stephen Casscles on Heirloom Grapes Varieties in Horticultural News and the UMass Fruit Notes

In the Fall 2018 Issue of Horticultural News (Volume 98, Number 4) of the New Jersey State Horticultural Society and in the Fall 2018 Issue of Fruit Notes, from the University of Massachusetts, Stephen Casscles continued his work on Heirloom grape varieties for the Northeast and other cool or cold climate regions.

There continues to be growing interest in the grapes varieties he has unearthed and helped revive. He has written three separate pieces on white grapes, pink grapes, and blue and black (red wine) grapes.

Impressive how interest continues to grow.

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Casscles has pioneered the term "heirloom grapes".  Heirloom grapes are those which were developed or hybridized by regional growers. All the grapes highlighted in these articles were varieties were bred in New England and in the Hudson Valley between 1820 and 1890.

Links to the three articles.

White grape varieties article

Pink Grape varieties

Blue and Black grape varieties

The White Wines of Palmer Continue to Shine (NY)

Palmer Vineyards was sold to Paumanok Vineyards in July of 2018. Today, Paumanoks verteran and accomplished winemaker Kareem Massoud makes the wines, and Ken Creola continues to run the tasting room and operations.

Kareem Massoud

Ken Creola

In my humble opinion, Palmer has been the home of some of the best white wines on the east coast. And I am pleased to report that under Kareem's expert direction, that tradition continues!

I tasted the lineup alongside Lenn Thompson and Mikhail Lipanskiy of The Corp Report, as well as other well known east coast wine writers. All were in agreement, that the Palmer whites were astonishing.

The Palmer Chardonnay 2018 was a big mouthful of pear and apple, misted over with tropical notes, complete with floral hints, and a dry finish. Absolutely lovely.

The Palmer Sauvingon Blanc 2018 was even more astonishing. Slightly grassy, it displayed wonderful minerality, lovely notes of tropical fruits, and a crisp, zippy grapefruit finish. Absolutely wonderful!

Last but not least was the incredible Palmer Albarino 2018. This was wonderful. It was an explosion of peaches and apricots on the nose and an equal explosion of lemons, grapefruit, and limes on the palate that was absolutely astonishing. 

These three wines could easily compete and stand out anywhere in the world. My highest compliments to Kareem Massoud and his staff!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Connecticut is The New North Fork

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There are five wineries in the North Fork region that are not technically on the North Fork, But they share the same sound, the same general geographic location, and are only minutes away. They were the wineries in and near Stonington, CT. And if your looking for a great day drive, you must go!

The Cross Sound Ferry operates out of Orient Point, Long Island. It takes approximately $60-70 for a car and passenger and one hour to get you to New London, Connecticut. Here, you will discover the newest beneficiaries of the micro-climates of Long Island Sound. Here, you will find the New North Fork.

Here you will drive the craggy, rock wall laden roads of back country Connecticut. Old fashion New England charm with a twist - fantastic wine!

Wineries like Salt Water Farm, Jonathan Edwards, Stonington Vineyards and just a little further out Preston Ridge Vineyards and then Sharpe Hill Vineyards in Connecticut are making sensational wines, and are an easy day trip for Long Islanders looking for a new experience or just a lovely and delicious day trip. The first three are an easy single day trip from the island to Connecticut and back. If you're going for the weekend, then you can add the other two.

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The Orient Point ferry will leave you on the shores of New London, a stone's throw from Stonington Connecticut! My recommendation is to start with Saltwater Farm Vineyards.

Saltwater Farm is the brainchild of Michael and Merrily Connor. They bought an old airstrip right by the water side and absolutely transformed the place. The air strip was ripped out and they planted fabulous vinifera along the water. They aren't just near the sound, they are ON the sound! Then they turned the old air hanger into a state of the art winery and wedding facility!

They make fantastic estate Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and a lovely rose'! They also make a lovely Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Connecticut grapes!

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Next should be Jonathan Edwards Edwards Winery. Edwards is bi-coastal, making wines in California as well as in Connecticut. The tasting room is gorgeous, and reeks of refreshed old world charm. The tasting room is friendly, and there you can taste both his California wines as well as his Connecticut estate wines. The Connecticut estate wines are fantastic! Terrific Cabernet Franc, Gewuztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris are absolutely outstanding!

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Edwards and his family bought an old vineyard in 2000, rehabbed the vineyards, and increased the size and scope of their plantings, and totally reinvented the place. He's been making terrific wine ever since.

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(photo courtesy of Trip Advisor)
Stonington Vineyards would be next!

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The vineyards were established in 1987 by newly wed couple Nick Smith (a long time international banker) and his wife Happy, but a killer frost thwarted their endeavors. On July 4th, 1987, Mike McAndrew came on board as winemaker. The wines were nice, and drinkable. Always a pleasant stop.

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But better things were on the horizon. The winery proved to be a breeding grown of wonderful wine, and some serious wine was being made in the region. Around 2002 or 2003 the winery made one of it's best decisions when it hired Linda Mason as the vineyard manager. She reports to Mike, but her presence was felt, and better yet tasted, within two or three years time. It was a commitment Stonington needed to make to keep pace in the improving Connecticut wine world. And it paid off handsomely!

In the last five or six years the Smiths updated the 29 year old tasting room, and upgraded their labels as well as make outstanding wine. The Seaport White is their popular summer sipper, but their Gewurztraminer, Sheer Chardonnay, Chardonnay, Rieslings, and Cabernet Franc, all made from Connecticut fruit, are terrific! A must stop.

So, if you're adventurous and staying over night, then you can make a quick visit to the other two wineries. First is Preston Ridge Vineyards.

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The winery began in 2008 when two families came together. After a great deal of time spent planning, digging, planting and picking, they finally opened the doors in October of 2012.

Preston Ridge is situated on 60 bucolic acres just 15 miles from the Long Island Sound, and located where the peak of a ridge provides breathtaking views of the Connecticut countryside for over 20 miles. Pretty spectacular stuff.

Preston Ridge makes lovely estate Vidal Blanc, Traminette, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Rose'! The Riesling sells out almost instantly.

The last is a bit of an outlier, but well worth it - little Sharpe Hill Vineyards. 25-year veteran winemaker, Howard Bursten, makes some absolutely incredible wines. While Howard has won more than 450 awards, he's also created one of the most iconic wines in New England (Ballet of Angels) and has the undying respect of his peers from throughout New England and New York.

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Sharpe HIll Vineyard is located in Connecticut's Quiet Corner... the little town of Pomfret - just minutes from scenic Route 169 and from the Putnam Antiques District. This is old fashioned New England. The grounds contain vineyards, tasting room, and fine dining.

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Of course, you must try Ballet of Angels, because if you've ever shopped in New England wine shops, you've seen the label everywhere. It is possibly the most widely distributed single wine in all of New England. But more than this wine, you must try the Reserve Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Dry Summer Rose; and their estate St. Croix. Fantastic stuff! 

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

16 Great Whites Spotted in the North East

Ahoy! More than a dozen Great Whites been sighted between New England and New Jersey. With the weather warming, the Great Whites return! And they arrived just in time for summer! Tagged and labeled, they are ready for inspection! We've identified 14 specimens from the warming coastal waters or tidal rivers from New England to New Jersey. The idea was locate and identify the most unique specimens as possible. Impressive in big taste and lively acidity, one bit from these babies, and you will surely know you aren't dealing with the same old, same old.

In all seriousness, this list presents some absolutely world class wines from small producers you've probably never heard of. It's an ABC list of whites - anything but Chardonnay. I like Chardonnay, but here's a list with some amazing wines, amazing values, from small, artisnal producers that will absolutely knock your socks of.... and from a region you'll definitely thats so incredibly up-and-coming!

Fjord Vineyards Albarino (NY)

Matt Spacarelli and his wife Casey are killing it at Fjord Vineyards in the tidal Hudson River Region. Their new Albarino 2018 is out of this world! So refined, delicate, and complex. Amazing!

Maquam Pear Wine (VT)

I know. Pear wine?!  I promise you, this is a terrific white wine. Forget what it's made from, give it a try. And after your amazed by this wonderful classic white wine, with pear, apple, and other tropical notes, then remember it's made from pears, and be even further shocked! An absolute winner from Maquam Winery!

Palmer Vineyards Albarino

If you are a white wine lover and haven't been to Palmer Vineyards, then you are absolutely missing out! Some of the best white wines on the entire east coast! Their Palmer Albarino 2018 is ab absolute knockout! Outstanding!

Paumanok Chenin Blanc

Winemaker Kareem Massoud takes his family's classic Chenin Blanc to a whole new level this year with this spectacular Chennin Blanc. Big, flavorful and impressive, you'll dream of shellfish and summer salads and evenings spent bu the dunes or with your bare feet in cool grass.

Saltwater Farm Sauvignon Blanc

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Sauvingnon Blanc from Connecticut?! Damn skippy! This is a wonderfully refreshing white wine  made from grapes grown in Connecticut. All together zippy and impressive. Love Saltwarer Farm wines. You really can't get more summery than this!

Nostrano Vineyards Pinot Gris

Nostrano Vineyards is a small but growing boutique estate winery in the southern Hudson Valley in the Shawangunk Trail region. This crisp light white is bursting with flavor and acidity!! Great job by Nic and Kayleigh Bozzo!

Mount Salem Vineyards/Leitner Gruner Veltliner Sophie Anne (NJ)

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Leitner Gruner Veltliner is from Mount Salem Vineyards. It's incredible. Lots of tropical fruit but the austerity that makes is a world class grape...and wine. Am incredible version of this grape from this small boutique New Jersey producer. Im,pressive!

Unionville Hunterdon Mistral Blanc (NJ)

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Unionville Vineyards is among the forefront of east coast winemaking. This Mistral Blanc is a blending of predominantly Viognier, with small portions of  Marsanne and Roussanne. An elegant, refined light white wine with bouquet and structure. Unionville continues to grow, expand, and mature with the new team leading this top quality producer. Outstanding!

Lincoln Peak Black Sparrow (VT)

A blending of Louise Swenson, Prairie Star, and Adalmiina, Lincoln Peak Vineyards Black Sparrow is an excellent wine for lunch, dinner, or cocktail hour. Its perfect for a a picnic lunch or elegant enough for a dinner party. Unique and delicious, fresh peaches and tropical fruits explode out of the glass, with lots of zippy acidity at the end. Great wine from cold climate master Chris Granstrom.

Iapetus Tectonic 2017

The pet project of Shelburne Vineyards passionate winemaker Ethan Joseph, Iapetus Tectonic is an organic, cool climate natural wine. Iapetus is one of the steps in wine geek heaven.  It's 100% LaCrescent long skin contact white wine big on flavor and represents the cutting edge of what's happening in Vermont and New England! different and unquestionably wonderful! 

Bedell Albarino (NY)

Veteran vintner Richard Olsen-Harbich is one of the most talented winemakers on the North Fork. His Bedell Cellars Albarino is a wonderful acid bomb with incredible notes of tropical fruits and grapefruit. An absolute winner!

Macari Lifeforce Sauvignon Blanc 

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Kelly Urbanik has established herself as not only one of the best winemakers on the North Fork, but one of the most interesting on the east coast! Her Lifeforce wines have been the talk of the east coast wine world, and show 

Jonathan Edwards Gewurztraminer (CT)

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Jonathan Edwards continues to be be one of the best winemakers on the seacoast, North Fork or mainland. His Connecticut estate wines are are absolutely wonderful. This Gewurztraminer is every bit as good as any Gewurz east or west. A lovely bouquet is followed by a citrus explosion. Fabulous!

Greenvale Vineyards Albarino

Greenvale Vineyards is one of the most established vineyards in New England. They have been a quality producer for more than two decades. This Abarino is proof that Greenvale is still well on top of their game. A big, bright, delicious wine from New England!

Stonnington Vineyard Riesling

Stonington Vineyards, located not far from the Rhode Island boarder, but still in Connecticut continues on their march toward being one of the top quality wine producers in the state. This reisling has all the hallmarks of a fine German or Finger Lakes riesling, with a lovely floral nose, great green apple flavors, and a lovely zippy acidity! Mouth watering!

Channing Daughters Tocai Fruilano

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(photo courtesy of The Cork Report)

Yes, a Long Island, South Fork Tocai Fruilano. Its perfection, especially in summer! This is what white dresses and sandals and summer evenings were made for! Partner/Winemaker James Christopher Tracy knocks this out of the park into a clear Periwinkle blue summer sky! Guaranteed hit! Amazing!