Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TTL: Sparkling Wines of the Finger Lakes

I am generally not a big fan of inexpensive Champagne. I think there are much better values found in sparkling wines from other regions, such as Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco. Some U.S. wineries also make excellent value sparkling wines, such as Westport Rivers in Massachusetts and Gruet Winery in New Mexico.

Thus, when the opportunity arose, I was very interested in checking out some bubbly from the Finger Lakes region. Lenn of New York Cork Report and Morgan of Finger Lakes Wine Country recently hosted a Taste Live event, showcasing four sparkling wines. Representatives of some of the wineries were also present, discussing their wines and answering questions.

Locally, I hosted the tasting at my home and my friends and fellow bloggers Dale and Amanda came over to share the wines with me. This was Amanda's first Taste Live event and you can check out her thoughts. We ordered some delicious Thai for dinner, and I think it was a fun choice with the bubbly. Prior to the start of the tasting, I also shared a Saké with Dale and he enjoyed it!

Interestingly enough, the three of us agreed on the top two wines of the evening, and our top choice also seemed very popular with most of the others on Twitter. But, as usual, there were plenty of very different opinions about the wines and they involved more than just differing flavors. For example, Dale and I felt the finish on the Chateau Frank was too short, yet others on Twitter felt it had a rather long finish. Always fascinating.

My favorite wine of the evening, as well as the least expensive, was the NV Goose Watch Winery Pinot Noir Brut Rosé ($18). This wine is a blend of 79% Pinot Noir and 21% Chardonnay. It has an alcohol content of 12% and only 600 cases were produced. I loved the crisp strawberry and bright cherry flavors of this Rosé, which had only a touch of sweetness. It felt very refreshing, clean and we loved it so much that we finished off the bottle after the tasting was concluded. At less than $20, I think it is a very good value and I would highly recommend it.

My next favorite was the NV Lucas Vineyards Extra Dry Cayuga White ($18.99), made from a hybrid grape, Cayuga White, and with an alcohol content of 12%. With a mild sweetness, this wine showed plenty of acidity with tasty apple and melon flavors. A pleasant, easy-drinking wine that would likely please most people. I would have thought this sparkler was made with Chardonnay, but am pleased that Cayuga can produce wines as good as this one. I think this is also a good value wine and would recommend it as well.

The 2002 Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs ($29.99) is a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Blanc. It only has an alcohol content of 11.5%, and was the most expensive wine of the evening. It was a pleasant sparkler, with nice green apple and lemon flavors and a mild yeasty touch. But, the finish seemed too short and I would have liked more acidity. Though I did enjoy this wine, I think it is too pricey for what you get, especially considering the previous two sparklers which cost under $20.

My least favorite of the evening was the 2002 Glenora Wine Cellars Brut ($24.99), a blend of 54% Pinot Noir and 46% Chardonnay. It has an alcohol content of 13%, the highest of the four wines. I felt this wine had too much of a yeasty flavor for my preferences, but then I have never been a fan of yeasty Champagnes either. I can see though that if you like this style of bubbly, then you might enjoy this wine.

But the Glenora did impress me for one reason, where the other three let me down. I believe the term "Champagne" is proper only for sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. I dislike when non-French wineries call their own sparkling wines "champagnes." It only confuses consumers, and that seems to be part of their reason for using the term. But as someone who wants to educate consumers, I think it is wrong. Wineries should respect the term and not use it.

The Goose Watch, Lucas and Chateau Frank sparklers all state they are "champagne." The Goose Watch and Lucas only mention it on their websites, while the Chateau Frank actually has it on its label. Now, legally, they might be able to do so, due to a grandfather clause. But, just because they can do something does not mean they should.


tom said...

re: "champagne", are you talking about the press materials?

how do you feel about "méthode champenoise" on a label?

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Tom:
I am talking about how the wine is listed on their website, or label. I have no problem with the use of "méthode champenoise", as I feel that is an accurate term.

Hampers said...

What a wonderful post, beautifully written. It captures these wines so well.