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Dr. Frank Wines: Gems of the Finger Lakes

Vineyard overlooking Keuka Lake

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars is a true gem in the Northeastern United States’ winemaking landscape.  Emigrating from the Ukraine to New York in 1951, Dr. Frank moved upstate to the picturesque Finger Lakes region to take a position at Cornell University’s Geneva Experiment Station.  Dr. Frank, a professor of plant sciences with a PhD in viticulture, would quickly revolutionize Northeastern US grape-growing and winemaking by promoting the growth of European varietals in this chilly northern environment.

Dr. Frank’s beliefs originated from his experiences while living in the Ukraine.  He knew that Vitis Vinifera (wine grapes) could grow in the Finger Lakes region if planted on the right rootstock, despite the colder climate.  Dr. Frank forged a friendship with a French champagne maker named Charles Fournier, the president of the Lakes region’s Gold Seal Vineyards.

After just ten years in the US, Dr. Frank established Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1962.  This fledgling winery swiftly gained renown for its sublime Rieslings, putting the Finger Lakes on the map as a world-class wine-producing region capable of exceptional quality.

Today, Dr. Konstantin Frank is run by the family’s 3rd generation of winemakers, led by Frederick Frank, who took over in 1993.  Fred’s sister, Barbara Frank is Consulting Winemaker and Regional Sales Manager for Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars and Chateau Frank Winery.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Barbara at several wine tasting events in NYC at which she graciously shares a wealth of information about the family’s wines.

Dr. Frank’s Wine Cellars has grown to encompass two additional labels, Salmon Run and Chateau Frank.  Salmon Run is the winery’s value label and a tribute to the magnificent salmon of gorgeous Keuka Lake.  Chateau Frank is the label under which the winery’s extraordinary sparkling wines are crafted.  These sparklers are among the best I’ve tasted from this side of the pond.  Their 2006 Blanc de Blancs is on par with my longstanding American favorite, Schramsberg’s Blanc de Blancs.

The Wine Cellarage is delighted to introduce Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars to our offerings.  Thus far, we have chosen five wonderful wines from Dr. Frank and Chateau Frank.  These are ideal wines for summertime quaffing.  The Dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Blanc de Blancs are delightful, crisp and oh-so refreshing.  The Cab Franc is the perfect red wine for summer, reminiscent of Loire Valley Chinon, with soft tannins, subtle earthiness and roasted red pepper notes.  Finally, Chateau Frank’s Célèbre Rosé is a delicious, red berry infused crowd-pleaser and will make an ideal aperitif for your summertime parties and gatherings!

2010 Dr. Frank Dry RieslingThe fruit was hand-harvested during the cool hours of the morning, and then cold pressed. The juice was cold settled and given a lengthy fermentation at low temperatures with special German wine yeasts.

“The 2010 Dry Riesling has a classic pale straw color with a crisp green hue. The nose shows typical Keuka Lake minerality with fresh lemon citrus and apple with an intriguing blossom aroma. The palate shows wonderful tight acid that balances out the fruity residual sugar enhancing the floral and bringing out the bright tangerine flavors. The palate also displays the slatey mineral characteristics that typify Dr. Frank’s Rieslings. Serve with all fin fish and shell fish.” – Winemaker’s Notes

2010 Dr. Frank Grüner Veltliner – The grapes were picked early in the morning to capture the strong fruit flavors. The juice was then fermented at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks with a neutral yeast, enhancing the wine’s natural fruit flavors.

“The 2010 Grüner Veltliner fits perfectly within the Dr. Frank family of wines. The wonderful nose is a treat of floral, melon and honeysuckle while the mouth has subtle herbal notes and balanced layered textures in the background that finish off with the typical Grüner Veltliner white pepper heat. It is food friendly wine and pairs well with everything from scallops and roasted vegetables to grilled pork tenderloin.” – Winemaker’s Notes

2008 Dr. Frank Cabernet Franc – “The 2008 Cabernet Franc presents a nose of roasted red pepper and prune that lengthens with oaky and spicy tones.  On the palate, this wine displays great elegance with soft tannins and a smooth long finish.  Coming from an exceptionally hot summer this wine will benefit from decanting to reveal the depth of its character – serve with brisket and red sauce pasta dishes.” – Winemaker’s Notes

2006 Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs“Presenting typical complexity and delicate flavors, this wine exemplifies the traditional Blanc de Blancs style. A crisp acidity accompanied by rich pear and honeysuckle with citrus, lemon, and ginger makes this Sparkling Wine vibrantly pleasant. Extended lees aging (tirage) gives earthy and toasty notes with a soft vanilla finish. Serve with rich foods such as caviar or salmon.” – Winemaker’s Notes

Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé – A festive sparkler made from 100% estate grown Pinot Meunier grapes and crafted in the French Crémant style, according to the traditional method.  This delightful, sparkling rosé offers rich raspberry and strawberry aromas, lush cherry flavors and beautiful, delicate bubbles.

About the Finger Lakes Region

Home to over 100 wineries, the Finger Lakes region is the longstanding pillar of New York State’s wine industry.   The beautiful, narrow lakes of the region, named for their resemblance to fingers, were hewn from the land by Ice Age glaciers.  The lakes have a significant effect on the climate, keeping the air relatively warm in the winter and gradually pulling cool air down from the surrounding hillsides.  By the time spring comes, the lakes have cooled, which prevents the vineyards from budding too early, providing a safeguard against frost damage.  The major lakes of the wine region are Keuka, Seneca, Canandaigua and Cayuga.

Riesling and Gewurztraminer thrive in the cool northern climate of the region, producing wines with great acidity and minerality.  Grüner Veltliner, native to Austria, is proving to be a great fit for the Finger Lakes as well, quickly gaining recognition and praise.

The wines of the Finger Lakes region are not to be missed!   They present exceptional quality and value, and for those of us living in and around New York, a lovely, local wine option.

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Champagne: A Short Guide to the Sparkling Delight

Celebratory Flutes of Champagne

Champagne is the drink of celebration.  Its bubbles and ethereal flavors instantly commemorate festivity.  Not only does it set the party in motion, but it pairs wonderfully with a variety of foods.  From potato chips to sushi, you can’t go wrong with a glass of Champagne.  When shopping for this sparkling beverage, we are faced with a number of choices and must decipher a set of labeling terms that tell us about the style of the bubbly in the bottle.  Will it be dry, full-bodied, fruity?  To begin to understand the language of Champagne and the various styles that it is made in, let’s take a look at the region and a bit of history…

In the most northern reaches of French wine country, and the farthest north of all the European vineyards, lies the legendary Champagne region.  Northeast of Paris, hugging the Marne River valley, the region is divided into three main subregions, the Vallée de la Marne, the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs.  Here, the short growing season and severe growing conditions produce light wines that have high acidity and low alcohol, the perfect foundation for sparkling wine.  Millions of years ago, a sea covered the Champagne region, the fossils and sediments of which formed the area’s chalky soils.  If it weren’t for these mineral-rich chalk soils, vines would not grow nearly as well here.  The chalk retains water and slowly releases it as the soil dries, ensuring that the vines are always hydrated. The mineral content in the soil nurtures the vines and gives the grapes their character, making wines of quality and distinction.

The bubbles in Champagne come from an intriguing and complex process entailing not one, but two fermentation cycles.  Once the wine goes through its initial fermentation, it is bottled as a still wine.  Right before bottling, a mixture of sugar, wine and yeast nutrients is added to the wine.  In French, this mixture is called “liqueur de tirage”.  The bottle is topped with a temporary seal and laid down in the cellar where the second fermentation begins.  During this stage, the yeast digests the added sugar, which in turn produces more alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The CO2 builds up in the bottle, slowly dissolving in the wine…and viola! Bubbles!

Although Champagne production was initially accidental and it is unclear who actually discovered the process, it is certain that the monk Dom Pérignon was a leader of the Champagne wine movement in France during the mid-1600s.  During the early 1800s, Champagne was first commercialized by the infamous Madame (Veuve) Clicquot.  The popularity of the bubbly drink continued to grow and around this time, the celebrated Champagne names that we know and love entered the scene, the local merchant Monsieur Moët, as well as Krug, Bollinger and Roederer, all young, business savvy German entrepreneurs.  Since those early times, the region struggled with difficulties, from vine-destroying pestilence to fraudulent wine production, occurrences that shaped and strengthened the modern Champagne industry.

There are three grape varietals used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Each of these grapes dominates one of the three Champagne subregions and creates wine with specific characteristics.  Chardonnay grapes, most common in the Côtes des Blancs subregion, produce a lighter style wine with high acidity, citrus characteristics and fine bubbles.  Pinot Noir is widely planted in the Montagne de Reims subregion, and imparts body to sparkling wine blends.  Pinot Meunier, the dominant grape in the Marne Valley, provides fruity character to the blend.  These three grapes varietals, used in combination or on their own, produce an array of Champagne styles, which brings us to a set of vocabulary that you’ll encounter when buying your bubbly.

A familiar term in Champagne speak is Non-Vintage (NV), which is bubbly made from a blend of wines from different years.  NV is considered by some to be superior to Champagne from a single year’s harvest because it allows quality control and insurance that no matter how bad one year’s vintage is, it can be evened-out by the blend.  Vintage Champagne shows the year of harvest on the label and has distinct characteristics based on the particular year’s growing conditions.  The term Prestige Cuvée is given to Champagne that is made from the highest quality wine and blended with the utmost care.  These wines are usually aged for longer periods prior to their release.  Examples of Prestige Cuvées from top producers are Moët & Chandon’s Dom Perignon bottling and Roederer’s Cristal.

Champagne labeled Blanc de Blancs, meaning white from whites in French, is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, and is usually a lighter style wine with bright acidity and core flavors of citrus and apple.  The labeling term Blanc de Noirs refers to white Champagne made from black grapes, specifically Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a blend of the two.  Blanc de Noirs are usually fuller-bodied, fruit-forward Champagnes with a lengthy finish.

Rosé Champagne, with its fun pinkish hue, is made from all three grape varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Interestingly, Rosé Champagne is most frequently made by blending some red wine from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with white wine from Chardonnay.  A few Champagne houses use the saignée method, allowing the dark grape skins to have limited contact with the musts and impart some of their color to the wine, but this method is far less common.  Rosé Champagnes tend to have a full body and extra fruitiness on the nose and palate.

The level of sweetness in Champagne is determined by the portion of sugar that is added after second fermentation and ageing.  The terms listed below refer to the amount of sweetness in Champagne and will help you decide which best suits your taste:

Term Dryness Level & Grams Sugar per Liter
Brut Nature The Most Dry; Below 3 g/l
Extra Brut Very Dry; 0-6 g/l
Brut Very Dry – Dry; 0-15 g/l
Extra-Sec Off-Dry; 12-20 g/l
Sec Medium-Dry; 17-35 g/l
Demi-Sec Sweet; 33-50 g/l
Doux Very Sweet; 50+ g/l

Brut is the most common of these styles, however, since the levels of sweetness overlap, it is left to the producer’s discretion to use the labeling term of their choosing.

On a final note, there are many incredible and delicious sparkling wines made throughout the world, but in order to be labeled Champagne, it must come from that specific region in France.  When searching for the Champagne that will put a sparkle in your eye, try different brands and styles, and don’t forget to pair it with food for a truly amazing dining experience!

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