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BERGER: New York wines deserve recognition

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - About 20 years ago, when I began to discover the growing excellence of many New York wines, what came to mind were chickens and eggs, or horses and carts.

Over the last few days, a trip to a multi-day wine symposium for industry types proved it again: The quality of New York wines keeps rising. But now their relative obscurity gets to be almost comical, except that one wine publication is beginning to get it.

A recent article in the Wine Spectator focused on Finger Lakes Riesling and their excellence. A bit late, but hey, they're getting it.

The dilemma facing New York wineries is similar to that of other states facing similar situations: As quality grows, the ideal situation is to sell it around the country. But if there is no demand for it in new markets, then opening such markets is a waste of time and money.

Take, for example, Finger Lakes rieslings. Most are superb and have been for decades. The fact that almost none are available on liquor store shelves is the result of some instinctive prejudice against them; even in Manhattan, such wines are hard to find.

Now we are starting to see excellence in more Eurocentric styles of cabernet franc, merlot, pinot noir and even syrah. Moreover, at a luncheon here last Wednesday, we had four wines from the so-called Minnesota varieties, made from the likes of brianna, Marquette and Frontenac.

Talk about varietal prejudice. I can't see any major wine publication ever suggesting these are fine wines. Yet with lunch the other day, I liked them all.

Mainstream they are not, but if that's all that Mother Nature allows you to grow -- they are winter-hardy -- then that's what you grow. Sure, the flavors may be different from many wines, but only the na?e or snobs would allege that "different" equals "bad."

Before this, Cornell University released noiret, valvin muscat and corot noir as new varieties and each makes a lovely wine, albeit with unusual aromas and flavors.

Now we have Arandell and Aromella, two new grape varieties that were certified last Wednesday as excellent by Cornell, which has done yeoman research into grapes that can grow in very cold climates.


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