GENEVA, N.Y. - Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch, and Zweigelt. Sounds like a German law firm, but in reality they are wine grapes that may be the key to unlocking New York's wine future.
I visited three superb Seneca Lake wineries here last week, nearly 32 years after I first toured the Finger Lakes and discovered the potential for great wine.
I was no visionary. I merely listened to earlier pioneers, tasted a few experimental wines, and have been a keen, almost annual visitor to this fascinating American wine region.
California, Washington and Oregon are the nation's premier wine-growing states. Two decades ago, if you even mentioned a fourth, someone would suggest psychiatric aid.
Today there are at least 10 other states that have shown the potential to make world-class wines, though most wine magazines (with ads to sell that support a revenue base) take scant notice. That New York leads the pack is these days almost a given.
Skeptics and cynics would argue that a state rampant with Concord grapes (mainly for grape juice), and saddled with such obscure wines as Seyval, Cayuga, Catawba, Diamond, Vidal and Chancellor cannot seriously use the phrase "world-class."
Such talk is mindless, notably in the face of what New York has accomplished with arguably the world's greatest grape variety, Riesling. Finger Lakes Riesling today holds its own against the best Rieslings in the world, and in numerous blind competitions has come out on top.
Dry Rieslings from the three properties I visited last week, Anthony Road, Fox Run and Red Tail Ridge, are so stellar they should be on every New York City white-tablecloth restaurant wine list. Few are.
The old saying about not being king in your own land holds true. New York wine directors who have failed to keep tabs on the local industry may recall blah wines from decades ago and said no-thanks to current wines.
But times change. The three wineries I visited are operated by brilliant vinous strategists who share a vision with Riesling that's overwhelmingly impressive.
Anthony Road winemaker Johannes Reinhardt, Fox Run's Peter Bell, and Red Tail Ridge's Nancy Irelan all were classically trained. The first two have German training; Irelan was with one of the world's most sophisticated wine companies, E&J Gallo, for a dozen years in technical positions.
As good as are the Rieslings from these (and numerous other) properties, each of the three spoke last week of the potential for red wines from a region that historically has struggled to find a red-wine identity. And the three grapes that led off this article are all red and bred for colder climates, which the Finger Lakes is.
Reinhardt is especially fond of Zweigelt for its dark color, low tannins and its ability to withstand cold winters. Bell likes his Blaufrankish (which is also called Lemberger) as a blending grape for his Cabernet Franc.
And Irelan favors Blaufrankish for its ability to make an early-drinking red wine that's quite approachable when it's young. Her other favorite red is Teroldego, an Italian grape that makes a darker, richer red wine.
I asked all three why red wines are so interesting to them. All said roughly the same thing: Until now, New York has been known for the greatness of its Riesling. It's no longer the challenge it once was, so all New York wineries are seeking to expand their portfolios.