Drink Local For July 4th

Here in NYC it’s truly the fashion to buy the boutique, the small-production, the “it was hard to find, but I did.” This applies to all mediums: clothes, furniture, art, and even food. Some may think this is a bit snobbish, but what we really should consider is how it helps our local economy. Buying local keeps our neighbors employed, and in the long run results in a better community overall.

Farmers’ markets are tangible examples of this theory. We see food being handed directly from farmer to consumer. You can sometimes also find local producers of wine, ciders, and beers. Although here at Astor we can’t (always) offer you direct one-on-one contact with the winemaker, we are extremely proud to support over 40 different New York State producers. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to represent our company and carefully choose which quality wines we carry from our great State.

For brevity’s sake, I’d like to highlight just a few of our outstanding New York wines. Perhaps I’m getting a little patriotic as we near Independence Day, but these are all great wines to pair with almost every food you’d expect to be laid out on that red-and-white checkered tablecloth: burgers, salads, salty chips, and everything in between.

As a seafood lover, I’m particularly fond of Channing Daughters “Scuttlehole” Chardonnay. It’s a vibrant and pure expression of Chardonnay from the South Fork of Long Island. Fermented in stainless steel, this medium-bodied white balances fruit and acidity, making its potential at the dinner table unending!

If you would really like to experience the heart and soul of Channing Daughters winemaker Christopher Tracy, don’t miss his rosés. His zeal is particularly evident this season: he has vinified 8 different rosés! The Rosato di Merlot is my pick for 2012. It packs a punch of flavor, with raspberries and spiced minerals all coming together in a juicy finish. If you have a chance to take a trip out to the fork, the sprawling greens of Channing Daughters are not to be missed. There is an amazing sculpture garden of owner/sculptor Walter Channing’s works, and even a yoga area.

Channing Daughters Property

Left: Christopher Tracy, Right: Channing Daughters Vineyard

Channing Daughters Tasting Room

Now to the heavier stuff: burgers, hot dogs, meats, and even earthy veggies like mushrooms. Even though it’s hitting upwards of 90 degrees, I do think reds are the way to go – even though Shinn Estate Rosé is a nice bold, juicy wine that could totally outshine reds for this food category too. Actually, I’m hard pressed just to choose one so I’ll list my top three:

1. Shinn Estate Red – A crowd-pleasing, value-driven blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, this juicy red had bold cherry flavors with hints of licorice, ending with beautifully easy tannins. I suggest giving this (and all reds) a quick chill to help bring out the fruit characteristics and make it even more enjoyable while you’re cooking over the hot grill. David Page and Barbra Shinn are two of the hardest-working people I have ever met. Combined, the pair are a true wonder team: owners, vineyard workers, winemakers, gardeners, distillers, innkeepers, gourmet chefs, inventors, protectors of the planet, and mostly really great people with big hearts and rock-solid determination to provide the best possible experience with their wines.

David Page and Barbra Shinn

2. Fox Run Lemberger – What, you’ve never heard of Lemberger? Neither had I, until about four years ago, and honestly the word makes me think of a stinky cheese. Without getting into too much detail, it is a synonym for the more widely known Blaufränkisch grape of Germany. What I love about this wine is its spicy, black-peppery finish. It’s light in body, so the wine won’t weigh you down, and it brims with dark plum and cherry aromas. I find that so many of the reds from the Finger Lakes (Fox Run is situated on the west side of Seneca lake) have a freshness about them, with nice aromatic fruit, notes of minerals, and mouthwatering finishes.

3. Atwater Estate Syrah – Another contender from the FLX, this time from the lower eastern side of Seneca Lake. There is so much to this wine that it’s hard to pinpoint all its flavor elements. There is that spicy, peppery note that I love so much to pair with a good meaty burger, but there are also dark, almost black fruit aromas and the slightest hint of mocha. It’s a deep and a complex wine, but don’t think that it’s too big for your barbeque! Give it a slight chill and see those fruit aromas come right out. Its medium body and flavors are akin to a Côtes-du-Rhône, but give it a try and decide for yourself. The land at Atwater Estates has been in the grape-growing business since the 1970s, but the incarnation of the winery that we know today came from owner Ted Marks, who purchased the land and facility in 1999. The dedicated team produces delicious wines from various grape varieties, and they plan to continue their growth in years to come.

Atwater Estate

Lastly we can’t ignore what you’ll be munching on to tide you over till the big meal is ready: salty, delicious, crunchy snacks. I’m a sucker for Fritos, and they really make me crave something refreshing to drink, preferably with a hint of sweetness to balance out all that salt. I reach for Keuka Lake Vineyards Gently Dry Vignoles. *Gasp* – a hybrid! What is she thinking?

I can’t claim to be an expert on the history, but here’s the basic deal. New York State has been plagued with a sticky history of insipid, fruit-juice-sweet “wine”. Stemming from the grape-growing needs of Welch’s Company and Manischewitz, wines were vinified from the most prolific and hardy grapes, like Concord and other Vitis labrusca. Also, hybrid varieties were developed to stand up to the harsh winters of upstate New York and these, too, grew in popularity, often because of their intense aromatics, generous fruitiness, and often, a significant level of sweetness. These wines still are enjoyed all over the State, and it actually seems that New York winemakers are paying more and more attention to quality (as opposed to quantity) when using these historic varieties. I do think it’s possible to have an amazing wine made from any of these grapes; the key is balance; understanding that the levels of acid to sugar need to be just right. In the case of the Keuka Lake Vineyards Gently Dry Vignoles, the wine is perceived as lightly sweet while bright acidity cuts through at the end to make it a refreshing, mouthwatering wine. Yes, there are aromas of delicate white flowers that make you think of a warm spring morning, but the crisp-fruited finish allows me to enjoy yet another handful of Fritos – and that is why this Vignoles is the way to go.

There are so many quality wines available throughout New York State, and I’ve only touched on a few. Trying them is the only way to find out which one you’ll enjoy the most. So get out of your “big beer company” rut for July 4th and quaff a local wine instead!