Tasting Cold-Climate Wines (i.e. PA, NY, and Canada!)
In our latest tasting in the Global Vineyard Passport Tasting Series, Bob Barrett brought 5, fantastic wines from cold-climate regions of the East Coast and Canada.
Why “cold climate”?
Many of the world’s fine-wine regions occur in “Continental Climate” zones in which hot summers can give way to occasional periods of ice and snow in the winters. These regions include Germany’s Mosel, northern Italy’s Piedmont, Marlborough in New Zealand, the Wachau and Danube of Austria, and France’s Champagne region.
The effects of a cool climate on grapes are, generally, less sugar and thus less alcohol, more minerality and less fruitiness, and good acid balance. Because of these qualities and their lighter styles, these wines tend to be very complimentary to food.
A lot of wine makers and wine drinkers seek out these characteristics, leading to winemakers in warmer climes – such as California – to seek out grapes produced in that state’s cooler micro-climates like the Western Sonoma Coast, the Santa Lucia Highlands, and the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys.
Here on the East Coast (and above the Mason-Dixon Line), we don’t have to worry about seeking out those regions; we are in a Cold-Climate zone.
Characteristics of a “cold climate” that need to be reckoned with for grape growing are freezing temperatures in the winters, the likelihood of frost conditions in the springtime, and a relatively short growing season. So, grapes used in these regions need to be cold hardy, bud late, and able to mature quickly. Fortunately, there are many grapes that do fit this bill that occur throughout the Continental zones, including the very popular riesling, chardonnay, and pinot noir varietals. Even with these cold-hardy grapes, grape growers in these regions can (and do) try to mitigate some of the effects of the cold, namely by siting vineyards in protected, sunny areas, and by placing them near geographical features that produce “moderating” effects, such as lakes and rivers.
What did we taste?
Galen Glen Winery Stone Cellar Grüner Veltliner, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Galen Glen is found in rolling hills between two sets of mountain ranges: the Appalachian and Mahoning. Their vineyards sit at 1000ft on a ridge North of Blue Mountain at the Appalachian’s eastern end. The region is characterized by these long, even ridges, with adjacent, continuous valleys. Grapes are grown in well-drained soils – called Berks Shale – composed of fossil-filled sedimentary-rock. The Stone Cellar label comprises “select” grapes of the varietal. For this Grüner, the selection is from the winery’s oldest vines.
The Stone Cellar Grüner is complex and round. We tasted white pepper, hints of peach/apricot, and Marisa perceived a celery note. Acid is light and balanced. It is crisp wine that could pair with nearly any food – particularly some spring asparagus - and a perfect wine for spring. This was liked by nearly everyone, and we are pleased to soon have it on our by-the-glass list at Jet!
Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
Ravines Winery and vineyards are found in New York’s famous-for-wine Finger Lakes. Ravines has a 17 acre parcel of land on the eastern slopes of the small-ish, y-shaped, Keuka Lake, and also receives grapes from other vineyard areas – including the rather-famous Argetsinger vineyards on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. The main Ravines parcel benefits from being sited at the widest part of Keuka Lake, whose temperature-moderating effects helps extend the growing season. Soils are mineral-rich and sloped, and 2, nearby, namesake ravines serve as cold-air sinks in the (freezing) winters. Ravines’ slow-ripening vineyards in sloped soils of shale and calcareous stones provide classic Riesling conditions.
The Ravines Dry Riesling is… fantastic. The winemaking team says the 2013 vintage was grown and harvested under excellent conditions for the grape. This wine has many of the same flavors and notes as the Galen Grüner, along with the crisp, fine acidity for which good Riesling is known. The mineral soils are also apparent in the finished product. This was a very-well received wine though, following the Grüner, its acidity proved a bit too sharp for a few of our tasters.
Cave Springs Cellars Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
Canadian wine! Cave Springs Winery, located in southern Ontario, is the northernmost winery in our tasting. It is found on the southern end of Lake Superior on the Niagara Escarpment. The slopes beneath the escarpment cliffs are well drained, and composed of limestone, clay, sandstone, and shale. The Great Lake provides temperature moderation in the cold climate, and springs stemming from caves at the base of the escarpment provide underground nourishment for the vines during drier weather.
This wine provided an excellent introduction to Canadian wine, which - outside of Ice Wine - was almost completely unknown to our tasters. Bob – an avid Pinot Noir fan – waxed poetic about the light, perfect, pinot color of the wine. It has great earthy and woodsy undertones, white pepper, and a dose of almost-candied fruit. It is lighter bodied with excellent acid – very typical of pinot noir from cooler climes. It is a very nice wine.
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Valley, New York
Millbrook is situated in the midst of New York’s Hudson River Valley. The north-south oriented Hudson River provides the temperature moderation needed for the cold-climate, which is further provided by the placement of vineyards on southwest facing slopes with well-drained, gravelly soils. Millbrook was the first vineyard in the Hudson River Region dedicated to growing vinifera grapes, and cold-tolerant Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc grow well in appropriately-situated vineyard-sites.
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, with 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It drinks like a nice, classic, Cabernet Franc, with notes of raspberry, cherry, and chalk. The Merlot gives its typical smooth, round tannins and hint of plum. This is a well-balanced wine, with herbal notes and acid to balance the fruit. Another well-like wine!
Penns Woods Winery Chambourcin, Pennsylvania
Penns Woods Winery, in the Brandywine Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania, is the southernmost winery in our tasting. At the winery, they have 30 acres of vineyards on rolling hills of shale and clay, essential for good drainage and warming southern-exposures that give them a relatively long growing season with moderate temperatures. The Chambourcin grape is a French-American hybrid that has found a niche in the States, particularly in the mid-Atlantic States. The grape is resistant to fungal rot and is thus prized in humid regions.
We, at Jet Wine Bar, are pretty familiar with Penns Woods Winery. We’ve carried several of their wines and we’ve even taken a field trip to their tasting room. But, this wine still blew us away. This is a fuller-bodied wine, with a nose of chocolate and blackberry, plus more chocolate, blackberry, raspberry, and bramble in the mouth – which is nice juicy. The full-flavors, balanced acid, and great mouth feel make this a very nice drinker that was thoroughly enjoyed by our tasters.
We did have a clear “winner” on the night as the Penns Woods Chambourcin was easily the favorite, followed by the Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner. So, I guess it was a win for PA wines, too! Of course, our tasters were the real winners. This was an excellent tasting of 5, very high-quality wines. Many of these wineries – and regions – were new to the class and were well received by them. If you missed the tasting, why not take a road trip or two?