This month’s American Wine Society meeting was hosted by friends John and Sandy Tuller on Seneca Lake near the Anthony Road Winery. Like several in the area, John is a Kodak-person-turned-grower, and he was among the first to get established here. He and Sandy run a vineyard, supplying high quality grapes to a number of wineries.
The theme for the meeting was “Wines from less risky grape varieties,” which was timely considering the past winter. We were treated to two whites (La Crescent, Fontenac Gris), and six reds (Frontenac, St Croix, two Nortons, Foch, and Marquette). Pre-meeting grazing was accompanied by wines we all brought, including a lovely homemade sparkling wine. Our host from the previous meeting also gave us our evaluation sheets from last month’s tasting of Spanish wines, so we could see how our tastes aligned or misaligned, as the case may be. Of course, there really is no “right” answer, as wine appreciation is as essay test.
While many of us are familiar with the Cornell breeding program (especially Traminette), except for the Foch and Norton, the varietals we tasted came from the University of Minnesota and, of course, were focused on winter hardiness. The table below summarizes several characteristics. Since these varietals are so new, growers and winemakers are still learning about how to manage the crop, when to pick, and how to coax flavors out of them. Some of the reds are challenged, in that they produce a combination of high sugars, high acids, and low tannins that can make wines that are somewhat in your face. But all of these were enjoyable, with the La Crescent and Marquette being my personal favorites.
Compared with the varietals above, Foch and Norton are ancient. Foch is a European produced hybrid grown mostly in the Eastern U.S. and Canada and finds uses as both a varietal wine and in blends. It is winter hardy down to -25°F and also quite disease resistant. The bottle was quite lovely. Norton, on the other hand, is a warm climate grape introduced by Dr. Daniel Norton in the early 1800s. Although a native varietal, it did not have the “foxy” flavors of grapes such as Concord and Diamond, and found its way into dry reds. It is grown widely in Virginia and Missouri. Of the two Nortons, the one from Chrysalis in Middleburg, VA, was quite nice.