Monday, May 28, 2007

Just What The Doctor Ordered

If you read up on Finger Lakes wineries, you'll quickly learn that the Dr. Konstantin Frank winery has played a huge role in the development of the region's reputation for producing outstanding wines.

It's located a short distance from the shores of Keuka Lake, a little off the beaten path since the largest concentration of wineries line the shores of Seneca Lake and also Cayuga Lake. For us, the location was a blessing since the busloads of graduating college kids from Cornell don't venture this far.

Dr. Frank, who immigrated from Europe in the 1950s and started his winery in 1962, is revered today for leading the way toward the production of quality vinifera wines in the Finger Lakes region and away from the mediocre hybrid varietals so ubiquitous 40 years ago.

The winery today is run by Frederick Frank, grandson of the winery's founder. The gift of the grape obviously has been passed on since the wines produced here continue to win award after award. Our own tasting made it easy to understand why. While we skipped many of the winery's sweeter offerings, we tasted consistent quality across everything we tasted -- the several different rieslings we tried really impressed.

But if there's one wine that I think best exemplifies what Dr. Frank can do it's the Rkatsiteli.

The Best Wine You've Never Heard Of?
Never heard of it? Nor had I until recently, and I worked in a wine shop for several years. Turns out Rkatsiteli is not only the most widely planted white grape of many eastern European countries, it is among the most widely planted in the world. Its cultivation is believed to go back 5,000 years in what is today Georgia.

It is only vinified by a handful of American wineries today, and the first may well have been Dr. Frank. When he first came to the States, Dr. Frank knew vinifera could flourish here if only it was attached to the proper root stock. He turned out to be right, changing the course of wine production throughout the Northeast.

Among the earliest European varietals he began cultivating was Rkatsiteli, a grape with which he was familiar in his native Ukraine. Rkatsiteli is known to have a flavor profile something like riesling, but with the spiciness of gewurztraminer. And, it has developed something of a cult following in the Finger Lakes area, selling out long before the next vintage is available.

When I first tasted the 2006 Rkatsiteli, I had no expectations. As I said, the rieslings were great, but the Rkatsitelli turned out to be my favorite wine of the tasting. I was swept away by aromas of peaches and mango and citrus and flowers with a spicy, long finish. I mean a lip-smacking long finish. It is fairly crisp, though it does retain a bit of residual sugar. And, similar to many rieslings, it has just 11.4 percent alcohol.

The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, which helps explain the clean explosion of fruit. While clearly the grape produces a superior wine, Dr. Frank showed a lot of confidence and/or faith to produce this wine so long when Americans were for years clamoring for more and more chardonnay. But Dr. Frank clearly aims for something higher than simple popularity, and they achieved it in this wine.

Hopefully, more wineries will try cultivating and producing this wine. It clearly has great potential. It's up to the rest of us to catch up to this new "old" success story.


Blogger Lenn said...

I'm glad to see another blogger talking about this wine. I wrote about it on LENNDEVOURS a while back and even selected it for May's New York Cork Club shipment.

Sounds like you had a great time in the Finger Lakes...when are you going to come down to taste through Long Island with me?

11:58 AM  
Blogger JD said...

Lenn, thanks for the comments. Wish I saw what you wrote because the rkatsiteli was a revelation to me. I'm going to check out Lenndevours more often.

It was a great time indeed -- and I've got lots of great stuff to write about Niagara, too.

I would love to meet up with you out on Long Island. We've done two tours through wine country there --the last time was two years ago. I'm afraid all our vacation time is spoken for this year, but maybe we can manage a long weekend later this summer -- if not, definitely next year.

Five years ago, Lenz really impressed me, but two years ago I fell in love with Macari. Still great?

7:54 PM  
Blogger Lenn said...

If you haven't been down for two years...I've got a bunch of places that we need to go that you probably haven't been to...and some of the mediocre wineries of the past have really stepped up lately and made great things happen!

I got a couple bottles of Dr. Franks two new bubblies yesterday (Fred sent them to me)...what did you think of them?

12:18 PM  
Blogger JD said...

I believe we tasted two, and I thought the blanc de noir was quite nice. Good fruit, not toasty, as you would expect from a blanc de noir. Not quite a $30+ sparkler, though. I don't have notes on the other.

5:59 PM  

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