New York Wine & GrapeNews
Field Notes: New York Wine Classic 2019
From Sommelier Erin Barbour Scala, New York Wine Classic Judge
The group of 21 judges converged at the foot of Seneca Lake, some coming from as far away as London. We’d gathered for the New York Wine Classic, and our mission was to taste and rank the roughly 885 submitted wines.
New York wines have played a vital role in the larger US wine story since at least the 1600s, when Dutch settlers planted vineyards in the Hudson Valley. 1860 marked the first US bonded winery in New York (Finger Lakes), and today, the oldest continuously operating winery in the US-- Brotherhood Winery-- still operates in Orange County.
But last week, at the foot of Seneca Lake, we met to explore a more contemporary iteration of New York wine. Tiny ripples brought the surface of the deep lake to an electric quiver. Thick, grey clouds pressed down upon the surrounding hills, enshrouding them in deep blue shadows that melted into the lake. This time of year, grapes still clung to vines, and the entire community had a palpable sense of pre-harvest anticipation.
Local teens in hope of bass cast their lines with little luck. A yacht readied sails for a pleasure cruise. And just outside the lake’s edge, new sidewalks, updated streets, and revived lots spoke volumes about Seneca Lake’s wine renaissance and the impact on the community. Nearby, mesmerizing waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park cascaded down walls of layered rock, highlighting the sense of timelessness to the landscape, the farming, and the community.
In smaller groups, we divided and conquered the task at hand. The first day, each group tasted through about 125 wines, carefully selecting the top wines to continue on to the next day’s tasting. Of course, we tasted completely blind, keeping cryptic notes about our favorites, so we could identify them after the wines were revealed. We thoughtfully considered flights of Diamonds, Rieslings, Ice Wines, Cab Francs, and much more. After the last drop was tasted, the top rated wines moved into the final round, and the group juried them to select the Governor's Cup.
Shortly after, when Sam Filler (NYWGF Executive Director) announced the winning wines, we were surprised and delighted by some of the final selections.
Who would have suspected that childhood sweethearts who started a family farm in the ‘70s growing potatoes and cabbage would have expanded so successfully into wine? These underdogs — Harbes Family Farm (North Fork of Long Island) — won Best Sparking with their deeply aromatic and richly textured traditional method sparkling wine from Mattituck; they also captured Best Syrah.
A taut, flavorful Cabernet Franc from Six Mile Creek Vineyard (Ithaca) won the top award: The Governor’s Cup. As a group, this wine seemed to resonate deeply with most judges.
I particularly enjoyed the Rieslings that made it to the final round, which included a compact and versatile dry Riesling from Wagner Vineyards (Finger Lakes), a complex, lush, and peachy medium-sweet Riesling from Anthony Road with a touch of age (Finger Lakes, 2015), and a haunting off-dry Riesling from Baiting Hollow Farm (Long Island).
And just like that, the NY Wine Classic was over. The judges dispersed to the various cities and towns from whence they came. I, too, headed back home, but with a renewed sense of wonder for New York wine. The plane rose high above the Finger Lakes. From the heavens, the deep glacial gauges etched into the landscape seemed more magnificent and spectacular than the tranquil shoreside perspective. As the plane wove down the Atlantic coastline, slinking between layers of thick clouds, the sting of acid and tannin still warmed my cheeks— a memory of the enduring magnetism of New York wine.
About Erin Barbour Scala, DWS
Owner, In Vino Veritas Fine Wines
For the better part of a decade, Erin worked in New York City at several Michelin star restaurants, notably JoJo, PUBLIC, and The Musket Room. In 2014, she returned to her home state of Virginia to run the wine programs at local downtown restaurants. Today, she works with the Common House wine program and since 2017, she's owned In Vino Veritas Fine Wines, a wine retail shop in Keswick, Virginia. Erin writes the thinking-drinking wine blog, produces audio essays for the I’ll Drink to That wine podcast, and consults about wine privately and commercially through her company, ThinkBev. Her articles about wine have been published in The Washington Post, Wine & Spirits, Wine & Country Living, Knife & Fork magazine, and The C-Ville Weekly. Named one of Wine Enthusiast's 40 Under 40 wine professionals to watch, her wine list at Fleurie won a Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence” in 2016 and 2017. Erin received a James Beard Rhône Rangers Travel Study Grant to study Rhône varieties in California in 2016.