Sparkling Wine 2015 - 2016



Along Route 54, on the eastern side of Keuka Lake, is an historical marker.  This sign is large, sturdy, made of heavy steel. It was dedicated in 1967, and has not been altered in any way since then.  

After describing some of the region's history, the marker notes that:

"Andrew Reisinger began in 1853 the commercial grape industry in the Keuka region. His production of wine and champagne marked the start of a successful enterprise. Good soil and stable temperatures combine to make the area outstanding for vineyards. It is now called the “Champagne Region of America."

That's right.  As late as 1967, most likely even later, the Finger Lakes was referred to as the “Champagne Region of America."

The brands that helped establish this reputation (e.g. Great Western Champagne) have now faded to near obscurity.  As Americans developed a taste for foreign sparklers, they also came to disdain Finger Lakes "Champagne," which was mainly made from native American grapes.  The region's bubbly simply could not compete with the finesse of real Champagne, the economies of scale in California, or the novelty of wines like Lambrusco.

Nowadays sparkling wine is a sidelight for Finger Lakes wineries, with the exception of Dr. Konstantin Frank and its Chateau Frank label.  Even so, it is surprising how many wineries make sparkling wine.  It is even more surprising how many different grapes get the sparkling treatment.

There are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bubblies (of course), but also effervescent Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Cayuga White, Niagara and Muscat.  Even Terroldego and De Chaunac get some gas.

The methods used to produce the wines are nearly as diverse as the grapes.  Some of these wines are artificially carbonated, especially the Cayuga White bubblies like Candeo. Others are made in the traditional French manner (méthode champenoise).  A new & promising development in the region is the production of Pétillant Naturel or “Pet-Nat.” 

With so much diversity in price and style, how can you possibly make a choice? Here are a few thoughts:

• Price and quality are more closely aligned than with still wine.  Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.

• The Cayuga White sparkling wines (e.g. Bollicini, Candeo, etc.) are very affordable, but not as interesting as the others.  They are a good choice for casual drinking.

• The Riesling-based wines can be very different in style, ranging from the funky Bellwether Pet-Nat to the elegant Heart & Hands, to the medium sweet Célèbre.

• What do you like in a sparkling wine? Are yeasty-toasty flavors your benchmark?  If so, pick one of the more expensive Blanc de Blancs or Brut wines. If you prefer something sweeter, for a toast or to sip, the Chateau Frank Célèbre or funky White Cat “Fizz" might be good choices.

• Finally, there is the issue of food.  Some of these wines are much more food-friendly than others.  Click on the labels and read the reviews for some suggestions.

Wishing you a Happy New Year - Douglas Hillstrom

A word about these tastings: Each tasting note is based on a full bottle of wine (no tasting room notes or group tastings), sampled over the course of a day, most often with food.  All bottles are purchased from the winery or a wine shop. I do not accept “sample” bottles from wineries, nor do I have a financial relationship of any kind with any winery or the wine industry. Non-vintage wines are only included if they have been re-tasted in the past 2 months.  For older reviews of non-vintage wines and vintage wines that are not readily available in the marketplace, click here.  The views expressed here are my own, and I strive to be as honest and objective as a person can be.

© Douglas Hillstrom 2014