Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Unusual Newcomers In N.Y.

One of my favorite wines from the Hudson Valley in upstate New York is a Seyval Blanc produced by Clinton Vineyards in Dutchess County, just north of New York City.

Clinton's wines have been showcased at such events as the Democratic National Conventions in New York and Chicago and were served at the White House as well as at the 1995 summit meeting between President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in nearby Hyde Park, N.Y. Obviously, Clinton owners Phyllis and Ben Feder, who established their operation 32 years ago in Clinton Corners, N.Y., and other members of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association feel strongly about the Seyval Blanc grape as well.

The group of 20 wineries has selected it as the primary grape for wines that will qualify for the new "Hudson Heritage White" designation, with Vignoles, Vidal or Cayuga White allowed for blending.

Seyval Blanc grapes have a long reputation as a good cool-climate fruit. The French-American hybrid is the second most planted vine in England, behind Muller-Thurgau.

In the U.S., the regional appellations producing the most Seyval Blanc wines are both in New York — the Hudson River Valley and the Finger Lakes.

The grape is an early ripener, usually mid to late September. It is highly susceptible to botrytis bunch rot. Wine fanciers know that is not necessarily a bad thing, since it often helps concentrate the sugar in grapes and helps create a better wine.

Seyval Blanc wine is a pale yellow color, with a light but fragrant nose, usually with hints of lemon, pineapple and a bit of acidic apple on the finish.

Clinton Vineyards, not so incidentally, produces more than Seyval Blanc wine on its 15-acre layout.

In the face of growing competition in the state's rapidly growing wine industry, the Feders have expanded their portfolio in recent years to include pure fruit dessert wines, made from locally grown produce, with such market-friendly names as Romance, Embrace and Desire.

How is that going? Notes Phyllis Feder, "Our Cassis is the only black currant wine made in the United States to win gold medals and Best of Class at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition."

– If non-New Yorkers know anything about Staten Island, it usually involves the storied ferry service between back and forth to Manhattan, its former gigantic landfill, or wisecracks made about it on "The Sopranos."

Lush vineyards don't usually figure into the equation. Now, however, the heavily-Italian-American enclave across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from the Big Apple proper is about to make a change.

With a little help from its Italian sister city of Crespina, the borough is preparing to open the only large-scale and educational vineyard in the city. And its creators are looking forward to producing their very own nectar of the gods — the "Super Staten Island Red."

The vineyard was the brainchild of several Staten Island businessmen who call themselves the Founders Group. The borough president's office has committed $2 million to support the project. Last November, members of the Founders Group toured the Castellani vineyards in Crespina and consulted with viticulture experts from Cornell University and the University of Pisa to select a blend of grapes that would grow on their two-acre site in the Staten Island Botanical Garden.

What they ended up picking was varieties of merlot, sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon, which they hope to plant in the spring of 2009. It will take about four years before the soil is prepared for the vines and a crop of grapes can be transformed into wine, organizers say.

— Tasting Notes preview: Three new entries on my "Tasting Notes" site ( cover a pair of cabernet-based bargains from the renowned

South Eastern Australia region as well as a slightly pricier but still affordable pinot blanc from France's historic Alsace region.

All that, plus notes on a tequila reposada with star power — sort of.


              (William M. Dowd covers the world of adult beverages at

  c.2008 San Antonio Express-News