Léon who?

Keuka Lake Vineyards’ 2010 Estate Bottled Léon Millot (Finger Lakes) was voted Best Red Wine at the recent NY Wine and Food Classic Competition held in Watkins Glen, NY.

How do I know this?

Because it seems that everyone is talking about it in the Finger Lakes.

Why is everyone talking about it?

Because, well, as much as wine industry people like to tout the continuing revolution when it comes to the establishment of Old World grape varieties in this New World of ours, especially in the Northeastern part of our New World, there seems to still be room for inter-species hybrids, but only when they are evaluated in a blind tasting.

It shouldn’t be the case, but blind tastings always seem to shock us. When you have no idea what you are tasting you are apt to like things that you say you don’t like and the other way round. That’s because tasting wine is as infallible as we are, and I want to meet the person who isn’t fallible. With wine, even the pros among us can be fooled by our perceptions.

I was told by those who tasted the winning red wine that it tastes nothing like a Léon Millot should; suffice to say that what that likely means is that people refuse to believe that a wine can step out of the class that others have assigned to it: generally, red inter-species hybrid wines are not supposed to be so good.

Anyway, Léon Millot was created in Alsace, France, in 1911 by crossing a hybrid of two North American species (Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris) with an Old World, German variety within the Vitis vinifera species. The resulting grape variety was named after a French winemaker and nurseryman. (The same crossing trials produced Marechal Foch, a grape named after an important French martial during the armistice negotiation of WWI.)

The variety is suitable for cold, moist climate cultivation as it ripens early and is supposedly highly resistant to fungal diseases, and this particular vineyard plot in the Finger Lakes was planted about 60 years ago by Charles Fournier, who was from Champagne and came to Gold Seal in the late 1940s to be managing winemaker.

Mr. Fournier not only knew what he was doing, he teamed with Konstantin Frank to produce the first successful commercial Vitis vinifera wines in the region, in 1962.

The official take on Léon Millot is that it gives off an aroma that some identify as “foxy,” a common descriptor for wines produced from North American species. For that reason, probably, the grape variety was initially banned for commercial winemaking in the European Union. That ban has been lifted for grape varieties that include a portion of vinifera pedigree, but very small amounts of Léon Millot are grown in Switzerland and in Alsace. Canada has plantings of the grape, too.

So, I sampled this recently voted Best Red Wine a few days ago.

The wine did not smell like a native grape to me. In fact, it had a subtle and sophisticated aroma, slightly milky, which might mean the malolactic fermentation is coming through loud and clear for my schnozz.

The wine’s color is deep and close to purple, like a bishop’s cloak.

The taste, well… Remember that I was not tasting blind, so my perception may have gotten in the way, but I found the subtlety in aroma did not follow through on the palate. In fact, the wine seemed to me too forward and edgy for a red, which is what I usually dislike about most red wines from inter-species hybrid grapes–they seem too rough and earthy.

While we are on the subject of awards, top honor in the New York Wine and Food Classic, the Governor’s Cup, was awarded to a Long Island winery, Martha Clara Vineyards, for its 2010 Riesling.

I understand that the wine was produced with Finger Lakes grapes, which proves once again that great wine is produced in the vineyard.

Comments are closed.