For visitors to New York, a whole world of wine and food is opened up to you by knowing just the right people. Wendy Crispell is today a wine and food educator, consultant and writer, based in New York City, but in the past she was a restaurateur up in the Hudson Valley. Here, Wendy shares her discoveries of this valley, only an hour and half from the city.
As a food and wine professional I have considered myself lucky to live spending my time between the great bounty of flavours known as the HV and NYC, a treasure trove of culinary delights. The recent buy local movement has finally brought these two loves together both in my glass and in my shopping basket with artisan cheeses, wines and some of the most beautiful produce from the Hudson available in boutique shops, restaurants and farm markets in New York City.
Most visitors to NYC aren’t aware of the cornucopia of culinary wonder awaiting them just a short drive north. Not only is the HV a spot rich in food and wine history, it’s a region undergoing a renaissance in the production of artisan foods, some of which are gaining a stellar reputation far from the fields and farms they hail from. With its sweeping views of the river and steep cliffs carved from stone it’s also a destination for a weekend visit to one of the charming inns dotting the area.
Traditions past and present
While experimentation, climate shift and research have enabled vitis vinifera vines such as Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Tocai and others to stake their claim here, the new breed of winemakers popping up all over the valley are embracing not only these classic grape varieties but also the tradition of growing the easier-to-ripen French hybrid grapes. Wines made from these hybrids are even garnering a cult following among wine lovers with Seyval Blanc and Baco Noir of particular interest. Many of the locally grown berries and tree fruits are being transformed into glorious cordials, fruit wines and dry ciders, while in the past the trend was towards overly sweet, dull offerings.
Planning a visit
With over 40 wineries in the HV, planning a visit to the area can be a daunting task. Depending on your interests, an itinerary can be created with the help of Hudson Valley Wine Country, an online resource that includes details of the three wine trails in the region: the Dutchess, Shawangunk and Hudson Berkshire trails.
On the East side of the river a sumptuous feast at one of the Culinary Institute of America’s five restaurants can be added. On the West, farm trails include ’pick your own’ options, as well as some of the best views at which to sit and sip for those looking to soak in the beauty of the surroundings. For spirits fans, boutique producers are located on both sides of the river with Tuthilltown on the West side producing an award-winning selection of Bourbon, Whiskey and Vodka. On the East side, Harvest Spirits is producing amazing applejack and a peach brandy that knocks my socks off! Both distillers use local products and offer tastings.
Wineries of interest on the East
Carlo and Dominique DeVito realized their dream by creating the Hudson Chatham Winery in 2007. Carlo, a self-proclaimed Baco Noir nut, is producing a Baco Noir using 60-year-old vines and a passion that shows in the quality of this wine. Flavours of ripe red cherries, leather and an earthy, dry finish are reminiscent of reds produced in the cool climate regions of Europe, yet distinctly HV. Aromas of forest floor and dried autumn leaves seem to dominate many of the reds from this region and Carlo’s Baco is no exception, it’s deliciously delightful.
One of the newest players in the HV wine renaissance is Ben Peacock of Tousey Winery, a bit further down the Hudson. Tousey, once known only for producing an artisan raw honey, jumped into the mix a few years back with a currant cordial crafted from estate berries and sweetened with the honey produced from hives tended on site. Decadent and unique this sinful treat was only the beginning for this small estate that now grows Pinot Noir and Riesling. And, Tousey’s 2010 Cabernet Franc made from locally sourced fruit is testament to just what this young winemaker may be capable of in the future.
Planning a bit of a whey time
Do you like cheese with your wine? HV cheesemakers are producing some world class cheese. From lavish ‘triple crèmes’ to aged mountain wonders these cheese mavens are worth a visit for any caseophile! For information on tastings and tours visit the New York State Cheesemakers Guild online. For hard core cheese lovers a stay in the cottage at Sprout Creek Farm may be a wonderfully stinky adventure. Year round educational programmes in cheesemaking and agriculture are offered for children and adults.
Out on the West side
Matt Spaccarelli of Benmarl is upholding a tradition of creative thinking started by founder Mark Miller. In addition to the Baco Noir that this estate is known for, Cabernet Franc and Seyval Blanc are made with estate fruit. As you wander the grounds you may encounter a pair of Babydoll Sheep who help to manage the vineyard weeds and fertilization. At Whitecliff Winery the Migliore family have transformed what was a once dirt field into an artisan gem. Their Awosting White, a blend of Vignoles and Seyval is an interesting off dry wine bursting with apricot and peach flavours. Currently Awosting is making appearances in some of NYC’s finest eateries including Gramercy Tavern where it is the first NY wine made from hybrid grapes ever offered by the glass.
Treat yourself to a spot of relaxation
Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa is known not only for its herbal spa treatments but also for its winding paths filled with babbling brooks, lush gardens, a ten-acre farm and a recent addition, Henry’s, a restaurant where the bounty of local flavours are transformed into culinary visions served along with local wine, beers and spirits. If you’re lucky you may encounter llamas, alpacas, goats or a chicken or two while hiking the inn’s grounds that are perched scenically above the Hudson River.
Next time you plan a trip to NYC, add a couple of days onto your schedule to visit the HV, drink in the local flavour and take a bite out of a place filled with culinary diversity. I hope like me you will fall in love with all the wonderful things the region has to offer.