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
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
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
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
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.