Lemberger, growing in popularity, garners top honor for Ventosa Vineyards in New York State’s 2015 competition.
By Alan J. Wax
When was the last time you sipped a Lemberger? Likely, not lately.
But that could change as this little-known grape variety, originally from Germany and also grown in other parts of central Europe, finds new popularity.
Lemberger, a hardy, dark-skinned red wine grape that produces full-bodied, fruit-forward, peppery wines, has found a home in parts of Washington State and in New York’s Finger Lakes. Lemberger also is known as Blaufränkisch and several other names as well.
And it was a 2011 Lemberger from Ventosa Vineyards, on the northeast shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York, that recently was crowned the top wine in the annual New York Governor’s Cup competition. This year, the competition’s 30th, attracted 858 entries from throughout the state, including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie
You won’t find many Lembergers in your local wine shop. Astor Wines, among the largest wine merchants in New York City, sells but one, from Fox Run Vineyards, also on Seneca Lake. Wine.com lists 14 offerings, mostly from Washington, but all are as sold out. (Channing Daughter’s Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island, produces a Blaufränkisch.)
In Germany, the Lemberger grape has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, according to the Wines of Germany web site, which noted that plantings have grown from about 400-500 hectacres in the 1980s to more than 1,750 hectacres.
Many Finger Lakes wineries produce Lemberger wines, in large measure due to the grape’s winter heartiness. A 1996 study by a group of Northeast researchers, including the well-respected Dr. Joseph A. Fiola of the University of Maryland, reported that vines can be hardy at 0°F to -10°F and that vines have survived temperatures as low as -13° F. Finger Lakes winters can be harsh. This past winter, the mercury dropped to as low as -10°F, which can kill half the buds on a grapevine.
The Ventosa Lambeger 2011 is estate grown — as are all the winery’s wines. But production is small, just 256, 12-bottle cases. The wine, aged in new Hungarian oak barrels, retails for $23.95 at the winery.
Wines at this 10-year-old producer, owned by Lenny and Meg Cecere, are made by Jenna LaVita, who honed her craft working under Peter Bell at Fox Run Vineyards; Eric Shatt, formerly head wine maker and vineyard manager at Ventosa, and Rob Thomas of Shalestone Vineyards.
Grapes for this year’s winning wine were planted in June 2004, after more than half of the vineyard’s red grape vines were destroyed by frost. The vineyard is just 23 acres and produces about 4,200 cases of wine annually, all made without the aid of herbicide sparys. Ventosa also produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. Ventosa is also one of only two New York to grow and produce Tocai Friulano, a white Italian varietal (Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley is the other).
Ventosa’s online tasting notes describe its award winner as having “a powerful spicy oak nose, botanical notes of juniper and eucalyptus on the immediate palate. Sharp tannins, under-ripe blackberries, fiery pepper lingering on the finish.”
I can’t say I picked up the pepper, but it is a terrific wine, nonetheless. My notes: Almost inky. Spicy oak nose. Intense brambly character with juicy black fruits and oak notes. I found the tannins to be moderate. Lengthy finish. Enough here to convince me to try other Limburgers.