Riesling Perfection: Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars


A View from the Vineyard

Having gone to college in Rochester, New York, I heard of the great wines being produced in the Finger Lakes before I became a regular wine taster. As I got more and more into wine a couple of years back, I did some research into this region and found that one of my favorite grapes, the Riesling grape, flourishes in this area. A few friends mentioned some of the better wineries in the Finger Lakes that were producing top-quality rieslings. One of these wineries was Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, so I ordered a bottle of their 2003 semi-dry. It was exquisite.

Months later, I was sitting in a booth at Tallula, a restaurant and wine bar in Arlington, when I noticed that they had Dr. Frank’s 2004 Semi-dry Riesling on their list. Since I had loved the 2003 — I was still hoarding two bottles in my wine rack — I gave the 2004 a try. Again, truly remarkable.

I decided to review Dr. Frank’s 2005 Riesling for Wine with Dinner in an effort to introduce Finger Lakes wines to wine lovers in the D.C. area who may not have heard about the great vintages being produced in northern New York. I e-mailed Dr. Frank’s with a couple of quick questions, just hoping for a couple of interesting facts to put in my review. A day later, I got an e-mail from Kitty Oliver in Dr. Frank’s Public Relations Office. Thanks to Kitty, I have learned a little bit about the wonderful history behind Dr. Frank wines.

Dr. Konstantin Frank and his family immigrated from Europe in 1951. Armed with a Ph.D. in viticulture and encology, Dr. Frank was convinced that it was a lack of proper root stock, and not the climate, that was at the heart of the difficulties growers had experienced producing European varietals. He was right.


Dr. Frank Working His Magic

Dr. Frank teamed up with Charles Fournier, a French champagne maker at the nearby Gold Seal Vineyards. The two found a heartier root stock on which to graft their vines and, by 1960, Gold Seal had over 100 acres of European varietals. In 1962, Dr. Frank founded his own winery, growing grapes like riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, and cabernet sauvignon. Dr. Frank died in 1985, but his son Willy, who just passed away this March, and grandson Frederick have continued his work with the help of a team of four wine makers led by Mark Veeraguth, an alumnus of UC Davis.


Dr. Frank with Charles Fournier

Their efforts have led to the creation of some exemplary wines. Dr. Frank has won more medals than can be listed in this entry. While many of these have been for their rieslings and other white wines, Dr. Frank has also found success with its red wines. For example, Dr. Frank’s 2001 pinot noir (which I have yet to taste) won gold medals at both the Great Lakes Wine Competition and the Taster’s Guild Wine Competition. Dr. Frank was named Winery of the Year this year by New York Wine Classic, has been named the “Greatest Wine Producer in the Atlantic Northeast two years running by Wine Report, and wine-critic Andrea Immer has declared Dr. Frank’s 2005 Dry Riesling “the best Dry Riesling in the US.” I just bought a bottle of the dry at The Curious Grapein Shirlington.


The Path to Heaven

As I mentioned briefly in my last entry, Dr. Frank’s 2005 Semi-dry Riesling continues the proud tradition that Dr. Frank started fifty years ago. It is an outstanding wine in the German style. I detect peach and grapefruit in the nose, though the winemaker’s claim more of a melon, pear, and pineapple bouquet. Either way it is a beautiful scent. The palate presents flavors of honey, melon, honeysuckle, and a hint of tart grapefruit. It tickles the tongue with a bit of tanginess and is a fantastic example of the quality rieslings being produced in the Finger Lakes.

To this point, my experience with Dr. Frank has been largely confined to their rieslings, but Dr. Frank produces many other wines under its label as well as the Salmon Run label. I look forward to tasting these offerings and letting you know what I think. If Dr. Frank’s rieslings and history are any indication, these will all be winners. Before he died, Willy Frank spoke of how far behind New York wineries were when it came to reputation. He spoke of how France has had centuries to prove the quality of its wine, and how only incredibly hard work and an endless pursuit of quality would convert those who were convinced of New York’s inferior quality. Wine with Dinner is convinced.

As I mentioned above, you can find Dr. Frank’s 2005 Dry Riesling at The Curious Grapein Shirlington, VA and their Semi-dry Riesling at Tallula near Clarendon. All of Dr. Frank’s wines are available for purchase on their website here, and any other questions about availability can be directed to Suprex International, Ltd., (703) 237-9209, in Virginia and Boutique Vineyards, (410) 626-1286 in Maryland.

5 Stars
Appx. $16.99 per bottle.

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Published in: on October 21, 2006 at 6:00 pm  Comments (10)  

Wine Tasting

Last night, Wine with Dinner hosted its first wine tasting. Several friends attended to sample 12 wines from various regions. One fellow wine enthusiast, M, was kind enough to record some tasting notes with me. As it turns out, with a couple of exceptions, our opinions were pretty much in line. Here is the tasting list from the evening, accompanied by my notes and ratings along with M’s. There is a more detailed review of No. 6, Dr. Konstantin Frank’s 2005 Semi-dry Riesling, to be posted soon.

1. Jefferson Vineyards 2004 Viognier, Monticello, Virginia: I got a grapefruit aroma with an earthy/nutty flavor. There was also a bit of buttery citrus on the palate. This wine has a bit of a spicy kick at the end. M detected a rubbing alcohol smell that she did not care for, with tastes of butter and wheat.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 3 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 2 Stars

2. Paringa 2004 Chardonnay/Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc, South Australia: I love this wine because it is a great value at $10. It has a lovely fruity aroma highlighted by sour apple and a hint of pineapple and pear. The taste is dry and a bit toasty/buttery, yet fruity. It has good length, with just a bit of bitterness going down. While I might normally give it a 4, my rating factors in the quality you get for the price. M was less impressed. She got an aroma of cheese and crackers and characterized it as a “peaceful” wine with relatively little going on.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 5 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 3 Stars

3. Goose Watch 2004 Traminette, Finger Lakes, New York: The peach aroma on this might make you think that you have a sweet wine on your hands, but this is really a dry, fruity wine. Traminette is a hybrid grape developed at Cornell University. It has a gewurztraminer-like spiciness (one of its parent varietals) with an almost peppery hint on the palate, coupled with a tart grapefruit flavor. This wine would be perfect with spicier foods. M agreed, enamored with the “heavenly scent” of this dry white.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 4 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 5 Stars

4. Willowcroft Vineyards 2004 Riesling Muscat Ottonel: I made a mistake in serving this a bit too late in the order and at a bit too cold a temperature. Despite my mistakes, the wine was lovely. I came back to it later and confirmed what I remembered from the first time I tasted it at the winery. This is a surprisingly dry wine, but fruity, with peach and grapefruit aromas and flavors. The flavors are subtle, but the wine is crisp and delicious. M also loved this selection.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 5 Stars
Guest Review M’s Rating: 5 Stars

5. Gramona 2004 Gessami, Spain: This muscat and sauvignon blanc blend presents with grapefruit and hints of peach. The sweetness of the muscat is subtle but nicely compliments the dry sourness of the sauvignon blanc. This is an interesting and pleasant combination. M picked up a somewhat medicinal aroma, but enjoyed the taste.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 3 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 4 Stars

6. Dr. Konstantin Frank Cellars 2005 Semi-Dry Riesling: As noted above, I will be doing a full review of this wine soon in a separate entry. Suffice it to say for now that everyone at the tasting loved it. I found peach and citrus aromas with flavors of honey, honeysuckle, and grapefruit. M liked the fruity nose and observed the nice tingle it leaves on the tongue. She correctly noted that this is very much a German-style riesling.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 5 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 5 Stars

7. Waterford Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Franc, Waterford, Virginia: This wine has a bright red-purple color and a peppery strawberry and cherry aroma with just a hint of oak. It is dry, peppery, and fruity with hints of cherry on the palate. A couple of tasters detected other fruits, including blackberry and even cranberry. M loved this wine’s smoothness and oaky nose.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 4 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 5 Stars

8. Chateau l’Enclos 1998 Haut Mazeyres Pomerol, Bordeaux France: This Bordeaux blend got a variety of reactions. It has earthy cheese, pepper, and licorice aromas. The taste is very earthy, with almost a turpentine-like kick. This is a typical Bordeaux and if you like the earthy flavors rather than the fruit-forward style, you will probably enjoy this wine. M noted that it “smells like red.”
Wine with Dinner Rating: 3 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 4 Stars

9. Joseph Phelps 2002 Insignia: This predominantly cabernet sauvignon blend is deep purple with a complex nose of cherry, strawberry, blackberry, oak, and a hint of paint-thinner. It is thick and warming, with a smooth, leathery-velvet flavor and a peppery kick. This is an excellent wine, but I wouldn’t pay $150 for it on a regular basis. Then again, I think it is very rare to find a wine that is worth that much with all of the quality wines available at or under $50. M thought this wine was absolutely perfect.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 4 Stars
Guest Reviewer M’s Rating: 5 Stars

10. Tomaiolo 1997 Chianti Classico Riserva: I got this one at The Italian Store, which was the subject of my last review. As I understand it, 1997 was a strong vintage for Chianti and this wine is no exception. It has a blackberry and cherry nose with a mellow flavor of tart cherry and a hint of pepper. Very nice. (M dropped out of the note taking at this point).
Wine with Dinner Rating: 4 Stars

11. Pelee Island Winery 2003 Vidal Ice Wine, Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada: I had heard good things about Canadian dessert wines, so I wanted to give one a try. This is a nice ice wine with apricot aroma and flavor. This is not too overpowering, but is sweet and soft. It is a good wine, but it does nothing in particular to stand out. Do not overspend on it.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 3 Stars

12. Wintergreen Vineyard & Winery Raspberry, Virginia: Lovely raspberry wine. Not too strong, just nice and sweet. Very drinkable and excellent with chocolate.
Wine with Dinner Rating: 5 Stars

Published in: on October 2, 2006 at 10:02 pm  Comments (6)