The Finger Lakes are known for their scintillating Rieslings. But the reds? With the exception of the occasional Pinot Noir and a few experiments with lesser-known varietals such as Saparavi, their red wines in general leave much to be desired. But this one attracted my attention because it is unusual, taking Cabernet Franc in a different direction that sets it apart from the other Bordeaux-style wines I tasted on my recent visit.
This is by far the most generous of the Cabernet Franc-based wines we tasted, an odd but intriguing wine that features explosive aromas, a juicy almost opulent midpalate, and then a finish that manages to be soft and smooth in texture but with lifted, bright, tart flavors as well. The nose opens with intense, exotic, spiced blackberry with new leather and surprising orange zest top notes that are given strength by low levels of volatile acidity (which smells like nail polish remover if the levels are too high). All wines have some volatile acidity but some people think any detectable amount is a flaw. I do not if it remains in the background and doesn’t cover up other aromas. In this case, that hint of VA seems to be pushing the flavors out of the glass giving them intensity and flair.
On the the palate the wine is lush and juicy at first, the velvety mid-palate playing counterpoint to a mineral seam, then progressing to an unusual crisp, citrus and cranberry-laden finish, very tart and lifted. The tannins are wonderfully integrated, drying but with no grip, allowing the prominent acidity to take center stage. This midstream change of character from lush to fiercely citric is surprising—and surprise when accomplished with quality is to be cherished.
70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot, White horse is the English translation of Cheval Blanc the renowned right bank Bordeaux wine that is a blend of these same grapes. I doubt the wines are similar but the White Horse does recall a traditional form of winemaking using open top fermentation, stem inclusion, ageing in exclusively neutral oak barrels, and without filtering or fining. Winemaker Kim Engle is committed to making what has come to be known as “natural wines” using native yeasts, the lowest level of sulfur possible, and minimal intervention in the winery.
The result is a unique wine, that seeks its own niche utterly unlike the Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, or the typical fare from the Finger Lakes.
For a musical pairing, the lush, generous, energetic, sound of West African songstress Angelique Kidjo will resonate: