The lineup for today's sweepstakes round of the 2008 New York Wine & Food Classic pretty much backed up a claim often made by the state's vintners: New York makes more kinds of wine than any other state. Fifty wines were up for the competition's highest honor, the Governor's Cup. Many of them were varietals you don't find made in California: traminette, vignoles, cayuga, vergennes and rkatsiteli, to name a few. Ten rieslings were nominated for the Governor's Cup, the biggest contingent in the final series of votes, but they represented four different styles of wine, from bone dry to an "ice wine" with 18 percent residual sugar, further reflecting the wide range of wines made in New York.
Incidentally, not a single gewurztraminer or pinot noir made it to the sweepstakes round, not because the varieties aren't grown in New York but because judges couldn't find any candidates worthy of nominating, a development puzzling to the competition's organizers. Nor was any zinfandel nominated for sweepstakes, which wasn't surprising at all given that the variety doesn't seem to be grown in the state.
The sweepstakes round involved whittling the field down to a handful of wines - best white wine, best dessert wine and so forth. From those last few nominees, the Governor's Cup winner eventually was singled out. This year's winner is the Swedish Hill Winery 2007 Finger Lakes Vidal Blanc, which sells for $11. Vidal blanc is the name of the grape, a French/American hybrid developed in Bordeaux by crossing the obscure variety ugni blanc with the even more obscure variety seibel 4986. A lot of this sort of breeding goes on in New York as vintners try to come up with vines that both yield the kind of fruity flavors people like in wine and possess the strength to survive in a hostile climate - humid in the summer, freezing in the winter. The winning Swedish Hill vidal blanc is a pretty wine, distinctly floral in smell, fruity in flavor and persistent in finish. It has nearly two percent sugar, but it didn't taste that sweet thanks to the crispness of its nicely balancing acidity. It has fruit qualities that invite comparisons with riesling, but its body felt rounder and fleshier than the rieslings. Just a little more than 100 acres of vidal blanc are grown in New York, so whether it ever will become a major player in the state's continuing viticulture development remains uncertain. In the voting for best white wine, which the Swedish Hill had to win to be up for the Governor's Cup, it just barely edged out the Hosmer Winery 2007 Finger Lakes Cayuga Lake Riesling, which sells for $12. Unfortunately for Californians looking for either a new kind of wine to explore or a riesling that delivers plenty of intense flavor at a bargain price, not much of either the Swedish Hill or the Hosmer is going to make it to the West, if at all. The Finger Lakes this time of year, however, is a great place to visit.