Featured Wine: Hudson Valley Tocai Friulano


Finding grapes that suit the local climate, soil and growing conditions – what the French call terroir – is the most intriguing aspect of making wine in the “new world.” While old Europe has had hundreds, even thousands of years to figure out which grapes grows best in which region, the Americans, Argentineans and Australians (to just start working out way through the list) are still learning. Sure, we know by now that California is ripe for Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza for Malbec and the Barossa Valley for Shiraz, but what about the vast areas that form the rest of these countries?

Here in the Hudson Valley for example, discounting the hybrids that handle well but make unexceptional wines, the options have so far proven limited. Cabernet Franc, for sure. Chardonnay, possibly. Pinot Noir, at a pinch, in the right hands. Which brings us to Millbrook, by far the most established and respected of the region’s dozen or so wineries. Owned by John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner for Agriculture and the man responsible for the “I Love New York” campaign, Millbrook has excelled at all three of these classic French varietals since its first vintage in 1985. But while it has had the decency to discontinue its awful Cabernet Sauvignon, it has not abandoned the search for other grapes suited to Dutchess County’s rather modest summers and very cold winters.

Its twentieth consecutive vintage makes Millbrook an old-timer by Hudson Valley standards.

That search has led Dyson – a wealthy individual who also owns wineries in California and Tuscany – to Tocai Friulano, from Italy’s Friuli region (but of course!), where it makes a white wine of bright fruit and quiet quality. Tocai Friulano is hardly a household name, and the wine has not caught on around New York State as per Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer (see my Finger Lakes reports), but Millbrook appears to be on to something. The wine is perennially popular, and a visit to the Millbrook web site suggests that they are already sold out of the 2005 vintage.

No matter. If I can buy it, so can you. The $15 cost is mildly disturbing, given that I can get many a genuine Italian white wine for the same price, but I’ve long learned not to expect bargains from the wineries on my doorstep. What I do get from this Tocai Friulao is a light yellowish hue with green tinges, and a nose of grapefruit and orange, with some melon in there too. The wine’s vibrant acidity is almost abrasively tangy, reminding me of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (Apparently, the grapes look similar on the vine, too.) And there’s a firm prickle at the back that may not be to everyone’s liking. But the wine is lively, juicy, fresh, even a little feisty. It went down just fine with a mild Asian curry (this before we noted the recommended match on the back of the bottle), and tasted even better the following night. This durability was hardly a surprise, given the hefty acidity, but reassuring all the same.

Tocai Fruilano’s modesty ensures that it will never command top scores or the accompanying high prices, but it’s proven a break-through for Millbrook. And it’s evidence that the Hudson Valley may have only just started down its path of discovery.

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September 2022