A glimpse at Hudson Valley wines


The big winners from the 2018 Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.

A week ago I hopped in my road-trip loving Prius and sped up the New Jersey Turnpike with my BFF Susan. Our destination? The Hudson Valley in New York where I was a judge in the Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition where I got my first real taste of the wines of the Hudson Valley. In fact, I got my first real taste of the Hudson Valley, and I'm a little bit in love.

As we were making our way to our AirBnB for the weekend, we drove through the town of New Paltz and my road-trip loving Prius pulled right into the parking lot of the Groovy Blueberry. The enormous blueberry-colored peace sign outside the store called to my car and it couldn't resist. I didn't take much time in the store because we needed to get to our rooms to check in for the night, but I could have spent a lot of time in that sells "happy, hippy, tie-dyeing, groovy" clothes made by locally by hand by local artisans (so says the store's website). I did a quick once around the store, grabbed a tapestry that I'll use as a table cloth when camping, and hopped back in the car to be on our way. As we drove through New Paltz and saw a shoe store that prominently displayed Birkenstock's, I had that feeling of, "these are my people."

We stayed in the nearby town of Kingston, a short 20-minute drive to the festival fairgrounds in Rhinebeck. The competition was one part of the festival, along with a walk around tastings and local craft vendors and food vendors.

As a judge, I was part of a team that blind tasted several varieties of wine made at Hudson Valley wineries.

What I discovered is that Hudson Valley seems to be in a similar stage of development as New Jersey when it comes to wine, a similar stage as many East Coast wine regions are in at the moment. Here's what I wrote on Instagram after the event.

I find that as I discover more #eastcoastwine that it’s clear - with time, no one will question whether quality wines come from the East Coast. I tasted some really good wines and came to the conclusion the #hudsonvalley and #njwine have a lot in common - regions that are in the midst of figuring out what grows well and the best winemaking techniques to use with those grapes - and the learning curve is moving quickly.

The winners from the competition are the ones that are doing just fine figuring it out.

  • Winery of the Year: Benmarl Winery

  • Best in Show: 2012 Benmarl Winery Blanc de Blancs (pictured at right)

  • Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine (made with Hudson Valley Fruit): 2017 Benmarl Sweet Sarah

  • Best Sparkling: 2012 Benmarl Winery Blanc de Blancs

  • Best in Category - White Wine: 2017 Clinton Vineyards Riesling

  • Best in Category - Red Wine: 2015 Millbrook Vineyard & Winery Proprietor’s Special Reserve Cabernet Franc

  • Best Rosé: 2017 Fjord Vineyard Rosé of Cabernet Franc

  • Best Fruit Wine: 2017 Glorie Farm Winery Peach

  • Best Dessert Wine: 2017 Benmarl Sweet Sarah

  • Best Cider: Angry Orchard Baldwin

  • Best Spirit: Shady Knoll Distillery Rye Whiskey

The big winner was Benmarl with five of the top honors. I was particularly impressed with their Blanc de Blancs. It's a bubbly I would serve in my home any day. The festival website has a complete list of participating wineries and their standings in the competition.

Image from NewYorkwines.org

The Hudson Valley is a designated American Viticultural Area with 57 wineries according to New York Wines. Most of the wineries are located with a mile or two of the banks of the Hudson River. The region boasts the longest continuously running winery in America, Brotherhood Winery established in 1839.

The region is stunningly beautiful. I'm amazed I live just three hours south, yet I've never explored the Hudson Valley before and it's now on my go-again list. Here are a few places Susan and I discovered while we were there that we enjoyed.

  • Brunette Wine Bar. A tiny wine bar in Kingston with a small but interesting list of wines and beer, plus a food menu designed around the drinks.

  • Rough Draft Bar & Books. A bookstore with a beer, cider and wine bar in it is a place I want to spend a lot of time in.

  • Vanderbilt Mansion and Home of Franklin D Roosevelt. While I was judging wine, Susan was getting her history on by touring two of Rhinebeck's most famous historical mansions.

With just 48 hours in the Hudson Valley, we discovered just a fraction of the wine, restaurants, shops and history there is to be found in this region of New York State.

Coincidentally, fellow wine and travel writer Lauren Mowery just published a piece on Forbes, A Catskills Revival: Where to Eat, Drink and Play Upstate. She has additional recommendations for Kingston, as well as ones for a few other cities in the region, including Woodstock.

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