By Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner
Riesling is the king of the Finger Lakes, and most would agree that the Finger Lakes region consistently produces some of the best riesling in the United States. Similarly, riesling's Alsatian cousin gewürztraminer fares well in this region although its hard-to-pronounce name is sometimes a tricky sell with the casual consumer.
So, how about rkatsiteli? Rkatiswhat? Rkatsiteli (pronounced R-kats-i-teli) is in fact one of the most planted varietals in the world and is grown throughout Eastern Europe.
In Western Europe and the United States, however, Rkatsiteli is very rare. The grape is similar in style to Riesling and Gewurztraminer--crisp and acidic with a harmony of floral, citrus and spicy notes.
Lenn recently gave rave reviews to Dr. Konstantin Frank's 2006 Rkatsiteli. Surprisingly, Dr. Frank's is the only Finger Lakes producer that grows rkatsiteli. I recently corresponded with Fred Frank, president and owner of Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, about the future of rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes.
He told me that Dr. Frank's has been producing rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes since the 1950s. Dr. Frank himself saw the grape one that was well-suited for a colder climate after encountering the grape during his studies in Eastern Europe. But, one of the reasons that rkatsiteli may not have taken off as an Eastern U.S. wine is that it is susceptible to fungus and is not as winter hardy as Riesling. In cooler vintages, it can be extremely difficult to tone down the acidity.
Currently, Dr. Frank's has 10 acres of rkatsiteli planted and produces about 3000 cases each year. Fred Frank considers 2006 a great growing season for rkatsiteli, and this wine recently won a Gold Medal at the New World International Wine Competition and was also awarded Best in Class.
Despite the fact that other Finger Lakes growers have not embraced rkatsiteli as of yet, there are other wineries in the Eastern U.S. that are growing it.
Horton Vineyards in Virginia, Tomasello Winery in New Jersey, and Wesport Rivers Vineyards & Winery in Massachusetts are all producing rkatsiteli. As the demand for Eastern U.S. wine grows, and consumers become less intimated by difficult names, perhaps other wineries will give this promising varietal a try.