Finger Lakes Surprise 1996 Anthony Road Vignoles
Those of us who collect wine—or perhaps we do not so much collect it as gather it to us, obsessively and protectively—end up with some odd bottles. Or at least those of us do who don’t have all the money in the world so 1. sometimes buy wine that has escaped the notice of the well-heeled, 2. want to experience as many wines as possible, 3. and will try any wine once.
I write occasionally about these odd bottles. Odd, in this case, means both “left over as a remainder” and, more pertinently, “differing markedly from the usual or ordinary” (both definitions from online Merriam-Webster).
Every once in a while I go into my wine cellar to come forth with what is for me an uncommon bottle of wine. I will try the wine and, if I think it’s worthwhile, will write about it.
There’s a good chance it will be an old bottle. And if it’s an old bottle, there’s a good chance that it will be old enough to be considered over the hill. I adore old wines, and a good, old wine will have been enhanced by time; but a bad, old wine will have been spoiled. (The same might be said of human beings.)
The purpose here is not to write about wines the reader can go out and buy in that particular vintage; the purpose is to write about wines that perhaps no one else in the world is drinking at that particular time. It is to make available an experience of a wine that is unlikely to be experienced by the reader. And to encourage those readers with cellars of their own to go into them and come out with something peculiar. And to tell as many people about it as possible; or as many interested people (which may not be very many, and there’s nothing wrong with that).
I’ve written in this column about a spectacular 1977 Green & Red Chiles Canyon Zinfandel and an oxidized (but not with salmon!) 2005 Barmes-Buecher Sylvaner Rosenberg Vielle Vigne.
The wine for this article is a 1996 Anthony Road Finger Lakes Vignoles. I know I bought it soon after its vintage while visiting Seneca Lake, as I used to do regularly, but whether at the winery or at the compelling Northside Wine and Spirits in Ithaca, I don’t recall.
Vignoles is a hybrid grape first bred by Jean-Francois Ravat in France in 1930. Indeed, it was known unappealingly for forty years as Ravat 51, until the Finger Lakes Wine Growers Association renamed it (no one seems to know why) Vignoles. It’s somewhat high in both sugar and acid, which makes it suitable for the off-dry style favored by Anthony Road. (This information, and more, can be found at: http://fringewine.blogspot.com/2012/06/vignoles-finger-lakes-new-york-usa.html.)
Vignoles is an obscure enough grape to be mentioned only in a list (and a footnote) in the third edition of Leon D. Adams “definitive” Wines of America. In Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion, there’s only a Vignole (no s) in the index, which takes you to a Chianti named Vignole.
More surprisingly, there is no reference to it at all in The Oxford Companion to Wine (1994), edited by Jancis Robinson, and only these two words in her important Vines, Grapes, and Wines (1986), which is described by its publisher as the first complete guide to grape varieties: “Ravat (Vignoles).” (Boastful full disclosure: I was Jancis Robinson’s U. S. editor for The Great Wine Book, 1982.)
The 1996 Anthony Road Vignoles contains 3.8 percent residual sugar and 1.00 gram total acidity. It is described on its label as a “semi-sweet wine crisp with grapefruit flavors and ideal with fresh fruit and light desserts.” But what I paired it with, this past New Year’s Eve, was steamed lobster (in place of our usual Sauternes). The Vignoles was golden with age (and a bit of botrytis, to which the grape is highly subject) and altogether fine and fitting with the lobster, having held up for 15+ years and survived with its restrained sweetness relatively light on the tongue and its acidity just refreshing enough to complement the sweetness of the lobster flesh (and especially the copious, almost scarlet, roe in two of our three lobsters, all of which I ate, because foolish people keep giving me their roe!).
This was the only bottle in our cellar of any vintage of the Anthony Road (or any other Vignoles). If I’d known it would be this good, I would have saved it for a larger group; as it was, the three of us left at least a third of the bottle, and I drank it myself over the next week, a bit at a time, as it, quite remarkably, survived that long, providing the ongoing pleasure of, yes, quite an odd wine.
This vintage was $6.99 on release. The latest (2013) is $15.99 at the winery; other recent vintages can be found in retail stores for as little as $8.99.
Buy it. Try it. Or, apparently, age it and pair it some distant New Year’s Eve with lobster; or with, more spicily, a big steaming bowl of pho.
First published December 2014