In August 2015, I had the good fortune of visiting Hudson-Chatham Winery, Columbia County New York’s first winery, founded in 2006 by Carlo and Dominique DeVito. I told their story and reviewed three of their Baco Noirs. I also brought another one of their wines back to California, the 2013 Chelois, Casscles Vineyards ($24.95 at the winery). I tasted this wine twice during my daylong visit and it captivated my palate and my heart. Carlo was so kind as to give me a bottle. I made a promise to review it. I was not sure when I would taste it again, but I knew it was worthy of a great showing.
As the holidays approached, I did not initially have plans for Thanksgiving. Such is the life of being single and living across the country away from family. I could not travel because I was not sure if I had any time off except for that one day. A cook and food writer friend, known as the The Sassy Kitchen, soon to be Tasting My Way, invited me to her place for Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to bring an all-American lineup of wines from California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. I selected wines for the duration: pre-dinner, appetizers, salad, dinner, and after dinner. All were special to me and hailed from producers I had recently visited and loved. I was a little nervous about the East Coast wines, since I live and work in Napa Valley, which is so California-centric. Furthermore, chelois is also a lesser-known hybrid grape and many people tend to shy away from such varieties. I still do not understand that perspective, but that is perhaps a topic for a future post.
When I was making my wine choices, I pulled the 2013 Chelois out of storage, which took me back to that day at Hudson-Chatham Winery. I had taken two photos of that wine, which were still on my phone. I remembered how much I enjoyed it and my visit and thought, “This is the one.” I know this sounds crazy, but I believe this wine chose me, too. It certainly seemed meant to be, as it was the wine of the evening, pairing perfectly with everything served during the main course, which included turkey, gravy, two kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, au gratin potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, green beans, and carrots.
Chelois is an Albert Seibel hybrid, Seibel 10878, which is a cross of Seibel 5163 and 5593. According to the Hudson-Chatham winery website, its heritage is about 50% Vitis vinifera and includes Dattier, Aramon, Alicante Bouschet, Black Hamburg, Grenache, Piquepoul, and others. The grapes for this wine come from winemaker Steven Casscles’ own vineyards, Casscles Vineyards, in Athens, New York. I asked Carlo if he could shed light on the 2013 vintage. He shared with me the production process. The grapes were handpicked and the wine handmade from start to finish. The grapes were harvested at 22 brix. A 100-year-old press was used, and during pressing, Carlo said the juice tasted like fresh cherries. The wine was also unfiltered and unfined. It was then aged for 18 months in two-year-old French oak.
In the glass, the wine is a clear, pale, ruby red. On the nose and palate, it is beautiful, with delicate aromas and flavors that reflect its source. The Casscles Vineyards’ fruit and terroir reveal themselves as an exquisite interplay of earthiness and juicy, red berries, accompanied by a kiss of caramel from the gently used French cooperage. The combination of lower alcohol (12% ABV), soft tannins, and vibrant acidity is why this chelois complements a variety of foods. Its elegance and subtlety allowed the Thanksgiving fare to shine, which is really what you want in a wine and food pairing.
During the course of the meal, none of us could stop raving about how well this wine worked. It was a dinner replete with oohs, ahs, and wows for both the chelois and the plentiful food. In fact, the deliriously great pairing caused me to exclaim, “Whoa!” in my best impression of The Drunken Cyclist. I was relieved and delighted that this seemingly unlikely wine from New York really was the one.