Dr. Konstantin Frank - Winery Review

The winery of Dr. Konstantin Frank is considered by many to be the Grand Daddy of the wineries in the Finger Lakes.  No it is not as old as the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, or as embattled as Bully Hill, nor was it the first to gain major international recognition (like Gold Seal was).  It is however the work and determination of Dr. Konstantin Frank that made it possible to grow Vitis Vinifera (European) grapes in the cold winter climate of New York State.  Thankfully nearly 100 wineries have popped up in the Finger Lakes largely building on what Dr. Frank achieved.  Dr Frank winery tasting roomDr. Frank passed away in 1985.  Fortunately the wine of Dr. Frank continues to flow at the winery he founded.  The Vinifera Wine Cellars of Dr. Konstantin Frank are widely respected and have a notoriety that most of the wineries on the East Coast aspire to. 

The Wine

 Dr. Frank's wine is split into three labels:

  1. Dr. Frank - is the label for the estate grown (meaning the grapes are grown on land controlled by the winery) and tends to be a little more expensive.
  2. Chateau Frank - is the label for the estate bottled sparkling wines (Champagne)
  3. Salmon Run - is the label for the non estate wines and non-vintage blends.  Many are often noted as being great values (in the popular press) due to their lower cost yet great quality.

On this particular venture to "Grand Daddy's house" I sampled the Dry Riesling and consider it to be among the best in the region - Crisp and clean.   I enjoyed the Rkatsiteli but at $25 a bottle for a dry white wine I decided to leave it for the wealthy to enjoy.  It is an interesting varietal, and quite rare in this area and if it were the same price as the Dry Riesling ($18) I might have enjoyed it more.  The Gewurztraminer was fantastic and is a pin-up of what a Gewurztraminer should taste like.  Though as I looked over at my wife while she was tasting it and wrinkling up her nose, it reminded me that not everyone likes Gewurz.  Usually the better the a Gewurz is, the more she wrinkles her nose.  She hates it, but she tries it hoping that some day her taste might change and we'll be able to drink it together.  The Semi-Dry Riesling impressed me in that it was still quite dry but with a bit more fruit and less minerally that the Dry - suddenly I wished I had some Thai noodles to go with it.  I also tried the Salmon Run Riesling which to me was a great deal at $13.  At just less than 2% RS it was just a little sweeter than something I would drink in these cold Winter months, but when the days grow long again and the temperature rises this is a very nice Summer wine.  My last white on the list was the Salmon Run Cold Brook White which was a fun little wine (again nicely chilled on a Summer day would be perfect).  It is a blended off-dry wine that had enough citrus and fruit to go with light food or to settle on the armchair of an Adirondack chair.  At $9 a bottle it is a good buy.

As I moved on to the Reds I hit a little speed bump by trying the Dr. Frank Dry Rose'.  I enjoyed this mild wine that was balanced and delicate.  Nothing too overpowering, but nice. The true reds started with the Lemberger.  I enjoy this varietal as it has a smooth and silky taste and a texture to match.   I admire this wine, and at $30 a bottle that is all that's going to happen, from a distance.  I like it, but can't afford (will not allow myself to afford) to drink it.  Next I tried the Fleur de Pinot Noir.  Here is where I have to admit that, I typically don't like Pinot Noir (like my wife doesn't like Gewurz).  I think this wine is an excellent Pinot Noir and that PN fans will enjoy it, even if I don't.  Last up for the Dr. Frank label was the Cabernet Franc.  This was a warm full bodied wine, but seemed very heavy on the Tannins.  This was a 2006 being tasted in 2007, I think it could have been laid down for a longer period of time.  Aging and more breathing before tasting would help improve this wine.  It seemed to have a good foundation, but the tannic kick at the end made it hard to hang onto.  On the Salmon Run line, I enjoyed the Meritage.  It was robust and again a little strong on the tannins, but it was a freshly opened bottle so I overlooked that.  Being a 2004 I am sure that given a little time to breathe it would have mellowed a bit.  I also tried the Salmon Run Pinot Noir which I enjoyed a little bit more than the Dr. Frank PN.  I think it was due to the hints of pepper.  Not overly strong but just enough to give it a flavor I enjoyed (which is unusual for me and a Pinot Noir).  I finished out my tasting with the Salmon Run Coho Red which is a smooth blended stainless wine that tipped the RS scale at 3% which is a little sweet for me.  However, it was surprisingly well balanced with enough acid to prevent the sweetness from overstaying its welcome on my tongue.  Given a warm enough day, I could have a lot of fun with this wine.  ;-)

The Setting

Upon driving up the hill from Hammondsport to the winery I was looking forward to seeing the new tasting room that had been built this year.  Unfortunately, they had already closed it up for the Winter.  It looked nice from the outside.  Now I realize that being named Northeast Winery of the year 4 times in a row and bringing in lots of medals and recognition from all over the world means that they have to take some steps to control the tasting crowd that many of the other wineries in The Finger Lakes might not have to.  This past year they enacted a waiting line to get inside and taste.  They did this to keep the crowd down in the tasting room and give you a better experience with the wine flight attendant (the new bigger tasting room I think is also supposed to help with this - but it was closed for the winter).  This December day was like many with temperatures below freezing.  There were only 8 cars in the parking lot.  As we entered the covered unheated porch and opened the door to the tasting room we were greeted by a velvet rope across the door asking us to wait in the porch area until someone invites us in.  There were a dozen people tasting inside, 4 people pouring, and plenty of room at each of the three tasting counters. So there we waited for 11 minutes (timed, not estimated) in the unheated porch, waiting.  If there had been a crowd, it might have made sense, and at least the extra bodies on the porch would have helped us stay warm. But just the two of us locked on the porch seemed poorly thought out.  Finally a flight attendant let us in.  Now I thought the great service would start and it would melt away my frozen memories of the porch.  I have always been impressed by the wine flight attendants at Dr. Franks in my other visits.  Often they have been interns from as far away as the UK and Australia.  They have always impressed me with their knowledge, and professionalism, and they've been interesting to talk with.  This time around was not so interesting.  Our attendant poured each sample and then started to tell us about the wine and mid-sentence would slide down the bar and finish his sentence just out of earshot and standing in front of other people who were not even tasting what we were.  This happened time and time again...I started wondering if I had forgotten to shower...sniff sniff..nope, showered and deodorized.  He was knowledgeable about the wine and answered questions if you asked, but always sliding off before the answer was complete.  I would have completely understood this behavior if the place was packed, but it wasn't.  I've been to this winery several times, and this is definitely not the typical treatment for the winery.  I am quite certain that by the time the frigid days of January set in, they will have re-thought their wait in line on the porch policy.

Overall, if you enjoy dry wine you should consider making the trip to Keuka Lake and tasting at Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. It's not just hype, it really is great wine.

Other reviewers of Dr. Frank's wine:

Fred Frank on Rkatsiteli (video)

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Dr. Konstantin Frank

Dr. Konstantin Frank is a must stop for me whenever I'm on my way to visit my family in Rochester. It's one of the best of the great Finger Lakes Wineries.