The Barrel Experience at Dr. Konstantin Frank’s 1886 Room

Following my last blog post about Dr. Konstantin Frank’s 1886 Room Sparkling Experience, we were invited by Meaghan Frank to be their guests at the October 1886 Room experience. While the 1886 building itself is used for sparkling wine- riddling, disgorging, and racking- the tasting room’s events change each month, meaning you can return for a new experience every four weeks.

October’s theme is Barrel Series, with the goal being to show the guests what goes in to the production of a barrel aged wine from planting to aging. Our tour started with an introduction to the vineyards and the winery. While we walked through the vineyard, we sipped a glass of their 2012 Brut sparkling wine, a classic Champagne-style blend that had notes of custard, pear, and buttered bread, with a nice apple and mid-acidity on the palate. Perfect notes to get you in the mood to learn about harvest season.

From Vine to Barrel to Glass

After learning a bit about the history of the winery and harvest, we headed into the barrel room located near the main Dr. Frank tasting room. We walked down the concrete steps into the basement space, and were greeted by hundreds of different barrels of wine. Dr. Frank’s uses a variety of European barrels, including Hungarian and French oak.

Traditionally, oak barrels were used for aging wine because it was the only container they had until metal and plastic containers became more reliable. But there are other reasons for continuing the oak tradition. Oak adds flavor compounds like aromas of vanilla, spice, coconut and butter; it makes wine smoother and less acidic; and it provides a perfect location for malolactic fermentation- which makes your Chardonnays taste creamier.

Different types of barrels add different flavor components. French oak imparts buttery notes, American oak gives the wine coconut and vanilla notes, and Hungarians adds interesting spice and smoke. Wines can either be done in a single oak, or come from a mix of them if multiple flavors are desired.

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Dr. Frank’s Lemberger uses a mix of oak barrels to complement the unique flavors of this wine. We tried the 2016 Lemberger straight out of an American oak barrel. The wine is still quite young and needs more time, so it had notes of tart raspberries and cranberries, and aged meat, with sour cherry on the palate, fresh acidity, and a nice drying tannin.

Pairing Barrel Aged Wines with Small Bites

Next, we walked through the Riesling vineyard and returned to the 1886 room for the delicious portion of the event: the food pairing.

All of the food for this amazing tasting was prepared by Chef Nyssa Trepes of Kismet Catering Co., a local chef from Naples, NY, who uses local and sustainable ingredients to create fabulous and delicious creations. She prepares all of the delicious bites for these 1886 tastings!

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Dr. Frank 2015 Chardonnay has notes of vanilla, honey, apple and butter, with a bright citrus and apple on the palate, a creamy mouthfeel, and a nice cleansing acidity. This was paired with roasted butternut squash with toasted wheat berries, crisp green apple and dried cranberries (and for those who can eat nuts it had pecans). When sipped with the food, the wine became brighter, emphasizing the apple and acidity.

Dr. Frank 2014 Hilda Chardonnay was much toastier and intense than the regular Chardonnay, with notes of honeydew, brown butter, honeysuckle and spice, which continued on the palate with a lower acidity and buttery notes lingering. I’ll admit this isn’t quite my style of wine, but when tasted with the food, which was a buckwheat scone with whipped honey butter, spiced candied fennel and orange marmalade, it became one of my favorite pairings ever. The wine emphasized the spice of the fennel, and the food made the wine taste like candied fruit and honey, creating something rich and delectable. It was an incredible pairing choice.

Dr. Frank Old Vines Pinot Noir has aromas of leather, smoke, close and sour cherry, with fruitier notes of the palate and a chalky lingering tannin. This was paired with a tamale with curried lentils, sweet potato masa and onion chutney. When sampled together, the cherry notes in the wine and curry notes in the food were amplified, and the chalky tannin became much smoother.

Dr. Frank 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon had notes of raspberry and black pepper, with some hints of smoke. On the palate it had a surprisingly light body, chalky big tannins, and a nice spicy finish. This was my personal favorite of the wines. It was paired with a wild mushroom and blue cheese pastry top with port soaked currants (and walnuts if you can eat them). The wine really upped the umami and savory flavors of the dish, making it taste meaty despite being vegetarian.

We ended the experience with a tasting at the downstairs 1886 bar where we sampled some of the other wines and had the opportunity to purchase the ones we liked.

Planning Your Visit

Hours: The 1886 Reserve Tasting Room is by appointment and only available during their tasting experiences. You still have time to do their October theme around barrel tasting.

Not going to be able to make the October Barrel Series? Check out their Holiday Wine Flight, which will include 6 wines paired with 6 small bites inspired by holiday dishes.

Tasting Fee: $35 for non-members, $25 for Dr. Frank club members.

Final Thoughts

This is a really wonderful experience, and a great way to build your wine knowledge. I’m very grateful to Meaghan Frank for inviting us to be their guests at this tasting, and a big thank you to Allen, who led this incredible experience and is a fount of wine knowledge. Dr. Frank’s is an important landmark in Finger Lakes wine history, so it’s both informative and fun to get to learn more about where they’ve come from and what they are doing next. If you get the chance, I highly suggest checking out their October Barrel Series.

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