Fraise from Alison Wines and Vineyards.
Ric Lewit, owner and winemaker at Alison Wines and Vineyards outside Red Hook, New York, works by a proven maxim: "If you make something true to your area," he says, "you'll end up with something delicious."
So among his more traditional grape-based vintages, Lewit crafts one of our favorite summer treats: Fraise, a strawberry wine with a slightly sweet but still refreshing burst of berry flavor. Call it low-sugar, all-fruit, liquid jam. Forget the cheap strawberry ripple we may have drunk as teenagers. Fraise is a very adult drink: perfect mixed with champagne for an aperitif or chilled and straight up alongside chocolate mousse.
Alison Vineyards lies in the Hudson River Valley about two hours north of New York City. This microclimate benefits from warmer breezes funneled up the valley. The place is strawberry heaven: they're in abundance-so much so that some farmers have trouble selling their hauls in markets and at produce stands. In 2002, Lewit offered to buy up some of the slack so he could try his hand at strawberry wine. He began making small batches of different varietals. "It's sort of like working with grapes," he says, "but far more forgiving." After all, the fruit's sugar content is consistently high (grapes can vary widely) and the flavor across various varietals-from tiny fraise de bois to those big, sweet berries preferred for preserves and sundaes-is fairly uniform.
These days, Lewit and a few workers start each vintage by hulling over half a ton of strawberries by hand. Lewit mixes the fruit with yeast, lets it ferment and then skims off the pulp, skins and impurities before adding some sugar and bottling the wine. He ends up with about 100 cases a year, an easy sell-out with such an opulent taste: fruity with hints of acidity.
He's had customers tell him they've laid by some bottles to age, but he counsels otherwise. It doesn't age, hasn't been rested in oak, and gains nothing by storage. "Strawberry wine is for now; we'll be making more next year." Indeed they will-but we'd advise getting your order in this year before Alison Wineries sells out of this bright, surprising spark of Hudson River terroir in a glass. Fraise NV, $18/375 ml half-bottle; 845-758-6335 or alisonwines.com.