Topic: RV: The Finger Lakes Region
Author: Carl Eppig (Searsport, ME)
Date: 20040629150657

The Finger Lakes Region of New York offers many Opportunes d’ Bacchus for serious pursuers of the grape and wine novices as well. There are dozens of lovely wineries clustered together around the three principal lakes; Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga. The smashing success of these vintners is Riesling. Unquestionably they now make the best Riesling in North America, and perhaps the rest of the New World. They offer the full versatility of the grape from bone dry to the cloyingly mellifluous. Just as in Germany, you can pick a Riesling to go with just about anything.

A white surprise in the Finger Lakes is Chardonnay. The cool climate more approximates the climate of Burgundy, than other Chardonnay venues such as California. The grape matures more slowly and develops its lovely varietal character splendidly. Many wineries offer versions that are either slightly oaked or completely oak free. We have not seen so many “unwooded” chards outside of Australia. We actually witnessed people buying Finger Lakes Chardonnay to send to relatives in California.

Other worthy whites in the region come from the hybrid grapes Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. There are also excellent blends of these with other grapes including Riesling and Chardonnay. As in other regions east of the Rocky Mountains the Seyval tends to come with some oak, while the Vidal usually stays oak free. Put your prejudices aside, and seek these out.

Finger Lakes red wine is an emerging story. Before European Vinifera grapes began to be successfully grown there, hybrid grapes such as Baco Noir ruled the day. There has been some success with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and even Lemberger are grown in more limited quantity and spotty quality. It is not nearly as easy to find a quality red than it is for the whites. If you like big, fruit bombs that you may be used to in California reds and those from other Old and New World Regions, the picking is very slim. If you are looking for more finesse in your reds, many of the Cab Francs and Pinots will suite you.

There are also some fine choices in the so-called Meritage wines which are American wines made in the Bordeaux style of blends. Some slightly outside the rules of the (American) Meritage Association’s guidelines have proprietary names such as Heron Hill’s Eclipse. Most of this genre in the Finger Lakes including the Eclipse have Cabernet Franc upfront (the primary grape in the blend). California Meritages and Red Bordeaux usually have Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot upfront.

Almost every winery offers other red blends along the same lines as their white blends; that is, using both Vinifera and hybrid grapes in the blend. Typically the “good stuff” in these blends comes from young vines, but many of them are excellent and inexpensive as well. Most operations also offer off dry and sweet red wines along with the dry ones.

Another Finger Lakes surprise is their sparkling wine. The leaner styles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of the region naturally led many of the wine makers to try to emulate that which come from the French region of Champagne. A handful of vintners make it in the “Methode Champenoise.” This involves finishing the wine after fermentation entirely in the bottle it will be sold in. The styles to look for are Brut and Blanc de Noir. There are also excellent sparklers made entirely from that wonderful Riesling.

Some recommended wineries moving from the western side of the region to the east are: Dr Konstantin Frank and Heron Hill on Keuka Lake; Glenora, Herman Weimer’s, Anthony Road, and Fox Run on the west side of Seneca Lake; Wagner Vineyards, and Logan Ridge on the east side of Seneca; and Knapp Winery on Cayuga Lake. Most of these have excellent restaurants associated with them, and Glenora also has a beautiful inn.

Wine prices are excellent compared to most of the rest of the world. Many quality wines run from $10 to $20. Novices as well as more experienced wine drinkers can find many selections in the under $10 category. Next time you are traveling east or west on I-90 in New York State turn south at exits 41 or 42 and explore this exciting though scarcely known wine region.