Finger Lakes Wine Diary (Sept. 30, 1997)
The Finger Lakes region poses a challenge to the wine lover in a hurry. With many of its vineyards stretched along both sides of three different lakes (Seneca, Cayuga and Keuka), connected by two-lane rural roads, and with no bridges or ferries crossing the 30-mile-long, riverlike lakes, it's essentially impossible to tour the entire area in a single day.
Map courtesy of Friends of the Finger Lakes.
Key numbers in red indicate the location of
wineries mentioned below: Hermann J.
Wiemer (1), Prejean (2), Anthony Road (3),
Fox Run (4), Amberg (5), Dr. Frank (6),
Standing Stone (7) and Lamoreaux Landing (8).
To keep things simple during a recent visit, I limited my half-day tour to the west shore of Seneca Lake, a strikingly beautiful area of rolling fields that may be one of the few wine areas in the world where cornfields (maize to our European cousins) and vineyards thrive in juxtaposition. In a relatively quick trip of about 20 miles south from Geneva toward Penn Yan, N.Y., I was able to visit five vineyards, including three of the most highly regarded: Hermann J. Wiemer, Anthony Road and Fox Run. If I had had time for the roughly 60-mile route all the way around Seneca Lake (down to Watkins Glen and back up the East shore), I would also have visited -- in order -- Glenora, Hazlitt, Standing Stone (open only weekends), Wagner and Lamoreaux Landing, which would make for a fairly complete exposure to the Finger Lakes' best.
My overall conclusions: Forget the French-hybrid grapes, and approach the rare red varietals cautiously, although reports of the occasional prize-winning Pinot Noir or Merlot are beginning to emerge. German and Alsatian-style Rieslings, from dry to sweet, seem to offer the region's greatest hope for truly world-class wines, with rich Gewurztraminers and dry, lean Chardonnays made more in the style of France than California also showing promise.
Here, in order from south to north, are my quick notes from several West
Shore tasting rooms, a wine run that I was able to make in about a three-hour
round trip from Geneva, which is just off the New York Thruway (I-90) about
halfway -- one hour or less either way -- between Syracuse and Rochester.
HERMANN J. WIEMER VINEYARD INC., DUNDEE, N.Y.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Chardonnay ($12)
Pale greenish-gold. Lovely green-apple and bread-dough aromas; crisp and tart on the palate. Sees seven months in French oak, but the oakiness is subtle and restrained.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Reserve Chardonnay ($16)
Very pale straw color. Delicious chestnuts and apple-like Chardonnay fruit on the nose and palate, dry, full and rich, almost creamy in the finish.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Pinot Noir ($13)
Very pale, pretty rose color. Green and herbal aromas; thin, herbaceous and tart.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Dry Johannisberg Riesling ($9)
Very pale incolor, with a lovely floral aroma and tart, almost dry flavor, racy and crisp.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer ($12)
Pale gold. Lovely peach and almond aromas, a delight. Dry, light and crisp, with a pleasant bitter-almond quality in the finish. About as good a Gewurz as I've ever tasted from the U.S.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Johannisberg Riesling Semi-Dry ($10)
Pale gold, with good apple and peach aromas. Luscious, slightly sweet flavor well structured with firm acidity.
Hermann J. Wiemer 1995 Finger Lakes Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling ($16)
pale brass color with delicious Riesling aromas of apples and pine. Fresh and clean, hints of botrytis. Steely acidity balances intense fresh-fruit sweetness.
PREJEAN WINERY, PENN YAN, N.Y.
Prejean 1995 Finger Lakes Dry Johannisberg Riesling ($8.99)
Pale brass color. Lovely Riesling apples on the nose and palate, tart and crisp. Tasty wine.
Prejean 1995 Finger Lakes Chardonnay ($7.99)
Very pale color. Cooking apples aromas, crisp and dry. Fermented in stainless steel, sees no oak.
Prejean 1995 Finger Lakes Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay ($11.99)
Pale in color, with an odd but pleasant earthy aroma that signals sur lie aging in oak. Crisp and full, creamy flavor, clean and lingering. Impressive.
Prejean 1996 Finger Lakes White Merlot ($11.99)
I tried to reject this apparent "blush" wine, but the tasting room staffer insisted with a friendly grin, and I'm glad I let her talk me into it. No insipid blush this but a true rose, lovely pale salmon in color, fresh sour cherries on the nose, and a crisp, dry and herbal flavor reminiscent of Provence.
ANTHONY ROAD WINE COMPANY, INC., PENN YAN, N.Y.
Anthony Road non-vintage Finger Lakes Vintner's Select Red ($7.99)
Clear scarlet color. Red-fruit aromas with a hint of "foxy" native-grape aromas (it's actually made from the hybrids Baco Noir, Rougeon and De Chaunac); juicy berry fruit, thin and tart.
Anthony Road 1996 Finger Lakes Riesling ($7.99)
Very pale in color. Nice apple and pine scents; steely acidity frames good green-apple fruit.
Anthony Road 1996 Finger Lakes Chardonnay ($9.99)
Green apple and odd but intriguing pine resin aromas. Very tart and lean flavor. Forty percent of it was barrel fermented in American (!) oak, then blended with a batch fermented in stainless, of which 40 percent saw malolactic fermentation. Definitely not California style, but not Burgundian either.
Anthony Road 1996 Finger Lakes Vignoles ($6.99)
Pale gold in color. Delicious honey-apricot aromas, some botrytis, a whiff of volatile acidity. Flavors consistent with the nose; tart acidity cloaks significant sweeteness at the 3.8 percent residual sugar level.
Anthony Road 1996 Finger Lakes Late Harvest Vignoles ($13.99/375 ml)
Bright gold in color. Lovely honey and herbal scents. Full, fresh fruit sweetness, luscious and rich, over a firm acidic core. First-rate!
FOX RUN VINEYARDS, PENN YAN, N.Y.
Fox Run 1996 Finger Lakes Chardonnay ($8.49)
Pale greenish-gold. Yeasty rising bread dough aromas; apples and fresh baked bread flavors, dry and tart.
Fox Run 1996 Finger Lakes Reserve Chardonnay ($11.99)
Very pale color. Aromatic, apples and nutlike scents. Tasty spicy oak, apples and pears, long, dry and tart.
Fox Run 1996 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($9.99)
Pale brass color. Delicious Riesling aromas, apples and conifers. Full and tart flavor, near-dry, excellent.
Fox Run 1996 Finger Lakes Riesling ($8.99)
Pale greenish-gold. Apples, honey and mineral aromas lead into a full fruit flavor, fresh sweetness well balanced by steely acidity.
Also, off the shore but strategically placed on the old two-lane highway between Geneva and Canandaigua, N.Y.:
AMBERG WINE CELLARS, CLIFTON SPRINGS, N.Y.
Amberg 1995 Finger Lakes Chardonnay "Sur-Lie" ($8.50)
Pale straw color. Odd aromatic scent, nutlike; sherrylike flavor, goes beyond sur-lie earthiness; seems oxidized.
Amberg 1995 Finger Lakes Chardonnay "Barrel Select" ($9.99)
Pale greenish hue. Medicinal aroma, witch hazel. Tart, walnutty, oxidized.
Amberg 1995 Finger Lakes Riesling "Semi-Sweet" ($7.50)
Pale straw color. Light apple aromas. Lightweight, simple, tart-sweet.
Amberg 1994 Finger Lakes "Gypsy" ($4.99)
Said to be made from "Traminet," a Cornell cross between Gewurz and an unknown varietal. Resembles a lightweight Gewurz: Pale greenish-gold, with good litchee aromas and sweet apricot and litchee flavors, a bit thin and light.
Amberg 1993 Finger Lakes Pinot Noir ($10.99)
Light rose color. Perfumed scent. Soft on the attack, finishes tart and short. No obvious Pinot character.
Amberg 1995 Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99)
Surprisingly dark in color for a New York red. Raisiny fruit aromas, some oxidation, light foxy aromas; tart, herbal, juicy fruit, not typical of Cabernet. I'm suspicious that there's Chancellor or another inky hybrid in the blend, but the tasting-room pourer says it's all Cab.
OTHER FINGER LAKES WINE NOTES
In addition, I tasted the following Finger Lakes wines purchased at retail in the region, including selections from a few other well-regarded Finger Lakes wineries -- Dr. Frank, Standing Stone and (to be added soon) Lamoreaux Landing, that I wasn't able to reach on my recent quick tour:
Fox Run Vineyards non-vintage Blanc de Blancs Finger Lakes Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine ($13.99)
Very pale brass color with a frothy mousse that dissipates fast, leaving fat bubbles lining the glass. Fresh apple aromas and a very tart green-apple flavor, bone-dry and acidic. Sour green apples linger in a long finish. Interesting wine, certainly competitive with California sparklers at the same general price point, and less cloying than most of them.
Prejean 1996 Finger Lakes Cayuga White ($6.49)
Light pea-green color, almost watery pale. Simple, grapey fruit aroma somewhat flawed by a sulfury "burnt-match" quality on the nose. Better on the palate, good green-apple fruit, very tart acidity more than balancing a slightly off-dry flavor.
Dr. Konstantin Frank 1995 New York Gewürztraminer ($12.49)
Pale copper color, looks more like a rosé than a white. Delicious scents of litchees and grapefruit. Flavors follow the nose, a burst of pink grapefruit and spice. Slight fresh-fruit sweetness is well balanced by crisp, citric acidity. A slight, pleasant bitter-almond quality lingers in a long finish. Excellent wine. (I wonder why the appellation is "New York," since the back label implies estate production at Wiemer's Seneca Lake vineyard.)
Standing Stone Vineyards 1995 Finger Lakes Riesling ($8.99)
Pale greenish-gold. Good floral scent, wildflowers and a whiff of mint. Quaffable and refreshing flavors, but a bit on the simple side, without much Riesling character, and surprisingly short on structural acidity for a Finger Lakes wine. Not up to the high quality of most of the other Rieslings I've tasted on this trip, or to Standing Stone's excellent reputation.