The long, slender lakes lying south of Rochester and Syracuse in upstate New York have beckoned visitors to their shores for years. It’s not just the picturesque scenery of the Finger Lakes region that offers a respite during summer but also the cool, crisp wines that are finally getting national recognition.
Steamy temps call for crisp, refreshing wines, and Rieslings can be an excellent choice to pair with summer menus or to sip lazily by the pool. While the varietal is produced in many areas, the Finger Lakes Rieslings truly capture a summer-in-the-glass essence that surprises many wine lovers who are not familiar with the region.
Until last summer, I was among those oenophiles who turned up my nose at Rieslings because I found many of them to be too sweet with no depth or character. An online wine “chat” one evening piqued my curiosity because all of the expert panelists were raving about the Rieslings — particularly the ones from Finger Lakes. I had read that the Finger Lakes area was an emerging wine tourism region, but so are many other places that produce “touristy” wines. I was surprised as I listened to wine experts from around the country praise qualities such as purity, crispness, and elegance in Finger Lakes wines.
The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a nonprofit corporation formed to increase the visibility and reputation of its wines, is masterful in using social media to promote the Finger Lakes American Viticulture Area (AVA). Regular online programs and videos offer education and information about the area’s wines. Through the Alliance, I was able to acquire several Rieslings that represented a broad spectrum of flavors and to ask several winemakers about the region.
With more than 11,000 acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes region is the largest wine-producing area east of California and one that has an illustrious history. Glaciers formed the deep, freshwater lakes thousands of years ago and left mineral deposits that make the wines unique. Its wine-growing roots can be traced to a rectory garden where the Rev. William Bostwick planted Finger Lakes’ first vineyard in 1829. The most reverence, however, is given to Dr. Konstantin Frank, who is credited with elevating Finger Lakes wines from mediocre jug wines to world-renowned varietals.
A professor of plant sciences with a Ph.D. in viticulture, Dr. Frank believed it was the lack of proper rootstock — not the cold climate — that caused the failure of the Vitis Vinifera, or common grape vine. His research for growing the European Vinifera grape varieties in cold climates eventually led the way for Northeastern winemakers to produce European varieties of wines.
In 1962, Dr. Frank established his own winery near Keuka Lake, and today, Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars is New York’s most award-winning winery. The 2012 Dry Riesling has a soothing, floral aroma that makes the tart citrus flavors a pleasant surprise. Of all the Finger Lakes wines I sampled, this had the most mineral characteristics and a tight acidity that balanced the fruity residual sugars.
The Lamoreaux Landing 2011 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling was described as medium-dry, and it paired perfectly with roast pork. Produced from one of Lamoreaux’s newest vineyards, the Riesling had subtle notes of honeysuckle and pears — two of my favorites.
At the other end of the spectrum was the Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard 2010 Riesling, which was sweeter than the other wines but still well balanced and food-friendly. Assistant winemaker Kelby Russell told workshop participants that what is in the barrels now (the 2012 harvest) would be “the full opposite.” Red Newt, he explained, did not want to be shackled to a particular flavor profile.
Luckily, most wines from the Finger Lakes have the International Riesling Foundation Taste Profile scale printed on the label. Seeing the degree of sweetness before you buy is always helpful, especially when flavors can change from year to year.
Still very affordable, Finger Lakes wines are usually handcrafted. Most wineries ship to Florida and several are working on getting distribution to this area. With the recent publicity in national publications such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, it’s only a matter of time before we see Finger Lakes wines in our favorite shops or restaurants.[divider_1px]
SOURCES: Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, www.fingerlakeswinealliance.com (Accessed May 20, 2013); Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson, Publisher: Sterling Epicure, April 2012.
Written by Mary Ann DeSantis