Hurricane Joaquin disrupted my vacation to Block Island this week so we hastily planned a road trip to the Finger Lakes area, a wine region in upstate NY. The Finger Lakes, 90 miles southeast of Buffalo, are a group of narrow lakes aligned north to south resembling fingers. At a latitude further north than the cold wine regions of Germany and Austria, the weather limits growing classic wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay that require warm climates. But Concord grapes have flourished here since the 1800’s and they are used grape juice and grape jelly.
There are some wineries in Finger Lakes using hybrid grapes, a cross between two or more grape species. Seyval Blanc, Vignoles and Baco Noir are not well-known grapes but they adapt to the difficult climate. However, red wine from hybrid grapes is not very good since it has no tannins and high acidity. In fact, some European countries ban commercial growth of hybrid vines. Bully Run, the largest Finger Lakes producer, makes 500,000 cases of wines primarily from hybrid grapes and the average retail price is $10 to $14.
However, other wineries are producing quality wines from the classic varietals of Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Riesling is the BEST classic varietal which grows in the Finger Lakes climate. Riesling wines have an unfavorable reputation for being a sweet but Rieslings come in a wide range of sweet to dry – very sweet (called late harvest), semi-dry, off-dry and dry. BTW, Dry Rieslings are the most collectible wine among serious wine enthusiasts and delightful to drink.
I was not impressed with the wines from hybrid grapes but I visited two wineries, Hermann Weimer and Heron Hill, that focus on the classic varietals of Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
HERMANN WIEMER Dry Riesling 2014
Seneca Lake, NY $18
Wine Enthusiast 92 rating. Fresh lime, Granny Smith apple and fennel notes with nice minerality.
HERMANN WIEMER Dry Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2012
Seneca Lake, NY $30
Wine Spectator 91 rating “This has a broad, welcoming feel, with a mix of yellow apple, melon and pear flavors lined with honeysuckle and white ginger hints. Firms up just a touch on the finish, showing a twinge of apple core that imparts cut and balance.”
HERON HILL Classic Dry Riesling 2013
Finger Lakes, NY $14
Wine Spectator 88 rating “Offers good lime and slate notes, with a streak of pippin apple adding a crisp edge to the finish.”
HERON HILL Estate Dry Riesling 2013
Keuka Lake, NY $19
Estate grown single-vineyard made from sustainably-farmed Riesling on west side of Keuka Lake.
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