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Wines of The Finger Lakes
By Ed McCarthy
Aug 6, 2019
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The 11 Finger Lakes, located in western New York State, south of huge Lake Ontario, are a source of surprisingly fine wines--many at affordable prices.  And yet, few of the more than 200 wineries are really well-known in the U.S., even in New York City.  True, many of the wineries are small, and sell most of their wines in the region.  But there are at least 15 to 20 wineries large enough to sell their wines throughout the country and even abroad.

Actually, only three Finger Lakes are wine destinations, with lots of wineries situated close to them:

Seneca Lake (the largest and deepest lake)
Cayuga Lake
Keuka Lake

Based on my recent trip to the region, I would select one or no more than two Finger Lakes for any one visit: there is just too much driving to do getting around the Lakes.  I chose Seneca Lake and Lake Keuka on my recent journey.

Riesling is king in the Finger Lakes.  Undoubtedly, some of the best dry Rieslings in the U.S. come from here.  Also, some very good Gewurztraminers are being made here, as well as the inevitable Chardonnys.  As for red wines, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir dominate.  Not too much Cabernet Sauvignon grows here; CabSauv needs a reliably warmer growing season to do well.   Some Hybrid wines are still made, but they play a lesser role than in the past.  Predictably for the climate, Sparkling wines are also big here.

The Finger Lakes is definitely a cool-climate wine region.  But the waters from the Lakes moderate the temperatures of the harsh winters and cool off the summer heat.

What should be your destination for a visit to the Finger Lakes?  If you are headed to Seneca Lake, you can stay in Watkins Glen, one of the livelier towns in the Finger Lakes, at the southern end of Seneca Lake; or go to Geneva, at the northern end of Seneca Lake.  I stayed in Geneva on my recent visit.  It is a charming town, with decent hotel accommodations.  Leading wineries around Seneca Lake include Ravines, Hillsboro, Fox Run Vineyards, Prejean Winery, Heron Hill, Hermann J. Wiemer, Wagner Vineyards, Standing Stone Vineyards (now a partner winery of Hermann J. Wiemer), Red Tail Ridge Winery, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Red Newt Cellars, Anthony Road Wine Company, Trestle 31, Glenora Wine Cellars, , and Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (the last two are closer to Watkins Glen).

Keuka Lake, less than half the size of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, is awash with many fine wineries, and is very much worthy of a visit.  There are two major towns located around Keuka Lake--Hammondsport on the southern end, and Penn Yan on the northern end.  Around Lake Keuka, you can visit the pioneering Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, Heron Hill, Ravines Wine Cellars (the latter two have wineries on Seneca Lake as well), Hunt Country Vineyards, and McGregor Vineyard.

Cayuga Lake is just slightly smaller than Seneca Lake.  The well-known town of Ithaca--dominated by Cornell University--is at the southern end of Lake Cayuga.  Swedish Hill Winery, Lucas Winery, Knapp Winery, Hosmer Winery, and my favorite-named winery— Goose Watch--are close to Lake Cayuga.  Goose Watch Winery prides itself on growing atypical grape varieties such as the white Viognier and the red Lemberger (a.k.a. Blaufrankisch).

What were the standout wines that I tasted on my four-day visit to the Finger Lakes?  Frankly, I tasted over 200 wines on this visit, and so I am not going to write specific wine descriptions here.  But I will name some of my highlight wines.  In general, Rieslings stood out as the best wines of the Finger Lakes, and just about every winery produces at least one dry Riesling.  The 2016 vintage was especially fine for Finger Lakes Rieslings.

In no particular order, here are some of the best wines I tasted on my Finger Lakes journey:

•    Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard,  2014 Riesling, “Magdalena Vineyard,” Seneca Lake (perhaps the most impressive wine of my visit);
•    Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, 2017 Riesling, “HJW Bio,” Seneca Lake;
•    Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, 2014 Sparkling Brut Rosé (Pinot Noir), Seneca Lake;
•    Sheldrake Point Winery, 2009 Reserve Riesling, Cayuga Lake;
•    Red Tail Ridge Winery, 2016 Estate Vineyard, Blaufrankisch, Seneca Lake;
•    Red Tail Ridge Winery, NV Sparkling, “Rebel With A Cause,” (66% Lagrein; 17% Teroldego; 17% Blaufrankisch), Seneca Lake;
•    Red Tail Ridge Winery, 2013, Riesling, Block 606, Indigenous Yeast, Seneca Lake;
•    Ravines Wine Cellars, 2017 Riesling, “White Springs Vineyard,” Keuka Lake;
•    Ravines Wine Cellars, 2015 Riesling, “Argetsinger Vineyard,” Keuka Lake;
•    Ravines  Wine Cellars, 2016 Teroldego, Keuka Lake
•    Standing Stone Winery, 2018 Saperavi, barrel sample (unique red variety native to Georgia of the former Soviet Union), for me, the most interesting discovery of the trip; Seneca Lake;
•    Red Newt Cellars, “The Knoll,” 2016 Riesling, Lahoma Vineyards, Seneca Lake;
•    Keuka Spring Vineyards, 2017 Gewürtztraminer, “Dynamite Vineyard,” Keuka Lake;
•    Ryan Williams Winery, 2015 Grüner Veltliner, Seneca Lake;
•    Hosmer Winery, 2017 “Late Pick” Riesling, Cayuga Lake;
•    Chateau LaFayette Reneau, 2017 Dry Riesling, Seneca Lake;
•    Chateau LaFayette Reneau, 2016 Cabernet Franc, Seneca Lake;
•    Trestle 31, 2016 Riesling, Seneca Lake;
•    Anthony Road Wine Co., 2014 Riesling, “Art Series,” Seneca Lake;
•    Anthony Road Wine Co., 2017 Pinot Gris, Seneca Lake;
•    Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, 2016 Dry Riesling, Keuka Lake;
•    Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, 2016 Pinot Noir, “Old Vines,” Keuka Lake
•    Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, 2014 Sparkling Brut Rosé, Keuka Lake
•    Knapp Winery, 2017 Dry Riesling, Cayuga Lake
•    Knapp Winery, 2016 Unoaked Cabernet Franc, Cayuga Lake
•    Sheldrake Point Winery, 2014 Riesling, “Ice Wine, Wild Ferment,” picked January 2nd, completely delicious, Cayuga Lake.

Most of the wines above—indeed many of the Finger Lakes wines--are retail-priced in the $14 to $29 price category--making them excellent values.  If I have not included wines from one of your favorite Finger Lakes wineries, please forgive me.  I only had time to visit and/or taste about one-third of the 200+ wineries in the Finger Lakes.

If you have never visited the Finger Lakes, or, like me prior to this trip, have not visited the area in some time, I highly recommend a visit.  So much has changed.  The wines are better than ever, and there are a lot more of them.  Get in touch with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.com.  They will help you plan a trip.  You won’t regret it.