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The New Wines of New York State
By Ed McCarthy
Mar 25, 2014
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I have been living in New York State all of my life, and have been following the wines of the world since my early twenties.  You might think that I would have become an expert on the wines of my own state by this time, but that is not the case.  I became more engrossed with the wines of France, Italy, and the West Coast of the U.S.

So, when New York State held its Grand Tasting of NY Wines a few days ago, I was surprised by the exceptional quality of many of the wines I tasted--especially from the state’s two leading regions, the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  Of course, I had tasted these wines from time to time over the years, but until I attended this tasting, I had not realized what heights of quality New York State wines had reached in the cumulative years.

Bone-dry Rosé wines were the biggest surprise:  I had never tasted such dry rosés from the U.S. before--from Europe, yes, but not from California.  The really good Rieslings I tasted were not a big surprise; many wine critics think that New York is leading the way in the U.S. with this variety.  Yet, I was astonished by some very good Gewürtztraminers; many compared favorably with to those made in Alto Adige, Italy.  The few sparkling wines I tried were standouts, but I knew this has been a strong suit for many New York wineries.

Another discovery came in tasting some very fine red wines, particularly, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Lemberger, and blends of the three.  Lemberger, a Germanic variety that thrives in cool climates and grows in Eastern Europe (better-known in Austria as Blaufränkisch; and called Blue Franc in Washington) makes dry, fruity, medium-bodied wines. 

Undoubtedly due to its cool climate, especially upstate, New York is better known for its white wines more than its reds--although the rather warm 2012 vintage in the Finger Lakes has apparently benefited 2012 red wine production in this region.

Some little-known facts about New York State Wines:
New York ranks third in the U.S. in wine production (after California and Washington), and currently makes 180 million bottles a year;
There are 353 wineries in New York, 213 of which have started in the last ten years.

Over 5 million tourists visit New York wineries annually.  That last figure accounts for much of the sales of New York wines, but many of the wines--excepting those from the smallest wineries--are available across the U.S.

What follows are some of the wines I was impressed with at New York’s Grand Tasting. Unless otherwise indicated, the wines are made entirely from the named grape variety:

Finger Lakes

Keuka Lake Vineyards:  One of the few NY wineries specializing in really dry Rieslings.  I tasted two single-vineyard Dry Rieslings, the 2011 and 2012 Keuka Lake Falling Man Vineyard Dry Rieslings ($30, from the west side of Keuka Lake and 2012 Eastside Dry Riesling, $25).  I especially liked the 2011 Falling Man Vineyard Dry Riesling.

Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars (Keuka Lake):  Founded by the Russian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank, and champion of vinifera grape varieties in the Finger Lakes.  Dr. Frank’s winery continues to lead the way in New York.  Barbara Frank, Dr. Frank’s granddaughter and consulting winemaker, presented the wines.  Barbara’s personal specialty has always been sparkling wines, and her family, under the Chateau Frank label, consistently has made many of the State’s best sparkling wines.  I loved Frank’s 2007 Blanc de Noirs Brut, a very dry 100 percent Pinot Noir bubbly.  Other Frank highlights:  2012 Grüner Veltliner ($18), new to the winery and very good; Rkatsiteli (native to Georgia in Europe), a very dry, lively, aromatic wine and a steal at $15; and a lovely 2012 Dry Riesling, also $15.

Knapp Winery (Cayuga Lake):  Dry Rieslings stood out here, especially 2012 Dry Riesling Estate KV Vineyard ($19).  Knapp’s 2011 Lemberger ($19, 85 percent Lemberger, 15 percent Cabernet Franc) is a light, pleasant red wine that would be fine accompanying salmon as well as light meat dishes.

Sheldrake Point Winery (Cayuga Lake):  Three wines really shone at this winery: I loved its 2013 Rosé (just $13, 100 percent Cabernet Franc) which was totally dry and delicious; its 2013 Pinot Gris, $16,  was dry, tasting of ripe peach with lots of substance; and its 2012 Gewürztraminer, $18, was exceptional, dry and spicy, full-bodied, with a rich texture.

Swedish Hill Winery (Cayuga Lake):  Although its 2012 Dry Riesling, $16, was quite good, I was really impressed with Swedish Hill’s two red wines.  Its 2012 Cabernet Franc/ Lemberger (60 percent Cab Franc, 40 percent Lemberger, $16) is a lovely, easy-drinking red, perfect with light cuisine; and Swedish Hill’s 2010 Optimus (49 percent Cabernet Franc, 28 percent Merlot, 23 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, $25) is full-bodied and rich, but with lively acidity and a deeper color than most NY State wines.

Thirsty Owl Wine Company (Cayuga Lake):  In addition to its very good 2013 Dry Riesling, $15, Thirsty Owl makes a light-bodied, varietally correct 2012 Pinot Noir ($19, 100 percent Pinot Noir), a difficult wine to make anywhere, including the Finger Lakes.  Its Pinot Noir would especially appeal to white wine drinkers who find reds too heavy.  I also enjoyed Thirsty Owl’s very good 2013 Gewürztraminer,  $18.  I’m convinced that the Finger Lakes is the right place to successfully produce this cool-climate varietal wine.

Gold Seal Vineyards (Seneca Lake):  Winemakers Bruce Schneider and Charles Bieler have revived the famed Gold Seal label, which flourished 60+ years ago under the legendary winemaker, Charles Fournier, the pioneeer of vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.  Now owned by Doyle Family Vineyards, the original Gold Seal’s vineyards, with its old vines, have been a great source for top-quality grapes for many Finger Lakes wineries.  I tasted two of Gold Seal’s new releases: the 2012 Charles Fournier Dry Riesling, about $16, is awesome, one of the best U.S. Riesling I have ever tasted.  It is dry, vibrant, and very flavorful; I could have consumed the entire bottle.  The 2012 Charles Fournier Chardonnay, made from Doyle Vineyard grapes (one of the oldest plantings of Chardonnay in the Finger Lakes) is aged in stainless steel.  It’s a wonderful, un-oaked Chardonnay, almost as great as the Riesling.  Just being released.  (Gold Seal Vineyards was not at the tasting, but sent samples).

Anthony Road Wine Company (Seneca Lake):  The wine that stood out for me here was the 2013 Rosé of Cabernet Franc (85 percent Cab Franc, 15 percent Lemberger, $13).  These excellent, totally dry rosés, such as Anthony Road’s, made from Cabernet Franc, are absolutely delicious, and making me a big fan of New York rosés.

Fox Run Vineyards (Seneca Lake):  One of the better-known and most highly regarded wineries in the Finger Lakes, Fox Run is doing particularly well with wines made from Lemberger and Cabernet Franc varieties.  They are also champions of dry rosés, and their 2013 Rosé of Lemberger (75 percent Lemberger, 25 percent Pinot Noir, $14) is a beauty, with lots of depth, a standout among NY’s rosé wines.  Also very good are the Fox Run 2012 Cabernet Franc (with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, $16) and the bright, lively 2010 Lemberger (also $16, 100 percent Lemberger).  The more Finger Lakes Lembergers I taste, the more I am convinced that this variety has found an excellent home in the Lakes.

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars (Seneca Lake):  Another one of NY’s well-known wineries, Lamoreaux Landing’s entire line of wines showed very well.  I was particularly impressed with the very good 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay ($15); the 2012 single-vineyard Red Oak Vineyard Riesling ($20) which displayed great depth of flavor and lively acidity; and the excellent, dry 2010 Cabernet Franc, $20.

Standing Stone Vineyards (Seneca Lake):  This winery has received much critical acclaim.  Its 2013 Riesling, $14, is excellent: lively, well-balanced, rich and unctuous, with a long finish.  Standing Stone is one of the few producers of the hardy, cold-climate red Saperavi variety (native to Georgia, Europe); its 2010 The Dark Red (100 percent Saperavi, $30) is indeed very dark in color, with lots of acidity and concentration--an exceptional red wine.

Red Newt Cellars Winery (Seneca Lake):  One of the newer Finger Lakes wineries, Red Newt showed its 2012 single-vineyard Tango Oaks Riesling ($18-$20), which follows its successful 2011 Tango Oaks Riesling.  The 2012, whose grapes were picked at the end of October, is fresh and vibrant, with good acidity.  An impressive winery.

Long Island

Bedell Cellars (North Fork):  Bedell is a leader among Long Island wineries for both its white and red wines.  Its 2012 Taste White, an intriguing blend of 50 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 30 percent Viognier, 15 percent Chardonnay, and 5 percent Riesling ($35) is a teriffic wine with very good depth, richness, and lots of flavor.  This year’s blend works!  Two 100 percent varietal 2012 reds, a Cabernet Franc and a Malbec, were also superb; the dry, flavorful Cabernet Franc ($40) was outdone by Bedell’s Malbec ($50), a rich, supple, concentrated marvel that was the best red wine of the day for me.

Channing Daughters Winery (South Fork):  ChrisTracy, winemaker at Channing Daughters, might be the most imaginative winemaker on Long Island; no one makes more different kinds of wine than Chris.  Channing Daughters’ 2011 Mosaico ($29) is a good example: it’s a blend of 32 percent Pinot Grigio, 29 percent Chardonnay, 14 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 10 percent Muscat Ottonel, 8 percent Gewürztraminer, and 7 percent Tocai Friulano; it is dry, and very fragrant, with rich, complex flavors—difficult not to like.  Chris’ 2012 Ramato ($24), an orange-pink winemade from Pinot Grigio, is dry and full-bodied, with clean, fruity flavors and lively acidity.  It is slow-fermented, and picks up through skin contact more color than most Pinot Grigios show.  My favorite Channing Daughters wine was a red, the 2012 Lagrein, a variety native to Alto Adige, Italy, $30.  This is an awesome wine, dry, spicy and fleshy, with lots of depth.  It was one of the better Long Island red wines I have ever tasted.

Macari Vineyards & Winery (North Fork):  Macari is one of the  stars of Long Island wineries.  I first noticed Macari a few years ago when I tasted its excellent sparkling wine.  Two Macari wines stood out at the NY tasting, a white and a red.  Its 2012 “Katherine’s Field” Sauvignon Blanc, $23, is a lovely example of this variety: floral, crisp, and clean.  Macari’s 2007 Merlot Reserve, $35, was clearly the best Merlot wine in the tasting; it is fresh and lively, with lots of depth.  It actually needs two or three years to fully mature.  The wine is an example of how good Long Island Merlot can be.

Paumanok Vineyards (North Fork):  Paumanok Vineyards is one of the pioneers of Long Island wineries, and still one of the best.  I enjoyed its 2013 Chenin Blanc, $29, a rich, full-bodied wine with a viscous texture and good depth.  Paumanok’s 2012 Cabernet Franc ($24, 90 percent Cabernet Franc, 10 percent Merlot) is concentrated, fresh, and precise, with lively acidity.  Cabernet Franc, along with Merlot, is a variety that does very well on Long Island.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard (South Fork):  Wölffer Estate proved that Long Island’s South Fork has the potential to produce good wines as well as the North Fork.  I really enjoyed its 2013 Rosé ($17), an interesting blend of 58 percent Merlot, 24 percent Chardonnay, 11 percent Cabernet Franc, 6 percent Pinot Noir, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, is very pale pink, dry, and crisp—the way good rosé wines should be. Wölffer Estate’s 2010 “Cool as Well” Sparkling Blanc de Blancs (100 percent Chardonnay, $35) is incredibly good, clearly one of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted from Long Island; it is lively, frothy, crisp, and dry, with great concentration.  It had aged for three years on its lees.

*     *     *

Even though the New York Grand Tasting did not involve some of the state’s celebrated wineries, I left the tasting convinced that the state is now producing some of the best wines in the country, at least for my palate.  And the wines are really value-priced, especially those from the Finger Lakes.  My highlights include its superb dry rosé wines, its really fine Rieslings, its exceptional sparkling wines, and perhaps the nicest surprise of all for me, New York’s vastly improved red wines.