Fingers on the Pulse
Recently I wrote an article for the Drinks Business on a wine region near and dear to me, the Finger Lakes, New York. This is the beautiful pocket of the world where I was born and raised. It also just so happens to have some cracking wines. You can read the article online in its original form (pages 57-59) but I thought I’d repost here as well:
New York. Land of sky scrapers, Broadway, yellow cabs, and brash locals. But hovering above that tiny crowded penninsula, with a total area around the same size as England, is the rest of New York State. Five hours north of the Big Apple in the state’s centre is the Finger Lakes region, home to both New York’s most premium wines and also yours truly. Combined with several other American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) dotted around the state, the region ranks New York as the third largest in US production, behind California and Washington and squeaking in ahead of Oregon.
Until recently, however, even the most dedicated of British wine nerds hadn’t tasted much (if any) wine from the Finger Lakes mainly because, with the exception of a small handful in the distant past, the wines were never available here in the UK.
That’s all changed now with importer Wine Equals Friends bringing the largest number of New York State wines ever into the country. Six wineries are from Long Island (which, thanks to a longer growing season, manages to produce bigger riper wines from mostly Bordelais varieties), and eight wineries are from the Finger Lakes.
With restaurants like Chez Bruce, Hotel Terravina, Pollen Street Social, Hakassan, and Hotel du Vin, Bristol listing them, now’s your chance not only to try the wines, but also to brush up on your knowledge of the Finger Lakes.
So here are a few things to know about New York State’s largest wine growing region:
Although the Finger Lakes have been making wine since the 1800s, much of it was from the hardy, Phylloxera-resistant Vitis Labrusca species. And while wines from varieties like Concord, Catawba, and Delaware, along with French hybrids like Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc are still used, it was the success of plantings of Vitis Vinifera vines by Ukranian Dr. Konstantin Frank in the 1960s that led to a rise in quality.
These days styles like sparkling and ice wine, and varieties like Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and especially Riesling rule in this cool climate wine region named after the series of deep digit-shaped lakes which create their own unique micro-climates by retaining warmth within their waters as protection from the region’s bitterly cold winters.
On a national scale, The Finger Lakes has the noble German variety Riesling to thank for earning it acclaim. One of the Finger Lake’s most successful Riesling producers is Hermann J. Wiemer, often praised as one of America’s best. ‘Riesling is known for its cold heartiness, late budding, and slower ripening, which helps the vines last through the harsh winter and protects them through the spring frost of the Finger Lakes,’ says Wiemer’s co-owner Oskar Bynke. The Wiemer team works carefully with each vineyard’s unique terroirs to get the best expressions from their diverse range of Riesling.
Mark Wagner, winemaker at Lamoreaux Landing, was also keen to talk about his varying terroirs. ‘If you haven’t tasted the single vineyard Rieslings they are fun to try. They are all from the same clone and rootstock. The main difference is the site of each block. Each wine expresses it’s own environment.’
The dry Rieslings (there are many good quality semi-dry and late harvest Rieslings but the dry ones best express the terroirs) can wear several guises from flinty smoke to peachy flowers to racy lime and grapefruit. Their tongue tingling acidity is what ties them together, making them linear, crisp, and clean.
‘The Finger Lakes produce world class Rieslings, wonderfully crisp, fresh and mineral,’ says Bristol’s Hotel du Vin head sommelier Ben Austin, who lists 20 New York state wines including two by the glass. ‘Their ability to match with a wide range of food is something that appeals to customers.’
Many wineries also make a Cabernet Franc, resembling those in the Loire but still marching to their own beat. Lamoreaux Landing is particularly successful with this variety, making a leafy smoky unoaked version, and a more gutsy herby cranberry one aged in barrel and crying out for roast venison, or as they recommend, ‘braised short ribs and horseradish mashed potatoes’.
Other wineries, like the relatively new Red Tail Ridge, are experimenting successfully with cool climate varieties like Teroldego, Dornfelder, and Blaufränkisch (I’d love to see them try a Gruner Veltliner). Red Tail Ridge also make a very drinkable earthy fruity Pinot Noir, a variety whose quality is on the rise in the Finger Lakes.
Like with most unfamiliar corners of the wine world, listing wine from the Finger Lakes has its disadvantages. ‘They can be quite pricey, mainly due to the quantity produced,’ says Austin. ‘Plus the region is still completely unknown the general consumer so they can be a difficult sell. However, this also makes them a unique addition to anyone’s wine list. Our customers enjoy them very much.’
In addition to those mentioned, Wine Equals Friends are importing wines from Red Newt Cellars, Fox Run, Lakewood Vineyards, Sheldrake Point, and Dr Konstantin Frank. For the full list of New York Wines imported into the UK, contact Sue Chambers at Wine Equals Friends (https://wineequals.com/).