New York – wines to inspire you

Canandaigua Lake

Amazingly most UK consumer’s concept of wine from the United States of America starts and stops with California. Certainly California is the most important of the wine producing states, but there are some superb wines made elsewhere in the US too.

Some consumers are aware of wines from Oregon and possibly Washington State, but usually my students are astonished when I tell them about wines from Virginia, Texas, Utah or New York state.

Wine is actually made from freshly gathered grapes in all 48 of the continental states as well as in Hawaii, only Alaska misses out by being too cold.

Production is very small in many of the states, but New York has an important wine industry and next month I am going to upstate New York to visit that state’s biggest wine region – the Finger Lakes.

New York

What I thought I would do is to tell you a little about the region here, before I go and then to publish a daily log while I am away – wifi permitting – which will deal with some of the most interesting wines that I get to try, as well as other related happenings of interest.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the place for myself as it is a fascinating area. Wine has been made here since the early nineteenth century, but in the past it was almost solely vitis labrusca, the indigenous type of North American vine, rather than vitis vinfera, the European strain of vine used for wine.

It was not until 1962 that Dr Konstantin Frank, a Ukranian immigrant, who was experienced at growing grapes in his cold homeland, showed that vitis vinfera could be grown there as long as a hardy root stock was used.

The Finger Lakes Wine Region - click for a larger view

Today it is a fully fledged AVA or American Viticultural Area, which is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States. The AVA rules do not stipulate or restrict grape variety, yield or vinification techniques and so are more akin to the Italian IGT regulations than other European appellation of origin systems.

Traditionally grape growing and wine making in the Finger Lakes is centred around the four main lakes of Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. The last two lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, are especially deep which creates different climatic conditions, allowing for a longer growing season, so these lakes have their own AVAs.

However, as you can see from my map, the vines are spreading out and now wine is being made around the lesser lakes as well and in areas a little distance from the lakes.

In effect it is the presence of the lakes that makes viticulture possible here. The region actually sits just above 42˚ latitude, the same as Rias Baixas, but upstate New York enjoys a climate of extremes with hot summers and very cold snowy winters – so much so that Lake Placid has twice hosted the Winter Olympics.

However the lakes save the day by tempering the climate and keeping it mild compared to the surrounding conditions. The deep bodies of water keep the air that little bit warmer during the winter, so preventing frost, and cooler during the summer as well as giving better sun exposure, as in the main the vineyards are south facing and slope down to the lakes.

A great many grape varieties are grown, most of which we associate with cool climate regions, including Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Cayuga White, Chambourcin, Chancellor, Chardonnay, Chelois, Concord, Corot Noir, De Chaunac, Delaware, Diamond, Dornfelder, Gamay Noir, Gewürztraminer, Himrod, Isabella, Lemberger, Malbec, Marechal Foch, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Ottonel, Niagara, Noiret, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Severnyi, Seyval Blanc, Syrah, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, Villard Blanc and Viognier but Riesling is the real speciality.

Some Finger Lake wines that I tasted recently:

Dr Frank Rkatsiteli 2007
Dr Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars
Finger Lakes AVA

An unusual grape to us, the Rkatsiteli is from Georgia, but was widely used throughout the USSR, including Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

The nose was flowery and slightly spicy with dried apricot notes.
The palate was soft and creamy with more dried apricot and white pepper and a slightly oily feel. The effect was quite plump, round and textured with a little touch of sweetness giving way to some goof, fresh acidity on the finish.
My first Rkatsiteli, I liked it – 89/100 points.

Keuka Spring Gewürztraminer 2008
Keuka Spring Vineyards, Penn Yan
Finger Lakes AVA

Fragrant, rich nose of honey, lychees and apricots.
The palate was quite soft and nicely balanced between being quite sweet, quite rich and quite spicy with lovely orange-like fruit and a touch of poached pear giving more acidity and freshness than many a Gewürztraminer.
Good wine, well balanced with a long finish – 89/100 points.

Treleaven Dry Riesling 2008
King Ferry Winery
Cayuga Lake AVA

An attractive nose of pears and tangerine zest.
The palate was limey, steely and mineral with a tangy tangerine citrus fruit character and a really clean and pure feel.
It was long and mouth-filling with a clean cut of rich citrus – 90/100 points.

Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling 2007
Sheldrake Point Vineyard, Ovid
Cayuga Lake AVA

The nose was clean with wafts of lime and lemon zest together with mineral touches.
The palate was pretty racy, clean, mineral and lovely with a touch of rich citrus and even a little classic kerosene note.
The finish was very rich, but clean and very good with that classic feeling of tension in the wine – 91/100 points.

Goose Watch Diamond 2008
Goose Watch Winery
Finger Lakes AVA

This was new to me, a real vitis labrusca or foxy wine grape.
The nose was really odd, sort of high and rotting or damp and musty.
The palate was quite sweet and easy drinking, but somewhat strange with really good acidity, but a mouthwash-like menthol flavour.
It was a bit of a curate’s egg, but a really good experience, I think you have to be brought up with them to enjoy wines like this.

I have also managed to try some wines from other regions in New York:

Macari Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Macari Vineyards
North Fork of Long Island AVA

Quite remarkably pale and clean to look at.
The nose was quite light, but very fresh with green fruit and some pungent grassiness.
The palate was dry and slightly creamy with a delicate leesy character and some grassy and mineral flavours mingling with lemon and lime characters on the richer, textured finish.
The finish was long, but light and fresh with some leesy complexity.
The most New Zealand or even Loire-like American Sauvignon I have ever tried – 90/100 points.

Millbrook Cabernet Franc 2007
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, Poughkeepsie
Hudson River AVA

75% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon

The nose was rich and fruitcake like with some earthy and savoury notes.
The palate was quite bricky and slightly baked with earthy and dry leathery characters and slightly stewed mixed fruit.
The finish was quite nice if a little light and tired – 87/100 points.

Macari Merlot 2005
Macari Vineyards
North Fork of Long Island AVA

Slightly brown and mature looking.
The nose was rich and fragrant, dominated by plump plum fruit.
The palate was seductive with dry leathery characters, sweet fruit and smoky oak with excellent balance and a supple texture – 90/100 points.

Bedell Musée 2006
Bedell Cellars
North Fork of Long Island AVA

75% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot

The colour was a lovely looking translucent garnet.
The nose was rich and spicy with mixed fruit, leather and vanilla and cream notes.
The palate was lovely, sweet black and red fruit studded with spice, elegantly intense with smooth, supple tannins and a point of cleansing acidity. Intense flavours of rich dried fruit on the finish together with leathery notes and coffee spice.
A superb and beautifully balanced wine – 93/100 points.

Mazza Chautauqua Vidal Icewine 2006
Mazza Chautauqua Cellars
Lake Erie AVA

Really intense deep marmalade colour.
The nose was also intense with rich apricot notes and delicate wafts of toffee and caramel.
The palate was succulent and concentrated with rich apricot notes and clean balancing citrus backed up by swirls of rich toffee and caramel on the clean balanced finish.
Absolutely delicious if a little simple, this really delivers a great deal of pleasure – 91/100 points.

I was really impressed and excited by these wines, so I am looking forward to seeing New York’s Finger Lakes and telling you all about them. It really is wonderful to try wines from a serious wine region that are almost completely new to us in this part of the world.

28 thoughts on “New York – wines to inspire you

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  2. What a fantastic summary. I’ve heard the region’s come a long way since I visited in 1998 – you should have an exciting trip. I shall be particularly interested to hear from you how much they are embracing wine tourism, how important cellar door sales are for them and finally (giving you lots of homework here) how much the add-ons of restaurants and shops are part of their income structure.

    Have a great trip and good luck with your resolve to blog daily, that will be a challenge!

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