Road Sips begins a series of wine destination articles that we know you will find informational.
Finger Lakes Wine Country is the largest wine producing region east of California with over 100 wineries throughout the area. It is also one of the top wine regions in North America for award-winning, and affordable, Rieslings. Finger Lakes wines have earned top ratings from industry a-listers like Jancis Robinson (Master of Wine, British wine critic), Josh Greene (Editor & Publisher of Wine & Spirits), and James Molesworth (Senior Editor of Wine Spectator).
Grapes of the Finger Lakes
The most noteworthy grape varietals of the Finger Lakes are Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Riesling, the region’s most popular varietal, is planted on over 500 acres throughout the Finger Lakes region. Finger Lakes Wine Country wineries continue to be recognized globally for their award-winning Rieslings.
For those of you who think Riesling = overly sweet wine, I have good news – there are fabulous dry, food-friendly Rieslings from the Finger Lakes! Finger Lakes Rieslings fall into three main categories of sweetness: dry, semi-dry and late harvest, the sweet ‘dessert’ wine some, including me, enjoy.
Getting to Know Finger Lakes Wineries
Below are some of my favorite wineries from the region. Many of these wineries have small productions and their wines must be ordered directly with their facilities. Restaurants around the country now offer a good Finger Lakes wines selection and some specialty wines stores carry some of these more popular brands:
- Anthony Road Wine Company – originally started in 1990 by Ann and John Martini in a farm shed on their property, Anthony Road Wine Company has since prospered into an award-winning winery. During a recent visit, I enjoyed every wine poured, but thought Tony’s Red ($8.99), pitched as the ‘pizza red’ with its light fruitiness, was a fun wine to pair with casual dinners.
- Dr Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars – declared by Wine Enthusiast as “Finger Lakes’ Most Award-Winning Winery” in 2007, Dr Frank’s wines are just great. Especially interesting is its Château Frank Célèbre ($20), a Crémant-style sparkling wine.
- Heart and Hands Wine Company – founded in 2006, this winery makes stellar Pinot Noir that can rival some of California’s Russian River favorites.
- Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard – born to Mosel winemaker parents, Hermann J. Wiemer is regarded as one of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes. Rieslings are award-wining here, but Gewurztraminer and late harvest wines are also delicious.
- Heron Hill Winery – perhaps the most architecturally beautiful tasting room of the region. Heron Hill offers a wide range of Rieslings to please any palates. Visit around lunchtime and dine at Heron Hill Bistro, offering tasty fares.
- Ravines Wine Cellars – this winery does it all, and very well. Although famous for its dry Riesling, Ravines produces outstanding Pinot Franc and Pinot Noir. A wonderful treat while at this tasting room is a wine and chocolate pairing featuring decadent Hedonist Artisan Chocolates.
- Red Newt Cellars – giving Alsace and Germany a run for their money with its Dry Riesling Reserve ($22), this winery produces one of my favorite affordable Rieslings, top-rated Red Newt Circle Riesling ($13).
- Red Tail Ridge – Red Tail Ridge is the first LEED®-certified green winery in New York. Beyond the Riesling, the unoaked Chardonnay is super and the Lemberger ($19.95), a little-known but tasty wine that’s a mouthful of ripe cherries, spicy, slightly chocolaty notes, is a must-try.
A great time to visit Finger Lakes wineries is in the off-season, December – April. During this time, tasting room employees have additional time to spend with visitors and to customize their tastings.
“At Heron Hill Winery, we really enjoy tailoring a tasting to a person’s specific wine drinking style”, says Tambi Schweizer, Tasting Hall Manager at Heron Hill Winery. “For the semi-dry to sweeter wine drinker, a “must-try” is our best seller, the Semi-Dry Riesling. It is a wine that almost everyone likes, with a soft fruitiness of peach, pear and green apple skins. Our very floral Muscat is also a good choice for the sweeter wine drinkers. For the drier drinkers, I steer towards our slightly oaked Ingle Vineyard Chardonnay, and of course my personal favorite, the Pinot Blanc Reserve. After a few whites, I usually head over to the “dark side” and try some Cabernet Francs. It is always very interesting to have the visitors try the triple line up of our Cabernet Francs”.
Make the Finger Lakes region of New York State your next getaway destination any time of year. In the meantime, look for Finger Lakes wines at your local wine shop and begin enjoying what fans and critics alike know –Finger Lakes wines are tops on taste and affordability.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County, NJ. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.