A New York State of Wine, Part I

In the 1970s, when Frank Sinatra sang, “Start spreadin’ the news,” he sure wasn’t touting New York wines. Now, we are spreadin’ the news that New York state is making some mighty fine wine. It has always made a lot as the third largest U.S. producer, but until recently the wines were mostly funky jug versions from hybrid and native grapes.

Vineyard in winter. | Courtesy Fox Run Vineyards

The primary reason for the shift to quality is people who are committed to finding which grapes thrive in specific regions and braving the challenging climatic conditions.

New York features two main wine regions: Finger Lakes and Long Island. We will focus on Finger Lakes in Part I and save Long Island for Part II in the next edition of Tahoe Weekly.

Summer at Fox Run. | Courtesy Fox Run Vineyards

This region was glacier-etched thousands of years ago; glaciers created not only the Finger Lakes but deposited an amazing amalgam of mineral and soil components. This is cold-weather viticulture here. Scott Osborne, proprietor of Finger Lakes star winery, Fox Run Vineyards, says wineries deal with everything from losing entire vineyards to deep winter freezes, to crops sizes varying from 50 to 60 percent from year to year because of untimely frosts. That’s tough on the old business model and demonstrates how devoted, or crazy, these folks are to make wine here.

Vintners are making a worldwide name for themselves with crisp and minerally complex Rieslings.

And what wines they are. The calling cards here are show-stopping Rieslings. Vintners are making a worldwide name for themselves with crisp and minerally complex Rieslings. These beauties from top producers, such as the aforementioned Fox Run Vineyards, Ravines Wine Cellars and Sheldrake Point Winery, fare quite well with Germany’s best — at a fraction of the cost.

Riesling is the star. | Courtesy Fox Run Vineyards

As you might expect, the other grapes thriving here are also well suited to cool-climate viticulture. On the white side, the Gewürztraminer grape expresses itself here in both the dry, spicy, lychee style and in amazing ice wines that match the great sweet wines of Alsace. Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes region is more like Chablis than California Chardonnays, being taut and precise.

In reds, there are sleek versions of Pinot Noir and the Austrian varietal Blaufränkisch, called Lemberger here. These reds are typically medium-bodied wines with spice, featuring bright red and blue fruits and a tarry minerality — they are excellent food wines.

As a wine educator and a native of New York, I’ve made a point to do tastings of New York wines that turned out to be fun and informative as the climate, soils and winemaking give unique and tasty expressions of the respective varietals. If you want to do the same, check with your local wine purveyor to see what he or she can get or check with the wineries directly because they all ship direct.

Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business wineprowest.com assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or lou@wineprowest.com. Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com for more wine columns.

Lou Phillips

Lou is a Level 3 Sommelier based on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, who loves traveling the wine world doing research for his writing. He also consults for collectors and businesses buying and selling fine wine and creating special events.