As many of you know, Chris and I got married in the Finger Lakes. Neither of us is from there (I am from a northern NY town in the Adirondack foothills; he’s from Long Island), and initially it seemed odd to me to have a wedding in a place that neither of us were from, neither of us lived in (or had ever lived in), or a place where parents/family were currently or had previously lived in.
It actually came about when I started poking around the Hudson Valley wineries – no, neither of us lived in the mid/lower Hudson Valley, either, but it was a “halfway point” for my family and for his family, and therefore might make sense from a logistics perspective. But, neither of us were all that familiar with those wineries. And the region is expensive, being not far from NYC. So, when Chris said, “What about the Finger Lakes?” after my initial pause, I agreed it was a fantastic idea worth exploring.
For those of you unfamiliar with the region, the “Finger Lakes” span central and western NY, with the largest of them – Seneca and Cayuga – hosting the lion’s share of the vineyards. There are also a number of vineyards on Keuka Lake, which is just west of Seneca. The Finger Lakes are so named, because they are a number of long, skinny lakes that scrape across upstate NY, and look like fingers. They are part of the interesting and beautiful landscape left behind from the glacier that covered the northeast millions of years ago.
Anyway, though we obviously liked the Finger Lakes before, it holds a special place in our hearts now. We won tickets to the Cayuga Wine Trail’s Wine and Herb Festival, so we booked a bed and breakfast* and planned a trip out west to revisit one of our favorite places.
I am a big proponent of New York wines, and have been for a long time, in part because I think it’s important to support local industries, especially if they’re industries that you think are worthwhile. Boutique agriculture ventures, as far as I am concerned, are on a whole worthwhile. There are mixed feelings about New York wines**, and some of them are very fair, but I also think it’s worth noting a few important things:
1. The costs of vacationing in the Finger Lakes are quite low, particularly if you’re within reasonable driving distance (this means NY, western New England, and north/west Pennsylvania), so it’s really worth making the trip to give it a shot – even if you decide, at the end of your trip, that you still hate all NY wines, you’ll get to have a weekend in a beautiful setting with some great restaurants.
2. Many people who dislike NY wines do so because they have a reputation of being overly sweet. It’s true, that a lot of popular vineyards make their money on sugary wines, you can find some really great wines if you’re willing to do a little bit of work.
3. The best varietals in the area DO tend toward the sweeter, but if you stick to what they do well and what they grow well, you won’t be disappointed. The Finger Lakes do German varietals well. Think about this – the climate in upstate NY is not all that different from Germany. Even if you don’t think you like German varietals? Try them here. I didn’t think I liked merlot, and then I tried merlots on Long Island, and I found a wine I never knew I adored. Major, brand named vineyards (i.e., Sutter Home, Kendall Jackson) will do anything and everything, regardless if they do it well. The wines are mass-produced with a generic flavor. Not to say they may not have some decent wines – that would be unfair – but a Kendall Jackson riesling isn’t going to hold a candle to a Finger Lakes riesling. And, not dissimilar to beer, trying a wine at the site where it is bottled is that much better. The less something has to travel, the better it tastes.
3a. Climate is key when wine tasting. For example, you’re not going to find a good Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes. You’re just … not. Don’t believe ANYONE who tells you this. You may find a drinkable pinot noir, but it won’t be anything nearly as good as what you’d have in the Russian River Valley or the Willamette Valley. They don’t have the climate for it. However, gewurtztraminer and lemberger? They’ll blow your mind. And, yes, believe the hype – the rieslings are the best in the world. The former are more difficult to find, as many people are unfamiliar with these varietals and therefore they don’t tend to sell as well, but the region has made their reputation on their rieslings. Seyvals, Cayugas, and Niagaras (which are increasingly sweeter in that order) are also quite good, if you tend to like sweeter wines. They’re grapes that are native to Upstate NY, which means they grow well here. They have a natural sweetness, so they don’t need copious amounts of refined sugar added, which, I think, makes them that much better.
3b. Try anything that says it’s an “experimental” hybrid grape from the Agricultural Experiment Station. Yes, some of them are bad. However, going back to the point above, the “experimental” grapes/hybrids are generally bred to grow well in the region. These, more often than not, result in good, cheap bottles. (Because, friends? The rieslings, gewurtz, and lembergers? While affordable, they aren’t cheap.)
If you decide to visit (and, obviously, I highly recommend that you do) would be happy to give you more extensive tasting notes on some of our favorites, but I think it’s more fun to experiment and see what you like on your own. Also, if you’re brand new to wine, sometimes tasting notes can be overwhelming. Better to go in with the basics, and then from there decide for yourself.
However, if you don’t have the time/means to travel to the Finger Lakes anytime soon? You can still participate in the Riesling Hour on May 26th. Chris and I intend to participate, though we haven’t decided which bottle we’ll use, Maybe one of the ones from our venue. 🙂
*We stayed at The Hayward House this time around. For our wedding, we stayed at Magnolia Place. I would happily recommend and rave about both of these establishments. I’m planning a post about why you should stay at bed and breakfasts when traveling (if you’re able), so I don’t want to go too much into detail here on my thoughts.
**For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to upstate wine, particularly the Finger Lakes. Long Island wines are totally different, as it is a different climate and different varietals grow well there. There is a lot of overlap, as the climates have similarities, but they are different enough that it is difficult to compare them. I have very little experience with Hudson Valley wines, however my understanding is that many of the varietals that do well in the Finger Lakes do well there, though they do taste different. The climate is more similar than that of Long Island’s, but is different enough that it alters the experience. Chris and I have been meaning to do the Hudson Valley wine trail for some time and aside from a couple of isolated stops, have not done so. Among those isolated stops is the Hudson-Chatham Winery, which is close to Albany and has some good, affordable wine.