Finger Lakes Wines

We visited six wineries in the Finger Lake region on Keuka and Seneca Lake. Although our experiences with the region’s drier white and red wines have been very mixed, we have consistently enjoyed a number of the region’s Iced Wines. Note the word “Iced” versus “Ice”. State requirements require that wines can be called “Ice Wines” only if the grapes are picked after 24 hours in which temperatures are 17 degrees or lower. Since few of the wineries artificially ice their wines in freezers rather than in mother nature, they have to label them as “iced”.

We visited a total of six wineries where we tasted white, red and Iced Wines.

Keuka Lake

Heron Hill Winery

Located on the western shore of Keuka Lake (it also has another facility on Seneca Lake), was between vintages of its Ice Wines (which were among our favorites from previous tastings), However, we tasted number of whites and reds, particularly enjoying two of its single vineyard, Ingle Vineyard wines, which are on one of the winery’s Cayuga Lakes properties:

  • 2016 Ingle Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay; and
  • 2015 Ingle Vineyard The Chosen Spot, which is a bend of its best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes.

The winery also offered tastes of five distilled spirits from Rochester’s Black Bottom Distillery. Of those we tasted, we particularly enjoyed their All American Corn Vodka and their Bourbon Cream, the second credible alternative to Bailey’s Irish Cream that we tasted on this trip.

Seneca Lake

About 60 of the regions roughly 150 wineries are located on Seneca Lake. It, along with Cayuga Lake, are the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, and also offer some of the best soil. Their size and depth moderates temperature swings around the lakes and prevents them from freezing over in the winter. Our stops were at:

Standing Stone

Located on the east side of Seneca Lake, we enjoyed three very different expressions of its Rieslings: the 2017 Dry Riesling (with less than 1 percent residual sugar), the 2017 Riesling (1.7 percent) and the very sweet Riesling Ice Wine (23 percent). We also enjoyed the winery’s slightly less sweet 2017 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.

Wagner Vineyards

Also located on the east side of Seneca Lake, we particularly enjoyed three of the six wines we tasted:

  • 2017 Caywood East Dry Riesling;
  • 2017 Unoaked Chardonnay; and especially
  • 2016 Vidal Ice Wine.

We then moved to the east side of Seneca Lake.

Barnstormer Winery

Here we enjoyed the 2016 Departure Bordeaux Blend and 2017 Nosedive Port. Our favorites, however, were the 2017 Blaufrankisch (the Austrian name for the native German Lemberger grape), 2017 late harvest Rieslings: Riesling N6679P (5.5 percent residual sugar) and especially the Late Harvest Riesling (with 16 percent RS).

Shaw Vineyards

Shaw is unique among the region’s wineries in that it ages all its red wines for a minimum of four years in varying combinations of stainless steel tanks all neutral (at least two years old) oak barrels before releasing them. We particularly enjoyed were its 2016 Road Block Reserve Riesling, 2013 Oaked Cab Franc and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fulkerson Winery

Fulkerson makes and sells not only wine, but also provides all the supplies and provides guidance required for individuals to make their own wine and brew their own wines at home. It also sells the juice from which home winemakers can make their own wine. Its primarily business, however, is in growing its own grapes and producing its own wines, of which it offers about 30. These include not only most of the better known international varietals, it also produces a number of native New York and hybrid grapes of which we have never heard, much less tasted. These include Vincent, Zweigelt, Dornfelder and Diamond. Unfortunately, we have not developed a taste for these nor many of Fulkerson’s other wines. We most enjoyed its Dry Riesling.

Although we enjoyed some wines from most wineries we visited, two wineries stood out as offering the best overall tasting experiences, the most knowledgeable and helpful hosts and the highest percentage of wines that we particularly enjoyed: Glenora and Hermann J. Wiemer.

Glenora Wine Cellars

Glenora focused on local artisanal wines and foods (see below). The winery tour, run by the owner and winemaker, began with a description of the grapes they produced and their growing practices, including the fact that they do not have to irrigate, since, unlike in California, it rains steadily throughout the year. This makes for fuller berries and permits yields of about four tons per acre, compared with two or three for many California wineries. (This, of course, also reduces the concentration of Finger Lakes wines.). The tour then proceeded through the entire production processes including destemming, crushing, pressing, fermenting and aging, including a very interesting discussion of the expanding role of concrete eggs in fermenting and aging white wines. Every step of the tour, and a fair amount of time after, was spent sampling many of Glenora’s current releases. The winners, which far outnumbered its less impressive efforts, included 2014 Blanc de Blanc sparkling, 2017 Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Dry Riesling, 2016 Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As for sweet wines, we enjoyed its Iced Vidal Blanc.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

As one of the region’s true pioneers, Wiemer Vineyards offers a broad selection of very good wines. We enjoyed the 2017 Chardonnay and 2017 Gewurztraminer. Although the reds, which were just released a few days before our tasting and were still too tight to really appreciate or even determine how they will taste in a few months (much less years), four different dessert-style 2016 Rieslings stood out as the best wines we had on this Finger Lakes trip. These were the Late Harvest, the HJW Vineyard, the Magdalena Vineyard and, the absolute best of the best, the Single Select late harvest Riesling from the wineries’ prized Joseph Vineyard. This incredible wine finds what to our palates, is the perfect balance between its 15 percent residual sugar and acid. This, they estimate, will allow it to age for as much as 50 years! Although the wines were memorable in and of themselves, the experience was made all the more rewarding by Jarrod, our excellent host.

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