Start Spreading the News. New Yawk Wines Are Top of the Heap
Let’s tawk New Yawk wines! Specifically, the Finger Lakes Region. Now unless you grew up there, or went to school there (Go Big Red!), you probably either didn’t know that this is a premier wine region, or you probably just heard about some “hot tub” style wines coming from there, and you wouldn’t dare think of shelling out money for a bottle of wine from a region that makes amateur-ish wines at best.
But you would be mistaken.
This area of NY is an exceptional wine-making region. Cayuga and Seneca lakes, the longest “fingers”, are also two of America’s deepest lakes (carved out by glaciers.) There are over 100 wineries around these lakes, making it NY State’s largest wine producing region.
Lakes and other bodies of water are critical and desirable for excellent grape growing. During the harsh winters, the waters retain summer heat longer than the air, preventing frost on the vines at budding time. In the Spring & Summer, the lakes retain their cold temperatures, cooling off the vineyards, thereby preventing sugar development that is too quick on the outside of the grapes before the insides and seeds have a chance to catch up.
Ultimately, some of the most prestigious wine in the world comes from super-cold regions (and believe me, upstate NY is like an arctic tundra wasteland in the winter!) because the cold night temperature causes (during photosynthesis) the development of super snappy & puckery acidity…in other words, a lip-licking, lip-smacking, snap-crackle-pop that excites the palate!
All in all, this region has everything that it takes to produce stellar wine…and it does. But keep in mind, as with any region of the world, that there is lots of wine produced meant for every-day local consumption, and the wines may be deliberately made in a fruity, or simpler style for this purpose. This can be even said when you travel, let’s say, to Italy, where you will have a carafe of a local wine literally made in someone’s backyard, and it is served with your pizza & pasta, tastes just fine and lovely, but is certainly not THE representative of a cellar-worthy, complex, high-price-tag Italian wine.
Many upstate producers are small farmers, and their wine is made to drink on a Saturday afternoon while enjoying the fresh lakeside air. But there are also plenty of producers making serious wine, such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, the “father of Vitus Labrusca” (i.e. American-grown grape species, vs. Vitus Vinifera, or European-grown grape species.) There are plenty of other excellent wineries, and at the end of the day, a great wine maker matching the correct grape variety to the proper agricultural conditions (the “terroir”) will make a great wine.
Probably the best grapes for and from this region are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris, and American grapes such as Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Catawba, and Vignoles.
Two really cool things about the American grapes: first, their aroma is often called “Foxy”; not because they smell like a Fox animal, but because they have a very aromatic, sweet, musky smell like Grape Jelly. Second, when these grapes ripen, their skins literally slip right off the pulp & stem, leaving a ball of grape pulp that can be crushed separately. This allows the wine makers to crush the skins and release the tight & grippy Tannins independently, and then work the tannins back into their wine-making recipe, if at all. With European grapes, skins and pulp are crushed together, and various machines & methods will determine the extraction of tannins in a very different manner.
Vitus Labrusca are found throughout northeastern Canada, through New York, and then all the way south through Georgia and even west of the Mississippi!
How cool is that?? As cool as Frank Sinatra? Add the upstate New York Finger Lakes wine region and its wines to the top of your travel and barrel list.