For British wine drinkers, New York State is a bit of an unknown, and yet New York is America’s third largest producing state after California and Washington. I visited the Finger Lakes region several years ago and found it charming, with some very good Riesling and other Germanic varieties. Tiny ‘Mom and Pop’ cellar doors sold most of these directly to visitors. Along with wines supplied to local restaurants, it’s not surprising that New York State’s wines are relatively rare on UK shelves.
Dutch settlers planted Vitis Labrusca and hybrid varieties in the late 17th century. In the 1950s Dr. Konstantin Frank began experimenting with European Vitis vinifera, particularly in the Finger Lakes. Today, there are plantings of both hybrids and vinifera, with no fewer than 420 wineries – 400 of those established since 1976.
The lie of the land
Vineyards in the cold Finger Lakes enjoy the moderating effect of the 11 narrow lakes that run toward Lake Ontario. Carved in the same glacial period as Canada’s Southern Ontario, shale, limestone, and various rocky, sandy soils were deposited. To the east, the Hudson Valley was home to the first plantings. Its harsh winter conditions mean the hardy Vitis labrusca and hybrids dominate. Vineyards to the west of the Hudson River have schist and limestone soils, and are sheltered by the Appalachian mountain range. This is the centre for vinifera wine production, particularly Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
Further east again, Long Island sits on the Atlantic coast beyond Manhattan. The shallow waters of the Atlantic give a much milder climate than the rest of the State. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, a long growing season is suitable for red-wine varieties, principally Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
To the North, Lake Champlain borders Vermont, with a cold climate and small wine production, a lot of it from hardy varieties. Way to the west, Lake Erie is the largest grape growing region of the US outside of California, but 95% is the Concord variety, primarily used for grape juice. The last of the six sub-regions is the Niagara Escarpment, the warmest in New York State due to proximity to the Great Lakes and their warm air currents. Gravel soils near the lakeshore are ideal for growing grapes.
I was sent the following wines to taste, though most are not currently available in the UK. There is an active campaign to spread the word about these wines. No doubt most would be keen for UK representation.
(2021) Quite a distinctive Riesling this, with beeswax and light honey, but a whole basket of citrus fruits. On the nose and then the palate, not just lemony notes but distinctive tangerine and clementine, for me to something that reminds me of physalis (Cape gooseberry) and then more citrus in the form of grapefruit into the finish. Really quite an interesting wine, though lacks just a touch of precision on the finish. Price and stockist quoted is for the previous vintage at time of review.
(2021) From the Finger Lakes, this is aptly named as the Lime (or Linden) character is distinctive. A punchy, vibrant Riesling, as well as that citrus there's a little waxiness and leafy green herbal edge, then a palate that is basically dry, with a good weight of fruit - lime and juicy apple - and excellent acidity. Perhaps slightly reminiscent of an Eden Valley style, and very good.
(2021) This wine from the Finger Lakes is made in an Auslese style, harvested in late October with a proportion of Botrytis-affected grapes. Pleasing, lightly honeyed nose, fruit of sweet red apples and a touch of barley sugar. The palate has texture and richness, but the dry Botrytis extract balances the juicy fruit sweetness. Acid is good, though perhaps just a touch more zip would have made for an event better wine.
(2021) Well, far be it from me to argue, but for me not the perfect rosé, that due simply to the fact that there's rather too much residual sugar and not quite enough punch to the acidity to balance. It's a pretty colour, and the Chambourcin hybrid grapes give lots of attractive fruit too, some little herbal and nettle nuances and lots of creamy summer berries, but the finish is definitely medium-sweet, and for a British palate the wine might be best suited to strawberry shortcake-type desserts perhaps?
(2021) A Bordeaux blend majoring on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is bold in colour and cherry and plum aromas, a touch of green pepper and dustiness, from the Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. In the mouth it is light- to medium-bodied, quite lean fruit and ageing in older oak adding some cedar, but with fairly prominent acid the whole picture is a touch lean. No UK stockist at time of review.
(2021) Made from the Marquette hybrid variety, introduced for cold climate winemaking by the University of Minnesota only in 2006, and aged in oak barrels for one year, it has a vivid crimson colour and yes, I do find a slight 'foxy' character on the nose, earthy, a bit of sizzling bacon fat and fruit gums. In the mouth it has fruitiness and decent balance, not a lot of tannin to speak of, but the balancing acidity is good against sweet but not too sweet fruit, the finish dry and quite savoury with a liquorice twist. No UK stockist listed at time of review.
(2021) This merlot-dominated blend of 55% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec, 10% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot is aged in Hungarian oak for six months. It's the ultimate easy-drinking pizza wine, brimming with sweet, juicy and supple fruit, creamy and smooth with a layer of underpinning chocolate and sweet spices, it gives lots of upfront pleasure in the glass.
(2021) Made with carbonic maceration (a la Beaujolais) in stainless steel, this has a vivid crimson colour and the nose slightly more reserved than I would have expected, though some pastille black fruit comes through certainly some raspberry, but a little earthiness too. Sweet on the palate, loads of raspberry and blackcurrant, tannins soft and acidity well judged. No UK retail availability at time of review.
(2021) A Beaujolais ringer for me, or one of the more forward middle Loire Cab Francs, bursting with black cherry, floral and Parma violet aromatics. In the mouth there is a dense chocolate richness, great black fruit sweetness and an almost Turkish delight character, again showing that super-bright, primary fruit abundance. Tannins are negligible though there is good acid here and it is dry, verging on the savoury in the finish. I could imagine this going very well with Greek or Middle-Eastern Mezze.