Over the past several years, my family has fallen head-over-heels in love with the Finger Lakes region of central New York. It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the country that offers spectacular sunrises and sunsets, fishing, boating, wine tasting, great food and farmer’s markets, a relaxed pace and plenty of relaxation. In some ways, it’s a lot like the North Fork — except it’s much more affordable. We usually rent a lakefront cottage for a week for what a night or two in similar accommodations would cost here.
When I visit the region with my family, my opportunities to meet with winery owners and winemakers are limited, however, so last week I took a couple days off from work and made a quick solo trip with no other focus beyond tasting as many wines and meeting with as many people as I could. I succeeded in that regard, tasting with 11 winemakers and one brewer during my short trip, leaving me with dozens of pages of notes and hours of recorded interviews to sift through.
While I work through all of that material, here are six reasons you should visit the Finger Lakes this summer.
Riesling. No surprise here, right? This region has earned its place atop all the riesling-producing regions in the United States. A handful of Long Island wineries are even buying fruit or juice from the Finger Lakes for their own bottlings. From piercingly dry and austere examples — the Ravines Wine Cellars 2014 Dry Riesling — to the Red Tail Ridge 2013 Block 907, a richly honeyed riesling with wonderful balancing acidity, and all points in between, there are pristine, distinctive versions of most any style of riesling available. Other spots to visit include Hermann J. Wiemer, Red Newt, Anthony Road Wine Company and Kemmeter Wines.
Dry rosé. Though perhaps a bit behind the rest of the wine world, Finger Lakes wineries are now making more dry rosé than ever — and with great results. I loved the Silver Thread 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir I tasted last week, but you’ll find great rosés from Keuka Spring Vineyards, Sheldrake Point Vineyards and Kelby James Russell. The 2015s are hitting the market now and should be singing by summer.
Sparkling wine. I’ve said for years that this is a region that doesn’t get nearly enough attention for its sparkling wines. Whether classic styles like those made by Chateau Frank, Hermann J. Wiemer or Ravines Wine Cellars or the trendier “pét nat” (natural sparkling) styles that you’ll find at Red Tail Ridge, Barry Family Cellars or upstart Fossil & Till, there is more than enough delicious bubbly to go around.
Diversity. Much the way that Long Island hangs its hat on merlot and chardonnay but offers great wines made from other grapes, the same is true in the Finger Lakes. Beyond riesling there are delicious gewürztraminers (Keuka Spring Vineyards’ examples blew me away this trip), pinot noirs (Forge Cellars, N. Kendall Wines, Heart & Hands Wine Company and Element Winery are favorites) and syrahs (Hector Wine Company and Element Winery). Long Island sometimes likes to think it’s cornered the market on New York Bordeaux-style blends, but two stood out for me last week: Silver Thread Vineyard 2013 Blackbird and Ravines Wine Cellars MMX 2010. Check them out.
The restaurants. I really love the restaurant scene in the Finger Lakes. There are classics like the seasonal Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine and Stone Cat Café, but my go-to spots are FLX Wienery, a glorious burger and hot dog stand that not only satisfies every gluttonous food urge but also has the best wine list in the region, and Dano’s Heuriger, an Austrian cafeteria-styled spot where house-made sausages, cheese, spreads and schnitzel pair perfectly with the wines made in the area. It seems like every time I visit the region there is a handful of new, exciting dining options, too. This time out, a lunch at Cebo in Geneva made it a must-return location.
The people. I’ve long been fascinated by the collegial rather than competitive vibe among the people in the Finger Lakes wine community — and that’s really what it is, a community. They are quick to offer one another help when needed and spend a lot of time together socially. Cooperation rules the Finger Lakes and that friendly, supportive feeling extends to the tasting room experience, too.