Wines of New York

New York

Although not as well known for wine as Napa and Sonoma of California, the Empire State can produce competitive high quality wines. Featured most prominently is the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, a land of rolling hills and deep gorges dominated by a half dozen very large, very narrow, very deep lakes. Vineyards dot the coastline up and down these lakes, especially Cayuga and Seneca. It's a beautiful, if somewhat isolated, land, with nothing of great interest except spectacular natural beauty, Cornell University, and some of the best Riesling grown in the United States.

What's Grown

White wine dominates the fine wine production of the Finger Lakes. In particular, the Riesling grape is widely cultivated and comprises the bulk of the Finger Lakes' finest wines. The cold climate and steep hills and gorges are quite similar to the Mosel Valley in Germany, where Riesling is perfected. Finger Lakes growers also experiment with other white vinifera varietals, including Gewurztraminer, Seyval Blanc, and Chardonnay.

Elsewhere in New York, a lot of non-vinifera grapes are grown, especially of the Niagara and Concord varieties. Most of these grapes are used to make jam, although a small amount is used to make wine.

At their best, the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes can hold up against a good QmP German Riesling, the gold standard in fine Riesling. You should take this to mean that some of them are excellent. More typically, on the lower end, the Riesling is pleasant but unimpressive. Most are fermented completely dry, in contrast to standard German practise. The other varietals are not as well developed, but may show promise from time to time.

The red wines of New York are nothing spectacular.

What's Good

Of all the winemakers of the Finger Lakes, Hermann J. Wiemer is widely regarded as being among the finest producers in the European style. His wines stack up well to those of Germany. I still order a case and have it shipped across the country to me every now and then because they are that good. Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars is the oldest vinifera fine wine producer in the Finger Lakes. Bully Hill Vineyards makes (mostly) non-vinifera wines in creative and attractive bottles, which are sure to get attention. Fox Run Vineyards is also well known and produces good wine.

White Wines

White Hermann J. Wiemer, Select Late Harvest Riesling Ice Wine 2003 (Finger Lakes)
August 2010 Rich sweet honey with a somewhat spicy nose. Well-structured and not at all syrupy despite being quite sweet. Apricot finish.
$35 / 375ml
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Reserve Dry Riesling 2006 (Finger Lakes)
16 January 2009 Exuberant tropical fruit, honey, and fragrant flowers. Slightly sweet for a "dry" wine.
$25 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Reserve Dry Riesling 2003 (Finger Lakes)
10 May 2008 Bracingly crisp with exceptionally strong minerality and light floral tones. Off-dry mouthfeel.
$23 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Dry Riesling 2003 (Finger Lakes)
22 January 2008 Vibrant floral aromas, strong mineral and slate flavors, smooth mouthfeel.
$16 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Select Late Harvest Riesling 2003 (Finger Lakes)
20 January 2008 Sweet and rich, with flavors of nectar, honey, apples, and flowers. Slight tartness and headiness in the finish.
$35 / 500ml
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Late Harvest Riesling 2006 (Finger Lakes)
7 January 2010 Crisp and slightly sweet mouthfeel. Strong mineral notes and honey with hints of flowers. Well-balanced.
$23 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling 2006 (Finger Lakes)
25 January 2008 Strong and rich, bursting with forward peach, apricot, honey, nectar, and flowers. Extremely concentrated but deceptively pale in color. Extremely sweet with a sticky sugary finish.
$50 / 500ml
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 2003 (Finger Lakes)
26 November 2007 Lively floral and honeyed flavors, crisp and sweet, exceptionally long finish. Very German-styled.
$20 / bottle
White Dr. Konstantin Frank, Dry Riesling 2003 (Finger Lakes)
24 March 2008 Bracingly crisp and acidic, with bright floral aromas, citrus, and rich green fruit. Takes time to open up, but quite good.
$16 / bottle
White Castel Grisch, Johannisberg Riesling 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Off-dry with very prominent herbal flavors (almost sauvignon blanc) in addition to traditional fruit and nectar varietal flavors. Uncomplicated.
$8.50 / bottle
White Fox Run Vineyards, Dry Riesling 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Very bold peach and citrus fruit with pleasant pear and nectar flavors. Good.
$10 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Johannisberg Riesling Semi-Dry 2000 (Finger Lakes)
6 February 2002 Exceptionally crisp, slightly herbal, with a touch of grapefruit and sundry other flavors. Light.
$12 / bottle
White Hermann J. Wiemer, Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Very bold forward tropical fruitiness, with a rich honey and nectarine flavor. Sweet and relatively light finish. Excellent quality. Similar in style to Dr. Loosen and other fruit-forward Mosel Rieslings.
$12 / bottle
White Dr Konstantin Frank, "40th Anniversary" Chardonnay NV (Finger Lakes)
6 February 2002 Slight oak, slightly spicy flavor.
$9-12 / bottle
White Heron Hill, Semi-Dry Riesling 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Very light nectarine and citrus flavors with mild tropical fruit. Slick on the palate.
$9.50 / bottle
White McGregor Vineyards, Gewurztraminer 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Flavorful earthy and spicy impression, with moderate oak influence. Tasty and lively.
$13 / bottle
White Glenora, Seyval Blanc 2000 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Medium body, dry, with pear and melon flavors. Very simplistic.
$8.50 / bottle
White Six Mile Creek, "Pasa Tiempo" NV (Finger Lakes)
21 July 2008 Off-dry citrus and grape. Crisp and very simple and uncomplicated.
$9 / bottle
White Widmer's Wine Cellars, Lake Niagara NV (Finger Lakes, Niagara)
6 February 2002 Sweet, very simple, acid so strong it could scour teeth. Serve extremely chilled.
$5 / bottle

Red Wines

Red Bully Hill, Chambourcin 1999 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Somewhat hollow, like shiraz with the guts taken out. Slightly spicy flavor, with smoke and oak influence, like a weak Rhone. May be palatable with light red pasta.
$?? / bottle
Red Castel Grisch, Baco Noir 2001 (Finger Lakes)
Summer 2002 Very fruity, slightly peppery finish. Very soft and smooth, similar to shiraz but much lighter and simpler. Matches well with pasta.
$7.50 / bottle
Red Palmer, Merlot 1998 (Long Island North Fork)
6 February 2002 Medium body, extremely strong smoky flavor, very spicy, far too tannic. Out of balance.
$15 / bottle
Red Six Mile Creek, "Dolce Vita" NV (Finger Lakes)
27 July 2008 Very tart and fruity berries. Sweet, but not as sweet as Concord.
$9 / bottle


Sparkling Chateau Frank, Brut 1997 (Finger Lakes)
1 May 2002 Very effervescent, low acid, very buttery bread and toast flavors, medium finish.
$20 / bottle
Sparkling Kedem Champagne NV (New York)
16 May 2008 Bitter and unbalanced, with a strong grain alcohol nose. Unpleasant.
$8 / bottle