The never-ending quest to find the veritas in vino was the impetus for a recent trip to the Finger Lakes wineries to ascertain the New York state of wine. Maybe it was the numbing winds spiraling off Seneca Lake or the forlorn look of vineyards in winter, but this brief “tour du vin” left more questions than answers. More than in other American viticultural regions, the quality of wine ranges from barely drinkable to promising. Few of the eighty or so bottlings had me praising Bacchus or reaching for my wallet. Lest this come across as elitism or wine snobbery. Some of the winemakers with whom I spoke admitted that they still had much to learn, recognizing their AVA as a work in progress, not unlike Napa-Sonoma forty years ago.
The Cliffs Notes synopsis of these wines would suggest that whites fare better than reds, not surprising given the terroir. Such cool climate stalwarts as Riesling and Gewurztraminer show well, especially off-dry versions of the former. As with Viognier in Virginia and Cabs in California, this is the area’s signature grape, at its best producing flavorful, crisp, and pleasantly mineral wines. Chardonnays tend to be Burgundian in style, eschewing the vanilla cream and butter of their Left Coast cousins but lacking the clarity and finesse of a Chablis.
The reds are another matter. On the whole, they are thin, too acidic, with a minimal body, uncomplicated fruitiness, and a whisper of a finish. Some Pinot Noirs and proprietary blends caught my palate… but they were noteworthy as exceptions in an otherwise mundane array. More interesting are historic hybrids of French and native grapes such as de Chaunac and Baco Noir, wines that may not be mainstream or cutting edge but have proven adaptable to their surroundings.
So plan a trip, preferably in warmer weather. Take a cruise. Stroll the lakefront towns and find that quaint spot to dine or sip libations on a veranda. Just remember it’s “caveat emptor” where the local wines are concerned. You can also check out the top wineries near Philadelphia.