Whether the Finger Lakes, Long Island, Hudson Valley or beyond, the best wines in New York are still made by small, typically family-owned wineries with limited technological shortcuts and in miniscule volume.
To put production figures into perspective, rising stars in the Finger Lakes like Nathan Kendall make less than 4,000 cases a year. The regional heavyweight, Hermann J. Wiemer, produces about 17,000 cases annually. Yet even combined, these efforts are hardly a drop in the bucket when compared to large-scale American producers who make upward of 10 million cases a year.
Often priced under $20 at entry level, these wines represent a breed of painstakingly made, small-production pours that offer remakable value.
While great wines can be made many ways, there’s distinct value in wines made carefully in small quantities, directly reflecting the terroir, vintage and philosophies of their makers. Winemaker Fred Merwath’s Rieslings at Hermann J. Wiemer reveal both the filigreed effect of grapes coaxed from a cool vintage as well as the plump nectar of an Indian summer. You can taste the complexity gained from patient lees aging in Nathan Kendall’s Chardonnay or the nuanced texture of Pinot Noir made without correction via fining agents.
As recent tastings have shown, wines from New York offer a dizzying array of diversity. Classics like Riesling and Merlot are featured alongside fine sparkling wines and rarities like Gamay and Grüner Veltliner. Often priced under $20 at entry level, these wines represent a breed of painstakingly made, small-production pours that provide remarkable value.
Call it cliché, but we value wine because it offers something unique: a time capsule expressive of a singular terroir or vintage. You can taste the struggle and the glory. It connects you to the hearts of the people and places that crafted it, and only further enhances your drinking experience. We’ll toast to that.
Recommended Wines for Under $20
Hermann J. Wiemer 2015 Dry Riesling (Seneca Lake); $19, 93 points. Wiemer’s standard dry Riesling is an impeccable value for a wine that offers such density of fruit and minerality. While dry in style, it’s a luscious, deeply fruity wine studded with tangerine and stone-fruit flavors glazed in honey and nectar. It’s unctuous and ripe, but finishes with a cool, steel-edged persistence. Editors’ Choice.
Keuka Spring 2016 Semi-Sweet Riesling (Finger Lakes); $17, 90 points. While bountiful in ripe, plush nectarine, peach and melon, this medium-sweet Riesling off sets its sunny side with dazzling acidity. Light on its feet yet deeply penetrating, it’s an effortless people pleaser offering balance and satisfaction.
Bellangelo 2014 Gewürztraminer (Seneca Lake); $17, 90 points. Delightfully fresh, this off-dry Gewürztraminer wafts of zesty tangerine peels, lychee and blossom. Sweet citrus flavors are concentrated but brisk, tinged by hints of crushed mineral and a whisper of vanilla cream. Drink now through 2021.
Red Newt Cellars 2014 Gewürztraminer (Finger Lakes); $16, 90 points. Pristine grapefruit, lemon and cantaloupe perfume this bold, fruit-forward Gewürztraminer. While off dry in style and densely concentrated in apricot and citrus flavors, it’s balanced keenly in acidity and finishes with mineral refreshment.
Hosmer 2016 Chardonnay (Cayuga Lake); $16, 90 points. A small proportion of oak fermentation on this intensely primary Chardonnay lends depth and a rounded mouthfeel to its buoyantly fresh peach and tangerine characteristics. Cutting grapefruit and lime acidity refreshes the palate, guiding a long, pristine finish. Enjoy young to maximize its fresh appeal.
Millbrook 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay (Hudson River Region); $18, 89 points. Millbrook’s unoaked Chardonnay shares much of the luscious tropical fruit and fleshy mouthfeel of the oaked bottling, but without the embellishment of oak maturation. It’s still quite a creamy, indulgent sip with a lingering lactic finish.
Sheldrake Point 2016 Estate Bottled Gamay Noir (Finger Lakes); $18, 88 points. More floral and ethereal than the producer’s reserve bottling, this delicately concentrated Gamay suggests juicy, crisp red cherries and strawberries. It’s a pretty, subtly structured wine with softer, yielding tannins.
Suhru 2013 Ember (North Fork of Long Island); $19, 89 points. Ripe, sun-kissed plum and blackberry flavors are crisply balanced in this juicy, velvet-textured red. It’s lavishly oaky, streaked with layers of spice, toast and caramel, but maintains elegance and brightness throughout. The finish is marked by fine-grained but penetrating tannins.