If you’re looking for a new wine destination, add the Finger Lakes to your list. From the sublime and varied Rieslings to fresh reds, upstate New York has plenty for everyone.
The wines discussed in this episode are:
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Read the full transcript of “The Finger Lakes Show Stunning Scenery and Serious Wines”:
Jameson Fink: Welcome to Wine Enthusiasts, What We’re Tasting Podcast. I’m your host, Jameson Fink. Join me as we discuss three fantastic wines and why one belongs in your glass. This episode, we’re looking at the Finger Lakes with tasting director Alexander Peartree, who covers and reviews wines from the region. Vivian Finds the right wine every time, including bottles from New York’s Finger Lakes region. Download Vivino to discover and buy your favorites and stock up at vivino.com/wineenthusiast.
We’ve talked about the west coast, visited the few days there, went to Texas, and now I think it’s time to turn to the east coast, and to New York, specifically the state of New York, which I live in, and shockingly to the people of New York, it’s a big, full of the most interesting wine regions. It’s a beautiful region, I highly recommend you visit. I do not know if it’s underrated, it’s starting to get the attention that I think it deserves for a wide variety of wines. I’m really excited to have you here today, Alex to talk about the Finger Lakes. Welcome to the show.
Alex Peartree: Thank you very much, Jameson.
JF: I guess the first thing is, I mean, I was like my ignorant New York geography I probably need a little lesson. We’re in Manhattan right now, but the Finger Lakes is a fairly long, but a journey from New York. Where exactly are the Finger Lakes?
AP: Yeah. It’s about a five-hour drive from New York City. New York City, and they consider upstate New York, Westchester, or like the Poughkeepsie, but the state extends far beyond that, and the Finger Lakes are kind of in central New York, you picture where Rochester, and Syracuse Yeah. There’s 11 lakes, but there’s only a few of them.
JF: Yeah. A little quick sidebar, when I lived in White Plains, and I was like, “Westchester is not upstate,” but that’s an argument for another show.
Alex Peartree: It’s not even an argument.
JF: I mean it’s really, they’re aptly named, I’m really quite geographically fascinating.
AP: Yeah. No. The amazing thing about the Finger Lakes, I know there’s 11 of them, and they were all carved by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. They range in deepness levels, but they look like they’re definitely interesting.
JF: As far as I go, I think it’s a lot of people, it’s Riesling, is Riesling kind of the Finger Lakes calling card grape?
AP: Yeah. Riesling has definitely taken hold in the Finger Lakes.
JF: How much influence do the lakes have on making a great wine region?
AP: “I mean, that is like 100% true, I know the lakes are actually the moderating factors, which help the cool, keep the climate cool in the summer, because the summers can get quite hot up there, and in the winter it helps keep the area around the little bit warmer, because it can get pretty cold up there. The lake is kind of soak up the heat from the summer, and that it is extended through the winter, so that the vines do not die.
JF: Yeah. It was snowing, it started snowing, it was snowing, it was snowing when we were in a vineyard, I was just shocked, I was like, wow, this is an extreme region for grape growing.
AP: Yeah. I mean, I’m from Rochester, I’m from Rochester, I’m from it would be kind of crazy, and it would be kind of crazy.
JF: Yeah. Spring and fall you might want to wear a coat and maybe even a hat and gloves. I mentioned a Riesling earlier, the first wine I wanted to talk about the Herman J. Wiemer 2016 Summer Bottled and Grown Dry Riesling from Seneca Lake, 92 points. I think that’s about Rieslings and what they’re kind of flavor profile You are? Obviously they’re dry, but do you still get a lot of that Riesling, those hallmarks of the Riesling grape?
AP: Yeah. The wonderful thing about Riesling can be done in a variety of styles. Rieslings, just because I think they’re more familiar with German Rieslings, and the more commercial Rieslings that have come out of that area. While the Finger Lakes do Rieslings are quite expressive and quite different. The Wiemer, the 2016 Dry Riesling, typically, well, from year to year it has this very substance taut minerality to it, there’s nice tension through it, which makes it really, really balanced and expressive wine, on the other end it also has pretty ripe fruit expression, so there is a lot of peach and stone fruit
JF: Yeah. They have some sweetness to them especially in the cool climate regions I think people would be surprised on how dry they drink, because they’ve got that great acidity, they’ve got that zip, too, so even though there’s that sort of sense of sweetness type of expression.
AP: Yeah. Definitely.
JF: Yeah. Do not be afraid of a little sweetness in your Riesling.
AP: Absolutely, not. No.
JF: Yeah. And I think, it’s also that we said about the Finger Lakes is that you can find in German style exquisite nectar dessert wines.
AP: Yeah. They are letting the grapes harvest, they are getting a good production of Ice wine. on the vine through December, January, and I’ll never give you but I’d totally drink the wine.
JF: Yeah. I’ve ever done. I spent one day in the summer. I can not imagine what it’s like. I think you have to take out every single berry?
AP: Yeah. They have got to be out of the specific berries, and they believe they can not really wear gloves because they need to have dexterous fingers.
JF: Oh, my God. Yeah.
AP: It’s crazy. Right?
JF: I do not know, maybe I have a lot of admiration for people who can handle that, not me. Let’s move from Riesling, let’s talk about Rosé, which is everywhere, which is great. I want to talk about the Sheldrake Point 2017 Dry Summer Bottled Rosé, which you gave 90 points to. Are you seeing more and more Rosé from the Finger Lakes?
AP: Yeah. Over the years there’s definitely been a Rosé boom, and I think that goes across the board for most regions, however, it doesn’t mean that every region produces an amazing Rosé, and I think for the Finger Lakes, because it’s a cooler climate it actually produces a really nicely balanced Rosé. The Sheldrake is a 100% Cabernet Franc Rosé, which I think is a lovely style of Rosé, you kind of get the herbalness and like the spicy kind of berry notes of Cabernet Franc, but you also blend in later stone fruit notes, and a little bit of that crisp mineral zing.
JF: Yeah. I really like Cab Franc Rosé. One thing I was thinking about recently with rosé is when you drink a lot of sort of pale nondescript kind of watery ones you don’t really get the sense of the grape that it’s made from, it sounds kind of silly, and I’ve written about this before, like with the Cab Franc Rosé, I mean, kind of with your eyes closed you get those notes of sort of like more savory notes that Cabernet Franc has so I think it makes a really distinct Rosé that stands out from a lot of kind of watery, bland plonk.
AP: Definitely. Yeah. Beyond Cabernet Franc, the Finger Lakes also produces Pinot Noir Rosés, Rosés from Lemberger, Blaufränkisch, so they really kind of hit the whole gambit in terms of Rosé.
JF: When we talk about Cabernet Franc in Rosé form, and in red form, if I’m a Loire Cabernet Franc fan is this kind of my jam?
AP: It’s definitely more on the old world style. The Finger Lakes kind of has a nice balance between new world and old world, it’s not going to be ultra ripe, it’ll be a little bit more savory, and herbal, and spicy. A little bit lighter in profile than some of the new world offerings, so yeah, I would maybe make a case that’s its more akin to Loire.
JF: With a lot of these red grapes, and the weather there, you know we talked about snow earlier, is it a problem getting grapes ripe? Is that an issue every year?
AP: Well, not in the past few years.
JF: Right. Yeah.
AP: There’s definitely been a lot of warming effect going on in the past few years, and in 2016, and from what I’m hearing from 2017 it’s definitely been some pretty warm vintages, but even in the past with cooler vintages know it hasn’t really been an issue getting the grapes ripened, it was just more of kind of a vineyard management deal.
JF: Another wine I wanted to talk about that I’ve had from the Finger Lakes that I wanted to mention, too, is sparkling wine. I’ve started to see a lot more sparkling wines and very serious wines have spent years on the lees, and is sparkling wine coming on in the Finger Lakes?
AP: Well, New York actually has a pretty rich history of sparkling wine, and they had sparkling houses way back pre-prohibition, unfortunately they closed, they shuttered during prohibition, and now a lot of producers are revitalizing that, and one of them is Wiemer, the other is Doctor Frank, which they produce traditional method, sparkling wines with Chardonnay, and Pinot.
JF: Look out for sparkling wines, too.
JF: Hey, we’ll be to the show here shortly, but since you’re here I know you’re already a fan of wine podcasts, why don’t you check out our other show called, The Wine Enthusiast Podcast, download it wherever you get podcasts. The third wine I want to talk about is something, a grape, that I really like, and that I kind of got most familiar with in Washington state, but when I was out a few years ago I tried a lot of blends, and single variety versions that I really like and it’s Lemberger, it’s the Damiani 2016 Sunrise Hill Vineyards Lemberger, 90 points. For people who don’t know what is Lemberger? What is it like?
AP: Lemberger, or as they call it in Austria, Blaufränkisch, which they’re the same grape. I kind of would describe it as a similar body to a Cabernet Franc, except it’s more on the darker fruit notes, maybe more like a sour dark cherry, a little bit of that spicy dark brambly notes, and definitely pepper. This one from Damiani, I really enjoyed it when I tasted it. It’s from a vintage that it had a drought in the middle of the summer, so this actually resulted in lower yields, concentrated berries, so this actually has a really nice depth to it, which I wrote in my note, it’s like it’s showing its Hungarian oak on its sleeve right now, so it’s a little oaky right now, but I think in a few years it’ll all balance out, and it actually has that nice ripe fruit, very, very, grippy tannins to help it extend a few more years.
JF: That’s a good point about oak, I mean, there are a lot of people who are sensitive to oak, or really don’t like sort of oak that’s out there and in your face, I’ve been on record as enjoying oak, especially in white wines. I think that’s something that people don’t realize is that sometimes oak can be like you said, like it’s wearing on its sleeve, but it’s pretty incredible, that’s one of the great things about cellaring wine you can just, I mean, even like one, or two, or three years you can really see that oak kind of integrate and then it’s just more like bringing something to the party and not putting a lampshade on it’s head.
AP: Definitely. You can’t just think about wine as you’re drinking it right now you have to kind of have the foresight to see where it would go in a few years, and if all the components are there, but it’s just not kind of hitting its stride right now, it might mean that it needs a few more years to settle out, and integrate further.
JF: I think that’s where you can start understanding like on a review, like sort of the drinking windows, I mean that’s sort of taking your experience with wine, and region, and wine making styles, and saying, this is something you want to hold onto for a few years, not that it would be unpleasant now, but just sort of noting that this is why I say, drink from 2020 with this wine.
AP: Exactly. I mean, they’re all, we do try to give drinking windows, and they’re all relatively subjective, but we do try to offer a really kind of honed idea of when this should be best enjoyed.
JF: Then with Lemberger, I mean this obviously sounds like a more serious wine, like one you would hold onto, are there more sort of like, is it a grape that can be like a drink now type of style?
AP: Definitely. There are plenty of Lemberger, or Blaufränkisch examples in the Finger Lakes and they kind of switch labeling, some do, say Lemberger, some say Blaufränkisch, and through my tastings I had plenty that were not as oaky right now, and some that might not even have any oak at all, and they’re just pretty fruit forward, but still grippy, nice braid acidity, it’s just a well balanced easy drinking wine.
JF: Yeah. It’s interesting when I had it in Washington, the versions I’ve had, have been a little more on the grippy tannic side, but they’re from an area like Red Mountain, which is like the polar opposite of-
JF: The Finger Lakes, like a really hot, baking region in Eastern Washington, so it’s interesting to see the grape, and that’s something that’s really kind of fun and geeky to do is to try a grape from different regions, like a hotter region, a cool climate region, and kind of see how obviously wine making has something to do with it, but to really get sort of a handle on a region.
AP: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, that’s what wine is all about your kind of exploring a region through drinking the wine, and as you said, if you try a Blaufränkisch from a warmer region verse Blaufränkisch from a cooler region you’ll definitely understand what happens in the vineyard and why one is bigger than the other.
JF: I also want to talk about availability of the wines, because wine I was living on the west coast, in Seattle, I never saw any Finger Lakes wines, and that’s one of the great things about being out here is that I can go to restaurants and there’s a great support for all the wines of New York, really, and we’re just talking about the Finger Lakes, but there’s certainly more regions. What’s your take on are we going to see New York wines more nationally? Are people on the west coast enjoying them more? Is it an issue of production, or just people haven’t been exposed to them, yet?
AP: Yeah. Well, definitely here there’s a really big drink local thing going on, so you’ll see Finger Lakes wines all throughout the east coast, and especially in New York City. There are a good number of wineries that distribute out to the west coast, and I would say Wiemer, maybe Red Tail Ridge, and possibly Glenora are a few that have kind of spread their distribution out there, so you should definitely keep an eye out for them. It’s not really an issue of production, it’s more of an issue of people wanting to explore what the Finger Lakes has to offer.
JF: Yeah. They should just, well, I will just say, you just got to go and visit, because it’s really, I mean, when you see the views of the vineyards with the lakes behind them it’s really, really stunning.
AP: Oh, God. It’s gorgeous. When I used to live up there, and I was just, it was amazing driving to and from work, I used to live in Ithaca, and drive that every day, and I would come over the ridge, and you would just see this sprawling giant lake, it’s like you don’t have any words for it. That was awful.
JF: Yeah. That wasn’t awful. One last thing I want to talk about, too, is visiting, I love sort of visiting wine country, and food, and stuff. Have you been F.L.X. Wienery?
AP: I actually haven’t been yet. I’m dying to go and I’m dying to see Chris Bates other restaurants like F.L.X. Table, but I haven’t been yet, actually.
JF: Yeah. He’s a master sommelier, and he has a couple restaurants.
AP: He has a winery
Alex Peartree: As well.
JF: And winery.
AP: He’s the jack of all trade. He actually also has F.L.X. Provisions, which is a shop that sells wines, and ciders, and all the delicious local things from the Finger Lakes. He is really doing it all.
JF: Yeah. If you go to the Finger Lakes, F.L.X. Wienery, they make hotdogs and sausages. They make almost everything there, and what’s great about it is if you bring a Finger Lakes wine there, there’s no corkage fee for it, which is a great way to enjoy your day, and also he has like a fridge with a bunch of really cool esoteric wines, too, if you want to take a break from Finger Lakes wine to have a beer, too, it’s a really cool place, but it’s really also an exciting place for eating, and drinking, and also like you said, cider, and all kinds of, I mean, you can really spend a lot of time there visiting wineries, and eating, and drinking your way through.
AP: Yeah. I mean, the Finger Lakes has a lot more to offer than wine. It’s a really big agricultural area, as well, like for cider, for cheese, orchards, for apples, and peaches, and cherries, like it really has it all. If you wanted to create an itinerary there where you sprinkled in a little bit of wine, and a little bit of cheese, and then some hiking, and you know going to check waterfalls, it’s like you could hit everything. It’s amazing.
JF: Well, I think we’ve made the case for visiting the Finger Lakes,and drinking the wines from the region. Alex, thanks for joining me on the show, today.
AP: Thanks for having me.
JF: We’re Tasting Podcast, sponsored by Vivino wine made easy. The wines we discussed today were The Hermann J. Wiemer, 2016, Summer Bottled and Grown Dry Riesling. The Sheldrake Point 2017 Dry Summer Bottled Rosé. And the Damiani 2016 Sunrise Hill Vineyards Lemberger. Find What We’re Tasting on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, please give us a five star rating on iTunes, leave a comment, and tell your friends. What We’re Tasting is a Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Check out Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com.