As the market trends toward high-acid, fresh wine styles, unmarred by heavy-handed oak, New York’s largest American Viticultural Area (AVA), the Finger Lakes, checks all the boxes for consumers’ current drinking preferences.
The grape is at home in the myriad of loamy, silty and gravelly soils in the area, which are predominantly composed of shale, clay and limestone. A full spectrum of Riesling styles is able to be produced here, from mineral- and citrus-driven dry wines to juicy peach and apple inflected off-dry and semidry bottlings, and even the lusciously sweet yet calibrated expressions that border on the tropical-fruit spectrum.
The common thread is Riesling’s inherent electric acidity. It keeps the wines precise and well balanced yet vibrant in flavor.
There are 130 wineries in the AVA, and each annually produces, on average, two to three styles of Riesling, often hitting the dry, semidry and/or sweet categories. Many expand their portfolio by also providing expressive site-specific, single-vineyard bottlings. Each differs in microclimate, vineyard aspect and soil type, resulting in truly unique wines.
The grape is at home in the myriad of loamy, silty and gravelly soils in the area.
Others delve into production techniques beyond traditional stainless-steel-fermented Rieslings, opting for neutral oak fermentation. This rounds out the edges of the wine and provides a delightfully savory element alongside the grape’s typical dry-styled, lemon-lime intensity.
Beyond the sheer versatility of Finger Lakes Riesling, these wines also average around only $20 per bottle. Of the 100-plus bottlings that I’ve reviewed to date from the two vintages currently on market, 2016 and 2017, nearly half have been rated very good (87–89 points) and more than 30 have been rated excellent (90–93) or superb (94–97).
I’d say those are some solid odds for stumbling across a delicious Finger Lakes Riesling at a killer price the next time you peruse your local wine shop.
Sure, only about 200,000 cases of Riesling are produced annually across the region, a volume that could easily be replicated or exceeded by a number of single producers in California alone. And you might think that, with a small production number, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle. But it’s likely easier than you realize, as somms and wine buyers from coast to coast are already keen on what the Finger Lakes has to offer. The only thing they’re waiting for is you to dive on in with them.
Five to Try
Hosmer 2017 Patrician Verona Riesling (Cayuga Lake); $17, 92 points. Pristine aromas of ripe peach and pineapple are accented by a dusting of lime zest and jasmine on the nose of this semisweet Riesling. The succulent palate displays a dazzling array of juicy stone- and orchard-fruit flavors that are brightened by shots of tangerine and passion fruit, all honed by an explosion of acidity. Editors’ Choice.
Wagner 2017 Caywood East Vineyard Riesling (Finger Lakes); $18, 92 points. This single-vineyard Riesling from the eastern shore of Seneca Lake is intensely focused on the nose, displaying defined aromas of lime zest, white flowers and crushed limestone. It’s bright and zesty on the dry, light-bodied palate, with shots of tart green plum and powdered minerals. There’s a delicate astringency come the midpalate which culminates on a peach-fuzz sensation on the finish. Editors’ Choice.
Damiani 2016 Semi-Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes); $16, 91 points. This delicious semidry Riesling offers an exuberant nose of ripe apple, white blossoms and crushed slate. There’s a pleasing roundness to the palate, with a textured, fuzzy feel that carries flavors of crisp apple and lemon underscored by juicy, sweet peach. Laser-focused acidity keeps it all in check, making this a well-balanced offering. Editors’ Choice.
Bellwether 2016 Sawmill Creek Vineyard Riesling (Finger Lakes); $22, 91 points. Aromas of fresh thyme, honeycomb wax and citrus blossom meld with a stony core of quince and slate in this single-vineyard Riesling sourced from the east side of Seneca Lake. A smooth, well-concentrated palate delivers flavors of green melon, apple and white cherry, while an electric current of acidity keeping this feeling persistent yet balanced. Drink now–2022.
Fox Run 2017 Silvan Riesling (Finger Lakes); $25, 90 points. Quiet aromas of lemon and lime rinds hover over a core of fresh herbs and white cherry in this barrel-fermented Riesling. The palate offers creamy apple and tangerine peel flavors, peppered with a zesty limestone note and shot through with electric acidity. It’s savory and lingering on the finish.