Category Archives: New York

Wine Lover’s Guide to the Finger Lakes, New York

In early July, I did something crazy: I lined-up for Manhattan’s Holland Tunnel on a summer Friday afternoon. Why? To traverse a 250-mile swath of highway across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and back across New York, in order to visit America’s preeminent East Coast wine region—the Finger Lakes. A rural land of surprisingly fine wines, its Rieslings much vaunted by critics, the region offers abundant scenery of rolling hills, shimmering lakes, and neat rows of vineyards stretching from shore to sky.

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It’s easy to plan a trip to Finger Lakes Wine Country—the region’s tourism website offers ample information. Plus, the wine trail is superbly marked, as it follows the shorelines of the three main lakes: Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka. But this isn’t the Sonoma of the East. The overwhelming number of wineries, underwhelming number of sophisticated dining and lodging options, and lengthy driving distances between wineries make a well-organized, efficient itinerary a necessity.

So, with expectations in check, here’s a guide to seeing and tasting the best of the region over four nights and five days. Keep in mind: this winery itinerary is for marathon tasters. Feel free to stop for photos, food, or to just breathe, and drop a winery when you need to.

DAY 1

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Pump caffeine through your system for an early start on the drive there. Arrive early afternoon at the most beautiful and expensive of your lodging, the Aurora Inn, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. Take time to enjoy this special property and local activities. Stroll through the quaint town, visit Mackenzie Childs, and take a kayak out on the lake. Sip on a sundowner before dinner in the fantastic Aurora Inn dining room.

DAY 2

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Breakfast at the inn, pack-up, and head 8 minutes north on Highway 90 to visit Heart and Hands Winery, a “winery to watch” run by a husband-and-wife team focusing on estate Pinot Noir and Riesling (once the vines mature on their limestone-rich soil). For now, they buy their grapes. Next, you’ve got a 50-minute drive along highway 89 to Sheldrake Point Winery. Enjoy racy Rieslings, aromatic Gewürztraminer, and luscious dessert wine. For lunch, backtrack 7 minutes north up 89 to catch a wood-fired pizza (skip the wines) at The Copper Oven. Back on the road, you’ve less than a 30-minute drive from Cayuga down highway 414 to the east side of Seneca. First stop is Bloomer Creek—do not skip this visit. Winemaker Kim Engle makes small-batches of honest, terroir-driven wines with unique character. Practically next door, Atwater Vineyard offers a nice view overlooking the lake on its deck, from which you’ll try well-priced wines, including an interesting Riewürz and Blaüfrankisch. Head three minutes back north up 414 to Red Newt for an early dinner and to sample their wines while dining on local, seasonal cuisine. Overnight down in Watkins at the south end of Seneca Lake in the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.

DAY 3

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Breakfast at the hotel, pack-up, and head out on a 20-minute drive north along 414 to Lamoreaux Landing Winery. Enjoy expansive lake views, vineyard-designated Rieslings, and a méthode champenoise sparkler. Nearby, visit Hector Wine Company—winemaker Justin Boyette does wonders with grapes. They also produce a higher-end label called Forge, known for its controversial (due to some oak contact) but lovely, textural Riesling. Time for lunch just five minutes away at Dano’s, a modern, Viennese-inspired restaurant with outdoor tables. Post-meal, start your 30-minute drive to the western shore of Seneca Lake. First stop along highway 14 is Hermann J. Weimer, a justifiably famous producer of premium Riesling. Overnight at Glenora Inn, and seek finer dining back 30 minutes away on the east side of the lake at Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine or locally belovedStonecat Cafe. If you’re desperately tired, eat at the hotel’sVeraisons.

DAY 4

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Breakfast at the hotel, pack-up, and head north along highway 14 for about 15 minutes to Anthony Road for their exceptional Art Series Riesling. A very short drive from there is Red Tail Ridge, run by husband and wife team Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan. Ask for the Teroldego and Blaufrankisch. Next door, Fox Run Vineyards offers a fantastic line-up, including the Lake Dana Geology Series Rieslings, which can be enjoyed over a lunch of charcuterie and cheese from their café. Before departing, track down the electric Tierce Riesling (a collaboration between Red Newt, Anthony Road, and Fox Run, and sold at all three). If you aren’t wined-out, continue north for another seven minutes to Billsboro winery, owned by winemaker Vinny Aliperti (also of Atwater). If you can only handle one more winery, however, make itRavines, which is twice as far north, for their superb dry Riesling and Cerise red-blend. You’re now at the north end of the Seneca Lake, so stay at Geneva on the Lake or Bragdon House B&B, and dine in Geneva town at the Red Dove Tavern.

DAY 5

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Breakfast at the hotel, pack-up, and head over to Lake Keuka, the prettiest of the lakes, for a tasting at Dr. Konstantin Frank. This fourth-generation family winery laid the foundation for the Finger Lakes wine industry. On your way back to Hammondsport, pop in to Keuka Lake Vineyards for a comparison tasting of small batch, single-site Rieslings. Catch a quick lunch in town at the Village Tavern. If you’ve got one more winery in your system, visit McGregor on the opposite shore of Keuka Lake. It’s almost 30 minutes away along gently curving back roads and over rolling country, but you’ll be rewarded for the effort.

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Get Your Tickets to NY Drinks NY

And Support the Wineries in our Backyard

NY Drinks NY: March 2013
Monday March 18, 2013
Grand Tasting
Featuring more than 40 New York wineries from the Finger LakesLong Island,Hudson River RegionNiagara EscarpmentLake Erie and Thousand Islands.
An all-New York selection of cheeses, charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres will be provided by the New York Wine & Culinary Center.
Monday, March 18
12 – 4 pm Trade
6 – 8 pm Consumer
Astor Center
399 Lafayette Street (at E 4th Street)
Public admission:
$35 tickets ($25 before January 15) are limited
and can be purchased below or here.
Trade and Media RSVP »

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New York Wines hit Chinese Shores

Shanghai’s Pudong on a rainy day, viewed from the Park Hyatt

I can’t stop reading and thinking about China and wine.  Perhaps topical stories are catching my eye, since I am tuned into the subject due to my visit to China in June; nonetheless, I have discovered another new development.  It seems the looming tidal wave of Chinese wine consumption has finally reached local NY shores—or rather, we have gone to theirs, hoping to catch a ride in on the money wave: New York State Wine Outlet opens in Shanghai!  Unfortunately, my visit was a month before the opening of this exciting experiment, or else I would have liked to see how the Chinese represent NY wines to the local populace.  Currently, Chinese wine consumption is estimated at 1 measly bottle a head per year (I know some people who can put one back in a night—not good either though).  This figure may sound small, but there are 1.3 billion humans over there, and consumption and income are ballooning.

Lord Stow’s Egg Custard operation in Macau

It seems, rightfully so, that New York wants a slice of the egg custard (particularly if it is from Lord Stow’s in Macau. Me too!)  Empire State Cellars (the only all NY wine store), owned  by Peconic Bay Winery in the North Fork, was commissioned with creating an assortment of 30 wines representative of different regions and styles from NY State.  Wineries that comprised the initial shipment included: Anthony Road Wine CompanyBedell CellarsChanning Daughters WineryHudson-Chatham Winery, Jamesport VineyardsMedolla VineyardsPaumanok VineyardsPeconic Bay WineryShaw Vineyard and Shinn Estate Vineyards.

The Outlet itself is meant as a resource for trading, selling and showcasing NY wines plus the venue will host trade shows, promotional events and matchmaking (no, not like Elimidate) for distributors and buyers.  Why is this exciting beyond merely the opportunity for New York to stake a claim in unchartered China?  It was only a decade ago that NY State wines lacked the quality-price ratio (QPR) to compete nationally, let alone globally. I am sure many will pick a bone with that statement, but I stand by it having spent more than a decade tasting and mostly spitting the wines.   However, in the last 5-6 years the vino has improved tremendously across the board; call it better weather (global warming) or better technique, or both.  Either way, the price points look much more reasonable when the juice in the glass has balance, complexity and is delicious to drink.

So, what does the New York State Wine and Spints (yes, not Spirits) website look like? Kind of hilarious.  Having just come back from China, I am familiar with the theme of poor Chinese –English translation and spelling, coupled with jumbled site design.  They definitely have some work to do on the NYSWO website.  For instance, some of the NY wineries have their names misspelled: sparking ponte vineyards should be Sparkling Pointe and lieb family cellards is, well, obvious.  Also, content was lacking and functionality was off.  I was the 76th visitor; my husband, 15 minutes later, was the 72nd. Maybe they are counting down from a million and #1 will win a prize!  I applaud the efforts here, but wonder why winemakers stateside aren’t insisting on a few fixes, given there is a large population of English speaking expats in Shanghai.  Maybe the Chinese version of the site looks better-unfortunately, I can’t read it!

Lion guarding the gates at the Forbidden City, Beijing

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