2017-06-01 / Wine Notes

Make for the Lakes

Robert D. Richards, CSW

With summer upon us, this is a great time to explore wine country — East Coast style. The Finger Lakes wine region takes less than three hours by car to reach from State College, and it offers a wide range of great wines, great vistas and great ways to spend a day or two — or even more.

The wineries that dot the shores of the Finger Lakes have developed over time into top-quality producers despite the colder climate of upstate New York. Winemakers originally thought that it was too cold to grow vitis vinifera grapes (the European varietals that we know and love, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling, among others). Instead, they used native varietals, such as Concord and Niagara, which produced sub-par wines.

Working with plant scientists at Cornell, they discovered that grafting vinifera clones onto hardy rootstock resulted in vines that could withstand the cold temperatures. Moreover, they planted the vineyards to maximize sun exposure and trimmed the leaves back in the summer — a practice called canopy management — to get more sun on the fruit.

Some winemakers also use French hybrid grapes that grow well in colder climates — Seyval, Cayuga, Vignoles and Vidal, to name a few. (Full disclosure: The author of this column has made wine using all of those varietals.) These grapes make very respectable table wines, but still don’t have the same panache as vinifera.

The region was formed 10,000 years ago from glaciers that brought slate and stone to the area. As a result, the vineyards sit atop well-drained acreage and the grapes get minerals from the soil. Finger Lakes wines are marked by crisp acidity, which makes them a good accompaniment to food.

Adding to the climate are the lakes themselves, which moderate the temperatures, providing cooler temps in the summer and warmer ones in the winter. Just as with vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California, the Finger Lakes region experiences microclimates, making some pockets of the region warmer than others and thus extending the growing season.

Finger Lakes wines are available from the wineries, but are also on menus at many restaurants in New York and beyond, including in Pennsylvania. Here are a few selections available at our state stores. •SCM

Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc Finger Lakes 2012
(#47182, $20.99)
With notes of plum, blueberry and bell pepper, this Finger Lakes red is medium bodied with a good finish.

Lamoreaux Landing Riesling Finger Lakes Yellow Dog Vineyard 2012
(#46301, $19.99)
This Riesling showcases citrus, peach and spice and makes for a nice pairing with Asian food.

Red Newt Cellars Gewürztraminer Finger Lakes 2013
(#47239, $15.99)
Also a good pairing with Asian cuisine, this wine has floral notes, with added spice, citrus and honey.

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