New York State of Wine

Written by Josh Perilo on . Posted in Dining Our Town, Dining West Side Spirit, Eat & Drink, Our Town, The Penniless Epicure, West Side Spirit.


Forget Long Island—these Finger Lake whites are the real deal

Anyone who knows me knows that I cheer for the underdog—especially when it comes to wine. And when I was a wine director, I would often try to convince patrons to branch out and try something new. Some people called my methods sneaky. I argue that I was just giving them an unsolicited experience.

“Mmm,” the woman at table 10 cooed, “This is the best North Fork chardonnay I’ve ever had.”

“It’s better than that,” I replied, “because it’s not even from the North Fork.”

“Where is it from?”

“Seneca Lake,” I clipped back at her. “Upstate New York.”

I only got in trouble for my little trick once. But it was worth it!

Grapes for winemaking have been grown in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York for over 100 years. That’s decades longer than the Russian River or Napa Valley. The white wines from the Finger Lakes are exceptionally underrated and always have been; not like the wines from the North Fork of Long Island, which are, for some reason, much more popular and expensive.

There are a handful of Long Island wines that are good, but there isn’t the consistency of quality that you’ll find with the whites from Upstate.

And it really just boils down to one thing: experience. Those vineyards on the North Fork were potato fields only a handful of years ago. I suppose it’s kind of cool that you can drive by P. Diddy’s mansion and a vineyard full of cabernet franc within the same 45 minutes, but is it worth the price tag?

In my opinion, no, it is not. That is why I am placing on their rightful pedestal the white wines of New York’s Finger Lakes. They are delicious, of a consistent high quality and very inexpensive.

One of the pioneers of the Finger Lakes growing area was Dr. Konstantin Frank. He was the first viticulturist to make a real impact in the area, and the wines from the vineyard he started still bear his name today. The Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry Riesling 2010 ($18.99 at Gotham Wines and Liquors, 2517 Broadway at 94th St., 212-932-0990, gothamwines.com) is a stellar example of a classic Finger Lakes-style riesling. As the name suggests, it does have a touch of residual sweetness on the finish, but the natural acidity of the riesling grape counters that nicely. It is a refreshing wine, full of easy to enjoy apricot and orange flavors, and is just as good by itself as it is paired with something spicy like pad Thai.

Another local gem from the Seneca Lake area is the Lamareaux Landing Chardonnay 2010 ($14.99 at America‘s Wine Shop, 398 3rd Ave. at 28th St., 800-865-0982, americaswineshop.com). This is an excellent and less expensive alternative to a typical oaky California-style chardonnay. The Lamareaux Landing has a touch of oak flavor, but doesn’t make it the main event. Instead, the wine focuses on peach and tropical fruit flavor notes, making the oak taste a subtle backdrop. This is a serious enough chardonnay to stand up to lobster tail with drawn butter, but is also fruity enough to be sipped all by itself.

I know I said I was going to focus on white wines from Upstate New York, but one of my absolute favorites from the area is actually a rosé. Chateau Lafayette Reneau Pinot Noir Blanc 2010 ($10.99 at Garnet Wines and Liquors, 929 Lexington Ave. at 68th St., 212-772-3212, garnetwine.com) is a rare treat that the folks from Chateau Lafayette Reneau make only a handful of times a decade. If the pinot noir crop yields are high enough, the extra that isn’t used to make their regular pinot noir is made into a light pink, strawberry-laden nectar. Dancing just on the edge of semi-dry, the pinot noir grape gives this deceptively complex summer sipper a boatload of ripe, red fruit and a kick of citrus to balance the whole package out on the finish. Buy it by the case!

So the next time you want to take in the bounty that New York State has to offer, head due north instead of east. The real estate is cheaper and the wine is more delicious.

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