“I’m sorry,” sneered the woman as she peered over her glasses at me, “where did you say this Chardonnay was from?”
“It’s from New York State, ma’am.”
“But where?” she hissed. “Where in New York State?”
I breathed deep and swallowed hard. “Seneca Lake,” I clipped back at her. “UP-state New York.”
The woman chuckled and pushed the bottle to the edge of the table with her fingertips, as if it were contaminated with nuclear radiation.
“Why don’t you bring me that more expensive bottle from the North Fork, instead.”
“Gladly,” I said, smiling back at her.
Oh, if only she knew. If only any of them did! Grapes for wine making have been grown in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York for more than 100 years. That’s decades longer than the Russian River or Napa Valley. White wines from the Finger Lakes are exceptionally underrated and always have been—unlike 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.
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 kinda 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 the New York 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. The Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry Riesling 2007 ($16.99 at Gotham Wine and Liquor, 2517 Broadway at 94th St., 212-932-0990) 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 in the Seneca Lake area is the Lamareaux Landing Chardonnay 2006 ($11.99 at America‘s Wineshop, 398 Third Ave. at 28th St., Manhattan, 800-865-0982). 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 Renaeu Pinot Noir Blanc 2007 ($6.99 at Garnet Wines, 929 Lexington Ave. at 68th St., 212-772-3212) is a rare treat that the folks from CLR 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!
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, the vistas are more expansive and the wine is more delicious.