Finger Lakes wines: You need to pay attention now. Really.

So, I have to admit, whenever I come across publications or blogs centered around a particular emerging region’s wines, I’m suspicious that the ratings and reviews will be subject to a little “home cooking” – overenthusiastic, or worse yet, paid reviews that overstate the quality of the wines, coming from a local cheerleader.

In addition, my early experiences with wines from New York state were, well, unpleasant to put it kindly.  Tasting wines in the Hudson Valley two years ago didn’t really change my mind.

The tide started to turn for me last summer, when I did some tasting at a few well-regarded wineries in the North Fork area of Long Island.  There I found competent whites and some reds that really did show well – pushing the 90 point range for me in the best cases.  Still, the reds that I might say could compete with wines from other emerging regions like South America were unfortunately two to three times the cost of wines from those international competitors.  To me, despite the progress, there wasn’t yet a reason for nonlocals to seek out the wines especially.

That changes now.  With a few tastings of Finger Lakes wines (mostly rieslings, and a bit of pinot noir), I’ve come to the view that New York state wines have arrived.  I’ll cover the lovely, delicate Ravines pinot noir in a future post, but today I’ll cover the Finger Lakes wine region’s strong suit:  riesling.

With pioneers like Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemer and newer producers like Ravines Wine Cellars leading the way, Finger Lakes rieslings have reached an impressive level of quality.  In addition to some outstanding wines from the above-mentioned producers, I have tasted very solid offerings from other Finger Lakes producers including Red Newt Cellars (who sadly lost one of their co-owners in a car accident recently), Glenora Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, and Billsboro Winery.

Across the board, the wines tended to show a bit of petrol or minerality on the nose (both of which I love as an avid fan of German rieslings), tart greenish orchard fruits, and lively acidity.  The entry level wines tend to come with synthetic cork closures, indicating to me that the producers expect them to be consumed within a few years, but in my estimation, the best examples have a lot of aging potential.  Overall the wines tend to be a bit on the restrained side on the palate, closer in style to Alsace or Austria than the full-flavored styles found in German rieslings.  I don’t think the Finger Lakes wines have quite reached the level of German riesling yet, but they are the best rieslings from the U.S. in my mind – their freshness together with appealing fruit may have even pushed them past Alsace and Austria in my heart, at least for riesling.

Here are tasting notes on some of my favorite Finger Lakes rieslings.  Check them out, and prepare to be surprised; I never expected to sound like a cheerleader for wines local to this New Yorker, but I’m happy that I can, at least for now.  Cheers!  -Alan


  • 2010 Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) A terrific entry-level riesling, with smoky flinty mineral to distinguish the nose as well as typical Finger Lakes green apple notes. The palate maintains a nice tension between the mineral, acidity and a dollop of richness to the fruit. Put together with the performance of the Argetsinger riesling and the wonderful pinot noir, this is probably my favorite Finger Lakes winery. 89-90+ (90 points)
  • 2010 Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) More floral and aromatic on the nose than the Fox Run dry riesling, this wine also shows richer fruit on the palate while staying solidly dry. An accomplished and pleasing wine with more fullness than many of the other Finger Lakes rieslings tasted this week. Very nice. 89-90 (89 points)
  • 2010 Billsboro Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake (10/2/2011)An off-dry riesling with some pleasing body and a slight herbal bitterness on the finish. A bit monolithic perhaps, but pleasing nonetheless. 86-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) On the nose, a hint of petrol, flinty mineral and light green apple aromas please the nose. On the palate, this is crisp, again evoking tart green apple, with an herbal finish. A very solid, restrained dry riesling. 87-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Glenora Wine Cellars Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (9/24/2011) Slightly stinky mineral nose gives way to crisp green apple flavors on the palate. The mouthwatering acid lends a long finish to this tart, properly dry riesling. Very solid. 87-88 (88 points)
  • 2010 Hosmer Riesling– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake (9/24/2011) An off-dry riesling with a satisfying bit of fatness to the tropical stone fruit flavors that show on the palate before giving way to slightly herbal underpinnings. A hint of petrol on the nose contributes to a feel akin to something between a German and an Austrian riesling – has more in common with Old World rieslings than other New World ones from Washington or Australia. Very enjoyable. 88+ (88 points)
  • 2008 Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Dry Argetsinger Vineyard– USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake (6/15/2011) An impressive wine that redefines for me what can be achieved with dry riesling in the Finger Lakes. Some petrol on the nose, with a great chalky minerality. The palate shows great complexity, balancing developed orchard fruits and tingling acidity. Excellent. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011)A gorgeous riesling that I could drink endlessly. The sweetish fruits give a pleasing unctuousness, but this not over the top; it has nice acidity to balance it out and give this a bit of dimension. As a lover of German spatlesen, this like nectar to me. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry– USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011) Green orchard fruits and a surprising stony minerality form the profile of this wine. Restrained in its fruit on the palate, but with a liveliness. Delicious. 89-90 (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Some of the wines mentioned in this report were tasted from review sample bottles received free of charge from the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, including the 2010 rieslings from Dr. Konstantin Frank, Glenora, Ravines, Fox Run, billsboro and Hosmer.  Other wines were tasted at free retailer tastings or from bottles purchased by me.