This Episode's Region

New York Finger Lakes

New York Finger Lakes

New York is the second biggest contributor to America’s total wine production – albeit with 5% of the total compared with California's 90%.  New York has two major wine-producing regions:  Long Island and The Finger Lakes. The former is known mostly for its Rosé wines and Merlots and is gaining attention for its Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. However, when it comes to the Finger Lakes, Riesling is king.

The key to wine making in the Finger Lakes region is the lakes themselves. The Finger Lakes act as a natural heating and cooling system to the surrounding hillsides and make them just hospitable enough for hearty grapes like Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer.  The region’s climate from year to year is unpredictable – with harsh winters and blazing summers not uncommon. The harvest season of 2009, for example, was uncommonly cool and wet while in 2007 the weather was warm and dry at the same time of year – making the wines from these two years markedly different.

Most of the wine making in the region is centered around the three largest of the 11 Finger Lakes: Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Keuka Lake. When it comes to Finger Lakes Riesling, the differences in wines produced at various spots throughout the region have much more to do with the winemaker’s preferred style than with where they were grown.  However, there are spots like Seneca Lake’s Banana Belt on the southeastern shore that tends to be the warmest location and produces wines with a tendency towards more tropical flavors. Along the same lines, some insist that the wines from Keuka Lake’s shores have more mineral and steel qualities than other Finger Lakes Rieslings.

For more on Finger Lakes Riesling, click here.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode


    Within New York’s five wine regions, there are nine officially recognized viticultural areas similar to the “appellations of origin” (such as Burgundy) in France.  They are Lake Erie; Niagara Escarpment; Finger Lakes; Seneca Lake; Cayuga Lake; Hudson River Region; Long Island; The Hamptons, Long Island; and North Fork of Long Island. Each region has distinct combinations of soil, topography, and climate that make the regional wines unique.

    The Finger Lakes, located about 250 miles northwest of New York City, has been the center of the New York wine industry since the Civil War.  It is the home of Pleasant Valley Wine Company, America’s first bonded winery, established over 140 years ago. Grape growing and wine production in this area date back to the 1820’s.   Today, about 90% of the state’s wine is made here, and the area is still home to New York’s largest wineries. 

    The Finger Lakes region is often compared to Germany’s Rhine region due to similarities in growing conditions.   The Finger Lakes region is best known for Riesling and is home to over 200 Riesling brands, producing 100,000 cases of Riesling each year. 

    One of the great things about Riesling is its versatility — it comes in a variety of styles ranging from Dry to Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. The average Finger Lakes producer makes 2.5 styles of Riesling wine a year.  

    More than 30 years ago, Charles Fournier, a French champagne maker, and Dr. Konstantin Frank, a European immigrant ignited the “vinifera revolution” which elevated the Finger Lakes into a world class wine producing region.  They collaborated on vinifera vintages grown in vineyards along Keuka Lake, strongly believing that old-world grapes could thrive and produce world-class wines in the New World once the proper rootstock was established.  And they were right!

    As they age, Rieslings tend to develop a “petroleum-like” note that is an integral part of the aroma profile, and which is sought after by many Riesling lovers.

    Each year the New York Wine & Grape Foundation organizes the New York Food & Wine Classic which is now in its 26th year.  All 303 wineries in the state are eligible to compete for coveted awards including the Governors Cup and Winery of the year.  Last year 850 wines and 17 spirits were entered in the competition.  More information is available at: