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If you’re looking for a new wine destination, add the Finger Lakes to your list. From sublime and varied Rieslings to fresh reds, this cool-climate region in upstate New York has plenty for everyone.
Jameson Fink: Welcome to Wine Enthusiasts, What We're Tasting Podcast. I'm your host, Jameson Fink. Join me as we discuss three fantastic wines and why each one belongs in your glass. This episode, we're looking at wines from the Finger Lakes with tasting director Alexander Peartree, who covers and reviews wines from the region. What We're Tasting is sponsored by the Vivino with the largest online inventory, Vivino finds the right wine every time, including bottles from New York's Finger Lakes region. Download Vivino to discover and buy your favorites and stock up at vivino.com/wineenthusiast.
We've talked about the west coast, visited a few places there, went to Texas, and now I think it's time to turn our attentions to wine on the east coast, and in New York, specifically the state of New York, which I live in, and shockingly to some people the state is more than just the city of New York, it's a big, giant state full of interesting wine regions, and for me one of the most interesting is the Finger Lakes. It's a beautiful region, I highly recommend you visit. I don't know if it's underrated, it's starting to get the attention that I think it deserves for a wide variety of wines. I'm really excited to have you here today, Alex to talk about the Finger Lakes. Welcome to the show.
Alex Peartree: Thank you very much, Jameson.
Jameson Fink: And I guess the first thing is, I mean, I was like my ignorant New York geography I probably need a little lesson. We're in Manhattan right now, but the Finger Lakes is a fairly, a long, not a long journey, but a journey from New York. Where exactly are the Finger Lakes?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. It's about a five hour drive from New York City. Most people don't really think beyond the greater New York City area, and they consider upstate New York, Westchester, or like the Poughkeepsie, but the state extends far beyond that, and the Finger Lakes are kind of in central New York, if you picture where Rochester, and Syracuse are they kind of fall right in between the two. Yeah. There's 11 lakes, but there's only about a few of them are pretty much the focus of the wine growing region.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. A little quick sidebar, when I lived in White Plains, a friend of mind said, "Oh, you moved upstate," and I was like, "Westchester is not upstate," but that's an argument for another show.
Alex Peartree: It's not even an argument.
Jameson Fink: But the cool thing about the Finger Lakes is I mean it's really, they're aptly named, I mean they do look like vertical fingers going up and down, it's really quite geographically fascinating.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. No. The amazing thing about the Finger Lakes, so there's 11 of them, and they were all carved by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. They range in deepness levels, but when you look at them from above, yeah, they have that distinct like long skinny finger like look, so it's definitely interesting.
Jameson Fink: As far as grapes go, I think my first introduction into wines of the region, and maybe it's the same for a lot of people is through Riesling, is Riesling kind of the Finger Lakes calling card grape?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. Riesling has definitely taken hold in the Finger Lakes, it's a cool climate variety that seems to be suited quite well to the variety of soils, and different microclimate that are available in the Finger Lakes.
Jameson Fink: How much influence do the lakes have on making it a great wine region?
Alex Peartree: Without the lakes there would not be wine there, I mean, that is like 100% true, so the lakes are actually the moderating factors, which help cool, keep the climate relatively cool in the summer, because the summers can get quite hot up there, and then in the winter it helps keep the area around the vineyards a little bit warmer, because it can get pretty cold up there. The lake's kind of soak up all the heat from the summer, and extend it through the winter, so that the vines don't die.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. When I was there, I was there in October a few years ago and it was snowing, it started snowing when we were in a vineyard, I was just shocked, I was like, wow, this weather is an extreme region for grape growing.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. I mean, I'm an upstate New Yorker, myself, I'm from Rochester, so I'm quite used to the diversity of weather patterns they have up there, and I was recently up there in probably April of last year, and you would think right about then, like it's peaking into spring and it's a lot warmer, but no there were definitely some snow storms, and it was kind of crazy.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. Spring and fall you might want to bring a coat and maybe even a hat and gloves. I mentioned a Riesling earlier, the first wine I wanted to talk about is the Herman J. Wiemer 2016 Estate Bottled and Grown Dry Riesling from Seneca Lake, 92 points. One of the things that I think that's interesting about Riesling in general, and maybe specifically in the Finger Lakes is I think people still think sweet when they think of Riesling, but can you talk about dry Rieslings and what they're kind of flavor profile is? Obviously they're dry, but do you still get a lot of that Riesling, those hallmarks of the Riesling grape?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. The wonderful thing about Riesling is it can be done in a variety of styles. As you said, most people are more familiar with the sweeter styles of Riesling, just because I think they're more familiar with German Rieslings, and the more commercial Rieslings that have come out of that area. While the Finger Lakes does do Riesling from dry to dessert style wines, I really think that their dry Rieslings are quite expressive and quite different. The Wiemer, the 2016 Dry Riesling, typically, well, from year to year it has this very consistent taut minerality to it, there's nice tension through it, which makes it a really, really balanced and expressive wine, on the other end it also has pretty ripe fruit expression, so there's a lot of peach and stone fruit, a little bit of apple to kind of flush it all out, but at the end it finishes dry and crisp.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. Even with Rieslings that have some sweetness to them especially in cool climate regions I think people would be surprised on how dry they drink, because they've got that great acidity, they've got that zip, too, so even though there's that sort of sense of sweetness type of expression when you kind of finish it with that acidity and liveliness that actually might even taste drier than a lot of quote on quote, dry wines made from other grapes.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. Definitely.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. Don't be afraid of a little sweetness in your Riesling.
Alex Peartree: Absolutely, not. No.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. And I think, it's also that we said about the Finger Lakes is that you can find Riesling in every shape and form like from bone dry to sort of German style exquisite nectar dessert wines.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. They do a lot of late harvest wines up there, and they actually have a good production of Ice wine, because in certain years it actually does get cold enough in the winter to do a traditional Ice wine harvest where you're letting the grapes hang on the vine through December, January, and harvest them, which is not something I would ever do, but I'd totally drink the wine.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. I spent one day in a summer years ago, one day, picking grapes and it was the most back breaking work I've ever done. I can't imagine what it's like. I think you have to, do they have to take off every single berry?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. They got to weed out the specific berries, and I believe they can't really wear gloves because they need to have dexterous fingers.
Jameson Fink: Oh, my God. Yeah.
Alex Peartree: t's crazy. Right?
Jameson Fink: I don't know, maybe I'd volunteer for one day of that kind of labor, I have a lot of admiration for people who can handle that, not me. Let's move from Riesling, let's talk about Rosé, which is everywhere, which is great. I want to talk about the Sheldrake Point 2017 Dry Estate Bottled Rosé, which you gave 90 points to. Are you seeing more and more Rosé from the Finger Lakes?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. Over the years there's definitely been a Rosé boom, and I think that goes across the board for most regions, however, it doesn't mean that every region produces an amazing Rosé, and I think for the Finger Lakes, because it's a cooler climate it actually produces a really nicely balanced Rosé. The Sheldrake is a 100% Cabernet Franc Rosé, which I think is a lovely style of Rosé, you kind of get the herbalness and like the spicy kind of berry notes of Cabernet Franc, but you also blend in later stone fruit notes, and a little bit of that crisp mineral zing.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. I really like Cab Franc Rosé. One thing I was thinking about recently with rosé is when you drink a lot of sort of pale nondescript kind of watery ones you don't really get the sense of the grape that it's made from, it sounds kind of silly, and I've written about this before, like with the Cab Franc Rosé, I mean, kind of with your eyes closed you get those notes of sort of like more savory notes that Cabernet Franc has so I think it makes a really distinct Rosé that stands out from a lot of kind of watery, bland plonk.
Alex Peartree: Definitely. Yeah. Beyond Cabernet Franc, the Finger Lakes also produces Pinot Noir Rosés, Rosés from Lemberger, Blaufränkisch, so they really kind of hit the whole gambit in terms of Rosé.
Jameson Fink: When we talk about Cabernet Franc in Rosé form, and in red form, if I'm a Loire Cabernet Franc fan is this kind of my jam?
Alex Peartree: It's definitely more on the old world style. The Finger Lakes kind of has a nice balance between new world and old world, it's not going to be ultra ripe, it'll be a little bit more savory, and herbal, and spicy. A little bit lighter in profile than some of the new world offerings, so yeah, I would maybe make a case that's its more akin to Loire.
Jameson Fink: With a lot of these red grapes, and the weather there, you know we talked about snow earlier, is it a problem getting grapes ripe? Is that an issue every year?
Alex Peartree: Well, not in the past few years.
Jameson Fink: Right. Yeah.
Alex Peartree: There's definitely been a lot of warming effect going on in the past few years, and in 2016, and from what I'm hearing from 2017 it's definitely been some pretty warm vintages, but even in the past with cooler vintages know it hasn't really been an issue getting the grapes ripened, it was just more of kind of a vineyard management deal.
Jameson Fink: Another wine I wanted to talk about that I've had from the Finger Lakes that I wanted to mention, too, is sparkling wine. I've started to see a lot more sparkling wines and very serious wines have spent years on the lees, and is sparkling wine coming on in the Finger Lakes?
Alex Peartree: Well, New York actually has a pretty rich history of sparkling wine, and they had sparkling houses way back pre-prohibition, unfortunately they closed, they shuttered during prohibition, and now a lot of producers are revitalizing that, and one of them is Wiemer, the other is Doctor Frank, which they produce traditional method, sparkling wines with Chardonnay, and Pinot.
Jameson Fink: Look out for sparkling wines, too.
Alex Peartree: Definitely.
Jameson Fink: Hey, we'll be to the show here shortly, but since you're here I know you're already a fan of wine podcasts, why don't you check out our other show called, The Wine Enthusiast Podcast, download it wherever you get podcasts. The third wine I want to talk about is something, a grape, that I really like, and that I kind of got most familiar with in Washington state, but when I was out a few years ago I tried a lot of blends, and single variety versions that I really like and it's Lemberger, it's the Damiani 2016 Sunrise Hill Vineyards Lemberger, 90 points. For people who don't know what is Lemberger? What is it like?
Alex Peartree: Lemberger, or as they call it in Austria, Blaufränkisch, which they're the same grape. I kind of would describe it as a similar body to a Cabernet Franc, except it's more on the darker fruit notes, maybe more like a sour dark cherry, a little bit of that spicy dark brambly notes, and definitely pepper. This one from Damiani, I really enjoyed it when I tasted it. It's from a vintage that it had a drought in the middle of the summer, so this actually resulted in lower yields, concentrated berries, so this actually has a really nice depth to it, which I wrote in my note, it's like it's showing its Hungarian oak on its sleeve right now, so it's a little oaky right now, but I think in a few years it'll all balance out, and it actually has that nice ripe fruit, very, very, grippy tannins to help it extend a few more years.
Jameson Fink: That's a good point about oak, I mean, there are a lot of people who are sensitive to oak, or really don't like sort of oak that's out there and in your face, I've been on record as enjoying oak, especially in white wines. I think that's something that people don't realize is that sometimes oak can be like you said, like it's wearing on its sleeve, but it's pretty incredible, that's one of the great things about cellaring wine you can just, I mean, even like one, or two, or three years you can really see that oak kind of integrate and then it's just more like bringing something to the party and not putting a lampshade on it's head.
Alex Peartree: Definitely. You can't just think about wine as you're drinking it right now you have to kind of have the foresight to see where it would go in a few years, and if all the components are there, but it's just not kind of hitting its stride right now, it might mean that it needs a few more years to settle out, and integrate further.
Jameson Fink: I think that's where you can start understanding like on a review, like sort of the drinking windows, I mean that's sort of taking your experience with wine, and region, and wine making styles, and saying, this is something you want to hold onto for a few years, not that it would be unpleasant now, but just sort of noting that this is why I say, drink from 2020 with this wine.
Alex Peartree: Exactly. I mean, they're all, we do try to give drinking windows, and they're all relatively subjective, but we do try to offer a really kind of honed idea of when this should be best enjoyed.
Jameson Fink: Then with Lemberger, I mean this obviously sounds like a more serious wine, like one you would hold onto, are there more sort of like, is it a grape that can be like a drink now type of style?
Alex Peartree: Definitely. There are plenty of Lemberger, or Blaufränkisch examples in the Finger Lakes and they kind of switch labeling, some do, say Lemberger, some say Blaufränkisch, and through my tastings I had plenty that were not as oaky right now, and some that might not even have any oak at all, and they're just pretty fruit forward, but still grippy, nice braid acidity, it's just a well balanced easy drinking wine.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. It's interesting when I had it in Washington, the versions I've had, have been a little more on the grippy tannic side, but they're from an area like Red Mountain, which is like the polar opposite of-
Alex Peartree: Yeah.
Jameson Fink: The Finger Lakes, like a really hot, baking region in Eastern Washington, so it's interesting to see the grape, and that's something that's really kind of fun and geeky to do is to try a grape from different regions, like a hotter region, a cool climate region, and kind of see how obviously wine making has something to do with it, but to really get sort of a handle on a region.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, that's what wine is all about your kind of exploring a region through drinking the wine, and as you said, if you try a Blaufränkisch from a warmer region verse Blaufränkisch from a cooler region you'll definitely understand what happens in the vineyard and why one is bigger than the other.
Jameson Fink: I also want to talk about availability of the wines, because wine I was living on the west coast, in Seattle, I never saw any Finger Lakes wines, and that's one of the great things about being out here is that I can go to restaurants and there's a great support for all the wines of New York, really, and we're just talking about the Finger Lakes, but there's certainly more regions. What's your take on are we going to see New York wines more nationally? Are people on the west coast enjoying them more? Is it an issue of production, or just people haven't been exposed to them, yet?
Alex Peartree: Yeah. Well, definitely here there's a really big drink local thing going on, so you'll see Finger Lakes wines all throughout the east coast, and especially in New York City. There are a good number of wineries that distribute out to the west coast, and I would say Wiemer, maybe Red Tail Ridge, and possibly Glenora are a few that have kind of spread their distribution out there, so you should definitely keep an eye out for them. It's not really an issue of production, it's more of an issue of people wanting to explore what the Finger Lakes has to offer.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. They should just, well, I will just say, you just got to go and visit, because it's really, I mean, when you see the views of the vineyards with the lakes behind them it's really, really stunning.
Alex Peartree: Oh, God. It's gorgeous. When I used to live up there, and I was just, it was amazing driving to and from work, I used to live in Ithaca, and drive that every day, and I would come over the ridge, and you would just see this sprawling giant lake, it's like you don't have any words for it. That was awful.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. That wasn't awful. One last thing I want to talk about, too, is visiting, I love sort of visiting wine country, and food, and stuff. Have you been F.L.X. Wienery?
Alex Peartree: I actually haven't been yet. I'm dying to go and I'm dying to see Chris Bates other restaurants like F.L.X. Table, but I haven't been yet, actually.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. He's a master sommelier, and he has a couple restaurants.
Alex Peartree: He has a winery-
Jameson Fink: Yeah.
Alex Peartree: As well.
Jameson Fink: And winery.
Alex Peartree: He's the jack of all trade. He actually also has F.L.X. Provisions, which is a shop that sells wines, and ciders, and all the delicious local things from the Finger Lakes. He is really doing it all.
Jameson Fink: Yeah. If you go to the Finger Lakes, F.L.X. Wienery, they make hotdogs and sausages. They make almost everything there, and what's great about it is if you bring a Finger Lakes wine there, there's no corkage fee for it, which is a great way to enjoy your day, and also he has like a fridge with a bunch of really cool esoteric wines, too, if you want to take a break from Finger Lakes wine to have a beer, too, it's a really cool place, but it's really also an exciting place for eating, and drinking, and also like you said, cider, and all kinds of, I mean, you can really spend a lot of time there visiting wineries, and eating, and drinking your way through.
Alex Peartree: Yeah. I mean, the Finger Lakes has a lot more to offer than wine. It's a really big agricultural area, as well, like for cider, for cheese, orchards, for apples, and peaches, and cherries, like it really has it all. If you wanted to create an itinerary there where you sprinkled in a little bit of wine, and a little bit of cheese, and then some hiking, and you know going to check waterfalls, it's like you could hit everything. It's amazing.
Jameson Fink: Well, I think we've made the case for visiting the Finger Lakes, and drinking the wines from the region. Alex, thanks for joining me on the show, today.
Alex Peartree: Thanks for having me.
Jameson Fink: And thank you for listening to the What We're Tasting Podcast, sponsored by Vivino wine made easy. The wines we discussed today were The Hermann J. Wiemer, 2016, Estate Bottled and Grown Dry Riesling. The Sheldrake Point 2017 Dry Estate Bottled Rosé. And the Damiani 2016 Sunrise Hill Vineyards Lemberger. Find What We're Tasting on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today's episode, please give us a five star rating on iTunes, leave a comment, and tell your friends. What We're Tasting is a Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Check out Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com ...