Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trolling the Finger Lakes

We’ve just wrapped up three days in New York’s Finger Lakes and, now after a day of touring Niagara Falls, I’m finally able to blog about some of our wine experiences so far. Getting connected in the farm country of upstate New York turned out not to be easy, but the good news is that the next B&B, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is wired for guests.

What we found in upstate New York are many consistently terrific white wines and even a few, here and there, interesting and well-made red wines. I have one caution, however, for anyone considering touring Finger Lakes wineries – stay away from graduation season.

I had no idea that a Cornell and Ithaca College tradition for graduating seniors includes touring Finger Lakes wineries by bus. Consequently, we often found ourselves arriving on the heels of college kids, by the busload, at tasting bars across the region, taxing the ability of the winery staff to pour and be otherwise helpful. It is not unusual to wait 10 minutes or more between pours. One bedraggled pourer told us that one winery nearby simply closes its doors for the week.

Generally, the kids we met up with in the morning were better behaved and attentive to the tasting experience than those in the afternoon. At one winery, late in the afternoon, we found girls chug-a-lugging wine out of the bottle on the lawn, boys raucously shouting encouragement and a couple, apparently ignorant of the fact that "crush" is not for another four months, rolling across the lawn in a clinch. Call me old fashioned but I prefer a more serene tasting experience with all my senses focused on the properties of the wine at hand.

But we persevered and, overall, had a great time. As I’ve observed out on Long Island, some wineries have been building newer, palatial tasting room facilities that try to evoke the Napa experience. But there are still plenty operating out of modest, friendly buildings that let the wines and the staff do the talking. And, by the way, the lakes, waterfalls and farmland are just breathtaking.

There are so many wineries out here that I developed a game plan that leaned heavily on what some of the so-called experts had to say. I focused on their favorites and then filled in with a few other wineries that caught my eye. In almost every case the research paid off, as the best wines I found came from those recommended by one reviewer or another and not from those I decided to try on a whim.

Hosmer Winery
This was clearly the case with the first winery I’d like to blog about, Hosmer. In general I found the wineries around Cayuga Lake area not quite up to same standard as the wineries along Seneca and Keuka Lakes. But Hosmer, which has netted a number of awards for its lineup of wines, is a notable exception.

I actually got to enjoy about 20 minutes at Hosmer before the first busload of kids arrived, and in that time I tasted a lot of excellent white wines that included a rare but lovely pinot gris, a very credible, enjoyable chardonnay, and two delicious rieslings. Hosmer also offers a number of sweet wines and hybrid varietals, but I stayed away from those. And, unlike many other nearby wineries, the dry wines were very good across the board.

I really spent some time with the dry or off-dry rieslings, since the Finger Lakes is reputed to make some of the country's best. The 2006 Dry Riesling did not disappoint, especially at $12 a bottle. It had lovely apricot aromas with a clean, citrusy finish that makes this just a terrific food wine. This wine has 0.7 percent residual sugar, an almost imperceptible amount that makes the "dry" label appropriate.

In contrast, the 2004 Vintner's Reserve Riesling has 1.8 percent residual sugar -- categorized as semi-dry by the winery. While the sugar is more noticeable, the wine is so rich and delicious that I believe it will more than satisfy fans of dry wines. It has layers of peach, tangerine and floral notes with just a touch of honey. At $25 a bottle, it's a great buy and a very versatile food wine.

Hosmer also makes a 2006 Riesling with 3.5 percent residual sugar, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. There was a bit of peaches in the bouquet, but overall I found it simpler than the others.

I also have to note that I tried, out of curiosity, a 2005 Pinot Noir and a 2005 Cabernet Franc. The pinot noir truly surprised me. Though light in color, it had enjoyable aromas of cherry and spice and a very respectable medium-length finish. I'm not surprised that pinot noir could do well in this climate by the lakes, but I am surprised the vines would survive the frigid winters. Nonetheless, the pinot is definitely a decent companion for salmon, so I surprised myself by picking up a bottle.

Without a doubt, there's a lot of good wine to be found around the Finger Lakes to help make your stay here even more memorable. But Hosmer has the kind of wine you'll want to pick up anytime, anywhere because they're not just about memories but about finding a great wine for your dinner table.


Anonymous James McNally said...

I've printed up all your Finger Lakes notes since my wife and I are planning a trip in late summer/early fall. We're in Toronto and have been to the Niagara wineries many times, but haven't yet ventured a few hours further. Of course, as a huge Riesling fan, I'll have to be convinced that Finger Lakes Rieslings can compete with the best of Ontario, but I'm willing to give them a chance! With our dollar riding high, I'll also be happy to bring more home!

3:26 PM  

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