Wines from the Finger Lakes
New York state’s glacial legacy
Twenty thousand years ago, near the end of the last Ice Age, waves of two-mile-high glaciers crawled across the upper Northeast, gouging the bedrock south of Lake Ontario, just below what is now Ithaca, New York. Inch by inch, they carved out 11 narrow, high-walled depressions in the shape of the fingers of two gigantic outstretched hands, which, over the ensuing millennia, filled with water. Today, these are known as the Finger Lakes, home to what is fast becoming a world-class wine destination, the largest wine-producing region east of California.
The geography of the region plays an important role. While European varietals fail to thrive in the wet, cold conditions of most eastern states, the steep slopes surrounding the Finger Lakes provide exceptional rainwater drainage and optimum sun exposure. The “lake effect” gives rise to cooling breezes in the summer. And in the winters, stored heat rising from the depths of the lake generates a blanket of warm air to mitigate frost on the vines, allowing European Vitis varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to prosper.
Cool-climate-loving Riesling is the region’s signature grape, ranging from austere, steely, and mineral-driven to lush and dessert-sweet. Floral and spicy, Gurwürztraminer is another German varietal that fares well. Both these whites are effusively aromatic with abundant flavors of lychee nuts, peaches, pears, apricots, apples, citrus and tropical fruits, all cloaked in racy acidity and with a core of chalky minerality.
Finger Lakes Chardonnay tends to be lean, acidic and crisp. Among cool-weather reds, the Cabernet Franc is brightly acidic, medium-bodied and gently oaked, with abundant spice and a tart palate of black cherries, raspberries, blackberries, pepper and vanilla. The Pinots Noirs are fruit-forward, soft and lighter in style, with flavors of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and cranberries, and earthy nuances of herbs, spices and vanilla.
French-American hybrids like Chambourcin, Marechal Foch, Cayuga White, Seyval Blanc and Vignoles have been cultivated since the 19th century, and the region also produces excellent sparkling and ice wines.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• CHRIS PECKAT
The PRIDE Beer & Wine plus Spirits 1825 Lincoln Hwy., St. Charles (630 402-9026)
-2013 Girard Petite Sirah (Calif.) $28. A redolent nose of blackberries with hints of vanilla and spices opens to a dense core of black fruit, plums, cherries and blueberries. Nicely balanced with firm tannins and a long finish.
-2012 POV Sinskey Vineyards Bordeaux Blend (Calif.) $38. A Right Bank-inspired blend from Carneros with aromas and flavors of cherries, black-and-blue berries, plums, herbs and a hint of chocolate. Nicely textured with supple tannins and vibrant acidity.
• JACKIE RAHN
Standard Market Wine Store 333 E Ogden Ave., Westmont (630 366-7030)
-2013 Feraud-Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Calif.) $37. A full-bodied Grenache-based Rhône blend bursting with juicy plum and cherry fruit, along with ripe currants and hints of spice. Big and solid!
-2016 Carl Ehrhard Weingut Blanc de Noirs (Germany) $18. A non-sparkling white from the slate hills of the Rhine Valley, with Pinot Noir-driven flavors of strawberry, cherry and cranberry, and nuances of earth and spice. Lots of flowers on the nose and racy acidity with a citrus finish.