The Wines of New York State
21st May 2008
New York State straddles the 43rd and 44th parallels, putting it between the same latitudes as Tuscany and Bordeaux, though it is, on the whole, cooler than the vineyards on the equivalent latitudes in Europe. There are significant bodies of water (lakes, rivers and the Atlantic Ocean) which exert a calming influence on the climate, cooling in the summer, warming in the winter.
With 32,000 acres of vineyards and an annual production of around 160,000 tons of grapes, 28% of which is turned into 200 million bottles of wine, New York is America’s third largest wine-producing state (and the second largest grape juice producing state) with over 240 wineries in five main regions (Long Island, Hudson River, Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and the Niagara Escarpment) covering nine official appellations (American Viticultural Areas). Across the state more than 35 different varieties are grown including European vitis vinifera varieties such as riesling, the cabernets and chardonnay, some European-American crosses, such as Baco Noir, Cayuga White and Chancellor, along with a number of native American varieties such as Catawba, Concord, and Niagara.
The first vines were planted in New York State around 400 years ago, when Dutch settlers planted vitis vinifera vines on Manhattan island. There are still a handful of wineries in the New York City area, but this is not where the main interest lies.
East of New York City lies New York State’s youngest wine region (dating back around 35 years), Long Island, which has almost 2,000 acres of vineyards and includes two AVAs either side of the Great Peconic Bay: North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons (effectively the south fork of Long Island). Long Island’s forte is its Bordeaux blends, also known as Meritage wines.
North West of Long Island lies the Hudson River region, one of the oldest wine areas in America, though with only a quarter of the vineyard area and production of Long Island.
Further west again, lies New York’s largest and most important wine production region, the Finger Lakes, where the wine region centres around the four main lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. There are over 9,000 acres of vineyards in the Finger Lakes and the 90 wineries mainly produce sparkling wines, riesling, pinot noir and ice wine, together with chardonnay, cabernet france and some of the American varietals.
On the westernmost edge of New York state are the final two regions, which, at the moment at least, are less important: the Niagara Escarpment, New York’s newest AVA, being officially recognised only in October 2005; and Lake Erie, also known as Chautauqua. Lake Erie is actually the largest grape growing area outside California, with some 20,000 acres of vineyards, though there is currently little of interest here for wine-lovers, as 95% of the grapes are Concord, grown for grape juice.
Dry Riesling, Wagner Vineyards, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, 11%
A clean, crisp nose, if a bit subdued. Quite peary fruit on the nose. Very good palate, feeling a touch like a Spätlese trocken in ripeness. A very pleasant drink. 90/100
Riesling, Sheldrake Point, Finger Lakes, 12%
A crisp clean nose with citrus and peach blossom aromas. Nice palate: quite refreshing. Kabinett sort of standard. Nice peachy fruit on the palate. Very pleasant. 91/100
Dry Riesling, Dr Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes, 12%
A very minerally nose with a bit of stink. Decent palate. Pleasant but simpler than the Wagner & Sheldrake Point dry rieslings. 86/100
Rkatsiteli, Dr Konstantin Frank,
An interesting nose with peach, kiwi fruit and clay. Quite fresh on the palate, but with a mouthfilling quality. Nice and fresh example, very much in the mould of the Georgian rkatsiteli wines I tried last year. 89/100
Dry Riesling, Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes, 12%
A big, lemon sherbert nose. Zingy fresh palate. This feels very dry with high acidity initially, but then there’s some fruit and a ripeness of fruit to balance. Rather more New
Dry Riesling, Treleaven, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake,
A bit of a subdued, but very minerally nose. Ripish palate with stone fruit flavours and lots of balancing acidity. A bit unresolved on the finish. 87/100
Dry Riesling, Lamoreaux Landing, Finger Lakes, 12.3%
This has lemon and sweet apple sorbet on the nose. Fullish palate: there are very appley flavours, almost tending towards a feeling of calvados without the spirit. A bit of an odd, atypical feel. 86/100
Riesling, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, 12%
A very nice nose: creamy, limey, peachy. Nice, attractive palate. It has a richness which takes the acidity a few moments to match and never quite dominates. Quite a feeling of tarte tatin on the finish and after. 89/100
Riesling, White Springs, Finger Lakes, 12%
Back to a much more Germanic feel on the nose: fresh, zesty apples. Yum yum. Lovely clean palate. On the sweeter side of a very fresh Mosel Kabinett. The acidity is a bit subdued on this. 91/100
Riesling, Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes, 12%
An unusual nose, feeling a touch rubbery and reduced. Sweetish palate. A bit dull. Not a good one. (Bad bottle?) 82/100
Semi-Dry Riesling, Lamoreaux Landing, Finger Lakes,
This has fresh apples on the nose with a hint of caramel. Lovely, fresh, light attack. There’s a bit of a lesser Auslese character to this, but with an Austrian roundness to the fruit. 92/100
Semi-Dry Riesling, Treleaven, Finger Lakes, 10.9%
A muted nose with some creamy white fruit. Pleasant palate. More Australian in style than German. The acidity doesn’t quite balance the richness. 86/100
Semi-Dry Riesling, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Finger Lakes, 12%
There’s big, citrussy minerality on the nose. Fairly big and round on the palate. It’s fairly sweet, but even with a rather limited acidity (which only really shows after), it carries itself well. 88/100
Riesling Reserve, Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, 13%
Quite a peaches and cream nose. Expressive, characterful palate. There’s some sweetness there, but the acidity runs throughout. 88/100
Homestead Reserve Riesling, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Finger Lakes, 12%
This has lovely citrus zest and pear aromas on the nose. Very nice palate: rich and full flavoured. Some acidity right on the finish, leaving the mouth fresh. Very, very long. 91/100
Sauvignon Blanc, Katherine’s Field, Macari, North Fork of Long Island, 13%
This has a clean, white asparagus nose. Not a bad sauvignon. It’s got a nice crispness. Solid flavours with some structure. But I can’t see
Late Harvest Vignoles, Hunt Country Vineyards, Finger Lakes, 10%
A pear-y nose. Good palate. Initially fresh, then there’s some sweetness, which builds. It stays clean and fresh throughout though. I have to say, I’m not sure vignoles (the grape) is supposed to be like. But this is a good, gentle sweetie. 88/100
Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Hunt Country Vineyards, Finger Lakes, 10%
A glorious, bright nose with golden Mirabelle plums and a hint of caramelisation. There’s a lovely round sweetness and richness on the palate. Very cleanly flavoured and not aggressively intense. Massive length. 92/100
Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars, Lake Erie,
This has a glorious orangey marmalade nose with fresh apricots. Really nice on the palate, with very fresh precise fruit flavours. Less sweet than the previous wine (Hunt Country vidal icewine). It works very well. I would really like to try this again under more controlled circumstances, as I suspect it’s quite a lot better than the Hunt Country icewine. 92/100
For further notes on New York State wines, see my notes on a similar tasting in may 2007.
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Last updated: 27 April 2009