Most people don’t know that New York State has the oldest continuously operating winery in the United States with Brotherhood Winery, which opened in 1839 in the Hudson River Region AVA, directly North of New York City. The locavore movement among foodies has forced New York restaurants to source more of their wines locally, from local AVAs like Long Island, Hudson River Valley and The Finger Lakes. This can also make it harder for the rest of the country to share in this wine bounty, since most wineries in New York State produce hundreds of cases rather than the thousands from California, Oregon and Washington State. In the last few months ABC brought in two new wines from New York State from Wagner Vineyards, a Riesling and an ice wine, two prime examples of what New York has to offer.
The Finger Lakes are best known for their Riesling, from softly sweet to crisp and dry, this cold-hardy grape thrives on the gentle lakeshore slopes, made up of glacier-dredged limestone and shale. This minerality comes across in the wines, keeping them zesty and brisk, like the best German Mosel Rieslings. This lake affect microclimate keeps the cold from settling on the vines, discouraging frost. Red varietals are more hit and miss with a scattered few producing incredible wines from Cabernet Franc, in the right vintages. Indigenous grapes like Concord, Catawba and Cayuga, which were the first grapes grown, are still used but most winemakers agree that Vitis vinifera and hybrids are the future. Vidal, a French-American hybrid grape, is used to make golden-hued, deliciously sweet ice wines, another New York State specialty.
Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery is one of the oldest and most recognized wineries in the Finger Lakes Region, located on the eastern slope of the “middle finger” which is Seneca Lake. It was founded in Lodi, New York, by Bill Wagner, a lifelong resident of the area and grape grower for over fifty years. Construction of the distinctive eight-sided building, Bill’s own design, was completed, and the winery opened its doors in June of 1979. The winery rapidly developed into a major attraction in the Finger Lakes region and hosts over 100,000 visitors each year. In the last thirty-six years they’ve expanded their production to about 30 wines from sweet dessert wines to bone dry acid bombs. Five generations of the Wagner family have grown grapes here and this heritage of grape growing has provided them with an intimate connection to the land. They have carried the same passion into the art of winemaking. They are one of the larger producers cultivating 250 acres of grapes and producing 50,000 cases of wine per year.
The Wagner 2013 Select Riesling has a light nose of green apples and lemon curd. There is a lovely sweetness on the palate but not thickly sweet, (wouldn’t even be a Spätlese in Germany). Very elegant and bright with pleasant mineral notes on the palate and has earned an 88 score from Wine Spectator. I would pair this wine with spicy Asian dishes, where the lightly sweet character of this wine balances any heat in the dishes. For dessert wine lovers, the Wagner 2012 Vidal Ice Wine has light citrus blossom notes on the nose. Riper and juicier on the palate with Pats de fruits and crystalized ginger as the wine opens up, leaving a pleasant touch of mineral acid on the finish. Balanced between the sweet and acid notes with surprising complexity, this wine is light, elegant and easy-quaffing, and a good deal at $30 per bottle. Don’t be afraid to venture out of the West Coast into the Northeast for some great American wines with true regional characteristics. Cheers!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine & Spirits Supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE