I wanted to continue my “Wine 101” series, for anyone who happens to stumble across my blog and wants more info on the amazing deliciousness of the Finger Lakes grapes. (Find Part I of the series here.)
When I left off, I was complaining about the grape varietals of Central Virginia. And… enter the good stuff. At our very first tasting (see our Day 1 itinerary), we were presented with a tasting list that was more diverse than any we had seen before. After a few days, we were becoming experts. It turns out, there are more categories in the world of grapes than just “those that make red wines” and “those that make white wines.” Here’s what we experienced* (with my commentary in bold italic):
- Gewürztraminer (Guh-VERTZ-trah-meen-er) – German for “spiced.” Crisp and spicy flavors of cloves and nutmeg with fragrant floral nose. Varies in sweetness from dry to semi-sweet. Typically produced with a higher alcohol content than most whites. (We knew before arriving that we liked this grape. P continued to like it. I learned that there’s even sweeter stuff to be found!)
- Riesling (REEZ-ling) – One of the premier grapes grown in the Finger Lakes. Steely with fruity flavors of peaches, honey and tropical fruit. A flowery bouquet and a long finish, light to medium-bodied. Produced in a wide range of sweetness. Also very popular for making ice wines also called late harvest wines. Ages better than any other white. (Mmmmm. Riesling. You pretty much can’t go wrong, although I now know you can do even better. The abundance of Rieslings was one of the major reasons we decided to visit Watkins Glen in the first place!)
- Chardonnay (Shar-doh-NAY) – (Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have this stuff in Virginia. It’s pretty much the same in both places.)
- Cabernet Franc (Cah-bear-NAY Fronk), Cabernet Sauvignon (Cah-bear-NAY so-veen YONH), Merlot ( Murr-LOW), Pinot Noir (PEA-no Nwhar) (Yeah, yeah, yeah. These are in Virginia, too. And I don’t like any of ’em.)
Native American Varieties
The Native American varieties are hardier and better adapted to the New York climate. Many Finger Lakes vineyards grow these and sell them to Welch’s for grape juice! Almost every winery described their Native American varietal wines as “grown-up grape juice.” And it was accurate.
These grapes were all new to us. I LOVED them. P hated them. His reaction to these grapes was basically the same as my reaction to every beer I’ve ever tasted. Think grimacing, squinty eyes, and puckered lips. It was funny how strongly he reacted to his first few tastings of these; then he steered clear for the rest of the trip, while I made sure to include these in my tastings.
- Niagara (Nigh-agg-ara) – Noticeably grapey flavor and aroma. Usually finished semi-sweet to sweet. Often described as grapes in a glass. (Super yummy.)
- Delaware (Dell-A-ware), Diamond (Di-ah-mond) – (I don’t think we tried either of these.)
- Catawba (Cat-awe-bah) both high in sugar and acid it can be made to balance well. Typically produced sweet and often as a rosé. Clean taste with a spicy aroma. (Also yummy. I wish these grew in Virginia.)
- Concord (Kon-chord), Isabella (Is-ahh-bell-ah), Vincent (Vihn-sent) – (I don’t think we tried any of these, either.)
The French-American hybrids offer some interesting combinations of wines that are less grapey than the native American varieties but tend to be a little more hardy for the climate in the Finger Lakes. We learned that Cornell University is responsible for developing several hybrids, which have led to some delicious wines!
- Cayuga White (Kay-you-guh) – This grape was developed in the Finger Lakes. Fruity flavor with delicate aroma. Medium-body and well balanced. Often produced sweet. (We tried Cayuga wines a few times, and I liked them.)
- Melody (Mell-oh-dee) – Another grape developed in the Finger Lakes. Fruity flavor with flowery aroma (much more subtle than a Gewürztraminer). (I can’t specifically remember trying any Melody, but we might have once or twice.)
- Seyval Blanc (Say-vall BLONK) – Usually produced with just a touch of sweetness. Excellent sugar-acid balance. Crisp, Light to medium body with hints of apple, melon and citrus. (Again, I can’t specifically remember trying this, but we might have.)
- Vidal Blanc (Vee-Dahl BLONK) – High in acid so it is usually finished semi-dry to cover it. Similar in character to a Riesling. Sometimes used to produce late harvest and ice wines. (Ice, ice, baby!!! Ice wines are the nectar of the gods.)
- Vignoles (Vig-noles) or Ravat 51 (Rahh-vat) – Typically produces a clean crisp wine. Well balanced. Used for sparkling wines and ice wines. (I specifically remember tasting an ice wine made from Vignoles that I actually disliked. Crazy, right? But I remember thinking it was so sweet that it was overpowering.)
- Traminette (Trah-min-ett) – A hybrid of the Gewürztraminer with similar characteristics but more winter hardy. Known for its spicy character and fragrant floral aroma. (We ran across lots of Traminettes. They were a hit with both of us, but more so with P.)
- Chambourcin (Sham-bor-sin) – Rich in color and medium-bodied Similar to Cabernet Franc only with less aroma. (I think we saw some of these, but I don’t remember whether I tried them.)
- Baco Noir (Bah-ko Nwhar), Chancellor (Chan-sell-or), DeChaunac (Deh-Shaw-nack), Maréchal Foch (Mare-shall Foe-sh) , Rougeon (Roo-geon), Isabella (Is-ahh-bell-ah), Vincent (Vihn-sent) – (I don’t think we saw any of these anywhere. Or if we did, I looked straight past them to the sweet stuff!)
*Descriptions borrowed from http://www.stayfingerlakes.com/wine/grape-varieties.htm.
In the end, I bought 10 bottles to bring home! (One bottle of Chardonnay is P’s.) I have no idea how I’m gong to drink all of it – I haven’t started yet. Just waiting for the right time, I guess…
So for anyone who followed all that, maybe now you know a little something more about Finger Lakes wines. My advice is: visit, and don’t be afraid to try some new things. Although I prefer the sweet stuff, there’s a huge variety of wines to taste — from the dryest of reds to the sweetest of dessert whites. There’s a perfect fit for everyone at the Finger Lakes. (But seriously, try the sweet stuff. You can thank me later!)
Has anyone visited the Finger Lakes to experience the wine? How does it compare to what you’re used to? What’s your favorite wine grape?