New York Wine Takes a Small Bold Step

By David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

This feature was commissioned by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

For the first time in over 20 years the LCBO is featuring a small batch of wines from our neighbours in New York State. Six are now available as an LCBO Destination Collection – Discover the Wines of New York. Another two will be made available at Vintages in the May 16 release. The WineAlign team has had a chance to taste all the wines, and full reviews and winemaker interviews can be found by following the links below.

UPDATE: A Taste New York – Top Picks – Mixed Case is now available. Get a case of great NY Wines delivered directly to your door with FREE delivery.

This article was to have been published following a grand tasting in New York City, and visits to the wine regions of New York by Sara d’Amato and John Szabo in late March. But, of course, the whole world changed in March, and we have Zoomed into a new era. Sara Zoomed interviews with most of the winemakers, then she and I were joined by leading New York sommelier Paul Grieco to Zoom a tasting of the wines. One hour of great conversation and insight into the wine region right next door awaits (click on the image to watch the video).

It might seem odd at first glance that the wines of our neighbour are not commonly seen in Ontario. But that very proximity, with the climatic similarity and size of the two regions, is exactly the reason they are not. Both Ontario and New York have thriving cool climate wine industries that are small in the overall scheme of things. Both regions have simply focused on their own wines and have been much more concerned with taking on the larger global competition within their home market, and drawing people to their tasting rooms. Ontario wines are scarce in New York too.

New Yorker Paul Grieco, who was born and raised and did his first wine schooling with me in Toronto, is the “General and Manager” of Terroir Wine Bar in Manhattan. He was very impressed by the selection being released in Ontario. “I am buying wine in a market that has 55,000 brands, so New York wines are not that easy to find here either. I don’t think I could go into a store and find as good a selection of New York wines as the LCBO has put together. If I were a somm in Toronto looking to offer something familiar yet new I would list them all.”

Indeed, this offering by the LCBO is an ideal opportunity for curious fans of Ontario wine to see what New York is up to – a very useful exercise in terms of looking at the same things slightly differently. One learns through comparison. And on another note, I think we have all now had ample time to experience all the fine wines pouring in from around the New World over the past twenty years – especially from the hotter climates –  and that now there is every reason to be drawn to the cooler climate, livelier, fresher, equally well-made wines right on our doorstep.

New York Wines Today

I first visited New York wineries about 30 years ago and have been back a handful of times. And I have had chance encounters at tastings, fairs or in wine bars in New York. My radar is engaged. And the New York industry has not been standing still. The wines on this release are notably very good, and many of the same factors and trends that have propelled Ontario wine to new heights have also been playing out in New York.

These include ageing vinifera vineyards, more experienced and better trained viticulturalists and winemakers, the honing in on core grape varieties best suited to diverse terroirs, and the overall recognition that, although classified as cool climate, the various regions are distinctive, and that bringing that distinctiveness to bear through wine quality has become the goal of winemaking.

The New York Wine and Grape Foundation, which is responsible for marketing New York wine, among other roles, has captured the wine industry’s new self view with four words: Historical, Diverse, Bold, Cool Climate.

There are 11 American Viticultural Areas or AVAs (mapped wine growing appellations). Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Long Island are home to most of the wineries, and we will visit each in a moment. But there are many other AVAs and emerging regions around the state. In the north there are regions including Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario, Thousand Islands and Champlain Valley. In the west and centre there are Lake Erie, Central New York, Upper Hudson and Greater Adirondacks. Even New York City itself is a wine region with 15 wineries or distilleries in the environs (although not much vineyard)!

Keuka Lake, Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes is the largest, and closest for Ontario visitors, only one hour from the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo and Fort Erie. There are eleven glacially carved lakes, with four larger lakes being home to most of the regions 146 wineries. The lakes are deep and radiate heat mitigating threat of frost and winter damage, while the banks of the lakes provide sloping aspect. The soils are generally mixed thanks to movements of the ancient glaciers. On the westernmost Keuka Lake the banks are steep with considerable Mosel-like shale, and it is here where Riesling took root in the 1950s. It is the signature white but Chardonnay is popular as well. For reds Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc have taken centre stage. Sparkling wine and Icewine are also produced.

The Hudson Valley is among the oldest wine regions in the United States, indeed it is home to the first commercial vineyard at 1827 on Croton Point, Westchester County, then the first commercial winery at Brotherhood in 1839. The lower Hudson River is broad and powerful cutting though hilly if not mountainous terrain, that creates air movement. The River also acts a funnel for moderating maritime influences generated by the Atlantic Ocean. There are only 235 acres of vineyard planted largely to white varieties with Chardonnay dominant. There are however almost 50 wineries.

Montauk, Long Island

Long Island is second largest wine region with over 2,000 acres and 70 wineries. It is more southerly (40 degrees latitude) with a moderate maritime climate and longer growing season. It is hugely influenced by the Atlantic, which deals humidity year ‘round plus strong storms, even hurricanes, in the crucial harvest season. Most wineries are on the more sheltered North Fork at the island’s east end. The terrain is generally flat, the soils are sand and clay with some pockets of gravel and even seashells if close to the shoreline. Red vinifera like Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the stars here making New York’s biggest reds, with Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Riesling leading the whites, plus dabblings with Albarino and Chenin Blanc.

The Wines at the LCBO

Eight wineries are included in the LCBO offering. Sara d’Amato spoke to the winemakers and offers a glimpse of each, with links to short videos from the conversation as well as our tastings.

Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes

Wagner (Seneca Lake)

Seneca is the deepest of the Finger Lakes and never freezes. Its ability to moderate the climate is key in making it home to wealth of vinifera grape varieties and it is fast becoming a benchmark destination for riesling. The winery just celebrated 40 years in the wine business having been founded by Bill Wagner in the late 1970s and now overseen by his son John. Wagner now boasts the largest plantings of riesling in the Finger Lakes with 60-acres grown and can claim that 100% of their fruit is sourced from their own estate.

Wagner Vineyards Estate Grown Riesling Dry 2017, Finger Lakes, New York ($24.90)
The warmth of Wagner’s east Seneca locale gave the fruit an advantage in the cool, wet vintage of 2017. The longer than usual ripening time resulted in slow and steady development of flavours but not at the expense of acid. An impressive dry style riesling that exemplifies the gentle climate and a stylish, lower alcohol nature. View our clip with John Wagner and our critics’ opinions.

 

Hosmer (Cayuga Lake)

Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes, with vineyards resting mainly on its sunny western slopes. Hosmer Winery established itself here in the mid 1980s and has made a name for itself by growing vinifera varieties. Chardonnay is a specialty for the winery and it is the 3rd largest planting on the property (as well as the oldest). Cornell and Adelaide educated winemaker Julia Hoyle is at the winemaking helm of Hosmer, transforming the estate’s Patrician Verona Vineyard fruit into energetic, food-friendly wines that critics love.

Hosmer Winery Chardonnay 2017, Finger Lakes, New York ($27.05)
This isn’t just another chardonnay, it’s a riesling inspired chardonnay with verve, energy and a de-emphasis on oak. If that sounds refreshing, then this is the chard for you. Half of the grapes sourced come from 40+ year old vines adding great concentration while six months of lees ageing adds body and texture. Watch our micro video.

 

Sheldrake Point (Cayuga Lake)

A prominent locale on the western shore of Cayuga Lake, Sheldrake Point is home to a wealth of sustainably grown cabernet franc largely for the production of rosé. Half of the winery’s production is dedicated to dry rosé under the winemaking direction of savant, chemist David Breeden since 2002. Yet, Breeden believes that the success the winery has had with cabernet franc has little to do with him and attributes it to the light, the moderating influence of the deep lake and the carefully chosen sites for the variety. This modern winery is largely powered by the use of solar and geothermal energy.

Sheldrake Point Winery Dry Rosé 2019, Finger Lakes, New York ($28.80)
A dry, Loire-style cabernet rosé is what first comes to mind after a sip of this luminous medium-pale, single variety, pink. The 2019 vintage offer solid acid structure to back the impressive degree of fruit on the palate. A longer cold soak time than usual helped to round out the mouthfeel of this thoughtfully produced rosé that is a mouth-watering simple pleasure. View our short tasting video.

 

Channing Daughters (Long Island)

Channing Daughters is located on a unique site in Bridgehampton, on the eastern side of Long Island where over two dozen varieties are grown with an emphasis on Italian, French and Eastern European grapes. Half of their grapes are sourced from the more prominent wine growing region on the Island – North Fork and thus their labels are reflected of all three of Long Island’s AVA’s: North Fork, The Hamptons and Long Island. With a focus on sustainability and low-interventionist winemaking, Channing Daughters wines are known for their wild and authentic style. View our tasting short with comments from winemaker James Christopher Tracey below.

Channing Daughter Rosso Fresco 2018, Long Island, New York ($34.90)
A fresh red blend of merlot, cabernet franc, blaufrankisch and dornfelder – a mix that one may never come across again especially as this blend changes from year to year. There is a southern Italian feel here reminiscent of a frappato that begs for a slight chill to focus its succulent red fruit. Inherently spicy but not from oak, this vibrant wine is summer ready and endlessly versatile with grilled meat or as an easy solo sipper.

 

Brotherhood (Hudson Valley)

Well-established in the Hudson River Valley, Brotherhood is the oldest continuously operating winery in America with its roots stretching back to 1839 when it began making wine for medicinal and sacramental purposes. It has steadily grown to become one of the largest producers of wine in the state of New York and has recently celebrated its 175th anniversary.

Brotherhood Ny Premium Selection Pinot Noir 2017, Hudson Valley, New York ($24.95)
A youthful structure and a solid core of high-quality fruit mark the palate of this generously oak aged style of pinot noir. Bold and firm in a style with modern appeal. Give this another year or two in bottle for the flavours to fully-integrate. View our tasting video.

 

Konstantin Frank (Keuka Lake)

A winery with significant history in the Finger Lakes having been founded by Eastern European oenologist and wine grower, Dr. Konstantin Frank in the early 1960s to whom is attributed the “vinifera revolution” in the region. Dr. Frank’s emphatic belief in the potential of European grape growing in the Finger Lakes is responsible for the country’s second oldest pinot noir planting that dates back to 1958. The granddaughter of Konstantin, Meghan Frank, continues the tradition of winemaking from grapes grown in this same piece of land with almost magical properties for pinot noir among other delicate varieties.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery Pinot Noir 2017, Finger Lakes, New York ($39.75)
One of the most impressive wines in this release, this pinot derived from the original farm in Keuka Lake and the remaining 40% from the Seneca estate, is Burgundian inspired but with the cool climate, woodsy aromatics of the Finger Lakes. The ample fruit is still restrained on the palate but is about to burst through the floodgates. View our critic’s opinions with a word from winemaker Meghan Frank.

 

Boundary Breaks (Seneca Lake)

Owner Bruce Murray was so taken aback by a bottle of riesling he tasted 12 years ago that it led him to search for a property where riesling could not just thrive but would yield equally impressive results. His journey brought him to a special piece of land on the east side of Seneca Lake bordered by two glacial breaks and a unique spot for the riesling as well as cabernet franc. His expectations were exceeded and Bruce and team work sustainably with the desire to preserve this special spot.

Boundary Breaks Cabernet Franc 2017, Finger Lakes, New York ($34.05)
Winemaker David Breeden prefers the simplest winemaking in order to allow good fruit to speak. As such, this textbook cabernet franc was picked at the peak of ripeness, tidily made and offering both elegance and authenticity. Aged 10 months in older French oak, the tannins are lush and accessible and the wines is highly drinkable at this point. View our video short with expert opinions and a word from Bruce Murray.

 

Fjord (Hudson Valley)

Lush and wild, the Hudson Valley is home to one of the oldest fjords in North America. A mere 89-minute train ride from Central Station in Manhattan, this relatively untamed landscape is a paradise for hiking, hunting and fishing and is also where winemaker and owner Matthew Spaccarelli grew up. A departure from this family’s revered Benmarl estate (where he currently also makes wine), he and wife Casey Erdmann have been producing wine under their own label since 2013.

Fjord Vineyards Estate Cabernet Franc 2015, Hudson Valley, New York ($34.95)
The oldest vintage represented in this release, 2015 was not a particularly warm vintage but was characteristically warm and dry resulting in a long, slow ripening of cabernet franc. Remarkably youthful and structured with oak treatment that has melted into the decadent fruit of the palate. Generous, perfectly ripened and notably harmonious. View our short clip with insights on the wine making from owner Matthew Spaccarelli.

 

Onward From Here

So there you have it, a great opportunity to explore something familiar yet new. And easily done by ordering at LCBO On-Line and having the wines shipped to your closest LCBO. They can also be shipped via Canada Post to your neighbourhood Post office (home delivery is suspended by Canada Post for the time being). And if you like what you taste, as I am sure you will, you can begin planning a road trip next door when the border re-opens.  Food, Wine & Travel Magazine has just named the Finger Lakes the Number #1 Wine Tourism destination in North America, and indeed the region is intriguing and beautiful.  But I know where I will be heading – along the south shore of Lake Ontario through all those small new emerging regions that are so near yet so far.  I hope to report back soon.

This feature was commissioned by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a winery or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery or regional profiles. Wineries, wine agents and wine regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.