Finger Lakes Rieslings: The new wine frontier?

My first life experiences with wine were in the upper reaches of New York State, during college. I lived on campus my senior year at Colgate University (my alma mater), living in the French-speaking-only (yea, right) La Maison Franςaise in an attempt to better my oral skills for culinary school the following year in Switzerland. Throughout the year, I didn’t learn much French but Stephanie, the live-in grad student from Dijon, France and I had a good ‘ole time exploring the wineries in the Finger Lakes region. Fond memories, all of them.

I’m not sure how she survived, tasting those wines Finger Lakes wines in the early 1990s when she’s from the storied Burgundy wine region. Although I didn’t know much at the time, I know the wine is much better now. Especially after Twitter’s Riesling Day event last week. Twitter hashtag theme “days” are ALL the rage in this scrambling, hectic social media period in which we live, and the fine folks in the Finger Lakes wine region announced the date (September 22) hoping people would log in and wax poetic/snarky/intelligent about the wines of their virtually-unknown-outside-the northeast-region wine area. Basically because of curiosity and a nostalgic urge, I participated.

New York State of Wine

Man, I’m still digging on the Rieslings I tried. The only bad thing about the wineries is their lack of retail distribution outside of the New York area. When I lived in Florida, the only wines from New York State were embarrassingly vile (Bully Hill, to name one). It seems the best bottles were hoarded by the folks of New York. Can’t say I blame them really. But that was before online shopping became so easy.

IRF Sweetness Scale

Desert-dry, lemon-lime, green apple, tart acidity and slate-like minerality were the defining characteristics of the dry Rieslings. Refreshingly low alcohol is another added bonus. But one thing I noticed on the Finger Lakes bottles — that I haven’t really seen as much on Washington State and California versions — is the prolific use of the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) sweetness scale. According to their website, 15 million bottles now carry this graphic scale of dry to sweet flavor. And when a label says dry, believe that it’s dry like my hair in the California summer. (The actual pH, sugar/acid ratio guidelines can be found here.)

Why You Should Try Them

Actual dry Rieslings are hard to find outside of Germany and France’s Alsace. If you’re seeking a tart Sauvignon Blanc without the grassiness or grapefruit and some interesting aromas floating from the glass, then this is YOUR wine.

And it’s hip to dig Rieslings since they’re the quintessential food wine. Read my article about food and wine pairings with Rieslings.

The Wines

Dr. Frank Konstantin 2010 Dry Riesling
I’d heard of Dr. Frank Constantin before, but only whispered amongst wine geeks. Never actually held a glass of the legend in my hand. Now I know why… people don’t want to give it up. In 1962, Dr. Konstantin Frank began a movement that forever changed wine growing in the Finger Lakes region. He planted Vitis Vinifera grapes (the family of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and, yes, Riesling) in the upstate New York Finger Lakes region, but used different rootstock (what’s this?) to succeed. And succeed he did.  His 2010 Riesling bears bracing acidity, flowing with citrus, even tangerine and an aroma you’d want to wear as perfume… it framed all the others but, if  Frank’s the teacher, I think some of his pupils are gaining on him. $15 per bottle, available online and also distributed in many states.

Atwater Estate Vineyards 2010 Dry Riesling
I literally savored every last drop of this beautiful bottle of wine. The floral aroma seduces you first, then the fresh green apple and steely lime enter the picture. Lean, vibrant, almost fizzy and truly a steal at $16. Forget Alsace, buy American. These wines are that good. Just placed an online order myself. Buy online since they are only distributed in New York.

McGregor Vineyard 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling
I must give kudos to this semi-dry (but by IRF standards, it’s dry) Riesling from estate-grown McGregor Vineyard. Only a slight hint of sweetness on the tongue, it sports more peaches and tangerine on the tongue (rather than lime and apple) yet finishes with tart acidity. Reminds me more German Mosel Riesling, without the diesel fuel flavors. Very. very nice. $18. Buy online.

With these gorgeous wines, it’s enough to create new fond memories of Finger Lakes wines. Perhaps it’s time to visit…



  1. Taylor, Thanks for the nice comments. My daughter Susan also at Colgate, around ’87-’88 I think. Riesling is our number one seller here at the winery. Best Ted

  2. Ted: Wow… small world. Susan graduated before me but not by much. Beautiful part of the country and amazing wines.

  3. I just learned about the Finger Lakes at the Epcot Food & Wine Fest. I attended a seminar given by Brandon Seager from Red Newt Cellar. The wine was great! You should try their 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling.

  4. Mariseli: I will have to check that out. Hoping to (re) visit Finger Lakes in 2012. Appreciate the heads up!

  5. Greetings Taylor – we met years ago at a Wine Brats convention (last one they had I think). Stumbled across you blog looking for some Total wine coupons….interestingly enough I have been running trips to the Finger lakes region (where I grew up) every year since 1999. This year we head up Oct 20-23. Always start with Weimer, always finish with Dr Frank’s.

  6. I would be remiss if I didn’t chime in with a recommendation for my local makers.

    If you think Finger Lakes has something special going on, check out Michigan Rieslings.

    Chateau Grand Traverse has been working hard to excel on that front.

    They’re only one of many makers in the two AVA’s near Traverse City that bring a true, dry, European style to the wine. I am not affiliated with any of them, just a passionate consumer. In fact I rarely enjoy Rieslings, but these are well worth investigating.

  7. Taylor–glad to see that the Finger Lakes wines are finally getting their props. I grew up in Auburn (Finger Lakes region) and am amazed by the transformation of the area by the wine-loving community. Now, if we can only resurrect that beautiful art deco movie theatre in Auburn–a la Tampa Theatre…..Cheers–

  8. Hi Taylor,
    Ted Marks shared your nice write-up with his Facebook friends, and I plan to do the same. I’m so glad you’ve found the wines of our region enjoyable, and yes, the Rieslings are the clear standout. I appreciate you giving us such kind mention- the 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling was the 30th vintage under our belt and we were quite proud of the result. As for the Dr. Frank and Atwater, I love them both as well. Perhaps you can come for a visit sometime in the future?!
    John McGregor

  9. I will most definitely put you guys on my growing list of wineries to check out on an upstate NY trip. Embarrassingly long overdue! Thanks for reading.


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