By Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner
In the first part of this series, I wrote about when to go to the Finger Lakes, where to stay for maximum wine-tasting opportunity, and how to go about selecting wineries to visit.
This time around, I'd like to talk about the general qualities of the wine and other attractions. If any readers have any questions--any questions at all--feel free to leave a comment. I am happy to help no matter the query!
What to Expect in the Wine
The Finger Lakes region has a reputation for white wine, which is well-deserved. Riesling is good at most wineries, although some do make it a little too sweet. A nice dry Finger Lakes riesling is really a treat!
Chardonnay, when ripe enough, exhibits the subtle floral flavors that are absent in a lot of the strong warm-weather West Coast offerings.
Gewürztraminer does fairly well in the Finger Lakes, and pinot gris and Sauvignon Blanc are offered at some wineries and are more often than not successful. Most vinifera whites can thrive in the cool growing climate of the Finger Lakes and when done well will remind tasters more of the European style of winemaking than many of the New World growing regions.
Reds require a little more caution, but there are some real finds for the discriminating consumer. The cool climate provides a challenge, but experienced winemakers can find ways to promote the positive qualities that can be attained.
A good pinot noir from the Finger Lakes has a musty, mushroom-like nose and a delicate cherry or raspberry taste that can really linger. Cabernet franc seems to ripen well for most producers, and a bottle that has been left to age for a year or two seems to really strike a balance of herbal overtones mixed with a bit of fruit.
A master winemaker can create a good meritage by blending select grapes, but beware straight bottlings of cabernet sauvignon or merlot. These single varietals thrive only in excellent years and there are some wineries that import grapes to help boost their appeal. Many of the most reputable wineries avoid these varietals or release them only when a hot summer produced a crop that was good enough to use after meritages were mixed.
Keep an open mind on the reds, but don't be surprised if some disappoint. Lenn is still trying to find a Finger Lakes red that he likes!
Some say that the Finger Lakes climate is much like Champagne, and the earliest success the Finger Lakes had with its wine was with sparklers. While some wineries lack the experience to create good sparkling wine, those that do find that their pinot noir and chardonnay are at the perfect level of ripeness to create crisp and exciting bubblies. I strongly recommend seeking out sparkling wine and seeing if any of it impresses you.
It gets cold up in there in the winter, so the ice wine--when made naturally and frozen on the vine--is quite good. Some people love ice wine, and others do not, but it's there for those who want to try it. The ice wines made from riesling are especially tasty.
You will find that some hybrid grapes--grapes that are a cross between vinifera and the American labrusca--have found their way into Finger Lakes winemaking. Some of these hybrids were accidents created during colonial times, while others were created by Cornell University at its genetic laboratories. Whatever their origin, some of these grapes mix the fine taste of vinifera but retain the winter hardiness of their American cousins. Experiment yourself with these grapes: you might be surprised to find that some of them make a decent table wine.
So, what else is there to do in the Finger Lakes? Like any good-sized regions, there is an almost innumberable amount of things to do off of the beaten path, especially if one enjoys regional museums, quaint shops, farm life, or outdoor activities. For folks with these interests, a good guide book is in order. I will point out some of the obvious attractions for those who want to hit the big stuff first.
This is one of the few world-class museums in Upstate New York. Founded by the Houghton family of Corning Inc. fame, this museum has created an historical collection of immense size, with thousands upon thousands of objects on display. The museum celebrates glass as a medium of understanding human advancement through the millennia, from science to culture to art. There are interactive shows and exhibits as well as historical and artistic galleries. To truly see the museum in its entirety takes many hours if not more than a day. If one is in the vicinity of Corning, this museum should not be missed.
Rochester's best attraction celebrates the art and science of photography while paying homage to one of its most famous citizens. The fortune Geoge Eastman accumulated after founding Kodak allowed him to build a tremendous home which is on display and is a great example of early 20th-Century architecture. The photography and film exhibits allow one to appreciate the advancements made in the field, as well as see original prints of master photographers such as Ansel Adams.
The supposed inspiration for Frank Capra's Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life, Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the Women's Rights movement. For those who wish to learn more about this rich history, Seneca Falls offers the privately controlled National Women's Hall of Fame and the National Park Service's Women's Rights National Historic Park.
The geography of the Finger Lakes provides tremendous gorges, glens, and waterfalls that are truly spectacular. While there are dozens of such treasures hidden in the countryside, the most accessible are found at Watkins Glen and in and around Ithaca. Watkins Glen State Park is highly recommended, as well as Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca, Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca, and Taughannock Falls State Park just north of Ithaca. Also, one should not miss the various gorges on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, which surrounds these geographic features with some of the most comprehensive botanical gardens one can find upstate.