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For today’s #WineWednesday, TPG contributor Sharon McDonnell takes us to one of North America’s under-the-radar wine regions – a place with beautiful scenery, shimmering lakes and long summer days. We’re going wine-tasting in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region.
The scenic Finger Lakes region in central-western New York is abloom with apple blossoms in late spring, crimson and golden foliage in fall, flowers in summer, and blanketed by snow in winter. Most of its over 100 wineries, open year-round, are near four lakes: Cayuga, Keuka, Seneca and Canandaigua.
Cool-climate wines like Riesling, the region’s signature grape, and Pinot Noir, not to mention some delicious sparkling wines, are specialties. Chardonnay – crisper, lighter and more acidic than in California – Cabernet Franc, and varietals developed by Cornell University’s grape-breeding program, like Cayuga White and Traminette, are also grown.
Travelers to the region have their choice of three airports. Rochester International Airport is the western gateway, served by Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, US Airways and American Eagle. Syracuse Hancock International Airport, the eastern gateway, is served by the same arilines, except Southwest, plus Air Canada and small regional airlines. The area’s southern gateway, Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, has flights from Delta Connection, United Express and US Airways Express.
WHERE TO STAY
Skaneateles, a charming, manicured town on the shores of a pristine lake by the same name, is a half-hour drive from Syracuse, and has a main street lined by galleries, antiques and artisan shops. There’s an outdoor chamber music festival in August, and a Dickens Fair in Christmas season.
The Sherwood Inn is in an 1807 blue clapboard house right on the lake. Rates in June start at $215 per night. Another option is the Mirbeau Inn & Spa, an AAA Four-Diamond hotel ranked one of the best small US resorts by Conde Nast Traveler, features a bridge and lily pad-studded pond inspired by Monet’s Giverny gardens, spacious, elegantly-furnished rooms with gas fireplaces, and a spa with outdoor hot tub. It’s set on 10 wooded acres just a few blocks from the town center. Rates in June begin at $255 per night.
Inn on the Main is a gem in a 19th-century Victorian-style mansion in Canandaigua, a 40-minute drive from Rochester, whose five guest rooms include two huge two-room suites. Gourmet breakfasts are served (a goat cheese- and strawberry-stuffed croissant and ham-vegetable frittata on my visit). Rates in June begin a $200 per night.
The Hilton Garden Inn is in Auburn, a 30-40-minute drive from Syracuse, Rochester and Ithaca. It’s a Hilton Category 4 property meaning free nights require 20,000 to 30,000 Hilton points per night. Room rates start at $159 per night in June.
Also in Auburn, Springside Inn is an eight-room inn in an 1830 red clapboard house on the shore of Owasco Lake. Rooms start at $100 per night.
New York’s most awarded winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, which overlooks Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, a 90-minute drive from Rochester, is renowned for its Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Rkatsiteli, an ancient grape from Georgia in the former Soviet Union. Award-winning sparkling Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs are made by sister winery Chateau Frank. Its value-priced brand is Salmon Run. Tastings are free at the winery, whose semi-dry 2011 Riesling won the Governor’s Cup, the top prize, at the NY Wine & Food Classic Competition in 2012. The winery’s founder introduced European varietals to the Finger Lakes, despite skeptics who felt the region was too cold to successfully produce wine.
Heron Hill Winery has a wine barrel-shaped tasting room and restaurant also overlooking Keuka Lake, where you can sip its eight types of Riesling. At the region’s oldest winery, Pleasant Valley Wine Company, eight stone 1860’s buildings are on the National Register. Both are in Hammondsport.
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is America’s oldest. During its spring Wine & Herb Festival, visitors receive a potted herb, food prepared with the herb and recipe from each winery, and tree ornaments and grapevine wreaths during its winter holiday events. For Mardi Gras, wineries give out colored beads plus a chance to win prizes. They also offer wine dinners, live music and hayrides throughout the September harvest event.
The biggest trail with 30+ wineries, Seneca Lake Wine Trail also Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine, whose chef/co-owner won a 2011 James Beard Best Chef Northeast nomination. Suzanne Stack’s five-course tasting dinners with optional Finger Lakes wine pairings, plus other prix-fixe menus, are served weekends in a 1903 house facing Seneca Lake in Lodi.
The New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua offers a tasting room for New York State wines – Long Island and Hudson Valley, as well as Finger Lakes – a restaurant, cooking classes, and a retail shop.
The Mirbeau Inn’s French Steakhouse serves tasty farm-to-table cuisine and a daily soufflé, while its bar has Enomatic wine stations that dispense Finger Lakes wines in summer.
Although often overlooked in favor of bigger, more famous US wine regions, New York’s Finger Lakes offer travelers and tasters plenty of opportunities to try the area’s distinctive wines, enjoy plenty of festivals year round and stay in charming little country inns.