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Report From the Finger Lakes, Part I

(July 24, 2001) Even after a terribly tough 2000 vintage, wineries in New York's Finger Lakes appear to be prospering as never before.

     As I tasted around Lakes Seneca and Keuka for the first time in six years, I couldn't help noticing all the new construction. Much of the money is being spent simply to beef up the tasting rooms, but I also saw new investments behind the scenes. Just as in other wine-growing regions, the best Finger Lakes producers seem to be upgrading their plantings, picking riper, hiring better winemakers and cutting fewer corners after crush.

HERE, AT LEAST, APPEARANCES DON'T DECEIVE. Lamoreaux Landing matches its beautiful Greek Revival winery with some lovely new wines, including a red.

     With better weather, we might see an even bigger leap in quality. As it is, they've already made major strides in two key areas.

#1. Sparkler quality explodes

     Dr. Konstantin Frank  and Glenora have long made excellent sparkling wine. Now they've got solid competition. As I review my notes, time and again, the best wine on the roster turns out to be the sparkler. It makes sense for three reasons:

     One, the Finger Lakes are crawling with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, laden with fruit that will never get ripe enough for great still wines—but are just the ticket for racy, lively bubbly. If that sounds to you like a certain part of France beginning with "C," go to the head of the class.

     Two, the best producers here are leaving the wines on the lees for four years or more. So in addition to good depth of fruit, they're also getting plenty of bready grace notes.

     Finally, the vintages three or four years back were probably better than recent ones. Sparklers are your best chance right now to buy wines from superior vintages.

#2. Reds get (somewhat) better

     Every producer I talk to on the East Coast dreams of making a great red wine. I don't know if this is ever going to happen, but at least the quality is improving. This year I tasted a couple of balanced, enjoyable, albeit light Pinot Noirs from the Finger Lakes. I also tasted a Merlot that I actually bought, plus a few Meritage blends that might remind you of decent Loire reds.

     Faint praise? You bet. But maybe, just maybe—if they thin down their yields and the weather stays nice—even happier things may happen.

     Speaking of weather, this is where the news gets less rosy:

Sorry to rain on the parade, but...

     Despite that fact that many wines from the 2000 vintage seem to have been better made, nature wasn't cooperating. It was cool, it was wet and the wines sure show it. Some manage the miracle of being very nice, but in every single 2000 I tasted, the concentration just isn't there.

     Do, however, pay attention to the quality-conscious producers whose 2000s I recommend below. If they can make pleasant wines in this miserable vintage, just think what might happen when they finally get lucky.

     Following are some of the better wines on the current market, listed by winery:

Lamoreaux Landing

     Beautiful winery buildings are no guarantee of good wine, but Lamoreaux Landing delivers both. Located on the east bank of Lake Seneca, just a little north of Wagner, these relative newcomers are leaving their neighbors behind in the quest for higher quality.

     The *--2000 Lamoreaux Landing Gewürztraminer is varietally true, with lychee and rose petal aromas, a nice bite and just enough residual sugar (1.1%) to make it interesting. Like all 2000s I tasted, it thins on the finish, but it's nice work for the vintage.

     *-1999 Lamoreaux Landing Semi-Dry Riesling has the diesel aromas of its better German cousins, pleasant mineral flavors and a fuller finish than the 2000s.

     The *1997 Lamoreaux Landing Brut is one of several excellent sparkling wines I tasted this weekend. Disgorged just two months ago, it's got lively citrus flavors, plus the fresh-baked bread notes of a nice Champagne.

     But the wine that surprised me the most was *1999 Lamoreaux Landing Merlot "Barrel Aged." Fairly dark, with ripe red cherry aromas, chocolatey flavors, medium and a decent finish, it's the most promising Finger Lakes red that I tasted.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 2, including notes from Anthony Road, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Hermann J. Wiemer, Glenora and McGregor!

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