Sometimes a grape does so well in a place that it becomes synonymous with the region. That was the case with California cabernet sauvignon, and it’s also true of Finger Lakes riesling. As in Germany’s Mosel Valley, where much of this German grape is grown, the sloping vineyards along the paw-like reach of the deep, glacial Finger Lakes are graced with moderate, drying breezes generated by the water’s convection. The cool—not cold—climate favors riesling and Northern European grapes. Not only that, but as Thomas Pastuszak, the wine director at NoMad in Manhattan who studied and worked in the region, explains, “The last Ice Age brought incredible minerals, leaving microterroirs that don’t exist elsewhere in the U.S. The soil complexity resembles the great regions of Europe.” Versatile and aromatically expressive, riesling is the perfect grape for such soil, says Pastuszak, because it can “speak of where it’s coming from.”
Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Reserve Riesling 2010 ($29) A benchmark for great Finger Lakes riesling, this best-of-the-harvest bottling comes from an all-natural winery founded by a scion of a Mosel Valley winemaking family. Long-fermented to maximize complexity, it starts with a swoon-worthy floral nose, then hits your mouth with lusciousness, bringing apricot, Mandarin orange, and herbal flavors that last long after each sip.
Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs 2006 ($30)From the pioneer Finger Lakes winery, founded in 1962 by Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank, this 100 percent pinot noir sparkler, made in traditional champagne fashion, has a wonderfully bready aroma, a plummy acidity, firm drying tannins, and a fine bubble that cleanses the mouth. It’s a festive wine.
Red Newt “Curry Creek Vineyards” Gewurztraminer 2008 ($38) From a winery attached to a popular local restaurant, this charismatic Alpine-style white wine has a sweet, lychee-like aroma and tastes flowery and fruity until mouthwatering acid and racy, addictive spice sneak up on you. It’s a great wine for Thai food.
Bloomer Creek “Tanzen Dame” Dry Riesling 2010 ($33) An innovative startup vineyard on Seneca Lake makes this long-fermented dry riesling with yeasts found naturally in the surrounding air. The result is a wine so intense, it almost tastes fortified, with gorgeous cassis and tart strawberry jam notes.
Fox Run Lemberger 2009 ($18) A black-skinned red wine grape grown in Germany and Hungary as well as in Austria, where it’s called blaufrankisch, lemberger is growing in popularity in cooler U.S. wine regions. This light red’s distinctly hemp-like aroma yields to a ripe berry flavor dressed in vanilla and black pepper. It’s lovely with fall venison.
Ravines Cabernet Franc 2010 ($19) Following a rich nose, some bright, tangy cherry flavors meet exotic spices—cardamom, star anise—in this medium-bodied, softly tannic red that would be a perfect match for North African-style spiced lamb dishes.
Lamoreaux Landing “Yellow Dog Vineyard” Riesling 2010 ($20) Microterroir really shines in this dry riesling. Grapes from a single, wind-swept vineyard planted in gravelly soil on top of shale rock show off their bright minerality with sweet-tart nectarine flavors and just a bit of the steel note found in many Austrian rieslings.
Heart & Hands Dry Riesling 2011 ($23) From a tiny, young winery on the eastern shore of Lake Cayuga, this riesling tastes on the sweeter side of dry. Its lovely floral nose resolves into a spicy and herbal palate. It’s a turkey wine for those who enjoy a glass with a gentler touch. This maker’s pinot noirs are also worth seeking out.
Anthony Road “Martini Reinhardt Selection” Riesling 2009 ($30) Dusky potpourri-like rose aromas lead to honeyed citrus and stone fruit flavors, with a terrific acidity that keeps this sweet riesling in balance and makes it a perfect complement to dessert.
Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir 2010 ($20) When Nancy Irelan, former head of research for the world’s largest winemaker, Gallo, left her job, she came to the Finger Lakes, where she is making fascinating reds. Her passion for pinot noir shows in this bright, spicy bottle full of red berries, with anchoring earth notes. It’s another great Thanksgiving wine. Also try her lambrusco-like sparkling teroldego and mulberry-rich dornfelder.