Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Unbiased Look at Finger Lakes Reds

To recap what I have said in the past about wine from the Finger Lakes: they make some fantastic Rieslings, a few other notable whites, and their reds tend to be on the light, watery and not terribly interesting side. It really wasn’t all that long ago when the difference between a New York white and a New York red may just as well have been a few drops of food coloring. There is a good reason why most people—myself included—are skeptical of reds from the Finger Lakes, namely that for a long time, they haven’t been very good.

As the region’s wine industry continues to evolve, some of the reds produced in the Finger Lakes are starting to hold their own. Heart and Hands Winery, for example, is focused on producing a high-quality pinot noir. They produce two types of non-sparkling wines: Riesling and pinot noir. Pinot is, if not an obsession, certainly, an area of intense focus for this small winery. Their obsession is starting to pay off in the form of a medium-bodied, silky pinot that has both fruity and spicy notes with a great, satisfying finish. As a young winery that is taking an extremely focused approach, Heart and Hands sets a good example for what Finger Lakes reds can be.

Anyela’s Winery is also doing their part for the red wine cause. Like Heart and Hands, Anyela’s is relatively new. And like Heart and Hands, Anyela’s makes very good reds for the region. Heart and Hands has very much of a “work-in-progress” feel to it—from its grounds that under construction to its pinot noir obsession which is nowhere near exhausted. Anyela’s demonstrates what is possible when good wines and beautiful, natural settings come together. No wonder why Caitlin and I held our rehearsal dinner here.

Perched atop Skaneateles Lake, the inside of the winery looks like a grown-up’s clubhouse with big, comfortable chairs, a central fireplace, wine barrel tables and natural wood walls. Panoramic views of the vines and the lake are available from just about everywhere. To top it off, their wine’s good, too. Taking a page out of Heart and Hands’ playbook, Anyela’s produces a pinot noir—and a very good one at that. There is an initial sweet and mellow aroma and fruit-forward taste of raspberry that evolves into a pleasant smoothness and finally finishes with hints of figs and exotic spices.

Another red that Anyela’s offers is their very approachable and drinkable Overlay blend. Comprised of 35% Cabernet Franc, 15% Pinot Noir, 20% Shiraz, and 30% Merlot; this thick, jammy, velvety red could, in a blind test, have people convinced they were drinking something from Napa Valley. I lost track of how many people complimented us on the wine served during our rehearsal dinner, and how impressed they were that it was local.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Goose Watch Winery. They have been around for longer than either Heart and Hands or Anyela’s, but are also contributing to the Finger Lakes red march towards respectability. We served their chambourcin at our wedding. The deep, ruby red color and thick, well-rounded aromas of dark fruit and hints of leather, cherries and oak went perfectly with the steak that was served.

Heart and Hands, Aneyla’s and Goose Watch all serve as the exception, and a good example, for the caliber of reds that the Finger Lakes region can produce. With the influx of new wineries opening up in the area, let’s hope at least some of them put the same amount of care and effort into producing interesting, well-made reds.