Have you visited any Finger Lakes wineries lately? We recently revisited New York’s premier wine region and recommend our favorite spots to drink and eat along the Finger Lakes wine trail.
The Finger Lakes in upstate New York is ready for its moment.
Previously under the radar, New York’s largest wine region has over 100 wineries and a new generation of winemakers. In a region traditionally known for Riesling and Cabernet Franc, innovative young winemakers are shaking things up with different varietals and techniques.
With a climate more similar to wintry Alsace or moody Burgundy, the Finger Lakes is different from sunny California where hot climate, full-bodied wines are the norm.
The weather in New York’s Finger Lakes is cold, rainy and oftentimes snowy in the winter, though it’s moderated by the temperate effects of the deep bodies of water that run adjacent to the region’s vineyards.
Though the weather and sloping hills are reminiscent of the Rhineland, the age of the vines is quite different as is the presence of deep lakes. The growing seasons have slight differences, creating wines that are unique to the region too. As a result, Finger Lakes wineries are taking wine in new and exciting directions.
Food options run the gamut, especially in the warmer months. This is key since you’ll need a base when taking advantage of reasonably priced Finger Lakes wine tastings all day long.
Recommended Stops on the Finger Lakes Wine Trail
With so many wineries (over 100!) spread around 11 lakes, it can be a daunting task to decide how best to explore the Finger Lakes wine trail.
When we visit the Finger Lakes, we typically focus our time around Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake since these two lakes have the highest density of notable wineries and eateries near their banks.
Finger Lakes Wine Tasting
We have no problem finding sophisticated wine, both red and white, in the Finger Lakes. Now that we’ve visited the Finger Lakes five times over the past ten years, we’re starting to establish our favorite Finger Lakes wineries. These are our favorites:
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
Back in 1958, Dr. Frank demonstrated the ability to grow European style Vitis Vinifera in the Eastern United States to a skeptical public. Now a new generation is following in Frank’s footsteps, providing their own stamps upon the up and coming wine region.
Over the ensuing decades, Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery became a leader in the Finger Lakes wine community. Frank’s winery deserves credit for bringing European standards to the Finger Lakes in its production of wines like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner.
Not willing to sit on its laurels and revel in old vines originally planted by its Ukranian founder, Dr. Konstantin Winery continues to push forward with excellent wines and wine varietals. Plus, the winery is one of the few Finger Lakes wineries to offer free tastings.
We sampled a good selection during our comprehensive tasting with Brandon Thomas (pictured above). Standouts were the 2013 Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay and the 2015 Lena with a blend of the winery’s best red grapes.
Weather permitting, check out the Terrace at 1886. If there’s a more scenic tasting spot overlooking Lake Keuka, we have yet to find it.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is located at 9749 Middle Road, Hammondsport, NY 14840, USA.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
A converted barn filled with steel tanks provides an ideal setting for tastings at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, but the wines are the stars of the viticultural show. Though the esteemed winery produces a variety of varietals, Rieslings are the prima donnas of this production.
Founded on Seneca Lake in 1979 by Hermann Wiemer, it’s no surprise that this winery specializes in Riesling. After all – Hermann Weimer grew up amid Riesling grapes in Germany’s Mosel Valley. He didn’t stop there, though, also growing grapes like Chardonnay and Merlots at his fertile Finger Lakes vineyard.
Today, Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke run the esteemed vineyard with respect to both Wiemer’s legacy and an eye toward the future. They operate a sustainable farm without any herbicides or insecticides, creating a biodiverse environment.
Though we sipped a range of excellent Rieslings, including a 2015 Noble Select, during our tasting with Holly Fusco (pictured above), sipping on recently disgorged rosé was the highlight of the interactive tasting. This is something we can’t do at home.
Mix it up with an ice wine tasting at Standing Stone on the other side of Seneca Lake. Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard bought this wine estate in 2017 and runs it as a separate operation.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard is located at 3962 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837, USA.
Domaine Leseurre Winery
Located on the east side of Keuka Lake, the winemakers at Domaine Leseurre Winery produce European style wines using the best available grapes of the region. Their Chardonnay very well may be the best produced in all of the Finger Lakes.
Owners Sébastien and Céline Leseurre embrace their French heritage as well as their previous wine experiences in Europe and Australia. Sébastian is from Champagne, whereas Céline is from the Pyrénées.
Wine is in their blood – both Sébastien and Céline grew up in the wine business. The winemakers’ expertise shines through their personalities and, more importantly, through the sophisticated taste of their wines.
We especially love their unoaked, Chablis-like Chardonnay and their dry and late harvest Rieslings. We tasted these and more during an extensive tasting that ranged from porch wine to barrel select sippers.
Buy more bottles of Chardonnay than you think you need. You’ll regret it later if you don’t.
Domaine Leseurre Winery is located at 13920 State Route 54, Hammondsport, NY 14840, United States.
Hickory Hollow / Nathan K. Wines
Commitment. Nathan Kendall demonstrates this quality in every bottle he produces at his family’s Finger Lake vineyard. He also showed it when he met us on a Sunday morning for a private tasting before we drove to Buffalo.
The epitome of the new breed of Finger Lakes winemakers, Kendall is a local who honed his craft at wineries as far away as New Zealand and Germany and as close as California and Oregon. He returned to Dundee, joining his family’s Finger Lakes winery, Hickory Hollow, in 2016 after a stint running the Pinot program at Ravines (see below).
Hickory Hollow produces a selection of fruity and refined wines using grapes sourced almost 100% from Seneca Lake. Kendall produces a more rustic line, Nathan K., using the same grapes but with different levels of fermentation.
One highlight during our tasting was Kendall’s 2017 Cabernet Franc Rosé, a big, weighty, funky wine made with no skin contact and full fermentation in the bottle. Another was his 2017 unoaked Pinot Noir, which happens to be Kendall’s current favorite for good reason.
Ravines Wine Cellars
Similar to Domaine Leseurre, the owner of Ravines Wine Cellars hails from France. Originally from Provence, Morten Hallgren learned the ins and outs of the Fingers Lakes terroir while working as the chief winemaker at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery (see above). Wife Lisa Hallgren is the winery’s chef.
With tasting rooms on Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake, Ravines Wine Cellars is well-known for its reasonably priced award-winning Rieslings. However, this established winery’s range of varietals and wine types goes beyond the local standard.
The winery offers “grazing boards” with cheese and charcuterie for purchase and is looking to add a full-time chef.
Ravines Wine Cellars is located at 14630 State Route 54, Hammondsport, NY 14840 and at 400 Barracks Road, Geneva, NY 14456, United States.
Finger Lakes Distilling
Located on the east side of Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes Distilling produces high-quality spirits with local ingredients. Although their McKenzie whiskeys are readily available in the area, it’s worth a stop at the distillery in person to try up to four samples from their comprehensive menu of whiskey, vodka, gin and liqueur.
A boozy tasting provides a view of the distillery’s coppers stills on one side and an array of bottles for sale on the other side. Tours are offered each Saturday morning from late May until the end of November.
Plan ahead and schedule an OriGINal Gin Workshop where up to 14 people can create their own gin blend.
Finger Lakes Distilling is located at 4676 Route 414, Burdett, NY 14818, United States.
Finger Lakes Restaurants
Ten years ago, we could count all of the good Finger Lakes restaurants on one hand. Fast forward to the present, and you’d quickly run out of fingers and toes while researching where to eat before or after a day of wine tasting.
Many of the best Finger Lakes restaurants are in Geneva, the area’s hipster hub. With only 14 seats and an award-winning menu, F.L.X. Table is the toughest reservation to score. Plan ahead or pick another worthy Fingers Lakes restaurant.
If you’re jonesing for a more casual meal, we suggest the following two spots:
If you’ve always wanted to eat a hot dog prepared by a Master Sommelier, F.L.X. Wienery is the place for you. Owned and operated by the team behind F.L.X. Table, the food here is worthy of a stop or two between tastings.
Wieners are on the menu as are burgers and a slew of sides that eat like a meal. We’re talking about chili poutine, loaded fries and other comfort food. Vegetarians will even find a dish or two on the fast-casual menu.
We enjoyed a chill dinner here with friends Brandon and Holly (both pictured above at their respective wineries) and returned the next day for a quick, satisfying lunch. Somehow we found room to share a decadent salted caramel and pretzel milkshake after one of the meals.
The Wienery is a favorite among the growing Finger Lakes wine community. If you’re carefully observant, you’ll notice the trophy-worthy international wines in the restaurants’ secret wine fridge and the substantial selection of whiskeys next to the cash register. Also, if you consider yourself an oenophile, check out the restaurant’s collection of “soldiers.” It’s humbling.
Just because you’re eating casual doesn’t mean that you need to drink swill. Order a nice glass of local wine, craft beer or top notch spirit to go with your meal. Or, better yet, splurge on a special bottle from the secret wine fridge.
F.L.X. Wienery is located at 5090 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837, USA.
Penn Yan Diner
Dating back to 1925, locals have been eating at the Penn Yan Diner. Not your typical diner, this one is located in a dining car. Yes, this converted dining car has been a popular eatery for almost a century.
Expect typical diner fare when you dine at Penn Yan Diner. Breakfasts options are hearty – pancakes, waffles, eggs and the like. For lunch, you can opt for dishes like soup, sandwiches and salads.
We chose to sit at the bar during our breakfast which was a good choice since we got a front-row view of the cooking action. Watching co-owner Sean Ahearn patiently teach his new employee how to make pancakes was both entertaining and heartwarming.
Order the award-winning pancakes. You know you want them.
Penn Yan Diner is located at 131 E Elm Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527, USA.
Beyond the Finger Lakes
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: February 5, 2019