Not in any way claiming to be an expert on New York State (NYS) wine, I nevertheless presented a virtual tasting on that very subject. I soon discovered that I wouldn’t need to make any excuses for my lack of knowledge because it seems no one is a NYS expert, even the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. Diligently doing my research, and thus learning as I went along, I found that this is exactly what the winemakers say they are doing themselves. On the webinars I watched, it being tricky to get out there to visit just at the moment, I heard winemakers say that the area as a wine region ‘is birthing before our eyes’, that they are ‘writing the wine book’ right now.
I have tasted NYS wines in the not-so-distant past and I can’t say they were overly inspiring. But I’d heard things were different and improving so I was keen to have another look and, well, taste. What a pleasant surprise. These wines were really flavoursome in the ways we would expect and want and compare favourably to the usual styles of wines we drink. I think the fact that there was only a hint of hybrid grapes in only one of the wines might have been a big plus.
Let me explain – now that I know a little bit on the subject. NYS is a very cool wine growing region, despite being on the same latitude as Bordeaux and Tuscany, and can get ridiculously cold in winter with temperatures dropping as low as -25. The vine most of our grapes come from for most of our wines is vitis vinifera and it does very well around the world but it can’t withstand temperatures of below about -20. Instead of enjoying a dormant period in winter ready to be rejuvenated in the spring, the plant dies. The native American vine, vitis lambrusca, however survives and thrives in these conditions but though they make great grape juice, such as Welch’s, they make less interesting wines. Grape juice is hugely important in the area accounting for 73% of the grape harvest, and as I understand it, is very good for you with ‘more antioxidant activity then commonly consumed fruit juices’. But many people prefer their grape juice with alcohol so over the years hybrids have been developed between the vines and these work well in the climate and make better wine.
More recent plantings of vitis vinifera vines such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and more, have been far more successful. NYS has 10 diverse AVA (American Viticultural Areas) but all have the common element of water : Finger Lakes, Long Island, Hudson River, Lake Erie, for example. Waters, whether they are rivers, oceans or lakes have an important impact on vines such as working as air conditioning in summer or moderating the temperatures in winter. Planting nearer the lakes or rivers helps to protect the vines against the worst of the extreme cold, and then there’s the effect of climate change too which has meant that the winemakers have made huge strides in producing wines that have much greater appeal for our palates, veering towards the more delicate styles of European wines.
I would even go further and say that these are both wines of the moment and of the future. There is a strong move towards healthy living and one easy way to help this along is to watch your alcohol intake. Cool climate wine regions such as NYS naturally produce wines of slightly lower alcohol. They also tend to have higher acidity levels making them ideal food wines – a sensible and healthy way of enjoying your alcohol.
There are few places in the UK to buy NYS wines at the moment, one reason being that production is small. NYS may be America’s third largest wine-producing state but as California accounts for around 80%, those 175 million bottles of NYS wine pale into insignificance by comparison. And there’s a ready market in the US itself for them. I think though that with a new PR company in the UK bringing these wines to the attention of the UK wine-drinker and with quality much better than it was, we will see them in wine shops soon. And here’s a pleasant surprise, you won’t need a particularly fat wallet to buy them. Look out for dry through to sweet Rieslings, crisp Chardonnays, fresh Cabernet Francs and fun easy-drinking blends, such as Yellow Cab.
For more information go to New York State website
Current stockists of NYS wines:
Brotherhood Winery – Inverarity Morton
Dr Konstantin Frank Winery – Matthew Clark
Forge Cellars – Bibendum
Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard – Wanderlust Wine
Nathan Kendall Wines – Top Selection
Osmote Wine – Woodwinters
Red Hook Winery – Flint Wines
Red Newt Cellars – The Wine Treasury