Tom Surgey on New York State Wines – more precisely those of the Finger Lakes

I haven’t got out there to visit yet, but let me tell you what I like from the tasting, Dan. I like the structure. I like the concentration. I like the tension of fruit and acidity in all of them. They all feel like really elegant, pretty classically styled wines but with a bit of Instagram filter applied. The edges have been buffed, the brightness is turned up a notch.

I’m talking to Dan Belmont; the bright, infectiously bubbly proprietor of the New York Bottle Shop. Born in Long Island and an ex-New Yorker with a strong history peddling wine and cheese to the locals, he’s well placed now to be the ambassador for New York State’s wines in the UK. His natural and organic introduction to the wines during his career, and the subsequent development of deep meaningful friendships with many of the growers give total authenticity. It’s not a million miles off my experience working in English wine. I like passionate, creative people who graft. I’m instantly a fan – he deserves every success with his new venture.

That isn’t the only similarity between the burgeoning scenes in England and New York State. Both are moving fast with producers working hard to define the unique cool-climate character of their wines and there being a strong camaraderie between producers – each pushing their shared category forward. Both represent an opportunity for wine drinkers to seek out and engage with young industries of small-scale producers with youthful international distribution networks and therefore limited visibility in export markets compared to the well-established set. Championed strongly by somms and the wine trade and gaining traction with wine-drinkers locally in their respective markets (having New York City and London on your doorstep as a producer is no bad thing…), both English and New York wines still need to be intentionally sought out in the other’s market. They reward the intrepid explorer – and I get the sense that both are on the up… the wine drinkers of the next generation won’t have to search so hard… get involved now and you’re sticking your mark on their history.

The New York AVA boasts 35,000 acres of vines, with 471 wineries spread across a number of special regions within. The focus of my tasting is the Finger Lakes region; situated a solid four-and-a-half hours’ drive north-west of New York City, heading up towards the Canadian border close to Toronto. Just north is the colossal Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes themselves are a series of longer, thinner – but VERY deep and very cool – lakes running North-South in a row. These deep lakes moderate the freezing climate around them, keeping the extremes of cold at bay for the lucky acres of vines nudging up to their shores and allowing consistent, exciting cool-climate viticulture.

Producers are working with many different varietals in Finger Lakes, making still and lots of great sparkling wine. There’s extra attention on Riesling in the region – and so far, these have been my faves – plus some great Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. There is a distinctly European legacy to the culture, with many of the ground-breaking pioneers of the region coming from Europe. Dr Konstantin Frank (Ukrainian) was the first to plant Vinifera vines in Eastern United States in 1957, by the early 1960’s he’d established a winery and was key in starting the momentum the region has today.  Herman J. Weimer Vineyard was established in 1979 by a winemaking family from Germany’s famous Bernkastel region.

Today, producers from around the world have got stuck in, establishing vineyards and projects with existing producers, as well as many locals – the food scene is booming too and there is a distinct ‘farm-to-table’ philosophy that has taken root across the restaurant culture of this historical agricultural region. I am desperate to get out there and experience it for myself. I haven’t even begun to get into the region – so join me!

Dan’s sent me three wines from Finger Lakes to illustrate all this. They do so very well.

Hermann J. Weimer Dry Riesling Reserve 2019 £27.50

A beautiful – totally Riesling, no question – noseful of peaches, pears, apricots and pineapples. A promise of zip and zing and uplifting fruit sweet-ripeness. It delivers on it’s promise, in fine balance and lingering long. The fruit is gregarious and generous, but the wine is dry and perfectly balanced with fresh acidity doing it’s finest Charlie Watts impression; inexorably holding time. With the gregarious-ness noted, it feels very classic and Germanic. Very lovely wine indeed.

Dr Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc 2015 £23.75

A concentrated push-pull between violet, rosemary and thyme perfume and black cherry fruit. There’s delicious chewy tannins and dense, concentrated fruit cut with mouth-watering acidity to keep it lively. Time in bottle has brought everything together nicely and added layers of musky, liquorice-y-ness to balance the black pepper and sweet baking spice that Cab Franc can bring. It’s classic and very Loire-esque but under full Hollywood spotlights, where no blemish is perceptible. Delicious. Moreish. Very good with Roast Lamb.

Nathan K Chardonnay 2018 £34.00

The up and coming star in the region, by Dan’s making. Despite this, there is still a classicism to the Chardonnay’s structure – it’s not super-rich or super-lean, it’s medium-bodied, pure, un-jazzed-about. It doesn’t scream, in fact, it takes half a day uncorked to really get into the swing of things – I keep popping back to it in the fridge. The fruit is clearly high quality and inviting, but it’s subtle and suggests you do some of the legwork. There’s lemon citrus – peels and sweet fleshy character, a little creaminess, then a fermented Granny Smith note that hints at it’s slow, natural fermentation. At only 12% alcohol this is a masterclass in body and texture, without the easy boozy option. It doesn’t need more.

All wines available from Dan at New York Bottle Shop