Jan 12, 2006 | Reviews

The Empire State is the third largest wine producer in the U.S. Much of its output is simple, grapey wines made from the native Vitis labrusca, but New York also makes top-notch wines from Vitis vinifera, the European family of grapes responsible for the world’s most famous wines. In particular Cabernet and Merlot excel on Long Island, while Riesling, and Gewürztraminer from the Finger Lakes rank as America’s finest.

New York: An Overview

Wine grapes are grown from Niagara Falls to the windy shores of Long Island. Some of the state’s best wines come from the Finger Lakes in the center of the state, particularly in Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Farther east. Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc grow well along the Hudson River. Follow the river south to New York City and take a hard left onto the long fork of land that juts into the Atlantic Ocean and you’re on Long Island, home to some excellent Cabernet and Merlot.

How to Read a New York State Wine Label

New Yorkers label their wines according to grape variety and region. Some blended wines are given proprietary names, but even then, grape varieties are typically listed on the back label.

What You’ll Pay

Quality Finger Lakes Riesling and Gewürztraminer cost $10 to $25. Most Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc cost $12 to $20; a handful near $30. Wines from hybrid grapes sell from $8 to $16. Good rose runs around $13.

Best Food Pairings

Unoaked Chardonnay makes a zesty companion to shellfish. Pinot Blanc and oaked Chardonnay can complement the sweetness of lobster. Try Gewürztraminer and Riesling with spicy fish dishes. Seyval or Vidal make lovely aperitifs. Drink dry roses with poached salmon.


Hermann Wiemer's ice wines are as good as any in Germany. This captures the essence of the fruit with laserlike acidity.

Recommended Whites & Roses

2001 Wolffer Estate Selection Chardonnay – The Hamptons – More Burgundian than Californian, this Chardonnay goes easy on the oak in favor of citrus, pear, and mineral flavors.

2004 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli – Finger Lakes – $$  – Rare in America, Rkatsiteli makes an unusual wine with herbal melon and lime flavors underlined by terrific minerality.

2003 Hermann J. Wiemer Semi-Dry Johannisberg Riesling – Finger Lakes $$ – A bit of sweetness brings out the succulence in this wine’s pear and tropical fruit flavors, while nuts and minerals add complexity.
by Jamal A. Rayyis

2003 Pellegrini Vineyards Chardonnay – North Fork $  – With two decades of experience, Pellegrini puts out a beautifully balanced Chardonnay, zingy with citrus and snappy apple flavors.

2004 Wolffer Rose – The Hamptons $ – One of America’s best roses, with light, spicy strawberry, quince & citrus zest flavors.

Recommended Dessert Whites

2001 Dolce Late Harvest. Napa Valley, California $$$$ (375ml) California’s answer to France’s grand d’Yquem, Dolce thrills with a golden syrup of smoky, spicy fruit.

1996 Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume, France $$$$ Proof that Baumard is one of France’s great white wine vintners, this is saturated with satiny nectarine, honey, and spice flavors.

2003 Inniskillin Vidallcewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada $$$$ (375ml) With luscious pear, tangerine. and sweet and savory spice flavors. this shows why Inniskillin is so famed for its ice wines.

2003 Hermann J. Wiemer Ice Wine, Finger Lakes, New York $$$ (375ml) Hermann Wiemer’s ice wines are as good as any in Germany. This captures the essence of the fruit with laserlike acidity.

1997 Sonnenmulde Familie Schreiner Gewürztraminer Auslese, Gols, Austria $$ (500ml) Just off-dry, this is satiny in texture, yet prickles every tastebud with peppery spice, flowers, Iychee, and pear.

Noble Rot Defined

It sounds strange, but a mold is responsible for some of the world’s most exquisite dessert wines. Botrytis cinerea, or “noble rot” sucks the water from grapes, leaving behind shriveled fruit exceptionally concentrated in flavor and sugar. Pressing those shriveled grapes makes for wines like Sauternes, lush and golden with honeyed fruit flavors. Expect to pay for the pleasure, though, as courting the fungus can be risky for vintners. Grapes left on vines to ripen long into the autumn run the risk of being destroyed by rain, hail. or hungry animals, and destructive molds can also attack, ruining the harvest. Harvesting nobly rotted grapes also must be done by hand, berry by berry. However, many find that the results are worth the trouble.

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