Into the Finger Lakes Region

I grew up in New York and spent most of my adult life there, but have never made it up to the Finger Lakes Region.   I had heard of the beauty of the lakes – Canandaigua, Keuka Park, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneatles and Orisco.  It wasn’t something I put high on my priority list, preferring to spend most of my vacation time heading south, west, or in the Caribbean.  Then I heard about the wines.  Not only were the wines from this region becoming well-known, but I was starting to hear more and more wineries around the country that were getting grapes from the Finger Lakes.  I knew it was time to check this place out.

First of all, visiting the Finger Lakes wine country isn’t something you do for the day (unless you live in the area).  The region spans through over 600 miles of shoreline and includes over 100 wineries.  I would never attempt such an endeavor by myself so I called in the reinforcement which, in most cases, is the convention and visitors’ bureau and Finger Lakes has a great one.  An incredible team managed to put together a trip for me that would show me a bit of everything, with a focus on the wine.  When my flight was delayed, everyone scrambled to do some rescheduling and make sure I would still get to everything in the next few days. 

Meg was my driver for day one and she picked me up after the short US Airways flight from LaGuardia to Rochester.  We were on the road for less than an hour, with a drive through the downtown of Canandaigua before we arrived at Heron Hill Winery.  There I was met by Winemaker Bernard Cannac, who is as delightful as he is knowledgeable.  We had a lively conversation as I tried about a dozen of their 20 wines.  

Riesling is the prize of the Finger Lakes and they have quite a few.  They are best known for their Reserve Old Vines Riesling and though the nose (a combination of dirt and truffle) was not what I was used to, the palate was quite different with a very strong citrus.  Though it was only a year older, it was a much more mature wine than the 2008 Classic Semi-Dry and Classic Semi-Sweet Rieslings.  I gravitated toward the delicious semi-sweet, with a huge grapefruit tone, but I suggest also trying the semi-dry as the not-quite-ripe apple and pear notes are most unusual.  Another unusual wine I discovered here was the Reserve Blaufrankisch, a semi-dry red in which you can smell the Cabernet cherry nose, but taste more spice in the finish.  My favorite, though, was clearly the Ingle Vineyard Chardonnay Unoaked, light and fruity on a summer’s day.

From Heron Hill it was off to dinner at the New York Wine Culinary Center.  I probably could spend an entire day there exploring and the night cooking and eating (they offer hands on, wine-paired cooking seminars).  The shop, restaurant and bar are filled with wines and produce from New York State, with a wine focus on the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  The menu here changes every two weeks to allow for the freshest ingredients straight from the farms.  I ordered a Hunt Country Pinot Gris as it was a winery I would not have a chance to visit.  I sipped it throughout the meal and it complemented everything I ate.

There is a tasting menu at the New York Wine Culinary Center, but since it contained a lot of seafood I passed.  My mind did focus, though on the Grilled Eggplant with heirloom tomato, ricotta and a sweet corn puree at the top of the menu and the chef brought me a portion.  It was absolutely delicious, as was the Roasted Chicken Breast with spinach, grape tomatoes in a (not too heavy) roasted garlic Riesling cream sauce over a bed of freshly cut fettuccine.  For dessert I found the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Pistachios a bit too salty for my taste, but it was quickly substituted by a perfect Berry Crème Brule.

I’m off to day two in Finger Lakes, full of sightseeing and wine drinking through more of Canandaigua, as well as Seneca and Geneva.


  1. What an experience you are having, sounds like Bernard took you through all the wines!
    Lucky Girl!


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