Hey, I have a secret to tell you: A wine from the Finger Lakes is the best in America.
What, you say you already know that about riesling? Nope, that’s not a secret. Everybody already knows Finger Lakes rieslings are the best in the country.
It’s Finger Lakes sparkling wines! No region, not even California, makes better sparkling wines today than the Finger Lakes.
The Finger Lakes have a long history of making sparkling wines. Located just outside Hammondsport, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company was the first American winery to win a sparkling wine award in European competition in 1867. Soon after, the little hamlet of Pleasant Valley garnered the nickname of the “Reims of America” — an homage to France’s Champagne region.
For over 100 years, Finger Lakes bubblies were made from native or hybrid grapes. But by the late 1970s, they started to fall out of favor as national tastes changed and vinifera grapes became more en vogue.
However, growing vinifera in the Finger Lakes’ cold and damp climate has a major challenge — how to get the grapes to achieve proper ripeness.
In vintages when vinifera grapes couldn’t ripen enough, they could be used to make sparkling wines, which require younger grapes with higher acidity and lower sugar. Because of that practice, sparkling wines became something of a stepchild or last resort.
Although some excellent sparkling wines were produced in the decades leading into this century, it was hard to develop a following when a winery only produced sparklers sporadically, oftentimes with inconsistent results.
That changed in the past 10 years or so. As sparking wines grew in popularity, wineries became more serious about developing a sparkling “program.” Specific vineyards plots are now designated just for sparkling production. Vineyard managers are evaluating qualities such as physiological maturity besides sugar accumulation. Winemakers are learning new techniques to make better sparkling wines. All these factors resulted in the current sparkling wine renaissance in the Finger Lakes.
I just finished visiting some of the best FLX sparkling wine producers. Here are some of my favorites, all made by the labor-intensive traditional Champagne method (méthode champenoise). They confirmed my belief that the Finger Lakes are now making the best sparkling wines in America.
• Dr. Konstantin Frank: One cannot talk about FLX sparklers without mentioning Dr. Frank. In 1985, Konstantin’s son Willy produced the first vinifera sparkler in the region. Meaghan Frank, Konstantin’s great granddaughter and the winery’s VP and general manager, continues the tradition.
2016 Brut ($25) — Brioche, lovely, breed, a perennial Best Buy. 91
2016 Blanc de Noirs ($35) — Stunning nose, great mouthfeel, will age. 92
2014 Blanc de Blancs ($35) — Rich and multi-dimensional, round palate. 93
• Hosmer Winery: A star is born in Julia Hoyle, Hosmer’s young winemaker. Look for her to expand their sparkling wine program in the near term.
2017 Blanc de Noirs ($40) — Fine bubbles. Still tightly wound but full of promises. 91
2014 N.V. Sparkling Wine ($25) — From Cayuga white, long lees contact, refreshing. 88
• Three Brothers Stony Lonesome Winery: The dynamic duo of Kim Marconi and Paige Vinson is rapidly raising the profile of the winery. A winery to watch.
2017 Blanc de Blancs ($30) — Lean, citrus. Excellent balance. Energetic and clean. 90
• Glenora Wine Cellars: Glenora has over three decades of sparkling wine production history and its winemaker Steve DiFrancesco has been at the helm for most of it.
2013 Brut ($30) — Deep flavors, fine bubbles, crisp. 89
2014 Blanc de Blanc ($30) — Rich and creamy, bright acidity, persistent bubbles. 91
• Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard: Hermann must be proud of how Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke have continued the outstanding quality at Wiemer. The sparkling wines here are sensational.
2015 Cüvee Brut ($39) — Classy and complex, intense, flavors go on and on. 92
2016 Extra Brut ($29) — Cleansing palate, rare richness from a riesling sparkler. 90
2009 Blanc de Blancs ($65) — No longer available, but a small amount may be released in the future. Majestic, a glorious sparkler that combines richness and grace, complex flavors flood and linger, 10 years on the lees with no dosage. A second bottle tasted at home was even better. The best American sparkling wine I have ever tasted. 96
• Fox Run Vineyards: Peter Bell only makes one sparkler a year, and it’s always excellent. The current release is another gem.
2014 Blanc de Blancs — Rich, citrus, nuttiness, lovely body and texture. 91
• Ravines Wine Cellars: Morten Hallgren is making some of the best wines in the Finger Lakes. His sparkling wines are among the top two or three in the region. He lets the wine sit on the lees for years to develop extra complexity.
2012 Brut — Complex and seamless, all the elements melded nicely together. 92
2013 Blanc de Blancs — Such vibrancy on the palate, rich, full of breed. 93
• • •
A Holiday Gift that keeps on giving — Looking for a feel-good present for a Finger Lakes wine lover (including yourself)? Here’s one for a worthy cause. FLX winemakers have teamed up to create a 2021 pin-up calendar that will surely bring a smile to your face. Check it out at www.flxposure.org. Proceeds go to COVID relief, including numerous food banks in the area.