A Francophile in the Finger Lakes
Otherwise known as: I'm finally starting to enjoy American wines.
Shocking, I know. After dozens of tastings, a hundred bottles I hated, and several followers trying to convince me that American wines were worth trying again, I've found a U.S. region that agrees with me: the Finger Lakes. I can honestly say these wines are hands down the best American wines I have ever had - and some even rival my beloved Alsace and Loire. Where did I go, what did I taste, and what do I recommend everyone tries? I've broken it all down for you. But if you take away even just one thing from this post, it's this: do not sleep on the Finger Lakes - and book a weekend up there ASAP.
Where We Stayed:
I'll be honest: we didn't book this place with the intention of visiting the Finger Lakes - we just wanted an escape upstate. As a result, it was about a 1.5-2 hour drive away from the wine region. For that reason, I don't recommend staying here if you're planning on an FLX focused getaway, but if you don't mind exploring other areas upstate and need a quiet retreat away I absolutely recommend it. If you're interested in booking, HERE is the link to check it out!
There were so many delightful little nooks to relax, read, and open a bottle. It was also the cleanest place I have ever stayed, which was definitely a relief since we are still in a pandemic and travel during this time makes me nervous!
Visit 1: Domaine Leseurre
We started our day with a tasting at French founded and owned Domaine Leseurre. Located directly across from Keuka Lake, this stunning tasting room blends the best of American modernity with French tradition. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating. While the tasting room space is small and indoors, seating is spread out and limited to six people, masks are required when not sipping wine directly, and there is a lot of air flow. The cost of the reservation was $20 and includes five wines (but our somm, who was equally passionate about the Leseurre wines as he was making sure we tried wines to our francophile tastes, snuck us a couple extras free of charge).
Which wines did I love?
I am next level obsessed with Leseurre's Rieslings. We tried the 2017 Dry Riesling and the 2017 Barrel Select Riesling and loved them so much we brought home multiple bottles of each. Our first glass on the property was the 2017 Dry Riesling. At first sip, my boyfriend and I stopped and look at each other and literally said, in union, "Holy sh*t!" I felt like I was tasting a Riesling from Alsace - and a damn good one at that. It was balanced, mineral-driven, medium-acidity, and generally delightful. I cannot say enough about the Rieslings from Leseurre.
We also went home with a bottle of the Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Select, which instantly reminded me of more regional level Burgundy Chardonnays I've had and enjoyed in the past.The balance here is again what drove it home for me - similar to the Rieslings, it's aged on the lies, which added a lovely earthiness and complexity to those delicious green apple and pear notes.
Another thing I appreciated about Leseurre was the egalitarian, educational approach that our sommelier took in the tasting. "I'm not going to tell you what this wine tastes like. Everyone has a different palate, tastes different fruits, and has different experiences. So, you tell me, what did you taste?" Leseurre also isn't hung up on ratings like the others were. Instead it's about you - did you like the wine? Why, or why not? That for me, is the most important part of wine tasting - and certainly in the French tradition. Bravo, Leseurre!
Visit 2: Hermann J. Wiemer
As we walked up to this stunning property, a soft, quiet layer of snow began to fall. It was as though we'd entered an alternate universe. Wiemer's exceptional attention to customer service continued that fairytale vibe all the way through the tasting and beyond. I've never met kinder, more hospitable people than at Wiemer. Their thoughtful and accommodating approach to hospitality is one every winery can take notes from and definitely set us up to love them.
What wines did I love?
We tasted through six wines in Wiemer's cozy tasting room: three Rieslings, one Gewurztraminer, and two reds (a Cabernet Franc and a Saperavi blend from their affiliate vineyard, Standing Stone). I'll be honest - I expected the Rieslings to blow me away, but I was a bit disappointed. Still, these are some solid Rieslings - particularly the one from the Magdalena plot - but I still prefer Leseurre's, especially with regard to the quality price ratio. $45 for a US Riesling, no matter the sustainability of the vineyard processes, is overpriced. I can get organic and biodynamic Alsace Grand Cru delivered to my door for less. We didn't leave with any Rieslings from Wiemer for exactly this reason.
That being said, while the reds at Leseurre left me wanting more, Wiemer's reds were extraordinary. The Cabernet Franc Magdalena 2017 was without question the best red wine of the day. When I closed my eyes and took a sip, I wasn't in the Finger Lakes - I was transported back to the Loire - incredible. This is a beautiful, complex CF with all the characteristic notes and finesse I'd expect from a Chinon or a Saumur-Champigny. The only difference I could detect was a bit more liveliness from Wiemer, which makes sense - aren't Americans louder and livelier than the French anyway?
We also thoroughly enjoyed the Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (called the "Farm Blend"). If you've followed me for a while, you know that I have had a historic aversion for Cabernet Sauvignon - whether from Napa or Bordeaux - but this one changed my mind about the grape and I entirely attribute that to the climate and winemaking know-how in the Finger Lakes.
Aside from the impeccable hospitality, Wiemer's commitment to sustainable vineyard practices is admirable - particularly when you take into the consideration the fact that most Americans are not yet thinking about sustainability in a wine context. This is something that we all need to be more conscious of, but that only a handful of U.S. wineries are talking about. Organic, biodynamic, and otherwise ecologically responsible vineyard practices are clearly a passion and a focus for Wiemer, and I hope that their promotion of it changes American wines for the better.
Visit 3: Ravines
Our last visit of the day was also our favorite. The Ravines Geneva tasting room is an enormous farmhouse space that was the most COVID-friendly of all, with tons of room between tables, individual space heaters, and diverse, perfectly sized tasting flights. We tasted 12 wines at Ravines (just a small sip of each for us both - we had a 1.5 drive home ahead of us) - and they even followed my page before we got there and extended an industry discount for us!
What wines did I love?
The best Riesling of the day was from Ravines - not even a contest! Our favorite one was the Dry Riesling 2017 from White Springs Vineyard. Wow did this one deliver! This was a beautiful textbook Riesling with notes of pear, lemon, and peach. I loved the acidity and the wet stone mineral undertones of this as well (shoutout to you, limestone soils, you're the MVP of Loire level wines). For the quality of wine it was, $22 is a steal - we left with a few bottles.
The other wine we walked away with was the Maximilien 2017, which is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Yes.- you read that right, me, liking not one but TWO Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in ONE day! Truly life changing. But this wine was exceptional and now I have to try more cold climate Cabernet Sauvignons (As weather permits, of course...). It had those lovely green bell pepper notes I only get from CS's parent, Cabernet Franc, combined with a luscious velvet of dark berries from Merlot. It sounds bizarre, but believe me it was to die for.
TL;DR: Wow, I have #FallenForFLX, big time. My boyfriend and I are already planning to visit the region again in the summer and truly do it the right way (once we're fully vaccinated - fingers crossed!).
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