The FLX Factor: How do you Define Finger Lakes Wines? We Start by Tasting Them at Astor Center

Yesterday  was the big NY Drinks NY tasting at the Astor Center, and it was so cool to see that it sold out. But after a recent trek I took to the Finger Lakes, I’m not that surprised.

The Grand Tasting last night skewed heavy on FLX,, or Finger Lakes wineries, as opposed to those from the Hudson River Valley or from Long Island (which had a few wineries, like Macari and Bedell representing, but which gets to really shine later this spring at Brooklyn Uncorked). But it’s a good thing–once you start tasting through FLX, you kind of want to be as focused on them as the laser-like acidity that’s the running theme through the liquid of the region. There’s a lot to be excited about here, and I came back from my northwesterly trek wanting to stock my house with as much Finger Lakes wine as possible. (A wine-case ottoman! It’s all the rage at Pottery Barn!).

And while I was dazzled (and expected to be) by the clap-your-hands-and-say-yeah! Finger Lakes Rieslings, several of which I was already a big, fat fan of, what thoroughly surprised me were the reds. I wasn’t expecting much, but I got a lot. Producers like Atwater, Hosmer, Fox Run, Inspire Moore, Wagner, Sheldrake, and Red Newt were pouring Cab Francs (and even a Pinot Noir and a Meritage or two) that made me stop and go, “Whoa!” I found… great aromatics, plush, pretty fruit, great mouthfeel. And that Finger Lakes acidity keeping the whole kit and caboodle–no matter how bodacious the body–bright and zippy through the finish.

Saturday night, I tagged along to Terroir in Tribeca with a friend from Frankly Wines on West Broadway who invited me to hang out with Jonathan Oakes and Jerod Thurber, cousins who now run the fourth generation farm-turned-winery, Leonard Oakes Estate Wines in Medina, NY. (And who make a kick-ass hard cider called Steampunk, as well as a luscious and lovely Vidal true-blue ice wine, that are well-worth seeking out). I blurted out how exciting I found those reds from the week before, and while the cousins agreed, it lead to an interesting conversation about making your mark as a wine region and the herding-cats problem with getting all producers on board to make a calling card for the northern reaches of NY Riesling country, as opposed to trying being all things to all people.

Jonathon, the winemaker for Leonard Oakes, felt pretty strongly that giving the Finger Lakes and up-and-coming Niagara region, where his winery is located, a peg to hang its hat on was the right way to break away from the pack. “As a young region, we really should be promoting our Riesling,” he told me, and I agree. Look at New Zealand and their Sauvignon Blanc, or Napa and its Cab–it’s not that there aren’t wines from other wonderful grape varietals being made and made well in these places, but sticking a peg in a wall and hanging your hat on it gives drinkers a recognizable touchstone.

“Once you have their attention, then you can show them the other things you do,” reasoned Oakes.

It made me curious, though–what do people think when they think of NY wines? Do sippers separate the regions (FLX and its Riesling; Long Island and its Merlot), or lump them all together (party in the Hummer limo!)? If you think about it, it’s not just a New World problem–there are Old World regions with similar issues. The Loire Valley, for instance–a large, rambling, hundreds-mile spanning region that gets lumped under one title, and maybe suffers a little for it to those less in the know on the area. Does it make you think about Muscadet? Cab Franc? Sparkling? Vouvray? Sancerre? Does it matter?

I’m excited sip on both the whites and reds of our fair state today, as much for the things I know to be great as for the surprises that are inevitably in store. And I’m hoping maybe some of you out there might have a minute to toss out some thoughts on the topic: What do you think about when you think about New York wine? Long Island wine? Hudson Valley wine? Finger Lakes wine? Do they each have a special, specific notion that comes to mind, or is it Empire State free-for-all? We’re curious – and thirsty. Would really love to hear what you have to say. Come to Brooklyn Uncorked) this spring and let us know.

Amy Zavatto

Amy Zavatto is the daughter of an old school Italian butcher who used to sell bay scallops alongside steaks, and is also the former Deputy Editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She holds her Level III Certification in Wine and Spirits from the WSET, and contributes to Imbibe, Whisky Advocate, SOMMJournal,, and others. She is the author of Forager's Cocktails: Botanical Mixology with Fresh, Natural Ingredients and The Architecture of the Cocktail. She's stomped around vineyards from the Finger Lakes to the Loire Valley and toured distilleries everywhere from Kentucky to Jalisco to the Highlands of Scotland. When not doing all those other things, Amy is the Director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance.

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