On the Road

A Shameless Plug for Finger Lakes Wines

I'm no Jeremy Parzen, but I do know a little bit about wine. Growing up in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, I took the proximity and availability of local wine (and a decent wine education) for granted.

When I was 21, "wine trailing" was a cheap way to get drunk. Tastings only cost a buck or two, and you usually sampled at least five or six wines. Visit four or five wineries, and you've got a good buzz going. Add in the "unofficial rule" of the wine trail -- buy a bottle at each winery and drink it between stops (no small feat when the next winery is just 600 yards up the road), and you have yourself a Saturday afternoon. We did wine trails for birthdays, anniversaries, and bachelorette parties; oftentimes we would take a quick detour to a winery on our way to a wedding reception. For me, the wine trail was just a part of everyday life.

I don't take the Finger Lakes for granted anymore, just like I don't drink a bottle in between wineries anymore. I need to stay sober and keep my palate clear so I can actually taste and evaluate. Ahh, adulthood.

I thought everyone in the world knew what the Finger Lakes were all about, so when I moved away from New York in 2007 I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- to discover that the Finger Lakes are a bit of a mystery to some. I think it's because when people hear "New York" they think "New York City," which is as ridiculous as someone thinking that all of Texas is like Houston or Dallas.

For those unfamiliar, the Finger Lakes region is located in Central/Western New York State, just south of the New York State Thruway between Rochester and Syracuse. The Finger Lakes are so named because on a map they resemble long, skinny fingers. (My husband wants me to inform you that these lakes were carved out by glaciers. That made the soil. That makes the wine taste good. That's all the geology you get from me.)

There are 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes: Otisco, Skaneateles (pronounced "Skinny-Atlas" in our hideous, Upstate NY accent), Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, and Conesus. I grew up at the north end of the second-deepest lake, Cayuga, and my husband grew up between Cayuga and Seneca Lake, which is the largest and deepest lake.

We tend to stick to trails close to home: Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka. Over the years, we have developed a preference for the wineries on these trails, and they tend to be in proximity of other areas/people we want to visit, but all of the trails have something spectacular to offer. The region is known primarily for its Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, both of which are done in styles ranging from very sweet to very dry. My personal preference is for the very dry style of both wines, that benefit from the geology of the area.

The fruity quality of these grape varietals are balanced by what is usually described as a "racy minerality" that comes from the soil (geology!) and the climate (cold winters, warm-to-hot summers with cool evenings). While the use of the term "minerality" has been debated, there is a distinct flavor to Finger Lakes dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminers that I have yet to find in any other bottle. It's hard to define -- sometimes it's a flavor at the end that tastes like stone, while other times it's also a tingly feeling at the corners of the jaw -- but to me, it's an immediate sense-memory; a taste that transports me back home.

Have I piqued your interest? You can order from most Finger Lakes wineries online, and yes, most ship to Texas. But if you want to test the waters with just a bottle or two, there are a few pockets in Houston where I have found Finger Lakes wines. I recently ordered a bottle of Dry Riesling from Ravines Winery (Keuka Lake) at Roost, and for a while we were regularly ordering bottles of Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling (Keuka Lake) at Kata Robata. We stocked up on Dr. Frank wines -- and the winery's other label, Salmon Run -- at the downtown Spec's, as well as at The Tasting Room.

Or you can just come over to my house -- we've got three cases making their way down here now.

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Christina Uticone