As wine production goes, no one is going to catch up to California anytime soon (or even in the distant future), but one state - perhaps one that might surprise you (New York) - has enjoyed time recently in the No. 2 and 3 spots, trading runner-up honors in various years with Washington.
In either spot - 2 or 3 - New York is a state that produces a great deal of wine compared with most others, and because of where it is situated (ie, the northeast), it has a winemaking history that dates back centuries. Although New York wines are not readily available all across the country, they are worth getting to know.
New York state has been blessed with many things, but one of them is not California sunshine. Nonetheless, the state does get plenty of sun and has been able to produce red wines with success, even as it continues to turn out its more-famous whites, notably its sought-after rieslings in styles ranging from crisp and dry to sweet. New York also turns out some good versions of chardonnay. More whites than reds are produced in New York, but don't count out the reds before you try them. Some have been turning heads for years. We're talking about merlot, cabernet franc, pinot noir and, to some extent, cabernet sauvignon.
These, of course, are all traditional wine grapes - both white and red - but New York also has a history with native and hybrid grape varieties. Among those, the white grape seyval blanc leads the way. Two other white hybrids, vidal blanc and vignoles, are stars in many of the state's notable dessert wines, which are produced both with late-harvest grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea (aka "noble rot"), and as ice wines. In the case of the latter, ice-capped grapes are picked well into the wintertime. Not surprisingly, considering New York's generally cooler climate, the state also produces good sparkling wines.
Wine styles aside, three regions stand out among the rest: Finger Lakes, Hudson River and Long Island. Named for the long and narrow deep-water lakes that resemble their namesake, the Finger Lakes region is the largest wine region in the state, and home to the New York Wine & Culinary Center. It is also the highest-producing region and perhaps the most well-known. Riesling is the prized grape variety and wine style there, but the area's sparkling wine is also renowned. Rosé, too. Other notable styles include pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet franc and viscous, nectary ice wines.
There are more wineries in the Finger Lakes region than any other region in New York, and the majority of them are clustered around the area's four central lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. Within the region, there are three official appellations, including the Finger Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area), Cayuga Lake AVA and Seneca Lake AVA. All of this lies southeast of Rochester and southwest of Syracuse, in the western half of the state.
The Hudson River region, which includes the Hudson River AVA, is home to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and scores of farms and other culinary producers. As such, it occupies a distinguished position in the country's culinary tradition. No one should be surprised then that this area north of New York City also turns out good wine - or that it is home to the oldest winery in the United States. That operation, Brotherhood Winery, was established in 1839. (There's some bar trivia for you.) Chardonnay is one of the most successful grapes being produced in the Hudson River AVA today.
More than just an extension of New York City, a collection of middle-class suburbs and a bevy of beachy mansions, Long Island is also home to several dozen wineries. It all began there in 1973, when the first vineyard was planted about a two-hour's drive from Manhattan. Now, the Long Island region, which enjoys a maritime climate, is home to three distinct appellations: the Long Island AVA, the Hamptons AVA and the North Fork AVA - all on the eastern end of the island (and yes, that's the end where those celebrity mansions are). The region turns out good wines in a wide variety of styles, from sauvignon blanc to cabernet sauvignon, with lots in between.
West of the Finger Lakes, the Lake Erie region is named for yet another lake, but you already knew about that one. The Lake Erie AVA sprawls beyond the New York border and also includes portions of Pennsylvania and Ohio (two other top 10 wine-producing states, believe it or not). The Niagara Escarpment region, which is also an AVA, was established in 2005. It hugs the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario in the western reaches of the state. Finally, the fledgling Champlain Valley of New York region and AVA received its official appellation status in 2016. It is home to a handful of wineries, at this point, and runs parallel to the Vermont border all the way north to the border the U.S. shares with Canada.
Wine can't do well just anywhere, but when the conditions are right, as they can be in many spots in New York, it can do quite well. The wines that come from the Empire State are worth your attention.
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