The Best Finger Lakes Riesling: Travel Guide, Reviews, Tasting Notes and Buyers Guide

Finger Lakes Riesling is the most well known wine from the Finger Lakes wine region. How does is compare to German Riesling? Check out our tasting notes and buyers guide to find out.

If you’re traveling to the area, we’ll show you where to stay and what to do in around Finger Lakes Region.

The Finger Lakes are in New York. The area is 14 counties between Lake Ontario to the north and Pennsylvania to the south. 

There are a total of eleven “fingers” in the Finger Lakes.  According to Native American lore, the Finger Lakes were created when The Great Spirit imprinted his hand into the land.  Apparently, The Great Spirit had a few extra digits.

The Finger Lakes is a wine region on the rise. Not so long ago, the Finger Lakes would have been considered an under the radar wine region, but it’s squarely on the radar now.  

The Finger Lakes region has attracted the attention of Paul Hobbs (California winemaker extraordinaire — Forbes Magazine called him “the Steve Jobs of wine”) and Germany’s Johannes Selbach (from Mosel Valley’s Selbach-Oster).

They purchased a vineyard on the southeastern side of Seneca Lake.  Hobbs said it’ll take them three years to plant.  Wanna guess what they’re planting?  Riesling.

Finger Lakes Wine Region

The Finger Lakes was the site of the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference, and the destination for my next wine vacation.  

The Finger Lakes and Riesling are joined at the hip, and I was super excited to taste a few bottles of Finger Lakes Riesling in advance of my trip.  I like to think of it as research.  

But before I tasted, I needed to dust the cobwebs off the Finger Lakes wine section of my brain. 

The Finger Lakes wine region in New York is often compared with the Rhine region of Germany. 

Both regions benefit from the moderating influence of water — the Rhine River in Germany, and the Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua Lakes in New York.  And, in both regions, Riesling Rules.

Finger Lakes Riesling
photo credit: Finger Lakes Wine Alliance

Prior to the 1960s, almost all of the grapes grown in the Finger Lakes wine region were Vitis lambrusca (native grapes like Niagara and Concord) or hybrids – not the European vinifera grapes needed to produce fine wines. 

Vitis vinifera grapes had been nearly impossible to grow in the eastern United States because they couldn’t survive the harsh winters and brutal summers — and they had little resistance to vineyard pests & diseases found in the US.

Enter Ukrainian viticulturist, Dr. Frank Konstantin.  Konstantin is responsible for introducing vinifera grapes to the Finger Lakes region in the 1960s.  

Konstantin had experience growing vinifera grapes in the brutal cold of the Soviet Union, so he was convinced he could do it here, too.  He found success by grafting traditional vinifera varieties onto hardy native American rootstock.

The Finger Lakes wine region was just starting to take off in the early 20th century when Prohibition happened.

Prohibition wiped out most of the wineries in the Finger Lakes.  As Finger Lakes wineries slowly recovered from Prohibition, the Finger Lakes Riesling became the most successful vinifera grape variety.

Thanks to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance there are over 9,000 acres of grapes planted in the Finger Lakes.  Of those, around 80% are still planted to native or hybrid grapes.  

That leaves roughly 20% planted to vinifera varieties. And of the vinifera varieties planted, Riesling accounts for 46(ish)%.

Riesling rules.

I love Riesling — especially a bone dry, mouth-puckering, acid-bomb of a Riesling.  There’s just something about the way a dry Riesling showcases the purity of the fruit.  More and more Riesling producers are using the IRF (International Riesling Foundation) Scale on the backs of their bottles.  

The position of the arrow is determined by the winery, and helps consumers decide how dry or sweet a particular bottle of Riesling will be. 

finger lakes wine

Finger Lakes Riesling Tasting Notes

best finger lakes riesling

Missick Cellars FKA Bellangelo Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2013 /87 points

Seneca Lake.  100% Riesling, from three different vineyards (Gibson, Morris and Tuller). Aged in 93% stainless steel and 7% neutral oak.  There’s such a freshness to this wine.  Missick (Bellangelo) labeled this Dry on the IRF scale, and Dry it is!  Yay!!  Wet minerals, and flavors of green apple & lime.  A snappy acid beauty that needs a food partner.  My mouth is watering just thinking of the possibilities.

Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2013 /86 points

Seneca Lake.  100% Riesling, harvested from three different Riesling blocks.  (Fox Run has 50 acres of grapes, 19 of which are planted to Riesling).  0.7% residual sugar, so Fox Run labels it right on the line between Dry and Medium-Dry on the Riesling scale.  Wet rocks on the nose, which always makes me a happy girl.  Medium body with citrus and stone fruit flavors.  Great acidity.  And just like that, I’m craving tuna tartare.

Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Finger Lakes Riesling 2013 /85 points

Seneca Lake.  Lamoreaux Landing has 100 acres of vines, with 20 separate vineyard blocks. 100% Riesling.  Single vineyard.  This Riesling is labeled Medium-Dry on the Riesling scale. Fermented in stainless steel.  More tropical and lush than the Fox Run and Bellangelo, with flavors of pear and pineapple.  And maybe a jicama.  Floral undertones.  Nicely balanced.  The touch of sweetness would make this killer with any spicy Thai food.

This summer, I have a feeling I’m going to run out of time before I run out of Finger Lakes wineries to visit.  But for sure, I will be setting my GPS for these three great Riesling producers.

Finger Lakes Riesling To Buy Now

Things To Do Near The Finger Lakes Wine Region

Map of the finger lakes wine region

In case you’re wondering, the Catskills are a 3.5 hour drive from the Finger Lakes Wine Region. The Catskills are absolutely gorgeous. You can hike in the spring and summer but if you’re into foliage, a fall visit is a must.

Not sure which wineries you want to visit? Book a tour! They’ll take the guess work out and cover the transportation so you’re not risking a DUI.

Where To Stay Near The Finger Lakes Wine Region

There are tons of hotels, charming inns and B&Bs to stay in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. The Savannah House Wine Country Inn and Cottages put you right on Seneca Lake and smack dab in the middle of the Finger Lakes wine action.

Want to bring your finger lakes Riesling home with you?

turkey 1

We recommend the VinGardeValise 12 bottle wine suitcase. There are a couple ways you can use this suitcase. One is, when you come home you only pack half the suitcase with wine and the other side clothes; or, what we do is bring a duffle bag to carry our clothes home. You can still check a duffle bag home btw, you don’t have to schlep it around for all four connections.

Pro tip: you can also use the duffle bag to drop off your clothes to be laundered if you’re doing an extended trip. Multiple uses for one duffle bag.

Finger Lakes Riesling FAQ

What wine is Finger Lakes known for?

The focus of the Finger Lakes Wine Region is the area’s cool climate wines, like Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  But the region is also known for its red varieties such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, as well as other popular white varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

What are the 5 types of Riesling?

The 5 types of Riesling wine are:

– Kabinett (bone dry to off-dry)
– Spätlese (sweet)
– Auslese (sweeter)
– Beerenauslese (very sweet)
– Trockenbeerenauslese (sweetest)

Which grape variety is the Finger Lakes best known for?

When we think of Finger Lakes wines, Riesling and Cabernet Franc can be considered the most well known grapes of the region since they can tell you a lot about the winemaker’s individual approach to production, which Riesling is famous for.

Share on:

Recommended Articles