New York’s Finger Lakes Wine Country is the second largest producer of wine in the United States. Read yesterday’s edition of Traveling IQ’s visit to the region and then join us on our tasting tour below.

Finger Lakes Wine Country

The Finger Lakes Wine Country has over 100 wineries on four distinct wine trails.  For our weekend tour we focused our tastings around the largest lake and thus meandered throughout the wineries of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.

First stop, Lakewood Vineyards.  A true family affair, the Stamp Family has called Lakewood Farm home since 1951.  In 1988, they expanded beyond commercial grape production and began pressing the fruits of their labor (quite literally) to create their first vintage.   By 1997 they had been named “Wine Family of the Year” by Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine.  Presently under the leadership of Chris Stamp, a graduate of Cornell in the studies of Food Science and Chemistry, Lakewood Vineyards is infusing cutting edge technology into traditional wine making practices.  Liz Stamp (the Mrs.) guided our morning tasting and led us to some of our favorites: Dry Riesling 2009 (mine), the semi-dry Riesling 2010 (Matt’s) and the Candeo 2009 (ours), a sparkling Prosecco of sorts.

Up the road, Fulkerson Winery not only produces over 23 varieties of wine, but also fresh grape juice and a full line of home winemaking supplies.  So you need not ever serve Franzia boxed-wine again!   Now the domain of Sayre Fulkerson, the 6th generation to head the family farm, the winery produces 7 different Rieslings.   If in the mood for red, the 2007 Cabernet Franc won Gold at last year’s Riverside International wine competition.

A bit loopy from our morning’s “research,” we realized solid food might be necessary to successfully complete our day’s work.  Continuing north, on the western side of Seneca Lake we stumbled stepped into the OPUS Café at Fox Run Vineyards.  If you are planning a visit to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, remember this one thing:  you will want to have lunch at Fox Run Vineyards. Set up in a casual, deli-counter style, OPUS Café serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads and such, next to the shop and tasting rooms of the winery.  Without exaggeration, their Thai Chicken Wrap is one of the best wraps I’ve ever had.  Fret not if the daily changing menu offers a different selection on the day of your visit, Matt equally enjoyed his Cuban sandwich… and the boy knows a thing or two about a tasty Cuban.

Fox Run Vineyards

Fortified from the delicious lunch, it was once again wine time.  If you are structuring your day on a schedule, allow ample time for the tastings at Fox Run Vineyards (a 2008 “Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits Magazine), and try as many different varieties as you can without falling over:  these wines are fantastic!  For tastings with a view, step up to the counter at the smaller, side tasting room overlooking the vineyards and lake.  The passion of owner Scott Osborn for promoting local wines is as intoxicating as his Riesling (the 2005 vintage of which won Gold at the Riesling Du Monde wine competition in Strasbourg, France).  A few sips and a chat later, we had been convinced to urge more restaurants all over the state to carry New York wines.  Once again solidifying our different Riesling preferences, I loved the 2010 Dry Riesling and Matt the 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling. We both, however, chose the 2008 Cabernet Franc/Lemberger as our favorite red wine.  Port lovers will be particularly fond of their Fine Old Tawny Port.

And then there’s the “party” winery.  Three Brothers Wineries & Estates combines three wineries and a brewery all in one setting.  It’s a bit like a wine theme park, which–at least while we visited–attracted a younger, rowdier crowd.  The Stony Lonesome Estates is their most traditional brand and tasting room; Passion Feet is, as I was told, more geared toward ladies, with pink and sweet flavors as the primary characteristics; and Bagg Dare is a kitschy pirate-inspired, purposely trashy, hole-in-the-wall tasting room.  In fact, the Bagg Dare website states: “For those who have a lot more fun in a dive bar…find our back-woods bayou tasting room…and ignore the ritzy brother next door.”  The focus of Three Brothers is definitely on creating an atmosphere.  And it succeeds.  Their potent, sweet wines have fun and risqué names such as: 69 Ways to Have Fun, Poor Limp Richard’s, 90 Seconds of Heaven, and Backseat Bounce.

Finger Lakes Distilling

After non-stop wine tastings, we desperately needed a drink.  Lucky for us the first stand-alone distillery of the region sits on Seneca Lake.  Finger Lakes Distilling opened in July 2009, bringing a different kind of “sauce” to the Finger Lakes Wine Country.  They distill everything from scratch and use New York State fruits and grains—most from within a 50-mile radius—for all their spirits.  Because of the higher alcohol content, each person can only sample three spirits at the tasting, so choose wisely.  Their Seneca Drums Gin was voted “New York’s Best Spirit” at the Food & Wine Classic and is distilled from their own local grapes.  We agreed and brought home a bottle of the deliciously flowery and flavorful gin.  Whiskey drinkers have a choice between the spicy McKenzie Rye Whisky or the sweet McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey.  Unable to choose, we bought bottles of both.

Aside from its natural beauty–which is substantial–the Finger Lakes Wine Country is attractive to both wine connoisseurs and novices. Visitors can engage in lengthy discussions with winemakers or simply enjoy good-tasting wine in a non-pretentious setting.  Less than half a day’s drive from New York City, Toronto, Boston, and other major Northeast cities, the region is an easy escape from the hectic daily grind.  Trust me (excluding maybe your liver) a little R & R in the Finger Lakes Wine Country will do the body good.

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