New York State
New York State has actually been an important center of wine production since the earlier days of the republic. People might be surprised to hear that it always ranks near the top of the states (though still well behind California) in volume production. Much of that production is upstate and near Buffalo, on the eastern shore of Lake Erie in particular. Most of these wines are destined to become inexpensive "ports" or even inexpensive sparkling wines, a New York specialty. As for super-premium wines, however, the production is far more limited and centered largely on the Finger Lakes or Long Island-two very different wine regions that cannot be lumped together.

The Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes is the longer established of the two, and is centered on a series of thin, deep, long lakes in the central part of upstate. The moderating influence of these waters and the warmth provided by east facing hills allows the fragile grapevines to survive the region's harsh winters and to ripen grapes in the summer. As it is a cool grape-growing region, it is only fitting that it should specialize in white wines. Riesling in particular is where the Finger Lakes is beginning to establish a very solid reputation, but high quality, sophisticated sparkling wines are also appearing with more regularity.

Just as in Germany, where Riesling reaches its apex, the grapes struggle to ripen in the cool Finger Lakes climate and the hillsides and rivers make viticulture possible. It should not come as a surprise that German wine makers have been drawn here and winery names such as Wiemer or Frank attest to the fact. As the fortunes of Riesling have waned in the Chardonnay-goggled US, it is abroad that many of these wines are leaving a mark. I was amazed to be at dinner with a large Belgian wine buyer in the French countryside recently when he asked me not about the latest glamour winery in Napa, but what my opinion was of Finger Lakes Riesling. He then proceeded to list all the best producers from the top of his head and retreated to his room for a sample bottle he had been toting around the Mosel the previous weekend (to bemused admiration, apparently).

US consumers will eventually catch on to Riesling, and when they do the Finger Lakes will be shown to be the nation's finest Riesling appellation. At present, the wines are a steal, with some great bottles going for $10 and sometimes less. As with fine Riesling anywhere, these wines also age well, and I have been delighted by five to ten year old examples that have developed that inimitable "petrolly" note that is the hallmark of a fine Riesling with some age. Though availability is somewhat limited, the best retailers around the country will carry some of the best examples. As a "house" wine, Finger Lakes Rieslings are astonishing values, particularly at a half or a third the price of many innocuous Chardonnays.

Long Island
As for Long Island, the peninsula that extends over a hundred miles from New York City east, into the Atlantic, the atmosphere and style of the wines couldn't be different. Centered near the end of the peninsula on the North Fork, about two hours from Times Square (traffic permitting), the twenty odd Long Island wineries bask in the relative warmth of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream. This moderate climate makes it possible to ripen reds, and it is with red varietals that most of the wineries are expending much of their efforts.

Though warmer than the Finger Lakes, it is still fairly cool, and the resultant wines are not nearly as alcoholic or thick as their California cousins can be. Bordeaux lies just on the other shore and the geographic similarities between the regions have not gone unnoticed. Unlike Bordeaux, however, Long Island's is a very young industry, having really only been founded in the 70s. As with any young wine industry, there is a learning curve where vintners must adapt to the peculiarities of the local climate and settle on styles and varietals.

The understandable desire to make "world class wines" in a hurry meant that a number of examples were over-made. Some wine makers confused extract and hard tannins combined with inky colors and the concept of ageability as equating to greatness. Much as the approach has lightened up in California, however, so it has in Long Island. The pendulum is swinging back and Long Island wineries are beginning to hone in on a style that is appropriate to the climate: balance and elegance, with moderate alcohol and sound acidity. Exciting examples of Merlot and Cabernet are to be found, with even the odd successful Pinot Noir. Chardonnay leads the way with whites, just as in every other corner of the world. Long Island's versions tend to be somewhat lighter in style, due to the climate, but oak is certainly in vogue. Long Island is certainly a region on the rise. (Wine/Appellations)