New York’s Finger Lakes region has cemented its identity as a source of world-class rieslings—from dry to sweet and lean to rich, the area offers a sweeping assortment of styles. But riesling isn’t the only success story here; there are some 60 other varieties that grow along the shores of these oblong bodies of water. Among them, whites stand out, retaining their acidity to remain vibrant and nervy. Here are five to try.
The wine darling of the world, chardonnay is in an unusual position in the Finger Lakes: it trails riesling in both popularity and abundance. That’s partly because some pockets of the region are too cool to ripen chardonnay grapes well. But as vintners in Champagne realized long ago, tart chardonnay makes excellent sparkling wine. Try Hermann J. Wiemer 2009 Finger Lakes Blanc de Blanc Cuvée. Made entirely of chardonnay in the same method as Champagne, it’s both toasty and lemony, with fine bubbles that cut through the wine’s creamy texture. It’s heavenly with a creamy, bloomy-rind cheese such as St. Stephen from the Hudson Valley’s Four Fat Fowl.
Pronounced er–kat–si-TELL-ee, this grape was once the third most-planted in the world. Most of the acreage, however, was in the USSR and was plowed under during Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule in the 1980s. The Finger Lakes boasts some thanks to Dr. Konstantin Frank, a viticulturist who emigrated to the US from Odessa in the 1950s. He started his own winery on the banks of Keuka Lake in 1962 and planted Rkatsiteli on the hunch that it would work in the cool climate, as it did back home. He was right: Dr. Konstantin Frank 2016 Finger Lakes Rkatsiteli is a lean, nervy wine, a little like riesling but earthier and more herbal—the sort to pour with herbed goat cheese, such as Fine Herbs Chèvre from Lively Run Goat Dairy on Seneca Lake nearby.
Wherever riesling thrives, gewurz, as it’s often abbreviated, is sure to follow. Heady with rose-petal scents and spicy, lychee-like fruit flavors, it’s not always easy to pair with food, though—unless that food is cheese. (Gewurz needs richness to balance its full flavors.) In Alsace, where many vintners specialize in gewürztraminer, Munster is the go-to match. The funk of the cheese tames the sweet, spicy scents, and vice versa. Grab a bottle of Keuka Spring 2015 Dynamite Vineyard Gewurztraminer and a wedge of Munster d’Alsace. For a more local choice, try Sprout Creek Farm Toussaint.
There isn’t much of it grown in New York, but this Austrian grape is worth seeking out. Grünermeans “green,” and the wine’s flavors often fall in this color spectrum—think limes, lentils, or green peas—with a hallmark whiff of white pepper. The Fulkerson 2014 Seneca Lake William Vigne Grüner Veltliner is named for the first Fulkerson to settle in New Amsterdam back in the early 1600s. It’s terrific with halloumi, especially when the cheese is grilled and doused in herb sauce. Or take a cue from the Austrians and whisk pumpkin seed oil into fresh cheese, then spread the mixture on whole-grain bread or seedy crackers.
Vignoles is a hybrid grape created by crossing two varieties together. Wondering which ones? Us too: Curiously, the parents of vignoles have been lost to history. What we do know is that it buds late (typically after spring frosts), does well in the cold, and is highly susceptible to Botrytis cinerea, the special rot that’s responsible for some of the greatest dessert wines in the world. Anthony Road 2015 Finger Lakes Vignoles is slightly sweet, filled with ripe peach and citrus flavors, yet simultaneously bright and fresh. It’s just the thing to take the edge off a stinky, salty, washed-rind cheese such as Cato Corner Farm Hooligan.