A benefit of visiting upstate New York is the quality of that state&’s rieslings.


GENEVA, N.Y. - One obvious benefit of visiting upstate New York is the astounding consistency and overall quality of that state's rieslings.

I adore riesling, especially the dry rieslings of the Finger Lakes region in New York.

And during a brief swing through the area last week to conduct a seminar at the Finger Lakes Wine Symposium , I attended a Friday night tasting and enjoyed dozens.

The walk-around tasting featured wineries displaying one or two rieslings.

Not unexpectedly, most were excellent, a few exceptional.

So exciting were they and so reasonably priced (almost every wine was less than $20, and these are world-class wines) that I began lobbying for some of the best wineries to consider sending wines to wine shops and restaurants around the country.

My goal was to broaden the market for these dramatic wines so more people can gain access to them.

Most wine makers were flattered by the idea but all said,

(a) opening new markets outside of New York isn't easy and can be fraught with pitfalls;

(b) the wineries are selling all they make at home, and

(c), this is still a grape variety that has yet to catch on with the broad American consumer.

And a key reason is that most Americans, hearing the word "riesling," still think the wine is going to be sweet.

This was clearly not the case with consumers who attended the symposium.

As I walked to various tables, most consumers coming up to the pourers asked to try the winery's dry riesling.

This may not seem to be unusual, but at walk-around tastings in other areas of the country, not only would most consumers not ask for riesling, they likely would say something like, "I drink only dry wine."

Most still believe riesling is sweet.

The fact that New York wine consumers would, as a first request, ask for a dry riesling means they assume the winery makes such a wine and it will be excellent.

Such a supposition is correct most of the time.

So my second revelation came as a real surprise: The dry red wines of New York are becoming so interesting that they are fast carving out their own fine-wine niche.

This isn't a shock, since a Bedell Merlot from Long Island was good enough a few years ago to be served at President Obama's inaugural festivities.

Now we are seeing cabernet Franc, Lemberger, syrah, Noiret (a new grape) and even Chancellor delivering fascinating flavors and at alcohol levels (12.5 percent to 13.5 percent) that fit nicely on most dinner tables.

Again, as with riesling, it's unlikely these wines will be available near where you live, so a bit of advice: If you visit New York, one grand treat is to drink local.

New York has come of age as a producer of world-class whites and reds.

Wine of the Week: 2012 Fox Run Meritage, Seneca Lake ($40) – Peter Bell, one of New York's finest wine makers, crafted this wine from 66 percent cabernet sauvignon and 17 percent each of merlot and cabernet Franc.

The result is more like a classic Bordeaux in structure (13.1 percent alcohol), but with some New World fruit of red cherries, dried herbs, tea leaves and subtle spices.

A great example of New York's growing red wine culture.

<i>Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.</i>