Editor’s Note: This is part one of a four-part Finger Lakes report, compiled over several visits Mikhail made to the region last summer.

My interest in the region was sparked years ago, especially since riesling has always been my favorite grape. However, in the last few years, as I began to visit the Finger Lakes and discover the people as well as the wines, I have come to understand it better.

It is a unique region, known for its “lake effect” – the moderating effect of the Finger Lakes on the temperature and precipitation levels of the area. The effect allows for a warmer temperature in the winter, thus protecting the vines, and cooler temperatures in the summer.

It is still a young region, with much potential for discovery.

From the wines I have tasted, I find that riesling does best from the white grapes, although sparkling wines, both from chardonnay and pinot noir, have bright, crunchy acidity that makes them quite refreshing.

On the other side of the color spectrum, pinot noir has potential. It is not an easy grape to grow, in any climate, but when done right, Finger Lakes pinot noir is earthy, full of cranberry and pomegranate tones, and shows the potential for development. I personally love Finger Lakes Blaufränkisch as it offers the sweeter, riper blackberry and plum tones, while still paying homage to the cool climate with its mineral and cooler-toned palate.

Another grape that plays in the same dark-fruited ballpark is saperavi. This Georgian grape (the country, not the state) is not new to tough climates and thus does well even in years with less than perfect conditions.

The more people I meet, and the more I taste of the region, the more I am impressed by their dedication to their vines and wines. And I cannot wait to go back to the Finger Lakes – it is quickly becoming a home away from home.

Heart & Hands Wine Company

Heart & Hands co-owner Susan Higgins

I have had Heart & Hands on my list of “must visit” since day one. However, I was unable to do so in prior years. This year, it was my first stop – and I finally met Susan Higgins in person. We began our visit in the cozy tasting room, bathed by the afternoon light. We spoke about the sustainable farming that Heart & Hands practices, and the importance of the limestone in the terroir of the region.

But, most importantly, we spoke about the wines. The light hand and the attention to detail come through in the bottle – the rieslings all had tension and bright freshness that speaks to my personal love for the grape. The pinots are aged in French oak, but again, the light hand showed through. While the oak added a layer to the bigger wines, it was never prominent, never up front.

2017 Heart & Hands Riesling Estate
Unlike the riper 2016 version, this wine is bright and light. It is dominated by white peach on the nose and shows green peaches, melon, and apple on the palate. Sweet lemon and orchard fruit on the back, leading toward a zesty finish. Though perhaps not as complex as the riper years, this is fresh and bright in a way that makes the bottle disappear all too quickly.

2016 Heart & Hands Riesling Seneca East Vineyard
A beautiful example of Finger Lakes Riesling, a floral nose, ripe with lemon curd and grapefruit. The mid palate is leaner, orchard fruit dominating, peach and apple, with a core of acidity. I cannot wait to see how well this will age.

2016 Heart & Hands Pinot Noir
Aromatic Pinot, with rose and red cherry. The wine has 50% whole cluster vinification and perhaps gains the savory herbal tones from that. Ripe, rich cherry dominates the middle, earthy and spicy on the finish. Quite intriguing already.

2013 Heart & Hands Pinot Noir Patrician Verona
This shows a deep black cherry and earthy notes and purple flowers on the nose. Already integrated on the palate but still youthful, cherry tones, going from red to black. Elegant wine, with an undercurrent of herbs and acidity. Excellent already, with perhaps more to show.

Boundry Breaks

Boundary Breaks owner Bruce Murray

I am always on the lookout for riesling, and I was told this was the place to find it. So we punched the address into the GPS and we were on our way to Lodi (in the Finger Lakes not California).

We were really lucky, not only did we get to spend some time with the owner, Bruce Murray, but we also were able to taste two mini-verticals.

I really love how riesling ages, and I was impressed with the 2011s and the 2014s – they lost none of their vigor, while gaining complexity and starting to show touches of secondary development. I went back and forth between my preference, the #239 or the 198?  For my palate, I went with the off-dry #198. I like the extra dollop of lemon curd in the middle and the aging potential it has. But there is no wrong choice here.

2011 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239
This library bottle has been opened for a few hours, and yet this is young and bright. The wine shows notes of pineapple with a solid core of savory herbs and ripe citrus. An impressive showing.

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239
More mineral than the 2011, but lighter, more pineapple and grapefruit pith. Deep citrus notes, especially toward the finish. Quite nice indeed and with a youthful grace.

2016 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239
A young, bright Riesling, brimming with tropical fruit on the nose. Stone fruit, yellow peach predominantly on the front palate, but leaning toward orange and mango further back. Shows signs of late harvest ripeness and depth. Would love to see how it will age.

2017 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 239
Impressive for a young wine, yellow flowers, honeysuckle, peaches and apples, mid is ripe but with white peach and ginger, lovely note of minerality and a bright acid on the backbone. Tangy, ginger notes on the finish. This is lovely now but I am sure will age and develop further.

2011 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198
Another library riesling I was lucky enough to taste. This was impressive again, showing as youthful as I would have expected from Riesling made in Germany. The pineapple and mango on the nose shows resemblance to a Pfalz riesling. The core is ripe, full of sweet fruit, but the acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, leading to a clean finish.

2014 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198
Similar in power and citrus notes to the 2011, but the 2014 shows significantly more mineral qualities. Lemon curd and Meyer lemon in the middle, deep, complex and still with years to go. Absolutely lovely.

2017 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling Dry No. 198
The wine shows bright, yellow peach on the nose. Impressive kiwi, guava, currant leaf, and citrus on the palate. Like the 2011, the wine shows a quality similar to the Rieslings of Pfalz, tropical but with a core of minerality. Excellent.

About Author

Mikhail was born in Ukraine, during the Soviet Union and moved to the United States with his family as a teenager. He grew up in Queens, where he still resides with his wife and son. He’s an adjunct professor of comparative literature at Queens College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He became interested in wine in the early 2000s and quickly joined the online community as well as the busy New York City crowd. His personal wine journey began with the love for German Rieslings, but it has evolved into an appreciation for various styles of wine – from the cooler climates like the northeast to the sherries of Southern Spain. While he enjoys writing and tasting wines, his true passion is photography. He is never without his trusty Nikon, trying to capture the emotion of the moment. He is passionate about the local culture and especially the farms, wineries and breweries of the northeast.

1 Comment

  1. Enjoyed your reviews and comments on the people, their winery’s and wines. I too enjoy my visits to the region and Riesling has become one of my favorite wines. Some readers might wonder what the numbers on Boundary Break’s wines signify. They are making wines from selected clones and that adds another dimension to exploring their wines.

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