Finger Lakes Wine Society - Vinifera Grapes
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Vinifera Grapes

The European Vinifera or Vitis Vinifera grape is arguably the best type of grape for wine making. It wasn't until more recent times that vinifera grapes were grown in the finger lakes. It was originally believed that the cold winters would destroy the delicate vinifera vines. Thanks to early pioneers like Dr. Konstantin Frank, Herman J. Wiemer and Robert McGregor, we now know otherwise.
It's all because of the marvelous "tempering effect" of the Finger Lakes that these varieties not only survive, but thrive to make some fantastic wines! Without the lakes and their micro-climates, it would surely be much more difficult, if not impossible, to grown these grapes. Vitis Vinifera are not as cold-hardy as the Native and Hybrid grapes. The Finger Lakes are on the verge of an explosion in popularity that is due, in large part, to the success of the European Vinifera varieties of grapes!

Riesling or Johannesburg Riesling, primarily originates from Germany and the Alsace region of France. It's one variety of grape that has made quite a name for itself around the Finger Lakes. In fact, Finger Lakes Rieslings are comparable to some of the finest Rieslings in the world. This crisp, vital white wine is excellent for enjoyment just about any time and enhances the flavors of many foods, including fresh fruit, cheese, salads, chicken, turkey, and fish dishes. Riesling’s floral, peach/pear/pineapple taste is very pleasing to wine newbies and is a great starting wine especially if it's got some sweetness. Riesling from the Finger Lakes Region is generally known for having a minerally characteristic that you won't find in other Rieslings around the world. Some wineries capitalize on the quality of Finger Lakes Riesling and offer it in all spectrums of sweetness from dry to late harvest or ice wines. Some wineries even produce wonderful Sparkling Rieslings.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc, a vinifera grape grown in the Bordeaux region of France, has taken very well to the Finger Lakes region! This grape may someday soon contend with the Pinot Noir grape for the title of "King of the Vinifera Reds". Cabernet Franc is more hearty and full-bodied than Pinot Noir, but not as intense as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy Cab Franc with red pasta dishes, red meats, lamb and dark or semi-sweet chocolate. Cabernet Franc is an excellent blending wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Sometimes called the "workhorse" of the European reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is very hearty, intense and complex. It's usually very deep and dark in color compared to most of the other vinifera reds around the Finger Lakes. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the "big three" varieties that make up a "Meritage" or Bordeaux blend wine. Often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Chardonnay is a vinifera grape grown in the Chablis, Champagne, and Burgundy regions of France. Chardonnays are often aged in French oak or American oak barrels. Some Chardonnays undergo a fair amount of malolactic fermentation, which converts malic acid to lactic acid, giving the wine a 'creamy' or 'buttery' quality. In the Finger Lakes, Chardonnays are commonly used to make varietal wines and sparkling wines. Chardonnay is certainly less fruity than Riesling and is more often than not done is a dry style. Chardonnay is a fine accompaniment to foods like grilled or sautéed chicken or pork dishes and some sea foods, pasta dishes with white sauces and appetizers.

Gewürztraminer, pronounced “ge-VURTS-tra-ME-ner,” remember- the "W" is pronounced like a "V". The word actually means "spicy grape" and this wine is known for its "spicy" characteristics. Its spiciness can stand up to foods with more intense flavors. Try it with Chinese or Thai food. It's also a wonderful wine with Turkey dinner and great on Thanksgiving. Gewürztraminer usually can be found in all spectrums of sweetness from dry to Late Harvest (Sweet). This is a tough grape to grow in the Finger Lakes. A harsh winter can mean a low yield in the upcoming growing season!

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a red vinifera grape found in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. Pinot Noir is probably the king of the European Vinifera reds grown in the Finger Lakes. Used to create varietal red wine, it’s also a main ingredient in many Champagnes. Pinot Noir is almost always a dry wine that is lighter bodied than all the other vinifera red wines produced in the Finger Lakes. Pinot Noir may accompany pasta, chicken and pork dishes with tomato based sauces, beef, and lamb. A lighter-bodied Pinot Noir is also excellent with Smoked Salmon. Finger Lakes Pinot Noir is also extremely high in resveritrol making it one of the most healthful wines in the world!

(Mare-LOW) Originating in southern France and Italy, Merlot is lighter in tannins, and a little more cold hearty than Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s “cousin”.  Though the Merlot grape was principally used for blending in the United States for years, it's now a fine wine to be appreciated on its own.  Often Merlot is one of those “like it or hate it” wines as you may recall the main characters dislike for Merlot in the movie Sideways.  Merlot is usually on the dry side and pairs well with Steak and beef dishes, Lamb, Game and Pasta dishes with red sauces.

(VEE-oh-nee-aye)  A rather fussy Vinifera grape from the northern Rhone region of France, it’s got some spice and characteristics sometimes similar to the Muscat grape.  Best consumed while young as Viognier is not known for its ageing ability.  This wine is excellent as an aperitif or an accompaniment to pasta, poultry and seafood. It's great with spicy Asian, Thai or Creole cuisine!

Also known as Kekfrankos or Blaufrankisch, Lemberger was originally cultivated in Hungary and Austria and has been grown in the Finger lakes since the early nineties.  Lemberger is cold hardy and produces a nice light to medium bodied wine that is typically deep in color, earthy and fruity and sometimes on the acidic side.  Ready to drink when young, it rarely benefits from bottle aging.  Pair well with the same types of foods as Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

(aka: Shiraz, Hermitage) Another Vinifera grape that is tough to grow in the Finger Lakes, but it is out there!  Syrah is associated with the Rhone Valley region of France, but has enjoyed incredible popularity and success in Australian vineyards, where it assumes the name Shiraz.  It’s a deep rich wine with lots of tannins and a peppery spiciness.  Not widely grown around the Finger Lakes, Syrah is fine with the same types of foods you would enjoy with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Rkatsitelli is Georgia's principal white grape that can be traced all the way back to 3,000 BC!  Grown throughout Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine), the ex-Soviet states and China, you can also find it in the USA and Australia.   Amazingly, it was the second-most planted white grape in the world! That was until Gorbachev's vine-pull scheme in the 1980's; up to that point, Rkatsitelli was responsible for more than 18% of all Soviet wine production.  Known for being of high quality, Rkatsitelli is made into many wine styles including fortified wines and also distilled for brandy.
The high acidity of the grape makes a wine leaning a little on the tart side, so winemakers try to pick the grapes as late as possible in order to maximize the sugar to offset the acidity and create balance. 

Gamay noir
Pinot gris
Muscat Ottonel

This list is in progress...
If you grow a vinifera grape in the Finger Lakes that is not listed here, we would like to hear about it! Please let us know!


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