Chardonnay is king.  

Long live Chardonnay!

In the U.S., production of Chardonnay far exceeds any other white grape.  For many Americans, “Chardonnay" is a synonym for white wine.

The grape is important in the Finger Lakes too.  But here it is only princely, with less than half the acreage of Riesling. Nevertheless, more Chardonnay is produced in the Finger Lakes than all other non-Riesling white vinifera combined.

In the book “Wine Grapes” the authors describe Chardonnay as a “Hugely popular, versatile and widely planted international white variety equally capable of extreme mediocrity and regal splendor.”  

Based on the 18 wines in my sample, there are many average wines, many that are too sweet, but not a single instance of excellence, much less "regal splendor.”  Nor do many of these bottles show their terroir, the supposed strength of this grape.  

So, one might ask — Does Chardonnay have a real future in the Finger Lakes?

According to Shannon Brock, the co-owner of Silver Thread Vineyards, in the 80’s there was a “huge focus” on Chardonnay because it was so popular. Winery owners thought Chardonnay was essential if they were to be considered world-class operations.  

But after Riesling gained prominence, some wineries began to treat Chardonnay “as an afterthought.”  Yet Brock believes that very good cool-climate Chardonnay can be made in the Finger Lakes.

There are other believers.  

Sebastien LeSeurre is a passionate advocate of Chardonnay, and his 2012 is a persuasive opening salvo.  Producers of Finger Lakes Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines  also chime in for the grape. Certainly many of their bubblies can be very good.

Yet given the huge number of Chardonnays in the market, from America and abroad, why buy a Finger Lakes bottle?

There are a couple of reasons:

• Some of the wines are very good values.  The Red Tail Ridge “Sans Oak”, the Salmon Run, and the Fox Run all have very good quality/price ratios.  The Fox run, in particular, is a super buy in 2013.  Unfortunately, the 2014 did not turn out as well.

• Ravines and Domaine LeSeurre make distinctive wines.  Domaine LeSeurre uses batonage (lees stirring) to produce a pretty, creamy, and appealing wine. Ravines uses the “passito” method (drying a portion of the grapes) and substantial oak to make a wine which resembles white Burgundy in character.  It can be electric, like no other Chardonnay in the Finger Lakes.

If these wines as a group are not strong, Finger Lakes Chardonnay lovers may hope for a better future.  Interest in the grape seems to be swelling, more talent is arriving in the Finger Lakes, and better vintages surely lie ahead.

Cheers — Douglas

A word about these tastings: Each tasting note is based on a full bottle of wine (no tasting room notes or group tastings), sampled over a two-day period, most often with food.  All bottles are purchased from the winery or a wine shop. I do not accept “sample” bottles from wineries, nor do I have a financial relationship of any kind with any winery or the wine industry.  The views expressed here are my own, and I strive to be as honest and objective as a person can be.

© Douglas Hillstrom 2014