Sparkling Wine 2017 - 18



Along Route 54, on the eastern side of Keuka Lake, is an historical marker.  This sign is large, sturdy, made of heavy steel. It was dedicated in 1967, and has not been altered in any way since then.  It describes the Finger Lakes as the “Champagne Region of America."

Nowadays sparkling wine is a sidelight for Finger Lakes wineries, and (thankfully) very few producers label their wine as “Champagne."  Even so, it is surprising how many wineries make sparkling wine.  It is also encouraging that more producers have entered the field, largely via experiments with Pétillant Naturel and sparkling Riesling.

The quality of sparkling wines largely reflects the method of production.  The Méthode Champenoise (“Champagne Method”) is the costliest way to produce a sparkling wine. Years of aging before the wine is released adds to the expense of production.  These wines (e.g Wiemer Blanc de Blanc, Frank Blanc de Blancs, Lamoreaux Landing Brut) are nearly always the most flavorful and complex Finger Lakes sparklers.

Most of the Méthode Champenoise wines are made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir.  An increasing number are produced from Riesling.  These Riesling wines (e.g. Ravines Sparkling Riesling, Frank Célèbre) tend to be aged for a shorter time period. They are fresher but less complex than their Chardonnay/Pinot Noir cousins.

Next on the quality ladder are the Pétillant Naturel wines, made from a variety of grapes via the “Méthode Ancestrale,” simpler but riskier than the Méthode Champenoise. These wines (e.g. Fossil & Till, Red Tail Ridge, Barry Family Cellars) are some of the funkiest and most interesting sparkling wines made in the Finger Lakes.

Simplest and least interesting are the carbonated wines.  Often made from less compelling grapes (e.g. Cayuga White), the chief appeal of these wines is price.  They are considerably less expensive than other sparklers.

Nearly all of these wines are dry or medium dry, with the exception of the Frank Célèbre, which is medium sweet.  Despite its sweetness, the Frank is the best aperitif wine in this lineup.  It is surprising that no other Finger Lakes producer has attempted to make a similar wine.

Most of the Méthode Champenoise wines are very fine for sipping and especially good with food.  The Pet-Nat wines are a mixed bunch.  Read the reviews for details and how they are best used.  As for the carbonated wines, drink them with snacks or when you feel the need for something bubbly.


Happy New Year! — 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