Wine expert Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, suggests that if you visit New York’s Finger Lakes wine region, make sure you stop at Fox Run Vineyards to taste their exceptional Riesling. It is one of a handful of very special wines that she says “shouldn’t be missed.”
Indeed, Fox Run has much to offer. Overlooking beautiful Seneca Lake, Fox Run produces wines from about a dozen different grapes. Riesling and Cabernet Franc—which do exceptionally well in the region—are major players. But the winery also grows heavy-hitters like Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, as well as unique wines from lesser-known grapes like Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais), Gewurztraminer, and Lemberger. From central Europe, Lemberger is known as Blaufrankish in Austria and Kékfrankos in Hungary.
A personal favorite from Fox Run is their Cabernet Franc, which is surprisingly delicate and fruity, without the green “stalky” and tannic characteristics of some Cabernet Franc wines. Fox Run’s version is more subtle with raspberry notes and a food-friendly, crisp profile.
A number of Fox Run wines are available at area Wegmens supermarkets, where Fox Run’s unoaked Chardonnay is bargain-priced for under $10. It’s a perfect summer-sipping wine to enjoy with grilled chicken. But before dinner, you might enjoy the off-dry (lightly sweet) Arctic Fox white blend. It comes in a beautiful blue bottle, which makes an impressive presentation among friends.
If you want to try a bit of New York history, try the Fox Trot Red, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and American Concord grapes. This is a sweet red wine that Fox Run owner Scott Osborn recommends mixing with club soda to make a summer cocktail.
And of course, MacNeil is right that Fox Run Rieslings are a must-try, and they too are available at Wegmens. If you are skeptical of this variety because you don’t like sweet wine, try Fox Run’s dry Riesling. It is a crisp and refreshing wine that is wonderful chilled on a hot summer day. But when you order out some spicy Asian food, pair it with Fox Run’s off-dry Riesling.
Finger Lakes Rieslings are exceptional because the grape excels in the region’s cool climate, which is much like Germany’s. New York’s Rieslings are made dry, off-dry, and lusciously sweet. The sweet wines are sometimes made from grapes frozen on the vine—known as ice wine—producing very fresh and fruity wines. Others are made from grapes that dehydrate on the vine, the result of a type of “noble” rot. This is the same practice used to make some of the most expensive wines in Sauternes—a sub-region in Bordeaux, France. These wines are lusciously sweet and complex with dried fruit, citrus, and apricot flavors packaged in a syrupy texture.
As Fox Run’s selections attest, the state is growing a diverse mix of grapes, which is a relatively new development in the Finger Lakes region. For much of its wine-making history, the region focused on growing grapes native to America because the varieties from Europe—from the species Vitis vinifera—did not do well in the area’s cold climate. Fortunately, that changed in the 1950s when an immigrant and botanist from the Ukraine—Dr. Konstantin Frank—began researching ways to make European grapes work in the area’s climate by attaching them to cold-hardy American rootstock. He also understood that the lakes created moderate mesoclimates suitable for many grapes.
Dr. Frank succeeded; he eventually opened his own winery in the state and encouraged others to follow suit. It took several decades for the state’s industry to take off. In 1976, the state government helped by passing the Farm Winery Act, which allows wineries to sell their wines to retailers and restaurants directly, rather than going through a distributor as other states mandate. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, the state’s wine industry took off after that law passed, adding 190 new wineries by 2005. Fox Run was one of those wineries, opening its doors in 1993.