Discover the Wines of New York State

By Sara d’Amato

This feature was commissioned by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

It is hard to believe that the wines of New York come from a single state. From the iconic nervy rieslings of the Finger Lakes, the merlot-based blends of the North Fork of Long Island, the dry rosés of the South Fork, the aromatic whites of the Hudson River Valley and the curated grapes vinified in urban centers, the wines of New York are diverse. The generalization in that last statement does not do justice to the progressive waves of wines emanating from New York that are increasing in quality with each subsequent vintage. Sparkling wines and cabernet franc, natural wine and all have a place, too as I learned on a recent visit to two of New York State’s largest winegrowing regions, Long Island and the Finger Lakes.

New York Wine Regions Map

New York is no small player in the American world of wine, according to the National Association of American wineries, New York is the 3rd most productive wine state in the U.S. after California and Washington. Yet, it has been categorically challenging to find these wines in our local market due to a mix of largely small lot production, premium pricing and a conservative purchasing reticence on the part of our government-run monopoly over the course of the pandemic. Good news for those looking to explore this quickly developing wine region, New York wines are once again back in stock and available to consumers as part of the LCBO’s online destination program. Several wines are available now and others will be available over the next week. The LCBO has created a special landing page for the New York Destination Collection which can be found here.

This new release of wines is only available for purchase in an online format. You can order from the safety of home and have them delivered to the store of your choice or to your doorstep. In addition, there are also a few NY wines available now in VINTAGES stores from previous outlined below.

Now that you know where to buy, here is why New York wines are worth discovering. Looking at the big picture, New York State is home to 471 wineries, 11 distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and over 14,000 hectares of vineyards.  For scale, that’s more than twice the size of Ontario’s wine producing region which has 6,880 hectares and 180 wineries. While there are a few sizeable players, the state is largely home to small producers that play in a premium range. If you live in Ontario, New York wine regions are on your very doorstep. If you love hiking and skiing, the Finger Lakes region may just be the destination for you, but if you prefer sandy beaches and fresh seafood then Long Island may best suit your needs. Some of the smaller growing regions of New York  are even closer, like the Niagara Escarpment, an extension of the very escarpment we know and love, as well as the southern shore of Lake Erie. Looking to the north is Ontario’s Lake Erie north shore growing region.

What to Expect from New York State Wines

Finger Lakes Riesling

Riesling is the grape that first comes to mind with respect to New York and there is certainly lots of it, most of which grown in the Finger Lakes. In fact 85 percent of riesling is grown there. Almost every producer in the Finger Lakes makes a riesling with flagship riesling. Champions such as Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann Weimer lead the charge, now and historically. The Finger Lakes is a landmark growing region for New York that had more than a few skeptics in the mid 20th century. When Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann Wiemer undertook research into the local terroir in the early 1960s, they discovered that despite warnings that the region was too cold. It could support many vinifera (European) grape vines and continued to prove his research by investing in his own plantings in the region. Dr. Konstantin Frank and Wiemer were trailblazers, instrumental in the planting of vitis vinifera in the Finger Lakes in the early 1960s. I had the recent opportunity to meet with both Meaghan Frank, great granddaughter of Konstantin Frank, as well as Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard. Meaghan is about to welcome the first of a new generation of Franks who have been experimenting and growing in the Finger Lakes since the early 1960s. Frank currently has an extensive portfolio of rieslings, including a set of two named after her great grandmother Eugenia and her grandmother Margrit. Both rieslings are as personality driven as the women who have given them their names. Riesling is certainly not the only wine that is advocated by Frank who makes serious traditional method sparkling wines, that are still permitted to be called “Méthode Champenoise” (at least for the foreseeable future) from both riesling and a more traditional blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Their Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs cuvées are both aged 36 months on lees in the winery’s historic underground cellar, a must see for those visiting the property. Blaufränkisch, grüner veltliner and rkatsiteli are all specialties of the winery worth investigating.

Meaghan Frank Dr. Konstatin Frank Finger Lakes, NY

When Dr. Konstantin Frank undertook research into the local terroir beginning in 1956, he discovered that despite warnings that the region was too cold, it was capable of supporting many vinifera (European grape vines). Frank was able to verify his research when Gold Seal Vineyards allowed him to plant an experimental vinifera vineyard in 1957. The pioneering of vinifera continued in 1958 at which time Dr. Konstantin Frank’s invested in his own plantings, now the current Keuka Estate vineyards of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery. Keuka Lake is thus the historic center of the vinifera growing in the Finger Lakes.

A German immigrant, and another trailblazer of the Finger Lakes region, Hermann Weimer was inspired by the work of Dr. Konstantin Frank. In the late 1960s, set his sights on the planting of vinifera on Seneca Lake, which was less commercially planted at the time. The cool climate and gravelly and slate soils of the Finger Lakes region bore some similarity to the family vineyards in which he’d grown up around in the Mosel. 

Wiemer Estates Long Island, NY

Making Waves: Sparkling, Rosé and Natural Wines

The salty waves that lap up on the shores of Long Island are instigators in the region’s exciting production of sparkling, rosé and natural wines. Potatoes may have dominated the landscape in Long Island over most of the 20th century and would continue to do so if it weren’t for founding growers; a young Harvard-educated couple, Alex and Louisa Hargrave who began to grow wine in the early 1970s, luring investors and farmers to the region. As legend would have it, the viticulturally inexperienced Hargraves first solicited advice from a Californian grower who gave them questionable advice. They then went to a grape expert at Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in upstate New York, who gave them opposing advice on planting in Long Island. In the end, they decided to take no one’s advice and establish their own practices on how to turn potato farming country into a landscape for winegrowing. They were young risk takers who had an American dream that was quickly fraught with diseased vines, incessant birds, natural disasters, and locals wanting a “dry” community. Regardless of their tribulations, they were trailblazers!

To better understand why grape growing has flourished in Long Island and why producers continue to push the boundaries, let’s take a short geographic detour. Long Island is split into two forks, separated by Great Peconic Bay. Each fork has their own AVAs. Most of the wineries are located in the North Fork of Long Island AVA. On the cooler, Atlantic-influenced South Fork you’ll find fewer wineries located in the The Hamptons AVA. Finally, there is the all-encompassing Long Island AVA. This is a maritime terroir as it is surrounded by influences such as the Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay and the Atlantic Ocean (like in Bordeaux). Soils are also different in the north and south forks of Long Island. In the south, the common soil type known as Bridge Hampton Loam has higher clay content and therefore water holding capacity and is overall, a bit cooler. The North Fork sits on Haven Loam which has a higher sand content, warmer soils and better drainage. Cabernet and merlot are most comfortable in the North Fork.

Paumanok Winery North Fork, Long Island, NY

Most growers on Long Island can agree, it is a fickle place to grow grapes which is why you have a wealth of spirited winemakers. Someone who exemplifies the vibrant enthusiasm of the region is Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters. The winery is focused on “artisanal experimentation” producing 14,000 cases a year divided between at least 3 dozen wines. These are small, unique vineyard plots from single varieties such as tocai fruliano, refosco, teroldego and even blaufränkish.  Created with spontaneous fermentation, sometimes filtered and fined, sometimes not, using both stainless steel tanks and a variety of woods, some whites with skin contact some without, many made using foot stomping, some with gentle, whole cluster pressing. Basically, anything goes if the wine calls for it and Tracy feels it is necessary. He avoids entering into a debate about natural, but most consumers of his wine would agree that they fit the nebulous mould. Tracy has nothing against sulphur and will use it when it is required as his end goal is to make an expressive, endearing wine that is technically sound.

Wölffer Estates, South Fork, Long Island, NY

There is no question that diversity is a hallmark of Long Island wine. Case in point, some of the most technically sound, driven and precise wines tasted on a recent visit come from RGNY, made by Mexico City born winemaker Lilia Perez, owned by the Rivero Gonzales group. Sadly, Perez will be leaving soon on new adventures out west, but she has already left a legacy worthy of a serious successor. Paumanok Winery is another more traditional producer who is run by second generation owner Kareem Massoud that oversees the family’s 127-acre estate established in 1983. They focus only on dense plantings of vinifera, Bordeaux grapes along with chardonnay, riesling and a delicious chenin blanc. Paumanok’s “Assemblage” Bordeaux-style blend is the pinnacle of their winemaking and most definitely worth exploring. The winery is also experimenting with minimal interventionist styles like their “Minimalist Chardonnay” which is smartly packaged.

Winemaker Roman Roth Wölffer Estates, South Fork Long Island, NY

For rosé in Long Island, most Hamptonites (a derivative yet to be verified!) and connoisseurs gravitate towards the breathtaking Wölffer Estate who devotes 80 percent of their production to rosé wine. Their pale-hued, memorably packaged “Summer in a Bottle”, Provençal inspired style has been so successful that they have created a veritable, new, Côtes de Provence label blending local varieties of grenache, cinsault, syrah and rolle. Winemaker Roman Roth, born in Germany and attained his master’s degree before joining Wölffer estates in 2009, Roman seems to excel in the production of perfumed, delicate but precise incarnations of the pink variety. As far as sparkling production goes in Long Island, a big shout out to Lieb Cellars and their work with pinot blanc. Their traditional method sparkler was one of the most exciting examples I tasted outside of the Finger Lakes.

Winemaker Roman Roth Wölffer Estates, South Fork Long Island, NY

Urban Wineries

Most New York wineries will tell you that their toughest markets are in urban centers of their own state, New York City in particular. Given that consumers have access to some of the largest selections of international wines, it is a challenge to get consumers to think local. This is why opening a winery in the city makes perfect sense. Brooklyn-based wineries such as Rooftop Reds in the Navy Yard, Brooklyn Winery as well as Hound’s Tree Wines are sticking as close as possible to their customer base. Hound’s Tree is the first estate winery and tasting room in New York City. The wine is made in Williamsburg, Brooklyn from their estate vineyard near Mattituck, Long Island where the sustainably-farmed vines are perched 100 feet above Long Island Sound, less than 1,000 meters from the bluff, benefitting from the region’s cool, maritime influence and deep, well-draining glacial-till soils. At the helm is winemaker and MW Alex Rosanelli, who incorporates sustainable practices and occasionally works with growers in the Niagara Escarpment and Finger Lakes to produce small lots. Their tasting room is a one-stop shop for NY wines that includes a carefully curated selection from producers across NY.

MW Alex Rosanelli Hound’s Tree Winery Brooklyn, NY

Urban wineries are not all centralized in NYC. Rochester is home to Living Roots Winery that is established in both the Finger Lakes and in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Husband and wife team Sebastian Hardy, a native of Adelaide and 6th generation winemaker. Hardy’s family originates with Thomas Hardy – yes, the Hardys of Adelaide that we all know and love. Hardy’s partner in life and marketing is Colleen, born in Rochester, NY. The winery has a flair for the experimental with a solid foundation of technique and respect for place. While sparkling wine is a growing trend in the Finger Lakes, it comes as no surprise that Living Roots also produces a less conventional, Pét Nat style (a single bottle-fermented sparkling wine). Look out for their Sessions Red, available soon in market, a blend of spontaneously fermented vinifera and hybrid varieties that make for a refreshing summer red option.

Below you will find a list of wines currently available in market with reviews from the WineAlign team. Please be sure to comment on your thoughts and experiences with New York Wine. For more information on the wines of New York, see: A New York State of Wine.

Online Destination Collection:

Hound's Tree Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Hound’s Tree Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, North Fork Of Long Island, New York
$42.05 (25757) Noble Estates (available online now)
The first estate winery and tasting room in New York City, under the winemaking direction of MW Alex Rosanelli, who incorporates sustainable practices and occasionally works with growers in the Niagara Escarpment and Finger Lakes to produce small lots. Sourced from the North Fork Long Island, cabernet sauvignon is not frequently produced as a single varietal (unblended). Extended maceration has given the wine a deep and vibrant colour. The grapes are harvested in the first week of November for maximum hang-time, despite the hurricane risk. Featuring a supple texture, black and red fruit at the of peak ripeness and a compelling aromatic lift. Extended barrel age was not required here to polish the tannins as they were already quite fine grained. Excellent length. Best now to 2028. Tasted May 2022.

Wolffer Estate Summer In A Bottle Rosé 2021

Wolffer Estate Summer In A Bottle Rosé 2021, Long Island, New York
$38.70 (124486)) The Vine Agency (available online now)
The stunning Wölffer Estate in The Hamptons region of Long Island, only 4 km from the Atlantic, includes 55 acres of certified sustainably farmed vineyard in Sagaponack but the family also manages 52 acres in the North Fork and another 200 acres in Mendoza, Argentina. As is common practice in Long Island, the family grows Bordeaux varieties such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc along with chardonnay. Trebbiano, pinot noir and vignoles are found in small lots and the estate also produces some noteworthy ciders. Christian Wölffer’s estate is now managed by his children Marc and Joey as well as winemaker and partner, Roman Roth. The Summer inspired series of wine reflects the elevated bohemia of the Hamptons seasonally charged lifestyle. This rosé is priced to give premium Provençal rosé a run for its money. Despite the fantastical label the wine deserves more serious attention.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Grüner Veltliner 2019

Dr. Konstantin Frank Grüner Veltliner 2019, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
$31.95 (21235) Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveryors (available online now)
The pioneering spirit of Dr. Konstantin Frank, a double World War survivor with a PhD in viticulture, seems to be embodied in the benchmark aromatic whites emanating from the winery, now under the direction of Konstantin’s great-granddaughter, Meaghan Frank. From the east side of Seneca (banana belt?), this has a warmer, lovely leesy character, so much richer, lightly peppery, maybe a little sulphur on the nose that needs to blow off, lots of texture, richer than expected. A wine of great texture. Notes of green apple, and green pear–like the creaminess. Leesy, too with some natural spice on the finish.

Brotherhood Pinot Noir 2017

Brotherhood Pinot Noir 2017, New York, Hudson River, New York, USA
$24.95 (79939) Epic Wines & Spirits (available online now)
Brotherhood can claim America’s Oldest Winery having been a commercially viable wine estate since 1839. This pleasantly pale pinot noir of relative cool-climate origin features notes of cherry, black tea, pine needle, clove, cedar and cinnamon stick on the exuberant nose. Supple, uncomplicated and ready to drink.

Lieb Cellars Estate Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2019

Lieb Cellars Estate Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2019, North Fork of Long Island, New York
$40.75, Cru Wine Merchants (available online now)
Lieb Cellars is under the winemaking direction of the longest tenured winemaker on Long Island, the Australian born Russell Hearn. Founded by Mark Lieb in 1992, Lieb Cellars has grown from a modest 14-acre vineyard to 3 vineyard sites certified sustainable by Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, 2 tasting rooms and a full-service custom crush winery. Pinot blanc is a specialty of this winery who sources grapes for this personality-driven fizz from grapes planted in the early 1980’s on Long Island’s North fork in the largest contiguous planting of the variety in the U.S.  This traditional method sparkling pinot blanc exhibits memorable freshness and purity. An impressive degree of flavour and mouthfeel has been coaxed out of this variety that can often be quite neutral, but not so planted at Lieb’s estate. Dry, but with some roundness from a well-managed dosage and a textured leesy component due to 16-18 months spent en tirage.

Living Roots Session Red 2019, Finger Lakes, New York
$TBA (25513) The Independent Wine Company (available for online soon)
Established in both the Finger Lakes and in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, husband and wife team Sebastian (a native of Adelaide and 6th generation winemaker) and Colleen (a marketing specialist of Rochester, NY) the winery has a flair for the experimental with a solid foundation of technique and respect for place.

New York Wines in Vintages Stores Now:

Brotherhood I Love NY Red

Brotherhood I Love NY Red, New York
$15.95 (19318) Epic Wines & Spirits (VINTAGES in stores now)
Well-established in the Hudson River Valley, Brotherhood is the oldest continuously operating winery in America with its roots stretching back to 1839 when it began making wine for medicinal and sacramental purposes. It has steadily grown to become one of the largest producers of wine in the state of New York and has recently celebrated its 175th anniversary. The I Love NY red is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and baco noir partially aged in barrel from the Finger Lakes and Long Island (hence the non-AVA specific labelling). Cheerful, upbeat and on the lighter end of the spectrum, this fresh, silky and uncomplicated red is well-priced for weeknight sipping.

Wagner Finger Lakes Select Riesling 2017

Wagner Finger Lakes Select Riesling 2017, Estate Grown, Finger Lakes, New York
$20.75 (17256) Epic Wines & Spirits (VINTAGES in stores now)
The well-established Wagner Winery resides on the banks of Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes and never freezes. Its ability to moderate the climate is key in making it home to wealth of vinifera grape varieties and it is fast becoming a benchmark destination for riesling. The winery recently celebrated 40 years in the wine business having been founded by Bill Wagner in the late 1970s and now overseen by his son John. Wagner now boasts the largest plantings of riesling in the Finger Lakes with 60-acres grown and can claim that 100% of their fruit is sourced from their own estate. Their prized fruit is also sold to many wineries in the region. This dynamic riesling of medium-sweet character is so finely balanced that it is distinctly nervy and goosebump-inducing. A classic expression of Finger Lakes riesling and a stand-out in this release.

Hosmer Single Wheel Riesling 2017, Patrician Verona Vineyard, Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
$33.95 (17255) Epic Wines & Spirits (VINTAGES in stores now)
Cayuga Lake is home to Hosmer and is the longest of the Finger Lakes, with vineyards resting mainly on its sunny western slopes. Hosmer Winery established itself here in the mid 1980s and has made a name for itself by growing vinifera varieties. Chardonnay is a specialty for the winery and it is the 3rd largest planting on the property (as well as the oldest). Cornell and Adelaide educated winemaker Julia Hoyle is at the winemaking helm of Hosmer, transforming the estate’s Patrician Verona Vineyard fruit into energetic, food-friendly wines that critics love. The 2017 incarnation is notably chalky with intense flavours of lime and bicarbonate. Off-dry yet still somewhat austere, so hold for another year for best expression or pair with roasted chicken breast with a blue cheese sauce.

In Consignment:

Forge Seneca Lake Dry Riesling Classique 2019, Finger Lakes, New York
$33.15 (Consignment) The Vine Agency

There you have it, I hope this  guide to local offerings available at the LCBO both in your stores and through the LCBO On-Line channels finds you in a “New York State of Mind”. If these selections have provoked your interest, you may want to consider a visit to explore the complexity that New York Wine regions have to offer this summer.


Sara d’Amato