New York State finds its wines perfectly positioned to sparkle, hailing from a cooler climate than its perhaps better-known west coast counterparts. The rise in popularity of bubbles of all kinds, from poised traditional method expressions to the youthfully exuberant pétillant natureles, has New York winemakers excited to demonstrate their region’s ability to hit a sparkling sweet spot, even without the addition of dosage.
In the upstate Finger Lakes region, perhaps no name rings out like that of Dr. Konstantin Frank who, in the 1950s, championed vinifera grapes in an area then mostly planted to American natives and hybrids. His son, ‘Willie’ Frank, would champion the production of sparkling wines in the region using the same varieties also grown in Champagne, likening the climate of New York to that of northern France.
The Frank family is bullish on what traditional method sparkling wines mean for the future of their region and the state as a whole. ‘We believe that traditional method sparkling wine will be the next it category for the Finger Lakes,’ says Meaghan Frank, Vice President at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. ‘Riesling is an established category with international acclaim and the same attributes that make Riesling so exciting in our region – namely a true cool climate – hold the similar potential for our sparkling wines to be on the world stage.’
Generally speaking, the traditional method sparkling wines of the Finger Lakes have an undeniable freshness and vibrancy, even after many years of lees ageing. ‘The target market and audience are developing but I personally think that those that are already ‘believers’ in our Riesling will find a great deal of joy in our traditional method sparkling wines,’ Frank concludes. ‘Anyone who appreciates fresh, vibrant, acid-forward wines that pair with nearly any food will absolutely love our sparkling wines. They are truly hidden gems and the value for the price is off the charts!’
A naturally delicious future
‘This region has a long history of sparkling wine production,’ Dave Pittard at Buttonwood Grove Winery tells us. ‘We enjoy that our Pét-Nat program offers an opportunity to produce sparkling wines and get consumer feedback quickly. They’re often released only months after harvest, while traditional [method] sparkling can take years and require many more steps in the process, often making them much more expensive to produce.’
Buttonwood has chosen to use grapes not widely used in sparkling styles – Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Melody, a hybrid. This, along with low alcohol (10/11%) and the inviting price point (often under £20) makes them approachable and inviting to a wider, younger audience eager to explore and try something new.
Sparkling wines are coming to the fore throughout the state, well beyond the Finger Lakes. Their typical early harvest pairs perfectly with the Empire State’s cold climate. New York’s sparkling wines solidify the state’s reputation for traditional vinifera wines and create a new audience for American native and hybrid grapes with the increasingly popular Pét-Nats.
Potential for diversity
Channing Daughters makes wines from all three of the Long Island AVAs (North Fork, The Hamptons and Long Island). They make an array of wines of all types but have developed a strong reputation for their pétillant naturel range, including those made from American or hybrid grape varieties. ‘The future of these méthode ancestrale wines is great’ says Channing Daughters winemaker James Christopher Tracy. ‘We believe greater awareness, appreciation and consumption is in the future for this delicious and celebratory style of wine. We love the potential of diversity within the style and our continued pursuit of exactitude within an inexact style of wine! The quality, reflection of place and pleasure the wines provide is undeniable when judged without bias.’
With over 400 wineries across the states seven main growing regions, expect availability to rise, along with the reputation of New York’s sparkling wines as both consumers and producers further develop an interest in these captivating sparkling wines from New York.
NY sparkling wines to try:
Tasted and scored by the Decanter team
Dr. Konstantin Frank, Blanc de Noirs, Finger Lakes 2017
From one of the foundational names in the New York wine industry’s modern industry comes this outstanding Blanc de Noirs, produced exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes and bottled without dosage. A beautiful nose of freshly baked bread, red apples and lemon curd is followed by a rich and enveloping palate. The bubbles are soft and persistent, carrying flavours of red apples, ripe pear, lemon zest and pomegranate. There’s a lusciousness to the flavours balancing the acid. Lovely tannic grip.
Lieb Cellars, Estate Sparkling Pinot Blanc, North Fork of Long Island 2020
A truly beautiful traditional method sparkling, both classical and classy, with a beautiful presence on the palate, fine, persistent bubbles and well-defined aromas of white peach, lemon zest and crunchy pear. A layer of blanched almonds and fresh dough adds nuance and depth. Lovely presence on the mid palate and good linear acidity. Truly delicious and pleasantly textural.
Buttonwood Grove, Melody Pét-Nat, Finger Lakes 2021
A vibrant and crunchy pétillant naturel made from the Melody grape, a crossing of Seyval Blanc and Geneva White 5. Expressive nose of bruised yellow apples, pear, peach, hay and digestive biscuits. The palate echoes the nose, with the juicy zestiness of white grapefruit and crunchy pineapple underscored by creamy greek yoghurt. Great acid drive and lingering citrus zest.
Fox Run Vineyards, Blanc de Blancs, Finger Lakes 2017
Made exclusively from estate-grown Chardonnay grapes, this traditional method Blanc de Blancs is very expressive of the depth and concentration achieved in an estate very much focused on ‘viticultural winemaking’. All the vines are dry farmed which seems to translate into the precision and robust backbone of this very classy pour, with an alluring nose of white orchard fruit, toasted almonds and wet stone. Pleasing spiciness and richness on the palate with notes of quince, apple pie and candied lemon zest.
Channing Daughters, Merlot Rosato Pétillant Naturel, North Fork of Long Island 2019
Only 228 cases of this Pet Nat from one of the world’s leading producers of the style. Channing Daughters have an impressive range of natural bubbles and this Merlot iteration is a great example of their style and philosophy – easy drinking, juicy and fruit-driven with just enough texture to be enjoyed with food. There’s ripeness and sweetness to the strawberry jam, stewed apple and ripe strawberry flavours. The fleeting bubbles add a refreshing push.