I just returned from a relaxing, low-key culinary vacation touring the Finger Lakes’ country of western New York State. It’s a great place to take a break from urban hustle and bustle, yet still have easy access to interesting wines, and occasionally, interesting food.
The scenery is remarkably varied—from colorful harbors, expanses of water, and beautiful rolling farmland to vineyards, quaint towns the locals call “villages,” and a spectacular deep, rugged gorge in Watkins Glen. The set of ten vaguely finger-shaped lakes are not only the dominant geographical feature in the region, but the north-south routes up and down their lengths form the easy to explore wine trails and are perfect backdrop for numerous picturesque inns, restaurants, and historic “gingerbread-style” homes.
Almost all the lakes boast a vineyard or two, and the three largest, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga, are home to dozens. (The Finger Lakes wineries number over a hundred.) Though usually much smaller and humbler than those in more famous, more chic Napa Valley, most wineries have public tasting rooms and knowledgeable, friendly staffs, and there are many more tasting opportunities than can possibly be explored in even several months. Perhaps because the wine region spreads across a fairly large area, the traffic was relatively light and driving hassle-free.
The signature grape in the region is the Riesling (all the viniferous vines are grafted onto hardier native American grape stock), and for white wine fans, there are numerous fine selections to try. Good reds are harder to find, though about half of the two cases we came home with were in fact reds (including an appealing Dr. Konstantin Frank 2006 Cabernet and 2007 Lemburger, and a Ravines Wine Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir).
Great dining experiences also seemed hard to come by, although there were plenty of places that served a satisfactory, if not memorable, meal. Our dinner at the petal pink Pleasant Valley Inn outside Hammondsport was enjoyable; the one at the grandly appointed Esperana Mansion near Penn-Yan was not. Stop there for a glass of wine, the ambience, and the gorgeous view of Keuka Lake (shown at the very top left), but, trust me, skip the food!
I’ll be posting some more pics and some specific not-to-be-missed points of interest shortly, so check back again soon.
In response to my observation that finding good restaurants in the area is difficult, a Finger Lake food pro I know sent along the following suggestions: Suzanne's and Stone Cat Restaurants on Senaca Lake. Cayuga Lake--Aurora Inn and Boat Yard (Ithaca). Keuka Lake--Snug Harbor, Italian Bistro (Hammondsport). Skaneateles Lake--Rosalie's Cucina (Phil Romano, founder) and Mirabeau. Thanks for the tips, Pat. I will try some of these spots on my next trip.