Posted on August 23, 2012
We are approaching the end of summer and the beginning of fall. However, this is the season to get out of the city and go on a wine tour. Of course, we all are quite familiar with Napa Valley and the famous wine regions of California. Many NYC wine lovers have already stretched their legs in those world famous vineyards. But there are wine regions in driving distance of NYC that also offer fantastic wine tour opportunities. You do not need to plan far in advance, just rent a car and hit the road with your friends for some lovely wine. All you have to do is arrange for someone to drive, who is 100% sober (you should be able to find reasonably priced car services in all these regions), and a place to stay. It is the perfect setup for a weekend (3 or 4 days is best depending on how far) to remember.
Below you will find our favorite road trip wine regions, some which a little more than a heartbeat from the city, relatively speaking. Other regions, such as Virginia’s Monticello, involve some serious (sober) driving, but these regions have attractions in addition to fine wine. Here is our top 5 and feel free to comment below:
For those who live in NYC, it isn’t even a road trip to the vineyards of Long Island. If you spend a couple hours on the Long Island Rail Road, you and your friends can have a pleasant day or two hopping around the vineyards at the northern tip of Long Island in Suffolk County. While there are vineyards in the Hamptons in the South Fork, they are not nearly as many and as big.
Long Island wine is a relatively recent phenomenon, but its reputation is growing fast. Numerous vineyards can be found in the right wine shops in NYC. Most of the more celebrated vineyards start at Riverhead and stretch out to Greenport on the North Fork. There are several agencies that offer Long Island wine tours. Many of the tasting rooms have parties on Friday nights, but it is good to call ahead so you make it as enjoyable a time possible.
Long Island vineyards excel at making dry white wines whether Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Pinot Grigio. Although they come in a wide range of whites, Long Island wine whites are known for being crisp and pleasantly acidic. Almost as good is Long Island’s Merlot or Merlot based blends which are frequently described as rich smooth wines.
New York has a very old wine history; Huguenots immigrants planted vineyards 300 years ago. Upstate New York, however, has been assumed to be limited to only coarse, hardy grapes native to North America, like Concord. That is not true, and the Hudson Valley has done a lot to disprove that. You will encounter a lot of the European grapes that have become household names, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
For those with some familiarity with Hudson Valley wine, the premier name is Millbrook Vineyards, so in your wine tour do not miss stopping there. Their reasonably priced wines are reason enough to take the 1.5 hour drive up to Dutchess County. In general, you will find exceptional value, even more than the Finger Lakes and Long Island. If you go at the right time in autumn, you will see the splendor of the leaves changing color or you may even have the chance to do some apple picking too.
NY Times Travel Feature on Hudson Valley Wine
Wine from the Finger Lakes has always had one of the best reputations among Eastern Wine regions, if not the best. The Finger Lakes has a long history and was a wine mecca in the 19th century but has to play catch up because of how much the Prohibition and NY State rules hurt the industry. But now with hybrid and rootstock innovations it may produce some wines that someday go toe to toe with Californian wines.
Half of the wine tours in New York State happen in the Finger Lakes, even though there are bigger population concentrations downstate. It is not a killer drive however for Big Apple people, clocking in at 4 hours one way. The 100 vineyards are somewhat widely dispersed amongst the main Finger Lakes (Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga), which are much bigger (and harder to get around) than any lake in Central Park. Each lake has a wine trail that plots out the vineyards which are normally on the banks of the lakes.
Riesling is the most acclaimed wine to be produced around the Finger Lakes, drawing comparisons to the Rhine Valley in Germany. The lakes moderate the bitter upstate New York winters, holding off frost long enough to harvest. The red wines are slowly catching up and all eyes (or tongues/noses) are on a signature Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, and the taming of Pinot Noir.
Not far from Niagara Falls and Buffalo, there is a major wine region on the Canadian side of the border. It is world famous for ice wine, a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that stay on the vine after the first frost. Canada’s ice wines has won international awards, the first being Inniskillin, a vineyard right over the border.
The Niagara region is Canada’s first and biggest wine region. Its climate shares similarities with Burgundy France, creating the highly concentrated fruit of a colder climate. Still, Lake Ontario moderates the climate enough to produce reliably great wine.
Besides, the ice wine mentioned above, you will also find incredible varietals based on chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir and cabernet-franc. Bring your passport, get a place to stay (perhaps a small bed & breakfast) and enjoy a long Canadian weekend. O and go to Niagara Falls if you have not already.
Official Site of Niagara Wine Region
Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s famous residence in Central Virginia. It also happens to be the region in the central East Coast with the best wine. The first vineyards around Monticello were actually funded by Jefferson before the Revolutionary War. The surroundings are beautiful and you should enjoy the history along with the wine.
The grapes grown around Monticello are normally not the classic European grapes but Cabernet Franc, Verdot and Viognier. Monticello however has brought the best out of these wines and it is not exclusively 2nd tier grapes, as it includes Chardonnay amongst others.
Be forewarned, this is a long drive and can be as much as 8 hours with traffic. So plan on spending the night and do not attempt driving without being rested and 100% alert (that is a general rule for all driving). If it is desirable, fly down to Virginia, but whatever you do be safe and plan ahead, setting up accommodations and car service.
Remember be safe, enjoy the wine and have a lovely trip.
All Photos Creative Commons From Flickr