New York Wines for Thanksgiving

The end of November. Usually a festive time stretching through the holiday season to the new year. As with everything else in 2020, however, this week’s Thanksgiving celebrations look to be smaller and more subdued. Smaller gatherings and smaller meals. Yet, some constants do remain…Laurel and Hardy and The March of the Wooden Soldiers, Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant, and the age-old question: What wine(s) to serve with Thanksgiving dinner? The New York Wine & Grape Foundation offered some insight this week in presenting a light, refreshing, balanced webinar on the subject.

Moderated by Dan Belmont, formerly of Murray’s Cheese in New York and now based in London, England, the panel boasted  a cast from wine regions from all over New York State to give their collective perspectives on what wines could cut through the fatty foods with their balance and acidity, whether a sparkling wine or a Riesling, or a Merlot,  and create a meal to remember. Speakers from the Finger lakes, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island offered their own pairings with their own insight into making the matches memorable.

Dave Patterson (owner, Swedish Hill Winery) said he starts the meal with a sparkling wine, but first gave some insight into how to set the wine menu.  “Thanksgiving.” He said, “is about this amazing range of flavors.” He noted that a lot of New York wines fit the profile for that very well due to their natural acidity, which matches well with the types of foods being served. He said Swedish Hill has been producing sparkling wines since 1991. He presented their Blanc de Blanc, which features 85 percent Cayuga White (a grape developed by Cornell University) and 15 percent Riesling, and gave a nod to Proseco for opening up peoples’ minds to what to expect from sparkling wine, noting that it is a versatile wine and that” people should think of sparkling wines for more than they do.”


Ryan Bossert (owner, Chateau Lafayette Reneau) talked about their best-selling wine, Seyval Chardonnay, as a perfect starter for a holiday meal. He said it is the only hybrid-vinifera blend they produce at CLR, which was founded in 1985 and the southeast side of Seneca Lake. He described the wine as having notes of apple and one that allows the shale (minerality) of the Finger Lakes to show through. Coupled with a touch of residual sugar he noted that Seyval-Chardonnay is “a nice starter for your Thanksgiving feast” as it is “very approachable” with nice acidity.

Julia Hoyle (winemaker, Hosmer Estate Winery) brought the conversation to a signature grape in the Finger Lakes, Riesling. The 2017 Single Wheel Riesling, she said, is their version of a single-vineyard wine, made from a single block of Riesling (clone 90) on their farm. She said the Hosmer property goes back to the 1970s. They started out with hybrid grapes, and became a winery in 1985. This Single Wheel Riesling, she said, is very expressive when young, but also has good longevity. Dan came in to note that Riesling is the flagship white in the Finger Lakes, adding that the more he said he has compared them with other styles produced elsewhere, the more they stand out. “It is such a versatile grape depending on what style you’re going for,” he said, and asked Julia about different Riesling styles. She said the late harvest would go well at the end of a meal with cheese, whereas the dry would fit in anywhere, and the sweeter with its touch of residual sugar “goes great with turkey skin.”

The Hudson Valley and the roots of winemaking in New York State took center stage during a discussion with Nic Bozzo (owner/winemaker, Nastrano Vineyards). Nic started by discussing his 2019 Pinot Noir, which he pairs on Thanksgiving with deep fried prime rib, came from his Pinot Noir block, and which had a split production with their Pinot Noir Rosé (now sold out). He described the difficulty growing Pinot Noir, calling it the hardest grape to grow in the Hudson Valley as it is very temperamental, and describing working with it as a love-hate relationship. He backed up to note that he is the fourth generation on their small, family started vineyard that was begun in 1948 with mostly concords and Niagaras. Nic went to school in Syracuse, where he said he discovered Nostrano’s other big-selling varietal, Riesling, in the Finger Lakes. His goal is to go back to more conventional grapes, such as Catawba, Baco Noir, Chelios, Gamay, to get back to the basics of New York grapes. His hope is to “regenerate forgotten grapes of the Hudson Valley.”


Dan joined the discussion with Nic to note that there is a “really cool history in the Hudson Valley.” He added that “New York has the benefit of not being a place that just has one variety,” adding that New York State cannot be put in one box, and that winemakers can take real advantage of that.

Lynne Fahy (winemaker, Keuka Spring Vineyards) brought the discussion back to the Finger Lakes with a look at the region’s signature red, Cabernet Franc, and Keuka Spring’s 2019 release. Lynne, who came to Keuka Spring in the spring after a previous stint at Anthony Road Wine Company and others on the West Coast, said of the 10 acres planted on their property, 1 acre is Cab Franc. Other grapes are sourced from the southeast side of Seneca Lake. She said that Cab Franc sits in the midrange and tends to be more forgiving year to year, whereas Cab Sauvignon can be more variable. The 2019 season, she said, started and ended cool, but was a good year for reds. Cab Franc, she added, is one of the most versatile reds for food with supple tannins and bright acidity. Keuka Spring, she said, has a long history of not using oak barrels, so there is no oak on this Cab Franc. She said the wine has “the ability to have green flavors without being under ripe,” and described it as refreshing, light, lively and with good expression that drinks well, should develop over time, and hit its sweet spot in 5 years.


Jerol Bailey (director of sales, The Lenz Winery) brought the topic to Long Island’s North Fork, where The Lenz Winery is celebrating its 42d harvest. He focused on the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon under discussion, noting that 2014 was a moderate, dry year that produced “the biggest harvest we’ve seen on Long Island’” He said this wine “gets a good nose of Thanksgiving harvest.” The wine, made by their former (now retired) winemaker Eric Fry, aged about 25 percent on new oak as “you never want to have too oaky a wine.” Jerol noted that this wine will open up well over time once uncorked and has a nice acidity, saying “it craves a nice dinner.”

Jerol talked as well about the Long Island wine region, which is surrounded by water and has a maritime climate, which sets it apart from other regions. It is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and has a loamy soil that is great for growing grapes. Cab Sauv, he added, has about 13 percent alcohol, is really drinkable, and shows off the fruit-forward wines of the region. Long Island, he said, has settled into its own identity with a lot of new varietals. There is lots of excitement in the community here,” he concluded.

Dan wrapped the discussion by circling back to the variety of New York State wines. New York State has a food and communal table that can rival Thanksgiving. He spoke about other good grapes not discussed, with a nod to Gewürztraminer, Lemberger (which he said is nipping at the heels of Cab Franc as a signature Finger Lakes red), Rosé, Gruner Vetliner, and Grenache (“find one that’s balanced and they could be heaven”) as well as New York ciders and Excelsior Rye Whiskey. Jerol added that Pet Nats would also be a great addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Dave added that he sees the next big Finger Lakes grape coming in Zweigelt, which they have for their first vintage this year and which is another Austrian grape relative to Lemberger.


For the holiday, Dan said noting the diversity of flavors, “crack open a bottle of New York State wine…it’ll never taste better,” concluding, “we’re really lucky…we got it all.”

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