Category Archives: Temperature

Spare Parts Needed: Wine in the Finger Lakes

I step off the flatbed of the vineyard truck and on to the soil I have come to explore. As I brush straw from my pant leg, winemakers and viticulturists John and Mark Wagner, Cameron and Tim Hosmer,  and Tom Macinski guide my group of wine writers through one of Wagner’s estate riesling vineyards. This is boutique wine country. Soils and climates vary too drastically from acre to acre to plant more than 3 acres here, and 5 acres there. A rare site lies ahead of us; 30 acres planted on one slope. The vineyard sits on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. At over 600 feet deep, Seneca serves as a cooler during the summer and a heater come winter. -10°F can kill vines, and therefore Seneca provides insurance. During a recent winter, Wagner Vineyards maintained a steady -6°F while neighboring vineyards on adjacent lakes witnessed -12°F and worse, killing many vines to the ground. As a consequence of location and dutiful viticulture practices, Wagner Vineyards owns 250 acres of vines, many of them 20 to 30 years old, making them a powerhouse in the still fledgling Finger Lakes region. I stand on hallowed ground.

John Wagner steps forward and introduces us to “spare parts viticulture,” a necessity in the Finger Lakes. Most vines here have two or three trunks splitting from the root stock, an anomaly in most of the New World. A single trunk is the norm. Here the excess acts as a back up. One trunk may freeze and die, but the other can, if lucky, survive. Between the extreme cold and bedazzling array of soil types (the site specific, color-coded maps may induce a seizure), the Finger Lakes AVA proves a challenging “friend.”

John Wagner, owner of Wagner Vineyards, discussing “spare parts viticulture.”


Seneca and Cayuga lakes remain unfrozen in the midst of a deep cold snap in 2014, evidence of the warming effect they provide the vineyards hugging their shores. (Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)

While the Finger Lakes has garnered world-wide attention for 20+ years, the local industry still maintains some youthful awkwardness. The tension between vinifera, hybrids, and native grape varietals* exemplify the point. Those seeking to lift the Finger Lakes global reputation prefer to rip out native and hybrid varietals and replant vinifera, particularly riesling and cabernet franc. The majority of the 100+ wineries in the region have not reached a global audience and produce low volumes of wine. Within the local market, however, wineries have little problem selling hybrid and native varietal wines. The tension is palpable. The debate, like most, presents itself as a duality, perhaps unnecessarily so. Both worlds can exist—world-class vinifera and localized hybrid and native distribution. The global market will only see vinifera coming from the Finger Lakes.

For those seeking to peruse Finger Lakes wines, take advantage of the  2008, 2012, and 2014 vintages, which all resulted in excellent wines. Stick with riesling and cabernet franc to begin. As I tasted my way through wine after wine, producer after producer, the price point on many excellent bottles caught my attention. Most wines fall between $17–$26 range, a great value if you seek small to medium-sized producers working honestly with their wines.

Dinner amongst the vines at Wagner Vineyards hosted for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference

Recommended producers:

Thank you sponsors for the privilege of exploring the Finger Lakes wine region during the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference. The Finger Lakes can hold its head high.

*Vinifera grapes are recognizable worldwide and originate in Europe. Native grapes, think concord, existed in the United States before European settlers arrived. Hybrids have been created more recently to carry traits from both vinifera and native varietals. Ideally, hybrids exhibit the aromas and flavors of vinifera, but maintain the cold-hardiness of native varietals so that winemakers need not worry about winter kill. Most serious producers acknowledge that hybrids produce inferior wine.

The Essentials

Some call these details. Anybody passionate about wine disagrees. If you ever buy and drink a bottle over $10, take note. You should read on even if you exclusively drink Two Buck Chuck.

Wine storage, wine glasses, and serving temperature–the holy trinity of wine stewardship in the home. Let us begin the obligatory post of every caring wine writer to have walked this planet.

Repurposed wine bottle: olive oil with tap

Wine Storage

Wine has two core enemies–heat and light. Wine should ideally be stored at 55 degrees fahrenheit, and with a consistent humidity level of around 50-80%. Ignore the humidity ideals, however, unless you live in a desert or jungle, or you plan to store wine for 10+ years. The humidity won’t affect the wine most of us store away, because most of us drink our wine relatively young and live in moderate enough climates. As for temperature, attempt to keep your wine in a stable environment. 65 degrees year-round will serve you better than 45-70 degrees depending upon the season. The obvious answer is to store wine in your basement.

Common questions or concerns about storage:

  • Don’t have a basement? Store it in the corner of a dark, interior closet. 
  • But I like to decorate my kitchen with bottles! Me too. Decorate them with empty bottles once you have drunk the wine. Save your favorite bottles, once consumed, and display them on your hanging rack. They look great in the sunlight that would otherwise be harming your filled bottles. I enjoy reusing bottles as oil and vinegar dispensers, which I leave on my counter for ease of access (any cook will appreciate this). 

Finally, don’t let your purchase go to waste by neglecting it for too long. I have witnessed many people leave a bottle unopened for 10 years when it should have been consumed 8 years prior. Most wines purchased under $20 are meant to be consumed within 1-2 years. Do your duty.

Large, swirlable stemware

Wine Glasses

Own decent stemware. My personal recommendation is to haunt the Goodwill stores near you and scoop up the Riedel glasses as you find them. I found the Riedel pinot noir glass, pictured right, for 99 cents at Goodwill. The MSRP–$20.

Stemware matters because it allows you to swirl and smell without fear of spilling, because good stemware typically has a large bowl shape which tapers toward the rim. The swirling releases aromatic compounds through aeration. We taste wine primarily through our sense of smell, both when we smell the wine (after swirling), and when we drink the wine.

Hold your glass by the stem. Your hand is a balmy 98 degrees, and the stem keeps that heat away from the wine (read about serving temperature below). For this reason, avoid using stemless glasses unless you use them for large parties in which you will serve mass market, value wines.

Don’t let the marketers fool you. You simply do not need different glasses for different wines. I personally use the glass pictured right for both whites and reds. While a specific glass for each wine may enhance a specific wine’s characteristics minutely, a nice bowl-shaped glass will serve you very well for all wines.

Serving Temperature

Most folks serve wine too warm, both white and red. This includes a significant number of restaurants. Unfortunately, respected boutique and high-end restaurants don’t always fare better here, though they theoretically should. Why does temperature matter? Temperature affects what we smell and taste. Serve a big, high alcohol syrah too warm and it will overwhelm you with sharp alcohol aromas, which will greatly reduce your enjoyment of the other positive attributes. Serve a riesling too warm and the uplifting acidity and fresh fruit aromas will fall flat.

Whites should generally be served between 45-55 degrees, though the bigger and bolder whites (think California Chardonnay) can be served warmer. How do you achieve this? For reds, 10-20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving will do nicely, though a proper cellar (basement) will keep it at a wonderful temperature for serving. For whites, I prefer using an ice water bath to chill them for 5-15 minutes, though a refrigerator will do the job if you think ahead.

These are the details that shouldn’t be details. Take care of these three essentials in your home, and your enjoyment of this pleasure inducing elixir will most certainly benefit. Cheers!