“If we want to change wine culture, we need to show customers how to have wine with soup or a ham sandwich,” said Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards, overlooking Seneca Lake. It was an unusual claim, but perhaps not a surprising one, considering the winery’s well-stocked cafe located adjacent to its handsome lakeside tasting room. I asked Osborn which wine he’d pair with a ham sandwich. “Riesling,” he replied. How fitting. After all, the Finger Lakes Region is recognized as one of the premier Riesling terroirs in the world. I’ve been craving a ham sandwich-Riesling combo ever since.
With 125 vineyards spread along eleven linear lakes, the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York comfortably fills the role of Napa Valley’s east coast sibling with a gift for producing winning, acidic whites—with the added bonus that you can reach these grapes by a bio-diesel-fueled bus. With its naturally striking glacier-carved landscape, the Finger Lakes cater to city-dwellers seeking a generous pour and a weekend getaway from the urban melee just five hours outside of New York City.
Whether you’re seeking a romantic retreat complete with Jacuzzi or affordable inns for simple shut-eye, the Finger Lakes region offers a host of accommodations—from quaint historic bed and breakfasts like Aurora Inn (from $250) on Lake Cayuga to the more regal Belhurst Castle & Winery on Seneca Lake—to meet your needs.
Fortunately, you can sleep like a king without the deluxe price tags during the fall-to-winter months. With that gem of knowledge in mind, we set our sights on Geneva on the Lake (from $174) where the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton have stayed. In the evening, complimentary wine and cheese tastings whet the palate for dinner by candlelight at the Lancellotti Dining Room. If the piano man doesn’t win your date’s heart with his rendition of Sous le Ciel de Paris (“Under the Skies of Paris”) then the breaded, deliciously tender rack-of-lamb surely will. Seal the deal with Crêpes Suzette for dessert. You can always hike or bike off surplus calories along placid Seneca Lake tomorrow. In addition to activities like croquet, bocce, sailing, paddle boating, kayaking, golf, tennis, and ice skating, bikes are available to guests. For those interested in a guided bike tour of the Finger Lakes, consider the Highlander Cycle Tour this September 6-7.
To travel from Geneva bus terminal to Geneva on the Lake, ask the concierge for pick-up service in advance. The inn is located a few minutes drive from the station. Check out the upcoming Finger Lakes Restaurant Week on October 23-November 3, 2013 and consider visiting neighboring wineries over the weekend by booking a chauffeured tour with the option to design your own itinerary through a known agency, such as Finger Lakes Winery Tours. Packages are $399 per couple and include transportation, tastings at five to seven wineries plus a champagne house, a complimentary bottle of champagne, two wine glasses, and a gift certificate for dinner. If you’re arriving on your own, expect to pay $2-$5 for a wine tasting.
How to get there: The Shortline Bus and Greyhound offer daily scheduled service to Ithaca and Geneva. The journey may take five to six hours from New York Penn Station. Buses stop at Ithaca town center where a variety of accommodations are available. To reach Geneva on the Lake, arrange to be picked up from Geneva bus station for the short ride to the resort.
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Finger Lakes and Aurora Inn