New York State of Wine

by Jeff Harding
Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Bedell Cellars
March 2013

With the locavore movement in full swing and sommeliers across New York City exalting local vintages, the time is ripe for New York wines. But as the Empire State's best vintages struggle to find their place on menus (and in consumers' awareness), it's hard to understand why New York City isn't following its traditions of supporting local agriculture and vintners as it does with greenmarkets and CSAs—and basically all of artisan-driven Brooklyn.

In this "Golden Age" of wine, where New Yorkers have more variety than almost anywhere in the world, New York State wines are far too often overlooked. Luckily, many of the city's somms love the local juice—even if it's not an easy sell. StarChefs.com New York Rising Star Sommelier Thomas Pastuszak is one of the strongest advocates of Finger Lakes wines, carrying more than 30 "FLX" Rieslings on his list at The NoMad.

Pastuszak spent eight years in the region while studying at Cornell, working in hospitality, and learning about the area's wines along the way. "It's a young region, and not all [its] wine is the greatest, but certain wines are of the highest caliber," says Pastuszak. By supporting the best of the region on his wine list, he is promoting the area and also taking the opportunity to encourage producers to "step up their game." Only by consistently producing top quality wines will the region gain renown. Although it may still be a long road.

Bedell Cellars, Long Island
Bedell Cellars, Long Island

Long Island has produced wine since the 70s, when such pioneers as Louisa and Alex Hargrave and Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards, replaced potato fields with vineyards. Wölffer Estate made a big splash in 2002 when winemaker Roman Roth sold the first Long Island Merlot priced over $100.

But it's still a hard sell with global competition. "More people than ever are seeking out Long Island wines," says Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars. "I think the better question is why are restaurants that market themselves as sustainable and locavore are less than willing to carry that philosophy into their wine list?"

Brooklyn is playing its part in the wine game as well. Using local and imported fruit, Conor McCormack is making exceptional wine right in the heart of Williamsburg at Brooklyn Winery. Alie Shaper is crafting a wide variety of delicious wines, pressing and fermenting in various New York facilities but selling in her tasting room/bar Brooklyn Oenology. Hurricane Sandy took its toll on Red Hook Winery, but it's back open and one of the city's favorites. In fact, Brooklyn wine lists are embracing local wine to a far greater extent than Manhattan but with the #DrinkLocal champions we've canvassed below, we expect the Big Apple to catch up soon.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Rachel Dreskin, wine director at Home Restaurant – New York, NY
95 percent of my list
is from New York State, split between the North Fork of Long Island and the Finger Lakes regions. FLX is making world class aromatic whites, and one of my favorites is Ravines Riesling ($14 retail), which we serve by the glass. It's affordable and food friendly. From Long Island, I'm a big fan of Shinn Estate (former owners of Home Restaurant) because they're setting the standard for environmentally conscientious winemaking. I love the connection with the restaurant, but they also make great wine; one of my favorites is the Wild Boar Doe ($22), a full-bodied and complex Bordeaux blend that would surprise people as coming from New York.

Rick Hickman, beverage director at The Green Table: The Cleaver Company – New York, NY
Fox Run's Lemberger ($16) is one of my staff's favorites and Macari Vineyards' Colina Merlot ($14) is an easy and bright merlot that we use in the summer for catering—it's great for picnics. Macari makes some great dessert wines, too.

Shinn Estate's Coalescence ($12) is another great wine for summer—on its own or with lightly spiced seafood. I also like their Merlot, a great example of how a Merlot can have bright acidity and round fruit, without being over the top.

Paumanok Vineyard's Chenin Blanc ($25) is one of the best in the country: racy and crisp, with nice notes of grapefruit and summer fruit. I serve both Paumanok Cabernet Franc ($22) and their Barrel-fermented Chardonnay ($21) on tap.

Emilie Perrier, sommelier at Ai Fiori – New York, NY
I like to support Long Island, specifically Macari, Channing Daughters, and Paumanok, but the Sauvignon Blanc ($19) from Macari is probably my favorite. I love the people who work there!

Michael Mikowicz, client relations manager at Domaine Select Wine Estates – New York, NY
I have been visiting the Finger Lakes once or twice a year for the past eight years. Dr. Frank is one of the best winemakers, whose wines run the gamut, and they plant a lot of fun things, Rkatsiteli, Gruner Veltliner, etc. And the sparklers are starting to get really good. They opened up a separate sparkling facility in the past few years and quality is going up.

Hermann J. Weimer is of course, one of the masters! Probably best overall, whites to reds and sparklers to desserts. Fred Merwarth took charge of winemaking in 2003 and is taking this winery to the top. And Bloomer Creek, is making top notch Rieslings from the east side of Seneca Lake.

Jeff Taylor, head sommelier at Eleven Madison Park – New York, NY
About a year ago, EMP debuted a page on the wine list called the I LOVE NY page. We started with about ten different bottles that we thought highlighted quality wines and winemaking in New York State. The page has proved very popular with our European guests that wish to drink something from the United States.

I believe Kelly Urbanik and her team at Macari are making some of the best red wines in New York State. What I admire about the Macari wines is that they release them when they are ready and not before. The 2005 Merlot Reserve ($35) was the first of their wines on the list at EMP, and it proved very successful. It was a happy discovery to taste a bottle with some age on it that was well balanced with plum, red berry, and baking spices; at the same time, it was starting to show some earthy secondary notes of leather, dark chocolate, sweet herbs, and tobacco.

We're big fans of winemaker Christopher Tracy at Channing Daughters Winery. He has a great sense of adventure and makes a crazy amount of different wines. However, I always look forward to his rosés when they come out, as he does an amazing job with them—keeping them dry and refreshing but allowing the grape to still shine. One of my favorites is the Rosato di Cabernet Franc ($19) from his Mudd West Vineyard. This is an ideal spring into summer wine that works well with our tasting menu as it is light and refreshing, but still has those red fruit tones of Cabernet Franc that work well with meat courses.

We also have the 2011 Hermann J. Wiemer, Magdalena Vineyard Dry Riesling ($30) on our list. I think this is one of the best examples of Finger Lakes Riesling out there. It comes from a warmer area, just north of Seneca Lake. It has this beautiful purity of fruit on the nose, citrus and green apples that translate well to the palate. This is a great wine for us to showcase Finger Lakes Rieslings to our guests. Furthermore, Rieslings in general work so well with Daniel Humm's food, that it's a no-brainer to start with one.

Lara Lowenhar, assistant beverage director at L'Apicio – New York, NY
Of course the Long Island wines we have are some of my favorites. I love Paumanok, Shinn, McCall, Bedell and Channing Daughters. Some of them are a hard sell to my guests. The "buy local" trend has certainly not made it to the wine scene. But, I am finding that once my guests have these local wines they love them, and I give vineyard information to them so they can go to the vineyards for tastings and make purchases for their own collections.

It is definitely not the quickest way to make people see that there is delicious juice so close by, but the reaction of pleasant surprise is good enough for me.

Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes
Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes

Dan Lathroum, wine director at Custom American Winebar – Brooklyn, NY
Two wines we pour come to mind immediately. Macari Vineyards 2010 Rosé (a Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend) was a big hit from the moment we started pouring it. It has a luscious strawberry-jam on the nose but ends with a clean dry finish. A lighter weight than one would anticipate from two full-bodied grapes. Several guests have referred to it as "summertime in a glass." It's very easy drinking!

The other is Red Newt Cellars 2010 Circle Riesling from the Finger Lakes. This off-dry beauty has notes of kiwi and ripe green apple. The sweetness in the front palate is in no way a sugar bomb, but instead settles into a refreshing, tropical finish. This wine will stand toe-to-toe with some of the best off-dry wines of Alsace at this price point. A favorite among many of our guests, it's perfect for a hot summer day.

Jeff Jenssen, co-author, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere
I have so many favorite New York State wines. I love the Rieslings from [the] Finger Lakes area, and the Chardonnays and lighter wines from Long Island (Wölffer makes a great Chardonnay). But I have to say my favorites are the indigenous varieties like Chelois and Baco Noir coming from Hudson-Chatham Winery in the Hudson Valley.

Jim Clarke, wine director at Armani Ristorante – New York, NY
We have a number of New York State wines on the list—about a dozen at the moment. Since our program is very much Italian focused, I try to start with archetypical wines when I select wines for the list from other areas. For the Finger Lakes, that means dry Riesling. I have three right now: the 2009 Anthony Road Art Label Riesling ($26), which is the most powerful of the three, with an intense minerality and spice; Keuka Lake's Evergreen Lek 2011 Riesling ($17), which is light and delicate; and the 2009 Tierce Riesling ($32), a collaboration between the winemakers of Anthony Road, Fox Run, and Red Newt, which has some of the Anthony Road's intensity but more fruit—citrus and stone fruit in particular.

We also have two white blends from Channing Daughters on Long Island, the 2008 Clones($30) and the 2009 Envelope($40), which suit us as they're reminiscent of Friulian white blends in their varietal compositions and winemaking approach.

Cynthia Tom, wine team leader and buyer for Upper West Side Whole Foods Market Wine Store – New York, NY
New York wine is definitely moving along, and people are becoming more aware of what is now available. The trend is moving upward as wine growers are becoming more experienced. In general, they sell pretty well, and customers are always looking for something different and appealing. I have noticed a big increase in Riesling, a big increase in Gruner Veltliner, and a steady interest in Cabernet Franc.

Wine in its diversity is always evolving. First, consumers had doubts about California wine in comparison to European Old World wines. Now, rightly so, consumers have doubts of any wines outside of California, the New York-New Jersey region being included. That being said, I believe the region has some work to do in order to compete with other regions, but they have come a long way and have been able to produce a number of fantastic awarded winning wines … some of which are worthy of being recognized.