From New York’s Finger Lakes to Michigan’s Traverse City, lesser-known wine regions around the U.S. are gaining prominence.
Just as locally sourced foods entice diners, so do wines crafted from grapes with regional roots. While Napa Valley and Sonoma County are widely recognized as premier wine regions—and, in recent years, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s Columbia Valley have gained prominence as well—restaurants are increasingly sourcing from regions that are less familiar to the masses.
At the forefront are wine directors, sommeliers, and restaurant owners who have the power to promote offerings from up-and-coming regions that are experiencing a renaissance.
“The quality of New York wines has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, which makes our jobs easier,” says Juliette Pope, beverage director at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern. “Five to 10 years ago, New Yorkers would look down on New York wines. Many would scoff. People are now keenly interested in eating and drinking local.”
Gramercy Tavern features a sampling of New York wines on the menu, usually a sparkling selection plus a red and white wine, mostly from the Finger Lakes region and offered by the glass. Pricing them low can attract skeptical customers.
“I wouldn’t put a $20-by-the-glass New York Cab on the list,” Pope says. “The wines get a fairer shot if they’re moderately priced.” Pope credits strong relationships with regional wineries for the selection she offers at Gramercy Tavern.
Another restaurant championing New York wines is Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs, New York, where the menu features Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine. “We’re fortunate that the local wineries are very outgoing,” says Eric Ploof, general manager. “They want to do business in restaurants. New York is known for its Rieslings but producers are doing a great job with Cabernet Franc, too.”
In November, Boca Bistro hosted a wine dinner that paired wines from four New York wineries with an autumn-themed dish. “In this dinner, we didn’t even do Riesling,” says Ploof, referring to the state’s most famous grape, despite the abundance of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Gris. Saratoga Winery’s Cabernet Franc and Glenora Wine Cellars’ Brut are among his favorites, as is Thirsty Owl Wine Company’s Pinot Gris, “a great value-driven wine that’s very tasty,” he says.
“We like to find those gems that aren’t on shelves at wine stores and are affordable. In New York, someone doesn’t want to pay $75 if they’re not sure [it will be good], unlike a Napa wine,” Ploof says.