The state of wine from other states: Uncork the Forks

Black Ankle Vineyards

Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Md. makes some tasty albariño, according to our Lenn Thompson. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Last week was my 13-year anniversary of writing about wine, both on my blogs and for various print outlets. It’s become a bit of an obsession, but started as nothing more than a hobby, a diversion from my less creatively interesting job in the software industry.

I was, and still am, infatuated with local wine. Back then I felt so lucky to live in a place that had its own emerging wine region with wines that both enticed and excited. I still feel that way. We’re lucky to have a wine region like this one in our backyard — especially now that there is a bit of a shift back to making the best wines possible.

But our situation isn’t as unique as it once was. We’re well into 2017 now and “local wine” scenes have developed in a great many places outside California, Oregon and Washington. There are wineries in every state now, and have been for a while, but now there are some great, quality-focused producers making some insanely delicious wines — from grapes you know and some you don’t — in some unexpected places.

Just look at New York State. We obviously know about the great wines of Long Island. You have probably heard about the similarly great wines being made in the Finger Lakes, particularly from grapes like riesling, pinot noir and cabernet franc. But do you know about the small-but-growing wine industry on the Niagara Escarpment, not far from Buffalo? Wineries like Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, Leonard Oakes Winery, Eveningside Vineyards and Freedom Run Winery are making some terrific, well-priced wines.

Many are pushing pinot noir up there because of the soils and growing season, but I’m just as excited about the cabernet franc and syrah. Oh, and did you know that the Niagara region is the second warmest in the state (after Long Island)?

If you’re really into wine, it’s possible that you know about the industry in Virginia, where grapes like viognier, petit manseng and petite verdot are just as important as more common grapes like chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. But did you know that there is a handful of wineries in Maryland that are worth seeking out? The Old Line State’s wine industry is marked by its experimentation and energy.

Black Ankle Vineyards put Maryland wine on my radar years ago with an albariño, but they have kept my attention with some of the best syrah on the East Coast as well as some great Boreaux-style blends.

A relative newcomer to the Maryland scene, Old Westminster Winery is working with a variety of grapes — from albariño to gruner veltliner, malbec, cabernet franc and beyond — and techniques like orange wines and pet-nats to try to redefine Maryland wine.

With New York, Virginia and even Maryland wineries getting so much attention, it’s easy to see why those leading the way in Pennsylvania wine country might feel slighted. I’ve taken it upon myself to learn more about my home state’s wines and wine industry and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s fascinating. There is a lot of plonk being made, but find the right person growing the right things in the right place and the results can be sublime — which is true of any region, right? Wineries to look for include VaLa Vineyards, Galen Glen Winery, Penns Woods, Pinnacle Ridge and Allegro Winery. Diversity rules Pennsylvania wine. You’ll find everything from classic Bordeaux blends to obscure Italian varieties to University of Minnesota-developed cold-hardy hybrids.

Get out there and explore. It can be hard to get these wines unless you really work at it, but the rewards are many. I love discovering new wines to fall in love with — and if you’re reading this column, you probably do, too.

Lenn Thompson