Local wine people — both inside and out of the industry proper — have long lamented how few local restaurants support and offer local wine. Short of visiting every restaurant and asking to see their wine lists, it is hard to know precisely who is listing local wine and how much of it. Visiting restaurant websites — many of which aren’t updated very often, rendering them largely useless — does offer some insight, though.
The results are still ugly, though there are some exceptions — restaurants doing good things with local wine. Some restaurants, like Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, even have an all-local list.
Maybe a future column will focus on some of the best local wine lists. Today, I’d like to share the experience I had in Manhattan over the weekend that makes Long Island restaurants that ignore local wine look even worse.
I bought my wife tickets to the opera for Christmas, but picked a performance in late April near my birthday so I could justify some great eating and drinking before and after.
Most wine lists out here — with local wines or not — are pretty awful, so when I’m in the city, where lists are carefully compiled with unique, interesting wines, I take advantage. But I still notice the local wines on the list, and I came away impressed with what I found at both CraftBar, where we had a couple drinks before dinner, and Gramercy Tavern.
One key reason I hear given for local wines not appearing on Long Island restaurant lists is that they are too expensive. It’s not true, and I know that it’s not true because I’ve done a little restaurant buying over the years. Even with a tight budget and price-point constraints, I was able to find delicious local wines that worked financially for the restaurants. Regardless, the New York wines — from Long Island, the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley — at these two great restaurants were among the more affordable options.
I think the problem with price is that too many restaurants gouge their customers by selling bottom-shelf pinot grigio, chardonnay and merlot for $9 to $12 a glass — as many Long Island restaurants do — and aren’t willing to make a dollar or two less per glass to offer better, locally made wine.
The other main reason I hear for not listing local wines is that they “aren’t good enough.” This is a lazy and ignorant comment. If you don’t think local wine is good enough, you’re just wrong. Not every local wine is great, or even good, but the same is true of every region in the world. Lazy bias isn’t an excuse.
Frankly, if Juliette Pope, one of the most respected beverage directors at one of the top restaurants (Gramercy Tavern) can devote 20 spots on her amazing list to New York wine, including three by the glass, you can’t play the quality card. At least not if you want to be taken seriously.
My wife and I splurged on the tasting menu with wine pairings, and two of the six courses were paired with New York wines. We started with Empire Estate 2014 Dry Riesling (from the Finger Lakes) and ended with a glass of Paumanok Vineyards Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, which paired perfectly with an apple-carob dessert with hickory ice cream. In between, we drank wines from Italy, Turkey, France, Austria, Spain and California.
Pope is as respected as she is not because she champions one region or another, but because she seeks out delicious wines that pair with chef Michael Anthony’s food best. It takes time to build a list like this — a lot of it. She doesn’t base her opinion of a region on a wine or two or even a winery or two. She tastes, tastes and tastes some more.
Locals should take a lesson. There are terrific, budget-friendly wines being made here. You only need an open mind and a little energy to find them.