Posted on | February 24, 2012
Written by | Lenn Thompson
In New York, “Eating Local” isn’t a movement anymore—it’s what’s for dinner. It’s impossible to keep track of how many fine dining restaurants proudly announce the stone’s-throw sources for the seafood, produce and meat they serve. But on the whole, Long Island wines, which are made just 90 miles east of the city—well within the average locavore’s 100-mile limit—have struggled to make a similar impact.
Fortunately, Long Island wines are being poured fruitfully at some of the city’s top restaurants, like Bar Boulud, Blue Smoke, Colicchio & Sons, Craft, Gramercy Tavern, La Bernardin, L’Ecole and Porterhouse.
To them, serving local wine with local food just makes sense. Or as Colichio & Sons’ Thomas Pastuszak, puts it: “With a focus on local ingredients on the menu, I wanted to be sure we represented the same way on the wine list.” Similarly, Juliette Pope, beverage director at Gramercy Tavern says, “Long Island is truly our backyard and deserves some extra consideration for that reason. I feel that all of us—restaurants and wineries—are essentially one community, growing and crafting and serving food and beverage to interested diners and drinkers. Mutual support is important to all of our success and impact.”
Gramercy Tavern has placed local wines on its list since it opened 17 years ago. Pope has seen a change in how customers are reacting to them. “There used to be much more skepticism about Long Island wines, mostly from Californians and from native Long Islanders actually,” she says. “Our guests have come around quite a bit over the last 10 years to be sure. Many ask for Long Island wines at this point.”
What has helped local wines make these inroads? Pouring them by the glass. The same customer who scoffs at the $80 bottle of Long Island Merlot might be willing to try a glass of it for $15. Two of Pope’s current glass pours at Gramercy Tavern are Channing Daughters Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and McCall Wines Merlot. She also regularly pours Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Lieb Family Cellars Blanc de Blancs, Anthony Nappa Wines Anomaly (a white Pinot Noir) and Shinn Estate Vineyards Brut. “Serving them [Long island wines by the glass] and luring drinkers in that way is vital. A glass of delicious local wine is an excellent introduction to what this region has to offer for a minimal pricetag risk for the guest,” Pope explains. That means that buyers needn’t worry as much about local bottles languishing on the list or in the cellar for years without being ordered.
“Many guests who have been drinking wine for years, and have lived in New York City for their entire lives, have never had a chance to try Long Island wines. They are most often shocked at the quality level of the wines, surprised at how fantastic the wines are. It gives me such a rush to be able to taste a guest on a fantastic Long Island wine and have it be their first exposure to the local wine region,” adds Pastuszak, who is currently pouring Lenz Winery 2005 Cuvee and Lieb Family Cellars 2009 Pinot Blanc by the glass.
He’s also quick to point out that pouring Long Island wines by the glass isn’t just about pushing local wines. It’s not charity or a political statement. It speaks to how good the wines can be. “Cool-climate regions like Long Island make extraordinary, food-friendly wines with great acid and tannin levels to complement food.”