Posted on | February 1, 2014
Written by | Lenn Thompson
With sparklers gaining in popularity, New York wineries are right in the mix.
One characteristic defines every corner of New York wine country: cool climate. Marginal, chilly growing conditions enable the Finger Lakes to grow precise, vivacious Rieslings and Long Island to make complex Bordeaux blends with moderate alcohol and a certain freshness.
Of course, New York wine is so much more than Finger Lakes Riesling and Merlot-based reds from Long Island, and New York tastemakers are coming around to one under-appreciated category: local sparkling wine.
Many wineries can’t afford the cash flow bottleneck created when hundreds of cases worth of base wine rests en tirage for years (typically three to six) before being disgorged and released. That limits the overall potential of sparkling wine in the local industry capacity-wise, but the best New York sparkling delivers precision, snappy natural acidity and the kind of elegance typically only found in Champagne.
The similarities to the world’s premier sparkling wine region haven’t gone unnoticed by buyers and customers.
“The New York sparkling wines I’ve tasted have, for the most part, taken Champagne as their inspiration—both in production style and flavor,” said Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at The Nomad, where sparkling wines from Hermann J. Wiemer on Seneca Lake and Lenz Winery from the North Fork of Long Island are regularly available by the glass. Pastuszak also has wines from Long Island’s Sparkling Pointe—the state’s only sparkling-only winery—on the list.
He’s selling them too, even among his discerning clientele. “I’m able to get a lot of curious wine enthusiasts to try my favorite New York sparkling wines,” he said, adding that he enjoys pouring one of the New York wines next to “more notable and well-respected wines from the Old World.”
Pastuszak isn’t alone in his Manhattan-based affection for, and success with, local sparkling wine. Some are even making their own.
With the celebrity-chef oomph of Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurants behind him, Beverage Director Greg Majors could make the restaurant’s private label sparkler anywhere in the world. He chose Lieb Cellars in Mattituck, just 90 miles east of New York City.
“I chose a wine from Long Island for three reasons,” says Majors. “First, Lieb is doing great quality. Second, Craft is focused on sourcing the majority of its produce and proteins locally, so a locally sourced private label makes sense. And third, how many private labels are sparkling and local?!”
Lieb Cellars’ Blanc de Blancs is 100% Pinot Blanc and so is the Craft bottling, but Majors asked the winery to bottle his 2009—the second vintage of the program—without dosage, making it ultra dry. It’s been a success in the restaurants.
“Because we pour it up against a Franciacorta and Champagne, which are a bit more expensive, [it] sells very well. And to many guests surprise, the wine is received very well. Many are taken aback by ‘how good it is, being from Long Island.’”
Being from Long Island or anywhere else in New York used to be enough for wine lovers to look the other way. Not anymore. Other categories garner more attention, but dollar-for-dollar, there may be no better value than the bubbly in our own backyard.