The “eat local” movement has taken root over the past decade; now “drink local” is catching up.
Much of this is due to craft beer and spirits, but with every state in the U.S. now producing wine, there are plenty of regional wine options as well.
While many guests expect a globally focused wine list, peppering the list with a hearty selection of local offerings shows forethought and pride about the philosophy of “what grows together, goes together.” Wine directors and sommeliers from restaurants and wine bars in six different American wine-growing regions share their local wine picks:
Featured Wine Region: Virginia
Number of Wines on the Menu: 40 by the glass, 1,000 by the bottle
Number of Regional Wines on the Menu: 5 to 10
Wine director Joe Quinn’s mission for the global wine program at this 96-seat, Mediterranean restaurant is to provide the best producers and bottles from the world’s great regions—including vineyards right in Proof’s backyard. “Virginia is an exciting region that has dramatically risen over the last handful of years,” he says. “I want to spotlight wines indicative of those qualitative leaps, as well as representing Virginia’s historic place in American wine production.”
Not that Quinn would add wines just because they are local: The selections have to be up to snuff.
“Fortunately for us, the wines speak for themselves and demand a place on our list,” he says. For example, Proof offers the 2013 Linden Vineyards Hardscrabble chardonnay, an elegant, terroir- and mineral-driven offering from Virginia wine pioneer Jim Law’s vineyards on the Blue Ridge. Quinn recommends the wine, priced at $70 a bottle, with pan-seared branzino with littleneck clams, beech mushrooms, dill and tarragon.
The 2012 Glen Manor Hodder Hill Bordeaux Blend ($85 a bottle) is a “flat-out gorgeous, polished, seamless cabernet blend that leaves no doubts as to the region’s potential,” Quinn says. Decanted, the wine sings alongside meaty New York strip steak with roasted garlic, smoked potatoes, salsa verde and eggplant confit.
And the Italian varietal-focused Barboursville Vineyards in Charlottesville provides an intense vin santo-style dessert wine, the 2012 Malvasia/Vidal Passito ($12 a glass). The wine’s notes of honey, dried apricot, orange marmalade and ginger and its clean, bright finish pair nicely with almond milk panna cotta with candied ginger and blueberry sorbet.
“These wines are truly demanding to be served alongside our regional ingredients,” says Quinn. “I’m glad to be in a place that has made our local wines easy to include on our menus.”
Featured Wine Region: Washington
Number of Wines on the Menu: 697
Number of Regional Wines on the Menu: 190
Wine director Chris Horn cites a major benefit to selecting regional wines at the 220-seat wine bar and small-plates den in Seattle—the chance to visit and taste at the winery itself. “Hearing the personal stories and history behind local wine is as important as studying the great vineyards of Europe,” he says.
But Horn admits that not all of Washington’s 900 wineries sell wines with an acceptable price-to-value ratio. He also points out that Purple Café’s proximity to the city’s downtown hotel district means that visitors may be tasting Washington wine for the first time, so it had better be high quality and memorable.
The NV Lullaby Morning Light ($10 per 3-oz. glass) from Walla Walla Valley is the result of an experiment to produce a sherry-like wine under flor. Like a cross between fino sherry and viognier, it’s perfect sipped while nibbling Marcona almonds and olives, Horn says.
The 2014 Avennia Oliane sauvignon banc ($15 a glass) from Yakima Valley is done in a white Bordeaux style “that broadens the palate and adds a richness” that pairs with Dungeness crab cakes.
And while the expected wine for duck breast or salmon might be an Oregon pinot noir, Horn found a more surprising local partner in the 2013 Tranche Blackrock Vineyards Dolcetto ($12.50 a glass) from the Yakima Valley. “They managed to make a lighter-bodied, full aromatic red wine in an area more known for huge mouth red.”
Horn is not convinced guests have fully embraced drinking locally, as many prefer wines from renown regions such as Champagne and Barolo. But he sees an opportunity to introduce under-the-radar finds. “[Washington] makes some amazing wines that don’t ever leave the state line,” he notes. “We try to showcase…smaller wineries that people wouldn’t hear about unless they walked into a downtown Seattle wine bar.”
Featured Wine Region: Texas
Number of Wines on the Menu: 38 by the glass, 375 to 400 by the bottle at Old Hickory; 110 by the glass or bottle at the Wine Bar
Number of Regional Wines on the Menu: 6 at Old Hickory; 8 at the Wine Bar
“Texas wines have come a long way over the last 10 years,” says sommelier Anthony Martinez. “Over the years, Texas has found that the traditional grape varieties are not what perform best,” he adds.
When adding local wines to the 196-seat Old Hickory Steakhouse or the 41-seat Wine Bar, Martinez looks for reputation, quality and recognition. “They must be true to varietal and be balanced.” He likes the McPherson viognier ($40 a bottle) for its stone-fruit notes and light acidity, and pairs it with an assorted cheese course.
On the red side, tempranillo is king in Texas. The traditionally Spanish rioja varietal can withstand the heat in the state’s wine regions, from the Texas Hill Country to the North-Central Region. And it’s often blended with cabernet sauvignon, another hearty, thick-skinned red grape.
“The Inwood Estates Tempranillo Cabernet Blend ($78 a bottle) has medium-plus body with dark berry fruit character, and a light autumn forest floor earthiness,” Martinez says. “It pairs seamlessly with our Kansas City strip and roasted mushrooms.”
The 1,511-room resort in Grapevine (near Fort Worth) sees its fair share of guests from around the world, who are looking to experience not only American wine, but also local options, he says. “Some of them are curious about what Texas has to offer and enjoy a top wine from the state,” he notes. The Enomatic Wine Tasting System in the Wine Bar enables guests to sample wines that they may not be familiar with.
But Martinez is cautious to strike a good balance between providing the chance for experimentation and giving the guests the wines they want. “It is important to recognize the strengths of your state; however, you must also manage the offerings according to customer demand.”