North American wines from anywhere other than California, Oregon, and Washington are usually considered novelties at best—good enough for locals to sip on weekends, but not popular enough to transcend most local markets. But that’s beginning to change.
Skilled growers are finding grapes that thrive in a wide array of North American AVAs, and experienced winemakers are employing techniques that enhance the distinctive characteristics of a range of terroir-driven wines. The East Coast, in particular, is becoming increasingly well known for its diverse assortment of quality wines, many of which are inspiring buyers—and consumers—to rethink the category.
SevenFifty Daily spoke with wine professionals up and down the Atlantic Seaboard to find out which East Coast wines excite them. From a cold-hardy single-varietal Vermont-made natural wine to a Virginia Pinot Noir, here are 10 bottles they say will change your mind about East Coast wines.
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1. Iapetus Substrata 2017, Shelburne, Vermont; $20
Recommended by Jason Zuliani, owner, Dedalus Wine Shop, Market & Wine Bar; Burlington, Vermont
The natural-wine label Iapetus was named for the ancient ocean associated with the bedrock under Vermont’s Champlain Valley. It’s the brainchild of Shelburne Vineyard winemaker Ethan Joseph, who is redefining Vermont wine. “There’s nothing I like more than surprising wine drinkers with a bottle of Iapetus wine,” says Zuliani. “Ethan has a knack for bottling intense, nervy wines shot through with wonderful saline and mineral qualities.” Substrata is made from the cold-hardy grape Louise Swenson and, says Zuliani, “could easily be mistaken for an energetic Loire white.”
2. Heart & Hands Winery Pinot Noir 2017, Union Springs, New York; $28
Recommended by Mark Grimaldi, owner, The Cellar d’Or Wine & Cider; Ithaca, New York
The Finger Lakes region has earned a reputation for producing some of the best Riesling Rieslings in North America, but that’s not all that shines in this area of New York State. “I’m going to go red here,” says Grimaldi. “One red that we sell so well and constantly recommend to locals and tourists is the Heart & Hands Pinot Noir—just their classic label. It’s great every vintage and rivals any of the more restrained styles of Pinot Noir in the United States.”
3. Liten Buffel Perfetto Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016; Middleton, New York; $25
Recommended by Drew Tschappat, wine director, Farmer’s Creekside Tavern & Inn; Le Roy, New York
Located just northwest of New York’s Finger Lakes region, the Niagara Escarpment AVA remains an off-the-radar spot for many, but the wines are starting to demand attention. Tschappat singles out Liten Buffel winemaker Zack Klug, who he says “produces juicy wines with complex flavors and textures.” This single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Tschappat says, “is an enticing combination of rich red fruit and savory dried herbs, complemented with a touch of earth and a firm finish”—he adds that it’s an excellent example of the high potential for Pinot Noir from this region.
4. Wild Arc Farm Traminette Piquette 2017, Pine Bush, New York; $15
Recommended by Christy Frank, partner and buyer, Copake Wine Works; Copake, New York
A new, sustainably focused winery in the Hudson Valley, Wild Arc Farm is taking the notions of glou-glou (easy-drinking, or glugging, refreshing young wines) and sustainability to the next level with its Piquette, which is basically a low-alcohol wine cooler made by adding water to grape pomace and then fermenting. “Winemaker Todd Cavallo’s reduce-reuse-recycle ethos results in a lightly sparkling bottle of glou-glou that costs exactly what you want it to cost—about $15,” says Frank. “It’s a value that’s nearly impossible to beat regardless of what you’re putting it up against. Sure, it’s a low 7%-ish ABV, but at this price, you can just get yourself an extra bottle if you’re looking for a little extra kick.”
5. Macari Vineyards Lifeforce Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Mattituck, New York; $28
Recommended by Lauren McPhate, fine-wine specialist, Tribeca Wine Merchants; New York City
The style of wines from Long Island is sometimes described as straddling the line between classic European wines and riper West Coast wines, something that’s perhaps most apparent in the region’s Sauvignon Blanc–based wines. McPhate suggests that Macari’s Lifeforce rivals its California counterparts. “Everyone I have ever poured this wine for has been tremendously impressed by how deliciously fresh it is,” she says. “There’s a lot of fruit, which makes it easy to drink alone, but also tons of minerality and a crunchy acidic finish that makes it perfect for food too. It’s such a delicious wine by any standard—and it really is a testament to the quality that’s achievable from Long Island.”
6. Paumanok Vineyards Grand Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Aquebogue, New York; $149
Recommended by Jesse Salazar, wine director, Union Square Wines; New York City
Salazar rattles off the names of a handful of local wines he’d pour for someone conveying skepticism about the quality of East Coast wines, but ultimately he lands on this 1995 library selection from Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island. “This is the one that did it for me,” he says, “and I’d have no fear about serving it alongside signature American classics like the ’91 Ridge Montebello or any of the mid-90s Mount Eden Cabernets.” While the 1995 is a personal favorite, Salazar says that any Grand Vintage–label red from Paumanok is a worthy successor, including the 2014 vintage, which retails for $75 a bottle.
7. Unionville Vineyards Pheasant Hill Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Ringoes, New Jersey; $45
Recommended by Susanne Lerescu-Wagner, wine director, Restaurant Latour; Hamburg, New Jersey
“A New Jersey wine I have liked from the first day I tried it about nine years ago is Unionville Vineyards’ Pheasant Hill Vineyards Chardonnay,” says Lerescu-Wagner. “It’s the best Chardonnay made in New Jersey. I like [it] for its balance and brightness—it has just a kiss of oak and pairs beautifully with fresh seafood and shellfish, especially if the fish is served with lemon butter. This is a Chardonnay that can compete with some of the best.”
8. Galen Glen Winery Vinology Grüner Veltliner 2017, Andreas, Pennsylvania; $17
Recommended by Alexandra Cherniavsky, beverage manager, The Love; Philadelphia
“There are fantastic, affordable options available from Pennsylvania,” says Cherniavsky, “and I try to offer the best examples of our local wines to our guests.” Boasting the second-oldest planting of Grüner Veltliner in North America, Galen Glen is a favorite of Cherniavsky’s, particularly its Vinology bottling. “I pour Sarah and Galen’s Grüner Veltliner by the glass year-round because it’s an easy way to get guests hooked on one of my favorite grapes,” she says, adding that the wine shows classic varietal characteristics, including “crisp acidity with notes of grapefruit, lemon, apple, and white pepper.” At $17 a bottle, it’s also quite affordable.
9. Old Westminster Winery Pinot Gris Pétillant Naturel 2017, New Windsor, Maryland; $40
Recommended by Stacey Khoury-Diaz, owner, Dio Wine Bar; Washington, D.C.
The Old Westminster Winery makes a handful of pét-nats from a variety of grapes. Khoury-Diaz says this one “is a go-to recommendation at Dio Wine Bar when we have visitors from out of town or locals looking to explore their own backyard.” It’s “dry, fizzy, with light stone fruit flavors—and a little musty in the best way,” she says. “This wine is an amazing expression of what can be done without additions or intervention. It stands up against pétillant naturels all over the world.”
10. Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2015, Amherst, Virginia; $44
Recommended by Krista Slater, owner-partner, The Expat; Athens, Georgia
As a wine region, Virginia is perhaps best known for producing wines from Viognier and Bordeaux varieties, but some of the state’s wineries, including Ankida Ridge, are having success with the Burgundian variety Pinot Noir. For Slater, Ankida Ridge’s Pinot is a top East Coast wine. “It’s a wine that has been on our list since we opened,” she says, “and one we delight in turning people on to as an eye-opener to the quality potential on the East Coast. It’s balanced, nuanced, and vibrant. It’s not just good for a Virginia wine; it rivals Pinot Noir on the national scale.”
Lenn Thompson is a writer, podcaster, and speaker on wine based on Long Island, New York. He has been writing about North American wine—with a focus on regions that aren’t in California, Oregon, or Washington—for 15 years for a variety of online and print publications, including Wine Enthusiast magazine, Beverage Media, Serious Eats, and various Edible Communities magazines. He writes on his own behalf at the Cork Report, after a decade during which he ran the New York Cork Report. He’s the founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and the trade, and has been a guest speaker at such conferences as BevX, the Virginia Wine Summit, and Drink Local Wine.