Why Sommeliers and Beverage Directors Are Reaching for New York Wines

Sommeliers and retailers from across the country weigh in on the unique strengths and opportunities New York State wines offer on shelves and wine lists

New York Wines
Photo courtesy of New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
This advertising content was produced in collaboration with our partner, New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

New York State has become one of biggest success stories in domestic wine over the past decade, with the wines produced there growing from solid options available to the state’s local tourists to high-quality staples that sit among the world’s best on retail shelves and restaurant lists across the U.S. A wide range of grape varieties well-suited to cool-climate winemaking now attract sommeliers and wine buyers alike for their ability to express the state’s varied terroirs.

“They’re delicious,” says Chris Raftery, a sommelier at Gramercy Tavern in New York City, noting visiting winemakers and tourists are often eager to try wines from New York producers. “I enjoy selling these local products to our guests quite a bit.”

While over five million tourists visit New York wineries—located across 11 distinct AVAs—each year, New York wines have a strong home-grown audience as well: According to experts from across the country, the combination of variety, sustainability, and value of New York wines makes them essentials on shelves and in the cellar. 

“These wines always do really well for us,” says Josh Nadel, MS, the beverage director of NoHo Hospitality Group in New York City, which oversees the all-American wine list at The Dutch. “[The Dutch] gives us an opportunity to really dig into the Finger Lakes and some more unexplored regions.”

In Texas, Rachel Van Til of The Club at Houston Oaks sees a surprisingly similar demand for the bright, expressive wines of the North Fork of Long Island—despite it being over 1,000 miles away.  “I have a lot of members at our club that always ask me if I can get wines from this area,” she says. “There’s a clientele that’s very familiar with them on the high end.”

A History of Experimentation and Reputation for Quality

Pulling back the curtain on New York’s viticultural history shows why these bottles continue to rise in esteem with consumers and the trade, even as competition in the wine marketplace continues to heat up. 

New York State is home to the oldest continuously operating winery in the United States, Brotherhood Winery, which was founded in 1839. The introduction of vinifera grapevines roughly 60 years ago led New York to become a playground for experimentation as vintners began cultivating unique varieties like Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, and beyond. 

Originally, these unique wines were consumed close to home, with most wineries selling solely through their tasting rooms, but over the past 20 years, more Empire State vintners have invested in distribution to New York State establishments—especially New York City—and even to other markets, placing them on shelves and wine lists beside regional and international benchmarks. 

As the industry in New York evolves, I think you’re getting people that are more interested in these kinds of nuanced expressions of the grapes,” says Raftery of the diverse wine styles emerging from across New York. “I’m excited about the potential of this next generation of winemaking.”

According to Alex Masanotti, the head buyer for Super Buy Rite in Jersey City, New Jersey, many New York wines carry tremendous quality. “People associate them with higher-end wines, generally,” she says, adding that her clientele enjoys the diversity of dry and sweet styles produced across the state. 

In North Carolina, Jeremy Stamps, the owner of The Wisdom Table, believes positioning New York wines beside their global counterparts shows their unique strengths. He regularly serves Riesling flights to customers in his shop, where New York offerings are poured alongside classic French, German, and Austrian bottlings. “I really feel like these flights are game changers in the consumer’s point of view,” he says. “They’re recognizing that New York is just as good as this classic Riesling that [they’ve] been drinking, and it opens their minds up to new ideas.”

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New York Wines Offer Outsized Value

Although Riesling from the Finger Lakes may be the Empire State’s best-known offering, myriad wines from Long Island’s North Fork and The Hamptons AVAs, the Hudson River Region, and the Niagara Escarpment are likewise gaining traction in restaurant and retail selections. In tandem with historical prestige, the variety of wines produced in New York—which include American (vitis labrusca) varieties, vinifera varieties, and hybrid grapes—is a unique strength for the region. 

“New York is big,” explains Laura Koffer, a Napa-based VP of wine at online retailer Wine Access. “I think getting the message out there about the diversity of New York is a big deal, and there is so much opportunity to be gained by telling the individual stories of the different wine regions.” 

The state is America’s third-largest grape producer, and in tandem with Cornell University, New York State vintners are at the forefront of viticultural research and advanced winemaking technology. This collaboration leaves New York wineries an abundance of data and expertise, yielding wines that deliver outsized value on the dollar.

“I think what is interesting about the price points here is that they’re all pretty reasonable,” says Van Til. “If you were to go to Michigan, for example, you wouldn’t have this many options of well-made wine available to you at these wholesale prices. It would be $5 to $10 more on any one of these.” 

Masanotti agrees: “I can easily sell many New York wines for between $14 and $18, which is just fantastic and makes them really easy to put on the shelf.” 

Sustainability Propels New York Wines

Evolving attitudes and a shift in consumer preferences regarding sustainability are also benefiting Empire State vintners, since New York wines have a much smaller carbon footprint than their European counterparts simply due to proximity. 

“Why should we be buying [these varieties] from France?” asks Frank. “These are styles that we can make locally, that we can buy locally … as the prices on things that we’re getting from Europe start to creep up, those wines start to make a lot more sense.”

Frank believes the quality is critical, yet it’s the sustainability angle that makes the wines both crowd-pleasing and an easy sell. “I talk about the farming,” she says. “So I will talk about the fact that … because they are hybrids, because they are hardy, [these wines] don’t require a lot of the inputs in the vineyard or in the winery. For people coming in asking about natural wine, talking about farming, talking about organics, these are a natural sell.”

Whether they’re presented as sustainable, local, or simply as “world-class wines,” New York bottlings are proving they offer opportunity wherever and whenever they’re poured. 


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