Earning a spot on the wine list at a top New York City restaurant is an awesome accomplishment for winemakers. For those in lesser-known wine regions, breaking in is notoriously hard: Manhattan lists predominantly feature California wines, followed by Italy and France, with some Australian and Chilean bottles occasionally making the cut. As for the home state product, the Finger Lakes and Eastern Long Island are grossly under-represented, with perhaps a dozen of these regions’ wines on about 50 lists (in a town with several thousand restaurants). When a trio of whites from Michigan, once known only as sweet and fruit wine territory, makes the cut at a major New York restaurant, it’s reason to raise eyebrows.
The restaurant under consideration is the famed modern Scandinavian house Aquavit whose sommelier, Sean Kirby, is a native of Saginaw, MI. Kirby recently visited his home state, and returned with a bottle of Riesling from Chateau Grand Traverse, one of the frontrunners in Michigan’s transition to vinifera wine production in the 1970s. The decision was made at a blind tasting with other sommeliers. “When they concluded it was a German Spätlese, I knew I wasn’t the only one who recognized its quality,” claims Kirby.
Aquavit now offers three Michigan wines by the glass: Whole Cluster Riesling and Gamay Reserve from Grand Traverse, and Pinot Blanc from Left Foot Charley. Selling wines in New York City won’t help the region’s ailing auto industry, but it’s certainly a coup for Wolverine State vintners, and a sign that there’s a growing place on the upscale table for wines from emerging regions.