F Scott Fitzgerald set swathes of The Great Gatsby—his classic 1920s tale of life amid America’s super-rich—around the grand mansions of Long Island, New York, playground of the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Hearsts. But while the glorious houses remain, the area has found new renown for some of the top vineyards in the U.S.A.
California is the Goliath of American wine-making, commanding around 80 percent of production and 90 percent of exports. But as Goliath found out, big doesn’t always mean best, and some of the finest contemporary wines come from the dozen other states that breach the 100-plus winery mark.
Such American Viticulture Areas (A.V.A.s) tick boxes associated with many objects of desire. Limited supply confers a sense of exclusivity, while off-radar status brings a thrilling sense of discovery. That said, states like Virginia actually began wine production back in the 17th century, when early settlers including Spanish missionaries planted imported European vines to try and provide a taste of home—only to find their vines destroyed by New World pests such as phylloxera.
Discovering native grapes resistant to these blights transformed early U.S. wine production to such an extent, however, that a Virginia wine made from the indigenous Norton grape was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873.
New York, New Wines
The most elevated wines from America’s off-radar states riff on classic European grapes. Leading Long Island producer Paumanok is a case in point. “Our maritime cool climate lets us produce wines with classical Old-World moderation in alcohol,” says winemaker Kareem Massoud. “Their aromatics are impressive and the typicity is evident.”
Our maritime cool climate lets us produce wines with classical Old-World moderation in alcohol—Kareem Massoud
Paumanok’s Apollo Drive Petit Verdot was rated 92/100 by influential critic Robert Parker, while its Tuthills Lane Cabernet Sauvignon scored 93. The 2010 Tuthills Lane Merlot, meanwhile, is a current premium pick (for $205) at top Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park.
Another fine example, The Red Hook Winery, can be found on the wine lists of London restaurants such as Pétrus and The Lanesborough alongside wines from the state’s other great A.V.A., the stone-and-shale terroir of the Finger Lakes.
Chris Parker at the Virginia Wine Academy has helped place the state’s wines at the likes of British royal wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, plus Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant Dinner.
The finest come from the Monticello A.V.A., named after Thomas Jefferson’s historic home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Petit Verdot stands out, with bottles from producers such as Barboursville up to $80 from the winery—but boasting qualities Parker sums up as “wonderfully scented—violets, bright, ripe, black and red fruit, deep color, polished, vanilla, cedar, smoke.”
Arizona A.V.A.s such as Sonoita are producing superb wines from Italian heritage grapes. The 2014 Nagual del Marzo from Caduceus, for example, is worth buying a case of—a Sangiovese-dominant blend with Barbera offering violet, cherry, and tobacco on the nose, and cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and cloves on the palate.
Around 150 wineries dot various peninsulas around Lake Michigan, producing stellar wines at vineyards such as Black Star Farms. Its 2017 Arcturos Dry Riesling was voted the world’s best at an international competition in Australia in 2018, scoring 98/100 to beat more than 560 rivals from Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Our climate and soils create incredible conditions for vineyards,” says proprietor Sherri Campbell Fenton. “In the spring, Lake Michigan holds back early development, protecting bud break from early frost. In the fall, the lake keeps vineyards warmer and holds back the frost that may occur inland.”
The so-called Gem State doesn’t yet breach the 100 wineries mark, but A.V.A.s such as Snake River Valley are rivaling neighboring Oregon—though the terroir echoes distant lands. “Spain and Idaho are close enough in soil characteristics to make similarly great wine,” said the state’s wine ambassador Jim Thomssen in a recent post for the Sunny Slope Wine Trail website, adding: “Idaho is making wonderful Tempranillos.”
Yet at the acclaimed Sawtooth vineyard, it was Meredith Smith’s 2017 Classic Fly Series Petit Verdot—with aromas of dried strawberries, cherry, and boysenberry—that was voted the state’s most recent best red.
On the Market
Located on 275 acres (111 ha), Rocking Horse Ranch is nestled at the base of the stunning Swan Range of mountains, and has a wide array of amenities that include a winery and vineyard, pool, driving range, barbecue and entertainment stage, as well as multiple guest homes. Mooring Creek also winds its way through the property, which is on the market with PureWest Real Estate and close to an international airport and Glacier National Park.
This state-of-the-art winery has a case capacity of 5,000-plus and spans 5,200 sq ft (483 sq m). On the market with Luxe Christie’s International Real Estate, it has storage for barrels and cases, an office, a covered crush pad, a tasting room with kitchen, and outdoor seating. Three vineyards produce terroir-driven, cuvée wines and there is also a four-bedroom, three-bath primary home and a guesthouse, plus barns and a shop.
Banner image: RdV Vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia. Jeff Mauritzen