In New York City, local is sought after like a taxicab in the rain. Overused words like “artisanal” and “heritage” bring self-proclaimed locavores to eateries around the city (and even to BROOKLYN) thinking they’re dining on delicacies that are both in season and produced close to home.

Despite the marketing many have adopted to capitalize on this movement feeling cliché by this point, eating local is a great thing. So why doesn’t this fervor extend to alcoholic beverages?

Those who aren’t familiar with New York State wines are surprised to learn that we are third in wine production nation wide with the number of wineries exploding over the last 10 years. Consumers aren’t opening their wallets to purchase local wines unless they’ve recently visited a winery in the Finger Lakes or on Long Island and hope recreate the magic of their experiences.

Hopefully the New York Wine and Grape Foundation’s “New York Drinks New York” will change that. The Grand Tasting on March 12 invited press and trade to sample some of the state’s best, including 150 wines from 39 wineries from across the state.

Arriving at Astor Center, above popular Astor Wines, was both exciting and overwhelming. My liver shivered in excitement. I spent four hours chatting, spitting, spitting and these are the highlights.

Note: I didn’t focus heavily on my friends in Long Island since I am more familiar with their wines. I’d love to include everyone I met and all of the wines I loved (or didn’t love), but sadly, if I come in over 1500 words, I am in trouble.

Dr. Konstantin Frank
One of the Finger Lakes names you *do* see on wine lists in Manhattan, I stopped by to try what I haven’t had before (namely, wines that aren’t rieslings).

Rkatsiteli 2009 – Being totally new to this grape, I marveled at the acid fest in the glass and realized I’d never be able to pronounce the ancient Georgian varietal correctly.

It was wonderful to be reunited with my old friend Chateau Frank Blanc De Noirs 2006 (which you may remember won our 2011 Sparkling Wine of the Year for New York). The structure, pear and apple notes of this sparkler were as good as I remembered.

Barbara Frank also snuck in a 2010 Gewürztraminer that made me want to steal the bottle from behind the table and run immediately to 6th street for Indian Food. With floral (not cloying) and citrus notes, it was one of more balanced I’d had in memory.

Leonard Oakes Estate Winery
I probably am going to have to move to Niagara. I had the most fun at Jerod and Jonathan’s table. Oh and their wine was good too.

The 2011 Reserve Riesling, with less than 1% residual sugar, was swoon worthy for an “acid freak” like me. *Mom, the wines, not the drugs.*

The 2010 Cabernet Franc should be renamed ‘Peter Luger in a Glass’ as an homage to its high-end bacon nose. While a tad young, I think this wine will be even better in a year.

The highlight of the day was the SteamPunk Cider. Maybe I would have known about this gem if I had read Bryan Calandrelli’s piece last month, but since I must have missed it – the Cider was a surprise for me. The Fuji Apple nose and flavor blended with the chorus of 10 addition apple varietals involved. But more importantly, it kicked overly sweet competitor’s asses with a quality I love about English brands. At $11 retail, it’s an excellent buy. So much so that a local restaurant owner I dragged to the booth to taste SteamPunk was impressed with the quality v. the price tag ratio. No sticker shock here.

Thousand Islands Winery
Growing up 20 minutes from Canada, I tend to root for wineries that can work both sides of the border — like I did when I was underage to drink in the States. Owner Steve Conaway explained that being the most northern winery in New York State had pluses and minuses. On one side, the climate is perfect for creating Germanic style wines that they love. And the other, their hands are tied when it comes to working with the Canadian government. Visitors have to be in the US for 48 hours before they can bring back the maximum number of bottles (two per person) and exporting isn’t realistic.

Luckily for us, the winery has turned their eye towards New York City and the surrounding areas. But it won’t be easy to conquer the island. The cliental surrounding Thousand Islands Winery love sweeter wines, while, in my opinion, Manhattanites tend to look for crisper more mineral flavors. The sugar bombs that sell at home probably won’t work in the city.

Smartly, Steve brought his slightly spicy 2011 Gewürztraminer to woo crows and left his best seller North Country Red (with 15% residual sugar) at home. I also enjoyed the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, which smoothly gave me pepper and leather and screamed for steak. My propensity to dislike most dessert wines reared its ugly head when tasting the Raspberry Isle NV. It wasn’t for me. I’d love to know if that’s just my bias.

Other favorites included:

Palmer Vineyards 2011 Albarino: The minerality brought from the nearby ocean and rocky terrior mirroring that of Galicia got a lot of chatter. Only in it’s second harvest at Palmer on Long Island, it’s obvious this grape is near and dear to Spanish winemaker Miguel Martin’s heart. The lingering floral and citrus notes made it dear to mine. Even in a 500 ml bottle.

Red Newt Cellars: Both the 2008 Gewürztraminer Curry Creek Vineyard and 2010 Cabernet Franc Glacier Ridge Vineyards stood out. The Gewurtz was less floral than most I’d tasted that day, restrained enough at first sip, I immediately thought of Gruner Veltliner. The lingering flavors brought me back. The Cab Franc left me with cherries and enough spice to make me think about spending $39 for a bottle.

Atwater Estate Vineyards: Other than the Cab Francs, I wasn’t finding reds I was excited about. On a recommendation from another winemaker, I bellied up to Vinny Aliperti’s table in the final moments of the event. Their Big Blend NV (22% Syrah, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Lemberger, 19% Merlot) was a perfect way to end the day. Full of fruit, spice and complexity, this red is a steal for $16. I’m hoping after this weekend, I can find it everywhere.

Final thoughts:

I was slightly disappointed I didn’t get a chance to try anything from the Lake Erie region, but since they’re nine-plus hours away, I guess I’ll just have to road trip.

I like a lot of different kinds of wine, but those who were doing Gewürztraminer well…were REALLY heads and shoulders above the rest. As you can see from above, they’re what I remember.

The Long Island wineries representing were some of the best – but I was surprised more didn’t participate. Is it that they feel they’ve already in the market? I think there would have been a great press opportunity at the very least.

All in all, I’m hoping this event will bring more New York State Wine into bars, restaurants and retail in the city. And will continue the conversation about local wines holding their own in the community.