Some of the most exciting food-and-beverage pairings I’ve had recently were at Fork a few weeks ago—no surprise there. What was unexpected is the fact that so many of those remarkable wines were local; our area has never enjoyed a reputation as a hot-spot of international vinous intrigue. But savoring the stunning “Our Terroir” menu alongside wines like the Penns Woods Chambourcin and Traminette was nothing short of revelatory. I mean this in the old-testament religious sense—I felt as if a deep universal truth had been revealed to me for the first time, and it was this: Pennsylvania wines are better than ever. And with brave restaurateurs like Ellen Yin, visionary chefs like Eli Kulp and deeply intelligent beverage directors like Fork’s former drinks impresario Paul Rodriguez, the fruit of the local vine is finally getting its well-deserved time to shine. Now more than at any time I remember in the past, brave winemakers and grape-growers are focusing on the varieties that will thrive best in their own little pocket of the commonwealth and producing wine with both character and charm.
Among my favorite producers is Va La Vineyards, located in Avondale, a quick drive from Kennett Square. There, farmer, winemaker, owner and all-around grape genius Anthony Vietri crafts four wines, each made mostly from varieties more typically associated with northern Italy, yet deeply expressive of his own wonderful land in eastern Pennsylvania. Talula’s Garden offers Va La, and the pairing possibilities with these gorgeously stylized wines are limitless. (Note: I consulted on Talula’s Garden’s beverage program.) Aimee Olexy also offers an excellent rosé from Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery in Kennett Square. New Jersey, too, is cranking out some great grape juice. Among the best is Heritage Vineyards in Harrison Township.
The point, really, is that the time has come to start taking our local wines more seriously. And lucky for us all, more and more restaurants are doing the hard work for us, parsing the options and offering the best of the bunch. Of which, now more than ever, there are plenty.