Adam Knoerzer takes us wining through the Rust Belt. (It sounds great, by the way.) You can find links to all the other articles in this series in Writing competition 2019 – latest.
It is not lost on me that Pittsburgh probably doesn’t immediately come to mind as a destination for wine in the United States. And, frankly, that’s fair – it’s a mid-sized city in America’s Rust Belt that still, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, suffers from a grim and gritty reputation garnered during its days as the steel-producing leader of the nation. But a lot has changed since the mills ceased operation in the 1970s. Self-driving cars zoom down our hilly and winding streets as tech, robotics and healthcare currently fuel the thriving local economy, and the dining scene has seen something of a meteoric rise in recent years. Along with it came an uptick in interest in craft beer and cocktails, especially, and now wine is beginning to emerge as a player in the historically blue-collar ‘burgh.
At the helm of the Palate Partners School of Wine and Spirits in the Lawrenceville neighbourhood, I teach public classes, as well as WSET awards, on all sorts of topics in the world of wine, and I’ve seen first-hand the increase in enthusiasm for wine among my fellow Pittsburghers. That the city only recently has embraced food and wine has been, in my view, an unexpected blessing: people have fewer preconceived notions about what wine should be and from where it should come. As someone who specialises in off-the-beaten-path regions and varieties (I recently won the United States regional final in the Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup 2019 and will be representing the nation and, most importantly, Pittsburgh, in Cape Town in September), I’m glad that this has allowed local establishments to push boundaries and experiment – as long as the price is right. And with British Airways’ new non-stop service between London-Heathrow and Pittsburgh, this is the perfect opportunity for Brits to give Pittsburgh a look. The destinations below are, in my opinion, must-visits for any wine lover who makes their way here.
(Mostly) wine bars
The Allegheny Wine Mixer Located on Butler Street in Upper Lawrenceville, this is the city’s foremost destination for any wine lover. The owner and staff are wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly, and the space is inviting, relaxed, and full of quirky artwork. But more importantly, the selection is well-curated and features seasonal themes. They’re currently running an Austria-Hungary focus, but other recent areas have been South Africa, Bordeaux, Australia, and more. Traveling with a friend who doesn’t care for wine (I know, it happens)? You’re in luck, because their beers and cocktails are equally impressive. Don’t miss their nibbles, either. Trust me, folks – you’re going to love this place as much as I do.
The Wine Library at the Pennsylvania Market A relatively new addition to The Strip District, the Wine Library at the Pennsylvania Market boasts over 100 different bottles that can be consumed on-site or to-go, which is a bonus in a state-controlled system like Pennsylvania’s. The idea behind the Wine Library was to compile a series of wines that can’t be found in the state stores, and there is truly something for everyone here. Chilean País, South African Pinot Noir from the Outeniqua Mountains, Greek Xinomavro and more line the shelves, and there’s a rotating selection of glass pours. As a bonus, there’s a whole host of food vendors so you can pair your vino with Roman pizza, the best tacos in the city, and more. There’s also an outdoor courtyard for when the weather co-operates.
Lorelei Although this is more of a beer hall than anything else (and, yes, this is a must-see if you enjoy a good brew), they have a small and nicely designed wine list that draws from alpine areas throughout Europe – think Riesling, Dolcetto, Blaufränkisch, and more. The bar snacks are a pure delight, too, and the space is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Bar Marco If you’re a natural wine aficionado, this is the spot for you. Based in an old fire hall in the Strip District, sommelier Dominic Fiore draws inspiration from natural wines produced domestically and abroad to great acclaim. If you’re interested in a true food-and-wine experience, inquire about their Wine Room dinners that offer pairings with their delectable Italian-inspired fare.
Morcilla Spanish food and wine is the name of the game at this top-flight Lawrenceville establishment that’s been making waves on the national scene. A dizzying array of small and large plates entices diners, but pay special attention to the house-made charcuterie, which is a true standout. The wine list is Spanish and offers a very comprehensive look at all facets of the industry – including some excellent sherries.
Poulet Bleu Just next door to Morcilla is this Richard DeShantz restaurant offering muscled-up takes on French fare (note: do not expect entirely classical French preparations). While the interior is enough to keep you occupied, turn your attention instead to the wine list for a moment. The selections are well-chosen and offer an alternative to the run-of-the-mill choices you might expect to find in your average French establishment. The Corsican reds that often find their way onto the list deserve a special mention.
The Whitfield This is a personal favourite, and it’s located within the Ace Hotel in East Liberty. (Yes, Pittsburgh is cool enough to have one of those now too.) The food is creative and downright delicious, and as much as possible in the kitchen is sourced from local purveyors. The wine list is, however, the star of the show: it’s focused on women producers and sustainable practices, which we should all embrace.
Altius If it’s fine dining you’re after, look no further than Altius. Perched high atop Mt Washington, this restaurant is the city’s best spot for an elegant meal accompanied by yet another well-crafted wine list, this time courtesy of Hillary Fuller. As an added bonus, a meal here offers one of the finest views money can buy – and you can even take the Duquesne Incline up the mountain as your mode of transportation (who doesn’t love a funicular?).