Long Island Wines: Cool Climate Elegance

How familiar are you with the wines of Long Island? How good are they? And how do they compare price-wise with other wines you may be drinking? Having participated in a blind challenge last week, the answer is clear — the wines are excellent, exciting and they won’t break the bank.

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I first tasted Long Island wines when we moved to New York in 2002. Since then I have become a loyal fan, as I have visited the area and tried the different wines produced.

The Long Island wine region is located in New York State, about 75 miles from New York City. It is a relatively young wine region, the first winery established only as far back as 1973, by pioneers Alex and Louisa Hargrave. Today there are over 60 wineries and 3000 acres of vineyard. Most of the wineries are located 120 miles into the Atlantic Ocean on the east end of the North and South Forks. The area has three official AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) – The North Fork, The Hamptons and the overall Long Island AVA.

Being so close to the ocean means that the climate is definitely maritime, and moderate. In cooler years the vines can struggle to ripen. This makes for cooler climate style wines, with freshness, elegance and moderate alcohol rather than powerful, ‘blockbuster’ types with huge alcohol levels. Christopher Tracey, winemaker at Channing Daughters describes Long Island wines as ‘wines without fuss’.

Many different varieties are planted on Long Island. Crisp whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay both oaked and unoaked, vibrant reds from Merlot and Cabernet Franc as well as a broad range of blends and varietal wines from less well known grapes such as Blaufranckish and Tocai Friulano.

For the blind tasting, Long Island wines were tasted alongside similar varietal wines or blends from the most highly regarded wine regions across the world. Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre and New Zealand, Chardonnay from Burgundy and Sonoma Coast, Merlot from New Zealand and St. Emilion, and Cabernet Franc from the Loire and Napa Valley.

Many of the participant tasters found it difficult to identify which wines were from Long Island and which were not. Another interesting finding was that, in all categories the Long Island wines were less expensive than their peers from both the New and Old World, dispelling a myth that Long Island wines are very expensive.

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Apart from the wines tasted as part of the blind tasting (see list below), I also tasted through about sixty additional Long Island wines at the walk-around tasting part of the event. Overall the wines were excellent. Lively and refreshing these Long Island wines are definitely food friendly, which is to be expected given the bounty of food Long Island produces – lobster, crab, shrimp, the famed Long Island Duck, fresh fruits and vegetables – a veritable paradise for food lovers. How easy for New Yorkers to become complete locovores!

Most of the 60 wineries have tasting rooms and welcome visitors. So an easy day trip from New York City.

2008 Osprey’s Dominion Sauvignon Blanc, $14 - Intensely aromatic, ripe fruit with a touch of a herbaceous, grassy note on the finish.

2008 Palmer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, $17 - Layers of attractive fruit, passion-fruit, apricot, gooseberry and some grassy notes. Crisp and refreshing with a long persistent finish

2007 Macari Vineyards Chardonnay, $19 - unoaked - Bright, clean vibrant fruit - pear, red apple and apricot. Nice breadth and weight across the palate and a clean, fresh finish

2008 Channing Daughters ‘Scuttlehole’ Chardonnay, $16 - unoaked - This wine bursts with juicy fruit. Crisp acidity, and smooth texture. Flavors of quince, pear and apple with a minerally finish.

2007 Pelligrini Estate Vineyards Chardonnay, $15 - an oaked style - rich, full-bodied with tropical fruit notes and toasty vanilla buttery notes. Good structure.

2006 Castello di Borghese Chardonnay, $25 - an oaked style, restrained flavors of ripe apples and pears layered with notes of hazelnuts, toast and vanilla. Medium to full bodied.

2005 Grapes of Roth Merlot, $50 - Firm structured, brooding and complex. Rich, smooth with layers of flavor and very long finish

2005 Raphael Merlot, $30 - Smooth, rich and velour texture across the palate. Full-bodied with a great concentration of ripe plummy fruit

2007 Shinn Estate Cabernet Franc, $39 - Full-bodied yet elegant and refreshing with lots of vibrant fruit, pepper and lifted floral notres

2005 Bedell Cabernet Franc, $25 - complex with layers and layers of flavor. Full bodied with great concentration.

So until next week, enjoy some local wines from Long Island.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Brian Dorsey/Raphael, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Bedell Cellars)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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