Thursday, June 28, 2007

The State of Long Island Wine

Every time I visit ‘wine country’ on Long Island, I find myself hopeful that I will like the wine. Really. I honestly long for A Cabernet Franc that impresses me, a Merlot to recommend, or a Chardonnay I can purchase and be happy uncorking at home. Sadly, I always leave this vast and beautiful corner of New York State disappointed.

I think it is admirable that people who live here want to show some team spirit and “drink local.” I also find it commendable that local businesses carry a preponderance of Long Island wines on their lists and get away with it. What I cannot get past are the unsatisfactory flavor profiles and substandard structures of the majority of Long Island wines I have had a chance to taste.

I have visited striking wineries with modern tasting rooms and enviable decks with amazing views. The comment usually goes like this, “this would be a great setting for a wedding, but would they have to serve this wine?” Many of the reds seem exceedingly dense and one-dimensional and the whites devoid of character.

This is not to say that there are not some successes — if not exactly sensations. I have tasted very well made Merlots from Lenz Winery & Vineyard and relative newcomer Shinn Estate Vineyards, satisfying Roses from Wolffer Estates, and pleasant whites from Comtesse Therese and Paumanok Vineyards. They’re good. But are they good enough to stand up to a wine of the same varietal and similar price from another wine region? The jury is deliberating.

The terroir, if you will, on Long Island is most like the Right Bank of Bordeaux which is likely why you will have the most luck with Merlot and Cabernet Franc if you are drinking reds. I personally have found it easier rolling the dice with white wines on both the North Fork and the South.

I sincerely hope that things improve in the near future. Perhaps success will come from realizing which grapes are best planted in which vineyards on what soils. Perchance good fortune will come from talented and knowledgeable viticulturalists and winemakers settling in to this bucolic stretch of farmland. It looks like the potential is there so we will just have to wait and see.


  1. Where else have you tasted? What haven't you liked?

    I think it's pretty easy to visit a handful of the almost 40 tasting rooms and pass judgment.

    Unfortunately, as with any wine region, there are plenty of wineries here on the North Fork that aren't making anything worth talking about. But, with a little research and planning, you can do very well in a day here.

    And it bears remembering that the region is still in its infancy. Many wineries are making juice from fruit grown on 5-10 year old vines.

    To call LI reds one dimensional...that leads me to believe that you've not had Paumanok's best, Bedell's new releases or Roanoke's blends.

    As to your white comments, you're right. There are a lot of innocuous chards, but some of the wines I'm most excited about right now are the sauvignon blancs. Check out Jamesports, Raphaels or Channing Daughters.

    I'd like to invite you to taste with me sometime. We'll skip some of those wedding-worthy places and get to the real good juice.

  2. I have to agree with Lenn, I think you need to look a little harder. We found some very good wines last fall. Mostly Chardonnay, but a few Cab Franc, Merlots, & Red blends that we recommended. Now, when I go into a region, I do a marathon tasting & cover a lot of ground. There were plenty of wines that didn't make the cut. But if you are willing for look, you can certainly find some gems in Long Island right now. You can do a region search on our web page if you want some suggestions. Cheers! Ken

  3. I did taste Bedell's new releases and honestly was not impressed. I do realize I have more work to do but I have been out there numerous times (and have tasted many times at Vintage NY) and have yet to become a convert. Thanks for the suggestions, though, I will give them a try -- I haven't given up yet!

  4. Please don't depend on Vintage...they don't stock the best stuff. They stock the stuff they get the best deal on and from wineries they are friends with.

    Seriously...the next time you're out, let me know and I'll take you to the real deals.

    Just keep in mind...last summer Nena and I went to Sonoma and we tasted at 5 or so places. If I judged the entire region on those, 'd say that all of Cali sucks.

    Oh they? ;) Nah...

  5. Point taken. Thanks Lenn,