Wine, etc. : Rediscovering the wines of Long Island
When you think of Long Island, New York, what comes to mind? Maybe the one-tenth of one percent who flaunt their wealth in the Hamptons? Other than that, what’s interesting for those who live outside the New York megalopolis?
We had lost an ounce of interest in New York’s nascent wine industry when we first wrote about its wines in the 1990s. Then we sampled some Long Island wines that we recently stumbled upon through chance and excitedly read an autobiographical account of Long Island’s first commercial winery founded in 1973 by Louisa and Alex Hargrave. Their story, “The Vineyard”, is a must-read for any dreamer planning to start a winery on a shoestring. But after these brief encounters, the region darkens for us.
Flash forward to this year, and lo and behold, we were contacted with an offer to taste a selection of Long Island wines. We were there. Before sampling the current offerings, we researched a bit of geological history to shed some light on the landscape.
Long Island, which includes the New York boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties, has more than 8 million inhabitants. Forming a rather narrow spit of land 118 miles by 23 miles at its widest, Long Island vaguely resembles an angry alligator with its jaws open jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The upper and lower jaws of our reptile make up the bulk of Long Island’s wine grape growing areas. The island itself – as well as the soils of Long Island – are the result of at least two glaciations that culminated 20,000 years ago, depositing scraping masses of ice and forming a jumble of rocks, soil and sand in Long Island Sound.
The upper northeast part of the island is known as the North Fork and is the site of the first cave mentioned above. It houses most of contemporary wine production. A combination of loose soils and cool sea breezes contribute to the region’s affinity for commercial viticulture.
We tasted six wines in total and the next four were our favorites, with Peconic Bay Riesling and McCall’s Pinot Noir leading the pack.
G/NY Viognier North Fork of Long Island 2020 ($35). Very dry with a floral and honeyed nose that has developed over time. Rich on the palate with hints of pear. Very neat and clean.
Peconic Bay Vineyards Riesling North Fork of Long Island 2020 ($28). Classic Riesling nose with hints of petroleum. A rich coating and mouthfeel with lovely peach elements and a hint of sweetness balanced by crisp acidity.
McCall’s North Fork Pinot Noir from Long Island 2015 ($30). This is the current vintage, according to their website. Classic aged Burgundy nose and flavors. Surprisingly good and cheap, this effort had complex notes of dried cherry, truffled mushrooms and a nice gamey quality that rounded out the package.
Lenz Winery Estate North Fork of Long Island 2015 ($35). Again, this is the current vintage and it is available on their website. This wine is now in a very good position, exhibiting lovely aged qualities with a touch of oak. Pleasant notes of cherries, this wine is very drinkable.
Argentina remains an often forgotten region for wine, but it represents some of the best values in the wine kingdom. Although best known for its Malbec, it also makes great Cabernet, Carmenere and blends of all three.
Here are a few we’ve tasted recently:
Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2019 ($20). Using grapes from 80-year-old vines in an upper region of Mendoza, Trivento is a classic Malbec with good depth and personality.
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Organic Veramonte Carmenere 2020 ($12). Bright red fruits characterize this simple yet tasty treat from Chile. It is an excellent barbecue wine.
Orfila Reserva Eco Valley Malbec 2019 ($20). Recently launched in the United States, this newcomer has fine tannins and generous flavors of blue fruits. His Classic Malbec ($13) is also excellent value.
Alma Rosa La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Blanc 2020 ($35). We absolutely loved this Pinot Blanc for its clean fruit character, lively acidity and flavors of pear and peach.
Feudo Montoni “Rosé di Adele” Sicily DOC 2021 ($23). Using only nerello mascalese grapes from Sicily, this producer offers an unusual but delicious rosé. Effusive violet aromas with flavors of tart pomegranate and blackberry.
Pierre Amadieu La Grangeliere Vacqueyras 2019 ($30). We appreciate this area of southern France for the well-priced wines from villages like Vacqueyras. A blend of Syrah and Grenache, it has ripe flavors of cherry and plum with soft, approachable tannins and a hint of vanilla.
DuMOL Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2019 ($108). Consumers are faced with soaring prices for good pinot noir. We liked this wine but found it unfortunate that it was in an elite group of Pinot Noirs which are allocated and very expensive. If you want to elevate your Pinot Noir experience, this wine is impressive for its balance, weight, lively acidity and expressive fruit character.