Edward Deitch runs the wine blog, Vint-ed. He was the wine columnist for MSNBC.com from 2002 to 2010.
I was asked in an interview recently whether the wines of Long Island’s East End could compete with Californian or European wines, and my answer was an unequivocal “yes.”
The Long Island wine industry, pioneered by Alex and Louisa Hargrave and their Hargrave Vineyard in the mid-1970s, today has some 60 vineyards that dot this V-shaped stretch of land — 90 miles or so east of Manhattan — once more famous for its potatoes and cauliflower than its grapes.
Most of the wineries are on the North Fork, which overlooks Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, while a few are on the South Fork in the Hamptons. They produce some wines of distinction that can be found in many stores in the city and — perhaps more importantly for the industry — some of New York’s top restaurants.
For a wine region, three or four decades is still young, of course. I’m not sure anyone can truly say yet whether there is a signature Long Island style or whether an identifiable “terroir,” or sense of place, is expressed in the wines as it is, say, in parts of Bordeaux or Burgundy or many other “Old World” wine regions.
In general, Long Island’s wines are relatively lean and fruit-driven, and sometimes the fruit is superb. In sharp contrast to many wines from California, such results can be achieved at relatively modest levels of alcohol, which tends to make Long Island wines easy to drink, refreshing and good companions to food. Alcohol in the pinot noir below, for example, is listed at just 12.8 percent.
I chose this handful of small-production wines from a couple of dozen I tasted in recent weeks. The sampling is not meant to be a definitive list, but rather a regional snapshot of wines that stood out to me. The wines were provided to me for review by the Long Island Wine Council.
Top five Long Island wines for the summer:
- Channing Daughters 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, “Mudd West Vineyard,” $20. This is a light and nuanced sauvignon made by this Bridgehampton winery from fruit sourced from a vineyard in Aquebogue on the North Fork. Elegant, with green apple, herb and citrus notes. The antithesis of aggressive New Zealand-style sauvignons. Will match perfectly with fish and shellfish.
- Lieb Cellars 2008 Pinot Blanc, North Fork, $20. Pinot blanc, a relative rarity on the North Fork, is Lieb’s signature variety. The grapes are from a Lieb vineyard in Cutchogue planted in 1983. The wine has a good deal of complexity with notes of pear, melon, strawberry, touches of nutmeg and citrus and considerable minerality as it goes down. Serve on its own or with simply prepared chicken and fish dishes.
- Croteaux Vineyards 2010 “Chloe” Sauvignon Blanc Rosé, North Fork, $24. This winery in Southold says it’s the only one in the country that makes only rosé. It produces a range of wines, and while most rosés are made from red grapes, this one is 99.5 percent sauvignon blanc with just .5 percent cabernet franc added to give it a faint copper color and to soften its edges. It’s subtle and delicious with hints of white peach, strawberry and lime. Great as an apéritif or with salads and a range of lighter foods.
- McCall Wines 2009 Pinot Noir, North Fork, $24. In a region not known for pinot noir, this is a charming wine from a grower in Cutchogue that shows good varietal character and is notable for its lightness, both in color and feel, its expressive cherry and blueberry fruit and delicate oak treatment. It’s young but is drinking nicely now. Try it slightly chilled with grilled chicken, pork or salmon.
- Jamesport Vineyards 2007 “Jubilant” Reserve, North Fork$45. This red wine from one of the North Fork’s older wineries — it was founded in 1981 — is a blend of 68 percent cabernet franc, 18 percent merlot, 14 percent cabernet sauvignon and small amounts of syrah and petit verdot. It’s softly tannic and accessible with concentrated blackberry and plum and a bit of leather and milk chocolate. A natural for steak and lamb.
Edward Deitch won a James Beard Award in 2007 and was nominated for another Beard Award in 2008.