Saunders, Real Estate, Hamptons

Story - Food

Apr 28, 2017 5:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

What's The Future Of Long Island Wine Country?

Long Island Wine Country President Roman Roth at the lectern with the panel at the Spring Portfolio Tasting: Hannah Selinger, Chad Walsh, David Loewenberg, Tom Schaudel and Aimée Lasseigne New. BRIDGET ELKIN
May 1, 2017 10:40 AM

“We need to stop referring to Long Island as ‘young.’ We’re not a young wine region anymore.”

The comment came from the audience—from Michael Cinque, proprietor of the estimable Amagansett Wines & Spirits, and Sag Harbor’s LT Burger (a project near and dear to this somm-cum-writer’s heart, since I got my start on wine fanaticism at Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Prime in the early 2000s). We were there to discuss the future of Long Island: What are we, and where are we going? On the panel with me were restaurant visionaries Tom Schaudel (Cool Fish, Jewel, The Petulant Wino, A Lure, A Mano) and David Loewenberg (Beacon, Bell & Anchor, Fresno), as well as retail buyer Aimée Lasseigne New (Bottle Rocket) and 2017 Food and Wine Sommelier of the Year Chad Walsh (Agern).

Amid Monday morning bubbles, we considered the future of a wine region that is still, in global terms, in its adolescence. Out here on Long Island, we love our local produce, await the first asparagus with bated breath. So why don’t we love our own wines more?

We have abandoned our children in favor of Burgundies, Bordeaux, and Provençal rosés. And I get it. Richebourg? Unparalleled. The memory of the first taste of a first-growth (it was a Monday, in spring, and the wine was a 1982 Chateau Lafite, consumed at guéridon by tea light while a table waited) will never leave me, not even, I suspect, on my deathbed. Old World wines—the ones that made passionate wine lovers out of so many of us—can unleash great hedonistic impulses.

What else could have provoked James Joyce to such exuberant prose in “Ulysses”: “Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth. Below us bay sleeping sky. No sound. The sky … O wonder!”

And yet.

Our wines (I say “our” as a Long Island transplant, though I have had no hand in their brilliance) make sense, too. Our wines pair well with food, too. They age. Our wines, on first sniff or sip, evoke complexity, secondary notes, leather, pencil shavings, cool summer moss, grass clippings, stone fruit, spring blossoms.

Our wines are good—no, actually, they’re great.

But our region has not fully realized its potential when it comes to these wines. To reappropriate a phrase used widely in Maine, the goal is clear: To get there from here.

The problem is, on some level, the pitch. You, dear reader, may know what you like in a bottle of red. You may know, for instance, that you prefer the damp, stone-licked quality of an Haut-Medoc without even knowing that the grapes you are drinking are the same as the ones that call Napa’s hot valley floor home.

Which is to say: We, as professionals, have not always done our due diligence in informing the masses. Is it our job to educate the wine lovers among us? I would argue, emphatically, that it is. If Long Island wines don’t market themselves—and, let’s be honest, these wines are competing against regions with centuries of reputation—we have to speak on their behalf.

And so, last Monday, professionals dedicated to the cork-popping of local wares gathered in Riverhead, the poetic-sounding place where our forks (North and South, I mean) meet.

In all, I sampled wines from 20 wineries from Long Island’s North and South Forks. Standouts included:

• An unctuous, bready and complex Méthode Champenoise sparkling rosé from Wölffer Estate, the 2013 Noblesse Oblige.

• A playful, deep, fragrant crown-capped sparkling rosé from Macari Vineyards, the limited-production “Horses.”

• A barnyardy, balanced Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend from Mattebella Vineyards, the non-vintage “Famiglia.”

• A floral, fragrant white blend from Bedell Cellars, the 2016 “Taste” White.

• An herbal, sturdy, structured rosé from Croteaux Vineyards, a rosé-only North Fork institution, the 2016 “Jolie” Cabernet Franc.

• A surprising, yeasty and bright Pinot Blanc sparkler from Lieb Cellars, the 2011 Blanc de Blanc.

• A refined, pristine sparkler from Sparkling Pointe Vineyards, the 2014 Brut.

• An earthy, impressive Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend from The Old Field, the non-vintage “Rooster Tail.”

Can I compel you, dear reader, to trade a Saumur for a Southold, an Alsace for an Aquebogue, a Burgundy for a Bridgehampton?

Because, after today, I have nothing but renewed appreciation for our (not-so-young-anymore) wines out here on the Forks.

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in