Chardonnay and merlot. You’ll find them at just about every tasting room on both forks. They are the two most-planted grapes on Long Island and even if chardonnay is becoming less and less popular with consumers and merlot remains well behind grapes like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, it’s expensive to rip productive vines out and replace them with new ones that will take three or four years to bear fruit. So they remain and are financially important to the region.
And let’s be honest—many of Long Island’s best wines are based on merlot.
But, over time I’ve come to wonder if merlot—or any grape for that matter—should be anointed Long Island’s “signature variety” or if more experimentation and exploration is needed to truly find the grapes that express themselves and the region best.
Long Island wine is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and I think perhaps we should celebrate its diversity at the same time—with an eye toward the future and where Long Island wine may go.
With that in mind, here are some other grapes or styles to explore and enjoy, including some of the producers who do the best work with them.
This red wine grape is at the top of this list for one simple reason—it’s a favorite of mine. When done well—which seems to be the norm for most quality-focused producers today—these wines show primary fruit not unlike merlot, but with layers of earth, spice and spring herbs.
Go-To Producers: Bedell Cellars, Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards, Pellegrini Vineyards, Roanoke Vineyards and Shinn Estate Vineyards
You probably think of Argentina when you think Malbec, but many growers locally have some in their vineyards—just not very much of it. Mostly, it’s used for blending, but you can find varietal bottlings with more frequency now that it has shown so well on its own.
Go-To Producers: Bedell Cellars, Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate Vineyards
Spring is here and that means that the local wine most-found in my glass will be sauvignon blanc. Local renditions typically straddle the line between the Old and New Worlds—showing more fruit and herbal notes than Sancerre, but more restraint and complex minerality than California.
Go-To Producers: Channing Daughters Winery, Macari Vineyards, Martha Clara Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards
I’m lumping these all together because each grape is only being produced by one or maybe a couple wineries right now. Look for that to change over time, however. These are some of the wines I’m most excited about.
Albarino: Palmer Vineyards
Chenin Blanc: Paumanok Vineyards
Pinot Blanc: Lieb Cellars and Palmer Vineyards
Tocai Friulano: Channing Daughters Winery