Monday, July 11, 2011

Lettie Teague Raves About Long Island Wines in the Wall Street Journal

Long Island Risk Takers Reap Rewards
July 2, 2011
Wall Street Journal

THE OLD VINES AND THE SEA | Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, N.Y.
There may be no word more insulting than "potential" when it's attached to a person or place. After all, its application suggests a certain deficiency of present circumstance. I was reminded of this recently by David Page, a vintner on the North Fork of New York's Long Island, a winemaking region that's been heralded for its "potential" since Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted the first vitis vinifera grape back in 1973.

"The word 'potential' implies there haven't been profound wines from this region to date," said Mr. Page, after I mentioned the word. We were standing in Mr. Page's modest but attractively rustic tasting room on Oregon Road in Cutchogue. "Our wines are served in some of the best restaurants of the world," he added.

Admittedly, I had raised the question of potential about four years before, on my last tasting tour of the North and South Forks. (The South Fork is better known in non-winemaking circles as the Hamptons.) On my previous tour, I'd found pockets of accomplishment and some good wines, though not many that seemed likely to excite the interest of the world. Or, for that matter, New York sommeliers.

According to Kareem Massoud, winemaker of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, interest in Long Island wines was limited until quite recently. "Four years ago, Long Island winemakers were complaining, 'Why doesn't New York City support us?' " he said. Today, Mr. Massoud counts 50 Manhattan restaurants as his clients, including top dining spots like Prune and Gramercy Tavern, where wine director Juliette Pope features 11 wines from Long Island on her list.

What changed, the quality of the wines or New Yorkers' minds?

Shinn Estate winemaker Anthony Nappa, who came to the North Fork about four years ago, believes it began with the former. "People were actually selling faulty wines four years ago," he said of the region's producers. "Wines that were stinky or poorly made—oxidative or reductive. You don't see that anymore." (I myself didn't encounter many seriously flawed wines four years ago—though I did find quite a few that failed to excite me very much.)

Roman Roth, a German native who has been the winemaker at Wölffer Estate in Bridgehampton on the South Fork for almost 20 years, says he has witnessed a profound shift in the status of Long Island wines during his tenure. "In the beginning we were outsiders," he said. "Now we are trendy."

Perhaps the trendiest wine Mr. Roth makes today is a rosé—a wine that was not well received when it debuted in 1992. "People thought we were crazy," said Mr. Roth. (No one was drinking dry rosé in those days.) Today Wölffer produces more dry rosé (9,500 cases) than anything else, though Mr. Roth also makes notable Merlots and an excellent sparkling wine. "People come in Bentleys and buy four cases of rosés," said Mr. Roth. (It is the Hamptons, after all.)

Read the whole rave at: