Monday, November 05, 2012

LONG ISLAND IS MAKING KICK ASS WINE: Shhh...Pass It On! 14 LI Reds You Must Try!

Did you know that Long Island wine country made TripAdvisor’s Top 5 wine destinations in America this fall? “Long Island Wine Country came in at number five on TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Wine Destinations in the United States. Trailing Sonoma County and Napa Valley in California, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Finger Lakes in New York, Long Island bested other competition from California, Oregon and Colorado, with The Old Field Vineyard, Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard and Sparkling Pointe in particular being highlighted,”reported the Hampton Eats Team on Dan’s

Did you know that in the November 15, 2012 Wine Spectator McCall Ranch Ben’s Blend 2007 received a score of 91 Points!!!! In fact 9 wines achieved scores of 87 to 91!

Did you know that Long Island producers won the top prizes in six of 30 classes of wine in the New York Wine and Food Classic this month? The 2011 Festival Chardonnay from Paumanok Vineyards ($16.99) won twice, as the state’s best overall and best unoaked chardonnay. Martha Clara Vineyards’ 2010 Estate Reserve ($21.99) was voted best oaked chardonnay. Bedell Cellars’ 2008 merlot ($25) led its category, as did Bedell’s 2010 malbec ($50). Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards’ 2009 pinot noir ($40) was also a winner.

Did you know that Howard G. Goldberg has recommended more than 30 wines in the last three months alone in the New York Times?

And…did you know that the Wine Spectator Harvest East End 2012 just happened….a wine event and auction sponsored by the industry’s most famous magazine?

Did you know that Long Island vintners just established one of the most important and verifiable sustainable farming standards in the entire wine industry?

I am confused.

Recently I read two completely different statements from renowned wine expert Oz Clarke. His fun loving, rakish ways belie a man of substance that few wine experts can rival – truly. Last year (or was it the year before) he toured the North Fork, and spent considerable time with Richard Olsen-Harbich. He declared the wines fantastic (I am paraphrasing of course…but the reviews were glowing,) and then conversely, he wrote in his new 2013 wine guide that the buzz surrounding Long Island wines was gone, and that the island had fizzled or faded…in essence it had squandered its original glitter (again, I am paraphrasing).

He was right on both counts. Whatever happened to Long Island wine marketing? It’s like they are trying to keep their wines a secret. Here was the region that had it all. By the late 1990s and early 2000’s Long Island had accomplished a huge amount. Like a sports team, or a blockbuster movie, on paper they had it all:

1. It had, by sheer force of will, started producing great quality wine, way ahead of older and more established regions within the state like the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley.

2. It had established a reputation for very good Chardonnays and solid Merlot. And each year, it seemed, received better and better reviews.

3. They received good to great reviews from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

4. They had Wine Camp, which meant that the Bed& amp; Breakfast/lodging community had embraced the wineries as a local tourism attraction. They had buses and limousines.

5. They had millionaire owners with large war chests, ready to buy the right equipment, spend the right amount of money on their vineyards, and their staffs.

6. They had the backing (and still do) of the New York Times, as Howard G. Goldberg, and even Frank Prial, wrote glowing reviews about them.

7. And they had one of the best local wine blogs in the US in, who had a loyal and wine drinking following. He could deliver a throng to almost any important gathering on the Island.

Wow! And I can assure you, that if the Finger Lakes had these kinds of news bites (and they do), you’d hear about it all day long (and you do…happily). I think Long Island needs to steal a page or two from the Finger Lakes marketing playbook.

Let’s be honest. The Finger Lakes produces some very lovely Rieslings and Gewurztraminers…and some very nice reds. I could argue that the Hudson Valley and Niagara are producing some terrific wines as well, but that’s not the conversation here. Long Island produces some of the state’s best red wines. Not inexpensive, mind you, but some of the best. The Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot are simply the best in the state on average. And the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs are wonderful too! And the rose’s? Fantastic! They seemed to corner the market at one point.

In the last two years I had wondered if LI had fallen off its game maybe. I did extensive tastings. Recent tastings I’ve done from Bedell, Paumanoak, Sherwood House, the Winemaker’s Studio, Shinn, Lenz, Wollfer, Macari, Pellegrini, Osprey’s Dominion, Grapes of Roth, Roanoak, Raphael, Medolla, Marabella, One Woman, and a slew of others have all been most impressive. The wines themselves are better than ever!

And I will also say, that to me, some of the best winemakers on the east coast reside on Long Island…Richard Olsen-Harbich, Roman Roth, Eric Fry, Giles Martin, Russell Hearn, the list goes on and on. The wines are incredible. The wines get high 80s and lows 90s scores. And arguably, the best local wine blog, now called the New York Cork Report, still resides on the Island as well (though it now serves the entire state with correspondents in Niagara, the Finger Lakes, and other regions, as well as having cheese and food writers as well).


So how is it that no one is talking about Long Island wine? What is going on?

It seems to this long time watcher that there is a bit of island mentality on the Island. LI wine is largely a wine region unto itself. They do not pour at wine festivals in the Hudson Valley or the Finger Lakes. They do not seem to court almost anyone these days. Few of the wineries court bloggers or wine writers for that matter. There’s little on facebook or twitter. They shun buses and limos. The great scores and good press they receive individually go largely unpublicized. Many of the wineries have not embraced social media in a meaningful way (save two or three), and few seem to solicit real or serious editorial coverage. When’s the last time Long Island had a series of reviews of their wines in Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast in a meaningful way? None of these things in and of themselves are damning, but it seems a quiet calm has settled over the LI industry.

I do not pretend to know why Long Island’s wine marketing seems to have lost their Mojo…but it does seem to me that the wineries in Long Island need to put their heads together and push the region forward in a more loud mouth, obvious way.

To be sure there are some solid promoters on the Island like James Silver of Peconic Bay and Alexandra Macari of Macari Vineyards. David and Barbara of Shinn Estate. Kareem Massoud of Paumanock. But from far away, there seems to be a desire to fly under the radar by most. Years ago, there were a band of wineries driving the bus, getting the message out. Is consensus is the problem? Who knows, but to build a better new world of wine, especially given Governor Cuomo’s golden opportunity to promote New York wine, we need a vibrant Long Island. It’s not enough that each winery should promote themselves individually…they need to shout about it together, jointly through all channels, to be heard.

Long Island produces some stellar wines. Many of the best, highest priced, collectible reds come from this region. Here are some of the best reds from the region. They are must haves. Long Island is making kick ass wine…but I think we’re not supposed to talk about it…so, Shhhh, pass it on!

Bedell Cab Franc – Yes, Bedell’s Musee’ wine is possibly one of the best reds on the Island, but Bedell’s newest Cab Franc is to die for. Cherry and pencil shavings and vanilla. Fantastic!

Lenz – Eric Fry must be French – at least in spirit. His Chardonnay’s taste like he smuggled them in from Burgundy. His sparkling wines taste like they were shipped directly in from Champagne. His Merlots taste more like Bordeaux imported to Long Island. Long aging times, in French oak, and superior winemaking, give Lenz its leg up. Any one of Fry’s reds can live in your cellar a good 5 to 10 years easily. Magnificent.

McCall Pinot Noir – A deep, beautiful Pinot Noir. This is as pretty a Pinot as is made in the state, and ranks up there with Heart and Hands and Oak Summit and Millbrook at the top of the list.
Roanoake – Pick almost any Roanoake red and you can’t go wrong. Their Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their red blends are all knockout wines.

Wolffer Estate – Roman Roth continues to excel as one of the best wine makers in all of the east coast. And recent vintages confirm his mastery. From Chardonnays and Rose’ to Cabernet Franc to Merlot….one noteworthy wine after another. Christian's Reserve is a standout, as is the Late Harvest Chardonnay.

Grapes of Roth – This is Roth’s own personal label. Whites and reds, but the star is undoubtedly the Merlot. Big, soft, round. Wonderful!

Peconic Bay Winery – The Lowerre Family Estate is an estate blend that is hard to match. It places Long Island squarely between California and Bordeaux. The wine has big, almost California styled fruit up front, but is aged and noteworthy enough, to smell and linger like a fine Bordeaux. Austere. Well balanced. Amazing.
Paumanoak Vineyards Merlot – Paumanoak makes stunning Chenin Blanc and Riesling, but their Merlot is stunning. Big, deep, rich…amazing. Kareem Moussad, the winemaker, is up-and-coming.. Even if he’s not at the level that Roth and Fry are, he’s getting there.

Coffee Pot – Their Merlot and their Meritage are wonderful!
Raphael – Les Howard continues the tradition of making nice wines at Raphael. There are some changes afoot at Raphael, but still, the winery produces some stellar wines.

Macari – Dos Aguas is one of my favorite red wines from Long Island. And Alexandra Macari continues to be a force.

Shinn Estate – They make a string of absolutely astounding wines, but the Shinn Estate Nine Barrels is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Pellegrini – Their Petite Verdot, their Merlot, and their Meritage blend are all solid, solid wines. I’ve held their reds for as many as 14 years, with amazing success.

Sherwood House – Gilles Martin shows why the French matter! The chardonnays are lovely and the reds are outstanding. Very nice!