I'm already a believer in Long Island wine. Multiple mini-tastings at Vintage NY, a bottle here and there at home, and a visit to the North Fork last summer convinced me of the high quality of many Long Island wines, and of the potential of the region in general. So Brooklyn Uncorked, a tasting of Long Island wines featuring at least 25 producers, was not some sort of test for me to decide whether or not I like Long Island wines. I already like them.
Here is what I like about them:
- The reds tend to be somewhat "old-world" in style - they offer complexity and balance that can be elusive among new world wines made with the big three Bordeaux grapes. They typically clock in between 12-13.5% alcohol. They are not "fruit bombs." They are Long Island wines, the producers are not using grapes grown in Long Island to make California style wine.
- They grow and make good Cabernet Franc. Lenn says some of the wines are in the Loire style. If by "Loire style" he means delicious, I agree. If by "Loire style" he means similar in terms of typical aroma and flavor profiles, or in terms of texture - the general feeling of the wine, I am not so sure I agree. I have found Long Island Cab Francs to be very good in general, in their own dark, thick, fruity way. Not in the peppery and animal-earthy, mineral, medium bodied translucent style of many a good Chinon or Bourgueil. If I had to compare Long Island Cab Franc to Loire Wine, I would say that the more extracted wines of Saumur-Champigny are the most similar in style.
- The producers I have met have, to a person, been friendly, inviting, eager to discuss their wines and other wines from Long Island, and incredibly open about how they make their wine. In other words, I find Long Island to be a user-friendly place to drink and to learn about wine.
- It's local - drink and eat local as often as we can, right?
I don't like everything about Long Island wines, though. My big issue right now is quality to price ratio (QPR). A good bottle of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, or Chardonnay from Long Island usually costs the same as a better bottle of wine from elsewhere. Yes, there are exceptions. A very tasty bottle of Loire Cab Franc from a good producer can cost about $15. That same producer's top bottle might cost about $25. That being the case, it's kind of hard for me to justify buying Long Island Cab Franc for $35.
So, back to Brooklyn Uncorked. A great opportunity for me to taste a load of Long Island wine in one sitting (standing, and walking actually). I was excited to move beyond Cabernet Franc, to explore other wines from the region, particularly the whites. I started out by following Lenn around, took his guided tour of Long Island whites, tasting many a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I was very impressed with several of the un-oaked Chards that I tasted, some were priced really well too. I learned, though, that I am not a fan of the Long Island style of Sauvignon Blanc, which based on the wines I sampled at this tasting, is super pungeant, o'er brimming with cat pee aromas. I prefer a more subtle style.
I did not taste every wine that was offered - I ran out of time. I may have missed some great stuff. Three producers that I did not taste, much to my regret, are the reds of Castello di Borghese (I was really impressed in their tasting room last summer), Wolffer Estate (loved the bottle I had at Home restaurant recently, and Schneider Vineyards (supposedly very good Cabernet Franc), which for some reason, was not present at this event.
Here are some notes on the wines. "5"s are my favorite wines of the tasting, a"1" is a wine that I just didn't like. "3" is a wine that I would not necessarily seek out to buy for my cellar, but I would gladly drink anytime.
2006 Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay, $15. Un-oaked, crisp, fresh fruit, good acidity. The best value white of the tasting, in my opinion. Maybe the best white of the tasting, period.
2004 Shinn Estate Vineyards Cabernet Franc, $38. Excellent wine. Spicy, ripe with juicy fruit, great balancing acidity, a sense of soil. If you’re a Bordeaux-hound then this is a steal at $38. Check it out. If you are a Loire-head, then you can do better for your dough.
2001 The Lenz Estate Selection Merlot, $22. now here it is, a beautiful red wine from Long Island with an attractive price, representing great QPR. I will admit that I loved the 2000 vintage of this wine, so I might be a bit biased. Blind Long Island red tasting anyone? Earthy nose of dark fruit. Silky and smooth but well structured, flavors of dark plums, dusty earth, some herbs. Sign me up!
2005 Lieb Pinot Blanc, $19. Nice floral aromas, fresh peach and citrus flavors, medium bodied and fleshy.
2004 Paumanok Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, $19. My favorite oaked Chard of the tasting. Fresh melon aromas, a hint of wood maybe, but not at all overwhelming, well balanced.
2005 Waters Crest Private Reserve Chardonnay, $25. This sees some oak also. Well balanced with nice tropical and floral aromas. Good fruit and nice acidity.
2003 Scarola Vineyards Chardonnay, $13. A lovely steel tank Chard, with bright fruit flavors and good acidity. Not offering quite the same pelasure as the Channing daughters wine in my opinion, but quite good, and at $13 it's sort of hard to argue.
2004 Shinn Estate Vineyards Estate Merlot, $25. This bad-boy has almost 20% Cabernet Franc in the blend. Maybe that accounts for the lovely floral aromas? Also tobacco and earth on the nose. A firm mouthfeel, with nice red and dark fruit on the palate, and an interesting mineral finish. I liked this wine very much.
NV Shinn Estate Vineyards Red, $15. This is Shinn's non vintage, basic red wine, and it's surprisingly delicious. At 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, you might think it would be a hearty wine, but I found it, in an odd way, to remind me almost of a Cru Beaujolais. Somewhat because the fruit flavors were bright and light red, but more so because of the moutfeel - gentle and easy with not much evidence of tannin. I bet it would be great with a slight chill in the summer.
2002 Scarola Merlot, $??. The second wine I really enjoyed from this winery that was previously unknown to me. Leather and dust on the nose, some dark berries. Complex palate of black fruit, spices, and more leather. They really brought out the animal in this wine
2006 Paumanok Semi-dry Riesling, $22. A lovely surprise, the only Riesling I tasted. At 10% alcohol with plenty of residual sugar, approaching a German Kabinett style. Drinking very well now (the wine maker said that this will not age as well as a German wine), vibrant stone fruit, some flowers.
2005 Channing Daughters Enfant Sauvage Chardonnay, $35. Made with local yeasts, spends time in new oak. Lots of banana and tropical fruit on the nose, a bit flabby still. Will this balance itself out?
2006 Channing Daughters Pinot Grigio, $18. Pinot Grigio from Long Island...who knew? This one is more in the Italian style (no surprise, given the name), as opposed to the Alsace style that Oregon, the major new world Pinot Gris player, has adopted. Fresh and lively, nice citrus flavors, nothing complex, but very pleasant. Yes, this wine is more expensive than the superior Scuttlehole Chardonnay...life is strange.
2006 Waters Crest Chardonnay, $18. Great nose of fresh ripe fruit, some mineral. The palate does not quite live up to the nose right now, but tasty.
2005 Waters Crest Nightwatch, $45 (375ml). The only dessert wine I tasted. This one is a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer, I believe. A lovely full gold color with orange hints, and a wonderful nose of ripe peaches and other stone fruits, ripe pineapple underneath, some floral notes too. Just a great nose. The palate to me, though, was not focused, a little flabby. The wine was quite viscous with an aloe-like sensation. I definitely liked this wine, but at $45 for a half, it's just too easy to do better in the dessert wine world.
2006 Shinn Estate Vineyards First Fruit Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, $23. The blend with Semillon (4%) and that this wine sees oak seems to indicate that Shinn is going for a white Bordeaux style wine. Nice nose of citrus and some flowers, crisp and fresh fruit flavors.
2004 The Lenz Old Vines Merlot, $??. Fruity nose, bright raspberry and some dark fruit flavors, a bit tannic. Yummy. Did I make a mistake on the vintage here - shouldn't this be 2001 or 2002?
2003 The Lenz Merlot, $15. Spicy nose of dark fruit, leathery dark plums on the palate. This is their basic Merlot and it's pretty darn good.
2005 Corey Creek Cabernet Franc, $30. Nice floral nose, smooth red fruit palate, very pleasant, if not all htat complex. Steep pricetag though.
2004 Waters Crest Cabernet Franc, $??. Spends a year in oak. Funky earth aromas, some flowers. Sweet red fruit, very grippy - too young for me to really tell what's going on here.
2004 Waters Crest CR, $??. CR stands for Campania Reserve, Campagnia as in the Italian region known for red wine made from Aglianico and white from Falanghina. This wine is 80% Merlot, so I'm not sure that I understand the name, but whatever...The wine had nice dark fruit aromas, and a very grippy mouthfeel - probably a little too young to drink, but very tasty fruit.
2003 Roanoke Vineyards De Rosa Red Table Wine, $30. Lots 'o leather on the nose, earthy palate with dark fruit character. Nice wine, not a great value though.
2004 Shinn Estate Vineyards Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot, $43. Good fruit on the nose, incredibly tighly wound palate. I honestly couldn't assess this wine because it isn't ready for drinking, in my opinion, but as Shinn wines were clearly my favorite of the tasting, I figure this should get the benefit of the doubt...stiff pricetag though so you're really keeping your fingers crossed that this wine will grow up to be beautiful.
I will not go into specifics, actually, because I don't feel like disparaging the wines from my local region based upon only one tasting. Instead I will just mention a two things that irked me: $30 for The Lenz Sparkling Wine? C'mon, I can buy a fantastic small grower Champagne for that, or a lovely NV Perrier-Jouet. And the wine was just no good, in my opinion. Nice enough nose, but a strange and flat palate. And secondly, did I mention that I did not care for any of the Sauvignon Blancs that I tasted, except for the Shinn blend?
Okay, that's it. thanks for comin' out tonight, folks.