Thursday, May 24, 2007

Brooklyn Uncorked: A Tasting of Long Island Wines

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.

My "5"s:

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!

My "4"s:

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

My "3"s:

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 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.

My "2"s:

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.


Lenn Thompson | said...

Nice write up, friend.

A few things that only an absolute nerd for these wines would know:

- This vintage of Shinn's NV Red is almost all merlot with a little petit verdot tossed in.

- Waters Crest Campagnia Rosso is named that because Jim's wife's family is from that region (where I believe they either make or made wine at some point)

- De Rosa is the rose at Roanoke. You are probably talking about their Blend 1 based on your note.

Sauvignon blancs...I wish you could have tasted the Channing Daughters. You seemed very put off by the local sauvs with the intense grassy/NZ style...but this one is more elegant and restrained. I happen to think that these wines show a lot of promise on LI...if they decide to tone down the 'zest'

Chinon-style. When I say that, I just mean unoaked. You'll find a wide range of styles made out here...some treat the stuff like cab sauv in how much oak they pummel it with. I'll have to get you to taste a bottle of MY franc once it's ready :)

Great tasting with you..and always fun to introduce someone who knows Loire wines to LI...

As for that Lenz bubbly...couldn't agree more...I didn't even like the nose though. Their RD offering is usually better...

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Lenn,
Thanks so much for these comments. Filled in many of the blanks for us. I couldn't find any mention of De Rosa and red wine on their website, so I was suspicious myself - thanks for clearing that one up.

It was such a pleasure meeting ans tasting with you - thanks for taking me under your Long Island wing. Looking forward to future events.

Now, if you'll only share your thoughts on the wines a the tasting...and whassup with Schneider?

Lenn Thompson | said...

Well...Schneider just sold their perhaps they are phasing themselves out of the "scene"?

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the great write-up Neil. I wish we could get our hands on more NY wines here in LA. And I never like cross-country shipping, too many things can go wrong. This was (almost) as good as being there.

Brooklynguy said...

I didn't know they sold. They had a good rep for quality, didn't they? Hmmm.

Thanks Debs. You'll just have to come by NYC and taste a few yourself!

Joe said...

You will never see a Long Island wine in Canada, but perhaps an upcoming trip to NYC will do. Your guide will come in handy, thanks.

Lenn Thompson | said...

Neil...yeah, Schneider had a good rep (and it was/is even somewhat deserved).

Joe...coming to Long Island at all...or just NYC?

Joe said...

Hi Lenn. Generally NYC, for business. Never to Long Island, unless you count Shea or Laguardia... How far is it from Manhattan to L.I. wine country?
PS-sent you an email a few weeks back re: WBW.
Thanks for the bulletin board, Neil!

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Fellas,
You should follow Lenn around LI Joe, if you get the chance. He knows everybody and you'll get the star treatment. And it takes about 2 and a half hours by car from manhattan to go there, well worth it too. very beautiful area.

Unknown said...

Just came across your blog while doing some research, as I'm planning on moving back to LI in the next few months and am planning to start a career in the wine industry. Great job with this blog. I rank you and Lenn as my two favorite LI wine blogs. I actually emailed Lenn a few weeks ago with a random question, and he was kind enough to reply, not knowing who I was.

Anyhow, I wanted to add a comment to your write-up on LI wines. I'll preface it by stating that I hold a degree in Economics, so that is the angle I'm coming from.

In your blogs you refer to a wine's QTP ratio. In the LI tasting write-up, you put forth the idea that while there are some exceptions to be found, most LI wine has a lower QTP ratio than wine of similar varietals found in other wine producing regions of the world. After doing a rather extensive tasing of LI wines myself on a yearly basis over the past 4-5 years (giving me a good sample group of vintage qualities) I agree whole-heartedly that LI wines have a low QTP ratio.

My reason for posting is to give a few reasons why I feel this is the case. Here goes...

1) LI property values are much higher than most other wine producing regions'. A few months ago in either Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast (I don't recall which one), there was a write-up on property values in many different parts of the viticultural world. When comparing these to LI, most of them (minus the very Top Napa, Bordeaux, etc, estates) are much cheaper than LI.
2) LI is not blessed with a "Left Bank-like" perfect soil/climate combination. In my opinion, without this god-given combination, wines from a particular region can only give so much, regardless of the skill level of the vineyard management and winemakers. LI has MANY highly-talented winemakers that do an incredible job with what they are given, but they can only do so much.

When combining these two points and taking into account that the vineyard owners do have to earn a living for themselves, they can only price their wines so low. If they didn't have such crazy land prices, higher cost-of-living, etc, compared to other winemaking regions, I'm sure they would be able to price their wines in a manner which would give them a higher PTQ ratio, regardless of whether they were achieving 85 ratings or 95 ratings.

Anyway, I just wanted to add my two cents. Keep up the good blogs!!

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Michael,
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, and congrats on your career change.

I agree with some of what you suggest about LI wine pricing, but I disagree with the idea that high real estate prices or other production costs are the major cause of poor QPR in LI wine. I think it's more of a quality issue, not a cost of production issue. I say this because there are a few LI producers who do offer good quality at low prices. Here are a few points to consider:

Total revenue can increase when prices are lower, or when several grades of a product are offered at different prices. Classic example is hard cover and soft cover books. People who value the hardcover enough will pay the premium. Others will buy the softcover. The publisher's revenues are increased by offering both options.

LI winemakers offer wines in the $15 range and "reserve" or other such wines in the over $30 range. My point is that the quality of these wines is lower, on average, comapred with the quality of similarly priced wines from other areas. LI wines at "softcover" prices are not usually as good as similar wines from the Loire Valley.

And by the way, many people in LI who have owned their property for a long time have very low monthly costs - it would be only recent property purchasers who are carrying such heavy debt burden and pass this on to consumers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post back. You make some excellent points as well.

I understand your point about some vineyards being owned for years, and thus, having low real estate costs. However, when I stopped and thought about this for a second and compared some prices, it seems to me that whether a vineyard has been owned for 2 years or 20 years makes no difference on the pricing of the wine. As you said, there's an abundance of $15 wines for the masses, and then the $30+ "premium" wines. Most vineyards on LI are using this structure. So, if the assessment that real estate cost has no bearing on wine pricing is accurate, I guess that leaves us with the soil/climate combination not being the best in the world as the main reason for the QTP ratio being low on most LI wines.

One other quick note for you... I know your tasting was limited, but there were a few wines that I didn't see on your list that stood out to me a few weeks ago when I went tasting out East, that you should definitely try if you get the opportunity.

- Cometesse Therese 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Cabernet Franc. This was one of the best I tried all day, and had by far the highest QTP ratio. It's a $20 wine, and I would give it an 88-90 if I had to rate it.

- The best sparkler I tasted was at Osprey's Dominion. I don't remember the exact name, but it was a rose sparkler, and was impressive for LI bubbly.

- Castello di Borghese Meritage. It's like $55 a bottle, so not a high QTP ratio, but I'd rate it similar to the Cometesse Therese at an 88-90.

Aside from these three wines, in my opinion, Wolffer Estate and Jamesport Vineyards probably represent the highest PTQ ratio out East.

That said, I'm curious if you've ever tried the only $100+ wine ever produced on LI- Wolffer's 2002 Premier Cru Merlot? I have yet to meet anyone who's tried it, and am curious to know if the wine justifies the price tag.

Anyway, thanks, and keep up the good posts!

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