If you don’t like crowds, an early December visit to the wineries of Long Island, NY is right up your alley. The tasting rooms are open, the people are friendly, and the wines taste as good in the late fall as they do in summer. If you would rather take advantage of everything Eastern Long Island offers in the summer, you’ll have to deal with crowds who are looking for the same thing you are.
Although it was cloudy and drizzly our entire stay, the temperatures weren’t too cold for a confirmed Floridian. We missed a couple of stops I was looking forward to, but 9 wineries wasn’t a bad trip. We visited Palmer, Paumanok, Jamesport, Diliberto, Pindar, Bedell, Peconic Bay, Lieb, and Shinn. With a couple of notable exceptions, I thought the reds were more impressive than the whites. Lots of good Cabernet Franc and Merlot. These are the highlights of each winery.
The photo is of Shinn Estate because its rustic style is representative of many wineries on Long Island.
2010 Pinot Blanc: I was told this wine was barrel fermented with 9 months barrel aging. This added some toastiness to the citrus and pineapple flavors. Interesting Pinot Blanc.
2010 Reserve Chardonnay: 100% French oak and malolactic fermentation. If you were expecting California style here, the conditions (terroir to wine geeks) won’t allow it. Medium body with apple and pear flavors and butterscotch on the finish.
2009 Cabernet Franc: I preferred this to the Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a 2008. It was also much more fruit forward than some Virginia Cab Francs I have tasted. In addition to the fruit flavors, there was an edgy spiciness. Very nice.
NV Reserve Red: This wine is a blend of vintages and grapes. This offering was my favorite wine at Palmer. It is a Bordeaux blend and has been oak aged (40% new) for 2 years. I got some smoky tobacco notes along with cherry and spice. Very good stuff.
2011 Dry Riesling: I am a big fan of dry Riesling, especially this one. It won Double Gold in a NY State wine competition against Rieslings from The Finger Lakes region of NY. This is quite a feat. Dry and crisp, with apple and lime flavors. Great stuff. (I also heard that a Riesling from Martha Clara on Long Island did very well in that competition).
2012 Chenin Blanc. The surprise of the entire trip. You have to try this Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is hard to find from US producers as a varietal bottling, but this one is probably better than the others anyway. Publications such as Food & Wine and the NY Times have raved about this wine. I have tasted a few Chenin Blancs from South Africa as well, and this one is better. Floral and crisp. Great wine.
2010 Assemblage: This wine is only made in very good vintages. It is a Bordeaux blend, and if it were made in California it would be called a Meritage. It is concentrated and juicy with lots of berry flavors.
The Tuthill’s Lane Vineyard wines: There is a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot from this vineyard. The current offerings are a 2005 Cab, and a 2007 Merlot. Both are more restrained than their California counterparts, and both are ageworthy. I liked the Merlot a little better than the Cab. I found out later I agreed with Robert Parker, who rates the Cab a 90 and the Merlot a 92.
2011 East End Dry Rose’: Dry rose’ is an underappreciated wine in my opinion. This one is unusual because it is 100% Petit Verdot, normally a blending grape. It is steely dry with cherry and pepper flavors. Think summer picnics with this one.
2008 Sara’s Hill Pinot Noir: This grape in unusual in Long Island, and this one is pretty good, but maybe not what you’re accustomed to with Pinot Noir. The nose has tobacco notes with dark fruit on the palate.
2007 Melange De Trois: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and it spent 24 months in new French oak. The nose is a bit soft, but t has intense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Very Nice
2007 Sidor Reserve: 62% Syrah, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The wine shows some spice, tobacco and dark fruit. This was my favorite from Jamesport.
2008 Tre: As you would expect from the name it is a blend of 3 grapes. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wine is definitely an old world style with good fruit and acidity. This is a very good food wine.
2009 Cantina: This is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The winery calls it rustic, earthy, and reminiscent of Chianti. Perhaps more so in style than flavor. This wine also calls out for hearty Italian food.
2009 Syrah: A bit softer than many Syrah wines, this one is somewhat earthy with flavors of tart cherry. This and the Tre are my favorites from Diliberto.
2010 Gamay Noir: Gamay is the grape of Beaujolais, and it is not often seen in the US as a varietal wine. To me, the nose had a bit of Pint Noir funk (a good thing). Although it did not taste like a Beaujolais, it stands very well on its own. With red fruit flavors, it would work well as a picnic/BBQ wine
Pythagoras NV: This is another non-vintage blend we found on our Long Island visit, and it is a good one too. The blend is classic Bordeaux. It has a good acidic backbone and would be very good with a wide variety of foods.
2006 Port of Cabernet: Port is a dessert wine and therefore sweet. I like Port, and I will rarely pass up a chance to taste one. This one is almost a brick color and is not as “in your face” as some I’ve had. As with most Ports, this one would be very good with chocolate or cheese.
Pindar is the largest winery on Long Island, and they make 23 different wines. Sad to say I wasn’t able to taste them all. If I had stayed to do that, I would have lost my ride.
2010 First Crush White: A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, this is dry and crisp with flavors of apple and lemon. This wine has never heard of oak, much less touched it. Good stuff.
2010 Taste White: Another blend, – Bedell is known for this – this one includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Viognier. If I had tasted this wine blind, I would have guessed Sauvignon Blanc. There is a lot going on in this wine; it was rated 90 points by wine writer James Suckling.
2011 Taste Rose’: I’ll admit I’m a fan of dry rose’, and I’ll always jump at the chance to taste one. This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It is crisp with predominantly strawberry flavors. It was also rated 90 by James Suckling.
2011 Cabernet Franc: 2011 was a light year for this grape, so instead of new oak, the winemaker decided to go with stainless steel and old oak for the fermentation. The weight is much like a Pinot Noir. A nice wine. It shows how a good winemaker can adjust to conditions.
On Long Island, the winery architecture is mostly rustic. Bedell is more like refined rustic. The publication The Wine Enthusiast calls Bedell’s tasting room “One of the top 25 in America”.
Peconic Bay Winery
2011 Gewurztraminer: This grape is an acquired taste, and my wife and I acquired it a long time ago. Most famous in the Alsace region of France, it has successfully moved to other places. This one has the characteristic floral/spice nose of a Gewurz (wine geeks say Gewurz because we’re too lazy to say Gewurztraminer) It is fairly soft and dry on the palate. A very good picnic wine. Nice Gewurz.
Lot 4: A Bordeaux blend, which is pretty typical on Long Island. This one is 60% Cab. Sauv. and 20/20 Malbec and Merlot. Lighter in color than I expected. Nice up front fruit.
2010 Reserve Malbec: You see some Malbec on Long Island, but not nearly as much as Merlot or Cabernet Franc. It has a tight minty nose, and good dark fruit. A very nice wine.
My favorite from Peconic Bay was the Gewurztraminer. Not that it was better than the Reserve Malbec. I just like Gewurz.
2008 Blanc de Blanc: This sparkler is made from 100% Pinot Blanc grapes, and it is a real Methode Chapenoise wine. This means the wine is made with the same method as in Champagne. It is more in the crisp style than big or yeasty.
2005 Reserve Merlot: Many of the wineries let some of their wines have some bottle age before release. This means they are ready to drink upon release. This wine has a minty nose and the soft mintiness is also apparent on the palate along with dark fruit.
2010 Reserve Syrah: You get pepper and pencil shavings on the nose and pepper with dark fruit on the palate. This is my favorite from Lieb, although at this writing it doesn’t appear on their website. Perhaps it hasn’t been officially released yet.
Shinn Estate Vineyards
2011 Coalescence: This white blend is made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. The nose is very clean, and the wine is both juicy and crisp on the palate. The citrus notes make it an excellent summer sipper.
2009 Estate Merlot: This old world style wine has black cherry notes initially. The dark fruit and some vanilla carry through on the palate.
2009 Wild Boar Doe: Although I had tasted a good bit of wine at this point in the day, I did not miss the word play with “Boar Doe”. It is indeed a Bordeaux blend with Merlot, Cab Sauv, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cab Franc. This is big enough to stand up to grilled meats and hearty stews. This is my favorite of the wines we tasted at Shinn Estate. They make a lot of wines, and I did not have an opportunity to taste the 2010 Late Harvest. It is a dessert wine made like a French Sauternes. They use Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon just like they do in Sauternes. Next trip I’ll be sure to try some.
Barbara Shinn is very committed to sustainability with how they care for the vineyard land. You can learn a lot about this from her. On the property there is also a well regarded bed & breakfast. It is called the Shinn Estate Farmhouse.