A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a wine industry friend on the West Coast. He’s been reading my ramblings about New York wine for a long time, but still has never tasted one. The last line of his email read: “If I were to buy a case of Long Island wine with the goal of understanding what matters there, what would be in that case?”
After initially telling him that I think it’s impossible to encapsulate an entire region, even a relatively small one like Long Island, in 12 bottles, I decided that I’d take on his challenge to do so — with some ground rules.
First, to expose him to as many different wineries and winemakers as possible, I would only pick a single wine from any given winery.
Second, because I think diversity is one of the region’s great strengths, I would represent as many grape varieties as possible with as little duplication as I could. In the end, I only duplicated two grapes and that’s because of two clear, important styles for each — unoaked and oak-aged.
Lastly, I’d identify wine at a variety of price points — from the low $20s all the way up to $100 plus; this is the reality of Long Island wine today, after all.
Those rules in place, here is the case I recommended.
Sparkling Pointe 2014 Brut. Any case of wine like this needs bubbles and I think Long Island sparkling wine is extremely underrated. There are other great ones on the island, but this one, with its focus and purity, gets the nod for the case.
Macari Vineyards 2015 Estate Chardonnay. This may seem a surprising wine to pick from Macari’s impressive portfolio, but I need to include a steel-fermented chardonnay and this is my favorite one year in and year out.
Palmer Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes timing is everything. If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know how much local sauv blanc I drink. I just had a bottle of this and it was delicious, like it always is.
Paumanok Vineyards 2017 Chenin Blanc. A bit of a cult wine locally, this wine expertly shows off how less-common varieties can succeed here on the island. It’s truly a unique expression of the grape, too. It tastes like Long Island chenin blanc, not Loire or South African chenin.
Channing Daughters Winery 2014 L’Enfant Sauvage Chardonnay. Again, I needed a wine from a particular category — this time oaked chardonnay — and this one is consistently a standout for me. It ages really well, too.
Wölffer Estate 2017 Rosé. There’s lots of delicious rosé on the twin forks, but this dry rosé kind of started and drove the dry rosé trend locally. It’s a classic for a reason. To many, this wine is Long Island wine, especially during the summer in the Hamptons.
McCall Wines 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. Long Island isn’t a pinot noir region and most sites aren’t particularly well suited to growing it. But McCall produces good ones consistently, and this vintage in particular is stunning. Again, this shows the diversity of the region.
Anthony Nappa Wines 2017 ‘Bordo’ Cabernet Franc. The region’s first certified organic wine also happens to be its best example of unoaked cab franc. This is one of the first wines I recommend to anyone who asks where to start exploring Long Island wine.
Roanoke Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc. For a more-classic style of Long Island cab franc, I always look to Roanoke. The 2015 shows a purity of fruit that makes it a real standout even at Roanoke.
Grapes of Roth 2014 Merlot. I’m cheating here a bit (this wine is technically part of the Wölffer portfolio now) but I consider this one of a few benchmarks for Long Island merlot — and merlot is too important to the region to not include at least one.
Lenz Winery 2013 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. There aren’t a lot of cabernet sauvignons that I’d recommend to someone on the West Coast, but this new release is one of them. Winemaker Eric Fry only uses the “Old Vines” designation in the best years and this wine is a standout and shows how cab expresses itself here on Long Island.
Bedell Cellars 2013 Musée. At $125 this is the luxury pick in the case, but it’s an important wine from an important producer. Can’t imagine this case without it.
Editor’s Note: A version of this column first appeared in The Suffolk Times/northforker.co