The Long Island wine region continues to mature and evolve. Standbys like chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are now sharing space with more diverse grapes and the wines they produce. This wealth of new options is driven by both adventurous consumers and ambitious winemakers like Christopher Tracy at Channing Daughters and the Massouds at Paumanok Winery.
But experimentation is nothing new on the Island. Wineries here have tried their hand at using different grapes and blends since the first vines were planted over forty years ago. Chardonnay has been the leading white, the best versions of which show only gentle or little oak aging and a vibrancy in taste. But there are plenty of wonderful surprises in what might be considered secondary grapes. Local labels have produced some great whites ranging from sauvignon blanc, viognier, albariño, chenin blanc, pinot blanc and pinot gris. Some have a great future in the climate and soils found on both Forks, others are best left to their original, more suitable lands beyond our sandbar.
When trying unfamiliar grapes—whether or not they hail from Long Island—I recommend tasting them alongside an original version of each wine to have some context and understand the grape more deeply. Chenin blanc is famed for the wines it has produced in regions of the Loire Valley, but the Paumanok version is worth seeking out and comparing to the originals from Vouvray and Savennières. For albariño, the original can be found in Rías Baixas of northwestern Spain, but Palmer Vineyards offers a local version worth trying. Another grape that shows up on the Island is Riesling. Although I prefer Rieslings from our other New York State wine region, the Finger Lakes, there are a few local exceptions. Ursula Massoud of Paumanok and Roman Roth of Grapes of Roth are producers that have roots in Germany’s Riesling areas as well as here and it shows.
There is always risk in venturing out into unknown territory, even when it’s simply a matter of trying a new varietal of grape. But the reward behind that risk is a richer selection of local white wines to enjoy and that is certainly worth the gamble.
Time for celebration? Find good, Long Island sparkling wines at Lenz, The Old Field, Sparkling Pointe and Wölffer.
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