When wine grapes were first planted on Long Island 40 years ago the region was considered to be fairly cool, therefore vines were planted for grapes that were suited to a cooler climate as well as ones that were popular to drink. Chardonnay and merlot were the standard bearers in the beginning, but constant research and experimentation by Long Island’s wine producers has lead to the inclusion of different grape varietals. There has also been some weather events and climate changes that have caused winemakers to make adjustments to their farming methods or wine styles—not just here though, these changes are actually happening throughout the wine world. My observation has been that though the weather has been a bit wild, an increase in the warm and dry seasons has been helpful on both the North and South Forks. This has not been the case in warmer wine regions (Australia, for instance) where drought and high temperatures have caused some difficulties.
One of the benefits of a warming local climate has been the increased potential of ripeness of some popular red wine grape varieties. Another has been successful experimentation with a few surprising options. Both of these attributes have positively affected cabernet sauvignon. Typically a late ripening grape in cooler climates, it is most often used solely as a blending grape. But recently, a few of our region’s vintners have been producing popular wines in which cabernet sauvignon is occasionally the star grape.
The malbecs produced by Bedell and Macari (both on the North Fork) are interesting and tasty and closer in style to versions from cooler areas of Mendoza (Argentina) than the grape’s original home in Southern France. Syrah from Bedell is also well worth seeking out. Limited bottles of petit verdot are nearly impossible to find, but begging Paumanok for a few bottles is highly recommended. It’s still too early to critique the local experiments with Italian grapes lagrein, teroldego and barbera. But my initial thought is that it will be a stretch for our little region to produce these grapes. For now teroldego can be found as a component of a couple Channing Daughters wines and lagrein has also been produced there for several vintages, but it is in small production and supplies don’t last very long.
The most exciting red wines seem to be cabernet francs and blends that include this grape. It’s been a longtime favorite of mine for Long Island because it seems to really enjoy the climate of the North Fork. Best of all, it’s readily available at many of our wineries.