When I hear "Long Island," the first thing that springs to mind is "suburbs," and that is a big part of the place's identity. But the skinny land mass that is literally a long island jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean also provides terra firma for Brooklyn and Queens. Beyond those two urban enclaves, moving east, city turns to suburb, suburb turns to nature, and vineyards begin to emerge.
Long Island is one of New York's most important wine regions, and within it, there are three officially recognized appellations. The Long Island AVA (American Viticultural Area) was founded in 2001, preceded by the North Fork of Long Island AVA and The Hamptons, Long Island AVA, both of which were established in the mid-1980s, a year apart.
The official wine story of Long Island began in 1973 when a couple named Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted a vineyard in the town of Cutchogue and were soon joined by like-minded pioneers wanting to take advantage of the area's maritime climate -- long, warm growing seasons conducive to even ripening, tempered by cool breezes to help retain acidity.
Inching up to 45 years later on the timeline, today the region is home to about 60 wineries spread across 3,000 acres of vineyards and turning out everything from sparkling wines and whites (notably sauvignon blanc and chardonnay) to roses, reds (cabernet franc, merlot) and dessert wines.
This happens, for the most part, on the far northeastern end of the island, where the land pokes out into the ocean and splits, naturally creating the island's North and South forks and the Peconic Bay between them.
The South Fork is home to The Hamptons -- both the appellation and the famous collection of beachside mansions and quaint villages -- but only three wineries call this AVA home. The vast majority of Long Island's wineries dot the North Fork peninsula, where the Hargraves planted their first vines -- these are the wines to seek out.
Decades before wine grapes grew on the eastern tip of Long Island, the area had an agricultural identity that leaned more toward potatoes and various fruits. Today, though, approaching the area's 50th anniversary as a wine-producing region, Long Island continues to develop and work toward claiming its spot in the larger wine world.
As is the case with so many under-the-radar regions, Long Island wines can be tricky to find. Don't let that deter you, though. Sharing rare and surprising discoveries with friends and guests is one of the great joys of anyone's wine journey.
Below are notes from a recent tasting of Long Island wines. They are listed in ascending order, according to price and style (sparkling wine, followed by white, rose and red).
2014 Sparkling Pointe Brut. Made in the traditional method, this bubbly contains a 60/40 split of chardonnay and pinot noir, with a creamy mousse and notes of apple, pear and lemon. $29
2014 Martha Clara Vineyards Chardonnay. This unoaked chardonnay is full of bread and apple notes, with a touch of citrus for a clean finish. $20
2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc. Notes of hay, pear and citrus give way to a whiff of salinity and spice in the lingering finish of this fresh and layered wine. $22
2015 Macari Vineyards Katherine's Field Sauvignon Blanc. Clean and fresh pear, lime zest and minerality lead to spice on the finish of this 100 percent varietal from the North Fork. $24
2015 Pellegrini Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has a soft mouthfeel and a crisp finish, with notes of white peach, pear and lime, with 13 percent alcohol. $25
2015 Clovis Point Black Label Chardonnay. Floral and melony, this full-bodied wine also offered lime, anise, ripe tropical fruits and a subtle buttery richness on the finish. $28
2015 Bedell Viognier. Made of 100 percent viognier, this wine has pear, honey, fennel, bread crust and a pleasant subtle sweetness in the form of stone and tropical fruits. $40
2016 Wolffer Estate Vineyard "Summer in a Bottle" Rose. Full of floral notes, plus ripe strawberries and cherries, this mouth-filling wine also offers tropical flavors and a layered finish. $24
2014 Onabay Vineyards Cot-Fermented Cabernet Franc. It's a pun because "cot" is another name for malbec, and this co-fermented cabernet franc-malbec is full of blackberry, cherry, pomegranate and spice. $19
2010 McCall Wines Merlot. Bright blackberry, black cherry, cigar box and mocha are all present in this complex wine, which was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. $24
2013 Palmer Vineyards Cabernet Franc. This wine's black cherry, leather, smoke and cedar finish with zingy pepper and spice, making it a great match for roasted or grilled meats. $29
2012 Wolffer Estate "The Grapes of Roth" Merlot. This Long Island AVA wine delivers plum, licorice, leather, cedar and spice, which all lead to a rich cocoa finish. $44
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