Selections from the North Fork of Long Island

Which major American city has a premium wine growing region located just a 90 minute drive away, a region which has seen vineyard acreage increase by 1500 percent over just twenty years, which is home to multiple AVAs, and which sees over one million tourists a year? Surprisingly enough the city is New York, and the region is Long Island, which now has over 30 wineries and more than 3000 acres of vineyards.

We were recently invited by a representative of the Long Island Wine Council to taste samples of wines from one of those AVAs, the North Fork of Long Island. Having visited wineries in the area several years ago, we were happy to have the opportunity to get re-acquainted—and we weren’t disappointed! The North Fork of Long Island produces a multitude of fine wines which would please the wine aficionado.

The North Fork of Long Island has a maritime climate and geography that provide excellent conditions for producing wine. Growers in the area are experimenting with many different varieties, root stocks and clones, and the jury is still out as to which grapes grow best under local conditions. As of now, there seems to be broad consensus that among the reds, Merlot and Cabernet Franc do especially well and, among whites, Viognier is a stand out. Of course, Long Island is still a very young industry, and there is still a lot to learn about the terroir.

Long Island wines are stylistically more European than to Californian. Vintage variation is a part of life, but improved vineyard management practices are keeping quality high. Wines on the North Fork are often understated in fruit, are generally lean and elegant, and have good complexity on the nose and palate. There are often intriguing wild berry flavors, earth and smoky notes. Happily, the wines are generally well-balanced and rarely high in alcohol, which is a great virtue these days.

Following are our notes and ratings on the wines we tasted:

Osprey's Dominion 2005 Merlot Reserve North Fork of Long Island ($35) 88

Osprey's DominionMerlot is certainly one of the specialties of area wineries. This one from Osprey Dominion boasts a medium dark ruby color and aromas of wild red berries, plum and cedar. It has a flavorful attack of dark red fruit with vanilla on the palate, nicely polished tannins, excellent acidity, and a long finish.

Shinn Estate Vineyards 2006 Wild Boar Doe North Fork of Long Island ($43) 89

Shinn Estate VineyardsA blend of 88% Merlot, with remaining amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, the light-bodied Wild Boar Doe offers spicy red fruit on the nose and slightly tart red fruit and toast on the palate. It has a brambly character with ripe tannins, good balance and an easy drinking finish.

Palmer Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island ($20) 90

Palmer VineyardsPalmer Vineyards is one Long Island’s most illustrious estates and is among the top producers of Cabernet Franc. This one boasts a medium dark ruby color and a nose of dark berry fruit, earth, spice and herbs. It is medium weight with good ripeness and depth of red and black fruit flavor. It also reveals a silky texture with light tannic grip on the finish. With the recent death of owner,-----future vintages will be under new ownership.

Roanoke Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island ($34) 88+

Roanoke VineyardsAnother fine producer of Cabernet Franc is Roanoke Vineyards. This effort displays a medium ruby hue and dark cherry aromas with light smoke and leafy notes. It has good overall dried red berry fruit concentration with hints of cedar and pine resin. It is velvety smooth on the palate, with excellent balance, nicely polished tannins and a fruit rich finish.

Peconic Bay WineryPeconic Bay Winery 2007 Chardonnay Steel Fermented North Fork of Long Island ($22) 87

This steel fermented Chardonnay displays a medium straw color with spicy aromas of pear and apple. Keeping a lid on oak, it is clean and crisp on the attack with good fruit flavor, nice balance and a moderately long finish. A very drinkable Chardonnay.

Written by Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler, February 2010