Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exploring Long Island, Long Distance

As a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic States and a frequent visitor to New York City, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve never once set foot on Long Island in Nassau or Suffolk Counties, the seats of Long Island wine country. It’s only slightly more often that I’ve taken the opportunity to investigate Long Island’s wines. I’ve been making some inroads with the latter of late, and I suppose I’ll have to make an effort to remedy the former situation before long. Here are some quick impressions of a couple of Long Island wines I’ve recently poured.

Long Island Merlot “Estate Selection,” Wölffer Estate 2004. $35. 13.3% alcohol. Cork.
Once its veil of oak lifts, Wölffer’s “Estate Selection” Merlot reveals a finely balanced core of sweet cherry fruit supported by mature, nuanced acidity and supple, delicate tannins. Its pure, red-fruited character, allied to nuances of sweet herbs, tobacco and leather, bring a young Pomerol to mind. It’s definitely more closely aligned with its neighbors across the Atlantic than with its country mates from the West Coast. Indeed, the only things standing in the way of this being a completely charming and very French-inflected wine are its oak treatment (19 months in French barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old – just a bit too much for the wine’s body and structure) and extremely gentle tannic profile. For my own tastes, I’d like to see a little less polish and more viscera. Nonetheless, this is real wine, made well. It held up admirably into its second day, showing good fruit development and a leaner, cedarier wood tone. A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, estate bottled in Sagaponack, Long Island, New York. At $35, I can’t call it a great value but it’s a wine I’d be happy to buy, particularly if I were out to spread the word about the existence of serious wine from Long Island. I really do need to try their Cabernet Franc, a wine about which I’ve heard equally promising things.

A deposit of tartrate crystals, as seen here on the cork drawn from Wölffer's Merlot, is always a good visual indicator of a wine that hasn't been heavily manipulated.

Long Island White Table Wine, Bouké 2007. $18. 12.5% alcohol. Cork.
Bouké (yes, it’s pronounced like "bouquet") is a brand new “boutique winery” on Long Island’s North Fork. This is the first release of their white table wine, an unoaked blend of 40% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Gris, 18% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Gewurztraminer. Between its cutesy name and colorful label (which bears a striking resemblance to Weingut Huber’s Grüner Veltliner “Hugo”), the wine conjures images of ladies who lunch, out for a poolside brunch – perhaps on the very island from which the wine originates. And the wine’s style would be perfectly suited to just such an occasion. Crisp, clean and simple, it delivers fruit in the candied apple, peach and watermelon vein, presaged by pretty aromas of rose petals and apple blossoms. Not just in its blend but also in its flavor profile, it reminds me of Caymus’ popular brand “Conundrum,” though in a drier, food-friendlier style. At its recommended $18 price point it’s also a slightly better value, though I think it would be a better performer at under $15. Would I buy it? You can probably guess the answer to that. But I wouldn’t scoff at a well-chilled glass were it handed to me poolside.

Disclosure: Both of these wines were received as winery-direct samples.

Postscript: Wölffer Estate’s owner and founder, Christian Wölffer, passed away on New Year’s Eve, the result of a boating accident while vacationing in Brazil. You’ll find a personal dedication as well as links to press coverage of Mr. Wölffer’s death at Lenn Thompson’s blog focusing on the wines of New York State, LennDevours.


Lenn Thompson | said...

You're welcome out here in Long Island wine country ANY time, my friend.

In fact, there are plans underway for an east coast wine bloggers gathering on the North Fork in late March...I'll keep you posted!

David McDuff said...

Definitely keep me posted on the conference, Lenn. Either way, I'd love to make it up there just to do a little tasting and touring.

Unknown said...

You've been to Brooklyn? David, that's Long Island too.

David McDuff said...

Well I'll be damned! So much for my knowledge of NY geography. Of course I've been to Brooklyn -- scores of times in fact -- so I stand corrected. Make it Suffolk and Nassau Counties that I've never had the opportunity to visit.

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