When people think of wine in the United States, their initial thoughts turn to California. Of course, California’s winemaking history goes back more than two hundred years, with international recognition booming in the 70s and 80s, and the branding of Napa Valley now firmly secured. This history and popularity of California wine has left a mark on the minds and palates of most Americans, even to the point of foreign wine producers aiming for a more “American”-style of wine. And as much as I love these wines myself, there is great beauty in diversity. Luckily, there are still a great deal of wine-producing regions in the United States that are not trying to just make another Californian style of wine, and the first that comes to my mind is Long Island.
Long Island consists of three AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). They are: Long Island, The North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons, Long Island. From these three, the North Fork stands out with more than 30 wineries and a list of varietals that are being successfully turned from vine to wine. The most popular varietals on the North Fork are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. However, from my tasting, it is apparent that Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are truly starting to shine, with Chardonnay trailing not too far behind.
Years ago, when I visited the North Fork, the grape on everyone's tongue was Cabernet Franc. I'm happy to see that trend has died away for the most part, as most of the Cab Franc tasted on the Island years ago were far too green and funky. Fast forward five years and now the red grape everyone is talking about is Merlot — and for good reason. The Merlot on Long Island has truly begun to show that it can produce highly enjoyable fine wine, and what's even better is that Long Island Merlots are starting to show a sense of place. It's not California and it's not Bordeaux… it's Long Island. And the more proud that these vintners become of this accomplishment, the better the wine in the bottle seems to become.