For decades, Long Island's bootstrap wineries have struggled to compete with Napa-Sonoma and Bordeaux for respect and market share. It is at times a struggle for a sometimes-frigid region populated by less-experienced winemakers who are working with young vines, but before you pour one out for these intrepid vintners consider this:
There are now 60 Long Island wineries, and many are at the forefront of the Middle World movement, which balances Old World varietals with New World learnings. And in 2015, Sagaponack's Wölffer Estate became the first Long Island winery to get a 94-point rating from wine critic Robert Parker. As a matter of fact, it got two.
"We've seen a huge improvement in the last decade," Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at The NoMad, says. "Not only are there more wineries, but the classics are getting better as the vines age and viticultural practices improve. And their winemaking is also becoming more experimental, so it's a unique combination of Old World inspiration while learning how to tweak—and sometimes break—the rules in an effort to make more exciting wines."
To guide us through this old-meets-new wine landscape, we turn to a few of New York's most innovative wine thinkers.
Eric Hastings — Beverage Director, Jean-Georges
"I've dabbled in Long Island wines for about three years and have become quite a fan," Hastings says. "Their wines are part of what I'm calling the 'Middle World,' mixing nuances of both the Old and New Worlds. The Middle World maintains a balance of terroir and fruit, creating classy wines that are terrific alone and with food. I really enjoy Shinn Estate's Grace and Clarity blends."
Cedric Nicaise — Wine Director, Eleven Madison Park
"Long Island wine culture is exciting, because it's still a bit of the unknown," Nicaise explains. "But Sparkling Pointe and Macari Vineyards have opened my eyes to the possibilities of Long Island. Sparkling Pointe uses the traditional Champagne method, and their Brut Seduction is really special. I also love Macari's rosé—making rosé in a cooler climate like Long Island can be incredibly interesting."
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Thomas Pastuszak — Wine Director, The NoMad
"You cannot deny that New York state is a very good, cool-climate region, and I think Long Island should own that fact and look toward cooler climates in Europe—not warm ones like California," Pastuszak says. "Lenz in particular is an estate I've followed for many years. I love the precision and structure of their wines, especially their long lees-aged, sparkling cuvées and their Burgundian Chardonnays. Their Merlots are also excellent ringers for Right Bank Bordeaux."
Jessica Norris — Wine Director, Del Frisco's
"A wine region is not named Wine Enthusiast's 2014 Wine Region of the Year for naught," Norris says. "And I could no sooner pick a favorite parent than pick a favorite Long Island winery. But I would have to say Wölffer Estate is on the cutting edge of innovation out there. I love their dry rosé and their sparkling rosé—both amazing counterparts to any summer meal. And their dry rosé cider. I'm starting to sense a theme here."
David Loewenberg — Restaurateur and Owner of East Hampton's Fresno and Sag Harbor's Beacon and The Bell & Anchor
"One of my favorite wineries is right down the road from my home: Channing Daughters. Their unique style is terroir driven but experimental, and the result is food-friendly wines that are consistently fun to drink," Loewenberg says. "Try their 2011 Mosaico (a six-grape blend that spent one year on its lees) and Rosato di Merlot (a Merlot-based rosé)."
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