food 02.20.03

Long Island Wines

"Chassagne-Montrachet?" British wine expert Jancis Robinson famously guessed during a blind tasting of what turned out to be…a Gristina Chardonnay from Long Island. It has been just over a decade since that bellwether swirl and sip, and, in that time, the region's winemakers have lavished ever more care on their fledgling grape fields, located just 70 miles east of New York City. As a result, increasingly charming wines began to seduce a growing crop of fans.

Some of those fans, it turned out, had deep pockets, which fueled a buying spree over the past four years. Both seasoned and first-time vineyardiers have bought out original owners or scooped up fallow acreage, and each month brings rumors of more sales. Jane Baxter Lynn, Executive Director of the Long Island Wine Council, says the activity is due to "the consistency of the quality across the board. Everything has suddenly gone 'wow'!"

The roster of new East Enders includes the CEO of New Line Cinema, Michael Lynne, who plumped for two wineries: Bedell Cellars and Corey Creek. Mr. Lynne says, "I was looking in California, France and Italy. Someone took me by the hand on a tour of the North Fork. As I looked and tasted the wine, it felt so much like a small version of Napa thirty years ago, I decided to indulge my fantasy to own a vineyard."

So did David Page and Barbara Shinn, owners of the restaurant Home on Cornelia Street. The couple, longtime enthusiasts of the region, have bought land in Mattituck and are busy planting, mostly Merlot, for the future Shinn Vineyards. Those wines will ultimately join the other Long Island offerings that have always been prominent on Home's wine list.

"When people at the restaurant ask me why there are no French or Italian bottles on the list, I say, 'If you go to Bordeaux, you don't drink Burgundy.' What's especially exciting to me about Long Island is this connection between the wine and the food. We make all these crisp and fresh, fruit-forward wines. The Sauvignon Blancs pair with all the beautiful shellfish here. And Long Island is most famous for its duck. I don't know a better wine in the world that would go better with it than a Merlot. It's magical — the climate produces wines that match perfectly."

Bruce and Christiane Schneider of Schneider Vineyards are betting the farm on a different Bordeaux grape, one most often cast in a supporting role: Cabernet Franc. Mr. Schneider believes his vineyard, the westernmost on the island and in a slightly warmer microclimate, is well-suited for Cabernet Franc. "We always thought we would make wine in Napa," Mr. Schneider says, but he and his wife became enamored of Long Island and convinced of its potential. It appears to be paying off as their 1999 premier Cabernet Franc earns critical acclaim, while the second line, called Potato Barn, drinks nearly as well.

Not bad for a wine region that, in grape years, is so young that it has yet to reveal which varietals will ultimately thrive. Even so, the celebratory air wafting through the island right now is unmistakable. And why not? These vintners know that when their best work is uncorked, it can set off fireworks.

Vintage New York is the best source for Long Island wines in the city. They have opened a store on the Upper West Side in addition to their original Soho shop. Both are open seven days a week. 482 Broome [Wooster] 226.9463 and 2492 Bway [93rd] 721.9999.


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