Long Island Wine: Old World Meets New

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Wine's harvest season may mean a sun-drenched Napa for some, but New York state has its own world of wine to offer, with Long Island leading the way for the region's oenophiles.

Wine has been happening on Long Island over the last 10 to 15 years, but only within the last couple of years has there been a huge winery boom in the North Fork, says David Hamburger, the director of special events at New York City's oldest wine retailer, Acker Merrall & Condit.

"Property values [there] are now extremely high, in part because the wine industry is starting to boom there. It has become a destination."

As the region produces more quality bottles, local wine-based tourism is picking up steam as well.

Most recently, luxury vacation outfit Atlantic Stars offered travelers the chance to sail the Atlantic on board the Arabella for its first-ever Long Island Wine Tasting Cruise.

"We're always looking to do something different for our clients because we receive so much repeat business," says Bob Spagnolo, the Arabella's general director, adding that accolades for the area's wines have made it an attractive destination for his upscale clientele.

Old World Meets New

Generally speaking, for wine there is the old world -- France, Italy, Germany and other places in Europe -- and the new world -- California, Australia, South Africa and South America.

"Basically the new world takes ideas from the old world but focuses on real fruit characteristics and produces very big fruit-forward wines," says Hamburger.

He adds that the old world is about geographic distinction, with different grape varieties produced in specific regions.

For example, Bordeaux, in France, essentially produces a lot of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

Those grapes have been grown in this specific part of the country for many years because they have an affinity to the local growing conditions.

"Long Island took those grape varieties and found that they have a similar affinity to the area because of the climate and the soil," Hamburger explains.

Moreover, he says that wines from Long Island's North Shore will be more powerful because the soil has more clay, and that those from the South Shore will be more fruit-forward because there is more sand.

"The better Long Island wines replicate a more classic, old-world style than new-world bottles from California or Australia," says Hamburger. "This is how the region's products should be marketed."

Bob Ransom, owner of Vintage New York, agrees that Long Island reds are similar to the cabernet sauvignons, the cabernet francs and the merlots from Bordeaux, and adds that merlot might be the best grape on Long Island.

His store specializes in wines from New York's boutique wineries on Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes regions.

"There are a lot of good Long Island wines out there ... and they are much more acid-driven, much more lean and much more food-oriented than what you will get from California," Ransom points out.

Long Island Recommendations

So with the fall finally here and the chilly days of winter soon to follow, here are Ransom's top picks from the region's 45 wineries -- they'll be sure to warm you up.

2000 Pellegrini Merlot ($20)

Ransom says that this wine is unfiltered, so it's very full-bodied. "It's totally delicious with lots of complexity."

2000 Lenz Merlot "Estate Selection" ($25)

There's the "Estate Selection" and the "Old Vines," and Ransom says the difference is that the vines in the "Old Vines" are about 30 years old, vs. about 20 years old for the "Estate." He says both are excellent choices, but that the "Estate Selection" is a great value.

2003 Schneider "Roanoke Point" Cabernet Franc ($40)

Of all the cabernet francs in the region, Ransom says this is a standout line and "the equal of any of the great Loire wines and cabernet francs from Bordeaux."

Laurel Lake Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Franc ($16)

Ransom says this is a lighter, spicier, more herbal cabernet franc and that it's a great food wine.

Corey Creek Vineyards 2005 Gewurztraminer ($30)

This wine won the award for best gewurztraminer in New York state at the most recent New York Food and Wine Classic. "Most people think of the Finger Lakes for gewurztraminer, because it's a cooler region, but this one is excellent," says Ransom.

Bedell Cellars 2005 Taste White ($30)

The winery is owned by Michael Lynne, co-CEO of Time Warner unit New Line Cinema, and Ransom says the wines have been as successfully executed as Lord of the Rings. This bottle is an eclectic blend of chardonnay, gewurztraminer, Riesling and Viognier, a Rhone-like varietal.

For more information on Long Island wines, go to liwines.com.

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