My girlfriend and I toured a bunch of Long Island wineries last summer. She drove, I did most of the drinking, and I took a day off from blogging. We were back last weekend, and though I didn’t shoot photos, we were at least a bit more systematic about recording what we saw, what we tasted, and what we liked.
The Long Island wine industry is only about twenty-five years old, though very few of the wineries go back even that far. New ones open every year. Most of the industry is on the more rural North Fork, where old potato farms are converted to vinyards as fast as rich folks can buy them.
It’s not a business for the impatient: it takes several years for a vinyard to produce its first wines, and usually much longer than that to establish a reputation. It is still rare to see a Long Island wine in a New York City restaurant. Many vinyards are too small for restaurants to deal with, but most have their own tasting rooms and wine clubs.
Tastings used to be free (they would make it up on wine sales), but the vinyards found that too many guests were showing up to get hammered. For a nominal fee (usually around $5) you get small tastes of between three and five wines. Most places use only one glass for the entire flight. The better ones will at least provide a new glass when you switch from white to red.
Wine tours are now big business, especially in the summer. Groups hire stretch limos and ride around the North Fork all afternoon. The wineries are close together, and you can hit a large number of them in a few hours, provided you have a designated driver. This time I was driving, so we limited ourselves to four stops and one shared tasting between us at each place.
If you’re visiting, be sure to check opening days and hours. Most are open on weekends only. Typical closing time is 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., and sometimes they’re closed for private events, such as weddings.
The Tasting Room
2885 Peconic Lane
The Tasting Room is in an 1800s storefront (it was a speakeasy during prohibition), and is Long Island’s only multi-vinyard tasting room. Six boutique wineries are featured, including two of our favorites, Comtesse Thérèse and Schneider Vinyards. The owner is Theresa Dilworth; she’s “Thérèse,” but she’s no countess, just a tax lawyer from New York. She’s also the only female head winemaker in New York.
We visited the Tasting Room last year and wanted to come back, as we love the friendly atmosphere, less aggressive selling, and the chance to compare wines from multiple producers. We picked up two bottles of the 2005 Comtesse Thérèse Blanc de Noir, a fruity peach-colored wine that we’ve enjoyed before. It’s in the style of a rosé, made from Cabernet Savuignon and Merlot grapes.
150 Bergen Avenue
We were drawn here because of the great 2002 Macari “Bergen Road” that we’d enjoyed with dinner at the Frisky Oyster. Macari has a fairly new tasting room that reminded us of a Swiss chalet. They’re one of the larger wineries on the island, and they clearly didn’t stint on its construction: it’s one of the most elegant tasting rooms in the area.
Their tasting, $8 for four wines, was one of the most expensive we’ve encountered. The servers do spend a bit more time talking about the wines than they do at other places, but not really enough to justify these prices.
We loved the buttery 2004 Chardonnay Reserve ($20.99), barrel fermented with hints of honey and nectar. We were also impressed with their inelegantly named 2004 “Block E,” a velvety dessert wine, but we weren’t prepared to spend $39.99 for a half bottle.
Macari has some of the most expensive Long Island wines we’ve seen. Their 2005 “Solo Uno,” released only just a few months ago, is $100. Their 2004 “Alexandra” is $80. Neither of these were on our tasting. We did try the 2005 “Bergen Road,” but it was nowhere near as good as the 2002 we’d had the night before.
The shop sells all of the Macari wines, but they also have an impressive selection of wine decanters in many styles in the $50–70 range. The same decanters would sell for well over $100 in the city. We were tempted, but reality set in: we’re all out of storage space.
Martha Clara Vineyards
6025 Sound Avenue
Martha Clara Vineyards is owned and operated by the Entenmann family, they of the supermarket baked goods fortune. Their tasting room resembles a big barn. It attracts bigger crowds than many of the other tasting rooms, and it isn’t at all charming.
There’s a rectangular wrap-around tasting bar, and servers rocket back and forth between guests without taking much time to explain the wines. We chose a three-wine tasting for $4. We could have taken the glass with us, but I didn’t need a wine glass with the Martha Clara logo on it.
We were here last summer, and I vaguely remembered a pretty good Cabernet Franc, but this time none of the three wines rocked our world, and we left without buying anything.
250 Manor Lane
Sal Diliberto is another lawyer from the city who wanted to open a winery. For many years, he was making the wines himself at home in Hollis Hills, Queens. His Long Island winery is only a few years old, and his tasting room is the Island’s newest: it was still under construction when we drove by last year. It’s beautifully decorated in the style of an Italian piazza.
Diliberto has only been growing his own grapes for six years, but he’s already medaled in several competitions and has received favorable write-ups in the Times. He offers one of the more generous tastings: five wines for $5. The pours seem a bit more generous than they are elsewhere. You take a seat in his “piazza,” and a server comes over with each pour. It’s a lot more relaxed than standing at a bar.
Diliberto himself was on hand, and he came over to our table to chat. Extroverted and friendly, he loves his wines and loves to chat them up. His wines are only available from him directly: he’s too small for restaurants and stores to deal with.
We loved his 2003 “Tre” ($27), a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. We might well have bought his 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon too ($27), but at that point we’d acquired enough liquor for one weekend.
We’ll be back in a few months to sample a few more wineries.