A look at some of the unique varieties grown on the North Fork

One Woman Winery in Southold has planted several unique varieties, including Chenin Blanc. (Credit: David Benthal)

If you’re reading this magazine, you probably know at least something about Long Island wine. You’ve probably tasted some, too. Maybe you’re even drinking some right now. If you are, there’s a good chance that there is merlot, chardonnay, cabernet franc or sauvignon blanc in your glass. Most every local winery works with these grapes. They are — to varying degrees — the most important grapes for the region, now and into the future.

But, it’d be boring to drink only those grapes, right? 

Thankfully, local grape growers continue to experiment with other grapes that have ancestral homes around the globe. Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll find in the ground.

Albariño

Former Palmer Vineyards winemaker Miguel Martin was the first to plant this Iberian white grape on the North Fork. Our climate and proximity to the sea is similar to that in Galicia, where albariño is the most-planted grape. Long Island albariño is floral and hugely aromatic, similar to riesling or viognier, but has a distinct saline minerality all its own. Martin was the first, but others are working with this grape now, including Bedell Cellars and Jamesport Vineyards.

Blaufrankisch

Also known as Lemberger in North America, this red wine grape is planted across central Europe, but most famously in Austria. It has spicy, meaty qualities that make it stand out in a sea of Bordeaux varieties. Channing Daughters Winery grows it on the South Fork, selling a varietal bottling, but also using it in blends and as part of its “molti rosati” rosé program.

Chenin Blanc

Grown extensively in the Loire Valley in France and in South Africa, where it’s known as Steen, Chenin Blanc is a grape that Paumanok Vineyards has grown for many years — though the Massoud family almost ripped it out when they bought the first vineyard in the 1980s. Long Island wine lovers are glad they didn’t. Flavors can vary from vintage to vintage — everything from citrus to pineapple to peaches to flowers to honeycomb — but one thing is consistent: terrific, food-friendly acidity. One Woman Winery works with the grape as well, and it remains a mystery why more don’t. 

Dornfelder

Another grape exclusive to Channing Daughters Winery, at least for now, Dornfelder is dark-skinned grape that was developed in 1955 in Germany, where it is the second-most-planted red wine variety. Deeply colored with velvety tannins and fresh acidity, it’s used mostly for blends in North America.

Grüner Veltliner

Several years ago, this grape was the darling of New York City sommelier circles because of its crunchy acidity and savory white pepper notes. One Woman Winery grows and makes it locally, but it’s best known from Austria and Slovakia, where it leads to some of those nation’s best wines.

Trebbiano

Believe it or not, Trebbiano is one of the most-planted grapes on the planet. There large plantings in Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Portugal and, of course, the United States. It is a high-yielding grape that is often considered a bit neutral (it’s also known as Ugni Blanc). Its acidity makes it an important component of Cognac and Armagnac production. Locally, Wölffer Estate Vineyard blends it with riesling and chardonnay to make a fruity, floral wine that is driven by ripe peach flavors and clean, fresh acidity.