When my daughter was a teenager, she rode horses competitively. Horseback riding is bank-breaking; for her to show at the top level was beyond our means, but for one month we sent her to train at Coker Farm in Bedford, N.Y., a leading junior riding facility. It was a wonderful experience for her to have a taste of excellence. As a parent, I justified the expense by what she gained in poise and independence.
Though I myself didn’t learn anything about equitation, I took a precious lesson from Coker Farm. Inscribed over the entrance there were the words, “Buy the best and cry only once.” From that time on, this phrase has resonated in my brain every time I consider making an important purchase.
Now, obviously, few of us can afford million-dollar horses. I couldn’t. But the saying is valid within whatever category we can afford. Let’s see … buy the best heirloom tomatoes? I do, in season. The best toilet paper? Definitely. The best dishwashing soap? Nah; I can get by with the store brand.
So there are exceptions, in categories that are not all that important to us. When it comes to buying wine, most of us look for a bargain. We tend to have a certain price point that fits our comfort level and don’t look at bottles over that amount. But there are occasions like Christmas that call for stretching that budget.
It occurred to me that, when it comes to Long Island wines, many people have never experienced the very best our vintners offer. Perhaps you are among those who willingly spend $60 on a Bordeaux or California cabernet but wouldn’t consider spending $30 on a bottle of Long Island wine. It’s not fair to judge a region by its lowest-priced wines, but how should you choose the top-of-the-line Long Island wines?
To answer that question, I sent a query asking Long Island producers for their own recommendations: What would they consider their “trophy” wines? Deluged with choices, I winnowed their responses to a single dry red wine from each who responded (excepting Anthony Nappa, who is sold out of reds but suggested a white made from the red pinot noir, and Sparkling Pointe, whose wines are all sparkling). Reds from the spectacular 2010 vintage are exceptional and the 2007 reds have matured to perfection.
Not all on this list are the vintners’ most expensive wines. Some have won high points or “double gold” medals at competitions. Others are available only to wine club subscribers. Although the superb Lenz 2010 merlot falls into this category, I include it to entice you to become a wine club member. Membership in a wine club gives you access not only to limited edition wines but also to wonderful private tastings, parties and discounts. At Roanoke Vineyards, artist/spokesman Scott Sandell says, “The ravenous appetite for our wines is due to our wine club. Somehow we’ve found 800 wine geeks and we love every one of them.” If you want to feel the love or taste the fi nest Long Island has to offer, why not direct your holiday shopping to the following vintners’ list? (Note: All these wineries have websites that give details about wine clubs and full descriptions of their wines. Most of the nonvarietal wines are blends that include Bordeaux grape varieties; a few include syrah, too. Pinot noir is a rising star on Long Island.) In alphabetical order:
Anthony Nappa Wines Anomaly White Pinot Noir ($20)
Bedell Cellars 2007 Musée ($75)
Clovis Point 2007 Vintner’s Select Merlot ($37.50 )
Comtesse Thérèse Vineyard 2007 Canadian Oak Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)
Duck Walk 2010 Pinot Noir ($49.95)
Jamesport Vineyards Sidor Syrah 2007 Reserve ($39.95)
Jason’s Vineyard 2010 Malbec ($28.95)
Macari Vineyards 2010 Bergen Road ($46)
Mattebella Vineyards 2007 Old World Blend ($45)
McCall Wines 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve ($60)
One Woman 2010 Merlot ($28)
Paumanok Vineyards 2010 30th Anniversary Special Edition ($100)
Peconic Bay Winery 2010 Lowerre Family Estate ($75.95)
Pellegrini Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99 )
Pindar Vineyards 2010 Mythology Meritage ($37.99)
Pugliese 2009 Sangiovese ($16.99)
Raphael 2010 Estate Merlot ($22)
Roanoke Vineyards 2010 Prime Number ($39)
Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard 2010 Spotlight ($45)
Shinn Vineyards 2007 Clarity ($100)
Sparkling Pointe 2005 Brut Seduction ($60)
The Old Field 2007 Commodore Perry Merlot ($40)
The Grapes of Roth 2006 Merlot ($44)
The Lenz Winery 2007 Old Vines Merlot ($60)
Wölffer Estate Christian Wölffer Cuvee 2010 Merlot ($100)
T’Jara 2007 Reserve ($30)
Waters Crest Winery 2008 Campania Rosso ($49.99)
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.