It’s no wonder that from time to time you can see a chip on the collective shoulder of Long Island winery owners and winemakers. They pour time and money into their work and then they hear and read this with some regularity:
“Long Island wines are over-priced.”
Sadly, just about everyone in and around the local wine industry has heard that declaration – or some version of it – multiple times during their careers.
Before we go any further, let’s clear up that misconception.
It’s easy to dismiss these statements as those of the misinformed or even ignorant, but if you’re used to spending no more than $15 or even $20 on a bottle of wine, Long Island wines can seem expensive, so maybe you are going to dismiss them before exploring them.
If $20 is your wine-buying barrier, Barolo, Chateneuf du Pape and most all of the world’s great wines are over-priced too. You won’t get to enjoy them. And you’re missing out.
But these folks know what they like and are able to spend what they are comfortable spending. In some ways I envy these people – I’d certainly have a lot more money left over at the end of the month if I could be happy drinking $15 wines from Chile, Portugal or “Somewhere Else” every night.
Long Island wines aren’t cheap and they never will be. It’s expensive to make wine here. Land costs are a major contributor, but labor costs are also higher than many regions. Because of Long Island’s climate and soils, four tons of fruit per acre is the absolutely maximum you can expect for some grape varieties if quality is your goal. For merlot and cabernet sauvignon, some wineries focus on 2 tons or fewer. In other regions the amount of fruit per acre can be much, much higher.
However, there is another sliver of the wine-drinking population that sometimes labels Long Island wines as being over-priced too — people who have a bit more knowledge and who drink fine wines from other parts of the world. Their complaints often center on the value Long Island wines offer, or don’t. They talk about QPR, which stands for “Quality-to-Price Ratio” claiming that local wines aren’t good enough for the prices they are sold for.
These people are wrong, partly because the market ultimately decides if a wine is overpriced. If a winery can get $50 per bottle for its merlot, who are we to say it’s only worth $25?
But they are also right – to an extent. There are a lot of wines here that aren’t great values. But that can be said of any region.
Visit any wine region from Bordeaux to Australia’s Barossa Valley and you’re sure to find cheap wines, expensive wines, great values and poor values. That’s one reason generalizations about wine just don’t work.
The fact is there are a lot of bad values out here, but there are also a lot of great value wines to be had. Remember, value is about over-delivering for the price, so there can be bargains at any price point, not just the low end.
A story highlighting all of the values in Long Island wine would fill this entire magazine, so here we’ll break it down a bit further.
With the weather cooling, this list focuses on red wines, and to make the cut the wine had to be consistently good from vintage to vintage. Vintage will always matter in this cooler-climate region, but with these wines, you know you’re going to get quality year in and year out.
Under $15: Macari Vineyards NV Collina Merlot ($13)
This multi-vintage blend of Bordeaux varieties is one of the North Fork’s great values at $13. There is an admittedly rustic edge here – it’s not the most elegant Long Island merlot by any stretch – but it offers great regional character with food friendly acidity and structure. This isn’t a wine that I drink by itself. It shines with a variety of foods where intense berry fruit character combines with minty and spicy-savory notes. The only challenge is that the blend can change from release to release without any indication on the label. This is the perfect red for a food-focused party though.
Under $20: Paumanok Vineyards 2012 Festival Red ($19)
The under-$20 category used to overflow with great options, but in recent years most wineries have pushed the prices north of $20. Some even up to $30 for their entry-level reds. Paumanok has fought the temptation to this point and this wine makes the list for its consistent deliciousness. There are a lot of delicious 2012 reds around – it was a great year for Long Island’s red varieties. But in cooler years, Paumanok doesn’t make its higher-end Grand Vintage wines, but the fruit that usually goes into them – from their best vineyards – works its way into this blend.
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Under $30: Lenz 2010 Estate Selection Merlot ($28, Selection is sold out. The 2012 will soon be available.)
The price has crept up a bit here in recent years too, but it still qualifies for this category – and is an absolute Long Island classic. With a few extra years in the bottle, secondary and tertiary layers of loamy earth and leather join ripe black fruits, with winemaker Eric Fry’s trademark balance and Old World styling.
Under $40: Roanoke 2012 Cab Franc ($34)
For my money, no one makes cabernet franc as consistently well as Roanoke Vineyards. The 2012 bursts with aromas of spiced black cherries, blackberries, dark roast coffee, fennel frond, sage and loamy earth. Ripe, mouth-filling fruit flavors creep toward the jammy, but remain fresh and juicy while veins of herbs and earth run the palate’s length and scream “cabernet franc.” The tannins are well integrated providing a cottony, dusty grip that joins forces with a juicy freshness to bring impeccable balance. A long, savory finish ends with cherry skin and grilled herbs.
Under $50: Macari 2010 Bergen Road ($46)
This wine was a great value when it was released a few years ago – an intensely flavorful blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot, but having tasted it again recently – it’s an even better value now. The oak flavors, which were a bit forward before have really mellowed, allowing layers of cherries and brambly fruit emerge with violet and licorice accents. Still-firm tannins point to a great future but are still giving enough for the wine to be delicious today. This is a wine that would be $75 or more at some local wineries.
This story originally appeared in the fall 2015 edition of the Long Island Wine Press