“What are Long Island’s best wineries?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately. As much as the Vineyard 48 saga has tainted the image of Long Island wine, both locally and nationally — and I maintain that it did — it has a lot of people talking about Long Island wine. I’m getting a lot of emails and seeing a lot of chatter on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too. Maybe that’s the silver lining of the whole Vineyard 48 debacle.
Vineyard 48 never represented Long Island wine. Let’s move forward.
I hate to list Long Island’s “best” wineries. The wineries I enjoy most change regularly. Sometimes all it takes is a killer cabernet franc for me to visit again and again, even if I don’t like the rest of the wines nearly as much. Or maybe I had a great conversation with the person pouring wines at a particular tasting room and would love to have that again, regardless of the wines. Wine is just so personal — too personal, in fact, for any “best wineries” list to matter to anyone except the person who writes about them.
I mean, if you don’t like sparkling wine, you’re not going to agree with me that Sparkling Pointe, which makes only sparkling wine, is making the best wines it’s ever made right now. (It is.)
What I usually do in this situation is offer a list of “must-visit” wineries — a list that includes the wineries I think are making great wine, but goes beyond just making great wine. My list includes wineries that also provide context and show off what Long Island does best — and, to me, that’s a lot of things. Diversity rules this region right now.
This is not a comprehensive list of “best” or “top” producers. If your favorite winery isn’t here, don’t worry: I probably like some of their wines, too. This is just the list that I offer to first-time visitors who ask for my advice. No more. No less.
Take a veteran winemaker, Rich Olsen-Harbich, who understands local terroir better than most anyone, add meticulously tended vineyards and include a dose of beautiful grounds and buildings and you have one of the true jewels of the region.
Channing Daughters Winery
If you visit Long Island wine country, you’re going to taste a lot of merlot and chardonnay. You’ll find both of those at Channing Daughters, but winemaker James Christopher Tracy also works with Tocai Friulano and Lagrein and refosco and ribolla gialla and you get the idea. Experimentation and deliciousness rule here.
Longtime winemaker Eric Fry once told me, “A lot of Americans don’t know how to age wine, so we age it for them.” You’ll find wines in the tasting room that are a bit more mature, wines that really give a peek into how Long Island wines can age. These wines — particularly the merlots — are Long Island classics. Benchmarks, really.
Deftly merging Long Island classics (merlot, chardonnay and the like) with the less-classic (sparkling cabernet franc rosé, concrete egg fermentation and chardonnay nouveau), Macari has something for most anyone, with quality across the board. That’s not easy to do and it’s something to behold.
Many Long Island wineries are family affairs, and that’s no more apparent than at Paumanok. You’re still likely to see founders Charles and Urusla Massoud in the tasting room, but their eldest son, Kareem, has been making the wines for many years now and his brothers manage the vineyard and other parts of the business. Come for the chenin blanc with the cult following, but stay for clean, complex red wines and the region’s best rieslings.