Uncork the Forks: Yes, L.I. white wines are worth over $20

Paumanok Vineyards sauvignon blanc. (Credit: David Benthal)

As the Long Island wine industry matures and changes over time, at least one unfortunate remnant of its past remains: “Long Island wines are overpriced.”

No, that’s not me saying it. But the people who pour time and money into the work of making the local wines we love so much still hear and read this with some regularity.

I’m here to remind you, dear reader, that it’s simply not the case. 

It’s easy to dismiss these as the statements 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 ceiling, most of the world’s great wines — like Barolo, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, high-end Burgundy, Napa cabernet sauvignon or Bordeaux — are overpriced, too. You won’t get to enjoy them. And you’re missing out. 

If you’re happy drinking sub-$20 wines, in some ways I envy you. 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. But that’s not me. 

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 in many regions. Because of Long Island’s climate and soils, four tons of fruit per acre is the absolute maximum you can expect for some grape varieties if quality is your goal. For merlot and cabernet sauvignon, some wineries focus on two tons or fewer. In other regions, the amount of fruit per acre can be much, much higher.

Are all Long Island wines good values? No. There are a lot of wines here that aren’t great values and I guess you could call them overpriced in some cases. But that can be said of any region. Have you been to other wine regions lately? Unless you’re drinking wines that sell for $20 and under, you’re going to see prices similar to what you see here. 

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.

In this column, I want to focus on where the sweet spot is locally for white wines — the price range where most of the region’s best white wines fall: $20 to $30.

Yes, there are some great wines that sell for more than $30 on both forks. There are also some mediocre ones that I don’t care much for. But in general, you can really explore Long Island white wines without crossing the $30 threshold. 

The sub-$15 category is a desert today. I can’t think of any wines in this price range that I drink regularly, unless you do the math on the boxed wines from Bridge Lane. The whites and rosé sell for $38 per three-liter box or the equivalent of $9.50 per bottle. Other than that, there just isn’t much worth drinking under $15 a bottle.

You can find some wines for under $20 that are well-made, good-value wines. Things like Shinn’s Coalescence, Paumanok’s Festival Chardonnay, Raphael’s entry-level sauvignon blanc and one of Long Island’s all-time great white wine values, Channing Daughters Winery’s Scuttlehole Chardonnay. 

But again, cross beyond $20 and you can get most of Long island’s great white wines without needing to spend more than $30.

Want to get a feel for Long Island sauvignon blanc? You can buy the top-tier bottlings from Macari, Raphael, Wölffer, Channing Daughters, Paumanok, Roanoke and Saltbird Cellars for less than $30.

If you’re more interested in Long Island’s myriad styles of chardonnays, you can buy almost all (if not all) of the steel-fermented examples as well as most of the top barrel-fermented ones, including those from Sherwood House and Wölffer’s Perle bottling. 

Most of Long Island’s other white grapes — like albariño, chenin blanc, trebbiano and Tocai — are all under $30 as well. 

Again, if $20 is the most you have or are willing to spend on a bottle of wine, your options are a bit more limited, but for an extra few dollars you can really get a sense of what Long Island white wines are and can be. Give me $30 and I can find a white wine just about any wine drinker will enjoy — and it will over-deliver for the money. 

Lenn Thompson has been writing about American wine — with a focus on New York — for nearly 15 years. After running newyorkcorkreport.com for 12 years, he launched thecorkreport.us in 2016 and The Cork Report Podcast soon after. He lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.