I’ve been writing about wine – with a focus on Long Island wines and those of New York State – for nearly 15 years now. The Long Island wine industry and community I see today is almost unrecognizable to the one I started covering back then.
Long Island wines and wineries have evolved and changed in so many ways. Even before the pandemic, they were starting to move away from at-the-bar tastings and toward sit-down, hospitality-focused experiences. Wine education is more important than ever in tasting rooms. Quality is up across the board, and Long Island wineries have earned accolades from world-renowned critics and had their wines placed on the wine lists of some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country.
Yet, there are still a lot of misconceptions and myths about Long Island wine among casual consumers as well as serious wine lovers who haven’t explored the region. I see it all the time – on social media and in my email inbox: There are still plenty of Long Islanders who don’t realize how lucky we are to have such a vibrant local wine region in our own backyard.
These are just three of the myths that I’d like to dispel about Long Island wine and wine country.
Myth #1: Long Island Wine isn’t Very Good
I wasn’t going to include this one – because frankly, it’s just not true – but I still hear it more often than you might think. Usually, the folks who still think this way have only visited a single winery or tasted only a wine or two. If that is all the effort that you’re willing to put in, you could come away with the same impression in literally any wine region in the world. Not every winery in Napa or Bordeaux or Burgundy is making great (or even good) wine.
Wine writers and critics have found a lot to be excited about here. New oak is used much more judiciously these days. Grape growers are better at their jobs now, too. As a result, wine quality, even from some of the region’s lesser wineries, is up across the board. It’s rare that I taste wines that are flat-out undrinkable these days. That wasn’t true even five to seven years ago.
If top restaurants are selling Long Island wines to their clientele, there must be high-quality wines here. It may take a little looking, but there is something for every wine drinker’s taste on Long Island.
Myth #2: Long Island Wines are Over-Priced
Everyone in and around the local wine industry has heard this one. Probably quite often. It’s easy to dismiss these statements as those of the misinformed or even ignorant, but if you’re used to drinking $10 wine with an animal on the label, Long Island wines might seem over-priced. If $20 is your wine-buying limit, you’re going to miss out on many of the world’s great wines – things Barolo, Chateauneuf du Pape, and grower Champagne.
I don’t look down on people who don’t spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine and who usually buy wine for much less than that. You should never spend more money on wine than what you’re comfortable with.
But I’d argue that there are some great values to be found among Long Island wines – just not in the lowest end of the market. 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.
I personally prefer to spend a little more on wines grown in vineyards I can see and made by real people that I can meet and talk to.
Myth #3: Long Island Wine is All About Merlot
To a certain extent, Long Island wineries have brought this one upon themselves. For many years, they promoted the region using comparisons to Bordeaux – where merlot is one of the most important grapes. There’s a lot less of that now, but I still hear it from a winemaker or tasting room person from time to time. Yes, merlot is still the most-planted red wine grape in the region – and with good reason. It ripens consistently here and does quite well in the region’s well-drained soils. At its best, Long Island merlot can be delicious and tastes unlike merlot made anywhere else in the world.
But to label Long Island as a “merlot region” is to ignore all of the delicious diversity local wineries have to offer. I’d argue that the two most-planted grapes – merlot and chardonnay – don’t always produce Long Island’s most exciting wines.
For me, those are made with cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. But there are also some extremely compelling wines being made from things like albarino and teroldgeo and malbec and petit verdot and tocai and lagrein. And pinot blanc and gewurztraminer and syrah.
You get the idea. There are too many unique, expressive wines to choose just one as the region’s signature variety. Diversity defines the region and that is what will take it well into the future as grape growers continue to experiment with new grape varieties.