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The vines at Lenz Winery, whose merlot is tops for Lenn Thompson. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

This is going to be fun. The opportunity to pick a case of wine that represents what Long Island wine is today is something that I’ve had in the back of my mind for several years. Distilling 40-plus years of grape growing and winemaking into 12 bottles is no easy task. It’s also something that requires several caveats. 

First, you’ll notice that I’m not including vintages. If a wine is only worthy in “great” years, then it doesn’t belong on the list. These are the wines that are consistently delicious from year to year, even if they might taste quite different depending on vintage. 

Second, I’m making the choice to not include any wine that costs more than $50 per bottle. Long Island wineries produce some incredible wines that sell for more than that – wines like Bedell Cellars’ Musee, Wolffer Estate’s Christian’s Cuvee Merlot, Pellegrini Vineyards’ Reserve, and Macari Vineyards Alexandra — but here I’m highlighting go-to wines that don’t require a special occasion. (Watch for that splurge-worthy list down the road, though).

Third, for this list (and frankly when I’m buying wine to drink) I’m looking for wines that uniquely express this region. The idea of terroir can be hard to define, but I want wines that taste like Long Island wines rather than wines that — while maybe delicious — taste like they could have been made almost anywhere. 

Fourth, I’ve allowed myself only one pick per winery and excluded any wines that are only available to wine club members or are otherwise difficult to find or buy. What good is a list like this if you, dear reader, cannot buy the wines?

Without further caveats or reservations, here is the case of Long Island wine.

Wine #1: Sparkling Pointe Brut
Sparkling wine is the hidden treasure of Long Island — it doesn’t always get a lot of attention, but at Sparkling Pointe it is the focus, and this vibrant blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot Meunier always over-delivers for around $30.

Sparkling Pointe 2014 Brut. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Wine #2: Wölffer Estate Vineyard Estate Rosé
Wölffer winemaker Roman Roth has been making dry rosé since before it was cool., including the Instagram-famous Summer in a Bottle. For me, the Estate Rosé is the real gem. It’s widely distributed, super fresh, and is the wine of any Long Island summer for me. 

Wölffer Estate rose (Photo Credit: Courtesy Wölffer Estate Vineyard)

Wine #3: Macari Vineyards “Katherine’s Field” Sauvignon Blanc
At its best, Long Island sauvignon blanc sort of straddles the riper West Coast examples and leaner, more mineral-driven Loire examples. This Macari is a benchmark for that style locally. Citrusy with melon and sometimes even some passionfruit, it’s brisk and ready for local shellfish and other seafood. 

Macari Vineyards Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Wine #4: Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay
If you’ve read me for very long at all, you probably know that I don’t generally have a very high opinion of North American chardonnay, but winemaker Christopher Tracy makes several that I enjoy, including one of the best values on this list. You won’t find any oak flavors to get in the way of the fresh apple and pear flavors with just a little citrus zest and a hint of the creaminess you expect from the grape.

Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay (Photo Credit: Courtesy Channing Daughters)

Wine #5: Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc
One of the iconic white wines of the North Fork, this is a wine that varies greatly depending on the season but is always a winner. Some years, it’s more citrus and green apple driven. Others, it’s more tropical. One constant is fresh, juicy acidity that pairs well with seafood — or any hot summer day by the pool or at the beach. 

A bottle of Paumanok Vineyards chenin blanc. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine #6: Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc
Pinot blanc can be pretty bland, but this wine never is. Floral and citrusy, it slots right in next to all of the other food-friendly white wines that make Long Island so compelling. I’m picking the still version here, but the sparkling version deserves an honorable mention. 

Lieb Cellars 2014 Pinot Blanc. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Wine #7: McCall Wines Pinot Noir
With thin skins and a very different ripening curve than most of the red wine grapes that are so successful here, pinot noir is rarely a standout on the North Fork. Yet, McCall consistently makes the exception to that rule. It’s impossible for me to make a list like this without this wine on it.

2008 McCall Wines Pinot Noir (Photo Credit: Courtesy McCall Wines)

Wine #8: Anthony Nappa Wines “Bordo Antico” Cabernet Franc
One of two cabernet francs on this list (it’s my list, so I get to put two on if I want to!), this one shows the wild, rustic nature that local cabernet franc can take on when it’s allowed to show off. Unoaked, this wine keeps the focus on bright fruit and herbal nuances. 

Bordo Antico
A bottle of Anthony Nappa Wines Bordo Antico. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine #9: Bedell Cellars Cabernet Franc
Veteran winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich shares my love of cabernet franc on the North Fork and it shows in this wine every year. He uses old, neutral oak barrels in its making, resulting in a silky, high-toned wine with floral notes along with berries and notes of savory herb. 

Bedell Cellars 2016 Cabernet Franc. (Credit: Cyndi Zaweski)

Wine #10: The Lenz Winery Estate Selection Merlot
If merlot is really the red grape of Long Island (it is based on acres planted with it) this is the benchmark wine that is affordable and available for most of us. It is literally the wine that I recommend to anyone who asks what Long Island merlot is all about. This is it. 

Lenz Estate Selection Merlot (Photo Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine #11: Grapes of Roth Merlot
This one is a bit of a cheat. While technically part of the Wolffer portfolio now, for several vintages, this was Roth’s private label. Roth works with growers he’s known for many years to craft this other beautiful expression of Long Island merlot. 

A bottle of Grapes of Roth 2010 merlot. (Photo Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine #12: Roanoke Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet sauvignon is very (very) inconsistent locally because it doesn’t always ripen fully.  Roanoke Vineyards is one of the few producers you can count on to do it right. This isn’t a big, Napa Valley-style wine, but it is typically more structured than most reds in the region and shows off what cab can be here.