As 2006 comes to an unseasonably warm close here on Long Island, I thought it a good time to list and highlight some of my favorite Long Island wines of 2006.
I’m a lucky guy. I’m tasting and writing about Long Island wines as much as — and probably more than — anyone else. I consider myself even luckier because I’m doing so as the region really starts to reach maturity. Remember, this industry only started in 1973. Its still a baby by wine region standards
Over the past few years, local winemakers have really started hitting their stride, crafting some of the best wines ever made on the East Coast. The best wines are still ahead, but these are the best ones I tasted in 2006.
Best Merlot: Grapes of Roth 2001 Merlot ($50)
Winemaker Roman Roth (of Wolffer Estate and Roanoke Vineyards) plays negociant with his own Grapes of Roth label. He made only 200 cases of this rich, aromatic wine of uncommon elegance using fruit from Martha Clara Vineyards. Fruit-forward but impeccably balanced, it offers cherries, spearmint, sweet basil smoked meat and tar flavors in a full-bodied frame.
Runners Up: Lenz Winery 2001 "Old Vines" Merlot ($55), Raphael 2001 First Label Merlot ($30)
Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Roanoke Vineyards 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
Cabernet Sauvignon rules California, with big, tannic wines of gargantuan proportions the norm. Here on Long Island, cabernet only ripens fully in the best years and in the best spots. Roanoke Vineyards, one of the western-most vineyards on the North Fork is one of those special locations. This wine shows just how good East Coast cab can be.
Runners Up: Paumanok Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage ($39), Martha Clara Vineyards 2001 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)
Best Cabernet Franc: Jamesport Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Franc ($40)
Merlot gets most of the headlines, but when it’s done well, local cabernet franc can be just as spectacular. Jamesport Vineyards has a great reputation for this under-appreciated grape and the 2004 builds on that tradition of quality with generous, but not jammy fruit character accented by smoky and earthy notes.
Runners Up: Pellegrini Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Franc ($20), Waters Crest Winery 2004 Cabernet Franc ($25)
Best Pinot Noir: Wolffer Estate 2004 Pinot Noir ($45)
Pinot Noir is well known as a grape that can be difficult to grow. That’s why it’s called the heartbreak grape afterall. But, there are a few local producers can be counted on for good, delicate pinot with lots of flavor. Wolffer Estate doesn’t make a lot of it, but what it does make is almost always good.
Runners Up: Jamesport Vineyards 2004 Pinot Noir ($35), Castello di Borghese 2002 Pinot Noir ($25)
Best Red Blend: Roanoke Vineyards 2003 Blend 2 ($36)
There seems to be a growing sentiment that blending red varietals is the best way to show off Long Island’s unique terroir. That is debatable, but the deliciousness of many local blends — with this one my favorite — cannot be contested.
Runners Up: Paumanok Vineyards 2004 Assemblage ($36), Ternhaven Vineyards 2001 Claret D’Alvah ($20)
Best Other Red: Raphael 2004 Malbec ($25)
Available only to their wineclub, Raphael�s malbec is proof positive that the grape most associated with Argentina can shine here on Long Island. Intense black currant, black tea and cedar aromas and flavor make this wine as delicious as it is unique. Runner Up: Channing Daughters Winery 2004 Blaufrankish ($24)
est Chardonnay: Paumanok Vineyards 2004 Chardonnay Grand Vintage ($30)
There is a ton (actually a lot more than that) of chardonnay grown and made on Long Island, in an endless array of styles — all oak, some oak, no oak, partial malolactic fermenation (ML), complete ML, no ML — but this chardonnay from Paumanok blew me away from the very first sip. The nose is rich and ripe with pineapple and mandarin orange aromas accented by toasted coconut. Expertly balanced with medium body and a creamy-yet-fresh mouthfeel, the intense flavors closely match the nose with a elongated, elegant finish. And this is still a young wine that should develop over time.
Runners Up: Channing Daughters Winery 2004 L’enfant Sauvage Chardonnay ($35), Lenz Winery 2004 Old Vines Chardonnay ($25), Corey Creek 2005 Chardonnay Reserve ($30)
Best Riesling: Peconic Bay Winery 2005 Riesling ($15)
Long Island doesn’t make the best Riesling in New York State — that title is held by the Finger Lakes region. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any Rieslings of note here. Peconic Bay winemaker Greg Gove made this taut and somewhat restrained wine that displays nice lemon-lime aromas accented by desirable hints of minerals and petrol. Light residual sugar is barely noticeable because of vibrant acidity that brings structure and focus to lime-dominated flavors.
Runners Up: Paumanok 2005 Dry Riesling ($20), Waters Crest Winery 2005 Riesling ($18)
Best Sauvignon Blanc: Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18)
Made with fruit from 25-year old vines, winemaker Chris Tracy added 17% Chardonnay (Musque clone) into his sauvignon blanc, which brings appealing nuance and texture. Clean, citrusy and fresh, this wine is lightly floral on the nose, with fresh spring herbs in the mix as well.
Runners Up: Jamesport Vineyards 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($15), Raphael 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
Best White Blend: Bedell Cellars 2005 Gallery ($45)
Some of the most nuanced, interesting white wines made locally are blends. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating — Bedell Cellars’ 2005 Gallery, a unique blend of chardonnay, viognier and gewurztraminer captures the taste of Long Island like few other whites. If you can get your hands on some, you’ll taste what I mean.
Runners Up: Bedell Cellars 2005 TASTE White ($25), any white blend from Channing Daughters Winery
Best Other White: Corey Creek 2005 Gewurztraminer ($25)
Again, while merlot garners praise from critics, some think that Long Island is really best suited as a white wine region. I don’t necessarily agree, but there are some terrific whites beyond the big three (chardonnay, Riesling and sauvignon blanc), including this one — the best dry gewurztraminer on the East Coast and possible the continent.
Runners Up: Lieb Family Cellars 2005 Pinot Blanc ($19), Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Pinot Grigio ($18)
Best Sparkling Wine: Lenz Winery 1994 Cuvee RD ($50)
This a wine to share with your snobby friends who love and only drink true Champagne. Made with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, it is dry, yeasty, nutty and super flavorful without being fruity.
Runners Up: Lieb Family Cellars 2003 Blanc de Blancs ($36), Martha Clara Vineyards 2001 Blanc de Blanc ($35)
Best Dessert Wine: Waters Crest Winery 2004 Night Watch ($45)
A small-production dessert wine made with frozen gewurztraminer, riesling and chardonnay grapes, it is named "Night Watch" because winemaker Jim Waters did just that — watch it all day and night for four full days without a minute of sleep. The result is a rich, intricate dessert wine that is sweet, but balanced. It’s filled with apricot and tropical fruit aromas and flavors with just a hint of vanilla.
Runners Up: Wolffer Estate 2005 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($37), Macari Vineyards 2003 Block E ($36)
You’ll notice that I didn’t highlight any rose in this column. That’s just because I like rose super-fresh and just-released and because many of the best have sold out already. But fear not, the 2006 roses will be released in only a few months. Look for those from Channing Daughters Winery, Wolffer Estate, Roanoke Vineyards and Lieb Family Cellars.