(This column appeared in the 1/14 issue of Dan’s Papers)

Happy New Year, Long Island wine lovers! As you can probably imagine, I sampled a lot of wines between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Dinner parties, office parties, nights out on the town, quiet nights at home… they’re all great opportunities to try new and exciting wines.

Sure, some were flat, lifeless and noteworthy only in their mediocrity. But there were a half dozen that stood out – wines that I’d gladly drink again and again and again.

Peconic Bay Winery’s whites are some of the first that I tried when I moved to Long Island almost six years ago. Since then, they’ve been consistently good, easy-drinkers with enough fruit to please most any palate. The recently released 2003 Peconic Bay Winery Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($13) is no exception. Light and made in a Chablis-like style, it offers honey and lemongrass flavors with notes of vanilla and Granny Smith apple. Great acidity makes it the perfect mate for fresh seafood.

CoreyOn the other end of the Chardonnay vine is the 2002 Corey Creek Reserve Chardonnay ($29). Barrel fermentation and ten months aging in French oak gives this wine a rich golden hue and an impressive nose of fire-roasted marshmallows and buttercream with subtle hints of pears and apples. Butterscotch and roasted pears blend well with toasty vanilla and honey on the palate.

Palmer_1 Three reds from Palmer Vineyards caught my attention between Christmas and New Year’s as well.

For an affordable, gulpable red, try Palmer’s N41 W72 Merlot Cuvee 2003 ($12). Named for the vineyard’s Long Island latitude and longitude, it pays homage to “the coordinates for great Merlot.” Smooth with fresh blackberries and cherries, this simple vino is great for pizza.

For a bit more depth, try the 2002 Palmer Cabernet Franc ($18). Still smooth like its Merlot cuvee cousin, it offers black cherries and black pepper on the nose and palate, all framed by nice acidity. I just might drink this with turkey next Thanksgiving.

My favorite of the Palmer lot was the Palmer Select Reserve Red ($25). A Bordeaux-style blend of 63 percent Cabernet Franc, 25 percent Merlot and 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s an extremely well-made and well-balanced red. Elegant from the moment it hits the glass, it is a rich, deep wine with black fruit and chocolate flavors and a well integrated tannic grip.

As with any tasting session (even one done over a couple months), there was a clear favorite – a wine that jumps up out of the glass and makes one take notice. Wolffer’s 2000 Estate Selection Merlot ($35) was the hit of Christmas Day. Full-bodied and stunningly rich, it offers full but velvety smooth tannins. Exquisite blackberry flavors are joined by nuances of cedar, tobacco and wet stone. We enjoyed it as we opened our gifts, but I’d suggest trying it with a slab of hearty beef, lamb or venison.

2005 is here and it promises to be an exciting year for Long Island wines and wineries. Keep an eye out for better wines at better prices, new packaging (maybe even a screw top) and some new first releases as well. Come along for the ride.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing columnist for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at lenn@lenndevours.com