(This column originally appeared in the 2/24 issue of Dan’s Papers)

The Wines You Want This Weekend
In a vineyard’s yearly
life cycle, winter is probably one of the least exciting on the surface. Often
called ‘dormancy’ because, well, the vines are dormant, vineyard workers are
busy pruning, tying the vines and preparing the vineyard for the 2005 vintage.
But tasting rooms are relatively quiet, making this a great time for serious
wine drinkers to visit.

Without the swollen summer crowds or pumpkin-pickers, you can
taste at a slower pace, chatting with tasting room staff and learning more than
you probably could in the summer. Plus, if the winemaker wanders into the
tasting room, he or she just might invite you into the back for a preview of
upcoming releases.

If you go tasting this weekend, here’s a handful of wines you
should try. Some I’ve written about before, but most are excellent wines that
haven’t worked themselves into a column yet… but not because they aren’t

Heading east on our northern-most wine trail – Sound Avenue, which
turns into Route 48 in Mattituck – do yourself a favor and stop at Roanoke
in Riverhead. You’ll be greeted with some deliciously well-balanced
whites from Atwater Estates (a Finger Lakes winery) and your visit will be
punctuated with the Roanoke 2000 Merlot ($38). It may seem a little pricey at
first, but it’s actually a bargain with amazing depth and complexity. Get it
while you can — it’s the vineyard’s last varietal Merlot release as they move on
to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage releases in the fall.

Chardonnay may be the most-planted grape on Long Island, but I
think Sauvignon Blanc grapes lead to some of our region’s top whites. Macari
Vineyard’s 2003 Sauvignon Blanc Katherine’s Field ($16)
illustrates my point
wonderfully. Crisp and refreshing, it’s filled with lime and kiwi flavors, but
without any of the harsh grassy/herbal flavors of New Zealand versions.

Riesling is another white varietal that does extremely well in our
climate. If you like your Riesling dry and Alsatian in style, Waters Crest 2003
Riesling ($17)
is sure to make you smile. It’s my favorite Long Island Riesling
and it’s what I like to drink with spicy Thai take-out.

If red wines are more to your liking, Lieb Family Cellars released
its 2002 Cabernet Franc ($28) over Valentine’s Day weekend. They only made 125
cases of this rich, spicy wine with raspberry and plum flavors, so make sure you
try it. For me, Cabernet Francs like this one are a strong argument against
billing Long Island as a Merlot-centric region.

Another Cabernet Franc worth tasting is available in both The
Tasting Room locations (Jamesport and Peconic). While maybe not as aromatic as
the 2001 vintage, the Broadfields Wine Cellars 2002 Cabernet Franc ($18) is
smoky and spicy with ripe black plum and vanilla accents.

Lastly, if you like Cabernet Sauvignon but find many Long Island
versions thin and lifeless, try Lenz Winery’s 2000 “Old Vines” Cabernet
Sauvignon ($30)
. This is definitely not your average East End Cabernet. A deep,
rich purple in the glass with excellent extraction, it offers full, ripe
blackberry and raspberry aromas and flavors with hints of black cherry and
smooth, supple tannins – all with a long, elegant finish. If I’m drinking a Long
Island Cab, this is the one.

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