(This story appeared originally in the 4/14 issue of the Long Island Press)

Jim and Linda Waters of Waters Crest Winery, pictured in their barrel room, own one of Long Island’s newest family-run wineries. Photo by John Griffin, Long Island Press

It’s no secret that Long Island produces its share of wine. You can
find local labels easily in stores, and wine tasting on the East End
has become a popular activity. Some of the wines are good, and others
aren’t, but if you look hard, there’s a select group that is truly

The LI wine region, born in 1973 with a single vineyard, has grown
to now include more than 60 vineyards and 30-plus wineries. If you’ve
tried LI wines before, chances are you picked something up at your
local wine shop—probably a sweetish blend with a cute, water
fowl-adorned label, or a gulpable, second-label wine from one of the
larger producers.

If you didn’t like them, you’re not alone. These wines sell
extremely well, but they often lack the elegance and character of the
world’s best wines. If that’s all you’ve tried, you haven’t even tasted
LI wine yet.

The fact is, LI produces wines that compare favorably with those
from the top winemaking regions in the world, like Bordeaux, Burgundy,
Alsace and even Austria and Hungary. You just need to know where to
look, and most of the time, your local wine shop isn’t the place to
find them.

Here are 10 wines, five white and five red, that are made in such
small quantities by smaller wineries, they are sold mostly to
restaurants, upscale wine shops and in their own tasting rooms. Each is
worth the trouble of tracking a bottle or two down.

Because there’s no better way to start a party, let’s begin with
Lieb Family Cellars’ 2001 Blanc de Blanc ($35). While many top
sparklers, including authentic Champagne, are made with Pinot Noir,
Chardonnay or a blend of both, Lieb’s offering is 100 percent Pinot
Blanc. Of the 375 cases made, only 160 cases are left and it’s easy to
see why. The wine is citrusy, with pear and subtle honeydew melon
flavors, and features the tiny bubbles found only in the best. It’s
perfect paired with shellfish and light salads, or for everyday

many wine lovers, Riesling is the most noble of all white grapes. Too
often however, American Rieslings lack the elegance and acidity of the
best German examples. Not so with Waters Crest Winery’s 2003 Riesling
. Jim Waters, the winery’s owner and winemaker, crafts this
mouthwatering, crisp white that is unmistakably Alsatian in style.
Filled with melon and lime flavors and bright acidity, it’s great with
spicy Chinese or Thai take-out.

If you think dessert wines are always burningly high in alcohol or
syrupy sweet, think again. Macari Vineyard’s Block E 2003 ($35) is
ripe, rich and filled with honey and tropical fruit flavors like mango
and pineapple. It’s sweet without being heavy and shows lively acidity
and hints of crisp pear. Its long, elegant finish will leave you
wanting another sip. Open this at the end of a meal and watch it

Another wine from Macari Vineyards, the 2004 Early Wine ($13), is
100 percent Chardonnay, but you’d never know it. Released just months
after the grapes are picked, this tantalizing, appetite-whetting wine
overflows with bright citrus fruit and crisp apple flavors without any
of the oak or butter flavors often associated with Chardonnay. If
you’re sitting by the pool or beach this summer, this is the wine you
should be drinking.

If you like your Chardonnay a bit more traditional, 2003 Comtesse
Russian Oak Chardonnay ($18)
is a fine option. It’s delicious
and lush without being heavy or over-oaked. With toasty vanilla and
beautiful underlying fruitiness, it’s definitely not a California
Chardonnay. This wine, and the well-regarded Comtesse Therese Merlots,
is available at both of The Tasting Room’s locations (a co-op tasting
room for small producers).

Also available at The Tasting Room are two intriguing reds from
Broadfields Wine Cellars. The Broadfields Wine Cellars 2002 Cabernet
Franc ($18)
is smoky and spicy with ripe black plum and vanilla
accents. Cabernet Franc is well known in France’s Loire Valley and is
starting to catch on here. But LI is known as a land of Merlot, and the
recently released Broadfields Wine Cellars’ 2002 Merlot ($24) is deep,
sultry crimson in the glass, with complex layers of blackberry and
black cherry flavors accented by vanilla and licorice notes. It’s
extremely smooth, with smoky, spicy tannins.

One of the Island’s newest and smallest producers crafts the
sophisticated Roanoke Vineyards 2000 Merlot ($38) a toasty, spicy wine
filled with lush berry flavors and a lingering, layered finish
highlighted by a touch of mint. Even at $38, it’s a value that rivals
many LI wines at twice the price. There are only 75 cases of this
available at their rustic tasting room. Keep an eye out for a summer
Rosé release and two different red blends in the fall.

Yet another top-flight Merlot is the Shinn Estate Vineyards 2002
"young vines" Merlot ($24)
. This nuanced red is expertly balanced and
offers nice black plum and berry fruitiness with hints of vanilla cream
and cinnamon. With feather-soft tannins, good acidity and
well-integrated oakiness, it’s a great food wine, which isn’t
surprising considering owners David Page and Barbara Shinn also own
(and run) NYC’s Home restaurant.

Lastly, if you’re like Miles from Sideways and just won’t drink any
"f**king Merlot," Channing Daughters Winery in the Hamptons has just
the thing—Blaufrankisch, a major grape in Hungary and Austria. Channing
Daughters Winery’s 2003 Blaufrankisch ($22)
, the only of its kind made
on LI, presents delicious black plum and cherry flavors accented by
grilled meat and black pepper. The tannins are incredibly soft, barely
noticeable, but they bring a spiciness. It usually sells out to wine
club members before being released to the public, but if you go to
their tasting room, you might get lucky. If not, join the wine club for
next year.


To learn more about these and other LI wines, visit www.liwines.com.