(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 delicious.
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 Vineyards 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 firstname.lastname@example.org