(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)
Long Island is home to 30-plus wineries, from tiny places making artisan fine wines to large producers (by LI standards) pumping out gallon after gallon of sweet-ish, almost jug-style wines. It can be tough for anyone heading east for the first time (or even the first five times) to know which tasting rooms to visit. Here are 10 LI tasting rooms you shouldn't miss.
Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton (www.channingdaughters.com) offers delicious, interesting whites and if you're lucky, a taste of the only Blaufrankisch produced on LI. You'll also find the same welcoming staff in the tasting room on each visit.
If you have children and can't find a sitter, take a trip to Jamesport Vineyards (www.jamesport-vineyards.com) in Jamesport, which offers a large picnic area where kids can run around in the sun while you enjoy their food-friendly wines. They also produce a delicious Verjus (unfermented grape juice), so your kids can sip along.
The Lenz Winery in Peconic (www.lenzwine.com) is a must-taste destination for any sparkling wine fan. Winemaker Eric Fry is a magician with bubbly and also makes top-notch Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Macari Vineyards' tasting room in Mattituck (www.macariwines.com) brings together modern design with East End elegance, and is staffed by some of the most enthusiastic and friendly pourers around. Taste the Early Wine for a truly unique Chardonnay experience and sit out on the deck for spectacular vineyard views.
Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue (www.pellegrinivineyards.com) offers their tasting flights on silver trays, so you can take them with you and explore the beautiful grounds. The back patio, which overlooks their vines, is particularly spectacular.
Last summer, Paumanok Vineyards (www.paumanok.com) in Aquebogue was named Winery of the Year at the NY Wine & Food Classic. If you're lucky, you'll get to try their stellar Chenin Blanc with one of the local oyster vendors they bring in on occasion.
Raphael (www.raphaelwine.com) in Peconic is one of the most magnificent buildings on the North Fork. The tasting room overflows with Mediterranean ambiance and their wines, from their crisp Sauvignon Blanc to the more serious First Label Merlot, perfectly match the room's mood.
Most wineries offer guided tours. But at Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck (www.shinnestatevineyards.com), your guides are owners David Page and Barbara Shinn, who might even let you help prune the vines if you visit in the fall. The tasting room is only open on weekends and the tours are by reservation only. Don't miss the Merlots.
Even if it is one of the smallest tasting rooms, the room at Waters Crest Winery (www.waterscrestwinery.com) in Cutchogue is one of the region's most inviting. Owners Jim and Linda Waters are usually the ones pouring and they'll gladly take you on a tour. Don't miss the Riesling or the newly released Cabernet Franc.
Finally, no wine-tasting trip to the South Fork is complete without stopping at Wolffer Estate Vineyards (www.wolffer.com) in Sagaponack. The tasting room is beautifully rustic and stylish at the same time and winemaker Roman Roth makes some of the most consistently good wines in New York. Don't leave without trying the Late Harvest Chardonnay.