You always hear that Long Island and its wines are reminiscent of Bordeaux and its wines. But when winemakers and winery owners say that, most of the time, they do so to highlight their red wines — those made from merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.
What about white wines? Chardonnay, the white grape of Burgundy rules the Long Island white wine scene, not Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the white grapes of Bordeaux. But, while far from ubiquitous, a small number of local producers are doing what I consider great things with white Bordeaux varieties — particularly Sauvignon Blanc.
Two weekends ago, I sat down in my sun-drenched dining room with four local 2005 Sauvignon Blanc bottlings for what was planned as a “battle of the blancs.” I wanted to find a favorite.
Picking a favorite from these wines is like picking a favorite episode of The Office — they’re all too good to pick just one.
I started with the 2005 First Fruit ($20) from Shinn Estate Vineyard, the lightest and most refreshing of the lot. Made of 96% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, the nose is dominated by citrus scents of grapefruit, lime and chalky minerality. Medium-bodied it offers a burst of ripe fruit flavor — tart lime, grapefruit and apple — accented by somewhat minty and grassy herbal notes, subtle thirst-quenching acidity and a minerally finish that begs for same day fresh scallops and oysters. This is the quintessential seafood wine, and that comes as no surprise given co-owner David Page’s pedigree as a Manhattan chef.
Raphael's 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is similar in color, but unquestionably different. Winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich has long lauded Sauvignon Blanc as Long Island’s best white grape and he makes his in a distinctive Long Island style — not quite Old Word, but not quite New Zealand either. The nose offers scents of grapefruit, lemons and minerals and the palate offers similar flavors along with more tropical notes of kiwi and melon, with a slatey finish and even more acidity. I’ve tasted three or four vintages of this wine, and this is Rich’s best to date. 2005 really was a great year, even for whites. All of these wines reinforce that notion.
Every spring, there are a few wines I look forward to and Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18), made with fruit from 25-year old vines, is one such wine. Winemaker Chris Tracy (another chef) blended 17% Chardonnay (Musque clone) into his Sauvignon Blanc adding appealing nuance and texture to this wine. Still citrusy, this wine is lightly floral on the nose, with fresh spring herbs in the mix as well. The tart acidity of the first two wines is less apparent here without losing any freshness. Complex and flavorful, I taste a wide array of fruit flavors — grapefruit, passion fruit, ripe melon — and 5% fermentation in new Slovenian oak brings subtle sweet spice accents. A stellar bottling and they made enough of it (500+ cases) that you could get your hands on it without being in their wine club. Don’t wait long though — it will still sell out soon.
The last of this quartet of thirst-quenchers, Jamesport Vineyards 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is a diversion from its all or primarily steel fermented brethren. The majority of this slightly darker wine was born in steel, but a more noticeable portion was barrel fermented as well. Once a strong smell of sulfer faded (the result of perhaps a slightly heavy hand during the winemaking process), green apple, grapefruit and vanilla-earthiness waft up from the glass. Much less citrus-driven, winemaker Les Howard has crafted a melony, appley and slightly tropical rendition of Sauvignon Blanc that still refreshing. Earthy and vanilla-honey notes are noticeable on a lengthy finish.
Again, with four wines like these, it’s near-impossible to pick a favorite, so I won’t. I’d recommend any of them — you really can’t go wrong.
(This story appeared in the 4/14 issue of Dan's Papers)