At the top is the almighty merlot grape, lauded by many observers as the king of Long Island grapes. And, it has earned such a reputation with good reason. It seems ideally suited to the regions climate and soil conditions--and consistently leads to many of the region’s best wines.
Next in line is cabernet franc, genetic parent to cabernet sauvignon and known mostly for its popularity in the Loire region of France and as a blending grape in Bordeaux. It ripens early compared to its offspring and results in several different styles of red wine--from un-oaked, Chinon-style bottlings to richer, sometimes heavily oaked renditions that almost seem Cabernet Sauvignon-like in their style and profile.
Last but far from least--to me anyway--is cabernet sauvignon. The king of California reds doesn't hold the throne here because it doesn't always ripen fully, leading to significant vintage-to-vintage variation. In a wet or cool year, Long Island cab can taste very green and have harsh, astringent tannins. A lot of the time it's used for rose or just blended into other things in down years.
But in the good years...wow.
2001 was one such year and Castello di Borghese’s 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) is a terrific example of this wine's potential on the North Fork. With elegant, refined red cherry and earthy aromas, this is East Coast cab at its finest and a wine that many California winemakers and wine lovers might not even recognize. The palate is beautifully balanced with ripe, well-integrated tannins, red cherry, sweet cedar and crushed fall leaves and just a hint of spice.