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November 14, 2007

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I admit to not being a huge fan of LI wines, but I also admit I haven't tried enough to make blanket statements like she has, either. I think her views are rather short-sighted. I disagree with her on several other points as well, including Chilean Cab.

That Merlot statement seems very ignorant and without basis. I'd challenge the author to specifically try & comment on some Paumanok, Grapes of Roth, Macari, Wolffer, or several others, if she sees this.

And the last time anyone looked to GQ for legitimate guidance on, well, anything, was when? If anyone out in the world is actually going to GQ for wine advice, then heaven help us all!

A baiting article/piece most definitely....the usual anti - LI/NYC anything piece with no references to any particular....guess they're trying to liven up their feedback site.

If I'm not mistaken, it's quite humid in Bordeaux as well...
Quite disappointing, particularly for a Long Island native.
With regard to the price/quality discussion, I suggest one peruse a few issues of the past few Wine Spectators and compare scores and prices coming out of California - especially for merlots. I think percentage wise, Long Island looks like a pretty darn good value.

If I'm not mistaken, it's quite humid in Bordeaux as well...
Quite disappointing, particularly for a Long Island native.
With regard to the price/quality discussion, I suggest one peruse a few issues of the past few Wine Spectators and compare scores and prices coming out of California - especially for merlots. I think percentage wise, Long Island looks like a pretty darn good value.

To quote my old mafia uncle: Ya want me to get the boys together to take care of her?
Seriously, this pisses me off to no end. OF COURSE it takes a while for any newer viticultural region to find its way, but I've been a longtime supporter of LI wines. It goes beyond loyalty because I'm a firm fan of Old World wines, most notably those from the Loire. I find it odd that she's critiquing one of the few New World viticultural areas that does not produce in a heavy-handed, overblown style. And, to ride the coattails of the earlier comment, yes, Bordeaux is quite humid which seems to work just fine for the folks of Sauternes. The Loire is humid as well, for which my unfortunately disshevelled 'do could have testified in February.

Oh, but Lenn? Yeah, strawberries were kinda huge when I was a kid out there and not just in Mattituck. I guess that's changed in the 15 years since I left, but that's a damn shame.

I say stand up for your local wine, even if doesn't compare to the Loire. Be regional, like those Europeans, and drink and be proud of your local wine as expressing the flavor of the region, whatever that may be.

I remember when I sold Hoosier wine and told customers that the Cabernet Sauvignon tasted like it was from "Indiana", and they assumed I meant a melange of cow pies, soy, corn, and hogs...which I didn't.

The soil comment is odd. Isn't the Medoc region mostly situated around the estuary of the Gironde and is thus characteristically full of shallow soil made up of sand and gravel? I believe that the maritime climate there is constantly humid in the height of summer.

I'm assuming she's not calling Bordeaux overrated as well...

She could be insinuating that the recent "hype" over Long Island wines is overrated, which is a defendable point, but she seems to extend this nuanced observation into pure hyperbole. The variables that affect the quality of Long Island wines cannot be described in such sweeping terms since there is solid evidence that the grapes grown there have shown at least some potential, to say the least.

Lenn, I think you were quite kind in your blog of me and I thank you for your moderation.

You picked up on the salient point I was trying to make in that piece. Long Island wine is too expensive. I appreciate the effort of all of the regions winemakers and I can also appreciate how offensive that piece's 75 words might be. Apologies to all. But, my feeling is that there is more to a wine grape than just whether a grape can get ripe. Grape planted on soil should have a synergy. Long Island can make a pretty, simple wine, the problem comes when it gets aggrandized...and expensive. At that point local loses its caché if grossly overpriced.

(By the way, Bordeaux certainly has problems with their weather. But their topography and microclimate are way more complex than narrow Long Island's. That is why cabernet rules on the left bank and merlot on the right.It take centuries to figure that one out. And that is another topic for another time with someone more erudite than I am.)

Well, anyway, thanks. My assignment was a provocative topic. Thankless. As I understand it, I was the only wine writer they asked willing to be the bad guy.--Alice

(By the way, I mourn the loss of Long Island strawberries. They were glorious.)

re: "Long Island wine is too expensive"...

Compared to what? Compared to producers in Napa and Sonoma that also make extremely limited-production wines from entirely hand-harvested grapes that are the product of one vineyard manager and one wine-maker's expertise, with label names that no one outside of a select inner circle have ever heard of, because they don't distribute, preferring to go with quality over quantity, and regularly price their bottles in the $30-50 range? Long Island wines are not too expensive across the board, that's just an asinine argument. I've worked for vineyards, and as a wine buyer both, and I can safely say that small, boutique-label wines from ANY region are difficult to rationalize for any type of retailer, when they're competing with mass-produced, government-subzided wines taking space on the shelves because they're perversely cheap, in more ways than one.

Long Island wines, the good ones, the wines that come from reputable, experienced, artisinal producers, are expensive, sure, just like they are in any other region. And what's more, they should be, because they're not utilitarian products, they're luxury goods, meant for consumers who have the resources, and/or the priorities, to buy watches for more than just their ability to keep time.

What Long Island currently may lack is a surplus of eminently potable entry-level-priced wines, but what it certainly does not lack is a fine array of mid-priced ($25-45) wines that are as good as any other limited production producers out there. Which ought to be considered all the more praise-worthy, given the youth of the region.

As to your plea for sympathy about your "thankless" task, Alice, to put it bluntly, shove off. If you're already apologizing, perhaps you should have considered another revision.

and now for my apology, i typo'd "subsidized" in my previous post, sorry!

While I've certainly necer hesitated to express strong disappointment with those who have come down way too heavy on this blog, Lenn, or its readers, I don't think Alice deserves such condemnations as "shove off" for her opinions. She was kind enough to respond to Lenn's criticism and seems to be congenial enough.

Yes, Alice helped produce the type of glossy media articles many of us deplore (list a bunch of rapid negatives with an absolutist tone) but the fact remains that editors push this type of journalism. I don't think it's worth getting so worked up that any of us begin to trade insults.

Not that many years ago, any wine region of New York would have been lucky to have been panned much less mentioned at all. The fact that Long Island was worth condemning means that Long Island wines are beginning to enter the popular consciousness.

I hope next times she blasts the Finger Lakes too!

I thought Alice's ten choices as the answers for this assignment were better than most wine writers would have come up with.

Frankly, isn't there just too much Wine Cheerleading and way too little Booing? (I see you, You and YOU nodding.)

Alice,

If your "salient point" was really about the wines being too expensive, I'm surprised that there wasn't any mention of prices. As a fellow writer, I can certainly understand that things are edited without your control, but it seems that a key point like that shouldn't be left on the editing room floor.

Again, I'm not sure that I can agree with your generalization about the simplicity of Long Island wines either. Yes, there are plenty of wines that fall into the "pretty, simple wine" category, but an increasing number of wines are showing terrific complexity and layers of flavors. This goes back to the youth of the region (and the vines) I think. Everyone knows that young vines rarely lead to wines with nuance and expressive secondary flavors.

When I talk about ripeness, I'm not merely referring to sugar levels. I refer to sugar as well as tannins, flavors, etc. If you've never had a Long Island cab that you think stands out, come out with me sometime. I'll have you taste the wines of Paumanok, Roanoke Vineyards and others.

If you're rallying against simple, one-dimensional wines, shouldn't Napa Cab make the list? ;)

There's no way you'd please everyone with this sort of column, but being provocative for provocative sake isn't a good idea. This piece is really about your personal wine preferences...in which case I'd probably, if forced to generalize, include things like Cali Chardonnay and Pacific Northwest riesling.

If you wont' come taste with me at the wineries...perhaps I can interest you in a blind tasting of Long Island merlot and cab against similarly priced Bordeaux? I'd be more than happy to find a venue and set it up.

There are plenty of LI strawberries, if you are willing to pick your own.

As for Ms. Fiering's comment about shallow soils being detrimental to the quality of LI wines, in fact the opposite is true. The fairly shallow topsoils, coupled with the sandy subsoils provide the excellent drainage neccesary to grow grapevines here in our challenging climate. They provide the vines with the ability to "weather the storm", so to speak, witness the 2005 harvest season. I'm sure that in discussions with her winegrower friends Ms. Fiering has learned that grapes don't like "wet feet".
I'm just surprised that her negativity didn't include the lack of organic wines from LI!

Sorry Alice but none of your arguments hold any water...perhaps you've been too seduced by the overly "aggrandized" wines of France and Italy to understand that nuance, art and romance in winemaking do indeed reside in the New World. Perhaps when we grow up some more we'll be able to tempt you away.
In the meantime, I find your concocted statement regarding the lack of "complexity" in our terroir quite curious. If you're going to consider yourself a legitimate wine writer, you'll need to back that sort of statement up. How exactly are you defining a "complex" topography and climate? What exactly makes one climate more "complex" than another? Having an area's terroir more well defined after centuries of trial and error do not make it more climatologically complex - just more well understood - a significant difference.
Neither does your argument that Long Island wine is too expensive. I suppose that when your mind is already made up, this is an easy statement to make - one that has been tossed about for the past 20 years and already thoroughly debunked. Expensive as compared to what? Similarly sized Californian producers? I think not. If this is true, why do most L.I. wineries sell out of all their inventory? Aren't basic economics playing a role here as well?

Perhaps you've spurned us because we're not that foreign speaking, funky, bio-dynamic-type of relationship you're so fond of - or maybe its because there's just no mystery left in a relationship between a Long Island native and a Long Island wine - kind of like dating the next door neighbor you grew up with... Whatever it is, we'll be here whenever you need a shoulder to cry on. We may be a little narrow and uncomplicated - but unlike your French and Italian paramours, we still have our best years ahead of us...

I just went back to look at what havoc editing had wrought. In my original I wrote, 'that there are some credible wines, and I've mostly enjoyed some rose, pinot gris and cabernet franc.' That was deleted.

The suggestion to bring something else when visiting was added.

So in the end piece was snarkier than my original. The reason I started my blog was to be free of these kind of editorial nips and tucks.

While I think Long Island can make some decent wines I do think the recent press has been hyperbolic. By the way, when I wrote 'simple,' I do not the word as a perjorative. Simple can be really good. Simple can be honest. Simple does not mean insipid. I like simple!

As far as Napa cabernet, I agree, I was told i couldn't include both Screaming Eagle AND Napa Cabernet, and my editor went with Screaming. By the way, I would sooner drink wines from Long Island than most wines out of California. I believe California has some terroir there, they just screw it up with their winemaking.

You did see that I included Bordeaux Garagistes on the list? And yes, I agree that Bordeaux is overrated. Especially Modern Bordeaux.

A while back when I was asking Louisa Hargrave why no one used native yeasts out on Long Island she said something like, " With all of those years of cabbage and potatoes planted there? That's what the wines would taste like."

I understand her point but the wines I happily drink are happy to express their soils and the climate they come from, not overcome them.

Also wanted to let my readers know that Alice has emailed me letting me know that she IS interested in doing a blind tasting of LI vs. Bordeaux.

Hopefully I'll be able to set that up this winter/spring. Stay tuned!

Alice...

If your snarky editor wants to add in their jokes, have them add their name to the byline so we can spread the blame....bottom line you can go region by region, state by state, country by country, and make a list of over rated products....the blasting of the whole region when its uncalled for is simply stereotyping at its best with an obvious anti NY/LI set up from your editors.

Lots of folks coming down pretty hard on the piece, sounds like people are protesting a bit too much. When really, despite the unfortunate editing, and the lameness of GQ in general, the piece hits it on the head. Aussie Shiraz DOES suck, Screaming Eagle IS a joke at those prices, NZ sauv blanc IS cat piss ridden, etc. Most wine writers write about what they like, so all we see is praise about wines. I like it when something like this happens. Some wine really is overrated.

So is LI wine overrated? There are enough good producers making good wines, so I don't think so. The prices tend to be higher for wines of similar caliber from other regions, so they are not a good value, but they're not overrated. And if you consider the carbon footprint of your wine important, they become a great value (assuming you live in the eastern US).

In all the defensiveness about soil claims and stuff, we overlooked the fact that $15 almost always buys you better wine in the Loire than it does in LI. I think most people would agree that LI's challenge as an industry is to make wines at the $15 price point that are varied and delicious - the "simple" wines Alice mentioned.

I think the value in the mid price point is still unclear. Compared to Napa, they're probably a good value, but why make that comparison? It's like comparing a home cooked meal to dinner at a fancy restaurant - totally different ways to eat. The wines made with completely different intentions too. LI makes wine first and also tries to make money, Napa tries to make money first and wine has become secondary.

A more interesting comparison would be Lenn's "best wines of LI" at each price point and whatever old world wines Alice chooses at each price point.

Neil: Thanks for the comment. But why does Long Island have to play in the $15 market?

I'm not convinced that there's any reason for Long Island to do so. It's not where their future is (I don't think) and I think that overall wine quality might suffer if they put too much focus on that price point.

Long Island's future very well may be as a boutique region. And that's okay I think.

Of course, I'd love to have endless $15 local cab francs to choose from, but I don't. And I don't think I ever will.

I guess they don't have to play in the $15 - you;re right. But I open $15 bottles without feeling guilty for daily drinking, and I want them to be really good. So it's a personal wish - I wish I could find more local wine at that price point that makes me as happy as wine from far away.

With all due respect to Louisa whom I greatly admire, most studies have shown that grapes do not somehow "absorb" the flavor of the crops grown in the soils before them or around them, nor for that matter, the supposed taste of the soil itself. Its mostly due to a combination of the genetics of the grape varietal and the effects the climate, local weather and soil type, texture and nutrition (re: water holding capacity and vine vigor and health) have on the final flavors. This is how terroir works and its actually a far more complex dynamic than the vines just "pulling up" flavors out of the ground and air around them.

Also, the use of native yeast is entirely overrated and is at times, another one of those movements that are steeped in pseudoscience. Yeast does very little to enhance/change a grapes original, pre-existing characteristics. Actually there is recent research showing that the use of native yeasts can sometimes produce some noxious substances known as biogenic amines, which include such wonderfully named compounds such as putrescine and cadaverine. Needless to say, these compounds in high enough levels can adversely affect the natural flavors and aromas of the grape. The use of natural yeast may also lead to higher levels of acetic acid in the finished wines.

If anything, modern yeast culture has led to a more pure expression of terroir by simply performing better and "staying out of the way." It's no coincidence that the development and use of better yeast strains has corresponded to the overall increase in wine quality worldwide. The French have studied this as you can imagine - for decades. Some yeast will slightly influence character early in a wines life but shortly thereafter, it fades and the true grape character will dominate. It always about the fruit, where and how it is grown and the level of fruit maturity. In my opinion, the subject of "natural wines" contains as much, if not more, of the type of hyperbole that has clouded the understanding of wine in this country.

Lenn, this thread seems to be heading in a new direction towards LI Values that still deliver. I'd be interested to get your sense of the best "buy by the case" wines that won't break the bank.
I haven't seen you review Lieb in a while, but their new NV Cab Franc (for $14 or so) was an awesome everyday wine.
I'd also throw Raphael's Grand Cru Chard and Cab Franc plus Shinn's Rose'and NV Red into the discussion.
Jamesport's latest East End releases are also very nice this year.

I'm bringing back that "can of worms" I got you for Christmas.. you got a couple cases today!! Nice job Lenn... obviously people are paying attention out there!
MIL

Much has been said in the 27 comments that preceded this one, so I will skip to the point I want to illustrate about the pricing issue.

It is not new. But we did debunk it a number of times. Most recently Robert Parker's Wine Advocate published a review of about 70 wines from Long Island with their rating and prices, in their June 2006 issue. When compared to wines from other regions in that issue, LI wines were neither the least expensive nor the most expensive. I concluded that when quality is taken into account that LI wines were competitively priced.

If Ms. Feiring would give a similar factual example of how she concluded that our prices are too high it would help shed light rather than heat in this dialogue.

Another aspect of this issue has to do with ignorance. By that I mean that it is not unsusual for people to develop a conviction based on little or no experience or evidence.

Such was the case in the summer of 2004 when a friend of mine alerted me to some bashing LI wines were receiving on Mark Squires bulletin board on eRobertParker.com. I got involved and made the point made above, that we are not unlike any other wine region and that an educated taster will find value and excitement in our offerings.

The net result was a "Shootout" whereby 25 people got together. They included 7 from the North Fork and 18 who were posters on that BB. At the time we did not know them other than in cyberspace. They were free to get the best wines they could get to taste against our cabernet sauvignon, merlot and blends in a double blind tasting that took place in February of 2005. Given that they were in the majority they dictated the outcome. And since these were people who were mostly skeptical about how well our wines would do against such illustrious wines as Chateau Montelena, Chateau Pavie, Pichon Baron, Ducru Beaucaillou and the like, the outcome was nothing short of an earthquake.

Read about it in this report by Jamie Kutch, who went on since to become a celebrity winemaker himself: http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=45025

I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I do.

More than happy to participate in a repetition of this shootout.

Charles Massoud
Paumanok Vineyards

Wait till y'all see the article in the November 2007 issue of Food & Wine...more inane goo-goo-eyed wishy-washy half-hearted half-baked poorly-edited drivel. IMHO

Apparently, ALL wines from Long Island are overrated and are not 'World Class' because some cutesy pseudo-journalista SAYS SO.

With 'friends' like those....

O Schildknecht O Schildknecht where art thou?

Anyhoo, I realized we had a "world-class" wine region when I spoke with people from other wine-growing regions from all around the world who came to our tasting rooms - back when I was working at Pellegrini and then Bedell.

It's not just the wines; it's also the people who make them - and the people who drink them - and the experiences that people share in an extraordinarily beautiful place - that make the region "world class."

So, sorry if you don't like every wine from every year from every producer from the Island. Too bad.

Sorry, hate to break your bubbles, but it's far too late, nothing you can do about it, the secret is out. Can't put the genie back in the bottle, can't unring the bell, we're more than a little pregnant.

Don't denigrate our entire region (and the people who are continually working hard and improving it) just because YOU don't think ALL of the wines taste the way you think everyone else wants them to taste.

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