Long Island cabernet can be a not-very-tasty proposition. As consistently as vineyard managers can ripen merlot on this overgrown sand bar, cabernet does so just as inconsistently. Often, it doesn't ripen fully at all, leading to wines with overwhelming green flavors that are almost unrecognizable as cabernet sauvignon.
As you might expect, a lot of this under-ripe cabernet ends up blended into other wines to mask its faults or is used to make rose or blush wines.
Even at its best, Long Island cabernet sauvignon bears little, if any, resemblance to the hulking, muscular wines of Napa or Sonoma. Instead, they are a little like left bank Bordeaux, only more fruit forward and much more approachable in their youth.
There are two keys to finding good local cabernet sauvignon. First, seek out wines from hotter, longer growing seasons. 2005 was one such year. Next, consider the vineyard location. Typically, the western-most vineyards on the North Fork are able to squeeze out a bit more ripeness, even in cooler years.
This Martha Clara Vineyards 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) has both factors working in its favor.
It's 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% petite verdot, and while the nose is a bit taut upon opening, with a little time to breath, sweet oak and vanilla aromas joined by those of raspberry jam, cherry pie and black pepper emerge.
Medium-to-full bodied, the flavors range from crushed raspberries and sweet cherry candy to thyme, toasted marshmallows and spicy oak. Substantial, but rounded, tannins provide good structure that indicates good ageability. The winery even suggests 7-10 years.
If you're drinking it now, enjoy it with a well-marbled piece of beef.