Christopher S. Miller
The tough part of being a wine consultant is going to wine tastings. A few weeks ago, I attended a unique tasting at Paumanok Winery in Aquebogue with a group of wine professionals that featured several winemakers and winery employees from the East End of Long Island. We tasted ten Long Island Cabernet Franc’s from the 2005 vintage. The wines were tasted blind and included wines made by participants of the tasting. I was one of two “interlopers” (not associated with a LI winery) and I feel our presence offered some balance to the discussion as we both are not immersed in the Long Island wine industry, yet have much experience to add different views and less biased opinions of the local wines.
My favorite aspect of the tasting was the discussion of each wine and how it was ranked. We did this in order of the top-scoring wine to the lowest. The discussions included when the grapes were picked, pH at harvest (acidity levels for those of you who have forgotten 9th grade science), brix (sugar at harvest), yields and many other aspects beyond what the average wine drinker needs to know. Some of the wines were harvested during the deluge of rain we had last year, while others were harvested before or after. Each harvest time resulted in significant differences in the finished wines.
For years I have felt the Long Island wine industry needed to approach their craft and marketing in a manner similar to Oregon or New Zealand, both of which have winemakers who are very supportive of one another and very interested in analyzing their “terroir” to determine the best wine styles and grape varieties for their regions.
The Paumanok tasting is a great example of the same concept and will help the Long Island wine region achieve its great potential.
I have noticed Long Island Cabernet Francs achieve a high level of quality and this tasting confirmed to me the potential of the grape in our “terroir.” Our region is a bit cool for late ripening grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon often struggles to ripen here, while Cabernet Franc and Merlot both ripen earlier and could be more suitable to the eastern Long Island climate. Cabernet Franc (when ripe) offers aromas of dark cherry, dark and red raspberries, spice, leather and sometimes black pepper—while less-ripe wines will have notes of red cherry, red raspberry, bell pepper and spice. The blind tasting included nice examples of both. I compare the riper style to what can be found in a region like St-Emilion in Bordeaux and the less ripe wines to those found in Chinon of the Loire Valley.
These types of tastings and others that include wines from other regions will help to increase the quality of the wines produced on Long Island and focus the producers and consumers on the best wine styles and grapes for the Island’s “terroir.” All wine region’s have one, it is just a matter of finding the wines (grapes) best suited to the region’s climate and soils. Cabernet Franc has a very good chance at being a star on the North Fork, whether red like Corey Creek’s fine example or rosé like that of Channing Daughters on the cooler South Fork. Some Long Island Cabernet Francs to look for are Pellegrini’s, Paumanok’s, Old Field’s and Raphael’s.