New World Discovery Theatre: Long Island

As the closest winemaking region to New York City itself – just 100 miles from downtown Manhattan – Long Island has a strong unique selling point...

By Guy Woodward

Long Island Wine Country

As the closest winemaking region to New York City itself – just 100 miles from downtown Manhattan – Long Island has a strong unique selling point. Its wines remain relatively unknown in the UK, however, making them perfect for the second of Decanter’s Discovery Masterclasses.

A small, compact region (all the vineyards, which cover 1,200ha, are within a 100-mile radius), Long Island is strongly influenced by its maritime climate, which tempers a latitude on a par with that of Central Italy, and ensures a long growing season. The most notable wines are Bordeaux blends, made, according to winemaker Kareem Massoud, ‘in the style that Bordeaux used to be’ – moderate alcohol and not super-extracted.

Massoud was on hand – along with Susan Spence of Uncork New York! and Sue Chambers of Wine Equals Friends, UK importer of Long Island wines – to present three such wines, plus two Chardonnays, with which he started proceedings. The Lenz Winery’s Old Vines Chardonnay 2007 (a relative term, since the vines are 25-30 years old, Long Island’s first wine being made in 1973) is made only in the top vintages, by Eric Fry, who Massoud described as ‘an Old World-inspired winemaker’. A honeyed nose led to a round, attractive palate.

Channing Daughters’ Clones 2008 is made from 10 different clones and features dashes of Tocai Friulano, Gewurztraminer, Aligote, Semillon and Viognier. Co-owner Larry Perrine is on the advisory committee at Cornell University’s viticultural research department, and has spearheaded experimental work on several varieties, notably Aligote.

The three Bordeaux blends followed. Wolffer’s Fatalis Fatum 2006, made by ‘meticulous’ German winemaker Roman Roth from a cooler vintage (‘vintages matter on Long Island,’ said Massoud) showed wonderfully developed characters. McCall Wines’ 2008 Merlot was only the second vintage of a family-owned estate run by a food distributor from Atlanta, Georgia, again in a cooler vintage. And Massoud’s own Paumanok Assamblage 2007, from a vintage which the winemaker said ‘had more of everything’, showed tight, crunchy fruit. Mainly Merlot, with 22% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Franc, the wine is made ‘strictly with grapes only’, said Massoud, who eschews the inclusion of stems or other green matter.

Massoud is of Lebanese and German (Pfalz) heritage, and recalls how his winery’s name – Paumanok, the Native American name for Long Island – was a disaster when first launched, since noone knew its provenance. ‘We stuck with it, though,’ he said, ‘because it encapsulates what we’re all about – place’. Long Island looks set to be a place wine lovers will be hearing more about in the years to come…