Quick! Imagine you are presented with a “blind flight” of Sauvignon Blanc wine (or Chardonnay for that matter). Do you think you can pick out a wine from New York’s Long Island against wines from Sancerre or New Zealand? Assume that all wines have the same color, and for the most part, a similar aroma profile. Such a tasting would be particularly intriguing, as most people, even top wine writers, do not have the luxury of comparing a single varietal to its cousins around the world. And how does one recognize the characteristics of a Long Island wine anyway?
The above fantasy became reality recently when the Long Island Wine Council sponsored a seminar and blind tasting of its wines against others from top international regions. The result? Long Island wine can hold its own against the world’s most popular and expensive regions. Right now you may be wondering about the characteristics of Long Island varietals, which are a function of their terroir. One factor is the climate, which is very cool yet moderated by the bodies of water in the area. Vintage variation is considerable. And then there is the soil, which as in many old world countries is quite mineral in nature.
The Long Island Wine Blind Challenge began with a seminar, followed by five flights of a single varietal (each flight was four glasses each). Sitting around me were several of Manhattan’s – and the world’s – finest wine writers. Though some might say we are a jaded lot, truth be told we are passionate about wine, with a burning curiosity to discover factors responsible for what we smell and taste in the glass.
Long Island produces many grapes, but the key varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (both oaked and un-oaked), Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Journalists tasted through five flights: Sauvignon Blanc, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Oaked Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. When the names of the wines were revealed, I was pleased to see I had attached the correct regions to the wines (a testament to an exhaustive wine education). Yet the comparative tasting also underscored how incredibly well-crafted wines from Long Island are, both the white and the red.
Linda Lawry, Director of the International Wine Center, was the Emcee of the event, with speakers including Steve Bate, Executive Director of the Long Island Wine council, Larry Perrine, CEO/Partner of Channing Daughters Winery, and Kip Bedell, Founding Winemaker, Bedell Cellars.