Quick! When you think of “wine country” in the United States, what area leaps to mind? The San Ynez Valley (hello, Sideways) or the Napa or Sonoma Valley? Wrong. Today the buzz is all about the North Fork of Long Island.
Right now, the young wineries of the North Fork are at a similar place to where San Ynez was twenty years ago with just a handful of dedicated, Mom and Pop style producers who struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds to make great wine.
Comtesse Therese is an artisanal vineyard founded in 2001 and has already won many awards, including “Best Merlot in NY” at the New York Wine & Food Classic in 2004. I tasted through many of their wines, including the Russian Oak Chardonnay, the ‘Traditional Merlot,’ and their Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Theresa Dilworth has a very personal style that is not as fruit-forward as her California counterparts, but quite unique and ‘old world.’ Though I didn’t see the winery, I enjoyed Raphael First Label Merlot 2001, a wine with a very inky black color that hinted at intense extraction and offered aromas of black fruit, tobacco, and dried leaves.
The North Fork is about two hours from Manhattan. Since wineries are spread out, you might consider making a weekend of it. I didn’t get a chance to see the rooms, but I did have lunch at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn (built 1863, reconstructed in 2004) in Jamesport, New York. Executive Chef Thomas G. Schaudel and Chef de Cuisine Michael Ross value freshness and artisanal ingredients, such as Satur Farms baby beets and goat cheese from the nearby Catapano Dairy Farm, where you can buy cheese, pet adorable baby goats, and even buy beauty products made from goat’s milk.
The wines I experienced today were quite better than most Long Island wines I’ve had to date – and quality is still evolving and improving. With the support of fellow New Yorkers (are you listening, sommeliers at top restaurants and wine store buyers?) and the rest of the country, the future bodes well.