Long Island OystersCynthia Sin-Yi Cheng

Island Whites (Part I)

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
September 17, 2009

What’s summer without a visit to some of my favorite wineries on Long Island’s North and South Forks? Unthinkable. This year, I arrived at the end of August, a bit later than usual. And my focus was on whites.

I started in the South Fork, which actually has its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) under The Hamptons. Bet you didn’t know! Considering there are only three wineries under this AVA, I’m a big fan of this AVA since it covers two of my favorite Long Island wineries. On this visit, I got to see both Christopher Tracey of Channing Daughters Winery and Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate Vineyards.


Every time I open a wine list in the City, I see a Channing Daughters wine available by-the-glass. Recent sightings include DBGB, Gramercy Tavern and L’Artusi. Christopher is the most adventurous winemaker on Long Island as he grows a wide variety of grapes (Sylvanus, Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, Blaufränkisch, just to name a few) and experiments with different blends and styles of winemaking. His Over & Over-Variation 2, a red blend of Merlot, Syrah and Dornfedler, is made in a ripasso-meets-solera style. It is a complex wine geek’s wine. One of my favorites is his Envelope. Here, he marries Chardonnay with Gewurtraminer and Malvasia.

Although I like most of CD’s wines, I find the whites to be their real forté. There are 24 stellar options. My go-to is the Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($20). After tasting several wines from Mudd Vineyard, I think I just have a thing for this particular terroir. I also like the 2008 Tocai Friulano from Mudd ($24). This is a 100% varietal wine, rare for Christopher, who is a blender. The Tocai Friulano defines his wines: layered, hard to pinpoint, complex and with good weight.

Of the two Tocais in his portfolio, I liked the 2007 vintage ($24) even more. It’s more viscous and structured than the Mudd Tocai. All the fruits come from the Sylvanus vineyard in Bridgehampton. The freshness and tartness of pink grapefruit dominate the flavor profile, and it’s just the type of white you wish you had cases of year-round.


Here is another winery that many people who are not familiar with Long Island wines would know about. Roman Roth is a star winemaker, but more importantly, he is just a nice guy. From his recent whites, my pick was the 2007 Wölffer Estate Chardonnay ($18) made from a blend of grapes fermented in both stainless steel (70%) and barrel (30%). The racy acidity reminded me of blanc de blancs champagnes I enjoy. Someone mentioned this would be a perfect wine with lobster, and I thought (outloud), what’s stopping us (except for the oyster & lobster awaiting us at lunch in a few). So I imagined it with a lobster to complete my experience.

Chardonnay seems to be a grape that Roman has mastered. His 100% Chardonnay sparkler, 2005 blanc de blancs ($35), was a top contender in a line-up of Long Island sparkling wines I tried.

Last year, Roman launched a series of wines in the 20th Anniversary Wine Series, which I discovered with delight. Especially his Cassina Barbera ($40) and his extra brut rosé, Noblesse Oblige ($125). The 2005 vintage of Nobless Oblige will be out in November. I loved that they only came in magnums as it was perfect for dinner parties. But I just got news that starting with the 2006 vintage, there will be 750 ml bottles available, too.

(Did you say oysters?)

I was doubly excited to visit The Old Field Vineyards as I’m a fan of their wines, and I was also eagerly anticipating a lunch of oysters and lobster. The group of journalists I was traveling with was greeted by Kim Tetrault of Cornell Cooperatie Extension Marine Program with a plate of freshly shucked oysters. I was very taken with his chainmail (stainless steel mesh) glove which protects him from the sharp shucking knife. While enjoying the oysters, I tried a dozen Sauvignon Blancs from various local producers. My favorite of the bunch was from Palmer Vineyards. Their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) went through cold fermentation resulting in a minerally rendition of this grape. I could hardly resist the oyster and Sauv Blanc combo.

Oyster Shucking GloveCynthia Sin-Yi Cheng

Our lunch was sumptuous. Just so simple and clean, as were all the wines. I love the cool climate whites of Long Island.

Ron Gohrler of Jamesport Vineyards, who joined us for lunch, makes the best Pinot Noir I’ve tasted from Long Island. I first had it at Aquavit in the City. Although we didn’t have his 2006 Sarah’s Hill Pinot ($35) at lunch that day, it would have been a seamless match for me with its nuances, good acidity, dark cherries and spices. Even though I don’t think Pinot is a good grape for Long Island, the Jamesport bottle proves that, in certain terroirs, there are exceptions.

A wonderful treat awaited us at the end of lunch, and it wasn’t sweets either. Christian Baiz, owner of The Old Field, popped open his 2004 blanc de noirs sparkler ($45) (made from 100% Pinot Noir) and an older vintage of 2001 to show us the comparison. Blanc de noirs are a treat as they are a rarer breed than blanc de blancs. And an older vintage from Long Island was a double treat. While I found the vibrancy of the 2004 appealing, I didn’t think the extra aging for the 2001 vintage imparted more to the wine. The 2004 wasn’t a very heavy Pinot-exclusive bubbly, but rather it had an elegant charm. It was my ideal way to end a seafood lunch in a vineyard.

END of PART I (Stay tuned for PART II)


Comments (1)


Oct 2, 03:23 PM

very interesting. Check out Onabay Vineyards on the North Fork. They are young but have a superstar team of Bruce Schneider and Steve Mudd as the winemaker and viticulturist respectively. A brilliant Chardonnay Wild Ferment and a ripe, texturally lively Cab Franc/ Merlot blend. Mom draws gorgeous labels of local birds.

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