“What are Long Island’s must-visit wineries?” It’s a question I’m asked at least a few times a week. Sometimes, it’s friends who I know like to drink wine, but who – if I’m being honest – maybe don’t care all that much about what’s in their glass. Other times, it’s from west coast wine writers or winemakers who I’ve met via social media over the years.
It might surprise you to know that my answer, no matter who is asking, is the same: “It depends.”
Do you like quiet tasting rooms where wine is the sole focus, or do you prefer a more lively vibe? Where are you staying? How many wineries do you want to visit per day? Do you prefer red wine, white wine, rosé or sparkling?
Depending on the answers to questions like these, my recommendations shift, though there are certainly wineries that nearly always make the list.
Today, we’re going to pretend the person asking for recommendations has never been to Long Island wine country, is interested in wine as a serious hobby, and wants an overview of the region, its wines and its tasting rooms. This is not a list of Long Island’s “best wineries” (what an awful construct) — though if I were forced to create such a list, I wouldn’t exclude any of these wineries.
Long Island wine country is incredibly diverse; in terms of grapes, wine styles and tasting room experiences. These wineries are intended to show off this diversity over the course of a weekend.
Note: I never recommend that anyone try to visit more than three or four wineries per day. Go beyond that and you end up rushing through and not really enjoying the experience at any of the places you stop.
Merlot is king on Long Island. It’s the most-planted grape and the most-consistent performer. Even in cooler or wetter growing seasons, there is still usually some delicious merlot to be had.
You can’t talk about North Fork merlot without starting with Lenz Winery, one of the region’s oldest wineries dating back to the late 1970s. Inside a rustic, mostly-stand-at-the-bar old barn tasting room, Lenz harkens back to what most tasting rooms were like even 10 years ago. The merlots (they produce up to three depending on vintage) are always standouts, but don’t miss Long Island’s top gewürztraminer and some of the best sparkling wine. If you’re lucky, there might be some Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon available too. If it’s there, taste it or buy it. It’s among the region’s most age-worthy wines.
It’s important to know that Long Island isn’t just about merlot, so, I’m going to recommend something completely different next: a visit to Sparkling Pointe, Long Island’s only sparkling wine-only winery. The tasting room is bright and more modern with a Brazilian theme. Not surprisingly, this is a sparkling wine-lover’s dream destination and it shows off just how many different wine styles can be made on Long Island. Unless you’re looking for sweet sparkling wine, they have something for every bubbly palate, but my favorite year-to-year is the Brut bottling for its consistency and fresh, linear focus.
The red wines — particularly the Grand Vintage and single-vineyard bottlings — at Paumanok Vineyards are often standouts as well, but the Massoud family’s winery makes this list for the white wines, including Long Island’s only chenin blancs, which have earned a bit of a cult following over many years. Along with the chenin, Paumanok is a must-stop for some of Long Island’s best locally grown rieslings and sauvignon blanc too – with a wonderful vineyard-view deck upon which to enjoy your tastings if you don’t want to stand at the bar.
Winding down my North Fork recommendations, Macari Vineyards (the main tasting room in Mattituck) almost always makes the list because they have something for every wine taste and do them all well — a rarity in any wine region. Whether you stand at the tasting bar, sit at a table inside, sit at a table outside or rent a private room, hospitality is front and center here and winemaker Kelly Koch has the entire portfolio dialed in – from sparkling cabernet franc rose to Bordeaux blends to chardonnay to sauvignon blanc to cabernet franc and merlot.
There are far fewer wineries on the South Fork in the Hamptons, but two make the list for two very different reasons.
There might be no more experimental winery on Long Island – and maybe the East Coast – than Channing Daughters Winery. You’ll find merlot and chardonnay and sauvignon blanc here, and it’s delicious, but Channing Daughters makes the list for the stuff that no one else is doing. Interested in Blaufrankisch? They make it. Ribolla Gialla? Yup, they have that too, along with things like Tocai, Refosco and Dornfelder. Throw in anywhere from three to nine different rosés depending on the year, a handful of orange wines, a full lineup of “petillant naturel” sparkling wines and a handful of seasonal vermouths — and you get the idea. They are doing a lot of interesting and delicious things.
My final recommendation, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, is another Long Island classic, even if it was founded in the early 1990s. This time of year it’s hard to go anywhere and not see a Wolffer rosé — they make tens of thousands of cases of it every year and it still sells out before Thanksgiving. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some of the region’s best and most age-worthy wines – everything from chardonnay to merlot to cabernet franc. German-born winemaker Roman Roth makes delicious sparkling wine and ice-style wines as well.