By Christopher J. Davies
Long Island has blossomed into a world-class wine region. Since the planting of its first commercial vineyard, now Castello di Borghese/Hargrave Vineyards in 1973, the region has grown to over 3000 acres of grape vines. There are now approximately 25 wineries/tasting rooms for people to explore. Some wineries offer comprehensive tours that help visitors better understand the winemaking process. Others offer wine tastings, sales of bottled wine and gifts.
Almost all of Long Island's winery tasting rooms are located on the east end. (One exception: Loughlin Vineyards is located only a few miles from Islip Airport in Sayville). For exact locations and contact information visit the Wineries page in our Popular Pages section of this web site.
To get to the East End wineries you travel east, almost to the end of the Long Island Expressway (495) to exit 71. This is RT 24, the crossroads between the North & South Forks. The majority of Winery/Tasting rooms are on the North Fork.
My favorite way to get there avoids the busy town of Riverhead;
Get off at exit 71, Head north(left) on Edwards Road until you hit Sound Ave. Take a right and head east. The first wineries begin in Aquebogue. Sound Avenue is parallel to Main Rd. Most of the side roads link Sound Ave & Main Road.
To get to the South Fork (Hamptons) take RT 24 South to RT 27 and head east. The Hamptons Wine Country begins when RT 27 merges into the smaller RT 27A. There are three winery/tasting rooms to visit.
For a full day North & South Fork tour, you might consider a North & South Fork tour. From the town of Greenport (a North Fork town worth exploring) you can take a ferry to quaint Shelter Island and travel south on RT 114 to the South Ferry. This brings you to historical Sag Harbor. From there you can visit wineries in Bridgehampton, Sagaponack and Southampton.
Top 10 Tips for Better Touring & Tasting
1. PLAN BEFORE YOU GO.
Map out your tour allowing for 30 to 60 minutes per winery/tasting room.
2. SPACE YOURSELF.
Don't drink all of the wine. Sip & spit. Many wineries encourage you to bring along your own picnic and to enjoy their beautiful grounds. If you and your lover decide to picnic with a bottle of wine, stay in the shade. Drink plenty of water.
3. TRY WEEKDAYS.
For less crowds and more attention from winery staff, try visiting during the week. Check with the wineries for weekday hours.
4. TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT-
Are you a Chardonnay lover, ask to try a Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Pinot Blanc.
5. HOLD YOUR GLASS BY THE STEM.
Holding the glass by its bowl is a wine tasting no-no. It also heats-up the wine changing its character.
6. TWIRL, SNIFF & SWISH.
This will invigorate the wine and help you get the best sense of its taste and character. Take your tastes in small quantities, gulp bottled water instead.
7. START WITH WHITES.
It is much easier to taste the subtle differences of wines when you progress from white to red. Some wineries produce stainless steel and barrel fermented versions of their wines. Try the stainless versions first.
8. TASTE THE MERLOT.
Many experts feel that Merlot is the most suited grape for growing in Long Island's microclimate. Long Island Merlots have won Gold Medals at wine competitions worldwide. If you are a fan of red wines, you will find a diversified range of reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Meritage Blends, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese & Syrah)
9. PURCHASE WINE FOR HOME CONSUMPTION.
The best way to experience wine is relaxing at home with a meal. Wineries offer discounts for quantity purchases. Store your wine in a rack that holds the bottles sideways. The cork must stay wet in order to keep expanded and prevent oxidation. Store your wine in a cool place like a basement.
10. PAIR THE WINE WITH FOOD.
Most winemakers include tasting notes with suggested food pairings for each of their wines. This information is usually noted on the tasting sheets at the tasting bar. For fun, take the sheet home and whip up a dish from the Winemaker's suggested pairings. If the Chardonnay notes say "pairs well with shellfish", throw some "Shrimp on the Barbie" and crack open the bottle.
Above all don't be afraid to ask questions!
(Photo above: Lieb Family Cellars in Mattituck)