While some winemakers here bristle when Long Island wine is compared to French wine, emulating the Gallic model might not be such a bad idea. Take a blind tasting. When, in 1976, some upstarts from California wanted the world to realize that wines from the U.S. could stand shoulder to shoulder with those made by seasoned vintners from the hillsides and riverfronts of legendary French wine regions, they went to Paris. The trip was worthwhile. California wines showed they could hold up, and a new market was created.
Why not do this with Long Island wine, asked the sages at Roanoke Vineyards as they stroked their chins and looked skyward. So in the fashion of 1976’s Judgment of Paris, the Judgment of Riverhead was set for November 20, when 18 wines—nine whites and nine reds, with a third of each hailing from France, California and Long Island—were set to go head to head.
Wineries and judges volunteered to participate, and more than 90 people attended the event. The nine judges—two winemakers, an importer of Bordeaux, two restaurateurs, one certified sommelier, two wine writers and a retailer—rated the wines on a 20-point scale, as was done in Paris. Seventy members of the audience also turned in ratings cards and, not surprisingly in the subjective world of wine, the score differed. But as with the Judgment of Paris, the Judgment of Riverhead indeed put Long Island wines on pedestals of the same height as highly rated French and Californian wines.
The judges’ top three whites:
1. 2007 Pellegrini Vineyards “Vintner’s Pride” Chardonnay
2. 2008 Paul Hobbs Russian River Chardonnay
3. 2008 Palmer Vineyards “Chardonnay Reserve”
The judges’ top three reds:
1. Tie. 2007 Roanoke Vineyards “Blend One” and 2007 Detert Family Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
3. 2004 Léoville Poyferré
The audience’s top three whites:
1. 2008 Paul Hobbs Russian River Chardonnay
2. 2007 Pellegrini Vineyards “Vintner’s Pride” Chardonnay
3. 2008 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
The audience’s top three reds:
1. 2004 Gruaud Larose
2. 2007 Detert Family Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
3. 2004 Léoville Poyferré
In addition to the fabulous showing among the Long Island wines, in the judges’ opinion, a style has emerged that many found evident. According to winemaker Kareem Massoud (and winemaker Chris Tracy and wine pioneer Louisa Thomas Hargrave), “The California wines stuck out like a sore thumb.” The over-extraction and oakiness gave them away.
Mike Mraz, wine director and an owner of North Fork Table and Inn, put it plainly, “There used to be a distinct difference between Long Island and Bordeaux,” he said. “Now, not so much.”