A winemaker makes a tasty bet on a white grape from home.
Introducing a new grape into a wine region is kind of a gamble. Will it like the climate? Will it thrive in the soil? Will it stand up to the indigenous disease and pest pressures?
Winemaker Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue went through all this in his mind before he planted the first acre of albariño on Long Island. The climate in Aquebogue is similar to Galicia, the ancestral home of albariño, in northwestern Spain. Just out of university, Martin took his first wine job in the windswept region, which borders the Atlantic Ocean. The grape did well in what is essentially a cool climate marked by humidity. Sounds like Long Island. The soil in Galicia is granite and rocky, which makes for good drainage. Not unlike Long Island’s sand. Humidity—the culprit of the mildew that affects many of the East End’s vineyards—is also omnipresent in Galicia. If albariño can survive there, with the addition of some bird nets, it could make it here. So in 2007 in went the vines, which were ready to harvest last fall.
And now Martin (shown above) knows how the variety does in an excellent growing year.
His 2010 Albariño is delicious. It has the peachy aromatic nose found in Spanish albariños. The color’s so light it’s practically white, and once in your mouth the fruity aromas dissolve into a steely, refreshing draught low in alcohol and easy to drink.
Like most albariños, this wine is made to be drunk young and fresh, so the juice saw no oak and the secondary fermentation that gives chardonnay its buttery flavors was withheld. He also picked the grape relatively early to avoid the overripe tropical fruit flavors that also can be found in chardonnay.
“When making wine, I take the first steps to get the kind of wine I want, which is clean and expressive of its variety,” Martin says. “Then I let it go its own way, and I usually have an idea of where it’s going. But with the albariño I had no idea, no other wine to compare it with. Would it be like a sauvignon blanc, a pinot blanc or chardonnay or riesling? Basically it’s a wine on its own.”
Martin believes new varieties are good for Long Island; it gives visitors the opportunity to try different things, instead of tasting merlot and chardonnay at every stop on the wine trail.
So happy is he with the wine, he has planted three more acres and hopefully next year Palmer will be able to double production from the meager 30 cases of 500-milliliter bottles to 60 cases. By Memorial Day most of the 2010 was gone. Stop by the winery, and if you’re lucky a bottle can be yours for $25.
Palmer Vineyards, 5120 Sound Avenue, Aquebogue; 631.722.9463; palmervineyards.com