There are now more than 50 wine producers on the East End of Long Island and more than half of them produce either a sparkling or sweet wine of some sort. These are two styles of wine I love, even though we do not produce them at Channing Daughters. They do very well in our climate. And they are eminently useful, from a wine drinker’s perspective, especially at this time of year.
The traditional method sparkling wines made in New York (namely wines that are fermented in the bottle, like Champagne) are among the best to be found in the world. These are classic sparkling wines that are made from grapes we expect, like chardonnay and pinot noir, and ones we might not, like pinot blanc and riesling. Our moderate maritime climate is perfect for these wines, delivering ripe healthy grapes with low pH, high acid and low potential alcohol (11 percent) when picked in late August and early September.
So successful has the style been in our region that we now have a producer, Sparkling Pointe, committed entirely to sparkling wines. While we can find delicious sparkling wines from Lieb, Pugliese, Paumanok, Bedell, Martha Clara, Palmer and many more, there seem to be three superstars with a magic touch when it comes to tiny bubbles.
Eric Fry of Lenz, Gilles Martin of Sparkling Pointe and Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate are generally recognized as the kings of sparkling wines on the East End, making sparkling wines for a slew of other producers. These three make a range of styles within the category: classic brut (dry); vintage bottlings; long aged or recently disgorged (RD), as Lenz offers; as well as sweeter wines like the Cuvée Carnaval from Sparkling Pointe. In addition to the classic sparkling wines made on the island there are some fun sparklers made with other production methods such as the Charmat method; two that jump to mind are Laurel Lake’s Moscato and Croteaux’s Sparkling Voyage Rosé.
These sparkling wines not only pair perfectly with celebratory holiday feasts but with the complete range of foods you might serve any old day. All too often we neglect the food-pairing possibilities of sparklers. But consider matching them with not just the Christmas goose or ham, but also some foie gras or blue cheese, the Feast of the Seven Fishes or just a bowl of nuts.
Along with the bubbles there is the sticky stuff we often turn to as the temperature gets chilly and family and friends come to eat and rejoice. Of the many delicious sweet wines made on Long Island, some are crafted with traditional methods in which a mold (botrytis or noble rot) is encouraged on varieties such as riesling, sauvignon blanc or chardonnay and allowed to shrivel the grape to an uglied raisin state that delivers a concentrated nectar of the gods, tasting of apricots and honey and dried fruits. In the right conditions, which are rare, botrytis wines are made here at properties like Wölffer and Paumanok. More often we have superb examples of late-harvest and cryogenic ice wines. These are wines that have been made by harvesting late in the season (after the first frosts) or by chilling the grapes in freezers and then pressing the ambrosial juice. Wonderful examples can be found at Paumanok, Osprey’s Dominion, Pelligrini, Peconic Bay, Duckwalk, Macari and Wölffer Estate.
These sweet and sparkling wines almost always bring a smile to your face and a tingle on your tongue no matter when you are served them. So don’t just wait for the holidays, dive into these styles that the East End does so well. Let’s just celebrate another day of living, no need to wait for a holiday.
James Christopher Tracy is the winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.