When Louisa and Alex Hargrave planted sauvignon blanc in their eponymous vineyard—and founded Long Island wine country—in 1973, it was because they couldn’t get Chardonnay vines that first year. But, even if it was originally planted as a fill-in for chardonnay, it is now one of the region’s most important and beloved grapes.
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, sauvignon blanc most likely gets its name from the French words sauvage—which means “wild”—and blanc—which means “white”—because it grew wild in the French countryside. From Bordeaux, the grape traveled north to France’s Loire Valley, where it is most famously used to make white Sancerre, before spreading across the globe to countries like New Zealand, Chile and the United States.
Style varies greatly depending on where—and how—Sauvignon Blanc is grown, and how it is handled in the cellar. On the whole, Long Island Sauvignon Blanc has never been better and that’s due mostly to a better understanding of the timing and importance of leaf removal in the vineyard.
Those fresh-cut grass or herbal qualities so common in sauvignon blanc—especially from New Zealand? Those are the result of compounds called methoxypyrazines (pyrazines for short). At high concentration, these compounds can move from pleasant grassy or herbal notes to less-desirable green bell pepper qualities. The same thing can be found in other grapes too—especially Cabernet Franc.
By removing leaves from around the grape clusters, the ripening grapes are exposed to sunlight, which lowers the concentration of pyrazines. This practice also enables the wind and sun to dry the grapes after rain or humid conditions, which is important because sauvignon blanc can also be susceptible to late-season rot.
At its best, Long Island Sauvignon Blanc is unlike examples from anywhere else in the world—and that’s the point, isn’t it? Long Island isn’t New Zealand, Napa or Sancerre, so why should our wines taste like the wine that originates there?
Long Island-style Sauvignon Blanc straddles the mineral-driven style of the Loire Valley and the riper, more fruit-forward examples from the West Coast—with just a little bit of the “green” character from New Zealand. That said, not all local Sauvignon Blanc tastes the same. Vintage, vineyard site and winemaking all play a part in what final product smells and tastes like.
Rosé is huge—both locally and internationally—but Long Island Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to for summer sipping. It pairs beautifully with local seafood—both raw and simply prepared—as well as with local produce, delivering the acidity I crave all summer long whether I’m on my deck, by the pool, at the beach or enjoying a white tablecloth dinner with friends.
These five examples of Long Island Sauvignon Blanc—all from the 2018 vintage—offer a nice look at what is being done with this important white wine grape.
Bedell Cellars 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($30)
Winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich has been making Sauvignon Blanc on the East End since the early 1980s. That experience reveals itself with this 2018 that shows clean citrus and melon aromas accented by subtle cut-hay notes and sweet floral qualities. With a lower alcohol content (11.5% abv), the bright, fresh palate is lead by delicate citrus flavors with layers of white flowers and saline minerality.
Shared Table Farm 2018 “White Cloud” Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
The texture is the star of winemaker Anthony Nappa’s newest Sauvignon Blanc release. It’s fresh, but surprisingly weighty on the mid-palate at sub-12% abv. Melon, passionfruit and grapefruit aromas and flavors are enlivened by citrusy acidity. The finish is long and turns a bit floral with the most subtle grassy note.
Macari Vineyards 2018 “Katherine’s Field” Sauvignon Blanc ($24)
The newest vintage of one of Long Island’s true benchmark Sauvignon Blancs smells of sweet Meyer lemons and grapefruit with some hay in the background. The palate offers a melange of citrus fruits that lean a bit tropical too, with elegant, well-integrated acidity. Winemaker Kelly Koch really has this wine dialed in almost regardless of vintage.
McCall Vineyard 2018 “Cuvee Nicola” Sauvignon Blanc ($24)
McCall might be best known for Pinot Noir (and rightly so) but over the past few vintages, this Cuvee Nicola, named for owner Russ McCall’s wife, has pushed its way to the front of the Long Island Sauvignon Blanc pack. Musk melon, lemon-lime citrus and some lemony herbs like lemon verbena, start on an expressive nose.
Roanoke Vineyards 2018 Site Specific Sauvignon Blanc ($28)
For something quite a bit different, try this example from Roanoke Vineyards. Made by Roman Roth, who is best known locally as the winemaker at Wolffer Estate, the nose is far more tropical than the others on this list, with pineapple and very-ripe melon front and center with more subtle notes of lemon and grapefruit on the nose. Medium-bodied, the palate isn’t as fresh, but is still balanced, just in a richer style.