New York State is full of surprises. You know you’ve hit the rural bits of Long Island’s North Fork—and, therefore, wine country—when you see a giant inflatable strawberry jiggling in the wind, like the one outside Bayview Market & Farms in Riverhead. The hamlet of Flanders’s Big Duck, whose innards house a poultry store, serves as a similar landmark at the mouth of Long Island’s South Fork. They’re not official markers, of course, but there’s something delightful about a conspicuously oversized roadside attraction letting you know you’ve left the city far behind.
Comprising 1,400 square miles, Long Island is the nation’s largest and longest contiguous island. It consists, in large part, of sprawling suburbs and strip malls, but its East End, as it is known, is far more bucolic. Divided into the North Fork and South Fork by the Peconic Bay, this sliver of land birthed the region’s wine industry half a century ago.
Fifty years may be a heartbeat in a global wine context, but it’s a profound milestone for a region like Long Island, which is, in many ways, just hitting its stride. Wine grape farming is improving. As some vines come of age, others are being dug up and replaced with more climate-suitable clones and varieties. Meanwhile, second-generation producers—alongside new, internationally experienced winemakers—are getting their hands dirty in Long Island’s sandy loam soils.
Combine that with a multitude of new post-pandemic tasting room experiences and high-end restaurant openings, plus a summer of 50th anniversary celebrations, and there’s no better time to acquaint—or reacquaint—yourself with New York’s second-largest wine-producing region.
As Wine Enthusiast’s reviewer of wines from New York State, Long Island is near and dear to my heart. Below you’ll find my picks of some of Long Island’s top wineries, along with recent releases bound to delight even more than inflatable fruit and giant poultry.
The North Fork
One of Long Island’s westernmost wineries, Paumanok Vineyards is also one of its most longstanding. Founded in 1983 by Ursula and Charles Massoud, who emigrated from Germany and Lebanon, respectively, Paumanok is now run by sons Kareem, Nabeel and Salim. A true family business, Kareem is winemaker and president, Nabeel vineyard manager and Salim the operation’s administrative manager. Charles and Ursula are still very involved in the winery’s day to day.
Paumanok’s winery and tasting room are housed in a renovated, turn-of-the-century barn clad in weatherboards. The interior is airy and calm, while the large deck provides expansive views of the vineyards, which parade over one of the few hills on the notoriously flat island. Paumanok hosts a sunset special of raw oysters, a Greek snack bar and $8 glasses every Friday in the summer. But it’s also worth snagging a seat at one of the Grand Vintage tasting dinners. Like other long-established Long Island producers, Paumanok is known for holding back stocks of their highly cellar-worthy Merlot and Bordeaux blends.
In 2018, the Massouds purchased nearby Palmer Vineyards, where they operate a second tasting room and hold various events, including live music performances and dinners featuring wood-fired pizzas made by Nabeel.
BE SURE TO TASTE:
2022 Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc
Fresh, fruity, lemonade-like, from the oldest Chenin vines in New York State.
2021 Paumanok Minimalist Cabernet Franc
Savory and al dente, in a lightweight style. Drink slightly chilled.
2022 Palmer Albariño
A lemony, salty, seafood-friendly island wine.
2021 Palmer Aromatico
Floral and spicy, clean and crisp, bone dry. Drink with spicy Thai or Mexican food.
Like Paumanok, Macari is a family affair. The winery began in 1995 when Joseph Macari Jr. and his father first planted vines on the 500 acres of fallow land—formerly a potato farm—that Joseph Sr. had purchased in the 1960s. Today, Joseph Jr. and his wife Alexandra still helm the ship, but daughter Gabriella and son Joseph M. are also intimately involved, the former as Director of Operations and the latter as Head of Viticulture.
Macari has long been a leader on the viticulture front, employing organic and biodynamic techniques and omitting herbicides. In 2020, Macari brought in a new winemaker, Byron Elmendorf, who has taken its operation in an exciting direction, one that sees more wild ferments, lees aging and a general uptick in experimentation and creativity.
Despite having to navigate the notoriously strict regulations surrounding food service from both New York State and Southold township (where around 75% of the North Fork’s wineries are located), Macari offers a multitude of events that feature visiting chefs like Lauren Lombardi, whose beautifully prepared and ultra fresh seasonal dishes are worth the trip alone.
In 2022, Macari renovated and re-launched its tasting room in nearby Cutchogue as Meadowlark. With a beautifully designed wine bar, events space and a range of wines, Meadowlark seems set to become one of the North Fork’s top wine and wedding destinations.
BE SURE TO TASTE:
2021 Macari Cabernet Franc
Aged in concrete egg, this is bright, succulent and savory. It’s from one of the first Cab Franc producers in New York State.
2022 Meadowlark Sauvignon Blanc
This wild ferment is Sancerre-like, vibrant, textural and flinty.
2021 Meadowlark Pinot Meunier Rosé
With notes of tangerine, pomegranate and botanicals, this skinsy, briny bottling is hugely characterful.
With broader distribution than most Long Island wines, Lieb Cellars is a label you might find in a trendy urban wine bar or cutting-edge shop in New York City. Perched less than a mile from the Long Island Sound, the winery makes remarkably saline wines that speak of their maritime surroundings. This is thanks both to the careful farming of longtime vineyard manager Ildo Vasquez, and to Lieb’s Aussie-born winemaker Russell Hearn.
As if in subtle homage to Hearn’s homeland, the tasting room at Lieb nods to an outback station with corrugated iron on the bar and walls. It’s a cozy, classy space, especially during wintertime when live music accompanies tasting flights and cheese and charcuterie boards.
BE SURE TO TASTE:
2021 Lieb Pinot Blanc
Super saline and subtle, this bottling is food friendly. It’s Hearn’s favorite variety and from some of the oldest vines on LI.
2020 Lieb Teroldego-Lagrein
This bottling delivers notes of grape jelly and white pepper, with a succulent, mid-weight style. It’s made with fruit from the former Southold Farm and Winery, one of Long Island’s most interesting plantings, which Lieb now leases.
The tasting room at Bedell Cellars has a bright and airy modern appeal that pairs with its clean, textural, food-friendly wines. This is one of Long Island’s longest-standing wineries, dating back to 1980 (with a change in ownership in 2000). It also boasts a winemaker with arguably more regional experience than any other, Richard Olsen-Harbich. With 40 years of winemaking on Long Island under his belt, Olsen-Harbich is a creative champion of the region in search of purity and site expression. All fermentations are spontaneous, or kickstarted with self-foraged botanicals to capture the essence of Long Island terroir.
Corey Creek is Bedell’s second label. The wine is made by Bedell’s assistant winemaker, Marin Brennan. At Corey Creek’s Tap Room, the vibe is more artisanal, with a chic beach hut feel and live music on the front porch overlooking the vineyards.
BE SURE TO TASTE:
2022 Bedell Melon de Bourgogne
2020 Bedell Malbec
Expect notes of soft spice, plump red and blue fruit, as well as salty tannins. This mid-weight style offers excellent acidity and tucked-away oak.
2022 Corey Creek White Cabernet Franc
With tropical, peach, floral and fruity notes, this bottling remains bone dry and chalky, almost austere. Food-friendly, it’s quirky but clean.
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