North Fork Of Long Island
When speaking about New York Cabernet, one is almost exclusively talking about wines from Long Island. As an appellation, Long Island extends nearly 120 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean from New York City. Only 15 miles or so wide, the island is split into two long fingers divided by the Peconic Bay near the town of Riverhead, 70 miles from the East River. Known as the North and South Forks, this end of the island is where viticulture has taken hold. The South Fork is synonymous to many with the Hamptons, New York’s answer to Malibu, and the area is home to a few vineyards. The majority, however, are in the more rural and pastoral North Fork, which at only five miles wide and 35 miles long is all but surrounded by water.

At present there are about 20 wineries in the area, all but two of which are relatively small. It is still a very young industry with the earliest wineries dating from the 1970s, but expansion has been swift as the area has a laundry list of natural attributes. While the more established upstate New York viticultural areas have a more extreme climate that favors white Vinifera varietals, Long Island has the ability to ripen red varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot. The warmer climate is a function of the more southerly latitude, the fact that the vineyards are nearly surrounded by the moderating influence of the Atlantic, and that they are shielded from extreme freezes by warm moist winds which blow in from the Carolinas in the fall and winter. Additionally, there is the enviable position of being a stone’s throw from one of the largest markets for fine wines in the world, New York City.

As for Long Island Cabernet, many of the wines bear a resemblance to Bordeaux or Washington, in that they feature more restrained levels of alcohol and higher acidity levels than their California counterparts. In many ways, today’s wines remind one of similar efforts from Washington ten or even 15 years ago. It may just be that the area’s wine makers are a bit behind in the wine making curve that California and Washington vintners have set, and Long Island will claim its place in the upper echelon in the near future. As was the case with Washington (and Oregon’s Pinot Noir) in the 1980s, the potential is certainly there.