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Saturday July 21, 2007

Cheers to Long Island and wine


ALL that swirling and sniffing; it was a job for the nose at the tasting room of Martha Clara Vineyards. 

Barely a two-hour drive from New York City, the place was crowded mostly with out-of-towners who came for wine-tasting sessions. 

There was free tasting of three selected wines; or between US$4 and US$5 (RM13.64 and RM17.05) for four other labels picked by the vineyard. 

Martha Clara Vineyards (no, not Martha’s Vineyard, where celebrities go for their summer holidays) is at North Fork on Long Island, one of the main wine regions in New York state. 

Serious connoisseurs: Patrons savouring some of the finest wines Martha Clara Vineyards has to offer at its tasting room in Long Island.
Faced off with California, New York gets little attention. The Golden State is acknowledged as the Goliath, producing at least 80% of the wines in the United States. 

New York, which ranks third after California and Washington state, is all cheers as well. Its wines and grapes industry reportedly rakes in US$500mil (RM1,705) in annual sales. 

“The New York wine industry has grown strongly over the past 20 years and is located near one of the world’s major wine markets, and its reputation for quality is spreading,” said Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. 

Thirty years ago, there were 19 wineries in the state. The number has since grown to about 200 now. 

According to him, New York made more types of wine than almost any other wine region, with tastes ranging from bone dry to very sweet, and from austere to fruity, with Riesling being a specialty in the Finger Lakes. 

The four wine-producing areas here are Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson River and Long Island. 

“Long Island is New York’s newest wine region, and one that is very exciting. Its wines are very elegant, sophisticated, and European in style,” Trezise said in an e-mail interview. 

Martha Clara Vineyards' dessert wines are a big hit, according to its manager Christine Nowak. 

“We have had very positive response since the vineyard began in 1995. Our wines are equated to the Bordeaux region in France.” 

Its best-selling wine is the Old World Meritage, priced at US$39.99 (RM136.38). 

Besides wine tasting sessions, which are available daily now that summer is here, the vineyard also offers classes on buying, storing and evaluating wine.  

Vineyards offer tasting sessions although they have begun to exercise caution. The New York Times has reported on customers getting intoxicated and behaving wildly. 

These are usually fun-seekers turned sour grapes, arriving in busloads, going vineyard-hopping, and wanting to party instead of pursuing fine wines. 

To control such crowds, most wineries have stopped offering free tasting, or limited the number of group visitors and the amount they pour. 

For bona fide customers, the drive to Riverhead, where Martha Clara Vineyards is, is a pleasant journey. 

Farms dot the route, offering sweetcorn, flowers, raspberry, pies and pumpkins. There are other vineyards as well, giving wine-lovers a variety of choice.  

A huge sign proclaiming “Welcome to Long Island – wine country” signals your arrival at the right place. 

So, still inspired by Sideways, the 2004 hit movie about two men on a road trip to California wine country? 

Such a wine tasting trip can be done in New York, too. You would be among the one million visitors who do so every year. 

New York winemakers will drink to that. 


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