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Is Malbec Next for Long Island?

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People have come to think of Long Island for good Merlot and perhaps to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc is also getting a bit of buzz. In new wine regions, producers and wine writers love to proclaim the new hot grape variety every few years, but in truth, it takes many generations to truly find what works best. After visiting Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island this weekend, I'd like to submit another potential for the future king of the region’s grapes: Malbec.

Far from a climate like Argentina, you say? Absolutely correct. But not so far from that of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where Malbec grows quite successfully as a minor grape variety. It’s no surprise that 2007 vintage—Shinn’s first for Malbec—was successful: It was a banner year for Long Island with a nearly perfect, very dry growing season. It resulted in a rather plush wine with the scent of violets and blue/black fruit.

Was 2007 a fluke? After tasting a barrel sample of Malbec from 2008—a more typical LI vintage—I think not. The wine was leaner, with lots of bright acidity, but it was still floral with lovely fruit. Plus, it had an appealing meaty quality, as many good Malbecs do. It reminded me of versions made in the Loire Valley, where the grape is known as Côt.

In all honesty, Malbec will probably never reign on Long Island the way Merlot does. Co-owner and vineyard manager Barbara Shinn has to devote more than twice as many labor hours to Malbec compared to other grape varieties—it needs all that love and care to ripen properly. That extra labor doesn't come cheaply: Shinn will be selling the small amount of Malbec they made in 500ml bottles for $35 upon release this fall, but the wine is delicious nonetheless.


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