When you think of visiting wine country, you’re most likely to think of Napa or Sonoma, but over the last quarter of a century, the Long Island wine industry has developed from one small vineyard to more then 3,000 acres of vines and more than 50 wineries, producing some of the most amazing wines we’ve ever tasted.
Located in New York State about 75 miles from Manhattan, Long Island wine country extends more than 120 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, giving it a maritime climate that provides ideal conditions for growing grapes that produce exceptional wines. The most popular varietals of wine in the region include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling for white wines; and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for red wines.
Our first stop was at Ms. Michelle’s Urban Gourmet Bakery [www.msmichellesurbangourmet.com] in Bayport, New York. The bakery is 100 percent gluten- and soy-free and offers a variety of breakfast and lunch delicacies. We purchased a variety of muffins, including a coffee cake muffin, a cranberry muffin, and a chocolate chip muffin. They were each moist and packed with delicious flavors. We also bought a loaf of whole grain gluten-free bread to keep with us for our adventure through wine country. The bread was light and fluffy and didn’t need to be toasted, even on day four of our trip.
We also tried out two sandwiches—the grilled chicken and avocado sandwich and the pesto, spinach, and mozzarella sandwich. Both were prepared on homemade baguettes that were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The bakery also offers a wide assortment of pastries, cakes, tarts, and decadent chocolate truffles. Our favorites were the chocolate whoopee pies, the fresh seasonal pies, and the cheesecake. You can also place orders for special occasion cakes, and they’ve even started catering wedding cakes. With the selection of goodies changing daily, you can count on there always being fresh and delicious options available.
With our bellies full of delicious gluten-free treats, we set out on the quick 45-minute drive to the start of wine country.
The first and perhaps our favorite vineyard we visited was Bedell Cellars [www.bedellcellars.com]. Led by veteran winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich, Bedell Cellars is best known for a series of innovative wine blends called Taste, Gallery, and Musee. In fact, Bedell's flagship red blend, Musée, received 91 points from Wine Spectator magazine—the highest score the publication has ever awarded to a red wine from Eastern North America. We also loved the 2010 Viognier, which uses some of the oldest grape vines in North America and is a perfect summer wine. It’s packed with aromas of white peach, honeysuckle, and apricots and is fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel.
The Bedell Cellars tasting room is open year-round, and the vineyard provides a gorgeous backdrop for weddings, dinners, and other special events. If you’re planning a girls’ day out, we recommend the VIP Vineyard Tour, which includes a VIP tour of the facilities and a delightful tasting of all of Bedell’s best wines.
Just down the road we stopped at Sparkling Pointe Winery [www.sparklingpointe.com], which features award-winning sparkling wines made using the traditional French méthode champenoise; their motto is “romance in a bottle.” With a pale golden color and the aroma of ripe pears and apples, the vineyard’s 2007 Brut was one of our favorites, as was the 2005 Blanc de Blanc. Both had bright sparkling flavors that simply made us smile. Sparkling Pointe also hosts weddings, private celebrations, and corporate events in the gorgeous facilities, which feature a VIP bubble room with a fireplace, sparkly chandeliers, and a terrace.
A total change of pace from the first two wineries is Martha Clara Vineyards [www.marthaclaravineyards.com], with its barn-style tasting room and fun and lively atmosphere. We arrived at Martha Clara just as a horrible rain storm hit, so the management promptly did what we think every vineyard should do in similar circumstances: they offered us a 50-percent-off rain discount on all wine tastings! We chose the Estate Reserve Flight, and for $5.00, we got to taste four of the vineyard’s best wines. Our favorite was the 2010 Estate Reserve Reisling, which retails for $19.99 and is a total bargain for the quality. The vineyard also offers special events, including a wine and chocolate pairing class. Also, be sure to check out their website for the live music schedule.
After three vineyards it was time for lunch. We stopped at Pagano’s Restaurant and Pizza [www.paganos.com] in Southold for some homemade Italian food. The restaurant offers a variety of gluten-free options—including a divine pizza crust that can be used with every specialty pizza on the menu—as well as a make-your-own. The thin crust pizza was made using a blend of gluten-free flours and tasted amazing. We selected the spinach artichoke pizza, which came with a ricotta garlic sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese on top. We also ordered the Pagano’s special pasta—a dish with marinara sauce, ground beef, mushrooms, and sautéed onions—with the gluten-free corn pasta. It was served with a house salad that was packed with fresh lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots. Our server was extremely knowledgeable about the gluten-free diet and made us feel extremely safe as we ate our meal.
Our next visit was to Raphael Vineyards [www.raphaelwine.com], a winery boasting big, bold wines packed with flavors of coastal fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, and beach plums. Our favorite white wine was the 2010 Chardeaux, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon grapes. With hints of peaches and pears, this wine is best described as a tropical blend.
For our first dinner, we visited A Lure Restaurant [www.alurenorthfork.com], a new culinary venture of Chef Tom Schaudel and restaurateur Adam Lovett. Pristine waters surround the restaurant; the barrier beach bird sanctuary of the Port of Egypt Marina on Southold Bay is in view from the restaurant’s large bay windows and wrap-around deck. Our server was extremely knowledgeable about the gluten-free diet and assured me I could eat nearly everything on the menu.
We started our meal with the roasted corn and watermelon salad topped with feta cheese and a citrus vinaigrette, as well as the bay scallop ceviche, which was served in a half coconut shell and infused with passion fruit, lime juice, and chilies. For my main course, I selected the grilled swordfish, which was served with steamed black rice, pineapple mango salsa, and a Thai green curry sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with just a hint of spice to cut the intense tropical flavors. My husband ordered the seared striped bass, which came with a lemon basil risotto and a cherry tomato marmalade.
For dessert we decided to drive into downtown Greenport for a Ralph’s Famous Italian Ice [www.ralphsices.com]. The ices are made using all natural ingredients, and many flavors are both fat- and cholesterol-free. All 62 flavors of the water ice are naturally gluten-free, as are many of the other creative concoctions on the menu. A gluten-free guide for Ralph’s is available at www.ralphsices.com/glutenfree.htm. I got a double scoop, with one mango and one pineapple scoop. Both were extremely fresh and contained chunks of fresh fruit. This is definitely a spot you have to visit on a warm summer day.
For another dinner we wandered into downtown Greenport for a delightful meal at Noah’s Restaurant [www.chefnoahschwartz.com]. Chef Noah Schwartz greeted us upon arrival at the restaurant and assured me he was well-versed in gluten-free cooking. The menu features dishes made from entirely locally sourced ingredients, as well as the only fresh oyster raw bar in town. My husband and I decided to share a variety of small plates and one full plate so we could try a number of different options. We started with the crab stuffed deviled eggs and a sweet corn risotto that was topped with freshly shaved Parmesan. Next came the crescent farm barbecue duck that was served with a smoked cheddar cheese polenta. For our large plate, we selected the seafood bouillabaisse sans crouton, which was a flavorful mix of sea scallops, Montauk cod, shrimp, clams, and mussels in a saffron fennel broth. Every course was more delicious than the last, and we left dinner pleasantly stuffed.