Hamptons High Note

Navigating the Tasting Trail on Long Island

by Courtney Cochran

My first trip to the Hamptons was incredibly memorable, but not because of the wine.

A college student out from California for a summertime visit, I'd barely landed in scorching Manhattan before I was whisked away to the cushy comfort of the Hamptons, where a stylish bash at a sprawling Southampton estate seemed to fit the mold of many social events I'd attended. That was, until ├╝ber-socialite Nikki Hilton struck up a conversation with me and - much to everyone's delight - Puff Daddy began passing around bottles of bubbly at the after-party.

Definitely more high-wattage than your average social scene - even those back in star-studded LA where I was attending UCLA - the summer high season in the Hamptons is often appropriately described as over-the-top. But what's less often talked about is the region's rapidly developing wine country, which is taking off in a big way these days just a stone's throw from the much-hyped celebutant parties of Long Island's Toniest retreat.

From Pink Elephant to Palmer

Savvy travelers who can peel themselves away from the glittering social scene of Hamptons hot spots like Pink Elephant and Mirko's will be rewarded on the tasting trail with quaint tasting rooms, down-home hospitality, and some excellent wine. In terms of facts and figures, the region - now home to 30 wineries - played host to more than a million visitors in 2006 and is climatically similar to France's famed Bordeaux.

Which means that reds - especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot - are king on Long Island, although some whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are also made successfully (if less consistently) there. All things considered, with its proximity to the Hamptons and growing roster of award-winning wines, it's no wonder the area's taking off as a popular destination with both locals and out-of-towners alike.

South Fork In Style

Travelers staying in Southampton needn't go far to get a taste of the good stuff: Award-winning Wölfer Vineyards is located just down the road in Sagaponack, in the aptly-named Hamptons Long Island AVA (American Viticultural Area). One of just three wineries in the AVA, Wölfer stands out for its critically acclaimed wines, which include in their ranks Long Island's most expensive wine, the Wölfer Estate Premier Cru Merlot ($125).

But visitors to Wölfer can count on more than just good wine. The tasting room itself is housed in one of the most picturesque wineries on Long Island and boasts charming design elements in its spacious interior like 100-year-old, exposed wooden beams and Mediterranean-inspired terra cotta tiles. Stop by on Thursday evenings between 5:30 and 7 PM during the summer months for live music and wine and cheese pairing.

Open daily from 11am to 6pm May through October. Tastings from $6.

Negotiating the North Fork

Tasters looking to sample the wines of the other side of the island - the quaint North Fork, home to the majority of Long Island's wineries - will be rewarded for their extra travel time with bucolic scenery and warm hospitality. Officially knows as the "North Fork of Long Island" AVA, the area is home to some 27 wineries, many of which don't charge visitors fees to taste their wines.

Palmer Vineyards, situated just off of scenic Route 48 in Aquebogue, is making tracks amongst both consumers and critics with its nuanced Cabernet Franc, which won a gold medal in a recent Food & Wine Classic tasting ($19). Besides wine, visitors will find an eclectic lineup of arts-related events at the winery, including its popular "Writers on the Vine" seminar series, concerts and cooking demonstrations. As you'd expect, wine is included with all activities.

Open daily from 11am to 6pm June through October. No charge to taste.