At twilight on the North Fork of Long Island I tasted firsthand the cliché that the vineyard makes the wine. I was walking through deep-green fields of vines just days before this fall's harvest, and couldn't keep my fingers out of the nets newly tied against starlings. The grapes I was serially stealing from Shinn Estate Vineyards were lesser-known varieties associated with Bordeaux (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Semillon, Malbec), planted because the North Fork has similar growing conditions: sandy, loamy soil in a maritime climate. The Malbec was particularly sweet and fruity. Earlier I had tasted freshly squeezed Sauvignon Blanc juice, which seemed perfectly balanced on its own—sweet yet acidic, concentrated and intense. Having consumed a generous glass of Shinn Estate's very fresh-tasting 2004 Sauvignon Blanc—Semillon at lunch, a wine that went perfectly with exceptional fresh goat cheese made just down the road (see box), I could imagine how good the vineyard's Sauvignon Blanc will taste next spring.
Wine grapes often taste good, but seldom that good. Usually they're interesting: perhaps oddly acidic, perhaps slightly funky, even when they will be the base for a wine that is smooth, balanced, and fascinating. Balance and fascination generally come from blending—the skill French winemakers perfected to compensate for climates that can't be counted on to produce grapes at the same level of ripeness year after year. I had always assumed that the French habit of grouping wines by the name of an area—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne—and naming individual wines for a vineyard or a certain hillside was regional and proprietary pride gone wild.