When Palmer Vineyards sent out a shipment to wine club members earlier this month, among the three wines was a mysterious bottle — a white with a blank label, along with instructions “name that wine” via email or social media. Chances are, most people opened the wine quickly, as I did: Pale yellow in the glass, it smelled faintly of jasmine, maybe peaches. The first sip was brisk but soon mellowed to lemon curd flavors with a bitter almond edge. It was fresh, young, drinkable — and what you saw, smelled and tasted were the only clues to its identity.
“We thought it would be cool for someone in the wine club to come up with a name,” said Evan Ducz, tasting room manager for Palmer. Engaging their 500 or so “dedicated” wine club members is a priority, Ducz added. But indirectly, the gambit also highlighted the innovative work of Palmer winemaker Miguel Martin, who has pioneered lesser-known grapes and aromatic white blends, both for Palmer and other wineries, during his 11 years on the North Fork.
“I have been thinking about this white wine for awhile,” said Martin, who made 200 cases of the wine. He calls it “friendly, summery and acid-driven, but also fruity,” as well as intended for drinking alongside summer foods such as clams and lobster.
Spoiler alert: While the wine is made up mostly of the North Fork’s benchmark white grape, chardonnay, those heady aromatics come from traces of malvasia, muscat and viognier, three of the more offbeat grapes growing here. It was aged in steel. “As a winemaker, the more [grapes] the better. It gives you more options for blending,” Martin said. “It’s not that you can’t have fun making chardonnay or merlot, but you can have more options, more colors to paint with.”
Those “colors” also come in the form of albariño — a grape from his native Spain that Martin says is well-suited to Long Island terroir — as well as Cabernet Franc, Syrah, gewürztraminer, riesling, sauvignon blanc and a handful of other grapes. “We like to think outside the box,” Martin said.
Palmer Vineyards is at 5120 Sound Ave, Riverhead, 631-722-9463, palmervineyards.com