Oh, how we love bubbles. That iconic, energetic string of tiny beads zooming to the top of your glass is 100% joy — and certainly an all-around crowd pleaser. Clinking flutes represent celebration first and foremost, but there are as many reasons to drink sparkling wine as there are types to try, even within our little eastern Long Island wine region. Here are just a few of our favorites to ring in the celebratory season — and any other occasion, small or large, that you fancy. Cheers, South Forkers!
For the ones who just wanna have fun:
Castello di Borghese NV ‘Effervescence,’ $40
Since Giovanni Borghese took over the winery his parents bought in 1999 — the vineyard that was, in fact, the very first one planted by the Hargraves back in 1973 — you can feel the pioneer spirit that lives in the ground here. Hope, excitement and some serious if-you-build-it-they-will-come positive vibes.
But the young Borghese is all about looking forward and taking leaps of faith, be it buying out his siblings and embracing the giant task of running a winery and estate vineyard, honoring the family name or hiring a winemaker who, up to now, has spent her time quietly working behind the scenes, learning her trade and honing her skills. Both were good bets.
Allissa Goodale grew up in Mattituck, and more than a decade ago started her career in the wine industry, working at places like Martha Clara, Premium Wine Group and a stint in New Zealand in 2015. Back in the states by 2017, Goodale was working a night shift during that year’s harvest with a good friend, and the two started talking about their dream jobs.
“I was like, I want to live on the North Fork and I want to work at a small vineyard and winery where I can grow the grapes and be part of the winemaking process,” she says with a smile. Within the year, Borghese approached her to come on board and work under the guidance of then-head winemaker Erik Bilka.
This year, Goodale stepped into the role of head winemaker, and is excited (bubbling over, one might say) for what’s to come, including a couple of traditional method chardonnay-based sparklings from the 2022 and 2023 vintages waiting in the wings.
But she’s also awfully stoked about launching Borghese’s very first sparkling wine this past year: “Effervescence,” a force-carbonated, gorgeously pale pink blend of merlot, cabernet franc and chardonnay that smells and tastes of early summer cherries and strawberries, with a just-right softness to the bubbles that makes it oh-so-sippable.
“We wanted our first sparkler to be a bubbly rosé because those are always fun. If I’m going out with my mom and my family or with my girlfriends, if we see a bubbly rosé, that’s what we want to be enjoying, right? No question!” she laughs. “It has been a huge success. Everybody has really been loving it. And we really love it!”
For the food-focused:
Channing Daughters 2022 ‘Rosso’ Pétillant Naturel, $29
Exuberant. Yes, that’s a good descriptor for sparkling wines, but in this instance, we’ll use it to also describe winemaker Christopher Tracy. For a winery that’s got the kind of following Channing Daughters enjoys, he may well be one of the most hands-on, creative, egalitarian winemakers out there.
His wines are all about that much-discussed idea of “place” — how does a grape from Italy or Hungary or Germany translate in Long Island? Tracy digs on the nature/nurture aspect of winemaking, and it shows in the expressive, distinctive Long Island wines that he makes, year after year.
He released his first pét nats onto the market in 2013. It’s a cute truncated term that’s short for pétillant naturel, an old style of making bubbly where, instead of undergoing two separate fermentations — one to create a basic wine, one to create bubbles, as with Champagne and other traditional method sparkling — the whole shebang happens in one shot, as the still-fermenting base wine goes in a bottle and finishes out the process there, creating a gentler kind of fizz.
Barring Hargrave’s never-released version in the early ‘80s, Tracy was the first to embark on the now-popular style of bubbles in order to, quite simply, “make a delicious and expressive sparkling wine.”
“We love sparkling wine. We don’t have the equipment, the space, the money, et cetera, to make traditional method sparklers, so methode ancestrale was perfect for us,” Tracy says. “Plus, they are serious and playful, perfect for us again. They are also very well suited to make in our region, both analytically and organoleptically!”
Made from 40% merlot, 30% syrah, 20% cabernet franc, 5% blaufränkisch and 5% dornfelder, the nose is nothing short of entrancing — and fun. It smells of raspberry, juicy cherry and zippy tangerine, all of which continue joyfully on the palate. It kind of makes us crave mussels steamed in wine with a side of sourdough and saffron mayo, but its snappy little bit of tannic grip and dry, dry finish seems to fit a multitude of cravings (or Feasts of the Seven Fishes!).
For the sentimental historians:
Lenz 2016 Cuvée, $42
If Louisa Hargrave is the mother of Long Island wine, winemaker Eric Fry may well be the proud poppa of East End bubbly. “I’m pretty sure it would have been Eric Fry at Lenz who made the first traditional method sparkling wine here,” says Hargrave, the co-founder of Long Island’s first winery. “We looked into doing it and even traveled to Épernay in Champagne to look at special equipment needed for it, but we determined that it was an extra expense we could not justify.”
Good thing Fry stuck with it, using his dogged vigilance in the vineyard and near-impenetrable patience for aging in the cellar (and hand-riddling all the bottles — no automated gryopallette for him!). While the winemaker at Lenz, he kicked off his bubbly program in 1990 via the traditional method (that is, using the same technique made famous in Champagne, creating a second fermentation inside the individual bottles to makes bubbles via carbon dioxide), and became known for letting his vintage cuvées sit for years on end aging on their lees, the spent yeast cells leftover from that in-bottle fermentation party. Notable, because that time hanging around in this state develops rich complexity to rival the best grower-Champagnes (believe it!).
Fry retired in 2016, leaving Lenz in the very capable hands of current winemaker Tom Spotteck. As it happens, that particular vintage — the crossover from mentor to mentee — is the current release available from the winery. Made from 100% pinot noir, it’s a fleeting moment in time that bursts forward with notes of creamy lemon curd, yellow cherry and crisp sweet-tart apples, with a wonderful mouth-filling yet restrained juiciness that zips up in a cracker-dry, biscuity finish.
“It was a long road with this wine, but I guess it’s the first one that I get to see through from start to finish,” Spotteck says of that watershed year with Fry. Since then, he has begun to slowly develop his own way with bubbles, creating a disgorged rosé pétillant naturel called Firefly, planting new vineyards and new grapes and generally trusting his own instincts as he nears a decade at the helm. But that cuvée? Yeah, it’s a special moment in time that’s worth grabbing.
For the purists:
Sparkling Pointe 2018 Brut Nature, $42
Gilles Martin is certainly one of Long Island’s most prolific winemakers, but of all the wines and wineries he’s worked for or consulted with (and there are many; Martin is often in-demand), it’s Sparkling Pointe for which he has arguably become best known.
In a way, the all-bubbles, all-the-time winery was a little bit like coming home. Martin was born in Meaux, a town just northeast of Paris that’s about a quarter of the way from Reims, the center of the nation’s Champagne region. Wanting to learn and gain new experiences as a young winemaker, he worked for the California outpost of the Champagne house Roederer, crafting sparkling in the Anderson Valley and learning how to employ the traditional method in a very untraditional place. Eventually he landed on Long Island and caught the attention of Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, whose dream was to create an all-sparkling winery, right in the heart of Long Island wine country.
That was 16 years ago, and what seemed like a crazy idea turned out to be a sparkling success, with an ever-packed tasting room full of fans to prove it. Of the winery’s lovely cuvées, sippers who search for clarity and depth will appreciate the Brut Nature, with its laid-bare, no-dosage style made from Champagne’s traditional grapes, pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. It’s a non-vintage blend of specific reserve cuvées curated by Martin, made only in particular selected years, and that careful selection is clear right off the bat — there’s a gravitas to this wine that smells and tastes unrushed, with notes of toast, golden apple and a whisper of freesia.
“The Brut Nature was created to emphasize the idea that sparkling wine is not only about bubbles and celebrations,” says Martin. “Sparkling wines can also be a serious wine appreciated in its own class for its vinous and exceptional qualities, forgetting the enjoyment of the effervescence for a deeper pleasure of the palate.”
For the those who like a comeback:
Pindar Vineyards NV Dr. Dan’s Signature Collection Extra Brut, $32.99
Founded in 1979, Pindar Vineyards were one of the pioneers of Long Island wine — and, for a long time, perhaps the best known. But as new wineries popped up over the decades, with exciting new wines, ideas and techniques, Pindar seemed to fade to the background, an antique of the early days some 50 years ago.
But if current winemaker Erik Bilka’s sparkling speaks for the state of affairs there, it’s high time to give Pindar another look. Bilka is one of those behind-the-scenes guys who’s been making wine on Long Island for myriad wineries for a couple of decades, as well as for his own label, Influence (if you’ve never had his malbec, please go get it!). But here, the trio of traditional method sparkling he makes are so damn good, it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite.
Still, the one that really stood out to us was Dr. Dan’s Signature Collection Extra Brut, named for the winery’s founder, Dr. Dan Damianos. We were tickled by the restraint shown on this extra dry bubbly. If you aren’t familiar with the parlance of bubbles, the words “dry” and “extra dry” mean the exact opposite of what you’d expect, with varying levels of residual sugar added back in to create a certain style, well known in the traditional canon of sparkling winemaking.
But instead of being a simple pop of sweetness, Bilka uses a just-right amount of that residual sugar as a tool to highlight the gorgeous fruit from some of the area’s oldest vineyards. It’s bright gold in your glass, smells like quince, ripe apple and nougat and is at once voluptuous yet structured in your mouth. And it’s just damn delicious.
For the bubbles-all-day devotees:
Wölffer Estate Vineyard 2019 Noblesse Oblige, $45
For some of us, there need not be an excuse for sparkling. Sure, New Year’s and birthdays and anniversaries and accomplishments are wonderful when marked by the sound of popping corks, but Noblesse Oblige has the winery’s rosé-all-day, all-year spirit.
Made from 53% chardonnay and 47% pinot noir, it has a wonderfully creamy texture with bubbles that manage to both alert your senses and distribute flavor like a million little gifts on your tongue. Smartly, winemaker Roman Roth chooses to make the wine in an extra brut style (that is, leaning toward the truly dry) in order to marry and highlight the texture and flavor.
“We make the Noblesse Oblige in an extra brut style to underline how serious Wölffer is about its rosé program. Most people would make a rosé sparkling wine a little sweeter or at least a brut style, but we have made the decision to show how rich and classic a rosé sparkling wine that’s methode traditional can be,” says Roth. “Of course, it is all about finding the perfect balance. I like to pick my grapes for the sparkling wine on the slightly later and riper side compared to many others. This adds the extra texture and fruit and mouthfeel in order to be able to make it an extra brut.”