27-year-old Long Island Cabernet proves to be a pleasant surprise

History can indeed be found in a bottle

By Alan J. Wax

I found a pleasant surprise recently rummaging through my wine cellar: a forgotten relic from my early days of covering the Long Island wine industry for Newsday.

I decided to pop open this particular bottle to accompany a socially distanced home cooked dinner of reverse-seared filet mignon and was glad I had.

The bottle was from one of Long Island’s first benchmark vintages, from a winery that long has existed as only a memory, and its contents produced from a grape variety that rarely shines in the region.

The bottle: Gristina Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 12 percent Cabernet Franc. Only 300 cases were produced and the wine retailed for $16 a bottle when it was released in 1996.

Using my Durand corkscrew, a two-piece gizmo designed for opening old bottles, I uncorked the bottle with trepidation, wondering how a wine produced 27 years ago could stand the test of time. Commentators on Cellartracker.com put the end to its drinking days In 2010. Yet, after another 10 orbits of the sun, and two hours in a decanter, this wine was surprisingly pleasing. The tannins were velvety—totally resolved. We picked up notes of leather, black fruit, spices, and hints of chocolate.

All I could think was that then-Gristina winemaker Larry Perrine had done a great job. Of course, he had a lot of help. The wine was a legacy of a hot, dry summer that produced a terrific vintage, one in which notoriously difficult-to-ripen cabernet sauvignon grapes shone. Long Island’s reputation for red wine usually is associated with merlot. 

Perrine joined Gristina in Cutchogue in 1988, Long Island’s first top vintage, after working as a grape specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension. He remained at Gristina producing excellent wines for six years and has since become president and a partner in Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.

I remember visiting Gristina Vineyards, founded in 1983 by Westchester physician Jerome Gristina and his former wife, Carol. You’d drive up a long-curving driveway on the north side of Main Road. The tasting room was a comfy place with a fireplace and couches. The Gristina property, originally 30 acres of former potato farm, had since more than doubled in size and was producing 7,000 cases a year. 

But it also had a somewhat turbulent history. The farm originally was purchased by Gristina and the late Bob Pellegrini, who went on to found nearby Pellegrini Vineyards after a partnership dispute led to Gristina buying out Pellegrini. Jerry Gristina later lost control of the property to his now ex-wife, Carol, during divorce proceedings, but subsequently regained it, only to sell in 2000 to telecom entrepreneur Vincent Gallucio.  Gallucio, who changed the winery’s name to Gallucio Family Winery, was forced to sell it three years later due to personal financial difficulties. Today, the site is owned by Macari Vineyards, which continues to operate its original winery in Mattituck.         

This almost-three-decade old Gristina bottling lends credence to the aging ability of Long Island wines.  Popping the cork also released memories and history.

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