As the wine growing in popularity all over the United States (still does, I hope), we witness the “wine countries” appearing everywhere – not just singular wineries, but the actual aggregations of the wineries, often presented as “wine trails”. While Napa and Sonoma definitely paved and continue leading the way to what the “wine country” is, you can find wineries all over the country offering not only wine tastings, but live music, concerts, dinners, special events and lots more.
Long Island wine country is the one closest to the New York City, making the wines for about 40 years by now. There is a very good chance, however, that even if you live in the USA, you never tasted Long Island wines – same as it is practically impossible to find the wines from Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or Michigan anywhere outside of those states. So if I will tell you that Long Island makes world class Riesling, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Merlot, you will probably have to take my word for it.
Over the past 10 years or so, visiting Long Island wineries on more or less a regular basis, I witnessed those wineries perfectly learning from Napa – both the good and the bad. On the good side, more and more knowledge is accumulated as to which vineyards and grapes do best, which individual plots do best, and the winemaking becoming more precise and resourceful. The bad side is in the fact that as the wines are getting better and better, it is less and less possible to enjoy the wines in the wine country itself, as it becomes more and more touristy – and visitors often get this “tourist special” treatment… Oops – no, we are not going into the rant, nope. Let me get to what I actually wanted to talk about.
When I was offered to taste some of the wines produced by Lieb Cellars, I had to do a bit of a research first. It turned out that despite visiting Long Island wineries every year, I never made it to Lieb Cellars and was pretty much unfamiliar with their wines. Therefore, I was looking at the best case – the wine country was coming to me, without any additional tourist distractions, yay!
Now, I would like to finally explain the title of this post (after almost falling for a rant, yeah). When the wines arrived and I started taking them out of the box, the first thought was “wow, I love these labels!”. There is really nothing special about those labels, except that they are very clean and simple, and all of them use bright, cheerful colors. We eat with our eyes first – everybody know that – and it works for me the same with the the wine labels. Of course, what’s inside the bottle is far more important than the label itself, but good label makes you anticipate good wine – works for me every time.
In case of Lieb Cellars wines, the happiness-inducing labels were also perfectly supported by what was in the bottles, as you can tell from my tasting notes below. Few comments before I will leave you with them.
Lieb Cellars produces two different lines of wines. The first line, Lieb Cellars, is being produced since 1992. You can see those wines identified on the labels as Lieb Cellars, and today those are the Reserve wines made only from the estate-produced fruit. In 2004, Lieb Cellars started new line of wines called Bridge Lane – named after the farm road adjacent to one of the Lieb vineyards. While Bridge Lane are called a “second label” wines, there is nothing “second” about them – sustainably farmed, small crop, hand harvested wines, available in 3 different formats – standard bottle, 3L box and 20L kegs – whatever size your heart desires. You can even see those three available sizes pictured on the Bridge Lane labels.
Time to talk about the wines – here are my notes:
2016 Bridge Lane Chardonnay New York State (12.5% ABV, $15, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: lemon with distant hint of rosemary
P: lemon, tropical fruit, mango, Granny Smith apples
2016 Bridge Lane Rosé New York State (11.9% ABV, $15, 49% cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 4% Pinot Noir, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: light onion peel
N: strawberries all the way, ripe strawberries, clean, inviting, fresh, touch of yeast Inessa which makes you smell it for a long time
P: strawberries on the palate, clean lemony acidity, firm and present. It would happily compete with any Provence Rosé
V: 8, wow, what a treat!
2016 Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc New York State (12.0% ABV, $15, 100% Sauvignon Blanc)
C: literally non-existent, straw pale extra light
N: fresh cut grass, medium intensity
P: lemon, tart fruit, cut through acidity. More of a Sancerre style – less fruit than California, less intensity than NZ. Clean acidity on the finish.
V: 8-, very enjoyable.
2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.5% ABV, $30, 48 months on the lees, 100% Pinot Blanc)
Appearance: Light golden color, fine mousse
N: touch of Apple, touch of yeast, delicious, open
P: touch of acidity, apples, lemon, restrained
V: 8/8+, the bottle can be gulped in one sitting
2015 Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve North Fork of Long Island, New York (11.9% ABV, $20, 98% Pinot Blanc, 2% Riesling)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, nice sweetness
P: beautiful, plump fruit, generous, delicious
V: 8, outstanding.
2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.8% ABV, $30, 10 month in Hungarian oak, 85% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: dark ruby
N: mint, hint of mushrooms, touch of tobacco
P: fresh, open, blackberries, silky layers,
The wines give us pleasure. It is not simple to convey that in words, but I hope I managed to share at least a glimpse of a pleasure brought by these Lieb Cellars wines. If anything, let me give you only one advice – find ’em and drink ’em. Cheers!
It was definitively bright and sunny. And somewhat windy. And not warm at all. But it didn’t stop us from adhering to a delightful tradition couple of weeks ago – day trip with friends to the Long Island wine country. We’ve done it for the past 7 years if not longer, with very little interruptions (had to miss last year, unfortunately) – visit a few wineries, taste wines, spend few hours in leisurely lunch in a great company.
It was very interesting to observe how the things were changing over those years – some for better, some for worse. As the love of wine is on the upswing in the US over the same 7, may be 10 years, this clearly was visible in sheer number of people you would see at Long Island wineries – more people every year. Of course it is a good thing – outside of the fact that you have to stand longer in line to the tasting counter. I don’t count this as good or bad – this is just a fact. What definitely improving for the better is a quality of the wine. Every year, the number of “wow” wines in seemingly the same tasting lineup was increasing. And not only the “wow” wines, but also “very solid wines”. So this is definitely good and I love the trend.
What is not good? Well, let me start from the most questionable gripe around the wine – prices. Yes, I understand that winery is a business, and they charge what they can, and have a cost justification. But $48 for a bottle of Long Island Riesling? It is a good Riesling, but it is not the wine which worth $48. Or $110 for a Long Island Merlot? I understand that the grapes were harvested by hand, and that it is only made in the special years, but again, strictly judging from the taste, this is not a wine which worth $110, for sure if you don’t have an expense account.
I also have to mention the usual sad state of knowledge of their own wines by the people minding the tasting room. One month ago I was told that new and very talented winemaker started at the Jamesport Vineyards. When I asked gentleman at the tasting counter at Jamesport about their new winemaker and if he made any of the wines we are currently tasting, I got back a shy smile and an answer “of course, he made all of them” – that would include even wines from 2007… Oh well…
True, pricing and affordability are extremely subjective – I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who will gladly pay the $110 for that bottle of wine and also get a case – I’m just not one of them (but this is nobody else’ problem but mine). What I have much bigger issue with is food. As I told you, one of our most favorite activities during the wine country visit is 2 (or longer) hours lunch. For years, our preferred lunch destination was Paumanok winery – they have very nice patio with lots of tables outside, beautiful views and very good wines. We would bring our food – everything you need to make tasty sandwiches, as well as cheese, nuts, fruits – anything you would use to support a slow conversation over a glass(es) of wine. We would find the table, buy a few bottles of wine right at the winery and enjoy ourselves. About 4 years back situation changed, and we had to pay to reserve the table and to use the glasses, but I think we were getting back some of the money towards tasting fees and/or wines. No problems, still works for me. This year, the rules are new again – no outside food allowed. Okay, so it is probably replaced by some sort of deli counter or may be a food truck outside, you would think? Nope. You get the whole menu, but mostly with the items such as pâté or some cheeses, and a little bit of cold cuts. The cold cuts tray for $20 has 6 slices of salami, 6–8 tiny pieces of cheese and about the same quantity of olives and cornichons. All the pâté look like they came directly from Trader Joe’s, and they were served right in the plastic wrap with the short baguette on a side. This is simply wrong, in my opinion. If you are not allowing people to bring their own food anymore, then you should provide an appropriate alternative – or don’t do it at all. Don’t get me wrong – we still had a great time, but the food, unfortunately, was detrimental part of the experience.
Done with the “bad” – now let’s go back to the good (best) part – the wines themselves. We started our tasting at Jamesport Vineyards winery, which always was one of my favorite wineries on Long Island.
Here are the favorite wines of the tasting:
2014 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Blanc ($16.95, blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc) – playful, open nose with white fruit, simple, clean, delicious overall
2013 Jamesport Vineyards Riesling ($25.95) – perfect, classic nose with a touch of Petrol and restrained fruit, nice and clean on the palate – excellent overall.
2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Red ($16.95, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) – outstanding. Warm profile, nicely perfumed, good fresh red fruit, delicious
2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End Cabernet Franc ($17.95) – Classic, touch of green notes on the nose, crisp palate, touch of salinity, excellent
2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Merlot ($34.95) – Tobacco and field flowers on the nose, great palate, clean, concentrated, delicious
2010 Jamesport Vineyards Mélange de Trois ($34.95, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) – Great power, concentrated, excellent
2007 Jamesport Vineyards Jubilant Reserve ($34.95, predominantly Cabernet Franc, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and tiny amounts of Syrah and Petite Verdot) – Nice concentration, good depth
2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Syrah ($24.95) – nice peppery notes, classic, open, clean – an excellent cold climate Syrah overall.
Then, of course, Paumanok. Quite honestly, I don’t even remember such a variety of wines offered at Paumanok – Reserve, Single vineyards, wow – lots of excellent wines. I have to admit that at the time of the tasting at Paumanok I was hungry and lazy at the same time, so I simply tasted the wine without taking any notes – here is the limited set of impressions from the Paumanok wines I tried.
Believe it or not, but my favorite wine from Paumanok tasting was 2010 Paumanok Blanc de Blancs ($45) – yep, classic sparkling wine, with perfect nose of yeast and freshly toasted bread, and apple and fresh bread on the palate. Delicious! 2014 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($28) was fresh and vibrant, and 2013 Paumanok Cabernet Franc ($30) was clean and varietally correct. From the Grand Vintage collection, 2014 Grand Vintage Chardonnay ($45) was excellent, dry and crisp, 2013 Assemblage ($50) and 2013 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($35) were excellent as well, but my favorite was 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40), with deliciously powerful and balanced palate. Lastly, from the Single Vineyard collection, I really liked both 2010 Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard ($75) and 2010 Petite Verdot Apollo Drive Vineyard ($75) – they were different, but equally outstanding.
Lastly, for the first time over all these years I made it to the South Fork of Long Island (Hamptons), where we visited Duck Walk and Wölffer Estate wineries. There was nothing at Duck Walk to write home about. At Wölffer Estate, we didn’t do a real tasting as we visited place called The Wine Stand, where you can buy wine by the glass or bottle – main winery was closed for the wedding. Here is what we tried:
2014 Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle ($24, 41% Chardonnay, 29% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris) was fresh and very nicely balanced, which is always appreciated in the white blends. 2012 Wölffer Estate Christian’s Cuvee Merlot ($110, 96.5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5% Petit Verdot) was the wine I mentioned before. It was simply not ready – tight, with limited fruit expression. May be 5+ years in the cellar would do wonders…
There you have it – a trip to Long Island wine country with all the good and bad. Unquestionably, we had a great time with friends, and this is what matters. Yes, it would be even better without the gripes, but we can’t have it all, can we? Well, I wish that all your problems would be only small annoyances in this life. And yes, head over to the Long Island wine country, as the wines are delicious. And may be try to sneak in a sandwich? Cheers!