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!
This post was supposed to be written at least 2 months ago – but it is only coming out now. Well, the experience was great, so want to share it. And I will also skip a traditional Wine Quiz for the next two weekends, and will start it anew next year.
Ahh, all those “firsts” – aren’t they the best, most memorable experiences of your life? First step (well, nobody remembers those, I guess), first kiss (hope now I’m talking about something more memorable), first… well, whatever makes you tick, insert it here. I have somewhat of the extensive experience around wines, but I still have my “firsts”, and plenty of it.
At the beginning of October, while in Austin, I tasted my first “just blended” Viognier (here is the link if you want to read about it). This time, I managed to come across my first harvest. No, I didn’t actually cut, sorted or stomped the grapes. But our visit to Paumanok winery on Long Island in New York coincided with an actual harvest of Merlot which was taking place on exact same day.
For a number of years by now, it is pretty much a tradition – at the beginning of October, we visit Long Island wineries with the group of friends. The weather is usually beautiful – it is so called “Indian summer” in New England, so it is typically warm and sunny, but not hot by all means. We drive all the way down the North Fork of Long Island, stop at a few wineries on the way, taste bunch of wines and then select a few bottles for lunch.
So far we didn’t find a better location for lunch than the outside deck at Paumanok winery – you get to eat outside and enjoy a view of the beautiful sun-filled vineyards:
This time our experience had an interesting twist – we managed to hit the harvest day. I called the winery a few days before and talked to winemaker, Kareem, to see if he will be able to spend some time with us – he said “may be, but unlikely. as we probably will be harvesting Merlot”. That is exactly how it was – the harvest was in a full swing by the time we arrived. Before we will talk about our “harvest experience” (mostly in pictures), let’s talk about the wines, as we started from the tasting upon our arrival.
We tasted pretty much through the full line of wines offered at Paumanok. Started with 2011 Paumanok Festival Chardonnay – unoaked and simple, showing clean white fruit and good acidity.
2011 Paumanok Dry Rose was a bit too austere to my taste – I liked 2010 more, but we still took a bottle for lunch.
2011 Paumanok Sauvignon Blanc was very good, a New Zealand style wine, with bright fruit, grapefruit notes, fresh grass and perfect acidity.
Continuing the line of whites was 2011 Paumanok Dry Riesling – perfectly done in classic style – good white fruit, touch of honey and perfect acidity (also was one of our lunch wine choices). Finishing up the whites we had 2011 Paumanok Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, which I liked a lot more that the unoaked version.
And now, to the reds! We started with 2011 Paumanok Cabernet Franc – nose of fresh berries, somewhat similar to the nose of Beaujolais Nouveau, only with more intensity, medium body, cherry notes on the palate, together with earthy notes and gentle tannins – very good wine. Next wine was 2011 Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon. It was not bad, but too perfumy for my taste. I honestly think that Long Island makes much better wines with Merlot than with Cabernet Sauvignon. Last wine in this flight was 2008 Paumanok Merlot, which was perfect – medium to full body, good amount of fruit, good acidity and tannins – very balanced.
We finished tasting with Grand Vintage Flight. 2010 Paumanok Cabernet Franc Grand Vintage was produced for the first time since 2004 in the quantity of 156 cases. This wine was perfect – full body, ripe cherries, sweet oak, soft tannins – I put “full package” as a summary of my tasting notes.
Next wine in the flight was 2010 Paumanok Assemblage – a blend of 35% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot and 11% Cabernet Franc. Even bigger than the previous wine, this wine showed some additional dark chocolate notes and great overall balance (as you know, balance in wine is one thing which can push my buttons).
We finished our tasting with 2007 Paumanok Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard – which was a great wine – dark fruit, dark chocolate, hint of tobacco, supple tannins and fresh acidity – very tasty.
As we were finishing the tasting we met Ursula, who happened to be the winery owner. She works at the winery together with her three sons, who are in charge of all operations – wine growing, wine making, harvesting and everything else which goes into production of Paumanok wines. Seeing our keen interest in wines, Ursula happened to be the most gracious and welcoming host, and we got really an inside tour of winery and what was happening on that day – which was a Merlot harvest.
Ursula showed us fermentation tanks and barrels, as well as state of the art bottling line:
But most importantly, she gave us a taste of just fermented Chenin Blanc, which was incredible! Freshly fermented juice was something I never tasted before, so it was my first encounter with inside magic of winemaking – and it was delicious.
To add up to that experience, she also took us to the backyard, so to speak, where the fresh grapes were arriving.
Merlot grapes at Paumanok are harvested using the machine. Salim, another one of the three brothers was operating the machine and he gave us all the explanations. This machine can’t be used for all the grapes – only for those where whole cluster doesn’t have to be harvested – for instance, it is not used for Chardonnay, as whole clusters are fermented as part of Chardonnay production.
The machine is positioned such a way that the row of the vines happens to be right in a middle of it. As the machine moves forward with the vines all being inside, all the branches are getting a gentle shake from the side rods:
As the result, grapes are falling down into the receptors, which are all moving as a conveyor belt, bringing the grapes up into collection bin.
So the result looks like this:
And then the grapes get to the sorting table, where minimal processing is done to remove big branches and spoiled grapes:
From the sorting table the grapes are transferred directly into the fermentation tank. By the way, do you see that juice coming off the sorting belt? We had a chance to taste that too – it was absolutely delicious – not that I hold any grudge against Welches, but this juice is something I would gladly drink any time (Welches – sorry, can’t do).
We always have a great time at Paumanok (as I mentioned before, this is our “annual outing”) – but never before we were lucky to have such a special experience and see how the magic starts.
After lunch we decided to visit two more wineries – Bedell and Macari. And I have to mention that unfortunately, outside of the cool labels, we didn’t find a single wine from Bedell tasting which we liked – all the reds tasted very green, with lots of branches to chew on.
Oh well, at least Paumanok had being very consistent through many years, so we are definitely looking forward continuing our tasty tradition.
I hope I didn’t inundate you with pictures too much, but there you have it – my first harvest experience, and I hope not the last (and if you are into wines, you should seek that experience as well!). Until the next time – cheers!