(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)
Over a Barrel... With Lenn Thompson
"I don't like Chardonnay."
I hear this all the time when I talk to friends, family and even strangers on the street about wine. I've even said it to myself as I choked down a heavy, buttery, oak-filled chard…usually hailing from California. These wines are difficult to pair well with food and, unless you enjoy the flavor of American, French or some other region's oak trees, it's no wonder you don't like them.
Fact is, you've probably never really tasted this most noble of all white wine grapes. Through barrel fermentation and excessive aging in new oak, many wine makers so manipulate Chardonnay's pure, fruity character that it's nearly unrecognizable. It's like making a hamburger from center-cut filet mignon…and drowning it with condiments--tasty to some, but at what point is it not really filet mignon anymore?
Luckily, some talented wine makers on Long Island believe in the purity of this grape's true character. Through more judicious use of oak, or by not using it at all, they make some truly unique Chardonnays that are unlike any you've wrapped your tongue around.
If you really think you don't like Chardonnay, and are sick of drinking Savignon Blanc, Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, Long Island offers several Chardonnays you should try. Remember, however, that any "Reserve" Chardonnay is probably going to be oaky and you should avoid those if it's the fresh and the fruity that you crave.
So leave your ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) membership cards at home and try a couple of these.
Macari Vineyards' 2003 Early Wine ($12) is 100% Chardonnay but I bet you'd never have guessed. Harvested in late September, bottled around Halloween and released just before Christmas, it is one of the crispest, freshest whites you'll ever drink. With gentle lime flavor, green apple tartness and just a hint of sweetness, it's extremely easy to drink. Just 400 cases were made and the 2003 vintage has sold out, but the 2004 is on its way this December.
Another excellent example of an unoaked Chardonnay is offered by Peconic Bay Winery. Their 2002 Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($13) is fruit forward with lemon and lime--simple with just the right amount of acidity. It's a great wine with food.
Two of my favorites are made by Channing Daugthers Winery--Channing Daugthers 2003 Scuttlehole Chardonnay ($14) and Channing Perrine 2001 Mudd Vineyard Cuvee Tropical Chardonnay ($17). The Scuttlehole is fermented in stainless steel and features elegant citrus and mineral character. It's an excellent example of cold climate Chardonnay.
The Cuvee Tropical is one of the most unique Chardonnay experiences you'll ever have. Made with the musque clone of Chardonnay, it is overflowing with exotic fruit, including mangoes and pineapples that linger on the tongue.
Yet another Chardonnay that dodges the adulteration of oak fermentation is the 2003 Bridge Lane Chardonnay ($13) from Lieb Family Cellars. Made in an approachable style, it's even fruitier and more refreshing than the 2002 release, it's delicious by itself or paired with lobster or shrimp.
These wines, along with many other Long Island Chardonnays are available both at the various vineyard tasting rooms and in local wine shops. Note that many of them are great buys and that's because they don't spend much, if any, time in expensive oak barrels. Cheaper to make means cheaper to buy.
Top New York Wine From Hudson Valley Winery Made Right Here In Mattituck By Lenn Thompson
By defeating 635 other wines from across New York State, Rivendell Winery's 2003 Dry Riesling captured the Governor's Cup at the 19th annual New York Wine and Food Classic this summer at the Inn at East Wind in Wading River. In doing so, it earned the title "New York's Best Wine."
When I heard that, I knew I needed some time in New Paltz for a little R&R – Rivendell and Riesling. And, a couple weeks later, I got my chance.
As my future wife and I drove down the New York State Thruway, heading back to the Island after a weekend visiting her family outside of Albany, we decided to pull off at exit 18 and get a taste of gold medal winner for ourselves.
Just a short drive later, we pulled into Rivendell Winery, located on 50 bucolic Hudson Valley acres. As we stepped into the hardwood-floored, glass-enclosed tasting room, we were greeted by friendly, knowledgeable staff and an impressive list of more than 75 wines from throughout New York State, including several from Long Island.
Rivendell's owners, Robert Ransom and Susan Wine, have a passion for New York wines, also running two Vintage New York Storesin Manhattan that offer New York wines exclusively – 200 of them.
But it was the Riesling that brought us to Rivendell… and it was phenomenal. Made at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck from grapes grown in the Finger Lakes, New York's top wine was extremely complex and seemed to change with each sip. Bone dry and full of mineral character, as I tasted it began to burst with pineapple and citrus. Simply spectacular. At $12.99, it's a steal, and I should have bought a few more bottles because it has since sold out.
Along with the Riesling, we tried several of the other Rivendell offerings ($3 for 5 tastes). The Trilogy Chardonnay was a nice find – tropical and juicy – and at $10.99, a nice, every day Chard.
A simple, easy-drinking Merlot under their other label, SoHo Cellars, was fruity with just a hint of toasty oak ($5.99 for a half bottle), while the Rivendell Reserve Merlot ($23.99) was berry forward but much richer and concentrated, with just a little spice and a long, elegant finish.
One of the most charming wines of the lot was the City Cab by Rivendell. A blend of Long Island Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it was much more interesting and complex than you'd expect for $9.99.
For more information on Rivendell Winery, visit www.rivendellwine.com. or, to order wine (except the Riesling of course) visit www.vintagenewyork.com or stop in at one of the Vintage New York shops, at 482 Broome Street or 2492 Broadway (at 93rd).
Lenn Thompson is a freelance food and wine writer living in Sound Beach.
(Note: This article originally appeared in the 9/3 issue of Dan's Papers)
Merlot With A Mission
Lieb Family Cellars Produces Wine For 9/11 Nonprofit Foundation
by Lenn Thompson
Lieb Family Cellars has teamed up with September’s Mission – a nonprofit foundation that funds educational and cultural programs in remembrance of the victims of 9/11 – to help the many families affected by the tragedy.
To commemorate the three-year anniversary of 9/11, the Mattituck winery has produced 6,300 bottles of a special 2002 Merlot, which is available at its tasting room for $9.11 and is also available for resale to wine shops and restaurants in New York State.
By donating 91.1 cents from each bottle sold to September’s Mission, winery owners Mark and Kathy Lieb hope to raise close to $6,000 for the foundation. Both worked on Wall Street prior to 9/11 and lost friends and former colleagues in the World Trade Center attacks.
“We wanted to contribute in our own way to ensure that the tragic events of 9/11 are never forgotten,” said Mark Lieb. “The commemorative wine gives our winery, as well as restaurants and individuals, the opportunity to participate in the annual observance and to support September’s Mission.”
The special Merlot is the brainchild of Gary Madden, general manager of Lieb Family Cellars.
“Through the ages, wine has had religious and ceremonial significance, so it is fitting that it play a role in the annual remembrance of 9/11,” said Madden. “We hope restaurants and wine shops will join us in honoring the memory of those who lost their lives and help support September’s Mission by offering this wine to their customers.”
Monica Iken, who founded September’s Mission after losing her husband in the 9/11 tragedy, is deeply appreciative of the donation.
“Whoever purchases this special wine will not only be remembering the heroes and innocent victims of that terrible tragedy, but will be supporting our efforts to develop programs at the future memorial site, as well as a 9/11 ‘Living Memorial,’ our Internet project that will be accessible to everyone.”
The young, clean Merlot, blended with a just a little Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in French oak, is made exclusively of grapes grown on the North Fork and features aromas of blackberry, plum and black currant.
The 2002 Commemorative Merlot is available at the Lieb Cellars tasting room located at 35 Cox Neck Road in Mattituck, at www.liebcellars.com, or by calling the winery at 631-734-1100. Restaurants and wine shops in New York State can purchase the wine directly from Lieb Cellars.
After uncorking the idea back in July, World Wide Wine Blogging Wednesday #1 has drawn to a close. In total, 17 1/2 world wide wine lovers took part, with wines from Chile, Australia and Argentina represented. We even had a white wine entrant...for our Merlot event (sorry Jennifer, coudln't resist!).
Ladies and gentlemen...after a month or so of promoting World Wide Wine Blogging Wednesday (WWWBW), it's finally here! I'm hopefully that we'll have a great turnout for the theme of inexpensive New World Merlot that is not from the United States and costs $15 or less!
As the vinter of this new blogging event, I felt a certain pressure to come up with a spectacular example. And, while my wine was above average, I wouldn't characterize it as spectacular.
My wine was Trumpeters Merlot 2003 from Bodega La Rural, Argentina. I picked this one up on one of my always-fun wine shopping sprees at Costco of all places...for $6. The 2002 got an 86 (I think) from Wine Spectator...so I thought it would be pretty good.
The official tasting notes read: Blackberry and cinnamon aromas give way to ripe flavors of cherry and red currant. The richness of fruit gives this wine a soft texture with supple tannins. An excellent food wine.
As for my own notes, I agree 100% with the blackberry aromas, but I didn't get any of the cinnamon. Instead, I picked up on a slight oakiness that rounded out the fruit on the nose. The wine was rather dark in the glass, purple and juicy...lacking the ruby redness of many Merlots.
With my first sip, I was pleasantly surprised with the richness of this wine. At its price, you sometimes get weak, lifeless wines. This one was soft (as the notes suggested) but the cherry and slightly earthy character lingered on my palate...call it a moderate finish. Not long, but it didn't disappear on my tongue either, holding on with an almost sweet spiciness that was nice.
It paired fairly well with our dinner of a spicy, southwest-inspired chicken salad, but it wasn't a perfect pairing. It would have been near perfect with a charbroiled burger.
Overall, this is a gulpable wine with a bit more character than your average 6-dollar Merlot. Worth a shot with grilled meats, but definitely not what you want if you're looking for an elegant pour.
I can't wait to read all of your posts...don't forget to email me or leave a comment with a link to your post!