Riesling isn't king here, merlot is...followed closely by non-Alsatian varieties like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and chardonnay.
But in a field on Oregon Road in bucolic Cutchogue, NY, you'll find a 13 acres of what Lieb Family Cellars once thought to be chardonnay. Genetic technology has since proven that the grapes aren't chardonnay at all. In fact, these vines, which were planted in 1983, are a much lesser-known variety in these parts -- pinot blanc. And get this: the vines are originally from Alsace.
Rather than rip the vines out and plant chardonnay (or some other variety that is more obviously commercially viable) Lieb Family Cellars has embraced this mutation of pinot gris (grigio), which is a mutation of pinot noir.
As a matter of fact, Gary Madden, Lieb's general manager, calls it their "special sauce" and a visit to their tasting room proves it.
You'll find it in no fewer than four of their bottlings. A little is blended into their rose of cabernet franc. The same is true of their second-label Bridge Lane chardonnay, where it brings melony apple flavors to the steel-fermented chardonnay.
But, while this "special sauce" is a mere bit player in these two wines, it's the star attraction in both a still varietal pinot blanc bottling and a sparkling wine that is 100% pinot blanc as well.
The still rendition (current release is from the 2004 vintage) offers lime, honeydew melon and wet stones on the nose and featuers a medium-bodied palate has similar flavors with crisp pear and melon giving way to a tangy lime-mineral finish. A chilled bottle of this wine, with some locally produced goat cheese and simple sliced baguette is the perfect way to top off a spring or summer afternoon touring the local wineries.
The bubbly (current release is 2002), which served as the wedding-toast sipper at my wedding last summer, is bone dry bone-dry with pronounced flavors of green apples and citrus accented by delicate yeasty and butterscotch notes. The 2001 was more delicate and elegant, but this wine is no less appetite whetting and refreshing.
Lieb Family Cellars
35 Cox Neck Road (Corner of Route 48)
Mattituck, NY 11952