July 03, 2005

Lenz is a Lenn’s Favorite

Lenz_2(This column appeared in the 7/1/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Over the Barrel...With Lenn Thompson


Contrary to popular belief (okay, maybe just in my own wine-induced fantasies), I don’t own Lenz Winery in Peconic. That would be Lenn’s Winery anyway, even if the “z” would be a much more MTV-esque spelling.

Lenz Winery is one of the North Fork’s most respected producers and employs one of the regions most gifted and charismatic winemakers – Eric Fry. If you’re at the Lenz tasting room and see a guy in overalls with a long ponytail and beard, that’s Eric. Say hello and, if you’re lucky, as my fiancé Nena and I have been, you’ll spend an afternoon talking about and tasting different vintages of sparkling wine.

I’ve written several times before about Fry’s spectacular sparklers, so we’ll not uncork that topic today. But know that Fry has a hand in much of the Island’s best bubbly – both at Lenz and at the other wineries that hire him to make their sparkling wines.

Last week, I had the pleasurable opportunity to sample several of Lenz Winery’s current releases, and Fry’s ample talent shines through in each.

Continue reading "Lenz is a Lenn’s Favorite" »

May 24, 2005

Winemaker Profile: Roman Roth, Wolffer Estate Vineyards

(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)

R_rothRoman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, started his winemaking career at an age when most of us are focused on getting our drivers licenses and, if we're lucky, our first cars. But, it was a natural thing for the German native.

"I was 16," he says. "My father was a cooper and a winemaker before starting a wine and beer merchant business. As a result, both of my parents were wine lovers and collectors. Wine always played a special part in any occasion. I was intrigued by the winemaking process and all the different [wine] regions in the world. The creative aspect and the opportunity to travel ultimately made me stay in the business."

And travel he has. After his initial three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil, Roth left Germany for the U.S. in the summer of 1986. He worked briefly at Saintsbury Estate, a respected winery in Carneros, Calif. known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, before heading "down under" to work at an Australian winery you've probably heard of—Rosemount Estate.

Continue reading "Winemaker Profile: Roman Roth, Wolffer Estate Vineyards" »

May 20, 2005

Savoring the Flavor -- 10 L.I. Can't-Miss Wine Tasting Rooms

(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)
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Long Island is home to 30-plus wineries, from tiny places making artisan fine wines to large producers (by LI standards) pumping out gallon after gallon of sweet-ish, almost jug-style wines. It can be tough for anyone heading east for the first time (or even the first five times) to know which tasting rooms to visit. Here are 10 LI tasting rooms you shouldn't miss.

Continue reading "Savoring the Flavor -- 10 L.I. Can't-Miss Wine Tasting Rooms" »

Winning Riesling at Peconic Bay Winery

Dscn3132(This column appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of Dan's Papers)

Peconic Bay Winery has always been a bit of an enigma to me. On one hand, they make sweetish blends that appeal to the masses and some hit-or-miss varietal reds. On the other, I love their Steel Fermented Chardonnay and their Riesling. I guess it’s smart to appeal to the widest audience possible, but I think it’s possible that serious wine drinkers get turned off by the plonk at the top of the tasting list.

Last weekend, I tasted four recent and new releases, with positive results overall. Maybe Peconic Bay Winery is just hitting its stride?

Peconic Bay Winery’s 2004 Riesling ($15) is bone dry, racy and deliciously crisp. Citrus dominates the nose with faint hints of stone fruit and a grassiness I wasn’t expecting. It’s simple, light and a perfect summer sipper. As always, winemaker Greg Gove hits the mark with my favorite of all white grapes. It wasn’t bottled all that long ago, and I expect it to be even better with a little more bottle time, giving the stone fruit flavors time to step forward. This is a terrific summer wine.

Continue reading "Winning Riesling at Peconic Bay Winery" »

Hamptons Wine Guide: What's "Old" Is Good

(This article originally appeared in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)

Lip_wolfferIn many ways, the Hamptons are all about the "new"—new restaurants, new superstars and new money. But not everything in the Hamptons is defined this way. Two of the top wineries on the East Coast can be found there, making wines that are much more Old World than New.

Old World wines, typically those made in France, Italy and Spain, tend to be low-alcohol wines that are higher in acidity and feature more non-fruit flavors, like minerals, leather, wet stones or even tar. They also tend to show less obvious oak flavors than their New World brethren.

New World wines, like those made in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and the U.S., are often much higher in alcohol content, fuller bodied and very ripe with fruit flavors and more obvious use of oak.

LI's top wines, while technically made in the "New World," are often compared to those made in France, specifically in Bordeaux, because our climate closely matches the cooler growing conditions there, but not exactly.

"The Long Island climate is close to Bordeaux when compared to the hot climates of Australia or California," says Roman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, "but Long Island is unique. We are much further south."

Continue reading "Hamptons Wine Guide: What's "Old" Is Good" »

May 13, 2005

Two Firsts and a New Old Favorite from Raphael

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(This column originally appeared in the 5/13 issue of Dan's Papers)

Two Firsts and a New Old Favorite from Raphael
Located on sixty gently sloping acres in Peconic, Raphael is best known among North Fork wine trail junkies for its magnificent tasting room. Overflowing with Mediterranean style and offering spectacular views of the vineyard, the popularity of the facility is easy to understand.

Behind this aesthetic splendor, I’ve always found the tasting room staff friendly and the wines good. The focus is Merlot, but I’ve always liked the Rose and Sauvignon Blanc as well.

In fact, Raphael’s Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first white wines I fell for when I first moved to Long Island six years ago. Richard Olsen-Harbich, managing director and winemaker at Raphael, describes North Fork Sauvignon Blanc as “Literally a hybrid between New Zealand and Graves (Bordeaux). This style is driven by intense citrus fruit – lemon and grapefruit – with faint grassy overtures. It is neither as fruity and tropical as NZ nor as austere and earthy as Graves. The North Fork Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely the perfect wine for local seafood.”

While the Raphael Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($20) doesn’t display the mouth-puckering, aggressive acidity found in some Sauvignon Blanc (or even previous Raphael vintages), it is crisp, fresh and filled with kiwi and grapefruit and a little mineral character. It’s hard to argue that this wine was made for Long Island’s seafood bounty.

You should open this ten to fifteen minutes before drinking to let a slight sulphur smell subside. Sulphur is used to prevent oxidation, don’t let it scare you.

If you’re one of the people that complain that Long Island wines aren’t good values (I disagree, but that’s an argument for another column), I challenge you not to like Raphael Estate Merlot 2002 ($12). The first second-label Merlot from Raphael, it’s made with fruit from younger vines, but is super soft, with substantial blackberry and black cherry flavors with hints of spice and toasty vanilla.

Olsen-Harbich echoes my challenge saying,” this wine is made using the same artisanal techniques as our First label Merlot – hand harvesting, sorting, gravity flow, basket pressing, etc. At this price range, made under these techniques at this level of production (600 cases) I’ll put this wine up against anything from anywhere. And, for those critics of Long Island’s price/quality ratio – this wine’s for you.”

He has the wine to back up such a statement. This is a great value that would make a great “house red.”

If you find Long Island Cabernet Franc to be inconsistent from year to year and producer to producer (I know I do), you owe it to yourself to try the Raphael Cabernet Franc 2001 ($40). From the ballyhooed 2001 vintage, it’s the first release of labeled Cabernet Franc from Raphael (it usually ends up in their La Fontana blend or Bel Rosso). Spicy and peppery, this dense, black cherry-rich red is intense but refined. It features full, chewy tannins and a lingering finish that’s nearly addictive.

Raphael is committed to making this wine only in the best growing years, so Olsen-Harbich says “unfortunately this (wine) is something I don’t think we can do very often – once every ten years would be a good guess.” They only made 50 cases, but this is what Long Island Cabernet Franc can be. I can only hope I don’t have to wait another ten years for the next one.

For more information on Raphael and their wines, visit www.raphael.com or call 765-1100.

May 06, 2005

New (And More) Releases From Shinn Estate Vineyards

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Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck has been one of my favorite North Fork producers ever since my first visit last fall. Then, they only had two wines available for tasting, a great value Chardonnay and a tremendous 2002 “young vines” Merlot, which was touted recently as Long Island’s best red in a New York Times article by Eric Asimov.

I don’t agree with how Asimov came to this conclusion (no matter how good the wine is) but let’s get back to Shinn Estate Vineyards, which debuted four new wines at Windows On Long Island on April 25.

I’ve written several times about my love of Long Island Sauvignon Blanc, and I have a new crush – Shinn Estate Vineyards 2004 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon ($18) With a refined nose of grapefruit and lemongrass, green apple flavors highlighted with fine mineral character, and tongue-tingling crispness, this blend (which features 3 percent Semillon) is well balanced, and the ideal counterpart to fresh Long Island shellfish. It reminds me a bit of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc without the over-the-top herbaceousness.

Owners Barbara Shinn and David Page, with consulting winemaker Roman Roth, only produced 67 cases of Shinn Estate Vineyards 2004 Rose ($14), and believe me – it’s not going to last long. 100 percent Merlot, it’s a gorgeous salmon color and offers a lightly fruity nose and crisp Fuji apple flavors accented by hints of strawberry. This is a real thirst quencher, so try it as an aperitif this summer or with a picnic lunch.

The 2003 Shinn Estate Vineyards Merlot ($24) is a smooth, medium-bodied red that is eighty-eight percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Sauvignon, four percent Cabernet Franc, two percent Malbec and one percent Petit Verdot. The nose is enchanting with faint plum aromas and vanilla while the
palate offers more plum and dark berry flavors with smooth tannins and well-integrated oak providing structure. This wine is every bit as good as the previous vintage and may even prove better with additional bottle aging. The label no longer carries the name “young vines” because the vines are four years old now.

While the 2003 Merlot only spent ten months in French oak, the Shinn Estate Vineyards’ 2002 “Six Barrel” Merlot ($34) spent a full twenty-two months in just six small French barrels, resulting in 151 cases of wine. Full-bodied and rich, the wine is ninety-two percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Sauvignon and three percent field blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Its nose shows much more than mere fruit and oak, offering a layered fusion of plums, berries, cinnamon, allspice and toasted oak. Full, round tannins balance similarly complex flavors in this generous, extravagant red. This is my favorite of the new releases and it has aging potential (likely up to ten years).

The Shinn Estate Vineyards tasting room is now open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends but I recommend calling 631-804-0367 to reserve a spot in their vineyard tours (3 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays). You’ll spend half an hour walking through the vineyard with the owners and then head to their beautifully rustic tasting room to sample wines. For more information, visit http://www.shinnestatevineyards.com/.

May 02, 2005

New Wines From Old Vines at Vineyard 48

Vin48 Route 48 on the North Fork is home to some of our region's best wineries. Now, it shares a name with one of the newest.

A year ago, Italian-born Rose Pipia purchased the former Bidwell Winery in Cutchogue, Long Island’s second oldest vineyard, and has renamed it Vineyard 48.

                    I never liked Bidwell’s wines much, so this is great news.

Pipia and her son, Joseph Pipia, the winery’s general manager, are obviously dedicated to turning the winery around, having hired some Long Island wine heavyweights to help exorcise the demons of bad Bidwell wines past. Steve Mudd of Mudd Vineyards has been brought in to get the vineyard healthy while Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate is serving as technical consultant to winemaker Mathew Berenz, formerly of Pindar Vineyards.

Mr. Pipia, true to his family’s Old World roots, takes a very hands-on approach, taking part in planting, pruning, spraying and harvesting in the vineyard. In the cellar, where new barrels and equipment have been installed, he’s been working side-by-side with Roth and Berenz.

The six wines set for release at this Saturday’s grand opening, the first under the Vineyard 48 label, are actually old Bidwell stock that has been “tweaked” for release. As you’ll read, I found them to be a bit hit and miss.

The Vineyard 48 White ($10) is a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that is a little weak in the nose but offers some sweet vanilla and subtle buttery flavors on the palate. It was wanting a bit in the fruit department, however.

Vineyard 48’s 2002 Riesling ($15) is an extremely aromatic white with a floral, almost perfume-like nose and concentrated peach and apricot flavors. Lush and fruity, a bit more acidity would really elevate this wine into something unique and special. With a focus on this varietal and the winery’s old vines, I expect great things from future vintages.

Sauvignon Blanc is becoming an increasingly popular (and good) wine on the East End, but I found the 2003 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) from Vineyard 48 to be a little off target. Super tart, it’s a bit one dimensional for my taste.

The clear winner among this set of whites is the 2003 Chardonnay ($14). While not as refined as a quality Chablis, that’s clearly the goal here. Light, fresh and crisp, it delivers toasty vanilla on the palate. I particularly enjoyed the finish, which is slightly creamy and lingering.

If you’re looking for an every day, easy-drinking red to serve with pizza or even burgers, the Vineyard 48 Red ($10) is a nice option. A non-vintage blend of fifty percent Merlot, twenty-five percent Cabernet Franc and twenty-five percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s soft and filled with berries, sweet oak and even a little cocoa. In fact, I prefer the blend to their 2002 Merlot ($20) which isn’t as complex or nuanced as some other 20-dollar Merlots produced on Long Island.

Vineyard 48 plans to craft “new wines from old vines” that display elegance, balance and concentration all while appealing to both everyday wine lovers and connoisseurs alike. The inconsistency found in these first releases doesn’t worry me one bit. With the team they’ve got in place, I expect some delicious, sophisticated wines in the future — starting with the 2004 vintage.

April 22, 2005

2001 Reds Help Uncork Martha Clara Vineyards' Potential

(This column appeared in the 4/22/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

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When I think of Martha Clara Vineyards, named after Martha Clara Entenmann (of Entenmann bakery fame), three things always come to mind: their jam-packed events calendar, their large and inviting tasting room, and Bernie, the Jack Russell terrier that adorns their Rose wine label.

I’ve always wanted a bit more from their wines, which while potable haven’t always been distinctive. But I’ve long been a fan of their Ciel dessert wine, made with Viognier and Chardonnay. It’s one of my favorite Long Island after-dinner drinks. And, while the Bernie-bottle Rose isn’t to my liking, the Rose of Cabernet Franc is excellent. Beyond that, I’ve not always been impressed.

Now that I’ve tasted some of their recent and upcoming releases, I’ve learned that they are making some nice, and occasionally great, wines at Martha Clara. Unfortunately, their best wines are rarely on the free tasting menu at their tasting room, and the average visitor probably doesn’t want to spend up to $10 for a full glass of one of the reserve wines when that same $10 gets them five tastes of five reserve wines down the road at another winery.

Of the winery’s new whites, which include a unique 2003 Semillon ($15) and a decent, but not great 2003 Chardonnay ($13), the Martha Clara Vineyards 2003 Estate Selection Gewurztraminer ($21) was the best. More fruity and slightly less refined than some other Long Island Gewurztraminers, it still shows nice acidity and citrus and spice flavors along with the typical floral and lychee nut aromas. While refreshing ice cold, I liked how its flavors evolved as it warmed. Gewurz is always a good choice for spicy Asian cuisine and this one is no exception.

The famed 2001 growing year (one of Long Island’s best ever) resulted in some of the best Martha Clara reds I’ve ever wrapped my tongue around. The Martha Clara 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) is a soft, berry-filled red with toasty, soft tannins. This is a very nice every-day style Cabernet that would be great if priced closer to $15.

If you’re like me and like a bit more heft in your Cabernet, the rich Martha Clara 2001 Estate Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) fits the bill. Expertly balanced, this wine brings together toasty oak, full blackberry and blueberry fruit, well-integrated tannins and a wonderfully lingering finish. The winery expects to release this wine to the public in June.

Syrah/Shiraz is very popular nowadays, but I find the few Long Island versions I’ve tried innocuous and uninteresting. The Martha Clara 2001 Estate Selection Syrah ($26 and also slated for a June release) is an exception. Ripe and distinctive, it is fruit-forward like many Aussie versions, but its blueberry and blackberry flavors are framed by soft tannins and accented by sweet spice, vanilla and smoky hints.

Martha Clara’s 2001 6025 Meritage ($40) blends 33.5 percent Merlot, 25 percent Syrah, 16.6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6 percent Petit Verdot, 8.3 percent Cabernet Franc and builds on the delicious success of the 2000 6025. The inclusion of Petit Verdot in this year’s vintage gives it a beautifully deep, dark color and additional tannin. The wine is medium-to-full bodied and opulent with jammy berry and toasted marshmallow. It’s my favorite of the new wines.

Let it breathe and you’ll be rewarded with increased complexity and aromas. This wine has good aging potential as well, so pick up a few bottles to drink and a few to lay a couple down for a couple of years.

The final wine in my tasting was the 2003 Himmel ($31), a succulent, fresh dessert wine that is sixty-six percent Riesling and thirty-four percent Gewurztraminer. Sweet but not cloying, it’s filled with stone fruit flavors and is well balanced with crisp acidity. I think I might like this post-dinner sipper even better than the Ciel.

For more information on Martha Clara Vineyards or to order wines, visit www.marthaclaravineyards.com or call 298-0075.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Don’t forget, Windows On Long Island is Monday, April 25 at Capitale in Manhattan. Attend and you’ll have the opportunity to taste wines from more than 30 Long Island wineries paired with food from some of Manhattan’s best chefs.

Tickets are $125 or $250 for a VIP pass that includes a 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. preview with reserve wines. Proceeds will benefit Earth Pledge, a nonprofit environmental organization. For tickets, call (212) 725-6611 or visit www.earthpledge.org/windows.

April 15, 2005

Wine Trail Tasting Tips

(This column originally appeared in the 4/15/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Spring is here and now that we’ve all at least started our spring yard work, it’s time to put aside our chores and relieve some of that cabin fever we’ve all been feeling. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I think there’s no better way to enjoy a spring afternoon than a trip to the wineries.

Whether you’re new to visiting winery tasting rooms or a seasoned vet, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your trip.

Choose a Designated Driver. Sure, the samples you’ll be drinking are small, usually an ounce or so, but they do add up. Decide who’s going to drive before you head to the first winery. Don’t assume that “someone will be sober enough to drive” at the end of the day. Nothing ruins a great day at the wineries like a DWI arrest, or worse.

If you don’t want to designate a driver, hire one of the limo or bus companies to drive you around.

Don’t Try to Visit Every Winery. Again, those little wine pours add up. Choose three or four wineries that you’d like to try and take your time at each one. Wine tasting is about more than just the wine. Rushing because you want to visit every winery on the North Fork in one day takes away from the experience. Don’t do it.

Bring a Picnic Lunch. One of the things I enjoy most about a winery afternoon is having a picnic lunch among the vines. Many wineries have beautiful patios or decks where you can spread out and have a great lunch. But, if you’re going to drink wine with lunch, make sure it’s from the winery where you’re eating. In most cases, they’ll even lend you glasses. It’s rude to drink wine from another winery on someone else’s property.

Don’t Wear Perfume or Cologne. This might just be a pet peeve of mine, but if I’m tasting a winery’s newly released Merlot, I want to be able to smell the berry aromas with subtle hints of cocoa…not the cologne the guy next to me has drowned himself in. You’ve met that guy. I know you have. Be considerate.

Speak Up and Ask Questions. Once you’re bellied up to the wine bar, don’t just quietly drink what they pour for you. The people pouring the wines are passionate about them and have a lot to offer. Again, a winery visit is about the full experience, not just the wines. And, if you get lucky, they may just pour you something special that isn’t on the usual tasting menu. Get to know these people, they’ll remember you the next time you visit.

Don’t Drink Wines You Don’t Like. If you take that first sip of a reserve Chardonnay and it’s just too oaky and buttery for your taste, don’t finish it. Every tasting bar has a dump bucket for just this reason. It’s okay to skip any of the wines on the tasting list too. If you want to just taste a particular varietal or just reds or whites, you can do that.

Bring Friends and Have Fun. I always say that wine is something best enjoyed with friends. Get a group together and have a great time (with a designated driver, of course.) But remember that you aren’t the only people out there. Try not to be too loud or annoying. It ruins the atmosphere for everyone else.

Buy a Bottle to Take Home…If There’s One You Like. Some people say you absolutely need to buy at least one bottle of wine at each winery. That’s ridiculous. Never feel pressured to do so. Of course, if there’s a wine you really love, why wouldn’t you want to take some home?

Remember, wineries want you to have a great time so that you’ll come back again and again, not feel guilty and never return.

April 08, 2005

Long Island Second Label Wines That Aren't Second Class

(This column appeared originally in the 4/8 issue of Dan's Papers)

If you’re at all like me, then you like to drink wine every night with dinner — which can get pretty expensive if you’re drinking twenty-plus dollar bottles. Long Island’s top wines aren’t cheap, there’s no doubt about that.

But, there’s an easy, and more affordable, solution — second label wines.

Second label wines aren’t wines made by second-rate producers. On the contrary, they are well-made, less expensive wines made by some of our region’s top winemakers. They usually have a different name, different labels and — this is the best part — lower prices.

So, if these wines are so good (and many of them are), why are they so much cheaper?

It’s quite simple really. For their top or first label wines, winemakers tend to select the best grapes from the best blocks in their vineyards. Often labeled “reserve” winemakers often spend much more time working with these wines. And, the wine often spends more time in newer oak barrels, which boost the price too.

Second label wines, on the other hand, tend to be blended wines from lesser grape lots, designed to be consistent year in and year out. But, in a year with optimal growing conditions the grapes that go into these wines can be almost, if not as good as those for the best wines. These are almost always wines for people who want to drink their wines instead of save them.

Continue reading "Long Island Second Label Wines That Aren't Second Class" »

March 28, 2005

Visit Friuli (And Hungary) Without Leaving Long Island

(This column appeared in the 3/25 issue of Dan's Papers)
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Winemaker Christopher Tracy and his wife (and the winery's GM) Allison Dubin

Visit Friuli (And Hungary) Without Leaving the Island
Bordeaux. It’s the region most often used to describe our unique climate. It should come as no surprise then that many Long Island winemakers focus mainly on Merlot, one of the most important grapes in Bordeaux.            

Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton is delightfully different. Do they make Merlot? Sure. In fact, they make a few different ones, depending on the growing season, each with its own distinctive character.

But, Merlot is certainly not winemaker Christopher Tracy’s focus. And Bordeaux isn’t the only region he thinks of either. Instead, he looks east to the Friuli region in Italy.         

“Like Friuli, we are a maritime, cool-climate wine-grape growing region. This is an excellent opportunity for white grapes to achieve optimum ripeness, flavor and acidity levels year in and year out. The soil and the landscape of the Isonzo region in Friuli especially bears these resemblances,” Tracy said.

Don’t believe him? Stroll through their fields and you’ll see Tocai Friulano, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco.

Aside from these unique-to-Long Island varietals, they also grow ligoté, malvasia bianca, and muscat  ottonel.

Why experiment so much?

Continue reading "Visit Friuli (And Hungary) Without Leaving Long Island" »

March 18, 2005

Clearly, Bedell Cellars Wants to Be the Best

(This column appeared in the 3/18/05 issue of Dan's Papers)
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Michael Lynne, owner of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue and Corey Creek Vineyards in Southold, wants to be the best. But not just the best on the North Fork or even in the U.S.

He wants to be the best in the world.

In early February, this commitment to making world-class wines led Lynne, whose “day job” is running New Line Cinema as co-Chairman and co-CEO, to hire Pascal Marty, formerly of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, as his consulting oenologist, and John Irving Levenberg, most recently at Paul Hobbs Winery in Napa Valley, as associate winemaker. They join founding winemaker “Mr. Merlot,” Kip Bedell, to create a formidable winemaking team.

Continue reading "Clearly, Bedell Cellars Wants to Be the Best" »

March 04, 2005

Don't Worry About Winery Consolidation

(This column appeared originally in the 2/4 issue of Dan's Papers)

Don’t Worry About Winery Consolidation
HP and Compaq have merged, AT&T recently acquired Cingular Wireless and Verizon is buying WorldCom. Mergers and acquisitions are a part of every day life in the business world. And, no matter how romantic an image it might have, wine is a business. Big business.

So, it should come as no shock that the big fish in the wine pond are gulping up smaller fish all the time, including many producers of the wines you see at your local wine shop every day.

Fairly recently, Constellation Brands, already owners of the ubiquitous Franciscan Estates, Ravenswood, Simi and Estancia brands, acquired Robert Mondavi. Similarly, Diageo Chateau & Estates Wines, which is responsible for Beaulieu and Sterling wines, gobbled up Chalone Wine Group.

But what does this all mean for you, the wine lover? That really depends.

Continue reading "Don't Worry About Winery Consolidation" »

February 25, 2005

The Long Island Wines You Want This Weekend

(This column originally appeared in the 2/24 issue of Dan's Papers)

The Wines You Want This Weekend
In a vineyard’s yearly life cycle, winter is probably one of the least exciting on the surface. Often called ‘dormancy’ because, well, the vines are dormant, vineyard workers are busy pruning, tying the vines and preparing the vineyard for the 2005 vintage. But tasting rooms are relatively quiet, making this a great time for serious wine drinkers to visit.

Without the swollen summer crowds or pumpkin-pickers, you can taste at a slower pace, chatting with tasting room staff and learning more than you probably could in the summer. Plus, if the winemaker wanders into the tasting room, he or she just might invite you into the back for a preview of upcoming releases.

If you go tasting this weekend, here’s a handful of wines you should try. Some I’ve written about before, but most are excellent wines that haven’t worked themselves into a column yet… but not because they aren’t delicious.

Continue reading "The Long Island Wines You Want This Weekend" »

February 18, 2005

Discover Wines Without Breaking the Bank

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(This column originally appeared in the 2/18 issue of Dan's Papers)

Discovering Wines Without Breaking the Bank

I’ll admit it. I’m completely obsessed with wine. I love drinking it, talking about it, reading about it and, obviously, writing about it. Even thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

Why has wine seemingly taken over so many aspects of my life? It’s a challenge, because no matter how much I know, there’s always more to learn. Every time I taste a new wine, talk to a winemaker or talk to a fellow wine lover, I pick up something new and exciting.

Over the past year, I’ve been disappointed by the lack of wine classes available to those of us living on Long Island. Sure, we can travel into Manhattan to continue our wine educations, but classes are often on weeknights or cost several hundred dollars per person. These kinds of exorbitant costs only perpetuate the kind of wine snobbery that drives me crazy. Wine and wine education should not be luxury items reserved only for those with overflowing bank accounts

Where are the affordable wine classes that will teach people about wines in a relaxed, un-intimidating setting?

Look no further than Stony Brook University’s Center for Food, Wine and Culture. They’ve put together a “Discovering Wine Series” of classes, both in Manhattan and at Stony Brook’s main campus, that bring together some of our regions’ most knowledgeable wine people with approachable, interesting wines in a relaxed, fun setting.

I recently attended a session titled “Important White Varietals,” which was hosted by Gary Madden, general manager at Lieb Family Cellars and Louisa Hargrave, the Center for Food, Wine and Culture’s interim director and the founding mother of Long Island wine.

The class was an absolute delight. After discussing wine-tasting basics for the uninitiated, we tasted three Pinot Blancs, three Sauvignon Blancs and four Chardonnays from various regions (including Long Island), comparing the different tastes and styles.

These kind of side-by-side tastings are some of the best educational tools around and I encourage anyone to try it. You can read every wine book at your local book store, but you really learn by tasting. And tasting some more.

In the coming weeks and months, the “Discovering Wine Series” continues at Stony Brook’s main campus with sessions like:

March 10th: An Italian Heritage of Flavor From America’s Secret Wine Region with Sal Diliberto of Diliberto Winery in Jamesport.

March 17th: Seeing Stars: Romancing Champagne with Michael Cinque of Amagansett Wines and Liquors.

March 24th: From Aroma to Bouquet: How Wines Age with Eric Fry, winemaker at Lenz Winery for the past 16 years.

April 14th: Creating a Regional Cuisine with resident chef Michael Meehan and winemaker Greg Gove, both from Peconic Bay Winery.

Each class is $55 and you can bring a friend with you for an additional $45, making it ideal for couples that are interested in wine. And, if you sign up for three or more classes, each one is only $40. The classes each offer at least six different wines and light food pairings for each.

For more information and for a complete list of upcoming sessions, email Ginny Clancy at [email protected] or call her at 631-632-9404.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

February 11, 2005

Wine That's Pink... But Not What You Think

(This column appeared in the 2/11/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Wine That’s Pink… But Not What You Think
Let me just come out and say it. I don’t drink white Zinfandel. I’ve tried several and always found them to be syrupy sweet and one-dimensional. And, for years, I let these candy-in-a-bottle wines skew my image of any blush, pink wine or Rosé, regardless of name or origin.

I was guilty of the very wine snobbery I campaign against whenever possible.

But I’ve since learned that, when done right, a Rosé can be crisp, nuanced and absolutely delicious. Quality Rosé is the perfect wine for sipping with friends all spring and summer long, by the pool, at the beach, wherever.

With spring still a month away, let me suggest another time to enjoy a top-notch Rosé: Valentine’s Day.

With food-friendly acidity and light berry fruitiness, these wines are great with a wide variety of foods. I wouldn’t serve one with filet mignon or venison, but most anything else is fair game. More importantly, is there anything more romantic and fun than a pink wine?

So, where should you look for Rosé that’s “done right”? Bonny Doon in California makes a great one. So do several producers in France. But why look so far away when one can find supple, decadent Rosé right here on Long Island?

I, along with a dozen or so friends, tasted 14 different Rosés from 12 Long Island wineries and one from the Finger Lakes. To help us avoid any winery-bias, we covered each bottle with a brown paper bag and numbered them, a practice often referred to as “blind tasting.” Tasters, whose wine experience ranged from complete newbies to aficionados, were asked to give every wine a letter grade, A through F.

Continue reading "Wine That's Pink... But Not What You Think" »

February 04, 2005

When Juice Goes Un-Fermented

(This column originally appeared in the 2/4 edition of Dan's Papers)

Verjus2

When Juice Goes Un-Fermented

Do you know what verjus is? Probably not, but don’t be embarrassed, not many people do.

Verjus, literally translated as “green juice” and pronounced “vair-ZHOO,” is the fresh, unfermented juice of half-ripe fruit, most often grapes.

Quite common in Old World wine regions, particularly France, this versatile juice has as many culinary uses as there are grapes in a vineyard. Want a bright, fresh wine alternative without the alcohol? Drink verjus. It’s crisp, fruity and refreshing on its own or mixed with sparkling water and fruit slices to create virgin sangria.

Would you rather drink wine? No problem… just use verjus like you would vinegar. It can be used as a poaching liquid for chicken or fish, added to marinades for some acidic zing or make a great ceviche with local bay scallops. You can even make a verjus sorbet.

My favorite, everyday use for verjus is in vinaigrette. Because it doesn’t have all the mouth-puckering acidity of vinegar, you don’t need to use as much oil, leading to lighter, healthier dressing for fresh field greens.

Verjus Vinaigrette (adapted from a Wolffer Estate recipe)

4 T Verjus

1 medium shallot, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

2 T Dijon mustard

1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup finely snipped chives

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine the verjus, shallot, garlic and mustard in a bowl. Add the canola and olive oils in a slow, steady stream, whisking until smooth. Stir in fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss with greens.

On Long Island, we’re lucky to have two wineries that produce verjus every year, Jamesport Vineyards and Wolffer Estate.

Jamesport Vineyards’ verjus ($10) is made entirely from half-ripe Chardonnay grapes. Pale yellow with a definite greenish tint, it’s filled with lime flavors and hints of honeydew melon. Subtle acidity and a gentle sweetness make it perfect for sipping or as a mixer.

Delivering much brighter acidity and lively tartness, the Wolffer Estate bottling ($10) offers lemongrass and light herbal notes that frame refined green apple flavors. Made from Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is my hands-down choice if I’m using verjus in my cooking.

Try verjus, especially if you’re visiting the vineyards with kids and want them to feel a part of the day!

To order verjus or for more recipes, contact Wolffer Estate at 537-5106 or Jamesport Vineyards at 722-5256.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

January 28, 2005

Waters Crest Winery -- Inspired Winemaking

(This column appeared in the 1/28/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Over the Barrel...With Lenn Thompson
Inspired Winemaking at Waters Crest Winery

Inspiredwinemaking_1Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue has a great story to tell, one that will touch your heart as well as your palate.

Home winemakers turning pro aren’t particularly rare in the wine world, but the inspiration for Waters’ conversion sets him apart. For years, he worked for trucking and freight carrier companies. Wine was his passion, but not his profession.

That all changed after the September 11 tragedy three years ago.

A volunteer fireman and fire commissioner, Waters found himself at Ground Zero shortly after the attacks. Working side-by-side with other rescue workers had a sudden and profound effect on his outlook on life. Not long after, he decided to make a change. It was time to make his passion his profession.

Waters’ production runs are small (he made only 50 cases of his sold-out Meritage) but every last bottle takes “hand-crafted” to a whole new level.

“I can honestly say that I’ve touched every single bottle of wine I make,” he said as we chatted over tastes of his current Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay (and a barrel sample of his Cabernet Franc).

Charming and engaging, Waters spent about an hour talking about his wines, his story and the Long Island wine region in general. It only took about five minutes for me to see how happy he was to be dealing with grapes and barrels as opposed to trucks. He is just teeming with enthusiasm for wine and winemaking.

Waters Crest’s 2003 Chardonnay ($16) is a great wine to pair with lighter foods. Bright acidity and nice citrus notes are well framed with toasty vanilla and barely perceptible oak. It’s not overly complex, but well-made and delightful.

The Waters Crest 2002 Merlot ($17) offers nice cherry fruit and subtle hints of chocolate. Soft, well-incorporated tannins make it extremely approachable. It benefits from some “air time” but another year or so in the bottle would be even better.

Far and away the best of its current releases, the Waters Crest Riesling ($17) gets my vote for the best new Riesling. Absolutely mouth-watering and unfailingly Alsatian in style, it is filled with lime and melon flavors with terrific acidity. Get some of this before it’s sold out. I don’t think there’s a better dry Riesling on the Island.

For more information on where to find these wines, visit http://www.waterscrestwinery.com or call 878-2950.

* * *

Starting February 1, the Long Island Wine Council is offering a great Winter Wine Month Passport promotion. For $25 (or $40 per couple) you’ll receive a passport that entitles you to special discounts and promotions at Long Island’s finest wineries, restaurants, B&Bs and attractions. Most of the wineries involved are waiving their tasting fees, offering at least 10 percent off of all wine purchases (with savings up to 20 percent, depending on the number of bottles you buy) and offering food/chocolate pairings. A few wineries are even offering special tastings of library or limited-release wines.

I plan to take part and enjoy all the East End has to offer… even in the dead of winter.

For a complete list of participating vendors and to order your passport, visit http://www.liwines.com/.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

January 21, 2005

Drink Charitably This Winter

(This column appeared in the 1/21 issue of Dan's Papers)

HumanitaschardDrink Charitably This Winter
With the recent devastation in Southeast Asia and East Africa, the ideas of charity and giving to those less fortunate have jumped to the forefront of most of our minds.

While some wineries host fundraising events or give a portion of wine sales proceeds to various causes, Judd Wallenbrock, founder and proprietor of Humanitas Wine Company in Napa, has taken wine “giving” to a whole new plateau, donating all of Humanitas’ profits to charity. Yes, you read that right, every last dollar is donated.

Specifically, the profits are donated to address three primary issues – hunger, affordable housing and illiteracy. Humanitas has chosen America’s Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity and Reading is Fundamental as their primary charities. The unique thing is that instead of donating to the national chapters, they donate in the communities where the wine is sold.

A 24-year veteran of the wine California business, including stints at prestigious Robert Mondavi and De Loach wineries, Wallenbrock founded Humanitas because, “My passion is in the enjoyment of wine, my expertise is in building strong wine brands, and my heart is in philanthropy.”

The three come together in a portfolio of small-production, hand-crafted wines that are nothing short of delicious. “I always try to over-deliver with my wines,” said Wallenbrock “Over-deliver” only tells part of the story. At $15 per bottle, these are great value pours that will make any wine drinker feel good on many levels.

The Humanitas 2003 Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon is super smooth and filled with just-picked blueberries and hints of hot chocolate. It’s not your typical, “big” California Cabernet, but that’s all right. This is a great drinking wine that is great for food. 1200 cases produced.

Expectedly, Humantias’ 2001 Edna Valley Chardonnay isn’t your typical California Chardonnay either. Overflowing with pineapples and honey, it’s imminently drinkable and dodges the flabby oak the region is sometimes known for. If you like Long Island’s better Chardonnays, you’ll probably like this one, too. Crisp and refreshing, it’s a delectable seafood foil. 996 cases produced.

Wallenbrock described the Humanitas 2003 Monterey County Merlot as, “Not your average Merlot. So many are light, innocuous and boring. This one definitely has a style that makes a statement!” He’s right. At 15 bucks, this is a great value California Merlot – one of the best I’ve tasted. It’s rich with blackberries, smoke and black pepper.

Wallenbrock has just started distribution in the Metro area, but Humanitas wines are currently available in Manhattan at Ambassador Wines (1020 2nd Ave, http://www.ambassadorwines.com/), 67 Wine and Liquor (129 Columbus Ave, www.67wine.com) and Grand Harvest Wines (107 E 42nd St). If you can’t find them in your local shop, ask for them.

For more information or to contact Humantias Wines directly, visit http://www.humanitaswines.com/. As their slogan says, “Drink Charitably.”

Lenn Thompson is a contributing writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

January 14, 2005

Over The Barrel...With Lenn Thompson: The Holiday Season That Was

(This column appeared in the 1/14 issue of Dan's Papers)

Happy New Year, Long Island wine lovers! As you can probably imagine, I sampled a lot of wines between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Dinner parties, office parties, nights out on the town, quiet nights at home… they’re all great opportunities to try new and exciting wines.

Sure, some were flat, lifeless and noteworthy only in their mediocrity. But there were a half dozen that stood out – wines that I’d gladly drink again and again and again.

Peconic Bay Winery’s whites are some of the first that I tried when I moved to Long Island almost six years ago. Since then, they’ve been consistently good, easy-drinkers with enough fruit to please most any palate. The recently released 2003 Peconic Bay Winery Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($13) is no exception. Light and made in a Chablis-like style, it offers honey and lemongrass flavors with notes of vanilla and Granny Smith apple. Great acidity makes it the perfect mate for fresh seafood.

CoreyOn the other end of the Chardonnay vine is the 2002 Corey Creek Reserve Chardonnay ($29). Barrel fermentation and ten months aging in French oak gives this wine a rich golden hue and an impressive nose of fire-roasted marshmallows and buttercream with subtle hints of pears and apples. Butterscotch and roasted pears blend well with toasty vanilla and honey on the palate.

Palmer_1 Three reds from Palmer Vineyards caught my attention between Christmas and New Year’s as well.

For an affordable, gulpable red, try Palmer’s N41 W72 Merlot Cuvee 2003 ($12). Named for the vineyard’s Long Island latitude and longitude, it pays homage to “the coordinates for great Merlot.” Smooth with fresh blackberries and cherries, this simple vino is great for pizza.

For a bit more depth, try the 2002 Palmer Cabernet Franc ($18). Still smooth like its Merlot cuvee cousin, it offers black cherries and black pepper on the nose and palate, all framed by nice acidity. I just might drink this with turkey next Thanksgiving.

My favorite of the Palmer lot was the Palmer Select Reserve Red ($25). A Bordeaux-style blend of 63 percent Cabernet Franc, 25 percent Merlot and 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s an extremely well-made and well-balanced red. Elegant from the moment it hits the glass, it is a rich, deep wine with black fruit and chocolate flavors and a well integrated tannic grip.

As with any tasting session (even one done over a couple months), there was a clear favorite – a wine that jumps up out of the glass and makes one take notice. Wolffer’s 2000 Estate Selection Merlot ($35) was the hit of Christmas Day. Full-bodied and stunningly rich, it offers full but velvety smooth tannins. Exquisite blackberry flavors are joined by nuances of cedar, tobacco and wet stone. We enjoyed it as we opened our gifts, but I’d suggest trying it with a slab of hearty beef, lamb or venison.

2005 is here and it promises to be an exciting year for Long Island wines and wineries. Keep an eye out for better wines at better prices, new packaging (maybe even a screw top) and some new first releases as well. Come along for the ride.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing columnist for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

December 17, 2004

Over the Barrel...With Lenn Thompson: Pre-Release Preview at Paumanok

(This column appeared in the 12/24 issue of Dan's Papers)

Paumanokfront

Picture this: it’s the 1970s and IBM sends you to Kuwait, a country where you couldn’t buy alcohol, to live and work for seven years. What do you do for fun?

If you’re Charles Massoud, co-founder of Paumanok Vineyards, you learn to make your own wine – and then later decide to make winemaking a second career, along with the help of your wife Ursula, who comes from a German winemaking family.

Continue reading "Over the Barrel...With Lenn Thompson: Pre-Release Preview at Paumanok" »

November 27, 2004

Roanoke Vineyards Debuts on the North Fork

(This column appeared in the 11/26 issue of Dan's Papers)

Roanokeroom

This summer, if you drove east on Sound Avenue toward wineries like Lieb Family Cellars, Martha Clara, or Macari Vineyards, you probably saw an “Opening Soon” sign for a new winery in Riverhead – Roanoke Vineyards.

“Soon” ended up being a couple months longer than owner Richard Pisacano hoped, but after stopping in last weekend, I’d say it is well worth the wait.

Richie1A Long Island native, Pisacano has worked with vines and wines on both the North and South Forks since high school, including stints at Mudd’s Vineyard in Southold and at Jamesport Vineyards. Today, along with Roanoke vineyards, he works at Wolffer Estates in the Hamptons as their vineyard manager, a position he’s held since 1997.

Working at Wolffer has paid off in many ways as Roman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer, has signed on to craft the wines at Roanoke.

Roanoke’s new tasting room, which opened only a few weeks ago, features lots of wood and provides a rustic, barn-like setting for wine tasting. The shop area of the room features riddling racks filled with wines from Roanoke Vineyards, Wolffer Estates and Atwater Estates in the Finger Lakes (Pisacano is friends with the winemaker there)

When I was there, they were offering two flights (each $5), one with five whites and another featuring four reds. Each of the wines were good, but a few stood out from the pack

The Atwater 2003 Vidal Blanc ($9) was a pleasant surprise. Extremely crisp and just off dry, it featured tart Bosc pear and green apple flavors with just a little sweetness. The Atwater 2003 Riesling ($14.50) is also off-dry but offers the more rich, tropical flavors of mango and melon. Both would pair well with spicy Chinese to Thai food. The Fingers Lakes really produce some yummy off-dry whites and these are no exception.

Wolffer’s 2003 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($35) is pure pleasure in a bottle A deep, luxurious gold, this ice wine overflows with peach and apricot sweetness but retains a bright freshness because of expertly balanced acidity. I bought some on the spot. Wolffer’s 2001 Reserve Merlot ($22) is a full-bodied, sophisticated example of Long Island’s marquee varietal. Dark crimson in the glass, it’s a well-structured wine with layers of dried fruit.

The only Roanoke wine currently available, the Roanoke 2000 Merlot ($38), was easily my favorite of the tasting. Toasty and spicy, this 100 percent Merlot shows amazing amounts of lush berry for a wine that spent 20 months in oak. Its lingering, layered finish is highlighted by a touch of mint at the end. It rivals any Merlot on the Island, making it a great value, even at this price.

I look forward to tasting future Roanoke releases, including the varietal they plan to focus on, Cabernet Sauvignon. Pisacano and Roth are a great duo and we can be grateful that they have brought their well-grown and well-crafted wines to the North Fork.

For more information on Roanoke Vineyards, call 727 4161 or email [email protected]

Lenn Thompson is a contributing wine writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email him at [email protected]

November 19, 2004

Over The Barrel...With Lenn Thompson: 5 Turkey Day Wine Tips

(This column appeared in the 11/19 issue of Dan's Papers)

Five Turkey Day Wine Tips
Choosing wines to serve with your Thanksgiving Day spread can seem a monumental task. Typical Thanksgiving dinners include a plethora of different flavors and textures—turkey (white and dark meat), stuffing that can contain almost anything, rich gravy, sweet potatoes, tart cranberry sauce and sweet pumpkin pie. Add other possibilities like ham, prime rib or even Italian food (like we have) and it can be overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be. There’s only one rule for matching wines with Thanksgiving: there are no rules.

Here are some tips and suggestions that I share with friends and co-workers when they ask for my advice. But if you ask ten other wine lovers, you’re sure to get ten different answers. That’s the great thing about wine…it’s so personal. You like what you like and no one else can tell you differently.

Continue reading "Over The Barrel...With Lenn Thompson: 5 Turkey Day Wine Tips" »

November 01, 2004

Over the Barrel: Comtesse Therese Upcoming Releases

(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)

Over the Barrel…With Lenn Thompson
Comtesse Therese Upcoming Releases

With wines and a winery that are winning awards left and right –including “Best New Winery” in Dan’s Papers’ annual “Best of the Best” contest – you’d think that Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese could take a little time to relax and enjoy her early success.

In the wine world, it just doesn’t work that way.

As a boutique winery that focuses on quality over quantity, award-winning wines means one thing for Dilworth – they sell out quickly.

Her wines, available exclusively at The Tasting Room locations in Peconic and Jamesport, have been flying off the shelves for months. All of the reds are gone already, including the Hungarian Oak Merlot, which was named the Best Merlot in New York State this past summer.

With demand for Comtesse Therese wines at an all-time high, it was probably tempting to release the new vintages before they were ready, but an unwavering focus on making great wine has prevailed. 

Continue reading "Over the Barrel: Comtesse Therese Upcoming Releases" »

October 19, 2004

Over the Barrel: New Releases from Lieb Family Cellars

(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)

Over the Barrel…with Lenn Thompson
New Releases from Lieb Family Cellars

If you love Long Island wines like I do, you might have a love-hate relationship with autumn on the East End. You love it because its grape harvest season, often called "crush" in California. The wineries and tasting rooms are filled with the smells of fresh grapes and winemaking. But, especially on the North Fork, roads are packed and parking lots are overflowing with people snatching apples from orchards and scurrying through corn mazes. More time in your car sitting means less time sipping your favorite wines--never a good thing in my book.

GarykathyLast weekend, I navigated through the pumpkin pickers for Lieb Family Cellars' Annual Warehouse Sale and Vineyard Tour, an exclusive event for wine club members. While there, I was able to taste all of their current releases, each of the nine paired with delectable food from a local caterer.

Along with the always-delicious Merlots (my favorite is the 2001 Reserve), I tasted three new releases that were particularly interesting.

The 2003 Pinot Blanc Reserve ($17), Lieb's signature varietal, has a rich, floral nose filled with citrus and peaches. On the palate, the peaches give way to delicious Anjou pear, citrus and mildly melon flavors. The impressive finish is much longer and much more complex than you'd expect from such a young wine. This mouthwatering white is great with food and I think it would make an interesting foil for sushi and sashimi.

Lieb's 2002 Chardonnay Reserve ($18) is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes and is a light straw in the glass. A complex, serious wine, it was whole cluster fermented in steel and then aged in French Oak, giving it a toasty, slightly vanilla nose without any overbearing, raw oakiness. Its flavors start with pear but move toward cinnamon apple toward the finish.

Not quite a buttery California Chardonnay yet not quite a white Burgundy either, it's still perfect for meatier fish dishes and, of course, lemon roasted chicken.

Before I even headed to Cutchogue for the event, I knew I'd get to try the Pinot Blanc and the Chardonnay Reserve. They are available at Lieb's Mattituck tasting room and in several wine shops on the Island. And, because previous vintages were top notch, I knew there was a good chance they'd be just as delicious. I was right.

Cabfranc_1What I didn't know, however, was that I'd be getting to try an unreleased wine, their 2002 Cabernet Franc ($28). This is Lieb's first Cabernet Franc release, having previous only used their Cab Franc for their Bordeaux-style 2001 Meritage blend ($55) and their other Merlots. Only 150 cases were made.

Dark plum in the glass, this still-young wine was still pretty closed right out of the bottle. With some time to breathe however, it opened up, offering enticing raspberry and plum aromas. Taking a sip, I was treated to even more dark berry flavors with a nice layer of chocolate and just a hint of herbal character. The tannins were full and powerful, but not too overpowering. Their power, I expect, will start to fade in the next few months, resulting in another great red from Lieb.

This wine will be excellent served along side roasted Long Island duck by the time it's released in early December.

To buy these and other wines from Lieb Family Cellars, call the tasting room at 631-298-1942.

October 13, 2004

Over the Barrel: Winning Wines for the Season

(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)

Winning Wines for the Season
Wolffer Estates Fall Releases
By Lenn Thompson

TurkeyAs a wine lover, I often say "I love it all." California Cabernet Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz, Argentinean Malbec, Alsatian Gewürztraminer…the list is seemingly unending. I can always find something to love about most any varietal and wine region.

But, as summer's warmth fades and autumn takes hold, two wines always grab and keep my attention -- Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

WolfferLuckily, with Wolffer Estate artfully producing world-class examples of these varietals in Sagaponack, I don’t have span the globe to get the wines I crave every fall.

The just-released Wolffer 2002 Cabernet Franc ($40) is a thing of beauty in the glass -- deep, almost garnet red and it almost seems alive when swirled. On the nose, it is chock full of raspberry with just a little warm spice along the lines of nutmeg or allspice. Take a sip and the lush raspberries are joined by layers of delicious cherry fruit, toasty oak and extremely smooth tannins.

What sets this wine apart, though, is its complex finish -- which is nothing short of spectacular. It remains perfectly balanced as its cherries and a hint of cocoa linger on the palate. This is an extremely sophisticated, exquisite wine that is terrific now and will probably age well too.

Another fall release, the Wolffer 2002 Pinot Noir ($60), may be the ultimate in wine for pairing with fall foods. A shimmering, vibrant ruby in the glass, its light color belies the complexity and richness that await your mouth.

It is overflowing with aromas of raspberries and cherries with just the slightest hint of vanilla cream. On the palate, this Burgundy-style Pinot is velvety, rich and features nice tannins and the perfect amount of acidity for pairing with food. With a little time, the cherry character swells and the vanilla aroma and flavors become even more pronounced.

Its finish, much like the Cab Franc, is complex and long, with cherry-vanilla richness. This is truly an elegant wine deserving of praise and attention.

Both wines, with their fruity character and well balanced oak and tannins, are perfect for serving with hearty, earthy fall foods. Each will complement, not overpower, foods like winter squash, wild mushrooms, roasted meats, or even salmon.

While maybe a little pricey to be an every day wine, both (he Pinot Noir in particular) would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving table. Both are worth the splurge for the holiday season.

To buy these and other Wolffer wines, call visit www.wolffer.com or call 631-537-5106.

October 08, 2004

Over the Barrel: "Drinking the Stars"

(This story recently appeard in Dan's Papers)

"Drinking the Stars" at Vineyard Weddings
By Lenn Thompson

ChampThe Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, when drinking the first Champagne in the late 1600s, is reputed to have exclaimed, “It’s like drinking the stars!”

Sparkling wine, whether you call it Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, or just bubbly, is the perfect wine for romance…and for a wedding. It really is the most romantic of wines and it is a time-honored tradition to toast the new bride and groom with a twinkling flute of Champagne or another sparkler.

But far too often, the sparkling wine served at special functions, especially weddings, is bland at best and acrid at worst. And, because weddings are many people’s only real exposure to sparkling wine, these experiences leave them with, well, a bitter taste in their mouths.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here on Long Island, hidden amongst the endless bottles of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, you can find some delicious, unique sparkling wines that are perfect for a wedding or any other celebration.

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Over the Barrel: Winemaker Profile -- Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese

(This story recently appeard in Dan's Papers)

Winemaker Profile: Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese
By Lenn Thompson

TheresaMonday through Friday, Theresa Dilworth can be found working in Manhattan as an international tax attorney for Pfizer, Inc. But on Fridays, just hours after leaving her office, you’ll find her out on the North Fork working in the fields of Le Clos Therese Vineyards as principal owner, vineyard manager and winemaker of Comtesse Therese wines.

Since 2001, Dilworth has been making award-winning wines only from grapes she’s purchased from other growers on the North Fork.

That’s about to change, however.

While she’ll continue to make wines from other growers’ grapes under the Comtesse Therese label, Diloworth is harvesting her own grapes for the first time this fall. Her vineyard, 40 acres of farmland in Aquebogue along route 105, is home mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in addition to some Merlot. Why the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon when Long Island is known as the land of Merlot? Dilworth says, “Based on climate, soil and temperature data, I believed it to be the best red grape for my particular site.”

Now, as she’s watched her Cabernet and Merlot grow and mature side by side, she feels a special connection to the Cabernet. “There is something about the Cabernet Sauvignon growing in the field that I can relate to more. It is tough, stiff and woody. The leaves are harder, the fruit is darker and richer, the skins are blacker and thicker with more intense flavors, and it has more backbone. Maybe it is more similar to my personality.”

Continue reading "Over the Barrel: Winemaker Profile -- Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese" »

Over the Barrel: Vines and Vows

(This story recently appeared in Dan's Papers)

Vines and Vows
LI Wineries and Weddings Make a Perfect Pair
By Lenn Thompson

Weddings and wedding receptions are memorable events no matter where they take place, but these days couples on Long Island and in Manhattan looking to do something a little different just have to look east, way east, to Long Island wine country.

Romantic, majestic and best enjoyed with friends and family, weddings and wineries have so much in common that it’s a natural pairing. Like Sauvignon Blanc with shellfish or Cabernet Sauvignon with a dry-aged porterhouse, they just go together.

Long Island is home to some of the best wines in the world and its vineyards offer some of the most spectacular views around. There is something really special about getting married at a winery and enjoying its wines. Local caterers are often familiar with the wines and do a great job building menus around them. Whether you decide to have a more relaxed reception with stations of food paired with different wines, or a more formal, multi-course meal with wines paired with each course, local caterers can get the most out of the wine.

Along the North Fork and in the Hamptons, several wineries open their grounds to couples for vine-side ceremonies and receptions. Here are some of the best and most spectacular.

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