Because of how the North Fork wine industry has evolved over the past decade, there are fewer places to meet up with friends for a relaxed, even quiet, afternoon of wine and conversation — at least during the winter months, when the outside decks and patios of Wine Country aren’t really accessible.
If you’re looking for a raucous, bar-like atmosphere? There are options.
If you’re looking for a serious tasting experience standing at the bar? There are options there, too.
But if you want to sit at a table or on a couch with a bottle of wine and a handful of friends, there aren’t nearly as many options when the weather makes sitting outside impossible. Lieb Cellars’ tasting room on Oregon Road in Cutchogue has you covered, though.
The tasting room isn’t on the main tasting drag, but that actually works to a wine lover’s advantage. It gets busy on weekends, but rarely too busy or too boisterous thanks to a strict no-bus, no-limo policy.
Alicia Ekeler, Lieb’s director of tasting rooms, told me that they banned large vehicles “out of respect for our residential neighbors and to keep our tasting room capacity under control.”
The tasting room itself is also different from many on the North Fork. There’s a tasting bar, of course, but there are also couches and low tables where you can enjoy yourself without feeling rushed.
“The vibe we are always working to attain is one that matches the region,” Ekeler said. “Relaxed, quiet, yet far from fussy.”
Last weekend, my wife and I met some friends at Lieb and enjoyed a couple hours of wine tasting, conversation and a lot of laughs. The tasting room was busy but never uncomfortable.
There was also a great cheese plate with some delicious local honey. Ekeler is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, so any nibbles you find at Lieb are sure to be of high quality.
Selfishly, I had suggested Lieb as our meeting place because I wanted to try two upcoming releases — the 2014 Bridge Lane Rose and the 2013 Reserve Merlot.
The Lieb Cellars Bridge Lane 2014 Rose is currently only available in boxed wine form but will be available in bottle soon. Each box contains the equivalent of four bottles of wine. At $40 per box, it’s a great value — and if you keep it in the fridge, it will stay fresh for up to a month. The bone-dry blend of 68% cabernet franc, 12% merlot, 7% pinot blanc, 4% pinot noir and 2% riesling is floral and fresh with strawberry and melon notes.
Slated to be released sometime in June, the Lieb Cellars 2013 Reserve Merlot ($24) is a polished, chocolate-covered-cherry rendition of Long Island merlot that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s 81% merlot with 10% malbec, 6% cabernet sauvignon and 3% petit verdot blended in. It’s smooth, with well-integrated tannins frame flavors of black cherry, cocoa powder and blueberry compote.
The merlot wasn’t available for purchase, so we went home with a bottle of the perennial favorite Lieb Cellars 2010 Blanc de Blanc ($30) – a terrific sparkling pinot blanc – and one of those boxes of rosé. We haven’t opened the rosé just yet, but the sparkler didn’t last the weekend.