When I have dinner on the North Fork, I always try to drink local wine – and not just because I’m a “local wine” guy. The restaurants that do offer local wine need to sell that wine so that they can buy more to sell me the next time. It’s simple supply and demand.
Some restaurants make it easy. Love Lane Kitchen always has great local options. Some of the North Fork’s top places – North Fork Table, aLure and Caci – all have good selections too. But there are still so many casual restaurants that don’t support the local region at all, or only include a token wine or two.
Earlier this week, I had dinner with a book publisher friend of mine at PeraBell Food Bar East in Riverhead, a town whose restaurants support their local beers well, generally, but often fall short in the local wine department.
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the list and saw some great Long Island options – including my wine of the week: Influence Wines’ 2014 Malbec.
You may not know Influence Wines or the winemaker behind it – Erik Bilka – but you’ve probably had wines that he has helped make. Bilka, who launched Influence Wines in 2009 with a riesling, has worked at places like Premium Wine Group (our local custom-crush facility where labels without wineries of their own can make wine), Harbes Vineyard and Castello di Borghese for years. Before that, he worked as a vineyard assistant at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
Until I looked at the PeraBell wine list, I hadn’t realized that he made anything under his Influence label beyond the always-delicious riesling. So, my friend and I ordered a bottle of the malbec and it is a beautiful local expression of the grape.
If you’ve only ever tried Argentine malbec, this wine will be a revelation.
Without any new oak or extended oak aging, the high-toned, floral nature of Malbec shines through with pretty aromas of violets, but also fruit-forward notes of blueberry and blackberry. There’s also a subtle black pepper spiciness that makes it a great food wine. The tannins are restrained, but there’s great acidity here and a freshness that led to an emptied bottle before our meal was even over.
Erik doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can find his wine at Michael’s Wines & Liquors in Riverhead and at the following East End restaurants: Amano in Mattituck; ALure in Southold; Perabell Food Bar East in Riverhead; and Red Maple at The Chequit on Shelter Island.