As a society, we are easily distracted and drawn to the new, the cool and the trendy. It’s particularly true in the wine world, where trends abound and we are continually bombarded by salespeople and writers touting “the next big thing.”
Gruner veltliner. Orange wine. Pet nat. Dry rosé. Those are just some of the larger wine trends of the past decade or so. Locally, we’ve seen these, a growth in the sauvignon blanc category and the emergence of new-to-the-region varieties like albarino and teroldego. These are exciting times to be a wine lover.
There’s always something new to drink. That’s fun. But it can also distract us from other great wines.
The Lenz Winery in Peconic and its winemaker, Eric Fry, aren’t known to chase trends. At Lenz, the focus is still set squarely on chardonnay and Bordeaux varieties, particularly merlot and cabernet sauvignon. There is a dry rosé — a very good one from the 2014 vintage — but Fry has been making rosé for a long time, certainly well before it became such a huge category for some wineries.
This is a classic Long Island winery with a classic Long Island portfolio — and I mean that in the greatest possible sense.
On a recent visit to the tasting room, I was able to taste through most of the currently available wines — a great reminder of what makes Lenz a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand the totality of Long Island wine.
We kicked off the tasting with Lenz Winery 2011 Cuvee ($40), made with 100 percent pinot noir grapes. I’ve always loved this wine for its focused apple and sour cherry notes and lightly biscuit nuance. Other wineries may get more attention for their sparkling wines, but year in and year out this is one of Long Island’s best sparklers.
There are three separate chardonnays (four if you include the succulent late-harvest dessert wine) at Lenz. Of the three, my favorite for this time of year was the 2012 White Label Chardonnay. A blend of chardonnay picked at three different times — each picking bringing different character to the wine — it’s clean, fresh and fermented in stainless steel. It’s citrusy and begs for local seafood prepared in most any way. Plus, at $15 it’s a great value.
Fry loves gewürztraminer and it shows in both of his bottlings. In fact, no one makes better gewürztraminer locally. The 2012 gewürztraminer ($22) is another great value in all of its aromatic, tropical glory, but for me, the 2010 Old Vines gewürztraminer ($30) is so much more interesting for just a few more dollars. It’s a stunner of a wine with both power and elegance. The ripeness of the 2010 vintage is on full display. The nose bursts with pineapple, ginger, dried apricot, rose petals, spice and just a little lychee. Rich and mouth-filling, the palate is concentrated, but balanced by acidity. Flavors range from apricot to pineapple to mango and other tropical fruits with a bit of a citrusy edge.
It was well into the 90s on the day I visited — not ideal tasting weather for most red wines — but you can’t visit Lenz and not taste Fry’s merlots and cabernets. Ranging from $25 to $65, the regular label, Estate Selection and Old Vines bottlings vary in intensity and structure, but these are all classic Long Island reds. They have nice fruity qualities but also floral, spicy and herbal notes.
For years, Long Island wineries tried to compare themselves to Bordeaux. It was never really true, but Lenz is as close as it gets. These are decidedly Old World-style wines that any lover of Bordeaux is bound to fall for. The Old Vines wines — both the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon — are stunners, but for more-affordable drinking, it’s hard to beat the Lenz Winery 2012 Estate Selection Merlot ($30). It’s everything that Long Island merlot can and should be.