Lieb Cellars: Très Èlégant May 21, 2016

http://liebcellars.com/

The somewhat industrial looking outside belies the very attractive inside.

The somewhat industrial looking outside belies the very attractive inside.

“I love Paris” was being crooned on the sound system as we entered Lieb Cellars’ elegant tasting room on Oregon Road.  Oregon Road, you may ask?  If you’ve been to Lieb, you’ve probably been to their tasting room on the corner of Sound Avenue and Cox Neck Road, but this is their second location, and a lovely one it is.  As we walked through the parking lot, we heard birds singing and looked out at a bucolic scene of farm fields and vineyards.

Typical scene along Oregon Road--plowed field ready for planting!

Typical scene along Oregon Road–plowed field ready for planting!

We were greeted by a friendly hostess who escorted us to a table with comfortable chairs in a corner of the attractive tasting room.  Many people were sitting outside, but it felt a touch too chilly for us to sit out there.  However, I could definitely see coming here on a warm afternoon and getting a glass of wine (suggestions at the end of this review) and some snacks—I’m particularly interested in trying the duck paté—to share with friends.

The hostess will show you to your table.

The hostess will show you to your table.

The pleasant waitress explained to us that they now do table service, though one could still sit at the bar, and handed us menus.  The four drink options included 5 of primarily their Bridge Lane whites or 5 Bridge Lane reds for $16, 6 Reserve wines for $20, or 5 “Director’s Cut” options for $12.  The last list included their sparkling cider, Rumor Mill, which I liked when I had it in the past.  Since we have sampled the Bridge Lane offerings several times at their other location, we decided to go with the reserve list.  The waitress brought us a package of slim bread sticks to cleanse our palates along with a tray bearing our first three tastes on a paper with numbered and named spots for each one.

The menu also includes non-alcoholic drinks for the designated driver.

The menu also includes non-alcoholic drinks for the designated driver.

  1. 2011 Reserve Blanc de Blancs    $30

Although this is a Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine, it was served in a regular wine glass, which might have accounted for the paucity of bubbles (or it might have been open for a while).  Despite the bubble issue, this is a perfectly pleasant sparkling wine, not too dry, with some minerality and tastes of unripe pear and the typical yeasty toasty aroma.  But if I wanted an inexpensive sparkler I’d go for a Cava or Asti Spumonte—or, if I was determined to have a Long Island sparkling wine, one of Sparkling Pointe’s better wines, such as Brut Seduction.  They use pinot blanc grapes for this, aged 36 months.

Three whites

Three whites

  1. 2014 Reserve Pinot Blanc $22

Of course, this is also made with pinot blanc grapes, and is, our server told us, their “signature wine.”  I’m not sure why, since, though it’s not bad, we did not particularly care for it.  It is steel fermented with 0% residual sugar, we were told, which might account for the perception I had of something metallic about the smell and taste.  “Like licking foil,” I said, which my companion thought was a rather strange thing to do.  It might be better with food, such as something in a cream sauce, since it is quite crisp.

  1. 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $26

This is a new wine for Lieb, and so far our definite favorite.  The aroma is complex, with notes of honey, fresh cut grass, pineapple, and maybe a touch of cat pee (or that smell when you’ve had cut flowers in a vase too long).  The taste is also complex, and I compare it to kiwi and something green with a touch of smoke or funk.  My husband says, “I could drink a lot of this.”  It may not be a crowd pleaser, since it is rather dry, but we like it a lot.  We took a mental inventory of our wine cellar and decided not to buy it, but we might change our minds at some future date.

One can also sit at the bar.

One can also sit at the bar.

  1. 2014 Reserve Merlot $24

Now it is time for our reds, and rather than change our glasses the waitress quickly flips over the paper in our little tray to reveal spaces named and numbered for reds.  Even though there are a few drops of wine in each glass, we don’t get new glasses, as she pours out our tastes and gives a brief rundown on each wine.  The merlot, she notes, also has a bit of cabernet franc in it, and all the reserve reds are aged ten months in Hungarian oak.  We feel the merlot is a fairly typical Long Island merlot, with dark fruit aromas and tastes, including plum and cherry, plus a touch of earthiness.

The reds, including our favorite of the day, the Meritage.

The reds, including our favorite of the day, the Meritage.

  1. 2014 Reserve Cabernet Franc $40

I would hope for more depth and complexity in a $40 bottle, though this is a perfectly competent red and would be good with pasta.  Aromas of plum and tobacco and dark fruit tastes, as one would expect.

  1. 2013 Reserve Meritage $35

Described simply as their Bordeaux blend, this is our favorite wine of the day.  Though the aroma is similar to the cabernet franc, the taste is much more interesting.  Cherry, chocolate, plums, perhaps a touch of leather or tobacco.  It could have more body, but we like it enough to also contemplate buying a bottle.  I ask our waitress what the proportions of the various grapes are in the wine, and she disappears into the back for quite a while, during which we decide that cabernet sauvignon probably dominates over the merlot.  When she returns we discover that we are right, as she hands us a printout with a detailed rundown on the wine:  47% cabernet sauvignon, 33% merlot, 17% malbec, 2% cabernet franc, and 1% petit verdot.  Plus more detail than we need, though it is interesting to see the comments on the type of yeast and bacteria used. Winemaking, we have often heard, is both an art and a science.   Also, this is aged 16 months in Hungarian oak.  As we have heard before, 2013 was an excellent year, and this is a good example of the lovely wines made from that harvest.

Comfy chairs and couches abound.

Comfy chairs and couches abound.

Reasons to visit:  prettily bucolic location on a back road with comfortable seats and an appealing array of snacks and variety of tasting menu choices; the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and the Reserve Meritage.  If I were coming to have the duck paté, I would pair it with the Meritage, though a selection of their cheeses and charcuterie could also go well with a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc—or the Rumor Mill sparkling cider.  No limos or buses (though they allow both at their other location).

Despite the cool weather, several groups opted to sit outside.

Despite the cool weather, several groups opted to sit outside.

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Laurel Lake: The Personal Touch May 14, 2016

http://www.llwines.com/

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Juan sat down next to us at the bar and explained his ideas about winemaking.  Although there were several large groups at Laurel Lake, and Juan was actively helping to serve them, he and the servers behind the bar also took the time to answer our questions and solicit our opinions about the wines—which were largely favorable except for one, which I will discuss later.  Introduced to us as “our winemaker from Chile,” Juan told us that he enjoys talking to customers and finding out what they do and do not like about his wines.  “The wines reflect the personality of the winemaker,” he told us, including whether the winemaker is a man or a woman.  If so, then Laurel Lake’s wines should be outgoing and friendly and easy to like.

The main tasting room manages to be both spacious and cozy.

The main tasting room manages to be both spacious and cozy.

The menu offers flights of four tastes for $15, of a fairly generous pour, out of seven whites and nine reds.  We opted to share a flight of whites and a flight of reds, skipping, for example, the rosé and the moscato.  We also skipped the riesling, which we noticed comes in a pretty blue bottle.  That price has actually gone down from our last visit, in 2014, when it was three tastes for $15.  In general, the prices for the wines are quite reasonable.  We noticed people eating snacks brought from home, although once their food truck arrives Laurel Lake no longer permits outside snacks.

The music group on the porch, with a view of a group enjoying the warm weather outside.

The music group on the porch, with a view of a group enjoying the warm weather outside.

As we sipped, a music group set up in the large porch to one side of the attractive tasting room.  The large groups also headed outside, so the main room remained relatively calm.  We also noted a small but amusing collection of wine-related gifts.

Some of the gift items

Some of the gift items

We don't need a mouse pad, but if we did...

We don’t need a mouse pad, but if we did…

  1. 2015 Pinot Gris                                $21.99

Pinot Gris is the French equivalent of Pinot Grigio, one of my frequent choices when opting for a glass of house white, as it tends to be reliably dry.  I would be perfectly happy if I had gotten this as a glass of house wine, as it is dry and mineral-y, with a touch of sweet fruit.  It smells a bit like asparagus, we decide, wondering if our current diet of local asparagus has influenced that thought.  Lobster bisque, we decide, would be a perfect pairing.

  1. 2014 Chardonnay $18.99

This is their steel fermented chard, with an aroma of not-quite-ripe pineapple and some mineral.  The taste is again a combination of dry and a touch of sweetness, and fades quickly.  Evanescent, we say.  As the wine warms a bit in the glass we also taste a hint of pineapple or tropical fruit.  We note that people coming to the bar are quite insistent about wanting their wines really cold.  We prefer wines not quite as cold, so you can really taste them.  I decide that chicken cordon bleu would be a good accompaniment.

The pour is fairly generous.

The pour is fairly generous.

  1. 2013 Chardonnay Estate Reserve $23.99

The tasting notes inform us that this spends 12 months in oak, and we have a discussion with one of our servers about preferences for oaked vs. non-oaked chards.  “Which do you like?” she asks, and we realize that it depends.  In general, we don’t like the really heavy buttery taste and texture of a heavily oaked chard, but a bit of oakiness is often quite pleasant.  As is this wine.  If you like Long Island chardonnays you should like this one, with its slightly vanilla smell and touch of citrus and tropical fruit taste.  Nice long finish, too.

  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $22.99

It could be an aperitif wine, or a dessert wine, or a wine to have with blue cheese and charcuterie, we decide, but it is a bit too sweet to enjoy just by itself.  The tasting notes say to have this with spicy food, a frequent recommendation for sweeter wines, but we feel you’d lose some of the subtlety of this wine if you did.  The aroma is complex, as is the taste.

  1. Wind Song Red $17.99

The tasting notes say this is “like a nice Chianti.”  I don’t think so!  We feel quite misled by the note, which is an issue we take up with Juan, who sheepishly admits they were written for a previous iteration of this blend.  They needed an inexpensive red crowd pleaser for the menu, hence this wine, the only one that has us looking around for a dump bucket.  A blend of merlot, syrah and a “mystery ingredient,” which, after a guessing game, Juan admits is chardonnay (!), this is quite a sweet red.  We compare it to red candy or fruit salad.  Fresh glasses with most tastes, by the way.

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  1. 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve $29.99

We’ve been on a raspberry pie kick at Briermere recently, with raspberry peach last week and raspberry plum this, and the wine smells to us like those pies.   With 18 months in oak, this has some tannins at the end, and is a fairly light red.  I could see it with veal chops.

  1. 2011 Syrah $19.99

My husband refrains from singing “Que sera, sera” when we choose this wine, for which I am grateful.  This is our favorite of the day, with delicious aromas of dark fruit and rich tastes of dried plum (a.k.a. prune) and other fruits.  It would go well with pastas and meats, and we decide to buy a bottle.

One cabernet

One cabernet

And the other cab

And the other cab

  1. 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $25.99

Our server, having engaged us in various discussions of our choices, asks if we would like to divide our final taste between the steel fermented cab sauv and the oaked one.  Sure, we’re always up for that sort of interesting comparison.  The steel cab has a funky aroma and is very dry and tannic, really rather austere.  The Reserve is interesting and complex, also dry and tannic, with tastes of black raspberry and maybe a few other flavors.  We buy a bottle of that, too.

Reasons to visit:  an intimate space that also has ample room on the porch and outside for groups; the chance to chat with Juan or the very friendly and knowledgeable servers; the Pinot Gris, the Syrah, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; reasonably priced wines for Long Island.  While we were there, the owner of CJ’s American Grill came in and we noted that we like their wine policy, which is to feature local wines at a moderate price.  Oh, and yes, the wines are outgoing and friendly and easy to like.

Nice decor

Nice decor

We liked the syrah.

We liked the syrah.

We indeed felt welcome.

We indeed felt welcome.

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Sign of spring!

Sign of spring!

Twin Stills Moonshine: All in the Family May 7, 2016

http://www.twinstillsmoonshinedistillery.com/

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We asked our server about the honey used in the delicious honey-flavored whiskey, and he turned to a woman next to him and asked, “Ma, where do we get our honey?”  After proudly telling us about their local sources, including their own beehives which they just started, she added, “My husband is from Portugal. That’s a drawing of his grandfather on the label. ”  This tiny distillery is the definition of a mom and pop store, with the stills in a back room of what used to be a little deli on Sound Avenue.

The honey flavor

The honey flavor

We had been eagerly awaiting its opening, intrigued by the idea of moonshine and rumrunners, given Long Island’s interesting history with both during Prohibition, and this chilly rainy May day seemed like the perfect opportunity to sample some warming whiskey.  It took them a while to open due to delays in getting their license.

A view along the bar.  That's mom in the background.

A view along the bar. That’s “mom” in the background.

The tasting room is small, with a bar along most of its length plus an alcove, but in the warm weather they plan to also use the porch and a patio area along one side of the building.  If you want snacks with your drinks, you’ll need to sit outside.  And you may want those drinks.  The moonshine whiskey—also referred to as “shine”—is made from locally sourced corn and barley, plus other ingredients which are, to the greatest extent possible, also local.  In the future they’d love to add a Portuguese-style grappa to their menu, which is what the owner’s grandfather made back in the original “twin stills” back in Portugal.  The drinks go down quite smoothly, despite the high proof, and some seem like guaranteed crowd pleasers.

The alcove off to one side of the tasting room.

The alcove off to one side of the tasting room.

The menu offers three tastes for $9 from their menu of five choices, plus beers from Greenport Harbor Brewery and ciders from the soon-to-open Riverhead Cider House on tap.  They also offer shots and cocktails, with a menu of interesting combinations, for $7-$9.  A 375ml bottle of flavored shine is $20, and a bottle of the 100 proof original is $25.  We decided to each get a flight, so we could sample all the flavors.

  1. Honey  80 proof

When I have a bad cold, I like to make myself a hot toddy, a mixture of whiskey, honey, and hot water or tea.  Lemon optional.  It may not cure anything, but it does make you feel better!  The honey shine reminded me of a hot toddy—just add hot water.  You can really taste honey, and it has an unctuous mouth feel that is quite pleasant.  I could see sipping this by the fire after dinner on a cold winter night.  Their cocktail idea is to add it to iced tea with a twist of lemon, which they call “Fricken Likken Good Tea.”

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  1. Apple Pie            50 proof

This is a good choice if you don’t actually like whiskey at all.  It tastes of apples and cinnamon and is too sweet for us.  It might be good in a mixed drink if you balanced the sweetness with something tart.  One mixed drink they make is called “The Red Neck,” and includes the apple pie flavor plus cranberry juice and a twist of lemon.

  1. Coffee 80 proof

I used to drink Black Russians as my preferred after dinner drink, and this reminds me of that.  It is our favorite flavor, and we buy a bottle to take home.  We are told that it is made with “real coffee beans,” but any further details are secret.  At any rate, it tastes like good coffee mixed with whiskey, with some sweetness.

The strawberry is a pretty color.

The strawberry is a pretty color.

  1. Strawberry 60 proof

We were afraid this would be cloyingly sweet, but the intensity of the strawberry flavor means it is not.  It reminds me a bit of LiV vodka’s strawberry after dinner drink, though again the mouth feel is different.  They recommend mixing it with lemonade and garnishing it with a strawberry, a drink they call “Southern Sunshine.”  They plan to use local strawberries when they are in season, which, despite the cold wet weather, should be soon.  After all, mid-June is when the Mattituck Strawberry Festival takes place.

Tiny but pretty cups

Tiny but pretty cups

  1. Moonshine Whiskey 100 proof

At this point, I think I should point out that the tastes are served in adorable but tiny pottery cups, “hand made in Portugal,” we are told, so though the alcohol level is high you will not be.  We are both single malt scotch drinkers, but this is a very different tipple.  You don’t get any of the peaty or smoky notes of a scotch, as this is a simpler drink.  It’s fine well-iced, which is how they serve it.  The cocktail menu suggests mixing it with lemonade and pineapple juice, garnished with a chunk of pineapple, for an “o’Old School Lemonade.”

The menu is on the obligatory blackboard, and you can also see the cider taps.  Note the saying.

The menu is on the obligatory blackboard, and you can also see the cider taps. Note the saying.

Reasons to visit:  you want to try something new; you like whiskey; you want a cocktail; the coffee and honey flavors; you want to buy various flavors to make cocktails at home; the cozy tasting room and the chance to chat about the making of whiskey (though they are somewhat sparing on the details).

The "old tymer" on the label is grandpa, the inspiration for the twin stills.

The “old tymer” on the label is grandpa, the inspiration for the twin stills.

Cute little building

Cute little building