Lenz Winery: A Touch of Paris March 29, 2019

https://lenzwine.com/

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As our server explained a couple of times, the winemaker at Lenz likes the French style; hence their pinot gris, not pinot grigio, for example. But they recently changed their winemaker, so it will be interesting to check back in a couple of years and see if the wines are any different.

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The vines are still bare, but we’ve seen a few signs of spring on the North Fork: robins on the lawn, rolled up snow fences in the fields, signs promising to open soon.

On this gray, drizzly late March day there was only one other group at the winery, so we were able to have a nice chat with the very well-informed server, who seemed to have a real appreciation for the wines.  Because she had to open fresh bottles for us, she carefully sniffed a small portion of each one before she poured, actually rejecting one bottle as not quite right.

The attractively barn-like tasting room has plenty of room for groups, and a small selection of wine-themed gifts, as well as local art for purchase.  They offer a Catapano cheese tray, and, though they currently allow you to bring in snacks, they may expand their food offerings in the future and limit outside foods, so check their web site before you go.  My husband thinks it is amusing that a couple of lower beams have signs warning “Please Watch Your Head!,” a feat he deems impossible without a mirror.  And that was before we had a drink.

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As we sipped and chatted, we discussed the changeover at many wineries from cork to screw top.  Screw tops have several advantages over corks, although, as our server explained to us, if you use a top end supplier, as many NoFo wineries do, they’re actually not all that much cheaper. However, there is less chance for a wine to become “corked,” among other problems.  On the other hand, if you have a wine you want to age, aging happens more quickly with the breathability of a cork.

On the menu are three options: Library, of their highest end wines, $15 per taste or $20 for two; Estate, five of their middle label wines for $16; or Premium, five of their higher end wines for $20.  Since Lenz is one of the older wineries on the North Fork, first established in 1978, they can label some wines “Old Vines” without exaggeration.  Though many of their wines are reasonably priced, the price tags on some of the Library wines gave us pause.  $125?  Wow.  I don’t know whether they’re worth that much, and I also haven’t tried them!

We opted for the Estate flight.

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  1. 2014 Pinot Gris               $25

We liked this French style expression of the grape, with its aromas of yeast and citrus and tastes of kumquat or mandarin orange.  My tasting buddy said it has a creamy mouth feel.

  1. 2014 White Label Chardonnay $15

One reason we picked this flight was because the Premium flight featured an oaked chard, and though I have had oaked chards that were unobjectionable, in general I prefer steel fermented.  This one is steel fermented, but has a small amount—about 5%–of oaked chard added “to soften” it.  We liked this wine, too.  The aroma includes lemon and a touch of cedar, and the taste is mildly lemony, like a Meyer lemon, plus a little pear.  We are a bit short on whites in the cellar, so we decide to buy two bottles of this one.

  1. 2016 Blanc de Noir $24

This rosé is made from 100% pinot noir (hence the name, though I bet someone thought it was amusing to call this “white of black”), and is left on the skins for just three and a half hours.  Again, this is a French style rosé, so quite dry, with the expected aroma of strawberries, though also quite minerally.  Like a bunch of sliced strawberries without added sugar, perhaps early in the season before they get very sweet and fruity.

  1. 2014 Estate Selection Cabernet Sauvignon $35

Our server explains that they make the Estate Selection wines from the better vintages.  This is a “typical Long Island cab,” she adds, “lighter, less tannic, fruit driven.”  I’d agree.  I really like the smell, which has lots of berry and cherry.  It tastes like plums, and is pleasant, but rather monochromatic, I tell my husband, just as he turns to me and opines that it is “not complex.”  So we are in agreement.

  1. 2014 Estate Selection Merlot $35

Although it is called merlot, our server informs us that it is 10-20% cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot.  There’s a touch of the earthiness you find sometimes in NoFo merlots, which I don’t care for.  Although the wine is not bad, I like it the least of the ones we’ve tasted.  It does have that black cherry taste of merlot.  I think it might do better if it ages a while longer.  My husband says it “lacks gravitas,” one of his favorite phrases recently.  I could see having it with lamb chops.

Reasons to visit:  a good-sized tasting room whether you are with a group or just a couple, with an outdoor area for summer seating; small selection of gift items and local art for sale; the Pinot Gris and the White Label Chardonnay; they have some serious wines.

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We admired the chalk drawings, and were told that a local woman, named Patty, does them, changing them with the seasons.

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Lenz Winery: A Matter of Style December 4, 2016

http://www.lenzwine.com/Home.htm

In warmer weather, this courtyard might be a nice place to relax.

In warmer weather, this courtyard might be a nice place to relax.

“Eric,” said our server, referring to Eric Fry, the winemaker for Lenz, “prefers a more austere style, with salty minerality.”  We agree.  If you want to understand the difference a winemaker’s choices can make, then you should definitely include Lenz in your tastings.  For example, back in October we tasted Pugliese’s 2010 Blanc de Noir Nature, a rosé made from pinot noir grapes, and at Lenz we tasted their 2014 Blanc de Noir, also made from pinot noir grapes.  Of course, they are different vintages, but look at the difference in taste:  my notes for Pugliese (just down the street from Lenz) note a vegetable taste and aroma, while my notes for Lenz highlight a smell of minerals and salt and mushed up fruit and a taste of red grapefruit.  Same grape, same “terroir,” different winemakers, different tastes.  Both, I might add, quite good.

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The Lenz tasting room is in an attractive wooden building with a long bar along one side and a nice array of wine-related gifts and art for sale along the other sides.  They have room for tables, but don’t have any, which might be a good addition, though I did note some picnic tables in the courtyard.  On this sunny winter Sunday, there were several small groups and couples at the bar, tasting the wines, chatting, and listening to the soft jazz and pop music on the sound system.  I heard Frank Sinatra, among others.

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Some of their gift options

Some of their gift options

The tasting menu features an Estate tasting of five wines for $12 or a Premium tasting of five of their better wines for $15, plus a few additional wines available for individual tastes, such as their sparkling wine and the rosé.  Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable server suggested that he could also do an all white and/or all red tasting for us, and we decided that it would be perfect to share an all white and then an all red tasting.  Together the two were $27.

Pretty color, too.

Pretty color, too.

  1. 2014 Blanc de Noir Rosé               $24

As I noted above, we smelled a salty minerality plus mushed up fruit (a description I’m sticking to, even if that’s not a “wine word”) and agreed that this is a very dry, French-style rosé with nice acidity and a citrusy taste like red grapefruit.  Though you wouldn’t want to sip it on its own, it would be a very nice summer aperitif with a cheese tray, especially if you had some brie and creamy goat cheese on it, perhaps from Catapano.

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  1. 2012 Pinot Gris $25

Our server describes the style of this white as “Alsatian, with no residual sugar.”  I get the idea of austere here also, as this is a very dry wine with a vegetal aroma and an almost cabbage-y taste.  My husband compares it to Brussels sprouts, one of his favorite vegetables.  Again, though not a sipping wine, this would go well with certain foods, such as a charcuterie platter.  Nice acidity.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Gewürztraminer $30

And now, as they say, for something completely different.  2010 was a hot dry year, and, according to our server, a good year for gewürztraminer.  He may be onto something.  This is a delicious wine, with lots of aromas including lychees in syrup and tropical fruits.  This is again a dry wine, though gewürztraminers are often somewhat sweet, and it has some sweetness and a taste like roasted pear.  I observe that it would be perfect with turkey, and then flash on a memory of a number of years ago when we came to Lenz in order to buy several bottles of their gewürztraminer for Thanksgiving.

You can buy hand-decorated bottles to bring to a friend's house.

You can buy hand-decorated bottles to bring to a friend’s house.

  1. 2013 White Label Chardonnay $15

Two years ago when we came here we bought a couple of bottles of their White Label Chard, which was $15 then, so it is quite the bargain now.  This is a steel-fermented chard, with an almost candy-like aroma and a dry, crisp, gooseberry taste, with a touch of pineapple.  You could sip this with or without food, and it would go with any white-wine friendly dish.

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  1. 2013 Old Vines Chardonnay $30

When Lenz says “old vines,” they’re not kidding, as they first planted their grapes in 1978, which makes them practically ancient by Long Island standards.  Our server says that Eric wants you to “taste the year,” so ages the wine in neutral oak barrels.  This is a good chardonnay to give someone who thinks they don’t like chardonnay, as it is a lovely wine.  The aroma is of peaches with some vanilla, and the taste is crisp and dry with just a bit of sweetness and a taste of not-quite-ripe pear.

Lovely dark color

Lovely dark color

  1. 2013 Estate Selection Malbec $40

We get a fresh glass and switch to the reds.  This is a “pre-release” wine, not yet on the tasting menu.  Lots of wineries use Malbec in their blends, but not as many use it by itself.  The label notes it is “unfined and unfiltered,” as are several of their reds, which goes along with the philosophy on their website of trying not to interfere too much with the natural process of turning grapes into wine.  We smell lots of fruit aromas plus an undercurrent of something my husband describes as medicinal and I think of as Band-aids.  Mouth-watering taste, with lots of tannins, dry, with dark ripe prune plum taste.  Their tasting notes say chocolate, but I’m not getting that.  Yum.  Interesting wine.

  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $25

Now I get chocolate—this one smells like those chocolate-covered cherries.  This is also good, with lots of dark fruit tastes and a nice acidity that would complement lamb very well.  The tasting menu mentions cedar, and my tasting buddy objects, “I hate eating cedar.”  Ha.  I do get some woodiness.  Not complex, but good enough that if we had room in our cellar we would buy some to hold for a couple of years.

Unlike some places, the labels actually give you information about the wine.

Unlike some places, the labels actually give you information about the wine.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon $50

This one also could use some aging, though it is already very good, with a slightly funky aroma that is mostly of red fruit.  As we sip we note a complexity, with layers of flavors, including raspberry and other dark fruits.  2010 was a good year for reds, and this one is no exception.

  1. 2012 Estate Selection Merlot $30

Though this is mostly merlot, it also has some cabernet franc and malbec and petit verdot in it.  We get the typical cherry aroma and taste of Long Island merlots.  Judging by the tannins, we think this could also age well.  Good.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Merlot $65

Always fun to taste the same grape from different years to see how they compare.  Our server enthuses that the ’93 and ’97 merlots are still very good, noting that this one should also age well.  “Don’t drink it right away,” he warns, if you buy it.  We don’t—not convinced it is worth the price—but I think it would be hard to resist drinking it sooner than later, as it is another winner.  Aromas and tastes of chocolate and cherry and tobacco greet us, but it is not a “fruit bomb.”  Nicely dry.

You can see some of the paintings for sale, and also a sign on the beam that never fails to amuse my husband.

You can see some of the paintings for sale, and also a sign on the beam that never fails to amuse my husband.

Reasons to visit:  a nicer than usual selection of gifts, including original paintings; a lovely calm setting and knowledgeable and enthusiastic servers; all the wines if you like them dry, but especially the Old Vines Gewürztraminer, the Old Vines Chardonnay, the Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Old Vines Merlot. 

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You can enter and exit the courtyard through this tunnel--or go around it!

You can enter and exit the courtyard through this tunnel–or go around it!

That time of year thou mayst in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs...

That time of year thou mayst in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs…

Lenz Winery: Lots of Lovely Options December 7, 2013

http://www.lenzwine.com/Home.htm

In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

It’s that time of year on the North Fork when most farmstands have closed, and those that are open feature Christmas trees and firewood, plus a few frost-touched Brussels sprout stalks and cauliflower heads.  However, most of the wineries are still open, at least on the weekends, and there are still plenty of limos wandering the streets.   When we saw five of them in the parking lot of Lenz we almost turned around, knowing their tasting room was on the small side, but I’m very glad we did not.  The vibe inside was mellow rather than frenetic, and by the time we finished our leisurely and very enjoyable tasting we had the room to ourselves.

For some reason Lenz funnels arriving parties through a small wooden archway, but you can get to the vine-covered tasting room directly from the end of the parking lot as well.  The room itself is rustic, with wooden beams like a barn, and tables around the perimeter offer a variety of wine-related gifts.

Some of the gift items.

Some of the gift items.

They offer two tastings, the Estate Flight is of their wines which are produced every year, and is $10 for five generous tastes, and the Premium Flight is $14 for five of their wines produced “only in years our winemaker feels they are good enough.”  We opt to share one of each, and our knowledgeable and enthusiastic server helps us alternate, suggesting which to taste first of each pair.  She not only knows lots about each wine, she is clearly a fan of the vineyard, and talks about her visits to it before she actually became an employee.  They will soon be releasing a Malbec—not, alas, in labeled bottles yet—and her positive review of it causes us to decide we will be sure to pick up a bottle once it is released.

Lenz is one of the older vineyards on the North Fork, and many of its better wines are labeled Old Vines.  In general, their winemaker, Eric Fry, goes for a French style of winemaking, and the results are overall excellent.  We only had one wine we didn’t care for.  I’ve marked the Premium wines with an *.

1)      2008 Gewürztraminer                                    $20

A few years ago we went to several wineries looking for the best Gewürztraminer for our Thanksgiving dinner, and settled on Lenz.  It’s still a good choice.  This is a dry Gewürztraminer, with floral and spice aromas—cardamom, says my husband, and I agree—and plenty of fruit.  It was allowed to age in the bottle, our server points out, and is made in the Alsatian style.

Lenz white

2)      *2010 Pinot Gris                                               $25

This is, of course, the French version of Pinot Grigio, which is my go-to choice when I have to get a glass of house wine, but this is so much better than most Pinot Grigios!  We scent aromas of mineral and lime, maybe clementine, and taste pear and apple.  The wine is dry but not tart, with a creamy mouth feel.  The server says the Pinot Gris tastes like wine while Pinot Grigio tastes like water!  I’d be happy sipping this on its own, or with seafood.

3)      *1999 Cuvee RD                                               $60

The price tag is a bit steep, though this is a lovely sparkling wine, with that slightly green-olive scent I find in many Champagnes.  If you like lots of bubbles, however, you’ll be disappointed, as the bubbles dissipate quickly, though it is a bit petillant on the tongue.  Lots of layers of flavor to this dry wine.

4)      2010 White Label Chardonnay                   $15

Steel fermenting means this is a clean crisp chard, with a honey candy aroma and a citrus taste—maybe pink grapefruit?  Very food friendly, we agree.

5)      2010 Gold Label Chardonnay                      $20

Though I often don’t care for oaked chards, this one is very well done.  It spends ten months in French oak barrels, we are told, and we do smell the vanilla aroma of oak, plus some pumpkin spice smells.  Taste?  Baked apples and pears!  This could be a lovely aperitif wine, or it would pair well with most chicken dishes, especially ones that combined chicken and fruit.  Our server notes that this is one of their few California-style wines, but it is not overly oaked as some of those are.

6)      *2010 Old Vines Chardonnay                                     $30

In contrast to the previous chard, this one is in the Burgundian style, our server informs us, and is aged in neutral oak barrels.  She does a great job, by the way, of giving us time to chat with each other while also being attentive to when we are ready for the next round.  Though we agree the wine has good balance, my husband notes there are “no fireworks.”  There’s also a bit of a chemical taste at the end, and we have a discussion with the server about what exactly we are sensing.

7)      2009 Cabernet Sauvignon                                            $23

At this point everyone else has left, and the servers outnumber the customers, which does not faze us one bit.  Though this wine has an attractive aroma of raisins and chocolate—Goobers, we exclaim—we find the wine itself thin and disappointing and actually dump the rest of the glass.

Lenz red

8)      *2007 Old Vines Cabernet                                           $40

What a contrast.  We love this one!  Aroma of dried cherries in brandy and a lovely dark color precede a taste of dried fruits and intense berries.

9)      2008 Estate Selection Merlot                                     $24

This is much better than the average 20-something dollar Merlot, and indeed was made from wine that had been intended for a premium bottling, but then didn’t meet the winemaker’s exacting specifications.  Lucky us.  We smell coffee, chocolate, and a bit of a floral aroma, with none of that barnyard smell so common out here.  Delicious taste, too, with plenty of dark fruit.  Very buyable.

10)   *2007 Old Vines Merlot                                                                $60

Old vines indeed, our server notes, as these grapes come from vines first planted in 1978—ancient history for Long Island wines!  Lots of lovely aromas, cherries, layers of dark fruit, very mouth-filling.  This could age for twenty years, our server informs us.  I bet it could.

We buy several bottles as gifts and may come back to get more for ourselves when we deplete the cellar.

Lenz board

Reasons to visit:  nine out of the ten wines are very drinkable, and quite a few are excellent; pleasant rustic barn-like setting; enthusiastic and well-informed servers; the Estate Selection Merlot and the Pinot Gris and the Gold Label Chardonnay and the Old Vines Cabernet and the Gewürztraminer and—you get the picture.

Lenz room