I have been visiting Long Island vineyards and tasting their wines since 1989. I have seen real progress, especially from a handful of leading wineries, but there have been disappointments, too, both in quality and in value.
Unfortunately, few of the region's producers choose to submit wines for review, making it difficult to establish a comprehensive context. But in April, I attended a trade tasting and sampled a few dozen new releases from the region, and in June a small group of producers invited me to dinner at the Modern to show me some older vintages. While this doesn't substitute for regular blind tastings, it has given me a clearer picture of the region's status.
I tasted fine bottlings from Bedell, Channing Daughters, Jamesport, Macari, Paumanok, Pellegrini, Shinn and Wölffer. One pleasant surprise came from Lenz.
The Lenz Winery is among the North Fork's Old Guard, established in 1978; winemaker Eric Fry has been working there since 1989. Through the 1990s, I rated Lenz wines mostly in the mid-80s score range (good to very good), but after the 1999 vintage, the winery stopped participating in Wine Spectator tastings.
At dinner, the Lenz "Old Vines" Chardonnay 2005 was paired with cold poached lobster garnished with Granny Smith apple and Tahitian vanilla. The wine (which sells for $25 at the winery) showed a silky texture and a fine balance of restrained pear and apple fruit, fresh acidity and unobtrusive oak. It nestled gracefully between the tart apple and sweet vanilla flavors of the dish, vibrant and refined. I rated it 90 points, non-blind.
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