Chardonnay Shines and a Sparkler — err Sparkles — at Lenz Winery
For years, The Lenz Winery in Peconic has been one of the North Fork’s most respected and successful producers. Together, vineyard manager Sam McCullough and winemaker Eric Fry comprise one of the East End’s most experienced duos. Their experience and familiarity with North Fork growing conditions and fruit results in some of the area’s best wines — wines that the Wine Spectator was insane not to include in its recent New York-themed issue.
You’ve no doubt read about Fry’s merlot and how it rivals Bordeaux’s best at a fraction of the price in professional blind tastings. Those wines are well regarded for a reason — one needs only to taste them to understand. But, Fry is more than a merlot maestro.
He’s the baron of bubbly and his talent is responsible for many of Long Island’s best sparkling wines, both at Lenz and at other wineries.
The Lenz Winery 1994 Cuvee RD ($50) is a well-aged combination of pinot noir and chardonnay that is well worth the price. RD stands for recently disgorged. Disgorgement, degorgement in French, is the part sparkling wine making that involves releasing the cork to let out a small amount of wine that contains sediment and then topping off the bottle with wine and a new cork. Fry believes that RD wines should be enjoyed soon after this process — just as beer is best when fresh. Rich, expressive and funky (in a good way), the nose is toasty, yeasty and nutty with underlying apple-pear character. The palate features flavors that closely match the aromas, with medium body, vibrant acidity and a refreshing, apple-y finish. Too often, sparkling wine is thought of only on New Years Eve and for wedding toasts — which is a shame. Sparkling wine is perfect with a wine array of foods and this upscale bottling is deserving of a place at your dinner table.
Fry also does nice things with gewüürztraminer, the spicy, floral grape of Alsace. The last two releases have been nothing short of delicious, but Lenz Winery’s 2004 Gewurztraminer ($20) seems a little less intense. Floral and somewhat spicy on an austere nose, the palate is a bit flat compared to the 2003. Some light, citrusy pineapple flavors come through with a little ginger spice, but the balance seems a bit off to me.
Fry’s chardonnay program is another that sometimes gets lost in the mélange of merlot tastings. The Lenz Winery 2004 Gold Label Chardonnay ($20) is a example of chardonnay with significant, but not over-done, oak influence. Medium gold in the glass, the nose is reminiscent of honey-roasted pears with some toast and butter hints as well. Balance is important in every wine, but more so with chardonnay than some — it’s easy to over-oak chardonnay’s fruit flavors. This wine may have a bit more oak character than I prefer, but the balance is still there. The texture is somewhat creamy and medium bodied with subtle acidity. Apple and pear flavors peek through toasty oak and dried fruit flavors — particularly on a persistent finish.
For just five dollars more, I can’t recommend the Lenz Winery 2004 “Old Vines” Chardonnay ($25) enough. “Old vines” is a term without official meaning (much like “reserve”) but the grapes that go into this wine are from some of the oldest chardonnay vines on Long Island. An elegant, but intense nose offers fresh apples and pear with subtle oak and vanilla accents. Clean chardonnay fruit flavors are balanced extremely well with delicate oak undertones and nice acidity on the finish. This is an example of what East Coast chardonnay can be and what West Coast chardonnay is not. California winemakers wish they could make this stylish wine.