Michael Braverman | October 19, 2006

The Lenz Winery of Peconic has expanded its premium series of wines called Old Vines. The rationale is clear. The name is direct, descriptive, and at this point in the winemaking career of Eric Fry, as good a guarantee of excellence as you could expect to find.

Old Vines bottles are the best that come out of Lenz, which means they are among the best on Long Island. And though they are the most expensive in the Lenz portfolio, they can compete with many higher-priced wines on store shelves and restaurant lists.

Among the recent releases from Lenz is a 2004 Old Vines chardonnay. Lenz already makes several chardonnays: a White Label series that sells for $12, a Silver Label (of which there is no current release), and a Gold Label that sells for $20. This is the first time the winery is offering an Old Vines version.

Why another chardonnay? I think it is an opportunity for Mr. Fry to demonstrate his skills at blending. By blending I mean not just mixing different varietals, but mixing a single varietal from different vats or barrels, each with unique characteristics. The result in this case is a chardonnay with lots of finesse: a bit less oaked and creamy, I think, than the Gold Label, a bit lighter too, but finely balanced. The fruit profile tends toward pear and apple, but it is the suppleness and smoothness that define this wine.

I don't think the Old Vines chardonnay is going to set any records, or come quite as close as some of the Lenz red wines do to expressing a Long Island style. It is a good wine, and it will appeal to certain wine tastes. For my own preference, it does not quite capture a sense of terroir. Over all, it is a serious chardonnay - Mr. Fry must be taken seriously as one of the foremost winemakers in the region - and it is fairly priced at $25, but there are many other chardonnays, local and worldwide, that offer value in this price category.

Lenz has been making cabernet sauvignon over the years, but the 2001 Old Vines cabernet sauvignon is the first with that label. It's a deep, rich, satisfying wine, with many shadings of taste and aroma. Red fruits - plum, cherry, raspberry - dominate, but you might also find traces of black currant, tobacco, spices, and black olives in the bouquet. It's Old World in style, quite different from most California cabs. It sells for $35 at the winery.

I've reviewed the Lenz 2000 Old Vines merlot in the past. It is, quite simply, one of the extraordinary wines produced on Long Island, a terrific merlot from a winemaker who deeply understands this grape and what the grape is capable of in this region. The 2001 has now been released and it continues the tradition. At $55, it beats many Bordeaux that sell for four or five times as much. I consider it a special-occasion wine, and it is a compelling choice to impress guests who are skeptical about Long Island wines.

With Mr. Fry in charge of the cellar, Lenz continues to excel in its various lines of merlot, with the Old Vines label serving as the leader. While cabernet sauvignon is not a grape we immediately associate with Long Island, we are starting to see some very interesting ones - Lenz's among them - being produced here. Each series of new releases now seems to bring encouraging news for consumers of Long Island wine.

Michael Braverman can be e-mailed at uncorked@easthamptonstar.com.