New York State of Mind at Empire State Cellars

The tasting room at Empire State Cellars
The tasting room at Empire State Cellars. Photo credit: Nick Chowske

I’ve heard that a lot of good things have been coming out of Peconic Bay Winery lately, and I’m not just talking about the music, so I decided it was time for a tasting.

I was quite surprised, however, that I didn’t have to make the trek out to Cutchogue to sample their wines. Peconic Bay Winery has opened a satellite tasting room and store, named Empire State Cellars, at the Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. This store is a one-stop-shop for nearly every craft beverage bottled in New York. In fact, this location has done so well that their Cutchogue tasting room is now only open for events and to wine club members.

Empire State Cellars features wines from all across Long Island, as well as from New York’s other major winemaking regions. I was pleased to find that they not only feature craft beers from across the state, but they also have a “mix-a-six pack” area where you can choose different New York brews.

When I first walked into Empire State Cellars, I was a bit overwhelmed—this is not your typical tasting room. Aside from the fact that it’s located in a giant outlet mall, the front half of the store has the look and feel of a liquor store, albeit a nice one. The second half, however, has a different atmosphere entirely. In the back, past the large tables and benches made of reclaimed-wood, and sitting beneath a massive map of New York State, is the tasting bar.

While Empire State Cellars may carry wines from across the state, they prominently feature Peconic Bay Winery. I started on the light side with Peconic Bay’s 2008 Steel Chardonnay—one of their best sellers. Although I prefer my chardonnays to be oaked, this wine came close to winning me over. It was very aromatic, and reminded me more of a sauvignon blanc than a chardonnay. It was crisp and clean on the palate, yet fruity and full of flavor.

I then moved on to the rieslings. Peconic Bay’s dry riesling was an all-estate wine—all of the grapes were grown at Peconic Bay Winery—and it was bone-dry with beautiful acidity, but fresh and clean with notes of green apple and citrus, and just a hint of pine. This contrasted with the 2011 Semi-Dry Riesling, which was much more fruit-forward and sweeter.

Next up was the Gewürztraminer, which was sourced from the Finger Lakes region. It was very dry and floral with a powerful acidity, yet delicate on the palate with a hint of rose and white pepper.

From there, it was on to Peconic Bay’s Lowerre Family Estate La Barrique Chardonnay 2010. While the name may be a mouthful, it’s worth every syllable. This chardonnay was barrel-fermented in oak, rather than steel, giving it a medium body with lots of buttery-complexity.

After the whites, it was on to the reds. The first two I tasted were Peconic Bay’s Lot #4 and Lot #5, which are blends. Lot #4 was a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which gives it a soft, fruity body with just a little spiciness. Lot #5, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot, was soft and fruity as well, but was a bit dryer.

Venturing deeper into the reds, I tried the Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, individually. The 2009 Merlot had a medium-body with a soft woodiness of oak and cedar on the nose, with a touch of blackberry and cherry on the palate. The 2010 Malbec was a delightfully fruit-forward wine, with aromas of blackberry and leather, a medium body and a complex flavor. It was, by far, my favorite red of the tasting. Finally, I sampled the 2010 Cabernet Franc. This dry red had a full body and powerful red-fruit aroma, but was surprisingly mild on the palate, with a hint of blueberry.


For more information on Peconic Bay Winery or Empire State Cellars, visit

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