Warm days, with crisp mornings and cool nights; chilly dips in pools that should have probably been closed two weeks ago; and changing leaves that make treks along even traffic-ridden roads like Montauk Highway seem picturesque — these are all signs that autumn on Long Island has arrived.
Another sign of the fall is harvest time. And as harvest time arrives, so does the change in season for wine lovers. For many oenophiles it’s all about reds in the cold months and whites in the summer. But autumn is a great time for transitional whites, and Long Island produces one of the most beautiful, seasonally transitional, whites of all, chardonnay.
Chardonnay can be quite the chameleon. Fermented and aged only in stainless steel, as are most, but not all, chablis, it can be so incredibly dry and crisp some pinot grigio fans might mistake it for their favorite wine. While fermented and aged for longer periods in American oak, as are many California chardonnays, the wine can be rich and smooth, even buttery, with notes of nuts, toast and caramel.
Lieb Cellars, a staple on the North Fork wine scene since 1992, produces a chardonnay that captures the autumn season perfectly, the 2020 Lieb Cellars Estate Chardonnay. It is an interesting balance of oak and stainless steel fermentation, with 67% of the juice barrel fermented and 33% fermented in stainless steel. The juices are then combined and aged for 10 months in French oak. The resulting wine has a very light, almost lemon meringue nose, and, on the palate, light notes of pear, lemon and apple, meld seamlessly with toasty vanilla. The wine retails for $28.
Lieb winemaker Russell Hearn explains the decision to use both steel and oak in fermentation. “The goal behind fermenting one-third in stainless is to retain the highest amount of fruit character,” he says. “One hundred percent barrel fermentation brings more oak and weight, but less fruit retention. I wish for this wine to have it all — complexity and fruit.”
A brief history of Lieb Cellars: It was founded in 1992 by Mark Lieb with the purchase of a four-acre pinot blanc vineyard. In 2000, Leib, along with winemaker Hearn, opened a tasting room and full-service winemaking facility. In 2012, Lieb sold Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group to a group of private investors, including Hearn, and a new management team was formed. Hearn has been Lieb’s winemaker since the beginning.
Those interested in visiting Lieb Cellars should check out their website for information and reservations: liebcellars.com.