Family Cellars' Pinot Blanc: Flat or Fizz?

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
July 1, 2005

There are many ways to track down a good wine producer. You can go by reviews and scorings from your favorite wine writer or depend on the recommendation of a trusted wine sales associate or sommelier. Yet nothing beats the thrill of making a discovery while tasting on your own. And so I often dine at restaurant bars enjoying a casual pairing experience of appetizer-sized dishes alongside wines by the glass. When the right wine gets my attention, out come the notebook and pen as I jot down all the pertinent information — vintage, producer, appellation, region, alcohol percentage, and importer/distributor. My wine log is full to the brim with entries like these.

This is how I ended up getting reacquainted with Lieb Family Cellars, a producer now with several entries in my book. Over a late weekend lunch at Craftbar two months ago I was looking for a wine to go with the grilled octopus with chorizo, crushed potatoes, and piquillo peppers ($15). I picked the only rosé they had by the glass that day with no particular expectation: the 2004 Bridge Lane Rosé.

A medium watermelon color, this bone-dry wine is made predominately from Cabernet Franc, just like a classic Cabernet d’Anjou of the Loire. Yet it is unique in its addition of Pinot Blanc to round off the wine, and a splash of Pinot Noir to enhance the hue. I found this first vintage refreshingly crisp and with just the right fruit-to-acidity balance. A perfect match for my smoky octopus! (Read about rosés in my June Sipping feature)

I asked the bartender about this rosé and he told me how Bridge Lane is a second label from Lieb Cellars. Well, I was already familiar with this boutique North Fork winery, since among the wineries on Long Island Lieb has long established itself as a serious producer of Pinot Blanc — not a typical grape variety from this fast-growing winemaking region.

Destined to become familiar with Lieb’s wines, I was already planning to spend a few quiet summer days out on Shelter Island, which is a mere 7-minute ferry ride away from Lieb’s winery. Once I noticed their proximity, a bit of research led me to another wonderful surprise: Lieb’s sparkling Pinot Blanc! Only in their third vintage, this blanc de blancs was recently selected by _Wine Spectator _ (Dec 2004) as one of the best American sparkling wines. This really piqued my interest! And I could hardly wait to get on the LIRR

Once in Mattituck where the vineyards and tasting room are located, Gary Madden, the general manager of Lieb, showed me their entire operation (Lieb’s owners Mark and Kathy Lieb also co-own Premium Wine Group, the only custom-crush facility on the East Coast). In my round of tasting there my palate rediscovered the wonders of Pinot Blanc: a grape variety from Burgundy today mostly grown in Alsace where it has long been overshadowed by the star-grapes Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Lieb’s Pinots are from old vines originally from Alsace planted in 1982, which date as some of the oldest vines on Long Island.

I am enamored with the 2003 Lieb Reserve Pinot Blanc ($17). In a pale straw color, this steely wine is wonderfully structured. A citrus theme builds a steady arc of acidity and the wine ends slowly in a very clean minerally way. Just superb. In fact, I had selected to serve Lieb’s Pinot Blanc at past wine tastings to show off what New York wines are capable of, and have always impressed the crowd. Last year Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant awarded this wine as the “Best wine for pairing with West Coast oysters.” I sure can see why!

It’s amazing how one wine leads to another. The 2001 Blanc de Blancs ($35) is a refreshing sparkling wine made in the Champagne method using 100% hand-harvested old-vine Pinot Blancs (The best-known sparkling wine made from Pinot Blanc is the Crémant d’Alsace, but outside of this northeast French wine region it is rare to see 100% Pinot Blanc sparkling wines). Creamy in texture, this wine is bright, light in weight and redolent of Granny Smith apples. It immediately made me think of pairing it with an oyster selection from the raw bar. A limited 375 cases were produced. The rosé is even more ephemeral at a mere 240 cases! Luckily the still Lieb Pinot Blanc is popping up at wine retailers all over the city, so I can sip my heart away.

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