The North Fork of Long Island is a relatively small wine area that has benefitted from its proximity to New York City and its importance as a resort area not far from the Hamptons — though just far enough away to make it feel like the “un-Hamptons,” as it came to be known.
The North Fork wine industry, now almost half a century old, has exploded in recent decades and now boasts more than 60 wineries growing dozens of varieties. Among the oldest is Lenz Winery & Vineyards, which was established in 1978 and continues to make some of the region’s best wines.
One of them is the superb 2015 Lenz Estate Selection Merlot, a $35 benchmark for the region that can go head-to-head with similarly priced Merlots from California, Washington State, Bordeaux, and elsewhere.
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Concentrated red and dark fruit aromas and tastes are accented by hints of vanilla, milk chocolate, wet stone, and white pepper. There is a brambly note and the slightest “stemmy” quality that’s found in many North Fork reds, but it doesn’t make this wine any less delicious. Lenz says the blend is typically 85 to 90 percent Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot in the mix. The wine is unfined and unfiltered, so you’ll find a trace of sediment.
The North Fork is a narrow, cool-climate region that benefits from warm summer days and sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, Peconic Bay, and Long Island Sound. The growing season generally extends well into the fall, which provides ripeness combined with refreshing acidity and generally moderate alcohol levels in the 12 to 13 percent range (the Lenz Merlot is 13 percent ABV).
The same winemaking and vineyard team has been with Lenz for decades. The 2015 Estate Selection Merlot reflects that experience — and the quality of the wines that the North Fork can produce.