Empire State Cellars — Looking Good

I kinda feel like the last person who realized sliced bread really is great.

I finally visited Empire State Cellars in the Tanger Mall in Riverhead this week ( I really don’t enjoy shopping and avoid malls unless I can make a commando-like entrance and exit). And the place is beautiful, the employees are knowledgeable (and handy with a laser pointer) and the breadth of selection is an eye-opener, even for someone who has been covering the Long Island wine region coming on 10 years.

One thing that hit me right away was that most of the wines are under $20 per bottle. It seems in this economy that under $10 is the sweet spot,–I have my favorites–but a bottle contains four glasses and most of us think nothing of paying $12 for a glass of wine at a restaurant, when at home it would be $5 or less.

I thought I knew everything about what was coming out, but there on the shelf, in a one-liter bottle with a screw cap, was the North Fork Project chardonnay.

It cost $13.99 and is, of course, from the fertile mind of Russell Hearn, who is becoming somewhat of a packaging savant. The wine is a touch sweet, but is great for summer drinking, wouldn’t mind being cooked with and hooray for liter bottles and screw caps.

Also under $20 is the Medolla 2007 Merlot, which is drinking very well right now, rich and fruity with the flavors that come with aging starting to pop out.

Above $20 are the local wineries’ premium wines and older vintages. One display presented a 10-year flight of Peconic Bay’s reisling.

They’ve been getting up to 70 people at their Saturday Night Winemaker Series and the number of customers flowing in from shopping are picking up. They hope to become, says Lucinda, who worked the tasting bar in front of a huge map of the wine regions of New York State, the first and/or last stop for visitors to this region.

The day I was there, five wines were open for tasting: one one-ounce pour costs $2 and comes in their cool plastic tumblers; three tastes cost $5 and wine by the glass is $6 for a five-ounce pour. There is always a featured wine offered as a complimentary taste.