Did you know that I have my own wine club? I do! I’ve partnered with my friends at The Cellar d’Or in Ithaca, NY to bring the best and most interesting wine from New York and beyond straight to your door. We call it “The Cork Club” and I pick two wines each month that never exceed $60 total before shipping. These aren’t bin ends or mass-produced garbage. These are the wines that I’m drinking myself and most excited about — from producers you’re never going to get anywhere else. Sign up today!

This month’s picks may surprised a lot of you. Over my 15+ years of writing about (mostly New York) wine, I’ve taken more than my fair share of swipes at both merlot and chardonnay — and with good reason, I think. A lot of the East Coast wines in both categories suffer from too much oak, not enough terroir or are just plain boring or over-priced.

Of course, it’s also dangerous to speak about any topic with broad generalizations. There are always exceptions to every rule. These wines exemplify those exceptions perfectly.

There is a lot of merlot being grown on Long Island. It makes up almost a third of the plantings here, and unlike 20 or even 10 years ago, you won’t find may outright bad wines — you know, the kind you don’t even want to put into your mouth. But still, a wine being drinkable isn’t enough. Sure, I still taste some really delicious merlot-based wine from Long Island, but most of it is priced too high to work well for this club. Then I came across Lieb Cellars 2015 Merlot Reserve in a tasting of two dozen Long Island merlots. Intensely fruity on the nose with raspberry and blackberry fruit sprinkled with just a bit of dark chocolate and black licorice, it shows what can be so great about North Fork merlot when oak is used judiciously (only 10 months in this case). Juicy and supported more by acidity than tannins, this is the kind of drink-now merlot you need to have on hand — and it’s priced so that you can always have one around. 

I’ve become somewhat famous (infamous?) for my feelings on domestic chardonnay. I generally don’t have much use for it. Too much oak. Too much alcohol. Not enough acidity. Not expressive at all. Boring! And yet here I am, picking Red Tail Ridge Winery 2016 “Sans Oak” Chardonnay to send your way. Just like the Lieb, this is a great value and because it wasn’t beaten with oak, the wine actually tastes like it comes from the Finger Lakes, which it does. There is a flinty, almost smoky edge to bright citrus and apple fruit aromas that lead into a palate that is juicy and fresh with a melange of apple, pear and citrus flavors that are balanced nicely by acidity and a faint minerally note that stands out on the finish. As it warms a bit, there is an interesting spicy note too.

You may not see much merlot or non-sparkling chardonnay in the club anytime soon, but these wines are too delicious to miss. Drink well!

About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. After running that site -- which became the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news -- for 12 years, he launched TheCorkReport.us in late 2016 to add the wines of Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont and beyond to his beat. Lenn currently serves as the wine columnist for The Suffolk Times weekly newspaper and is the former editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette. He contributes or has contributed to publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Beverage Media, Edible Brooklyn, Edible East End and Edible Hudson Valley. Lenn served on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and trade. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.


  1. Lenn, i’ve been meaning to write to you about these two wines. received my shipment and after letting them settle from transport, i opened them in the same week as i was quite anxious to begin my Long Island wine experience.

    i’m a BIG Merlot fan and really liked Lieb Cellars offering (2015 Reserve Merlot)! did not know what to expect and with limited “Long Island” wine tasting experience, was more than pleasantly surprised with this “winner”!

    same goes for the Red Tail Ridge “Sans Oak” Chardonnay! i still like the classic bigger Chards, but have found myself leaning more towards the new “Oak Free” Chards as well! crisper, fruit forward and cleaner finish…another “winner”!

    look forward to continue my exploration and education on the Long Island wine scene…so thanks for a great start and here’s to more great wines!

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