Mattebella Vineyards

May 19, 2012

I’m catching up on past entries, made before I started this blog.  We visited Mattebella on a beautiful sunny day, our second visit.  This is a fairly new winery, and when we came last year we were almost the only ones there, but now it is more crowded.  Chris, who with her husband owns and operates the winery, remembers us.  She’s lovely–very friendly and outgoing, happy to chat about her wines.  The vineyard is named for their children–Matt and Bella!  Although the tasting room is a tiny shack, they have plenty of chairs and tables on a rustic patio, close to the vines.  They have six wines, at $2-4 per taste, served in lovely round-bottomed glasses.  We opt to share a full flight.  Although Chris is being helped by John, who is very knowledgeable, service is slow.  We actually see one couple get up and leave, having not been served, but it is a lovely warm day and we are in no hurry.

1)  08 Chardonnay          $16

An aroma of honey and, surprisingly, spinach.  We taste apricot and red grapefruit, but it is a bit sweet.  Maybe too sweet to have with a meal…but it would make a good aperitif wine, as it is nice for sipping, with a pleasant finish.

2) 09 Chardonnay          $17

A little plate of creamy brie and sliced baguette comes with this wine, and Chris urges us to taste it both before and after we have the brie. Good move.  The aroma is grassy, and a bit like white grape juice (I know, shocking, a drink made from grapes that smells like grape juice!).  The wine is tart with a light oak taste and some zingy acid at the finish.  After the brie, it is definitely less acid, with nice fruit as the flavors blend in the back of my mouth.  This wine is light, and good cold, and clearly good with brie.

Chris tells us that all their grapes are hand-picked, and they use all organic growing methods.

3) 2010 Rose          $16

This rose is 90% Merlot, with aroma and taste that reminds us of watermelon.  Actually, it reminds me of a watermelon infused with vodka I once had (and I’m not going to say anything more about that).  There’s a slight tingle, and it is a simple, nice wine, but not as good as Croteaux’s roses.

4)  Famiglia           $15

This is a good basic red table wine, which would be fine with pizza.  There’s an aroma of tobacco and dark fruits, and the taste is dry with some minerality.

5)  07 Old World Blend          $30

This is a Bordeaux blend–Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot–and we bought a couple of bottles last time we were here.  The aroma includes tobacco and the earthy terroir typical of the North Fork.  The flavor is interesting, with some cherry, and a good balance of dry and sweet.

6)  08 Old World Blend          $30

Another blend–Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, and Cab Franc.  We are served a little plate of bread, cheese, and fig jam with this wine, and find that there is a fig taste in the wine that is enhanced by the fig jam.  Fascinating.  Other than that, we taste black cherry, and sense again a slight earth aroma.

We buy 2 bottles of Famiglia, one 09 Chardonnay, and one 08 Old World.  Now I just have to get some fig jam.  I wonder if Briermere carries it?

Reasons to visit:  personal service; the chance to see how some of the wines taste with food; support for a mostly-organic vineyard; Famiglia, 08 Old World Blend, 09 Chard.

Croteaux Winery

July 14, 2012:  Bastille Day, the perfect day to visit a French winery!

We are here after another day on the water with friends who like wine, but are not used to wine tastings.  They are a little surprised that you do have to pay for a tasting, and tend to violate the “drink these wines in this order” instructions, but otherwise enjoy the experience.  Croteaux is just off the main road, a little west of Greenport, and used to be somewhat undiscovered.    No more!  The parking lot (a grassy field bordered by rows of corn on one side and vines on another) is pretty full, and so is the tasting “room”–a lovely patio with umbrella-shaded tables and comfortable Adirondack chairs, bordered by a picturesque half-ruined barn.  However, the very competent and attractive young staff guides us swiftly to a table, and asks us if we would like some bread and cheese ($10).  A basket with slices of baguette and a crock of goat cheese quickly arrives.  There are two tasting options:  $10 for 3 of their $19 wines or $15 for 6 of all their wines (the more expensive group sells for $25 per bottle).  We easily decide that each couple will share a tasting of 6 wines.

1)  Merlot 181 (all named for their clones)

The server describes it as “summer in a glass,” and we agree.  It is a light, rosy rose, with a taste of unripe melon and a lemony finish.

2) Merlot 314

This has a lovely flowery aroma and a tart strawberry taste, with some hints of citrus.

3)  Merlot 3

The aroma is not too sweet but not unpleasant, and, even though it is 100% steel fermented seems to have a trace of vanilla.

As a transition between the two groups of three, our server turns over the little label in the tray that held the first three tastes (in attractive round-bottomed glasses) so that the next three are detailed.

4) 181 Sauvage

This wine uses the same Merlot clone as the other 181, but uses wild yeasts, and since Channing Daughter’s L’Enfant Sauvage is one of my favorite wines, I’m interested to see how this will taste.  (By using wild yeasts, the winemaker gives up a measure of control and sees what the air brings to the wine.)  The aroma has notes of mineral or clay, and though the flavor is more interesting than the 181, our friend dubs it “sour.”

5)  Chloe

This is a Sauvignon Blanc Rose with some Cabernet Franc as well.  We like it. The aroma reminds us of ripe peaches and the taste is dry but with plenty of fruit.  This is good, but not like what one expects a rose to be like.

6)  Jolie (French for pretty!)

This is a Cabernet Franc rose, a Bordeaux style, and my favorite of the afternoon, with lots of ripe strawberry/raspberry tastes.

That should be the end of our tasting, but we have a nice surprise in store.  In honor of Bastille Day, we are given free tastes of their two sparkling wines, the Cuvee Sparkle and the Cuvee Rouge Sparkling Cabernet Franc Rose, each $28 per bottle.  The first is light, made in what our server says is the French “charmat” style, and the second I really like, with tastes of lots of berries.  A final nice touch–as we sit and chat with our friends, the server brings a bottle of chilled water for us, a welcome treat on this hot day.  Tres civilized…

Reasons to visit:  great place to sit and relax on a warm day; best roses on the North Fork; you can pretend you’ve gone to France!

The Old Field Vineyards


Old Field is a really charming place, with a rustic feel.  In the summer, you can stand on the deck outside the tasting room or sit at a picnic table surrounded by trees and look at the chickens running around (they sometimes have eggs for sale) and the old barn buildings.  The tables are covered with calico tablecloths, decorated with pretty wildflower bouquets. In the winter we have had fascinating conversations with the owner about the history of the farm and the ghosts that sometimes haunt it!  This time we are here with our son after an afternoon on the water.  They offer three tastings:  3 whites for $4, 4 reds for $6, or a mixed tasting of 5 for $7.  The servers know a lot about the wines and are fun to talk with.  Actually, almost every time we come here we end up in interesting conversations, one time with two women who were bicycling from the South Fork, across Shelter Island, and through some of the wineries. The North Fork is great for bicycling, by the way, with good bike routes and mostly level ground.

1) 2009 Chardonnay           $20

This is a mostly steel fermented chard, but some of it spends a short time in oak.  The aroma is lemon and apricot, and the flavor is pleasant, typically chardonnay.

2)  2009 Barrel Chardonnay    $25

This one has been through malolactic fermentation, and is definitely more assertive than the first white.  It is creamy but not too buttery.

3)  Rooster Tail                    $18

We’ve often bought this red by the case, as it is a good table wine and goes well with lots of meats, especially with lamb.  The aroma is berry, and the flavor black cherry/plum.

4)  Cacklin Rose 2009          $18

Chickens–cacklin–Rosey–rose–You should be humming a tune right now if you’re of a certain age.  Anyway, this is a good rose, with aromas of strawberry and watermelon and some melony sweetness, though the finish is rather sharp.

5)  Cabernet Franc 2007       $32

This one is similar to a Pinot, with an aroma of mixed berries and some mineral.  Not a sipping wine, but would be good with food, with enough tannins to stand up to steak.  Good!

6)  2005 Merlot                    $25

The Merlot was aged 24 months in French oak, and does have the typical earthy aroma of North Fork Merlots, though not unpleasantly so.  The flavor is also somewhat earthy, and we decide it would be great with roasted portobello mushrooms for some reason.  The finish is dry.

7)  2004 Merlot                  $22

This one spent 30 months in oak, and the aroma strangely reminds us of hot pepper jelly!  The flavor also has some sweet pepper notes and a bit of mustiness.

Reasons to visit:  really rustic setting–barns!  ducks!  chickens!; Rooster Tail red wine, worth buying by the case for an everyday red; laid-back feeling; sometimes you can buy eggs, too.

Channing Daughters Winery


Okay, so Channing Daughters is not actually a North Fork winery, though they do get some of their grapes from fields on the North Fork, but it is our favorite winery.   In fact, their Scuttlehole Chardonnay is more or less our house white, and is what we served at our daughter’s wedding.  We are here today (after two ferries and a pleasant drive across Shelter Island) because a relative with a house in East Hampton has invited us for a visit, so we intend to get a bottle of wine to bring and to buy a case of Scuttlehole Chard for ourselves.  The tasting room is small but pleasant, and the staff is always very knowledgeable.   You can also check out the interesting sculptures, often made from tree roots, by the owner.  We decide to try their four rosatos (roses), which all cost $20 per bottle.

1)  2011 Rosato di Cabernet Sauvignon

According to our server, all the rosatos spend about 15 minutes on the skins, and then are steel fermented.  They all are drink-now wines, not keepers!  This one is good, with a pleasant cherry/strawberry taste and some nice spiciness to it.

2)  Franconia 2011

This one uses blaufrankish grapes, and would make a nice aperitif wine, with again some cherry flavor and a tart, lemony finish.

3)  Petit Verdot 2011

The aroma reminds us of unripe cantelope, with a flavor reminiscent of pink lemonade–but without much sugar.  There is some complexity.

4)  Lagrein 2011

This is the best of the four, with sweeter notes at the end and a strawberry aroma and flavor.  We buy this one to bring to the party!

Reasons to visit:  you’re on the South Fork but you want to visit a winery; great wines, including our favorite Long Island chardonnay, their Scuttlehole chardonnay; they experiment all the time with new wines and new methods, so it’s fun to explore.

Addendum:  On a recent visit, all the roses bore “sold out” signs, so if you’re interested in buying them I suggest you get there early next year!

McCall’s Winery

June 9, 2012

This is a small winery where you are most likely to be served by Mr. and Mrs. McCall themselves, a lovely and very friendly couple, especially when it is not too busy—which unfortunately is not the case today, as there is a large party at one rustic picnic table and people at almost every other table.  This winery is right across the street from Pellegrini’s, and is located in a converted barn/stable that still keeps many of the features of its original use.  Our table, for example, is in a horse stall, with wood shavings underfoot, the aroma of which interferes a bit with the tasting!  (The McCalls also run a cattle ranch which provides high end beef, which may often be bought at Love Lane Market.)

We are here with our daughter and son-in-law and a small distraction of just over one year old, so we decide to share two tastings, an $8 flight of 3 wines and a $16 flight of 4 higher-end wines.  The pour here is generous.  They concentrate on reds, though they do have a couple of whites (which we did not taste).

1)      2011 Pinot Noir Rose                        $16

This is a pleasant, light, sipping wine, with some of the Long Island earthy aroma and not much fruit.

2)      2009 Pinot Noir                     $24

The aroma combines dark fruit with some oak.  This is a light burgundy, very pleasant, and would go well with a roast chicken.  It has some of that NoFo earthy terroir, but not too much, with nice black cherry flavor and a tart finish.

3)      2007 Pinot Noir Reserve       $60

Whew—expensive, and, we all agree, not worth it, though this does taste like a real burgundy, with lots of fruit flavor that lingers on the tongue.  There is a somewhat veggie aroma and the color is a lovely dark, um, burgundy.  We do agree that it has enough structure that it will probably cellar well.

4)      2007 Merlot                $30

This is a case where the wine is definitely worth the price.  Yummy, springs to mind.  Lots of dark ripe blackberry flavor right from the first taste, with some mid-tongue dryness and none of the earthy terroir.  Definitely buyable—which we do.

5)      2007 Ben’s Blend       $48

The aroma has that earth/dirt terroir.  Very dry, with nice fruit and some complexity.  I like it, but think it would taste better with food—like lamb chops.  However, everyone else prefers the 07 merlot.

Reasons to visit:  personalized service; good reds, especially the 07 Merlot and 07 Ben’s Blend.

Pellegrini Vineyard

June 16, 2012

We belong to Pellegrini’s wine club (a story I will tell some time), so we are here to pick up our latest shipment.  It is a beautiful warm, sunny day.  Judy, the diminutive doyenne of the tasting room, remembers us and that we prefer their reds. Pellegrini seems to strike a good balance between being a venue for limo crowds and a place for serious tasters, with a nice-sized tasting room with a few tables and chairs, plus a bar, and lots of outdoor space both under the pergola and out on the lawn.  One time when we stopped here with friends and their little boys, the boys played happily on the lawn while we brought our flights to a table where we could watch them.  As wine club members, our tastings are free, but we opt for just 4 tastes to check out the new vintages, with a bit of guidance from Judy, who is always very well-informed and passionate about the wines.  (They have different levels of tastings, including three one-ounce pours for $4.)

1)      2009 Select Chardonnay $14.99

This is an 85% steel, 15% oak aged blend, a pleasant combination which avoids the hazards of over-oaking while still picking up that slight vanilla/woodsy aroma from the oak.  The aroma has notes of mineral and vegetables as well as oak.  This is not a sipping wine, with a tart sour-apple taste, but it would be good with, for example, seafood in a cream sauce.

2)      2010 Gewürztraminer    $19.99

This is not our favorite gewurtz—too sweet, always a hazard with this grape.  The aroma reminds me of the water in a flower vase when you have left the flowers in too long.

3)      2008 Steakhouse Red  $16.99

This is a blend of 71% cabernet sauvignon, 26% merlot, and 3% cabernet franc.  Though this is called Steakhouse, we feel it is too light to stand up to steak, though it would be fine with pork or lamb chops, as it has enough acidity to complement these meats.  The aroma combines blackberry and wood, as does the taste.

4)      2007 Vintner’s Pride Encore      $39.99

Another blend—47% merlot, 32% cab franc, 13% cab sauv, 8% petit verdot—or in other words, a Bordeaux.  The aroma is not assertive, but has some berry in it.  The flavor is delicious, with lots of ripe berry, but not too sweet.  If we wanted to add a somewhat pricey red to our cellar, we would have bought it, but we don’t need any right now.  I bet it will age very nicely.

Reasons to visit:  really good all-around winery that strikes a balance between big and small; good wines, especially the reds (rare for Long Island); good servers; pretty setting.

Shinn Vineyard

June 30, 2012

I really want to like Shinn’s wines as much as I like the atmosphere of the tasting room and their philosophy. They believe in “sustainable farming practices,” and try to do as much by hand as possible.  They are also off the main roads, on an appealing country lane, and their tasting room is rustic—and often inhabited by a friendly dog. I’ve never encountered a limo group there, though on this warm sunny day it is crowded, with a large party out in the wine cellar area.  However, there is room at the bar for us to stand and do a tasting.  They have about 11 wines available, charged per taste, with 3 costing $8.  We opt to share two flights of 3, 3 whites and then 3 reds.

1)       2011 Sauvignon Blanc, $22

The aroma is like slightly overripe fruit.  The taste is a bit pear-y, with a fair amount of fruit and a tart aftertaste, but too sweet for me.  Very cold, it could be nice for sipping.

2)      2010 Chardonnay $19

Again, that slightly overripe fruit aroma, and this one has tastes of over-ripe pineapple, and maybe mango.  It is steel-fermented, which tends to bring out the fruit, but again, this is a bit too sweet for my taste, though others may like it.

3)      2011 Coalescence  $16

As implied by the name, this is a blend, of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer.  The knowledgeable and friendly server tells us that this is a field pressed wine—in other words, the grapes are pressed together, rather than blending the wines after pressing.  This has a pleasantly flowery aroma—maybe a bit of honeysuckle.  Finally, a white that’s not too sweet!  This has a pleasant citrusy taste, reminiscent of blood oranges (which I’ve had a soft spot for ever since I was in Rome with a terrible cold and ate an entire bag of them).  There’s a slight tingle at the end.  We buy 2 bottles to take home.

4)      09 Estate Merlot $26

Now we start the reds.  The aroma is of berry and dirt (they probably say mineral), the typical smell of the North Fork terroir.  We taste cherry and tobacco (a little), and some mineral.  Good and nicely dry, so the fruit is there but not obtrusive.

5)      Wild Boar Doe $31

Love the name!  This is—duh—a typical Bordeaux blend of merlot, petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.  If it weren’t $31, we would have bought it.  The aroma is lovely, with lots of cherry/berry, and the flavor also has plenty of fruit, with a nice balance of sweet and dry—not too much of either.

6)      2008 Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot $42

They only made nine barrels of this, hence the name.  This is another we would buy if not for the price.  The aroma is ripe black cherry—just delicious.  The flavor is totally mouth-filling, with again a nice balance and depth of fruit (cherry/blackberry) flavor.

Reasons to visit:  off the beaten track on a pretty country road (take me home…); the vineyard uses good organic practices; ’11 Coalescence for a white and ’08 Nine Barrels Reserve Merlot for a red; they have a bed and breakfast which gets good reviews.

I’m No Oenophile

I’m no oenophile, nor am I a wino.  I just really like wine.

When my husband and I bought a second (future retirement) home on the North Fork, we quickly discovered the abundance of wineries.  After several weekends, we realized if we didn’t keep a record we would never remember where we had been or what we had liked.  That so many winery names begin with P is also not helpful.  Was that chardonnay we liked at Paumanok, Peconic, or Pellegrini?  Or maybe Pugliese or Palmer?  Perchance Pindar?  Hence the birth of the notebook.  Or as we call it, THE BOOK.   Since July of 2007, we’ve visited every winery, many of them multiple times—after all, every year there are new vintages—and I’ve kept a record.  What we had, what we liked or did not like, the look and atmosphere of the tasting room.

Now people ask me, “What winery should I go to? Which wine should I buy?”  Not easy questions to answer.  I have to find out, do you want to go with a big group in a limo to a place with a party atmosphere, or do you want to go with a few friends to a small winery where you can chat with the owner and learn about vintages and terroir?  Are you hoping to buy a bunch of “wine country” souvenirs?  Do you hope to sit outside, relax, and sip a glass of wine in relative peace and quiet?   Are you mostly interested in live music?  As to taste…well, I can tell you what the wines taste like, and you can decide whether or not that sounds good.

My notebook has now been transformed into a blog, so others can profit from my arduous research. Each entry includes a description of the tasting room, a listing of the wines I tasted with notes on each, including prices, and, at the end, a summary entitled “reasons to visit,” including which wines I thought were most buyable or which I liked the most.  I’d be glad for suggestions as to improvements!