Castello di Borghese March 16, 2013

Borghese room

“March winds do blow/And we shall have snow…”  Yes, indeed we shall.  As flurries swirled around us, we drove along Route 48, trying to decide on a winery to visit.  First we went past Vineyard 48, but the presence of no less than eight buses in the parking lot dissuaded us (but if you want a party, that might be the place for you) and so we headed on down the road to Castello di Borghese, Long Island’s oldest vineyard.  It was originally started by the Hargraves, who then sold it to Prince Marco and Princess Ann Marie Borghese (hence the name castello=castle) in 1999.

The pleasant tasting room has two main areas, a nicely set up bar and gift shop area and a larger room with tables and chairs, where Marguerite Volonts was singing beautifully and playing guitar.  When she segued from songs like “Autumn in New York” to some French cabaret songs we could imagine we were in Paris.  The tasting menu offers two basic options, as well as separate tastings of their more pricey offerings, such as Meritage.  You can taste four of their Estate wines for $9.00 or five of their Reserve wines for $12.00, so we opt for one of each.  However, as Nancy our server notes our careful swirling and sipping and note-taking, she begins to suspect something, and when Ann Marie Borghese comes out from the back room she asks point blank if I am a blogger.  They’re onto me!  So we get some additional tastes, but I note that two other groups who also evince seriousness about wine are also given some extras.  Borghese also offers an $18 cheese plate.

The following notes are in the order in which we tasted the wines, with the Estate wines marked with a *.  Oh, and they were sold out of the Riesling which we wanted to taste.

Borghese white

  1.  *2011 Estate Chardonnay                            $18

This is a fairly typical steel-fermented chardonnay, with aromas of vegetable, mineral, and pine sap.  Though not for sipping, it is nicely tart, with notes of green apple and lemon, and would be a good summer wine, maybe with a rich seafood dish.

     2.  2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay        $26

Typical aromas of vanilla and oak greet our noses, but the wine itself is much less buttery than most oaked chards, is a bit too lemony for our taste, and the finish is weak.

3.  *2011 Sauvignon Blanc                                  $24

They are quite proud of their Sauvignon Blanc, which has won some competitions, and (having already ascertained that I am a blogger) they give us both tastes of this.  I have to admit that it does not knock my socks off (and, as my husband notes, it is hard to knock my socks off), which seems to disappoint them, though it is a pleasant wine.  There’s not much aroma, primarily of some minerality, but it tastes better than it smells, though it is very light.  I could see having this with oysters (which would probably improve how much I like it), which would highlight the flavors of lemon and herb (thyme?).

Borghese red

The Borgheses are justifiable proud of their reds, and they give two reasons for why they are so good.  One is that the vines are older than most others on the North Fork, and the other is that Cutchogue has a very favorable micro-climate, with more sunny days than anywhere else in New York State, giving the grapes more time and warmth in which to ripen.  They are expecting great things of the 2012 vintage, since it was the warmest year yet, with a very warm spring followed by a hot summer and a harvest that came just before Hurricane Sandy.

4.  *2008 Pinot Noir Estate                                                 $30

As we hold the glass up to the light, we comment on the pretty light ruby color of the wine.  The aroma has some earthiness as well as sticky berry scents.  Though there is not much tannin, the taste is very good, with a balance of sweet and dry and not-quite-ripe Bing cherry tastes.  Nice long finish, too.

5.  2008 Pinot Noir Barrel Fermented                            $48

“The oldest Pinot Noir grapes on Long Island,” we are informed.  Aroma?  Cedar?  Terroir? Pencil shavings!  Fortunately, it tastes of berries, not pencil shavings, with nicely balanced tannins and a tart finish.  Very good indeed.

6.  *2007 Merlot Estate                                                       $25

The color of this is slightly darker than the Pinot, but also very attractive.  A strong aroma of berries precedes tastes of sweet berry, cedar, and just a touch of tobacco, with a long fruity finish.  Excellent, and very buyable, which we do.

7.  2007 Merlot Reserve                                                      $30

We love doing side by side tastings of two wines made from the same grape in the same year, but given different treatments.  Interestingly, we like the Estate better than the more expensive Reserve, though this is also a very good wine.  We again scent cedar and taste lots of fruit, and less sweetness than the Estate Merlot, so perhaps more balanced.  The difference in treatment is that the Estate is aged for 13 months and the Reserve for 18, both in oak barrels.

8.  *2010 Cabernet Franc Estate                                      $27

Nice legs!  No, we’re not being sexist, we’re just commenting on the way the wine forms “legs”—drips, essentially, along the sides of the glass when we swirl it.  Aromas of plums and spice herald tastes of dark ripe cherry and spice, and the tannins promise room to grow.  Nancy also points out that this has won awards, and would be a good wine to cellar.  We agree, and buy two bottles of this as well.

9.  2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve                                     $44

Again, it’s interesting to taste two similar wines side by side.  This Cab Franc has more fruit aroma than the other, with some notes of toast and earth but lots of delicious fruit.  We taste blackberry, and they say mulberry (which we might agree with if we remembered what mulberry tasted like), and nicely balanced tannins.  I’d love to have this with venison or some other lean game, maybe bison from North Quarter Buffalo Farm!

10.  *2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate                            $29

Okay, so if you’re counting you realize that our tasting should be done, but we never turn down extras (and we almost never spit, either).  We smell pine tar and fruit, and then taste a dry red with a surprising hint of citrus at the end.  We’re not liking this until Nancy offers us drinks of water to refresh our palates, at which point we find it tastes much better.  This would be great with pizza or Italian pasta dishes.

11.  2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve                           $44

Lovely aromas with lots of fruit, maybe currants, and not much earthy terroir, this is a good wine, but we’re not sure it is worth the price, since we’re not sure how well it would age.  Again, we seem to prefer the Estate version.

12.  Meritage                                                                             $60

I have wandered off to peruse the few gift items, assuming our tasting is over, when I am called back for one last bonus tasting, the Bordeaux-style Meritage.  This is a blend, 50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it would certainly give a French Bordeaux a run for its money (especially given its great legs).  Beautiful color and nice legs, an aroma of mineral and spice, and a really delicious taste of berry and spice make this a wine I’d happily drink any time, though the price would limit when!  If you go, definitely taste it, as it is worth the extra fee.

Reasons to go:  pleasant room with well-informed and generous servers and the chance to chat with an owner; the red wines, many of which are better than the average Long Island reds (not so much the whites, though maybe the Riesling would have been an exception); avoidance of busloads; a pleasant room in which to sit and listen to music if they are offering that (check their web site).

Vines and Branches March 11, 2013

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python used to say.  On Main Street in Greenport there is a terrific olive oil and vinegar store.  If you want to take a break from tasting wines, stop in here and taste their wares.  All the many, many different oils and vinegars are available for trying, with tiny cubes of bread for dunking if you’re not into drinking them straight.

When you walk in to the store an employee will come over and offer to explain how everything works.  Take the time to listen, because there are so many choices you might become overwhelmed.  The table closest to the door features pure olive oils from various places, arranged from mildest to strongest.  The mildest one tastes slightly of freshly mown grass, and is only slightly peppery.  A middle one has creamy flavors of artichoke and herbs–Favolosa, it is called, and it is our favorite–while the strongest one is a bit overwhelming.  After you make your choice, the salesperson will fill your choice of bottle size from the metal urn, label it, and then seal the top on.

You can also try fused and infused oils and vinegars.  “What’s the difference?” I ask.  The fused ones have actually been crushed together, while the infused ones have had the flavorings added later.  I discover Cara Cara Orange-Vanilla White Balsamic Vinegar, which has a refreshing tart-sweet orange flavor.  I’m picturing it on a salad of oranges, olives, and red onion.

As we wander around the store, my son and I note other specialty foods, but decide we have what we need.

At the checkout, your purchases are carefully wrapped in tissue paper and decorated with a bit of ribbon, so if you need to bring someone a house gift, look no further.  I now have a loyalty card, and look forward to my free bottle on my tenth visit.

Roanoke Vineyard March 10, 2013


We slogged through the slushy remains of the March snow to do some errands on Love Lane in Mattituck, and found the new tasting room for Roanoke Vineyards open in a pretty little storefront, right across the street from the very popular Love Lane Kitchen and just down the block from the worth-a-detour Love Lane Cheese Shop.  We had been to their other tasting room, a small barn-style building near the western edge of the “Wine Trail,” and had enjoyed our visits there, especially one day a couple of years ago when they had a paired wine and chocolate tasting.  Roanoke also carries wines from Wölffer Estate, on the South Fork, and the wines made under his own label by Roman Roth, the winemaker for both.  We were particularly interested to try Roth’s Riesling, which had recently been called the best Riesling on Long Island, so we were disappointed to find it was not on the tasting menu.  Not to worry!  Robin, the very knowledgeable and chatty server said, “Oh, I have a bottle open, so you can have a taste.”  Great.  The standard tasting is $10 for four wines, out of a list of eleven, and the pour is quite generous.  You can also buy tastes at $3 each, or wine by the glass.  The Riverhead room is open until 9 on weekends, but this one is open until 7 on Saturday and 6 on Sunday, at least for the moment.  By the way, if you want their wines you’ll have to either go to the tasting room or order them by mail, as at last word they do not sell in restaurants or stores.

  1. 2010 Dry Riesling by Grapes of Roth                        $22

A light and pleasant aroma that combines lemon and wet hay met our noses, as we warmed the glasses in our hands to get the chill off, with a not unpleasant undertone that reminded our son of paint thinner.  The taste starts a bit sweet, but then finishes quite tart, with notes of Meyer lemon and green apple.  It would be great with turkey or duck, or even on its own, and we decide to buy a bottle, as does our son.  I don’t know if it’s the “best” Riesling, but it is certainly very good.

  1. 2011 The Wild                                                                   $20

I was interested to taste this, since I love Channing Daughter’s L’Enfant Sauvage, which also uses wild yeasts.  Basically, this is a chardonnay plus a muscat field clone left to ferment with the wild yeasts in the air, and the results were, on the whole, quite successful.  The aroma was a bit funky, which worried us, but it tasted delicious.  After a somewhat sweet beginning, we began to taste a bit of pepper, some unripe pear, and pink grapefruit on the good long finish.  The wine also has a bit of a tingle on the tongue.  Very nice.

  1. 2009 Cabernet Franc                                                       $34

Robin informs us that Roanoke’s field on the far west of the North Fork provides a slightly warmer and longer growing season, which allows them to do a better job of ripening their Cab Franc than other locations.  The aroma of sweet blackberry, with a hint of oak, certainly seems promising, but the taste is less so.  Perhaps with time?  It’s not bad, just a bit flat and lacking in complexity.

  1. 2009 Prime Number                                                       $40

There’s a complicated story behind this name, and Robin laughs as she explains how they had One and Two and then decided to combine them and make one better wine, but didn’t want to call it Three.  Also, prime indicates their ambition for this cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend, as does the pole vaulter on the label.  They’ve raised the bar.  Indeed they have.  This Bordeaux style features aromas of plums and a hint of smoke (but not too much smoke, sometimes an issue), with plenty of cherry and berry flavors and enough tannins to make it a good match for elk or venison or other lean game.

Reasons to visit:  Two locations, including a centrally located one on Love Lane in Mattituck, a street worth exploring; Prime Number; Roman Roth’s Riesling; a pleasantly intimate setting; closeness to the Cheese Shop, one of my favorite places on the North Fork, where you can pick up good bread and almost any cheese you would want to buy for a picnic lunch; also close to Bookhampton, one of the few independent book sellers around, well worth a visit,