Croteaux Vineyards July 27, 2013

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It pays to join the club, even if you didn’t intend to!  Croteaux has their own charming take on the wine club concept.  In most, you sign up for regular deliveries or pick-ups of two or more bottles, and in return you get free tastings and reduced prices.  At Croteaux, you automatically become a member of their case club once you buy a case of their delicious rosés, which entitles you to an invitation to a wine tasting event, which we attended on a beautiful Saturday evening.

Croteaux has the loveliest outdoor seating area of any winery, a shady pebbled garden with comfortable Adirondack chairs, wire chairs, umbrella-shaded tables and cushioned alcoves in picturesquely dilapidated farm buildings.  The seating is arranged so you can feel intimate even if the garden is crowded, and, since they prohibit buses, limos, hired cars, drop-offs and parties larger than 8, it rarely is.  French music plays in the background unless, like tonight, they have live music—a charming young pair of college students singing folk-ish songs and playing guitar and drum.  In fact, the entire experience is aesthetically pleasing, from the floral designs on the bottles to the attractive tunics the servers wear to the pretty glasses used to serve both the wine and the spiced nuts or Moroccan olives one can buy along with a rustic wooden basket of bread and cheese.  You can easily pretend you have been magically transported to the south of France, especially since the wines draw their inspiration from that region as well.

Doggie hoping for a stray cashew.

Doggie hoping for a stray cashew.

Croteaux’s slogan is “Rosé on Purpose!” which clearly delineates their philosophy.  For them, rosé IS the purpose, and they plant and harvest their grapes with that in mind, rather than producing rosé as an offshoot of making red wines.  As a result, we end up comparing every other North Fork rosé to theirs, and concluding that they set the standard.  If you think you don’t like rosé, I suggest you reserve judgment until you taste Croteaux’s.  And plenty of people must agree, because they often sell out before the year is over, which makes buying a case an even better idea.  This brings me back to the event we attended Saturday night.  Paula Croteaux graciously greeted her guests at the entrance to the garden, and sent us to the wine bar to choose our tasting.  We opt to do a full tasting, which usually costs $15 for all six of their wines but was free tonight for both of us.  In addition, after we seated ourselves in a pair of Adirondack chairs, she brought us delicious spiced nuts, Moroccan olives, goat cheese flavored with Herbes de Provence, toasted rounds of baguette, and an extra treat of fresh fruit salsa, a combo which usually costs $20.  You can also get just the cheese and bread for $10, and they discourage outside foods, feeling that their treats go best with their wines.  As we sipped and munched we listened to music, watched two cute and very well-behaved dogs wander the grounds, and enjoyed the laid-back family vibe of the evening.

Pricing is very simple: the first three wines cost $19 per bottle, and the next three $25 per bottle. These are wines to drink now, not to cellar, a concept with which I have no problem!

Wine plus baguette and soft goat cheese with Herbes de Provence: yum.

Wine plus baguette and soft goat cheese with Herbes de Provence: yum.

  1.  Merlot 181 

All of their wines are steel-fermented, giving them a clean, crisp taste.  This is their lightest rosé, with a slight mineral taste and perhaps some green plum. The tasting notes indicate that this is a Pomerol, though it is named for the specific clone from which it is made.

2. Merlot 314

This is the wine that induced us to buy a case!  Delicious, juicy fruit (not the gum), with fruit aromas and strawberry and mineral tastes.  A friend of ours who is quite the wine connoisseur loves this one, and commissioned us to get him six bottles of it. The tasting notes say this is a St. Emilion.

3.  Merlot 3 Rosé Cuvée

Why 3?  Because it is a blend of 181, 314, and 3. This one has less of a fruit aroma, with some notes of wet stones.  It is a bit sweeter than the first two wines, but not sweet, and would be lovely with salmon served over lentils, as they do in French bistros, or with a crème brulée.  I feel I detect a taste of wildflower honey.

4. Sauvage Merlot Rosé

Although this is also a 181 clone, it is called “Sauvage” because it is made from wild yeasts,which means the outcome is less controlled.  Well, it may be called savage, but this is a very well-behaved wine, with delicious flavors of green pear.  It goes particularly well with our spiced nuts and Moroccan olives.

5.  Jolie

“Jolie” is French for pretty, and the name is quite apt, as this is a lovely wine, made from their 332 clone, a Cabernet Franc.  The color is a bit deeper than the others, and the taste starts a little sweet and then becomes more mineral, with a bit of bubble on the tongue (or petillant, as they say in France).

6.  Violet

Love the name!  This is called a “Full Presse Rosé” and is made from the 181 clone, but is quite different from the others.  The aroma is almost vegetal, perhaps asparagus or grass, and the taste is full of fruit, with “fleeting blackberries” at the end, as my husband poetically put it.  I would love to just sit and sip this one—no accompaniments needed! My favorite.

Finally, we each get a glass of the “punch” they are serving—a combination of Jolie Cabernet Franc and 314 steeped with sprigs of fresh rosemary, served over ice.  Refreshing for sure, and once we get over the shock of a wine that tastes of rosemary we quite like it.  Before we leave we tour the charming boutique set up in part of one building, which features attractive tunics, scarves and jewelry, plus Paula Croteaux’s cookbook.

La Boutique.

La Boutique.

Shady nook.

Shady nook.

Reasons to visit: lovely garden setting, perfect for a summer day; the best rosés on the North Fork; cute boutique; you’re not sure you like rosés, but you’re willing to be open minded about them; you’d really rather be in Provence, but this is the closest you can get.

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