We thought we were safe. Random November Saturday, chilly weekend following a drizzly Friday, just a little after noon—surely Pugliese would be quiet! And indeed, when we arrived, there were only two limos in the parking lot, and several large parties clustered outside around the picnic tables. We had passed Pugliese many times during the summer and opted not to go, given the crowded look of the place. It’s not that we’re misanthropes; it’s just that we prefer to do our tastings in a calm, peaceful atmosphere. Actually, the grounds around the tasting room are quite pretty, with a scenic pond down in a hollow near the outside tables.
We scanned the menu: 4 tastes for $7.00, $8 for a glass, sangria (from a large vat at one end of the bar) $10 per glass, and beer on tap. Also they have a cheese tray for $13. There were many choices—four sparkling wines, four whites, seven reds, and five dessert wines. The sparkling wines seemed to be very popular with the groups of women, and we heard at least one young man become quite happy at the prospect of having a beer instead of wine. We decided to share eight different tastes, which our server agreed was a good choice, and she noted that the fourth white was quite sweet, and would probably not be to our taste. Good call. I also noted that they had many gift baskets on offer, including hand-painted wine glasses, t-shirts, and other small items, plus the inevitable bags of North Fork potato chips.
1) 2012 Pinot Grigio $17.99
In general, I like Pinot Grigios. This one was just okay, with a vegetable aroma, perhaps asparagus, and a dry, grassy taste. Not much finish. When I admire the pretty label, the server notes that another woman there designed them.
2) 2012 Chardonnay Gold $12.99
Though this is a steel-fermented Chard, it has a bit of a creamy taste, with nice fruit and a dry finish. I would say, especially given the price, it is quite buyable.
3) 2012 Riesling $13.99
The honeysuckle aroma is there, but faint. I wouldn’t actually have realized right away that this is a Riesling, but I did guess (correctly!) that it included grapes from upstate. Not sure how to describe that upstate flavor, but it is a bit sweet and…grape-juicy. Just okay.
4) Bella Domenica $9.99
We were going to skip this one, but our server—as she rinsed our glasses between each taste—recommended that we try it. People don’t choose it because of the price, but it’s actually a very nice wine, she said. And she was right. It is described as a red table wine, a Merlot/Cabernet blend, and is a perfectly acceptable everyday red. It would be fine with pasta, or as a picnic wine. A summery red, with a cherry aroma and nice berry taste, this is a simple wine (as are most of their wines. Nothing complex or layered here.) I was about to ask the story behind the name when several large parties suddenly arrived, changing the atmosphere from calm to loud and boisterous.
5) 2009 Sangiovese $16.99
We had to try this one, as they are the only vineyard on the North Fork to grow the Sangiovese—a.k.a. Chianti—grape. The color is a light red, and the taste is similarly light. Not much to it, my husband notes. Although it is also an acceptable everyday wine, you wouldn’t necessarily peg it as a Chianti, as it is less robust than you’d expect it to be.
6) 2009 Cabernet Franc $16.99
As with all their wines, we feel this one is also underflavored and relatively simple. We smell a bit of damp forest, maybe some red candy.
7) 2006 Sunset Meritage $24.99
Since we’ve been somewhat disappointed so far, we decide to skip to their pricier—though still reasonably priced for Long Island—reds, and move to their Bordeaux blend: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Yay, finally, a wine with something to it! But not a lot. The color is nicely dark, the aroma is berries and fruit, and the taste is also of berries with a trace of oak, but compared to other Bordeaux we’ve had this has no depth or layers of flavor.
8) 2007 Merlot Reserve $29.99
No sulfites, boasts the tasting notes. Very dark color, black cherry flavor, no barnyard aromas; this wine may not be worth $30, but it is quite good.
They are having a sale, a case of Bella Domenica for only $75.99. We are in need of some everyday reds, so we get a case. No reduction in the tasting fee, by the way, and our server points us to a pile of cartons and suggests we help ourselves, after first checking to be sure the case we take actually has 12 bottles. By this time we are ready to leave, for the room has become quite noisy as more groups arrive. But as our server pointed out, without the groups we’d be the only ones there, so they do depend on the limo crowds. In addition, we discussed the fact that these young people may be developing a lifetime affection for wine, and could be customers for Pugliese in the future.
Reasons to visit: you want to sit outside in a pretty setting; the reasonable prices for the wines; the Chardonnay, the Bella Domenica, the 07 Merlot Reserve; you like a boisterous party atmosphere.