Pugliese: Limos Galore November 23, 2013


pug place

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.

We admired the pretty bottles.

We admired the pretty bottles.

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.

pug white

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.

The Sangiovese

The Sangiovese

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.

Lots of limos

Lots of limos

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.

Pretty pond

Pretty pond

The Hidden Vineyard: Very Off the Beaten Path November 16, 2013


hidden house

Imagine you are driving along a back road in Italy when you see a hand-lettered sign that says “Wine Tasting” (in Italian, of course).  On a whim, you decide to follow the charmingly amateurish signs until you come to a dirt road off the country road.  Daringly, you turn onto it, ascend a hill past rows of grape vines, and at the top you see a large house.  Is this it, you wonder.  Park and enter, and you will be greeted by two older gentlemen who seem quite at home in the kitchen/family room of the house, and who will soon make you feel equally at home.

Oh, wait, this isn’t Italy, it’s Calverton!  You’re just off Exit 71 of the LIE, and you’ve followed the signs to The Hidden Vineyard.  You’ve been greeted by Pete DiBernardi and George Mancuso, and the house is actually where Pete lives.  But the feeling of being in Italy continues as they serve you wine directly from the oak casks and tell you their life stories.  Friends since their boyhoods in Brooklyn, they both became widowers rather suddenly within a short time of each other.  Pete had been building the house with his wife, and abruptly did not know what to do with it.  Both loved to make wine in the style of their forebears—from Sicily and Sardinia—and so, somehow, they found themselves in the wine business.

They will tell you proudly that they use no sulfites or other additives in their wines, nor do they filter them.  You get to drink each glass directly from the barrels, kept refrigerated at 55˚, and if you decide to buy a bottle they will fill the bottle from the tap, seal it, and make up a label just for you—with any message on it you like.

The taps from which your glass or bottle of wine will be filled.

The taps from which your glass or bottle of wine will be filled.

Though it was a warm sunny November day, we stayed inside, but they were eager to tell us that in the summer they do tastings outside, and are happy to have people bring their own picnics and buy a couple of bottles.  They’ve done quite a few parties, too, and point out their karaoke machine (happily not in use at the moment!).

They make six wines, all for $25 per bottle, and a tasting is $5 for three wines or $5 per glass.  Note that they do not accept any credit cards.  Cash only!  We opt to share two tastings, first the whites, and then the reds.  The pour is fairly generous.

hidden glass

1)       Pinot Grigio

None of the wines seem to have vintages, though George assures us that they never serve a wine until they like it.  All the wines, he says, spend at least a year in the barrels in the cellar of the house, which is also where they do their wine-making.  This smells and tastes a bit like wildflower honey, though it is dry.  I definitely taste the oak.

2)      Chardonnay

Tasty and toasty, we decide about this wine.  We smell the typical vanilla aroma of oaked chardonnays, with a bit of a cat pee smell.  Pretty good.  By the way, if you want to try their wines you’ll have to come to the tasting room, as they don’t produce enough to sell to stores or restaurants.

3)      Riesling

You can tell that this is not filtered, as it is a bit cloudy.  I think I smell wood shavings, but my husband thinks vegetables, maybe broccoli.  This is not a sweet Riesling, and again I taste the oak.  We get a fresh glass with each taste, which is a nice touch.

4)      Cabernet Sauvignon

I like this wine the best so far, and in fact George does too, as he has poured himself a glass in order to join us.  We smell the typical cherry/berry aroma of a Cab Sauv, and taste some pleasant fruit. This is a good wine for everyday, to go with pasta, etc.  Like all the wines so far, it is not complex but perfectly pleasant.

5)      Cabernet Franc

Nice deep ruby color for this wine, but the smell is a bit unpleasant, an almost chemical aroma. I’m not fond of the taste either, though it is somewhat grape-y, with a touch of sweetness at the end.  No depth.

6)      Merlot

This also has a dark color, but happily tastes better than the last one.  This is a nice everyday Merlot, light and refreshing, and would be fine with a roast chicken picnic dinner.

We buy one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot, and watch with interest as our bottles are filled from the taps, corked and sealed and labeled by the lovely young woman—a friend of the family, she says—who does “everything” that George and Pete don’t do.  In the midst of our tasting another couple came in who had actually been there before, though Pete was proud to take credit for all visitors as a result of the signs he painted by hand.  They do no other advertising.

One of the tables in the tasting room.

One of the tables in the tasting room.

Reasons to visit:  You are tired of the cookie-cutter aspect of other wineries, and want to go somewhere a bit different; you enjoy chatting with owners/winemakers; you feel that Calverton is far enough and don’t feel like venturing further onto the North Fork; you want to buy a couple of bottles as a gift with personalized labels on them; the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot.  But remember—cash only! 

hidden room

Long Ireland Beer Company November 2, 2013


beer sign

If you are heading to the North Fork hoping to make a stop at a brewery, I recommend you drive all the way to Greenport and go to the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company.  Bypass the Long Ireland Beer Company in Riverhead unless saving the cost of gas is your primary consideration.  Why?  Let me tell you about my experience at Long Ireland on a warm, sunny November Saturday afternoon.

We found the plain, industrial-style building on Pulaski Street fairly easily (you can just turn onto Pulaski from Main Road), and walked into the equally plain tasting room, packed with mostly twenty-somethings enjoying their beers.  If you just want a lot of beer for not much money, Long Ireland is a bargain.  For $8.00 you get a glass, which you may keep, which holds 3.5 ounces of beer, and you get to try six of their beers on tap.  A bowl of pretzels graces the bar.  They also offer pints for $5.00 and growlers for $15, for most of the offerings, as well as bottles for a few of the beers for $6.

When we finally got the attention of the server—to be fair, there were a fair number of people for two servers to keep up with—we told her we wanted to do a tasting.  “Okay,” she said, plunking two glasses down in front of us.  “How does it work?”  I asked.  “Is there any order to the tastes?”

“No order, “she said. “Just tell me what you want.”

“What can you tell me about the beers?”  I asked, in a vain attempt to figure out which to get.  For an answer, she pointed me to a list of available beers, eleven in all, with the only information on the sheet being the alcoholic content.  I overheard one customer saying to her friend, “Which has the most alcohol?”  Not really my concern.  So we decided in order to get to try all the types we would each get a full tasting, sharing tastes as we went.  Then two choices were deleted.  So we ended up with ten tastes in all, plus one repeat for both of us. At no time did either server tell us anything about the wide variety of beers on offer.

1)       Celtic Ale                           5.5% alcohol

This is a fairly classic ale, not very exciting, not particularly hoppy or interesting, but an okay basic beer.  By the way, in case you haven’t noticed already, there is a definite Irish theme, with Celtic symbols on the taps.

2)      Winter Ale                         7.2%

I don’t know why this is a “winter” ale, but it has a slightly darker color than the Celtic Ale and some citrus notes, though it is a thin-tasting beer.  Both of these are available in bottles.

3)      Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Not on the menu, this one is only available in bottles, and the server opened a bottle and then gave everyone in the room a small taste of it.  We thought it was a good summer beer, very fresh tasting.

beer bottle

4)      Kolsch                   5%

The taste of this one reminded me of the very ripe grilled pineapple we made for dessert a few weeks ago.  Not very hoppy, it is on the light side of a German-style beer.

5)      Pumpkin Ale                      5%

Inevitable at this season.  Did I want it with a cinnamon sugar rim?  Oh, yes.  Good choice.  The beer itself is just okay, but with the rim it is quite enjoyable.  Like drinking dessert.

The special glass for the pumpkin ale, with a cinnamon sugar rim, which is not the tasting glass.

The special glass for the pumpkin ale, with a cinnamon sugar rim, which is not the tasting glass.

6)      10 Nutty Years                  5%

Do you like Corona?  This has a bit more taste than Corona, but still could have benefitted from a lime.  I wanted to ask about the name, but gave up getting the server’s attention.

7)      E.S.B.                                     6.5%

Though the initials stand for Extra Special Bitter, this is not particularly bitter.  It is like an English bitter, which we came to enjoy on our first visit to England during a warm summer week, when we realized that the bitters tended to be cooler than the other beers on tap.  You can taste the hops in this one, and also a slight wheaty-pancakey flavor.

8)      I.P.A.                                     7.3%

We seem to have reached the initials part of the menu.  India Pale Ale is what these initials stand for, and it is my favorite so far.  On the blackboard it ways “West Coast Style,” but no one tells me what that means.  I’d be happy to drink this with a burger.  This one is also available in a bottle.

9)      Double IPA                         10.5%

Hmmm…sort of funky, a bit of dank cellar, but actually not bad.  It would be good with a sweetish barbecue sauce on ribs.  If you buy this one in a bottle or growler, it costs more than the others.

10)   Breakfast Stout                 3.5%

Back before coffee became the universal breakfast drink, people started the day with some form of alcoholic drink, usually beer or hard cider, both more reliably germ-free than water.  I would guess this is an homage to that custom.  I’m startled by the strong coffee taste, and when I go on Long Ireland’s web site I discover that it is actually made with coffee—and also flaked oats and milk sugar.  Breakfast, indeed.  You could have a pint of this in a cozy pub and enjoy drinking it on its own, though it is certainly no competition for Guinness.

If you’re counting, you realize we should have two more tastes here, but two choices have been taken off the board, so we both opt to end with the Pumpkin Ale, which is at least fun to drink.  Oh, and the servers do rinse your glass with the new taste as a transition between beers, a nice touch.

beer taps

Reasons to visit:

Really none, unless you are determined to go to a beer tasting and you don’t have to time to go to Greenport.  On the other hand, you do get a fair amount of beer for not much money.