Raphael: A Trip to Italy December 21, 2013


Note the Italian flag, which flies to one side of the winery.

Note the Italian flag, which flies to one side of the winery.

62 degrees on the first day of winter felt quite appropriate as we approached Raphael’s Italian-style tasting room, with its red tile roof and light stucco walls.  The welcome inside, through the propped-open door, was as warm as the day.  We hadn’t been to Raphael in a long time, partly because every time we went past we saw a sign that they were closed for an event, which is not surprising given the expansive size of the attractive tasting room, with its central bar and dramatic staircase.  Indeed, as we were doing a tasting we noted a prospective bride and groom being given a tour of the place, and our server remarked that an additional room can hold up to 200 guests and that from spring through fall they are often closed for weddings.

r room

We also had not been enthusiastic about the wines, but they seem to have improved over the past several years, and we liked some of them quite a bit.  In addition, we could easily return and taste a completely different group of wines, as the list includes five whites, two rosés, six reds, and a dessert wine.  We limited ourselves to seven tastes, about as many as we can handle, especially because the pour is quite generous.  There is no set menu for a tasting.  The server hands you a list of wines, and you pay for your choices by the taste, which vary from $2.00 to $4.00 each.  Glasses of wine go for $7 to $15, with most around $8.  Both servers were very knowledgeable and chatty, and we enjoyed the afternoon with them.  Our server was also very accommodating.  Since I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on, we didn’t want to share a glass, so he kindly provided a fresh glass for each taste.

After the tasting, we browsed a bit in their larger than usual gift shop, which has many wine-related items, including some that were quite nice.

The gift shop items included this oversized flask and glass.

The gift shop items included this oversized flask and glass.

1)       2012 Chardeaux                               $24

Yes, that is a made-up word, but Nofowineaux likes it!  This blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and refreshing steel-fermented white, with aromas of citrus and mineral.  We also taste lemon and mineral, plus some unripe pear.  The server compares it to a Pinot Grigio.  Maybe.  In any event, it would go very nicely with a plate of local oysters.

r white

2)      2011 First Label Sauvignon Blanc              $26

Why “First Label”?  Because it is made from fruit from some of their older vines.  Though this, like the previous wine, is served too cold, once it warms up a bit we quite like it.  We smell some kiwi in the complex bouquet, as well as citrus and herbs.  The taste also includes some citrus and herbs, and is pleasantly complex, especially for a steel-fermented wine.  “Not a simple sipper,” my husband observes, and adds that it would go well with a veal and peppers dish I sometimes make, or perhaps an array of Italian cheeses.

3)      2012 Riesling                     $28

I find it fascinating that Rieslings can taste so different from one vineyard to another, even when they are in close geographic proximity.  Raphael’s Riesling has a complex aroma of flowers and minerals, and is dry, though with a bit of sweeter citrus at the finish, and one wouldn’t immediately peg it as a Riesling.  We must be hungry, because I keep thinking about what foods to have with each wine, and I’m thinking about a simple pork chop dish with this one.

4)      2010 La Tavola                   $20

Now we move over to the reds, and opt to start with their basic table wine, which is a Bordeaux blend, though it is mostly—70%–Merlot.  It also has 6% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot, and 4% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.   There’s a bit of smoke in the aroma, but also lots of dark fruit.  It smells really good!  The taste is pleasant, but rather light for a Bordeaux, and this is, as the server noted, a good pizza and pasta wine.  I’m thinking roast chicken on a picnic…told you I was hungry.

r bottle

5)      2010 La Fontana                                $30

We decide to try this wine next, as our server points out that it will make an interesting comparison with La Tavola, since it usesmostly the same grapes, though in different proportions:  36% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  Very interesting, indeed.  This one “could pass as a real Bordeaux,” my husband notes, sipping it appreciatively.  When it is my turn to try, I note a lovely aroma with a trace of smoke and forest floor and taste delicious dark fruits.  “Nice legs,” we note, and good tannins too, and we decide to buy a couple of bottles to cellar for a few years.  (I ask our server if this is named for the elaborate fountain out front, and he nods yes.)

The La Fontana fountain.

The La Fontana fountain.

6)      2010 Estate Merlot                          $22

Long Island Merlots do tend to have a bit of a barnyard smell, and so does this one, but not overly so.  We also smell some tobacco and blackberry.  The tasting notes say “thyme,” but my husband jokes he can’t smell time.  This is fermented in a combination of oak and steel, and I would say it is a typical North Fork Merlot.

7)      2010 First Label Merlot                 $38

2010 was a great year for North Forth wines, and we can see that in all the 2010 wines we’ve tried, including this one.  Aged 18 months in oak, this new release has mineral and dark fruit aromas, with no trace of barnyard, and has lots of fruit tastes.  I bet this one would age well, too.

8)      2007 Primo Winemaker’s Edition

Yes, I said we’d do seven tastes, but, seeing our serious devotion to the tasting process, the servers give us a small taste of this special wine, as there is only a small amount left in the bottle anyway.  Wow, read my notes, and wow again.  This is a wine you can only get if you are a member of the wine club, and we are briefly tempted to join, but no, there are only so many clubs one can join!

Primo is primo

Primo is primo

Reasons to visit:  an attractive and roomy tasting room; a good gift shop; interesting wine choices, especially the Chardeaux and the La Fontana; you’re scouting locations for a large party or wedding; you like having lots of tasting options.

Decorated for the season

Decorated for the season

Dramatic chandelier over the central bar

Dramatic chandelier over the central bar

Lenz Winery: Lots of Lovely Options December 7, 2013


In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

It’s that time of year on the North Fork when most farmstands have closed, and those that are open feature Christmas trees and firewood, plus a few frost-touched Brussels sprout stalks and cauliflower heads.  However, most of the wineries are still open, at least on the weekends, and there are still plenty of limos wandering the streets.   When we saw five of them in the parking lot of Lenz we almost turned around, knowing their tasting room was on the small side, but I’m very glad we did not.  The vibe inside was mellow rather than frenetic, and by the time we finished our leisurely and very enjoyable tasting we had the room to ourselves.

For some reason Lenz funnels arriving parties through a small wooden archway, but you can get to the vine-covered tasting room directly from the end of the parking lot as well.  The room itself is rustic, with wooden beams like a barn, and tables around the perimeter offer a variety of wine-related gifts.

Some of the gift items.

Some of the gift items.

They offer two tastings, the Estate Flight is of their wines which are produced every year, and is $10 for five generous tastes, and the Premium Flight is $14 for five of their wines produced “only in years our winemaker feels they are good enough.”  We opt to share one of each, and our knowledgeable and enthusiastic server helps us alternate, suggesting which to taste first of each pair.  She not only knows lots about each wine, she is clearly a fan of the vineyard, and talks about her visits to it before she actually became an employee.  They will soon be releasing a Malbec—not, alas, in labeled bottles yet—and her positive review of it causes us to decide we will be sure to pick up a bottle once it is released.

Lenz is one of the older vineyards on the North Fork, and many of its better wines are labeled Old Vines.  In general, their winemaker, Eric Fry, goes for a French style of winemaking, and the results are overall excellent.  We only had one wine we didn’t care for.  I’ve marked the Premium wines with an *.

1)      2008 Gewürztraminer                                    $20

A few years ago we went to several wineries looking for the best Gewürztraminer for our Thanksgiving dinner, and settled on Lenz.  It’s still a good choice.  This is a dry Gewürztraminer, with floral and spice aromas—cardamom, says my husband, and I agree—and plenty of fruit.  It was allowed to age in the bottle, our server points out, and is made in the Alsatian style.

Lenz white

2)      *2010 Pinot Gris                                               $25

This is, of course, the French version of Pinot Grigio, which is my go-to choice when I have to get a glass of house wine, but this is so much better than most Pinot Grigios!  We scent aromas of mineral and lime, maybe clementine, and taste pear and apple.  The wine is dry but not tart, with a creamy mouth feel.  The server says the Pinot Gris tastes like wine while Pinot Grigio tastes like water!  I’d be happy sipping this on its own, or with seafood.

3)      *1999 Cuvee RD                                               $60

The price tag is a bit steep, though this is a lovely sparkling wine, with that slightly green-olive scent I find in many Champagnes.  If you like lots of bubbles, however, you’ll be disappointed, as the bubbles dissipate quickly, though it is a bit petillant on the tongue.  Lots of layers of flavor to this dry wine.

4)      2010 White Label Chardonnay                   $15

Steel fermenting means this is a clean crisp chard, with a honey candy aroma and a citrus taste—maybe pink grapefruit?  Very food friendly, we agree.

5)      2010 Gold Label Chardonnay                      $20

Though I often don’t care for oaked chards, this one is very well done.  It spends ten months in French oak barrels, we are told, and we do smell the vanilla aroma of oak, plus some pumpkin spice smells.  Taste?  Baked apples and pears!  This could be a lovely aperitif wine, or it would pair well with most chicken dishes, especially ones that combined chicken and fruit.  Our server notes that this is one of their few California-style wines, but it is not overly oaked as some of those are.

6)      *2010 Old Vines Chardonnay                                     $30

In contrast to the previous chard, this one is in the Burgundian style, our server informs us, and is aged in neutral oak barrels.  She does a great job, by the way, of giving us time to chat with each other while also being attentive to when we are ready for the next round.  Though we agree the wine has good balance, my husband notes there are “no fireworks.”  There’s also a bit of a chemical taste at the end, and we have a discussion with the server about what exactly we are sensing.

7)      2009 Cabernet Sauvignon                                            $23

At this point everyone else has left, and the servers outnumber the customers, which does not faze us one bit.  Though this wine has an attractive aroma of raisins and chocolate—Goobers, we exclaim—we find the wine itself thin and disappointing and actually dump the rest of the glass.

Lenz red

8)      *2007 Old Vines Cabernet                                           $40

What a contrast.  We love this one!  Aroma of dried cherries in brandy and a lovely dark color precede a taste of dried fruits and intense berries.

9)      2008 Estate Selection Merlot                                     $24

This is much better than the average 20-something dollar Merlot, and indeed was made from wine that had been intended for a premium bottling, but then didn’t meet the winemaker’s exacting specifications.  Lucky us.  We smell coffee, chocolate, and a bit of a floral aroma, with none of that barnyard smell so common out here.  Delicious taste, too, with plenty of dark fruit.  Very buyable.

10)   *2007 Old Vines Merlot                                                                $60

Old vines indeed, our server notes, as these grapes come from vines first planted in 1978—ancient history for Long Island wines!  Lots of lovely aromas, cherries, layers of dark fruit, very mouth-filling.  This could age for twenty years, our server informs us.  I bet it could.

We buy several bottles as gifts and may come back to get more for ourselves when we deplete the cellar.

Lenz board

Reasons to visit:  nine out of the ten wines are very drinkable, and quite a few are excellent; pleasant rustic barn-like setting; enthusiastic and well-informed servers; the Estate Selection Merlot and the Pinot Gris and the Gold Label Chardonnay and the Old Vines Cabernet and the Gewürztraminer and—you get the picture.

Lenz room