Live on the Vine February 22, 2014

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Bacchus knew what he was about when he linked wine and music together, and so do the wineries on the North Fork.  To chase away the winter doldrums—and what a winter we have had!—many of the wineries participate in the Long Island Winterfest activity called Live on the Vine, which brings musical performers to the tasting rooms.  It used to be called Jazz on the Vine, but then the decision was made to open up to a more varied musical palette.

Most of the venues charge a fee of $20, which includes a full glass of wine.  (After an hour we bought a second glass for $8.)  We decided Sherwood House had the most convenient performance time and location, and checked my blog to decide which wine to get.  The other piece of information we needed was whether or not we wanted to see the performer they were featuring.

After much discussion and checking out of performers on-line, we decided to go to Sherwood House on Saturday for a performance by Jack’s Waterfall, and we were glad we did.

On a web page, Jack describes his music as a combination of “Folk, Blues, Gospel and World Music,” and I’d say that’s about right.  There was a lot of toe-tapping and head bobbing in the full-house audience, and even some dancing.

Jack's Waterfall in action.

Jack’s Waterfall in action.

Sherwood House used a second, barn-like building on their Main Road site for their music venue, leaving their tasting room free for those who wanted to do a tasting.  The room reminded me a bit of an Adirondack lodge, with its stone fireplace and animal head on the wall.  An array of chairs and folding chairs formed a semi-circle around the band, so everyone could see and hear well.

A view of the room.

A view of the room.

If you haven’t made it out East yet, you still have time, as Winterfest has been extended for an extra week in March.  It is very pleasant to sit in a cozy winery, glass of wine in hand, and listen to music.  I recommend you go!



Empire State Cellars

Look down the row to find Empire State Cellars.

Look down the row to find Empire State Cellars.

Here’s a great way to use my blog.

Tucked away in a corner of Tanger Outlet Mall in Riverhead, amidst stores selling luggage, lingerie, and not-quite-the-latest fashions, is a wonderful place, Empire State Cellars, selling wines, beers, liquors, and a few other products made in New York State.  If you want a selection of local wines but you don’t feel like trekking from winery to winery to get it, this is the place.  Even better, they offer a 10% discount on a case, and many of their prices are less expensive than in the wineries themselves.  I know, I was surprised, too.

The helpful clerks at the desk.

The helpful clerks at the desk.

They also offer tastings at a bar in the back of the store.  However, we didn’t have time to do a tasting that day, but we did need to decide which wines to get.  As we scanned the shelves, I Googled whichever winery we were curious about.  Up popped my blog, and then I just had to scroll down to see if I had reviewed that particular wine.  Of course, since my phone “knows” me, all I had to put in was nofo, and it did the rest.

The tasting bar.

The tasting bar.

You can also follow the same procedure in a restaurant to decide which wine to order, though sometimes, as we have found, wineries seem to bottle different versions of their wines for restaurants.  Before I started my blog I was recording our tastings in a notebook, which was fine for deciding which winery to visit, but not a lot of help when we were out and about.  Now I have this useful reference always with me—and so do you!

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Palmer Vineyards: Cozy as a Pub February 16, 2014

Pub-like room at Palmer.

Pub-like room at Palmer.

With all the snow the last few weeks, we decided we wanted to go somewhere cozy for a tasting.  I had my heart set on one of the booths in Palmer’s tasting room for our group of five, but, alas, others had the same idea and the three pub-like booths were filled, so we clustered around one of the high tables in the small tasting room and perused the menu.  There are four menu choices:  New Releases, three tastes for $15; Winemaker’s Flight, four for $15; Premium White, three for $12; and Premium Red, three for $14.  That may not seem like many samples for the money, but the pour is quite generous.  If you are with people who don’t mind sharing, you can get to taste all their wines.

Generous pour.

Generous pour.

While two members of the group went over to the bar to get our trays of tastes, the rest of us admired the stained glass window, the funny wine superstitions on the wall, and the fat and lazy gray cat who was quite amenable to being petted by the feline-o-philes amongst us.  When you do a tasting you get all your pours at once perched on a labeled placemat on your tray.  Go from left to right, of course.  They also offer a short snack menu, mainly cheese or paté and crackers, and wines by the glass though not by the bottle.

Wine superstitions.

Wine superstitions.

Although we alternated amongst the various menus so that we could do the reds last, I’ll give you my notes based on each menu.  (Note:  There are two buildings.  Drive through to the rear building for the tasting room, as the front building contains a self-guided tour of the winemaking.)

Winemaker’s Flight

1)      2012 Aromatico                                $24.99

A blend of Muscat and Mulvase grapes, this has almost an upstate sweetness, though the grapes are grown on the North Fork, with aromas of orange and allspice and a very floral taste.  “Like a rosewater bath,” said AK.  EB thought you could have it with a salad.  I would just as soon not have it.

2)       2012 Chardonnay  41/72               $16.99

I never did find out what those numbers mean, and hoped the web site would enlighten me, but their website is rather terse, as are their tasting notes.  They could do a better job with both.  In any event, this is a blend, despite the name, including Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer.   We noted aromas of white grape and pear and tastes of pear—pretty much a standard steel-fermented Chard.   Not distinguished, we said.

3)      Lighthouse White                           $14.99

This is also a blend, with typical oaky/vanilla aromas of a barrel fermented white.  Lots of pineapple taste.  The menu says “semi-sweet,” but I didn’t find it to be particularly sweet.  Then again, I’m not very fond of pineapple anyway.

4)      Select Reserve Red                         $31.99

The only red in the Winemaker’s Flight, this is a fairly dry Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  I like it better than the whites, and at the end we think it is the best of the wines we tasted, but, on the other hand, one could find similar reds for less money.

Taking notes was a challenge on our crowded table.

Taking notes was a challenge on our crowded table.

New Release Flight

1)      2013 Sauvignon Blanc            $23.99

I like this better than any of the whites in the Winemaker’s Flight.  It is good, with lots of fruit, a touch petillant on the tongue, with some tastes of pineapple but not overwhelmingly so, plus citrus.  Maybe grapefruit?  I would call it buyable.  AK labels it a good summer wine for sipping on the patio.

2)      2012 BF Pinot Blanc                 $22.99

BF?  Means barrel fermented, we learn.  Yes, it has that oaky/vanilla aroma.  Some toast, some pineapple.  Just okay.

3)      2010 Old Roots Merlot                          $42.00

Okay, the .99 prices do annoy me, so it is nice to see a forthright even number, even if we feel it is overpriced.  EB describes this as “chewier, with more structure,” though not a lot of tannins.  Nice dark berry tastes, with a hint of smoke.

Premium Red Flight

1)      2010 Merlot                       $24.99

Dry, with not a lot of fruit, not overly earthy (happily), and, says EB, “Not a keeper.”  I agree and say, “Just okay.”

2)      2010 Cabernet Sauvignon            $29.99

You can really taste and smell the oak on this one, with not much fruit.  Nope, we don’t care for this one either.

3)      2009 Cabernet Franc                       $29.99

Brambly blackberry tastes, nice aromas—we like this one!  Though it is a touch earthy, it is buyable, and EB buys a bottle, getting 10% off, according to the menu “today only.”

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Reasons to visit:  cozy pub-like room (with outside tables in the summer); the 09 Cabernet Franc; the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; you can do a self-guided tour in the front building before or after your tasting room visit; a generous pour; the cat! 

Snowy day.

Snowy day.

The booths I wanted were all taken.
The booths I wanted were all taken.

A Food and Drink Miscellany

A bad cold has put me hors de combat for tasting wine, so instead here are some random notes on food and drink on the North Fork.

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Greenport Harbor Brewing Company

In preparation for our annual junk food feast during the Super Bowl (which I watch for the commercials), we decided to get a growler of Greenport Harbor beer.  But which one to get?  We had to do a tasting of them all, since there were several new ones on the menu.  Oh, what a burden. The new ones were Antifreeze, a great name for a winter ale; Spring Turning, a Belgian style saison; and Gobsmacked IPA, an English style IPA. We also, in the interest of completeness, sampled  Harbor Ale,  Black Duck Porter,  Otherside IPA and  Leafpile Ale.  We liked them all, but finally decided that Antifreeze would go best with our Mexican-style snacks of nachos, guacamole, and bison chili. And so it did.  (P.S.  I was amused by the Free Beer Tomorrow sign, which reminded me of a line in Alice in Wonderland about jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today.)

Riverhead Farmers Market

As it turned out, we were not the only ones excited at the thought of a winter farmers market in Riverhead, since when we got there just at 11, when it was scheduled to open, there was already a crowd inside.  We could barely find a parking spot in the large lot behind the stores on Main Street.  We bought scallops which had just been opened that morning, bread from Blue Duck bakery, fresh pasta, and locally grown oyster mushrooms for dinner, plus eggs from Browder’s Birds for breakfast.  We could also have bought wine from a couple of wineries, beer from a local brewery, cheeses, and various desserts and other prepared foods, such as empanadas and spanakopita.  Wow.  We’ll be back.  We heard that everything was basically sold out by 2, so it pays to come early.

The raw ingredients for dinner from the Riverhead Farmers Market.

The raw ingredients for dinner from the Riverhead Farmers Market.

And the finished product, with a glass of Comtesse Therese Chardonnay.

And the finished product, with a glass of Comtesse Therese Chardonnay.

Village Cheese Shop on Love Lane 

If you like good cheeses, this is the place to come.  They not only have a large selection of excellent cheese, they are quite good at giving advice.  “I’d like a creamy blue,” I said, and they knew just which of the many blues to steer me towards.  “And how about a cheese for someone who is lactose intolerant but loves good cheese?”  They had that one, too—a lactose-free well-aged cheese.  In addition to cheeses from around the world they also carry local cheeses, such as Catapano’s goat cheeses and Mecox Dairy’s excellent cheeses, plus patés, olives, and great baguettes.  In addition, they carry a small but select stock of gourmet groceries and also serve fondue and a few other cheese-based dishes for lunch.  I’ve been here frequently and never had a bad cheese.  If you want to add bread and cheese to a wine country picnic, stop in here.

Wayside Market 

Now let’s say you want to barbeque some meat that is better than what you can get in the supermarket.  Where to go?  Wayside carries a small but top quality selection of steaks, etc., and, though their prices are not cheap, their meats are good.  I once ordered a butterflied leg of lamb from them which I then marinated.  My husband grilled it and our guests devoured it.   They also carry really good sausages, plus various interesting grocery items.  Whenever we are there, we see people coming in to get sandwiches made at their deli counter, but we haven’t tried those yet.

Okay, time for another cup of hot tea with honey and lemon.  Maybe by next week I’ll be ready to visit another winery!

Waters Crest: A Small Gem February 1, 2014

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“Has it been that long?!” exclaimed Jenny, when we admitted that we hadn’t been there since August of 2012.  If you want a truly personal experience at a winery, Waters Crest is one of the places to go.  Despite its unfortunate location—in a commercial strip on Sound Avenue and Cox Lane, just around the corner from the Southold Transfer Station (a.k.a. town dump, with its complex odors of rotting garbage and recycled paper)—the tasting room is quite cozy and the wines worth trying.

Jim Waters does not have his own vineyard, and so buys his grapes from North Fork vineyards, plus Riesling grapes from upstate, near Seneca Lake.  However, according to his web site he “hand chooses” the grapes, and he is certainly very hands-on when it comes to making the wines.  His general style seems to be to go for dry wines, which we tend to like.

The tasting menu lists seven wines, three whites and four reds, and you can taste all of them for $15.  In addition, if you buy four bottles of wine your tasting is free.  We opted to share a tasting, and noticed that the wines are served in Reidel glasses, a luxury touch that Jenny admitted made her a bit anxious when it came time to hand dry them.  You can also buy a few wine-related gifts, including handsome cloth wine gift bags hand-made by Jenny’s mother.  We also learned that we just missed a chance to visit with Jim’s father, who was hanging out in the tasting room during our last visit.  As I said, it’s a personal experience!

Jenny packs the wines we bought.

Jenny packs the wines we bought.

1)       2012 Chardonnay            $19.99

This is their steel-fermented Chard, with typical aromas of apple, pear, and grass.  We taste a lot of lemon—perhaps too much lemon.  Not a wine for sipping, though it might be better with food.

2)      2012 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc   $29.99

After steel fermenting, this one spends two months in oak to mellow it a bit.  We can sense a touch of that caramel, but it is not too oaky.  This is also dry and rather light, with lots of green apple tastes.  In a nice touch, Jenny rinses the glass with a drop of the new wine before pouring the taste.

3)      2012 Dry Riesling             $24.99

Jenny agrees with us when we decide this is our favorite of the whites.  The aroma is very flowery, with lots of honeysuckle, as is not uncommon with upstate fruit.  However, it avoids the over-sweetness I often sense with upstate grapes, and has a pleasant minerality and citrus taste.  It would be great with oysters!  Time for a new glass as we switch to the reds.

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4)      “5” Red Blend                   $16.99

As soon as I see the label I exclaim that it reminds me of the famous painting by Charles Demuth of “The Great Number Five,” which was inspired by a poem by his friend William Carlos Williams.  If you look at a reproduction of the painting, you’ll see references to Demuth’s pal Williams in it.  Jenny confirms that the label was designed to evoke this painting, but the name was inspired by the idea that this is a “five days a week” wine, perfect for casual weeknight dinners.  We agree, and enjoy the blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the very cherry aroma and the dry light taste.  One could have this with anything from salmon steaks to burgers.

5)      2009 Merlot                       $34.99

Another typical Long Island Merlot, this has aromas of blackberry and eucalyptus and nice fruit taste, with a tart finish.

6)      2009 Campania Rosso                    $49.99

Jim Waters changes the blend on this wine from year to year, depending on which grapes he chooses.  The ’08, which was listed on the tasting menu, was a classic Bordeaux blend, but this one is 78% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc.  ’09 was a difficult year for red grapes.  There’s a bit of a funky aroma, but the taste is good, with plenty of fruit, and we guess it will age fairly well and end up tasting better.  Nice legs.

7)      2008 Cabernet Franc                       $39.99

The Cab Franc spends 20 months in French oak, and we can taste a bit of that woody flavor.  I smell a bit of funkiness here, too, but also plenty of cherry.  It’s a nice wine, though not worth the price, we decide, though Jenny suggests that this, too, would benefit from a couple of years of bottle aging.  The reds are suffering in comparison to a very expensive French red we shared during the week with a friend, so we have to banish that wine from our memories in order to appreciate Long Island reds for themselves.

We decide to get two bottles of the Riesling and two of the “5” for everyday drinking, and then discover that the tasting is thus free.  If we had only opted for three bottles, Jenny says she would have informed us of the deal!

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Reasons to visit:  an intimate, personal experience; the 2012 Dry Riesling and the “5” Red Blend; a free tasting if you buy four bottles.