I have been to wineries where the server knew just enough to spout a brief memorized description of the wines, and to others where the winemaker him or herself was there to tell me everything I could possibly want to know about the wines. Both models work, but there’s another way: a well-informed server who knows the wines and is enthusiastic about them, without getting too technical. The last is the type we encountered on a cold day in January in the almost empty tasting room at Pindar.
Since the tasting room is quite large, and obviously set up to serve many people, it felt kind of funny that there were at most two couples at any one time during the hour or so we were there. But it did mean that we got plenty of individualized attention from our excellent server. We learned some interesting details about the wines and some of the labels, and thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon.
Pindar is both one of the older and larger wineries, and their prices reflect the economies of scale, being lower in general than many of the other places. The wine list offers 27 different varieties, with almost all of them available for the basic $10 for five tastes. The menu is divided into the categories of White Wines and Dry Rosé, Red Wines, Proprietary Blends, On the Sweeter Side, Dessert Wines, and Limited Production. We quickly decided to eliminate the Sweeter Side category and also that we needed to share two tastings in order to get any sense of their offerings. Since the Red Wines category included eight wines, we also decided to focus our attention there, and only try three of the four regular whites. Due to the power of the book, we ended up getting a few extra tastes, as our server appreciated our enthusiasm and began to grok our taste. As the pour is rather generous, I ended up having to drink more of each taste as the afternoon went on, since I was not the driver. Tough job…
Pindar requests that you not bring in outside food, and offers a selection of cheeses to which they will add crackers, etc. They also have a modest selection of wine-related gift items.
- 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $16.99
We started at the top of the menu with their sauvignon blanc, a wine we find often pairs well with oysters or clams. This one would do so, too, but has an assertive enough flavor that it could also go with bluefish. The aroma has a touch of cat pee, plus a fruit the menu identifies as white peach. The taste is pleasant, with a touch of sweetness, and some citrus and mineral notes.
- 2016 Viognier $18.99
“What a beautiful bottle,” we said, and learned that it had been painted by Sylvia, a former patient of the founder of Pindar, Dr. Dan Damianos. We also found out that she was a quadriplegic who painted with a brush in her mouth, and that she designed the pretty pastel floral image to reflect the taste of the wine. Wow. Viognier is a grape you don’t find too often on Long Island (a quick search of my blog found three or four other wineries that had it), and our server told us that they didn’t bottle it every year, since the grapes did not always meet their standards. We’re glad it was on the menu this time. Though not a sipper, it is a really nice wine, with lots of tart pear and some woody/mineral tastes. She suggests serving it with shrimp or lobster, and I bet it would go well with Peconic Bay scallops, too. We decided to buy a bottle.
- 2015 Sunflower Chardonnay Special Reserve $18.99
We were going to try the Peacock Chardonnay, but our friend warned us that it had been reformulated and was on the sweet side. We had been reluctant to have the Sunflower, since the menu said it was 100% new barrel fermented, and we tend not to like really oaky chardonnays. However, she reassured us that it was not like that, but rather tasted mostly of pineapple. She was exactly right. She said that the particular clone of chardonnay that was used for this wine tended more towards tropical fruit flavors. Interesting.
- Pythagoras $16.99
Now we moved on to the reds, getting a clean glass for these tastes. The name of this wine, the images on several of the bottles, and the name of the winery, reference the Damianos family’s Greek heritage. (We went to a class on Greek wines several months ago, and were quite pleased to discover that they were no longer limited to retsina and harsh reds, but included many wines we enjoyed. Wines occupy an important role in Greek mythology, and not just because they have a god of wine!) This is their Bordeaux blend, and varies from year to year. It likely includes some combination of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, and Malbec, and was described as a “good pizza wine.” That it is, and has lots of fruit with a touch of tannins. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably heavy on the merlot.
- 2014 Syrah $16.99
Here’s another label painted by Sylvia, which is supposed to convey the “stormy and dark” taste of the wine. Not so sure about the stormy part, but it is certainly dark, with black cherry flavor, a bit of oak, and nice tannins. It smells a bit like nutmeg. It is not complex, but is very good, and we also plan to buy a bottle of this one. It would go well with a soup and bread and cheese dinner.
- 2014 Cabernet Franc $18.99
We were going to give this one a pass, but now it seems we will be trying all of the reds. Our server has poured out a glass of one of the Limited Production wines, to let it breathe while we taste the others. The cabernet franc has lots of tannins, with some tastes of fruit, spice, and wood, and would be okay with food.
- 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $18.99
2014 was a good year for reds on the North Fork, so we’re not surprised that we like most of the reds we taste. This is a very drinkable red, not very deep or complex, with a pleasant fruity aroma.
- 2014 Merlot $18.99
Oops. Finally one we don’t particularly like. The smell is a bit funky and earthy, the wine rather thin. We dump the rest of this taste.
- 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $21.99
Like a number of the other reds, this is aged two years in French oak. We do detect a bit of oak in the aroma, plus purple plum and toast. The wine is quite yummy, though not complex, tasting of plums and cherries. It would be overpowered by red-sauce Italian foods, but would be good with meat loaf.
- 2010 Reserve Merlot $16.99 (on sale, was $21.99)
This one could be on the edge of going over the edge, we decide. It also has a somewhat funky aroma, and has a slight cherry taste. Just okay.
- 2014 Mythology $27.99
Their Meritage blend, this is 40% cabernet sauvignon, 30% cabernet franc, 10% merlot, 10% petit verdot, and 10% Malbec. Nevertheless, my notes say “not much to it.” I swear it smells like cheese, though the menu says it has “cassis, bing cherry and raspberry on the nose.” It is dry, with some tannins and dark fruit tastes.
- Dr. Dan’s Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $24.99
After Dr. Damianos died, his children decided to make some special wines in his memory. They did a great job with this one, the special taste our server had set aside to breathe for us. Given the price point, it is quite impressive, with lots of delicious dark fruit tastes and some complexity. The tannins are strong enough that we feel it could age several years and get even better, so we decided to get a bottle of this and label it to be drunk a few years from now. It could stand up to steak or lamb chops, for sure.
- Dr. Dan’s Signature Merlot 2014 $24.99
Well, she had a bottle of this open and had served a taste to the other couple at the bar, so we might as well try it, too. We like this better than their other merlots. It tastes of black cherry and spice, perhaps nutmeg, with tannins that could let this one age as well.
Reasons to visit: big place that can accommodate a crowd (which it definitely gets in the summer); lots of different wines at good prices; despite the mass appeal, many of the wines are quite good; the Viognier, the Syrah, Dr. Dan’s Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in particular, plus many of the other wines; dogs are allowed on the back deck in the summertime.