Coffee Pot Cellars: Time for a Chat

October 15, 2021

Watch for the large dinosaur—excuse me—wine-o-saur on their lawn to find Coffee Pot Cellars’ tasting room.  Made from corks inserted into a wire frame, this not-yet-completed structure symbolizes the quirky charm of this little winery.  When you walk in, you will get an enthusiastic greeting from Laura Klahre, the wife of winemaker Adam Suprenant, and possibly also from their little black pug, Beasley.  Beasley, however, is less enthusiastic these days, as his age of fourteen has begun to take its toll, and he was fast asleep during our recent visit. 

Though we last visited Coffee Pot (named for the lighthouse near Orient Point—and no, they do not serve coffee) in November 2019, Laura immediately recognized us, and included us in the conversation she was having with another couple, who also had not been there for a long time, about an amusing incident they had witnessed.  Several new customers came in while we were there, and, since they all opted to sit outside on the wrap-around porch, we had Laura to ourselves for much of our visit.  For them, she set up their complete tasting on a labeled tray, while for us she poured each one separately, so we had time to chat. 

According to the chalkboard, a complete tasting includes six of their seven wines for $15: three whites and three reds, but not the rosé.  However, as Laura put it, to acknowledge the tough year we have all had, and because we are on vacation and shouldn’t have to make decisions, the six is actually seven, as she also pours the rosé.  At the moment, she is using “corn plastic”—which is compostable—rather than glass, because their dishwasher is broken.  It would, she confesses, “hurt my soul” to use regular plastic.  That’s because in addition to her work in the tasting room—which is open Friday-Monday—Laura is a beekeeper and environmentalist, and sells her Blossom Tree Farm honey in the tasting room.  She also makes award-winning jam—we bought a jar of blueberry—and has a project to plant milkweed to help stem the decimation of the monarch butterfly population.  On our last visit, Beasley was wearing little monarch wings to promote this last project, but he’s getting too old to parade around in a costume.

As we sipped and chatted, we noted how much we like the wines, as well as the conversation!  And when we left, we took with us, in addition to the jam, a bottle of the Meritage and another of the rosé.

  •  2019 Sauvignon Blanc                 $21.99

Aged in stainless steel, this has a lovely aroma of melon and flowers, and is quite tasty.  We get lemon/lime, but it is more fruity than tart, though it is dry.  As with most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this would be lovely with some clams or oyster.

  • 2015 Chardonnay           $19.99

I was a bit leery of this, since it is oak aged, but then Laura noted that it is aged in fourteen-year-old barrels—in other words, neutral oak—so I took a sip.  Very nice.  Though you do get a bit of that I -chewed-on-my-pencil taste, overall it is more lemony than oaky. 

  • 2017 Gewürztraminer   $21.99

Thanksgiving is coming, so we discussed what a good wine gewürztraminer is for that holiday, because it is so versatile.  It also has enough taste to stand up to turkey, cranberry sauce, etc.  This is a dry one, which is good for me, with lovely honeysuckle aromas and tastes of pineapple and nutmeg.

  • 2020 Rosé          $24.99

A blend of 95% cabernet sauvignon and 5% merlot, this is a rosé with more oomph than most, with lovely aromas and flavors of strawberry.  This is also dry, and we got into a conversation about dry versus sweet wines, since one person had come in asking, did they have any sweet wines.  I suggested that she could offer them this rosé because, though it is dry, it has lots of fruit, which might read sweet to some.

  • 2016 Beasley’s Blend     $21.99

Laura observed to another customer who had come in and opted to just taste the reds, that her husband loves making reds.  That shows, as all three reds are better than the average North Fork ones.  Beasley apparently likes Bordeaux wines, as this is a Bordeaux blend of 58% merlot, 31% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, and 5% cabernet sauvignon.  It smells like cherries, no doubt the effect of the merlot, and is a soft and very drinkable red, with tastes of plums and chocolate.

  • 2014 Merlot      $25.99

If you buy a bottle of this, they plant more milkweed to help the monarchs, as a little blackboard keeps track of them.  Aged 18 months in French oak, this is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with cherry flavor and aroma. 

  • 2015 Meritage  $28.99

Yum.  We bought a bottle of this to put in our cellar, as it is too good for just weeknight hamburgers.  A blend of 83% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 5% cabernet sauvignon, this has interesting tastes that include ripe cherries and cocoa and spice.

Reasons to visit:  a quirky little winery that has very good wines; Laura’s conversation and Beasley’s charm; you can also buy jam and honey and other interesting items; all the wines, but especially the rosé and the Meritage; you can bring your dog if you sit outside.

There’s an antique store next door, in case you want to browse.

Mattebella Vineyards: Sunny Sunday in October

October 3, 2021

“It’s such a beautiful day,” my tasting buddy said.  “Can you think of a winery with a nice outside seating area?”  I certainly could, so off we went to Mattebella.  Because it was a Sunday, I did not want to go to any of the bigger wineries, and indeed, as we drove past Pugliese, Osprey, and others we noted their full parking lots and signs promoting “Live Music.”  However, Mattebella was quiet, with a few groups here and there, scattered around their patio and grounds. 

They really don’t have much in the way of inside space, but their patio is very comfortable, with cushy couches and chairs, and pretty, with plantings of hydrangeas and roses.  My husband said,” They get an A for atmosphere.”  The server motioned us over, as we paused at the entrance, and told us we could choose our seats.  We immediately walked over to a nice couch and wicker coffee table set-up, and settled down to look at the menus she handed us.  Okay, here’s one for cheese and charcuterie boards, one for wine-based cocktails, and another for glass and bottle service, but where’s one for a tasting? 

When the waitress returns, we ask, and she informs us that if you want a tasting on the weekend, you have to reserve it in advance, though during the week it’s not a problem.  Is it possible to get a tasting anyway, we asked, gesturing to the almost empty grounds.  Well, okay.  And she brought us a tasting menu.  The menu makes the most of the few varietals they grow, with multiple chardonnays and blends.  You can get a white flight, a red flight, a sparkling flight, a rosé flight, a reserve chardonnay flight, a Library flight (of “special wines from our cellar”), or a Vintner Select Flight (of “our winemaker’s favorite wines”).  We opt for the latter, which is pretty comprehensive, as it includes a sparkling wine, a rosé, two whites and four reds, for $45.  That’s a pretty steep price for a tasting, but it does feature eight wines, and the pour is generous enough that sharing is no problem.

I’m not sure why a tasting on the weekend is such a big deal, since they give you all your wines at once (except for the sparkler, which comes separately).  One more note—they used to allow dogs, but they say they are no longer permitted to. 

The sparkling wine comes in this nice glass.
  •  2013 Blanc de Blancs    $70

The méthode champenoise is very labor intensive, and takes years from harvest to completion, so sparkling wines made this way tend to be more expensive, and this one is no exception.  And it is quite delicious, with aromas of freshly baked bread and tastes of crisp green apple and bread.  However, is it a $70 bottle of wine?  I don’t think so.

  • 2017 Steel Chardonnay $29

Sometimes steel chards have a piney aroma, like an evergreen forest, and this one does, with tastes of mild citrus and green apple.  It is very light, and “not memorable,” according to my tasting companion.

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $50

As you know if you read my blog, I am not a fan of oaked chardonnays, but this one is only 40% oak-aged, so not bad.  My husband likes it, and says it would be a good sipping wine.  This also has a slight woodsy aroma, with some nice fruit tastes and just a touch of butterscotch.

No actual dogs allowed, but they do have these somewhat ugly statues of dogs.
  • 2020 Rosé          $28

Light, dry…too light and dry.  I like rosés to have some fruit taste, and this has no aroma and almost no taste.

  • Famiglia Red      $35

The lack of a vintage year indicates that this is a blend of various years, as they like to keep the taste of this wine consistent every time.  A blend of merlot and cabernet franc, this is a good wine to have with food, like lamb chops, as it has some tannins.  It has the slight cherry aroma from the merlot grapes, and a pleasant, though uncomplicated, taste of fruit and olives.

  • 2011 Old World Blend   $65

Our waitress proudly points out that this wine and the next were highly rated by Robert Parker, earning scores of 90 and 93.  As I look at the list of grapes used in this blend—merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon—it is clear the “old world” is Bordeaux. My husband takes a sip and says, “This is certainly not bad.”  Again, it has that cherry aroma, plus some tobacco and leather.  It is tasty, I offer, as I sense plums and perhaps a touch of chocolate.

  •  2013 Old World Blend  $91

This is a slightly different blend, with merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot.  My husband notes that it would “stand up to steak,” with good tannins and blackberry flavor.  But when I tell him how much they charge for a bottle, he says, “They’re drinking too much wine.”  That is a problem with small vineyards like this—they have no economies of scale, especially because they are farming sustainably and using machines as little as possible.

  • 2015 Old World Blend   $78

Using the same four grapes as the 2011, this is somehow much better, and my favorite of the day.  Yummy.  The aroma is of cherries and brambles, and the taste includes blackberry and unsweetened chocolate.  It even has “legs,” which indicate possibly more tannins and alcohol than the other blends. If I came here to have a cheese and charcuterie tray and a glass of wine, this is the one I would get.

I always think it’s nice when they bring me water.

Reasons to visit: beautiful outdoor patio with comfy seating; relaxed, laid-back vibe; the Blanc de Blancs, the Reserve Chardonnay, and the 2015 Old World Blend; menu of cheeses and charcuterie with lots of options; creative wine-based cocktails.  Reasons not to visit: high prices, and the rest room is a rather yucky port-a-pottie.

Jamesport Vineyards: Lunchtime!

September 30, 2021

Our friends were coming to visit us for the first time since before the pandemic began, so we were eager to spend some time together.  Often, we’ve done a tasting and then gone out to dinner, but this time we decided to combine a tasting and lunch.  I’ve been wanting to try the pizzas from Little Oak Wood Fired Kitchen, within Jamesport Vineyard, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

I went online and made a reservation, which required a $5 deposit on my credit card per person (promptly refunded when we arrived), for 1:30 on Thursday, the last day of September.  It was a typical fall day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade, so we planned to sit outside.  However, shortly after being seated, we decided it was too chilly and decamped for a cozy table in an alcove within the tasting room.  The cheerful and attentive server quickly adjusted to our change.  The outside area was always very pleasant, and now it is really attractive, with more seating and pretty flower beds, so I was sorry not to sit out there, but we had a fine time inside, where we had the room mostly to ourselves.  (Outside there were a number of groups of people, including some children.)

We were handed two menus, one for wine and the other for food (the full menu is only available Thursday-Sunday).  I immediately noticed on the wine menu that our favorite Jamesport white, the Albariño, was sold out, as was our favorite red, Mélange de Trois.  Rats.  Our friends prefer whites, and I wanted to try the reds, so we each got a tasting of four wines, for $26, and they got whites and we got reds.  Then we asked for extra glasses so we could share tastes.  That does mean that we did not taste them in the recommended order, but we were served glasses of ice water, which served to cleanse our palates between tastes.

The food menu offers nine different pizzas, with options of additional toppings.  Our friends went with the traditional Margherita ($20), simply sauce, basil, and fresh mozzarella, while we opted for the Fun Guy ($24), topped with mushrooms (fungi, get it?), shallots, spinach, etc.  Both came with thin crusts, blistered around the edges, and were very tasty.  We also got an order of burrata and prosciutto to share to start with, which was delicious, though we had to request a knife so we could share it.  It sat atop a crispy slice of toasted sourdough bread.  They have some other intriguing options, like charred octopus, which I’d like to try some other time.

Burrata and prosciutto on toast

We were having so much fun with our friends, sharing stories of the past year or so, reminiscing about the past, that I have to confess my tasting notes are not as thorough as usual.  However, in general, all the wines were drinkable, but, alas, as is so common on the North Fork, somewhat high priced for the quality.  Here are the wines, in no particular order:

*2018 East End Cabernet Franc    $32

Unlike most reds, this one is fermented in steel rather than oak, which makes it a very light, clean-tasting wine.  This is a good red for someone who is not fond of reds.  Our server noted that it tastes more like a pinot than a cab franc.

The pour was generous enough that we were able to share all our tastes.
  • 2020 Estate Sauvignon Blanc      $37.75

Like most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this is citrusy and dry, a good accompaniment for oysters or clams.

The tasting room is rather small.
  • 2019 East End Field Blend White              $32.50

As I explained to our friends, the name field blend usually means that the grapes were all grown in the same field.  This blend of 32% sauvignon blanc, 32% riesling, 30% chardonnay and 6% albariño was our mutually agreed-upon favorite of the day.  It has a pleasant aroma of honeysuckle, and is both dry and fruity, with some tastes of pear and citrus.  This is a white you could drink with almost any chicken or fish dish, or even pork chops.

  • East End Syrah  $32

Syrah is one of those wines I sometimes like and sometimes do not.  This one falls sort of in the middle.  Our server informed us it has a bit of sauvignon blanc added in to lighten the taste, which it does, since sometimes syrah can be a bit overwhelming.  It has some plum taste, and almost no tannins.

  • 2019 “76” Chardonnay  $37.80

Before I could ask about the name, our server explained that the “76” refers to the particular clone of the chardonnay grape that is used in this wine, in contrast to the other chardonnay on the menu.  They age this in neutral oak barrels, which I explained means barrels that have been used before, so that they impart less of an oaky taste.  I liked this, though in general I prefer steel-aged chards, and found it pleasant, with some tropical fruit taste.

  • 2019 Estate Merlot         $35

Except for the price, I would characterize this as a good pizza wine, again, fairly light, dry, and slightly tannic.  If I came here to have a pizza and a glass of wine, this is the one I would choose.

  • 2019 “95” Chardonnay  $39.27

Ever have Werther’s butterscotch candy?  That’s what this wine reminded me of.  Too oaky for me!

  • 2019 Estate Cabernet Franc        $35

Unlike the earlier cab franc we had, this one is aged in oak, which gave it some nice tannins, but I wish it had more fruitiness. 

From the tasting room you can peer into part of the winemaking facility.

Reasons to visit:  good lunch place (no outside food allowed), with excellent thin-crust pizzas and an interesting menu of other snacks; pretty outside garden area, with plenty of room for children to run around; the Field Blend White, the Estate Merlot, and the two wines that were sold out, the albariño and the Mélange de Trois.

Pellegrini: Club Time Again

September 8, 2021

Many wineries offer visitors the opportunity to join their wine club.  We have limited ourselves to two—Channing Daughters and Pellegrini—but I’ve often read the brochures of other places.  I can certainly see the advantages of wine clubs, both for the members and the wineries.  As a member, you get a regular—usually quarterly—supply of wines from a winery you have liked, plus various perks, including free tastings and/or glasses of wine, reduced prices on bottles, and invitations to or reduced prices on various events at your chosen winery, such as musical performances or catered meals.  And the winery, obviously, has a guaranteed income stream, plus a loyal following.  Win/win.

 

Living on the North Fork offers the added convenience of needing only a short drive to pick up one’s wine club selections—though I think all of them also will mail your selections to you, subject to the laws in your state. 

Another perk of living on the North Fork is the fascination of watching the vines go from winter dormancy to spring bud break to fall ripening.  Right now, the vines are beautiful.  The little newsletter which came with our club choices describes what is happening to the grapes now:

“Veraison refers to the time when the grapes begin turning color and the vines start to transport their energy from their roots into the grapes.  During this period of ripening, the acid levels in the grapes fall (particularly malic acid which leaves tartaric acid as the primary acid) and hexose sugars (glucose, fructose) begin to accumulate in the grape.  The chlorophyll in the berries is replaced by carotenoids in white varieties and xanthophylls in the reds.  The end result is that the fruit begins to get more flavorful, colorful, concentrated, and sweeter, which is crucial to making delicious wine!”

We took our four tastes to what we now think of as “our” table, out on the front lawn, on this warm, breezy day, and had a pleasant time, despite the traffic going by on Main Road.  Two other small groups sat nearby, drinking glasses of wine.  The courtyard was tented yet again, and the server noted they’d had two weddings the past weekend, and another was scheduled for the weekend to come.  We took care to try wines we’d not had the last time—easy given the menu of fourteen wines.

*2019 Gewürztraminer $24.99

This is probably the hardest wine to spell, and also one that is not always easy to like.  I liked this one, but my tasting buddy did not, proclaiming it “too sweet.”  I insisted that what he was calling sweet was actually fruitiness, and said I tasted gooseberries.  He disclaimed any knowledge of what gooseberries taste like.  We both agreed that the aroma was agreeably fruity, and there was a definite citrus flavor, like a sweetish lemon.  I noted some minerality on the finish, and that it would be good with spicy food.

*2020 REJOYCE $24.99

A blend of 65% chardonnay and 35% sauvignon blanc, this wine has a pleasant smell of freshly cut grass plus metal.  It’s definitely not sweet, with flavors of lemon (a lot) and cucumber.  It would be good with oysters or clams.

*2015 Cabernet Sauvignon         $69.99

According to the description on the placemat, this wine spends 19 months in French oak—which might have been a bit too much.  It is quite oaky, with some berry taste, but I compared it to chewing on tree bark.  My husband said it was “tangy.”  The aroma is of sweet berries and tobacco.  Maybe it needs to age longer.

*2020 East End Select Barbeque Red      $24.99

Made from 100% petit verdot grapes, but aged in steel rather than oak, this is, as the name suggests, intended as a more casual wine.  I taste berries and plums, and assert it is dry.  My tasting buddy and I diverge again, as he insists it is too sweet.  I argue that he’s seeing fruit, once again, as sweetness.  “Not in my mouth!” he replies.  Well, that’s wine tasting for you.  Disagreement is perfectly acceptable.  He also notes that he could see drinking this with cheese during cocktail hour, but not with a meal.

Reasons to visit:  good all-around winery; snacks allowed; they also sell the North Fork merlot, chardonnay, and rosé, all well-priced reliable everyday wines ($30 for three big bottles); the gewürztraminer, REJOYCE, and BBQ Red.

Bridge Lane: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

September 3, 2021

As though to compensate for all the heat and rain we encountered this summer, September is starting out pleasantly warm and dry.  It was a perfect day to go to a winery and sit outside, and, after some discussion and viewing of websites, we and our visitors decided to go to a winery in our immediate neighborhood, Bridge Lane.  Though we had all been there several times in the past, we hadn’t visited in a few years, and notably not since they did a lovely renovation of their outdoor area, with rainbow-striped tables, a pebbled surface, comfy Adirondack chairs, and a couple of shuffleboard courts.  A wooden wall and evergreen trees help screen the area from the cars whizzing past on Sound Avenue. 

Bridge Lane has several aspects that made it a good choice for us, besides its proximity.  It welcomes children, at least during the week, and has ample outdoor space for them to roam, and it also allows you to bring your own snacks.  By the way, it is right across Cox Neck Lane from a little shopping center which includes Wendy’s Deli, Pizza Rita (which has fantastic thin-crust gourmet pizzas, but is only open Thursday-Sunday—and not always then, check their Facebook page to be sure they’re not off doing a catering job), and Ali Katz Kitchen, which also has limited hours but has delicious baked goods as well as other interesting foods, such as quiche.  I think all of those places should work out a deal with Bridge Lane to offer coupons worth something off their food if you are doing a tasting or sitting there with a glass or bottle or can of wine! 

Yes, I did say can.  In what is becoming something of a trend out here, a number of wineries are offering their wines in cans, which hold about two glasses.  Bridge Lane goes further, and also offers boxes and even kegs of their wine.  This fits with their overall philosophy, which is that wine should be a fun, casual, inexpensive drink; all the bottles are $20 each.  Interestingly, they are affiliated with Lieb Cellars, which takes their wine very seriously. 

A few more comments—our visit was enhanced by the presence of Bunker, a sweet and friendly little white poodle, property of our server, who noted that they do allow dogs on the property, unlike many other wineries.  The children in our party fell in love with Bunker.  And in a nice touch, the server brought out to the tables bottles of water with paper cups.  They do have live music on weekends, but this afternoon recorded music of the Billy Joel type provided some background sounds.

If you look over the fence at the back of the tasting room and see huge metal vats, know they are not just there for Bridge Lane wines (though our server did inform us that they sell more wine than most other wineries on the North Fork).   The site also houses Premium Wine Group, which does the winemaking for a number of the smaller vineyards who don’t have their own winemaking equipment.

A tasting consists of all five of their wines for $15, and the pour is quite generous, so my tasting buddy and I were glad we had opted to share.  Our guests bought boxes of the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend to take home.

*White Merlot

I liked this the best of the wines.  It is a light, citrusy, floral white, a good summer sipper, and would have gone well with the oysters from Braun’s we had the night before.

*Sauvignon Blanc

The aroma of this wine is one I don’t care for, as it has hints of kerosene. Also a scent of cut grass.  Otherwise, this is a pleasantly dry white, which would go well with scallops or a fish in a creamy sauce.

*Chardonnay

This wine gave me the opportunity to teach some of the party the word petrichor, which is the scent of earth after rain—or that smell you get in the City when you walk past an apartment building on a hot day and the doorman is out there washing off the sidewalk.  One guest and I agreed that the taste of this was like a not-quite-ripe nectarine or yellow plum, with some pleasant minerality.  Again, this is a light, dry wine.

*Rosé

A couple of days ago we had local duck breast and drank a Channing Daughters rosé made from syrah grapes with it.  This rosé is not nearly as tasty.  It has a slight strawberry aroma, and is extremely light and dry, without much fruit flavor.  “It would be good in a kir,” observed one guest.

*Red Blend

So if you got a pizza from Pizza Rita, this would be the perfect wine to drink with it.  Like all the other wines, it is light and dry and easy to drink; it’s a good pizza/pasta wine.  It’s a good red for non-red-wine drinkers.

Reasons to visit:  pleasant outdoor seating areas; reasonably priced wine and tasting, with a generous pour; the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend; snacks are allowed; dogs are allowed; children are allowed; Bunker!

Osprey’s Dominion: Good Place to Perch February 22, 2020

https://ospreysdominion.com/

On this warm, sunny Saturday, we drove east on Main Road, passing wineries with almost-full parking lots. We theorized that it was the combination of the end of the February vacation and the beautiful weather that had drawn the crowds, plus the promise of music in many of the tasting rooms. I had checked the Winterfest web page before we left home, but it was soon clear that many places had live music they had not bothered to register with the Winterfest page. So I suggest that if you are looking for music, you check individual winery web pages to see what they have scheduled—or just head out to the North Fork and look for the “Live Music” signs.

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Many people were relaxing and enjoying the food they brought with them and the music. We would have preferred if Erich Glaubitz had lowered his volume, though we liked the music.

Fortunately, we liked the folky music the singer/guitarist, Erich Glaubitz, was playing at Osprey’s, because otherwise his overly loud amp would have been unbearable. The loud music did make it hard to converse, but we managed. We stood at the bar; however, the room was filled with people who had brought snacks with them, sharing bottles of wine as they sat at tables and enjoyed the sun-filled space. Osprey doesn’t offer much in the way of food, though a sign on the bar offered the “best guac dip EVAH!”—an assertion with which my husband begged to differ, since he makes an awesome guac. We noticed a number of canine companions, so this is a place you can bring your doggy friend.

We enjoyed an instant rapport with our server, who noted that she also kept a notebook for her tastings, and recommended that if we are ever in Windham we look for a terrific wine bar she found there. She helped us with our choices from the list of many wines, after some discussion of our likes. One tasting option is five wines for $12, which was plenty for us to share. We could also have chosen four of their “Library” wines—aged wines that they have just released—for $15. Then we had to figure out which five wines. There are five whites, one rosé, eight reds, and five Reserve Collection wines, a combination of whites and reds. Not to mention three dessert wines.  Oh boy.

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One thing I like about this winery is that they have a variety of wine prices.

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She set us up with two tastes at a time, and urged us to ask anyone for help if she didn’t happen to be available.

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As I drive around the North Fork, I love spotting the osprey nests, which are huge constructions on the top of poles.

  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $19

I like to start with a sauvignon blanc, because they tend to be light and dry, and work well with whatever follows them. This was no exception. Our server noted that she tastes grapefruit, and we agree. My tasting buddy thinks it may be a touch sweet, while I find it tart, and then we decide what is reading as sweet to him is a bit of melon taste when you first sip it. Good with light fish dishes.

  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $19

Certain North Fork wineries make what I consider exemplary versions of particular wines, and for me One Woman makes the best local gewürztraminer. This one, which also contains some riesling, is not as good as hers. The aroma is interestingly complex, including petrichor and gooseberries. We find it a bit too sweet, especially at first sip, though then it ends quite tart, almost acid. It’s not bad, but I find something a bit off-putting about it.

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  1. Richmond Creek Red Blend $14

Richmond Creek is their less expensive label, but we like these wines just fine, and often buy them at Vintage, the wine store in Mattituck. This one is a Bordeaux-style blend, of 42% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 23% merlot, and 11% pinot noir. The aroma is lovely, combining cherry, mint or eucalyptus, cedar, and tobacco. It is very dry, with some tannins, and nice fruit. This is a good everyday red, a burger or pasta wine.

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  1. 2014 Carmenere $30

I was interested to try this wine, since Osprey is the only winery on the North Fork to grow this grape. The 2008 Carmenere is on the list of Library wines, so clearly they feel this is a good wine for aging. I think the 2014 could use more time. The aroma is of dark berries, and it tastes like red plums. Lots of tannins—my tongue feels dry. This would match nicely with a rich beef stew, maybe a boeuf bourguignon.

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  1. 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $39

Our server urges us to try this one, which she categorizes as their best red, having won many awards. She adds that it is blended with some merlot and petit verdot. It is quite good, full-bodied, with lots of dark fruit flavor and mouth-puckering tannins.  It might benefit from further aging. I could see having this with lamb chops.

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I didn’t expect to like this, but I did. Nice way to end our tasting.

  1. Warm Spice Wine $16

Smiling, our server brings us this “extra” at the end of our tasting, urging us to try it. This is not a wine I would have chosen, but I find it surprisingly pleasant. It is seasoned with orange peel, anise, and cinnamon, with the taste of orange predominating. I thought it would be too sweet, but it is not at all. If I still skied, I could see sipping this by the fire after a day out on the slopes. Essentially, it is glogg, the Swedish mulled wine. Delicious.

Reasons to visit: pleasant large room, with options to stand at the bar or sit at a table; you can bring your own food—and pup; nice selection of gifts, augmented on this day by a woman selling hand-made jewelry; the sauvignon blanc, the Richmond Creek Red Blend, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; and, surprisingly, the Warm Spice Wine. We also like the Richmond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which we often buy for everyday drinking at our local wine store.

On the way home, we stopped at the North Fork Doughnut Company and bought these doughnuts for dessert.  On the right is Peach Cobbler, and on the left is Hound Dog, which, since it includes peanut butter and bacon, I assume is an homage to Elvis. Yum.

Lieb Cellars: Comfy Seating February 11, 2020

http://liebcellars.com/

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No sitting on the patio today!

Our dear friends had come for a rare visit, and we wanted to do a tasting where we could sit comfortably and chat while we sipped, so we braved the puddles on Oregon Road and headed to Lieb Cellars. Our friends were quite charmed with the room at Lieb, with its comfy couches and living-room-like groupings of seats around coffee tables. We spent a leisurely afternoon tasting and talking, a brief escape from the continuous rain of this February.

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The somewhat industrial style of the building makes the warm and welcoming interior a pleasant surprise.

We also enjoyed contemplating the art on the walls, which was for sale.  There is a separate room which could be a nice venue for a small party or a large group tasting.

We had the room to ourselves, except for a pair of women who ordered a cheese tray and glasses of wine. Lieb has a very nice list of meats and cheeses one can use to customize a snack board, but we had just had some delicious tomato soup from 8 Hands, and were not hungry. We were, however, happy to sip the water Jessica, the server, brought us in a chilled bottle.

The flight menu offers three options: four whites for $16, four reds for $16, or the Lieb Estate flight of five of their estate wines for $22. Since the first two flights include Bridge Lane wines which we have had at the Bridge Lane tasting room, on the corner of Cox Neck Road, we opted for the Lieb Estate flight, while our friend, who generally prefers reds, ordered the red flight. Our designated driver opted for a glass of non-alcoholic sparkling lemonade, which was served to him in a pretty champagne flute, and which he said was quite good.

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Sparkling lemonade!

  1. 2017 Sparkling Pinot Blanc $38

Our three whites came all on one round terracotta tray, with clear labels for the order in which to drink them. I wondered how long the sparkler had been open, since it barely bubbled. We had no guidance from the very pleasant server as to the details of each wine, but the website informs me that it is made using the méthode champenoise. We taste and smell green apples, plus something a touch woodsy and funky, with lemon at the end. Pleasant, but not as exciting as a bubbly wine should be.

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They give you a fairly generous pour.

  1. 2016 Pinot Blanc $24

This is a very, very light white; in fact, my husband describes it as “barely there.” I get lemon and minerals.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $28

Fermented in a combination of steel and neutral oak, this chardonnay has only a touch of butter. It is smooth, with lots of pineapple taste. Not bad at all.

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The reds from the estate flight (minus a couple of sips).

  1. 2017 Merlot $30

Now we get our three reds, again in a labeled tray, starting with the merlot. This is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with the expected cherry flavors and aromas, though there is a whiff of chemicals in the smell. It is soft and drinkable. Not at all a challenge.

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The red flight.

  1. *Red Blend $20

The Red Blend is part of the red flight, and we sip from our friend’s glass. It is a soft, fruity, very drinkable red, described on the website as a Bordeaux blend. Our friend characterizes it as a “cheese and crackers” wine, and my tasting buddy adds, “You could drink a lot of this before you fell over.” At Bridge Lane you can get this in a box as well as a bottle.

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It was nice to have chilled water to cleanse our palates between tastes.

  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $35

We get into a discussion, trying to characterize the aroma of this wine, and settle on something vegetal, though there is some disagreement over whether it is celery and fennel or Brussels sprouts. It is a dry red, with some tannins, dark fruit taste, a touch of nutmeg, and nice acidity. I like it the best of the wines we try.

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The array of Lieb Estate wines.

  1. 2018 Petit Verdot $45

Sometimes I like petit verdot, and sometimes it just doesn’t knock my socks off. This is the latter. We sniff and get forest floor, mint, and mushrooms. The taste includes blackberries and tobacco, but my husband opines it “lacks gravitas.” Since 2018 was a good year locally, I wonder whether it just needs more time to age. As we discuss our summary impressions, he adds that perhaps the winemaker is too conservative. The winemaker is Russell Hearn, who has his own label of Suhru wines, which we liked better. Perhaps he should bring some of that creativity and risk-taking to these wines, if the owners will let him.

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You can just tell from the labels that the Bridge Lane wines are meant to be taken less seriously.

Reasons to visit: comfortable and attractive tasting room off the beaten track; nice menu of cheeses and meats; the Estate Chardonnay, the Red Blend, the Estate Cabernet Franc. Note that they accept reservations, not a bad idea in the busy season, but certainly not needed during the week in the winter!

 

Castello Borghese: On a Winter’s Day February 9, 2020

https://castellodiborghese.com/

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All the leaves are brown…

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…and the sky is grey.

It’s been a quiet, damp winter out here on the East End of Long Island. The farm stands have all been closed since Christmas, some restaurants have signs reading “See you in the spring,” and there’s no traffic on the roads. On the other hand, the Riverhead Farmer’s market on Saturday was quite lively and busy, and we were happy to find our favorite pickle man there, as well as fresh eggs and other treats. It’s a nice time of year to visit the wineries—though you do need to check they are open, particularly during the week—since you can often have the undivided attention of your server. On the other hand, if you want a livelier atmosphere, you can check out the Winterfest web page (https://longislandwinterfest.com/) to see where you can find musical performances.

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For most of the time, we had the tasting room to ourselves.

We decided to head to Castello Borghese, which we hadn’t been to since August 2018. It is now under the control of Ann Marie and Marco Borghese’s son, after their untimely deaths in 2014. We were very sad when we heard that news, especially since we had had some pleasant chats with Ann Marie in the tasting room. However, Peter, our server, more than made up for that loss, by being very well-informed and passionate about the wines. It didn’t hurt our experience that, charmed by our discussion of our likes and dislikes and by my notebook, he gave us several extra tastes.

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Sometimes they have musical performances in this room.

The main tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and a couple of barrels for extra stand-and-taste space, with an adjacent room with small tables and chairs and a large party space. Outside, there are a few picnic tables. It is very much a winery for serious tasters, and Peter described with some amusement how it served as a refuge for those who accidentally went to Vineyard 48 (since closed for being an out of control party place).

The menu offers five different flights: five whites for $20, five reds for $25, three rosés for $15, a “Classic Flight” of a variety of wines for $20, or “Battle of the North Fork,” a comparison of two whites and two reds. As we discussed which option to take, I announced that I often did not like oaked chardonnays, which Peter took as a challenge, and led to our first “extra.” We decided on the Classic Flight. (I’ve marked the extras with an asterisk.)

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They give you a rather generous pour.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $20

The flight starts off with the 2018 chardonnay, a fairly classic North Fork chard, with aromas of pear, flowers, and minerals and tastes of green apple, mineral, and lemon. It’s very good, and would be perfect with oysters, like the ones we had here one time in the summer.

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We were fascinated by the difference in color between the two chardonnays. The one on the left is oaked.

  1. * 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $24

“Try this,” urged Peter, “it may change your mind.” Well, not totally, though I liked it more than I thought I would, which was explained when I learned it was aged in neutral oak (which means old oak, rather than new, and so is less oaky). It didn’t have that big buttery taste I have come to dislike. Peter told an amusing story about a woman who ordered a glass of this chard, took it outside to drink with her friends, and came back in to complain that she’d been given the wrong wine. Turned out she was from California, where the chardonnays tend to be big and buttery, but Peter was able to match her with a wine she liked. Anyway, this is a bit woodsy, with an aroma of crushed ferns, rather lean and elegant.

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  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $24

I’m not counting this as an extra, but it is not the SB on the flight menu, but rather a different one that Peter thought we’d prefer. Meanwhile, this is light and bright, tart and lemony, with an aroma of cucumbers and a touch of funkiness. I could see pairing it with scallops.

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  1. Rosé of Merlot $18

Peter offers us brief descriptions of each rosé, and we decide to stick with the one on the flight menu. Ever since the changes at Croteaux, we have been on the lookout for good NoFo rosés. This is pretty good, with a slight aroma of strawberry and the flavor of macerated strawberries. It is nicely dry, and we buy a bottle to drink some time in the near future.

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  1. *2018 Pinot Noir $50

“You have to try the Pinot Noir,” says Peter, and we do not disagree. It is a French style pinot, he explains, lean and dry rather than big and jammy like a California pinot. We like it, and if not for the price might have bought a bottle. It has a dark fruit aroma and taste, with slight tannins.

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44

This has a lovely garnet color, but a slight chemical odor which one sometimes gets with reds out here. However, the taste is fine, though at the end it evanesces. We taste dark berries and cherries and tobacco, with some nice acidity. We wonder whether this would improve over time.

  1. *2018 Merlot Select $35

Now we discuss the popularity of merlot and the influence of the movie Sideways, which led to a dip in sales. It is the most popular red grape on the North Fork, and with good reason. This has aromas and tastes of cherry, with a taste that lingers after you sip. 2018 was a very good weather year locally, and so growers expect good things from this vintage. This is also dry, with some tannins. I suggest pairing it with lamb, Peter suggest rib eye, and my husband agrees with us both.

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44

Good way to end our tasting, this is another tasty red, with lots of fruit and some minerality. I like it a lot. Like all their wines, it tends to be elegant and lean rather than big and very fruity. It could also stand up to a steak, or even go with roast pork.

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Many of their wines have won awards.

Reasons to visit: serious tasting room with serious wines; the chardonnay, the Rosé of Merlot, the pinot noir, the cabernet sauvignon reserve; a generous pour.

Laurel Lake: Not Their Fault, But… February 1, 2020

http://www.llwines.com/

We have had several prior visits to Laurel Lake which we enjoyed, including once in the early fall when we sat outside with some friends and experienced good table service and a leisurely afternoon, and another time in the winter when we had the tasting room mostly to ourselves and had a lovely chat with the winemaker. However, this time a very noisy crowd of women having a bachelorette party, succeeded by an even noisier group celebrating a birthday, made it hard for us to relax and enjoy our tasting. Part of the problem is that the room is all hard surfaces, promoting echoing sounds. Not anyone’s fault, but it did color our appreciation of the wines.

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The room looks empty, but off to the left there’s a large and rather noisy group.

There’s plenty of room for groups—which must reserve ahead—at Laurel Lake, especially if you include the outside area, but the main tasting room is a middle size. We decided to sit at a table, and get up to ask for each of our four tastes. The menu offers four tastes for $16, from a menu of six whites and eight reds (minus the sauvignon blanc, which was used up). With some guidance from the servers—one of whom, Maureen, amazingly recognized us from our visit over a year ago—we chose our four.

 

  1. 2018 Pinot Gris $23.99

A good place to start, this is a relatively simple, direct white, the French version of pinot grigio. The wine doesn’t have much aroma, just perhaps a touch of flowers and minerals. It is dry, with tastes of unripe pear, salt, and minerals. It would be fine with a delicate fish dish.

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  1. 2018 Gewürztraminer $23.99

The menu wisely includes a little pronunciation guide to this wine, which people might otherwise hesitate to order! And order it they should, as it is very likely a crowd pleaser. It has enough fruit to make it easy to drink, but not so much sweetness that we were put off by it. The aroma is of thyme honey and oak, and it tastes like peaches and apricots. It would be fine to sip on its own, but even better with kung pao chicken.

  1. 2015 Cabernet Franc $22.99

I was thinking of getting their red blend, called Wind Song Red, but the server warned me that it is “semi-sweet.” So, no. Instead I got the cab franc, which had a very promising aroma of fruit, leather, nutmeg, and plums. It is, she informed me, their most popular red. We found it pleasant, but one-dimensional, light-bodied, with slight tannins and nice acidity. I taste purple plums and maybe a touch of black olive. I could see how people would find it easy to drink. The tasting notes suggest pairing it with grilled tuna, and I agree.

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  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $29.99

The word “reserve” can mean anything a winery wants it to mean, but generally it denotes their higher end wines. All of Laurel Lake’s wines are moderately priced, with this the most expensive one on the menu. It is a dry, smooth, pleasant (there’s that word again—am I damning with faint praise?) red, with light tannins, tasting of dark fruits and berries. The menu describes it as having an “intense aroma,” but we thought not. Interestingly, the last time we were here we tried the 2012 iteration of this wine, and liked it very much. Just shows the importance of tasting each vintage.

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Reasons to visit: pleasant tasting room, if it’s not filled with noisy groups; nice outside area for warm weather; at the moment they allow outside snacks; the gewürztraminer and the cabernet franc, small selection of amusing wine-related gifts.

 

Channing Daughters: Amazing Variety January 22, 2020

https://www.channingdaughters.com/

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The figure to the right is one of Walter Channing’s sculptures, which he made from tree trunks.

Although we live on the North Fork surrounded by an abundance of wineries, we choose to belong to the wine club of one of the few wineries on the South Fork: Channing Daughters. Why? Aside from the excellence of their wines, they have the biggest variety of wines we’ve seen, and the most innovative ideas as well. They grow varieties of grapes no one else out here has, over two dozen varieties, according to their web site. Since they also blend them and use them in constantly varying ways, there is always something new to try. And if you are a wine club member, there is no end to the trying!

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These are the wine club selections we brought home. As you look over my notes, you will see that I didn’t even get to taste four of them. I’ll have to add to this entry when I do.

With a slight warming trend in the weather to encourage us, we drove over to Channing on a cold but sunny day to collect two shipments worth of club wines and try whatever was new. And try we did, ending up by tasting eleven wines—we started dumping after a few sips, just so we could keep up. Anthony, our server, seemed to know everything about every wine, and spoke reverentially about Christopher Tracy, the winemaker. When I looked up Christopher’s bio on the winey web page, I was interested to see that he had been a chef. Perhaps that accounts for his experimental, creative, and innovative approach to wine-making.

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Rocky is a resident pooch, but they ask that you not bring your own dog here. They ended up with so many people bringing dogs that it became a problem.

The tasting room is small, just a bar along one side and a few barrels where one could rest a glass while tasting, though there are tables outside in warm weather. No food, though a tray of crackers was on offer to cleanse our palates. No dogs, either, though we were enthusiastically greeted by a resident pooch named Rocky.

If you are not a wine club member, the standard flight of five wines plus one vermouth is $20. Though I expressed an interest in trying the standards, Anthony, noting the notebook, our membership, and the attention we paid to the wines, kept urging us to try various other wines. We were not loath to do so. (By the way, if you are a wine clubber you also get access to some wines not on offer to the general public. And because they are such a small winery, some varieties do sell out.)

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  1. 2016 L’Enfant Sauvage $38

This “wild child” is an oaked chardonnay made with wild yeasts—“what Mother Nature provides,” noted Anthony. And she provided very well with this vintage. Although it is oaked, it is not at all buttery, instead having an aroma of pears and wild honey and a taste of ripe pears and, perhaps, cranberries. We tasted this at room temperature, which was just right for this flavorful white.

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  1. 2018 Pinot Grigio $20

I’ve drunk a lot of pinot grigio, since that is often my go-to choice if I am getting wine by the glass. This one is unusual (no surprise). It smells of flowers and vegetables, with a taste that suggests roasted asparagus and wild thyme honey, while being also dry and minerally. I am not surprised when Anthony informs us that a small amount of the wine is fermented in neutral oak, which gives it some of those interesting characteristics.

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  1. 2016 Tocai Friulano $24

I don’t think anyone else out here grows this grape, or if they do, I’ve not had their wine. Anthony informs us that it is related to sauvignon blanc, and in Europe it is called “sauvignon vert.” This one doesn’t have much aroma, and the taste is very green apple-y, and not at all citrusy. There’s some minerality in it as well. My tasting buddy likes it more than I do, though I think I’d like it better with food.

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  1. 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $26

This is a dry, crisp, mineral-y, almost salty white, with some tastes of lime and grapefruit. It would go well with oysters, but again I don’t care to drink it on its own.

  1. 2016 Cuvee Tropical $23

What a contrast! This is a lush blend of 75% chardonnay, 10% pinot grigio, 9% tocai friulano, and 6% muscat ottonel, with some of the juice fermented in oak and some in steel, and I don’t know what else, but the result is yummy. I get notes of pineapple and guava and peaches, with just a trace of sweetness.   This is a wine I could happily sip on its own, but I bet it would pair well with Thai food or other spicy, interesting cuisines.

  1. 2014 Meditazione $40

Orange! Not only is this an orange wine, I swear it tastes like kumquats. It is made by fermenting white wine grapes on their skins, like red wines, and fermenting it partially in oak and partially in steel. Made from 36% Pinot Grigio, 21% Muscat Ottonel, 14% Chardonnay, 13% Tocai Friulano, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Pinot Bianco and 4% Gewurztraminer, it is moderately dry and very tasty. According to the web site (which is worth visiting just for the descriptions of the wines), this is good with wild game birds. I could surely see having this with duck.

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By the way, the pet nat wines all come with crown caps, so they are easy to open.

  1. 2019 Gewürztraminer Petillant Naturel $28

Though I’ve been dumping parts of most of the last few tastes, I can’t resist finishing this really delicious sparkling wine. In fact, I like it so much that we buy a bottle. It has a lovely tingle on the tongue, and some typical gewürztraminer tastes, like lychee and peaches. I could see having this as an aperitif with some nice charcuterie from 8 Hands Farm.

  1. 2018 Rosso Fresco $23

This is a lightweight red blend—of merlot, cabernet franc, dornfelder, and blaufrankisch (there’s a line-up you’re not likely to find anywhere else…)—that could be served slightly chilled, with barbequed chicken. It has a slight cherry flavor, and no tannins.

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  1. 2017 Dornfelder $30

Noting that we were not enthusiastic about the Rosso Fresco, Anthony suggested we try the dornfelder, which includes 3% pinot noir and 2% pinot grigio. The aroma is rather funky, like that barnyard smell so many reds out here used to have, but fortunately the taste is better than the smell. We get blackberries, and nice acidity (which makes your mouth water). It may need more aging.

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  1. 2017 Petit Verdot $38

This is a nice red, with a fruity aroma and some cherry tastes and smells (probably because it is 15% merlot), plus minerality and spice. Very drinkable, though at this point I only dare take a couple of sips. I could see this with hearty food, like steaks and stews.

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  1. Muscat de Boom $30

We are getting ready to go, packing up the wines from our club shipment plus the extras we’ve bought, when Anthony realizes we haven’t tasted this dessert wine, which is one of our club selections. The small bottle contains an orange wine with a flavor Anthony compares to marzipan. I definitely get almond and oranges, and, though it is a sweet dessert wine, it is not too sweet. I taste baked apples and raisins as well. I could see sipping this while cracking walnuts after a big meal.

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They have a small selection of wine-related gifts.

Reasons to visit: the widest and wildest variety of wines on Long Island; a great option on the South Fork, right near Sag Harbor, our favorite town on that fork (though it is increasingly Hamptonized, children favorites the Variety Store, Wharf Shop, and Blooming Shells are still there, as well as Canio’s Book Store plus plenty of restaurants); all the wines, but especially the Cuvee Tropical, the Meditazione, L’Enfant Sauvage, Petit Verdot, and Muscat de Boom; and I didn’t even mention the vermouths, which are as interesting and complex and original as the wines! I heartily recommend joining the wine club, though if you have the selections shipped to you in New York State you need to be home to sign for them, which is why we now pick ours up at the winery.

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After our tasting, we sobered up on a nice brisk walk around Sag Harbor.

Addendum:  Just tried the 2014 Dorn & Blau.  It is a blend of 81% dornfelder and 19% blaufrankisch.  A very dark, almost black red, it has an almost spicy aroma and taste, with lots of tannins, and some dark fruit tastes.  It is lean and elegant, and we had it with one of our favorite winter meals, a thick soup plus bread and cheese.