Jason’s Vineyard: Ahoy, Matey!

December 7, 2022

The nautical theme begins outside; note the roped pilings.

As we settled ourselves around Jason’s ship-shaped bar (mast and all), I joked, “And it’s not a pirate ship!”  I expected the server to agree, and explain that its design is a reference to the famous Greek ship, the Argo, whose captain was the hero, Jason.  Instead, he offered, “It’s a Viking ship.”  Assuming he was kidding, I laughed—but he wasn’t.  Though he’s worked for the Damianos family for years (They also own Pindar and the two Duck Walk tasting rooms.), no one had ever explained to him the mythological inspiration for the bar.  Jason Damianos, sadly, died in an auto accident not long after opening the tasting room, but the family continues to run it.  Though pleasant and attentive, our server was similarly not informed about the wines.  I hope after our gentle teasing he will be better informed for the next visitors.

The mast is designed like a classic Greek sailing ship‘s mast.

We had chosen to go to Jason’s because our visitors brought with them their very well-behaved pooch, and, according to the web site, they welcome dogs.  Then the sign on the door said, “No Pets.”  What to do?  I poked my head into the empty room, and asked, and the server welcomed us in, doggie and all. Whew. 

Our visiting pup.

We hadn’t been to Jason’s since February 2019, both due to the pandemic and because we had found the wines overall too sweet for our taste.  They seem to have partially corrected that, although Golden Fleece (a reference to the object of Jason’s quest), their most popular wine, is still much too sweet.  By the way, if you like to look at animals, you can stop outside to see the sheep and alpacas, another reference to the famous quest.  Oh, and the rest rooms are labeled Gods and Goddesses, reinforcing the mythological theme.

A tasting consists of four wines for $15, chosen from the list of eleven, served in little plastic cups on a labeled tray.  The servings were adequate for each couple to share a tasting.  We decided to mostly have the same wines, so we could compare notes, and all decided not to buy any wines to take home. They allow you to bring in snacks, and also sell a selection of crackers and cheeses.  Our guests bought a package of crackers as palate cleansers.

  • 2020 Viognier   $27.95

I often find viogniers quite pleasant, and this one was okay.  The aroma reminded me of fresh-cut grass, and the taste was somewhat grassy as well, with some herbal notes.  However, one guest found it somewhat vinegary, and too sharp for her taste.

The plate has an insert of numbers, and our server explained to taste them in a clockwise order.
  • 2021 Sauvignon Blanc    $24.95

Consulting my notes, I see that the last time we were here I characterized the sauvignon blanc as watery, and it still is.  It’s a very light white, with some notes of melon with lemon squeezed over it.

  • Golden Fleece    $18.95

Our guests ordered this one, and gave us a sip to taste as well.  A blend of chardonnay, seyval blanc, Cayuga, vidal blanc, and riesling—according to the tasting menu, though our server was unable to tell us in what proportions—this tasted mostly like a rather sweet riesling.  Not my type, though, as I mentioned above, this is apparently their most popular wine.

There’s an outside porch area, though not for a chilly rainy day.
  • 2019 Merlot       $34.95

“This is a competent merlot,” opined one guest, and I agree.  It is dry, with some cherry taste and aroma, somewhat light, with some notes of oak and smoke.  As we were sipping, we got into a discussion with our server, who by this time had exactly one other group to attend to, about how the Damianos family run three separate wineries.  He explained that, in addition to the eleven wines at Jason’s, the other two places offer thirty different wines each, with each meeting different requirements as to taste.  However, the same winemaker does them all.  That’s impressive, and part of why I find wine so fascinating.  The same grape, grown in the same area and type of soil, can end up tasting quite different, depending on time of harvest and after harvest treatment.

The bottles are adorned with an image of the Argo. It was manned by a group of heroes dubbed the Argonauts.
  • 2019 Meritage   $36.95

Although this is their Bordeaux blend (again, I don’t know proportions or grapes), it is thin, almost watery, with a slight taste of black olives.  Meh.

Reasons to visit:  you like to look at sheep and alpacas; you are fascinated by Greek mythology; you need to bring a dog with you (despite the sign on the door, the website does say, “Pets are welcome!”); you like sweet wine.

This alpaca seemed quite curious about us.

Roanoke Wine Shop: Four for Four

October 13, 2022

The entrance to the patio from the parking lot is well-shaded.

The sky was threatening rain, so I was glad I was able to park just steps from the back door of Roanoke’s Love Lane wine shop in the roomy parking lot off Pike Street.  Roanoke has two tasting rooms, but the one at the vineyard is for members only.  However, all are welcome to their Love Lane venue, a small but pleasant store front in the midst of Love Lane’s shops.  Love Lane, by the way, is a great destination for foodies, since in one small block you have the terrific Village Cheese Shop, the Sweet Shoppe and its gourmet chocolates, Ammirati’s sandwich restaurant with its many choices, Lombardi’s Italian market, North Fork Donut Company, and Love Lane Kitchen, where the lines outside prove its popularity.  Not to mention, just around the corner, Agora, a Greek market, and Good Food, where I get empanadas.

The view out the front window, where you can see Lombardi’s market, which has all sorts of prepared foods and pizza, as well as meats, etc.

Despite all these offerings on Love Lane, we and our guests had just had lunch at CJ’s Grill, in the Mattituck Marketplace, where the service was a bit slow, but the food was delicious and the servings were generous.  This was fortunate, since the pour at Roanoke is also generous, and it was good to have a well-lined stomach.  The tasting menu just has one flight listed for non-club members, of four wines for $16.  We liked them all so much, and the price was so reasonable, that I bought one each of all four wines, something I have never done before.

Roanoke does have a well-shaded patio in back, where we would have sat if the weather had cooperated.  However, it had turned chilly, so our party of five voted to sit inside.  We had the room to ourselves, which was nice, and our server and a friend of his who was hanging out at the bar helped us push two small tables together and rearrange the chairs so we were quite comfortable.  Each couple shared a tasting, with the designated driver supplied with a glass of water (which we all also got). 

Though we didn’t need any snacks, one of our guests asked for a cracker or two, and got a nice little basket of crackers.

As I was paying for our tastings and bottles, I noticed a small list of cheeses and snacks, but I forgot to ask about their policy for bringing in food.  I’ll assume dogs are probably allowed on the outside patio, but I would call and ask before coming.  By the way, Roanoke also carries Wölffer Estate wines, including their very popular rosé, Summer in a Bottle. 

As we sipped, one of our guests asked how this year had been, and our server told us that it looked likely to be a very good year for the harvest, as grapes enjoy the hot dry weather we had for most of the summer.  Something to look forward to!

The labels are quite attractive.
  •  2021 Sauvignon Blanc   $26

This is a steel fermented wine, with a bit of that mineral aroma steel-fermented wines get, plus a lovely floral scent.  We all like the crisp, lemon-lime taste, with more depth than many sauvignon blancs.  This is a very drinkable wine, and would be good with food, like a lobster roll.

  • 2021 The Wild                   $23

What’s so wild about this?  It uses wild yeast, which cedes some control over the result to nature, rather than using commercial yeasts.  Channing Daughters also uses wild yeasts—those occurring naturally in the air and soil—for their L’Enfant Sauvage.  As a result, the taste of the wine can vary from year to year.  This one worked out well.  A clone of chardonnay, with some muscat, it is steel-fermented, but is softer than some steel chards.  Instead of citrus, it has a toasted nut flavor and a long finish. Our guests buy two bottles.

  • 2020 > (Greater Than)                   $25

Why is the name of this Bordeaux-style blend the mathematical symbol for greater than?  There’s a story behind it.  Originally, this was called Bond, but it turned out a California winery also had a wine called Bond—a very high-end wine—and they had copyrighted the name.  Uh-oh.  So Roanoke asked its wine club members for alternative names, and someone came up with the idea of greater than, as in greater than the sum of its parts.  And indeed it is.  This is a blend of 67% cabernet franc, 19% merlot, and 14% cabernet sauvignon.  The aroma includes cherries (likely from the merlot) and spice.  I say nutmeg.  The tasting menu compares it to a Briermere cherry tart.  It’s not sweet, but it is soft, with no tannins, so it’s surely a drink-now wine.  I’d have it with mac and cheese—maybe the mac and cheese from Meats Meat, also in Mattituck, just around the corner on Main Road.

  • 2020 Marco Tulio             $28

There’s a story behind the name of this Bordeaux blend as well.  It is named for the father of one of the founders, who lived to be 99 years old, and died just short of his 100th birthday.  His photo adorns the bottle.  This one has much more of the cherry aroma and flavor, not surprising, given that this blend is 66% merlot, 21% cabernet franc, and 13% cabernet sauvignon.  This is drier than >, with some slight tannins.  I taste tart plums and a little spice.  I think I’d pair it with spaghetti carbonara.

Reasons to visit:  cozy tasting room conveniently located in the midst of Love Lane’s food mecca; all four of the tasting menu wines; a place to buy Wölffer Estate wines.

Matchbook Distilling Company: And Now for Something Completely Different

#matchbookdistilling

February 26, 2022

We had a plan.  The young members of our group (see my blog about Jamesport Farm Brewery) would enjoy ice skating on the rink in Greenport, while three of the adults would make the short trek to Matchbook Distilling Company.  The best laid plans…the rink was closed!  But the blacksmith shop was open, plus hot chocolate at Aldo’s and several rounds on the carousel (where the youngest caught the brass ring for the first time), kept them occupied while, indeed, we three meandered through the back streets of a residential neighborhood until we came to an unassuming, low-slung warehouse building.  Inside was a fascinating and unexpected scene, one to which we hope to return.

This is the entrance, next to a small parking lot.

Matchbook Distilling makes liquors and liqueurs—which is sort of like saying Disney makes rides.  And what a ride we had!  In the sleek tasting room, we sat in high chairs at a bar and perused the three tasting flights on offer.  Categorized as Bright, Bold, and Punchy, each included tastes of three products.  The Punchy was $20, and the Bold $25. Though the pour may seem small to those used to beer and wine flights, remember the higher alcohol content of these drinks.  It was plenty, and even allowed the three of us to taste all six of the samples we got—plus a seventh in response to our enthusiasm. 

My usual tasting buddy and I opted for the Bold flight—out of which I bought bottles of two of our sippers—and the third member of our crew got the Punchy one.  He, by the way, had actually been to Matchbook before, when he participated in the Gin Experience, in which you get to create your own unique gin by combining the many ingredients on offer, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.  You have to make a reservation to do that, and, until recently, you also needed a reservation to do a tasting, which is partly why we hadn’t been there before.  However, it seems that on a Saturday afternoon they will take walk-ins.  I would call or email to check on that.

As we were finishing our tasting, we were invited to accompany a group setting out on a tour of the facilities, which they do at regular intervals on the weekend.  The tour only takes about fifteen minutes, and is very impressive.  Our guide led us through some doors at the far end of the tasting room, and we entered a cavernous warehouse facility, filled with gleaming machines, wooden barrels, and huge bags of grains and other ingredients.  For example, we saw large vats filled with halved blood oranges, for their blood orange liqueur.  They process 8,000 pounds of blood oranges to make 6,000 bottles, we were told.

The lab!
Blood oranges.
I like orange liqueurs, so this is on my list for next time.

Back in the tasting room, we saw a list of snacks, though we didn’t need any, and also of cocktails on offer.

I learned all sorts of random bits of distilling lore, including that they use something called a dunder pit to make some of their rum, which is an open pit in the manner of Jamaican rum producers.  Basically, it is analogous to the everlasting stocks some cooks will make, with some of a previous batch added to each next batch, leading to deep and complex flavors.  Matchbook’s dunder pit is already three years old.  They also make a point of using organic and local ingredients as much as possible.

Like Channing Daughters, my favorite winery for all its experimentation with new flavors and combinations, Matchbook calls themselves an R+D distillery, in that they are constantly trying new things.  I guess I’ll have to go back.

In no particular order, these are the drinks we tried:

  •  Flatlander Aleppo Pepper           $63

Described on their website as “New York Corn Whiskey with Aleppo Peppers, aged in a Red Wine Cask,” this looks like any whiskey, but has a taste all its own.  It smells of allspice and pepper and smoke, elements that are also in the taste.  “It has a kick,” sagely observes my tasting buddy.  I could see sipping this neat, or with just a drop or two of water.

  • Mad King Hopped Apple Brandy               $53

I find the aroma of this somewhat medicinal, and the taste as well, but our friend likes it. 

  • Wall Flower       $35

This is a dunder rum, made partially with the product of the dunder pit.  It has a lovely flowery aroma, and would be wonderful in a daquiri.

  • Ritual Sister       $68

Have you ever had a liquor distilled from pineapple?  No, neither had I.  Our server described how, over at the Lin Beach House (where a group of the Matchbook people live) they made a fire in a pit and roasted pineapples for three days, partly as Covid lockdown distraction.  The result in an almost too-easy-to-drink tipple, with smoky and fruity tastes.

  • Late Embers Sunchoke + Honey                $60

I really like mezcal, so I was intrigued to try this version made with sunchokes.  I’ve had sunchokes, a tuber with a crisp texture somewhat like a water chestnut.  Well, apparently it has the same “chains of fructose molecules, called inulin” as agave, according to the Matchbook website, and has the advantage of growing like a weed in the Northeast.  They use their firepit for this as well, and smoke and steam the sunchokes.  It smells like a mezcal, and tastes like one, too.  I buy a bottle. It is smoky and fruity and delicious, and that evening our friend combines it with reposado tequila, Grand Marnier, freshly squeezed lemon, lime, and orange juice, and a bit of agave syrup to make transcendental margaritas, which we have with seviche made with local bay scallops we pick up at Braun’s on our way home.  (Then for dinner we have tuna steaks and Channing Daughters rosé, with Nofodoco doughnuts for dessert.  Not too shabby.)    

  • Metamodernity Bourbon            $78

LIV makes a bourbon, but I like this one better.  It’s made with corn, wheat, barley, and oats, and has some of the sweetness you expect in a bourbon, but also more flavor than most.  It actually smells to me like a corn muffin! I buy a bottle of this, too, and find it makes a perfect night-cap, with just a touch of water and one ice cube.

  • Bling Nova Wheat Vodka             $37

Because I got into a gin vs. vodka discussion with one of the people behind the bar, he suggests that I try their vodka, which he notes has more flavor than most.  He’s right.  It has a subtle taste of grains.  If you’re looking to boycott Russian vodkas, you might try a bottle of this. 

Reasons to visit:  you like hard liquor and are open to trying new versions of old favorites; they are like a bunch of brilliant mad scientists, trying all sorts of unusual ingredients and methods; you’d like a tour of a distillery; you want to try your hand at blending your own gin; you want to try something new, not a winery or brewery or cidery; you’re on vacation in Greenport and want to do a tasting in walking distance of downtown. 

Some of the options for flavoring your own gin.

Terre Vite: New Name, New Look, Mostly New Wines

November 17, 2021

We used to love to go to Diliberto, and went so often that Sal Diliberto greeted us as friends.  But, as is increasingly common on the North Fork, at some point he decided to sell his beloved vineyard, and it was bought by Jacqui Fusco and Greg Goodale, North Fork natives.  One aspect of the tasting room we loved was the trompe l’oeil mural that made you feel as though you were sitting in an Italian piazza.  Well, that is gone, but the room is beautifully re-done, decorated by one of the owners of Lumber + Salt, a salvage and antique store that specializes in reclaimed and repurposed items.  For example, the shelving behind the bar, which itself includes part of a gate, is made of hardware pieces from the 1940s. A gigantic lamp is made from the top of a windmill.

Giant lamp made from the top of a windmill!
As more and more wineries and restaurants are doing, they put their menu online, accessed through a QR code.

Is Sal’s pizza oven still in the kitchen, we asked, and our server said it was, but they were not currently offering pizza, though, she noted, Sal was very generous as he helped them take over his place.  Instead, they offer fairly standard cheese and charcuterie platters and a few other snacks.  We decided to try BobbySue’s nuts, which turned out to be a variety called “Nuts Over Olives,” but which we did not particularly like.  After we discussed the taste of them—a somewhat sweet amalgam of nuts and bits of olive—and admitted we did not care for them, she kindly offered us plain nuts, and then, when we declined, took the $5 bag of nuts off our bill.

We had the tasting room mostly to ourselves on this chilly November Thursday, but we noted that the renovation meant they have more seats, plus more tables and chairs on the porch and out on the lawn.  Cute touch—the chairs around the porch table were draped with cozy-looking blankets.  By the way, if you check out their web site you will see quite a few Italian words, honoring the new owners’ love of Italian culture, food, and wines.  They even have an espresso machine behind the bar.

Wanting to try the full array of their wines, we opted for two flights, one of whites and one of reds, for $22 and $24, respectively.  The tastes came to the table in sturdy wooden boxes, four round-bottomed glasses in each, filled with a generous amount of wine.  We didn’t finish most of them, not because we didn’t like them, but because it was more wine than we wanted to have.  Our server noted that the merlot and the Tre are still Diliberto’s wines, but the rest are their own.   Overall, we felt that the wines were pleasant, but not exciting.

  •  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $32

The tasting notes mention “white peach,” and I agree, plus lemon.  This is a light, dry, refreshing white, good to have with oysters (which I hear are offered here on weekends).

  •  2020 Sole Chardonnay $35

Our server noted that the name is Italian for sun—not fish, though it would be good with a nice filet of sole.  It is a light, steel-fermented chard, with a slightly piney aroma, some citrus, and what the tasting notes call “apple and guava.”  I would say, green apple.

  • 2020 White Merlot         $40

This category of wines—whites made from red grapes, with minimal skin contact, but not categorized as rosés—seems to be getting more popular.  This one is a pretty pale pink, with an aroma of cherries, a touch sweet, and easy to drink.

  • 2018 Reserve Chardonnay          $40

I’m often not fond of oaked chardonnays, but this one is not too oaky, so I don’t mind it.  The aroma is slightly funky and woodsy, and so is the taste.  My tasting buddy says it is “nice,” which is pretty much what we’ve sa;id of all the wines so far.

  • 2017 Cabernet Franc      $33

I smell peppercorns, and my tasting buddy agrees.  This is a light red, a bit peppery but mild, dry, a red one could drink with roast chicken.

The array of wines, including a couple of holdovers from Diliberto’s.
  • 2017 Mercato   $35 

A 50/50 blend of cabernet franc and merlot, we again categorize this wine as nice.  I know, not a very expressive term, but it seems apropos.  We taste some cherry from the merlot, and some spice from the cab franc, but, as my husband says, “there’s not much to it.”

  • 2015 Merlot      $42

This wine is still Diliberto’s bottling, and, in contrast to the above, my pal says “there’s something to it.”  I agree, that it is the most interesting wine so far today, with lots of typical merlot cherry aroma and taste, plus purple plum. 

  • Tre Blend            $45

As the name suggests, this is a Bordeaux-type blend of three wines—65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc.  This is actually one of the few wines we finish, as it is very pleasant to drink, and would go well with a cheese tray, if we had ordered one. I don’t know how much longer this will be available, since it is another one of Diliberto’s wines.

Reasons to visit:  fascinating décor, worth examining; intimate room; all the wines are easy to drink, though none are outstanding, but my favorites were the sauvignon blanc and the Tre; generous pour. 

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: Easy to Drink

July 1, 2021

We celebrated summer by heading to Osprey’s Dominion, after spotting an osprey on his or her nest and taking it as an omen.  On this warm summer early afternoon, the capacious tasting room was empty, and only a couple of tables were occupied outside on the pleasant patio. They still seem to be operating on the pandemic model, with a bunch of tables in the tasting room taken up by a varied selection of gift items, many of them unrelated to wine.  Not sure why.

In general, we like their wines, and during lockdown we drank many bottles of their Richmond Creek label, a very reasonably priced and quite drinkable collection.  So this time we opted for other wines on their flight menu. 

Two hard-working gentlemen (they were busy taking phone reservations for groups and unpacking boxes, in addition to serving flights) behind the bar handed us a menu and a paper with circles, where we were to specify which wines we wanted in our flight.  I know to order tastes from lightest or driest to most flavorful, but not everyone does, so it’s too bad no guidance was offered.  The problem is, if you taste, for example, a wine like an oaked chardonnay before a light wine like their sauvignon blanc, the sauv will seem to have no taste. The tastings are $15 for five or $10 for three, your choice from a menu of 23 wines.  They also offer wines by the glass, and a small menu of snack items. One of those was a Boar’s Head platter, of sliced meats and chips, which we know was fresh because the truck had just pulled up outside.  However, we asked about chips, which they did not have, and instead offered us bags of Wheat Thins, which we took, and for which they did not charge us.  They do still allow you to bring your own picnic, and, apparently, dog, since we saw one on the patio.

Ten wines seemed like more than we wanted to drink, so we opted for two tastings, one of five and one of three.  As it happened, the tastes were so small that I think we could have handled five and five.  We carried our trays outside, where a slight breeze made it pleasant, as we listened to soft rock of the James Taylor variety on the loudspeakers.  They have a gazebo out in the garden, labeled cutely “Grand Ole Osprey,” where they have live music on the weekends and Friday evenings.

  1.  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $19

Our first taste was a perfect summer sipper, their light pleasant steel-fermented sauvignon blanc.  It has a sweet, flowery aroma and tastes of slightly sweetened lime.

  • 2014 Gewurztraminer   $19

You never know what you’re going to get with a gewurtz, as I’ve had both sweet and dry varieties.  This one is not sweet.  It has a bit of the cat pee smell one often encounters, plus some minerality.  My tasting buddy summed it up by saying it “wants to be sweet but isn’t.” Interesting.

  • 2019 Rosé          $19

Many rosés have lovely aromas of strawberries or other fruit, but this one has almost no smell.  However, it is a very drinkable dry rosé, with a touch of citrus, maybe Meyer lemon, and some tropical fruit, perhaps guava.

  •  2012 Merlot     $22

There are many, many merlots on the North Fork, and this one is similar to most, with its cherry aroma, but with another taste we couldn’t quite identify. It’s a simple, casual red, with some tannins. 

  • 2015 Cabernet Franc      $24

I insist this smells like macerated blackberries, at which my husband shrugs.  It is dry, with soft tannins, another easy-to-drink wine.  My husband says “tangy,” at which I shrug.

  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon           $22

We agree we like this one better, from the aroma of berries and flowers to the flavor of mixed berries.  Lots of tannins, so perhaps it could age even more. 

  • 2017 Malbec     $30

Despite the higher price, we would choose any of the preceding reds over this one, which we decide needs more oomph.  My tasting buddy observes that he wouldn’t have thought it was a malbec.  On the other hand, it is another drinkable wine.

  • 2014 Meritage “Flight”  $30

This is a blend, probably of cabernet franc and merlot, and a banner over the bar boasts that it has won awards, so I order it, though originally I was going to end with the petit verdot.  The aroma includes cherry and tobacco, and it tastes of cherries and oak, with more taste than smell.  This is one more in the list of unchallenging, easy-to-drink wines.

Reasons to visit: large tasting room and outside patio areas; all the wines are drinkable, if unchallenging; they allow you to bring a picnic and your pooch (outside), which many places no longer do; music on the weekends; we liked the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet sauvignon best.

Doggie!
I assume this outdoor bar is in anticipation of bigger crowds.

Croteaux: Back to the Garden

June 24, 2021

Friends often ask me which wineries they should go to.  My answer always is, it depends on what you like, but if they want to sit outside in a pretty setting and feel relaxed, Croteaux is my go-to recommendation.  Since I recommend it so frequently, I felt I needed to visit it early on in my renewed project to visit all the wineries!  As my husband likes to say, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Well, I am happy to report that Croteaux continues to be a good choice for the above reasons.  (I was concerned because the winery has new ownership.)

It was another beautiful June day, and we started by running an errand in Greenport and walking around town.  As they did last summer, the town has partially blocked off Front Street so that restaurants and stores can expand their seating and displays.  Lots of outdoor tables and minimal traffic make eating outside here an attractive prospect.  We will be back! 

Front Street in Greenport is now lined with outdoor tables.

The next decision was where to go for a tasting.  According to their website, we did not need a reservation for Croteaux, so off we went.  They have slightly revamped their entry and exit procedures, so you enter directly from the parking lot via the opening in a barn building, where a pleasant young woman walked us to a table.  She brought with her a bottle of water and two glasses, a nice touch. We sipped the water as we waited a short time for our waitress—it is all table service. When you leave and it’s time to pay, you go through a little vestibule which used to be both the exit and entrance, and would get quite crowded, but now was easy to navigate.  Checks are handed out tied to clam or oyster shells, a smart move, since this keeps them from blowing away.

The tasting menu, accessed via a QR code on the table, offered two choices—in addition to individual glasses.  You can try all six of their still rosés for $25, or their three sparkling rosés for $20.  They only make rosés, by the way.  We opted to share the still wines, plus a basket of sliced baguette and a soft Boursin-like cheese for $12, since it was lunch time.  They have a nice little menu of snacks, including some more substantial offerings like lobster roll sliders for $22 for two servings.  (The still wines are $35-$39 per bottle, and sparklers $45-$49.)

Our tastes arrived, three glasses each in two pottery saucers, with the varieties listed beneath the glasses, and we were instructed to taste counterclockwise from a particular spot—or not, depending on what we liked to do!  But I would recommend going in that order, from lightest to strongest, since otherwise a light wine might be overshadowed by a more forceful cousin.  As we sipped and munched, enjoying both our drinks and our snack, we watched the antics of two little dogs which a couple at a nearby table had brought with them.

  1.  Chloe

This is their lightest wine, barely tinged with pink, and is described on the menu as a “white wine drinker’s rosé,” which I can see.  It smells like honeysuckle, and has nice tropical fruit flavors.

  • Merlot 3

The name of this and a couple of other wines refers to the clone of merlot used to make them.  This has a flowery aroma that is quite pleasant, and is also tasty.  Like all their rosés, it is dry, in the French style.  I was trying to decide what I tasted when my tasting buddy suggested mandarin oranges.  Exactly.

  • Merlot 181

Unlike the previous two, this wine has barely any aroma.  It is light and refreshing, a good sipper for a warm day, with a slight strawberry taste and lots of minerality.

  • Merlot Sauvage

If you know French, you may wonder what could be wild about a wine.  The answer is, the yeast.  Instead of using the known quantity of a yeast they have bought, winemakers will sometimes use the indigenous yeast which is found on all grapes, giving them less control over the final product but often delicious results.  Channing Daughters makes a wine they call L’Enfant Sauvage, which uses wild yeast.  This one has a woodsy aroma, a light pink color, and a definite taste of watermelon (which reminded me of a recent taste I had of watermelon infused with a Negroni).  Mouth-watering.

  • Merlot 314

Not sure why, but the menu labels this “bistro-style.”  This is my husband’s least favorite of the day, though it is certainly drinkable.  It has hints of lemon/lime and tangerine.

  • Jolie

Pretty is an apt name for this deep pink wine, with lots of strawberry aroma and taste.  It has more depth than the other rosés, with touches of minerals and herbs, and reminded me of strawberries macerated with white wine.  The menu calls it a “red wine lover’s rosé.”

Reasons to visit: lovely garden setting; pleasant laid-back vibe (the speakers were playing reggae-inflected and soft rock music while we were there); lots of easy-to-drink rosés; nice menu of snacks; I especially liked the Chloe, the Sauvage, and the Jolie; dogs!

Pellegrini: In the Club

June 17, 2021

Quite a few years ago, on a gray wine-soaked winter afternoon, we joined the Pellegrini wine club, for reds only, because they tended to make better reds than some of the other East End wineries.  In general, that still holds true, though we were a bit disappointed in the current selections.  Due to the pandemic, we had not done a tasting at Pellegrini for two years, but we’ve been picking up our wine club bottles regularly, and most of what we’ve gotten has been fine, so I guess it was just this time’s two choices. 

As we parked in the lot, after having encountered a surprising amount of traffic, I started quoting James Russell Lowell’s famous lines, “And what is so rare as a day in June?/Then, if ever, come perfect days,” and commenting that it was about time they came true.  What a month, with the weather alternating between rainy and chilly and too hot to step outside, but this day was finally fine, which is why we decided it was time to sit outside and taste some wine.  Pellegrini has a small tasting room, but a large central patio—often tented for private celebrations—and tables out on their front and back lawns.  They do allow you to bring your own snacks, and no longer serve the little bags of oyster crackers that used to come with every tasting.

Another change is that they have a set menu for a tasting, of four wines for $16:  the 2019 Rosé, 2019 Steel Chardonnay, 2018 Cabernet Franc, and 2020 Barbeque Red.  Since we are in the club, I wanted to taste the wines that were in our current shipment, and so substituted the Steakhouse Red and 2015 Petit Verdot for the reds.  (Our tasting, of course, was free.)  You used to be able to choose from a large number of wines and try six or seven of them.  Change, as they say, is the one constant.

As we approached the door, an employee greeted us and directed us to a table on the front lawn, where I seated myself with my back to the traffic.  We gave her our order, and she brought us our four tastes on a tray, atop a labeled tray liner.

  1. 2019 Rosé          $24.99

This is a 77% merlot, 23% cabernet sauvignon blend, with a slight strawberry aroma with a trace of something metallic or chemical.  It’s a dry rosé, with some tastes of pineapple, which I like.  My tasting buddy says he detects a bit of a vegetable taste.  Maybe.  Nice, but I prefer the North Fork Rosé, also made by Pellegrini, which they sell for $30 for three one-liter bottles.  And while we’re on the subject, the North Fork brand also includes a very nice chardonnay and a merlot, both very good buys and quite drinkable.

  • 2019 Steel Chardonnay $19.99

No aroma at all!  I think I prefer steel-fermented chardonnays to oak-fermented, in general, but this one is a bit too austere.  Maybe what I actually like is slightly oaked chards.  This has a lot of lemon-lime flavor, which would make it a good accompaniment to coquilles St. Jaques.  As it sits and warms up a bit, I like it better.

  • Steakhouse Red               $19.99

A blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon and 28% merlot, this is a simple, dry red that would go well with burgers or meatloaf, but is not much fun to drink on its own.  It smells better than it tastes.

  • 2015 Petit Verdot           $29.99

Sometimes I like wines made from petit verdot, and sometimes I do not.  This is an “I do not.”  The aroma is nice, brambly, with maybe a touch of salt, but the wine is very dry and tannic, with almost no fruit flavor.  My husband sums it up as, “Just a glass of wine.”  Oh well.

Reasons to go:  pleasant outdoor area and intimate tasting room; well-priced wines; you can bring a snack; drinkable wines, though we were not excited about today’s selection.

The view to the courtyard, with my mask in the foreground. On the 17th, they were still asking visitors to wear a mask inside, until they were seated, but obviously I took it off in order to taste the wine.

Rose Hill: A Rose By Any Other Name

May 21, 2021

A recent trend in the North Fork wine country is the takeover of wineries by new owners, who often change the name.  So Martha Clara is now RG/NY, and Shinn is now Rose Hill.  Pretty name.  And the new owners have made some nice changes to the place, too.  I didn’t go inside, but the outdoor patio area is lovely, paved with flagstones and shaded by big umbrellas, with one area in the sun if you are so inclined.  It was a perfect day to sit outside, brightly sunny and just breezy enough to make a sweater or sweatshirt welcome.

We were there with my brother and sister-in-law, visiting from upstate, now that we are all vaxxed.  What a delight to hug people again!  We decided to try Rose Hill because it was new, a bit off the beaten path—it’s on Oregon Road—and they serve a variety of lunchy snacks.  According to the web page, you need to make a reservation, which we did, through Open Table (one of my favorite apps), but it turned out not to be necessary.  Still, I would make reservations as long as occupancy is limited, so you don’t get turned away. 

Several hand-written signs in the parking area (which is quite small, by the way; they should consider ways to make more spaces) direct you to go around to the back for the entrance to the tasting room.  A few parking spaces are reserved for the B&B, in a house at the front of the property.  Around the back, the soft splash of fountains frames the entrance to the patio, where a server indicated we could choose any seat we wanted.  We took a nicely sized table for four, and a very pleasant young woman rushed over to clean it off before we sat down.  A nice touch—Rose Hill has continued the Shinn practice of putting large bottles of chilled water plus glasses on the table.

The menu is accessed through a QR code card on the table, and by the time a waiter came by to ask us if we’d “had time” to look at it—clearly expecting this table of people of a certain age not to know what to do with a QR code—we had read it and decided on our order.  They offer two different flights, which have one overlap, both consisting of five wines for $24, so each couple got one flight to share, which was plenty to drink.  We also got the cheese and charcuterie board for $26 and a basket of roasted sweetened nuts for $11, both of which were very good.  Another nice touch—the disposable plates are made of bamboo, which means they are recyclable. 

We had a pleasant afternoon, sitting and talking and catching up on a year’s worth of news, but our one disappointment was the wine.  No wine was undrinkable, but no wine seemed worth the cost.  Since my brother wanted to buy a couple of wines to take back as thank you gifts, we drove over the Vintage wine shop after the tasting.

Classic Flight

* 2019 Sparkling Rosé      $42

My flight started with a slight, pleasant sparkler, made with the méthode champenoise.  It has a typical bready aroma and a bit of sweetness, plus citrus.

  • 2019 Coalescence           $25

We had liked the Shinn version of this wine, by the same name, and the aroma was promising, nicely flowery.  However, this blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling, and semillon lacked depth and complexity, and was very soft and light, with a bit of citrus flavor.

  • 2020 Pinot Blanc            

Again, we commented that there was “not much to it.”  The wine had aromas and tastes of mineral and unripe pear.

  • 2020 Rose Hill Rosé        $28

Both flights included this merlot-based rosé, which my brother characterized as “highly ordinary,” with a “soft mouth feel” and “very little character.”  It is a very light wine, dry, in the Provençal style. 

  • Non-vintage Red Blend                $25

Since this blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, and cabernet franc is made with grapes from both 2017 and 2018, they call it non-vintage.  It has a very piney aroma, which my brother humorously dubbed “eau de Pine-Sol.”  A bit tannic, dry, but again, lacking depth and substance.

New Release Flight

  • 2020 First Fruit                $28

Steel-fermented sauvignon blanc, very light.

  • 2020 Concrete Blond     $42

Macari also makes a wine in a concrete “egg,” in their case a rosé, while this is a sauvignon blanc.  This wine has a lovely aroma of pear and honeysuckle, and a flowery taste, though a bit sour on the end, and has “more presence” than the first wine.

  • Rose Hill Rosé

I already talked about this one.

  • 2020 Rosé          $25

This was my favorite wine of the day, a more robust merlot-based rosé, with nice strawberry flavor and aroma.

  • 2020 Cabernet Franc      $32

Though this has some nice pomegranate flavor, overall it is rather thin, with no body.  As my brother commented, “When the best thing you can say about a tasting is that the nuts are good, you have a problem.”

Reasons to visit:  Nice location a bit off the beaten track, with a lovely outdoor patio area; good cheese and charcuterie board and roasted nuts; the 2020 Rosé, and maybe the Concrete Blond.  Most of the other wines are drinkable, but not very flavorful or complex, and we felt the price/value ratio was a bit off.  You can stay in the B&B and do tastings.