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.

Jamesport Farm Brewery: Really a Farm; Really a Brewery

February 25, 2022

Yes, they grow their own hops and barley on their farm in Jamesport, and they are quite proud of it, too.  The farm connection is also evident in the actual tasting room building, which was originally a potato barn.  You can read all about the construction in big posters on one wall of the tasting room, which provided a welcome distraction for the small visitors we had with us. 

Once again, we thought carefully about where to take these visitors, who are lovers of wine, beer, cider, and cocktails—which makes finding a place to go easy—and the parents of two young girls—which complicates matters, though in a good way.  We decided on Jamesport for several reasons: it is a short drive from our home; it is a large facility where the girls would be able to be up out of their seats; it is informal, so no one would object to small fry (though the tasting room does not welcome under-21s on weekends); and our guests had never been there.  Also, we ourselves had only been there once, not long after they opened, and we were interested to see how they were doing. 

As it turned out, this was a good choice in every way.  We pushed two of the little picnic tables in the tasting room together, so the girls could sit comfortably and read their books, and we enjoyed tasting the brews.  (We bought soda and chips for the little ones.)  The tasting room is big, with a stage for live performance on one side, picnic tables, a bar with bar stools, and a little shop area selling t-shirts and such.  The menu has fourteen brews on offer, which I guess may change seasonally, so there was plenty of variety.  The four adults shared two flights, of four beers each, so we may go back and try the ones we missed.  A flight, by the way, is $25, and includes not just the four tastes, but also a pint of any brew in a glass you get to keep. 

On this rainy, chilly day, there were only a few other people in the tasting room, though we were told that they’ve been getting good crowds on the weekends, when they have live music.  They have plenty of room outside, with a huge beer garden space, and a very large parking lot, which I wish they would pave, as it was quite muddy.

The parking lot was very muddy!
Our little girl guests were charmed by this well-behaved Australian shepherd.

At the end, we bought a growler of Wined Out to take home, which proved to be the perfect accompaniment to the tacos we bought at Mattitaco.  (I particularly recommend the BLT–bacon, lobster taco–the Korean BBQ, the Chicken Tinga, and the mushroom and cheese quesadilla.) My growler, by the way, was from Greenport Harbor, for which I apologized to Joe, the friendly and informative server.  “That’s okay,” he replied with a smile, “we’re all friends out here.”  

  •  Nite Lite             4.3% ABV (Alcohol by volume—a number which can vary widely for brews)

“Light lager” is the description of this brew, and light it is—only a step up from Bud light.  It is a hot-summer-day-after-mowing-the-lawn beer, almost watery, with slight citrus and bread notes.

  • Prancing Pony   5%

As Lord of the Rings fans, we of course had to try this, even though it is a blackberry wheat beer, and I generally dislike wheat beers and berry-based beers.  However, I find this quite potable, not sweet, crisp, with just a touch of blackberry flavor— “enough to make a Hobbit smile,” says the menu.  We agree it would be a good accompaniment to Thai food.

  • Weekend at Bernie’s      5.4%

I like the sweet aroma of this blond ale.  It drinks like a classic blond ale, tasty, with a long finish.  Good for sipping by the pool  😉

  • Waves of Grain Amber  6%

We all like the distinct, malty, toasty taste of this amber/red ale, with just a nice amount of hops.

  • Wined Out Fresh Hop     6.5%.

This is my favorite so far, an IPA that is not overly grapefruity.  It is made from fresh hops, and is quite refreshing.  We discuss that it would go well with, for example, a vinegary pulled pork, and decide it will be perfect to take home for the Mattitaco take-out we have planned for dinner.  Which it is.

  • Wicked Little Sister         7.2%

There are two little sisters at our table, and one approves in theory while the other approves in actuality of this IPA. It is pleasantly bitter, with plenty of grapefruit and other citrus tastes.  In fact, our visitors like it so much, they buy a four-pack of cans to take home.

  • Gentleman Joe Porter    6.8%

We save the dark beers for last, since drinking them first would make it hard to taste the lighter brews.  I generally like dark beers, and this one has a promising aroma of coffee and chocolate.  However, I find it has too much coffee flavor for me.  I joke that if you have a glass of Wicked Little Sister and another of this, you’ll have breakfast—grapefruit juice and coffee.

  • The Kurgan        10%

I should have asked why name this Scotch ale for a character from “The Highlander,” other than the movie is about Scots.  The menu describes it as “the Scottish version of an English-style barley wine.”  I say it is almost too easy to drink, with some sweetness and caramel flavor.  It is really delicious, and I could definitely see sipping it in a cozy pub. 

I forgot to take a picture of my pint before it was mostly gone–but it was a full glass!

Now it is time to return our trays of tastes, in exchange for which we each get a pint of our choice.  I decide on Wined Out, and our guests opt for Waves of Grain.  At the end, Joe very kindly rinses out our glasses and wraps them in paper towels for us to take home.

Additional options. They could improve their soda and snack selections.

Reasons to visit:  good brewery, with choices for all tastes in beer; big facility, especially in the warm weather; farm to table; dogs allowed; they will have a food truck starting in March, but no outside food is allowed; wines and sodas available; Weekend at Bernie’s, Waves of Grain, Wined Out, Wicked Little Sister, The Kurgan, and, if you like wheat berry beer, the Prancing Pony.

Next time I go, I need to ask what this is!

Suhru Wines: Shelter from the Storm

February 19, 2022

There’s a convenient parking lot out back.

It was the type of day when, as they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.  In the morning, with some guests, we explored the Southold Winter Festival, and it was sunny though cold and windy.  We admired the ice sculptures being chiseled out of blocks of ice, stopped in to a couple of our favorite shops, and headed home to warm up and have a snack.  Then we ventured out again in the afternoon, as the sunny day turned cloudy, and snowflakes flew past us, to have a tasting at Suhru in Cutchogue.  By the time we emerged, the storm was over and it was sunny again.  (And then later another snow squall moved through!) 

There wasn’t much to the first Southold Winter Festival, but the ice sculptor was cool.

We were all glad we had ventured out, because we thoroughly enjoyed our tasting experience at Suhru’s small but well laid out tasting room, which we had to ourselves most of the afternoon.  The young man in charge of the room was attentive, engaging, and well-informed about the wines, bringing us water and making sure we had all that we needed.

Suhru is a winery without a vineyard, as the winemaker, Russell Hearn (who is also the winemaker for Leib and Bridge Lane), buys his grapes each year based on whose crop he favors.  For example, he makes wine from teroldego grapes, which were planted by Southold Farm + Cellar, who sadly had to move to Texas.  At the moment, Russell offers ten wines for tasting, with four different flight options: February Favorites, four wines for $17; Whites and Rosé, four for $14; Red Wines, four for $21, and Choose Your Own, any four for $19.  You can also ask for individual tastes, glasses, or a bottle.  Our friends went with the red flight, while my husband and I decided to choose our own adventure. 

I hadn’t been here since 2018, so I didn’t know they now have a nice lttle menu of snacks, mostly cheese and charcuterie, but also a few other items.  Our friends decided to have the Marcona almonds, which turned out to be a miniscule serving for $2, so we added a bag of North Fork potato chips. 

Our selections arrived in a cute round tray, with each wine resting on its labeled spot, and we proceeded to taste clockwise.  I’ll detail my tasting first, then the two wines they had that differed from mine.

  •  NV Brut              $29

I’ve decided to try sparkling wines everywhere they are offered—last week I tasted two at Pindar—and so far, so good.  In fact, very good.  We like this dry, tasty sparkler, made in the méthode champenoise, so much that our friends add a taste to their flight after we all finish.  It has that lovely yeasty aroma of good bubbly, with tiny bubbles, and tastes of pear and maybe a touch of citrus.  Mouth-watering.  It’s a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, according to our helpful server.

  • 2020 Pinot Grigio            $19

Although we are told that this is their “signature wine,” I am not enamored of it.  On the other hand, my tasting buddy really likes it.  As they say, there are no wrong answers in wine (well, there are, but, as they say in French, “Chacun à son gout.”)  I get lemon and green apple tastes, but also something like cardboard.  It is light and dry. 

  • 2020 Teroldego               $30

Teroldego is a Northern Italian grape, not often grown on Long Island, so I ask our server where the grapes came from, which is how I learn the vines were planted by the owners of Southold Farm + Cellar.  I was sorry to see that winery close, because they made some lovely wines, were very nice people, and had the most creative wine names I ever saw, but they had some sort of difficulties with local regulations and eventually closed up shop and moved to Texas, where they now have a winery.  In any event, I’m glad the grapes are being used, because this is a delicious wine.  It has a beautiful aroma of roses, and tastes of red raspberry and other berries.  It is a somewhat light red which would go well with charcuterie, and could even be slightly chilled to accompany seared tuna.  Last week I bought some fresh tuna steaks at Braun’s and my friend and I seared them with a pan sauce of capers, lemon, and garlic, and this would have gone well with that.

  • 2019 Shiraz        $25

When our daughter got married, we had a little wine tasting to decide which wines to serve.  We already had the white picked out—Channing Daughter’s Scuttlehole Chardonnay—but we needed a red to go with lamb.  This shiraz would definitely have been a contender.  It is a bit peppery—apparently some people compare the taste to Dr. Pepper! –which would cut the fat of the lamb nicely.  Good red fruit tastes plus something deeper.

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc      $30

“This tastes lighter than I expected,” opines our friend, who nonetheless finds the wine, which is in her tasting, not mine, quite pleasant.  It has some teroldego mixed in, we are told.  Good berry tastes.  Our friends got up to peruse the display of bottles, and were charmed to realize that they have actually tasted wine from this winery, as one with the T’Jara label is carried in their local wine shop in Queens. In fact, according to a map on the wall, Suhru ships to many of the states.

  • 2019 Ember       $25

Our friends like this so much, that I add a taste of it after I finish my flight.  This is Suhru’s Bordeaux blend, a merlot-heavy mixture including cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and malbec.  It is so drinkable that I resent sharing it with my tasting buddy.  Kidding.  Or maybe not.  It is complex and balanced, with aromas of fruits, including cherry, and lots of interesting fruit tastes.  The name?  They had a little competition in the family, and apparently one cousin felt ember was a good name, as it evoked the long-lasting warmth of a fire.  I can see that. I buy two bottles to take home.

The rather petite serving of almonds.

Reasons to visit:  intimate tasting room where you can sometimes interact with the owners; all the wines are good, but especially the Brut, the Teroldego, the Shiraz, and the Ember; they have a nice little menu of snacks, but don’t bother with the Marcona almonds, unless you think $2 for about ten nuts is a good price; there is a backyard patio seating area for warm weather; if you’re planning a picnic, note that they offer several of their wines in cans.

This is a fascinating shop in the Feather Hill shopping center in Southold.
Another favorite shop is About Food, where you never know what you will find.

Pindar Vineyards: Plenty of Variety

February 15, 2022

The first time we went to Pindar, years ago, we did not like many of the wines we tasted.  However, in recent years, we have found much more to our liking, so on this chilly winter afternoon we brought two friends with us to do a tasting.  It took some thought to decide where to go with them, since we have taken them to a number of wineries and breweries over the years.  However, the breweries were off our list, since in the winter many of them are closed mid-week, or only open late in the day.  We also wanted somewhere we could sit at a table and chat as we sipped, and where we didn’t need to make a reservation.  If we had wanted to bring our own snacks, Pindar allows that, plus they also allow dogs, a piece of information we are storing for later.

Gina was very pleasant and attentive.

Aside from one couple, who left, we had the place to ourselves, and we joked with our friends, did they like that we had reserved a winery for their tasting.  That’s midweek in February for you.  Gina, our server, was very pleasant, and patiently answered our friend’s many questions, asked us how we were liking our tastings, brought us cups of water, and gave advice as to which wines to pick from their long list, based on our preferences.  And I do mean long—thirty wines in all!  That included three reserve reds, which usually cost extra, but, since she had the bottles open, she offered to include them in our standard flight of five.  How nice.

Pindar’s tasting room is in a converted barn, which has been expanded over the years, still retaining its rustic beams, with a gorgeous stained-glass window.  One not so pleasant note—the restrooms are in a separate structure, a cold walk outside in the winter, though it wouldn’t matter in the summer.  Maybe they should consider adding indoor facilities!

We got different colored Sharpies to mark up our menus.

I suggest choosing your flight carefully, as some of their wines are too sweet for our taste, but we were happy with today’s selections.  We shared three tastings amongst us, with some overlap. The tastes arrived in rustic wooden boxes, clearly labeled as to the order in which to drink them.

  •  Premier Cuvée Brut       $32.99

More and more North Fork wineries are offering sparkling wines, some made with the “méthode champenoise,” so I was curious to try theirs.  This was a nice, dry, sparkler, with lots of bubbles and some pear taste and smell.  100% chardonnay.

  • Dr. Dan’s Extra Dry         $29.99

“Dr. Dan” refers to the founder of Pindar—and also Duck Walk—Dr. Dan Damianos, who died in 2014, one of the East End wine pioneers.  His family have continued to run his wineries, though his son, Jason, who started Jason’s Vineyard, died in a car accident in 2017.  Made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, this is another sparkling wine, but we didn’t like it as much.  It has some green apple taste, but also a touch of something chemical.

  • 2020 Viognier    $21.99

We decided to steer clear of the sweeter whites, so we opted for the viognier, but found it too light, with again, a bit of a chemical aroma.  It’s not bad, but there’s not much to it.

  • 2020 Sunflower Chardonnay      $21.98

According to Gina, this is one of their most popular whites, and I can see why.  It is very lightly oaked, so there are only traces of vanilla, with some nice citrus flavor and a lovely floral aroma.  However, again, it is very light, though I think it would be nice with seafood, like the steamed lobsters we plan to pick up at Braun’s later.

The Gamay is a pretty light red.
  • 2020 Gamay Noir            $21.99

The ever-attentive Gina informs us that this is their lightest red, and she is right, though is is quite tasty.  This would be a good red for someone who thinks they don’t like reds.  It has a red lollipop smell, and lots of berry taste.  It could go with roast chicken, like a Beaujolais.

  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon           $18.99

I teach our friends the word “petrichor,” which, I say, is the smell of this wine.  Though it is dry, it is also very light, and we don’t care for it.

Just part of the array of wines.
  • 2017 Cabernet Franc      $21.99

In contrast, this red smells lovely, like a dried fruit compote, and tastes like slightly under-ripe purple plums.  Quite drinkable, and we sense some nice tannins.

  • 2017 Syrah         $18.99

This was in my friend’s tasting, so I only got a small sip, but she compares the taste to “burnt toast.”  I say black tea?

  • 2017 Tannat      $21.99

I don’t think anyone else on the North Fork grows this grape, which usually comes from the Basque area.  It had a lovely flowery smell, like violets.  It is not unpleasant to drink, but my friend says the taste reminds her of “canned plum tomatoes,” and theorizes it would be a good wine to add to a ragu Bolognese.

  1. Pythagoras         $18.99

You may have noted that some of the wine names are a nod to the Damianos family’s Greek roots, like this one, named for the founder of that theorem you had to memorize in high school.  This is a Bordeaux blend—perhaps of three grapes? —hence the name.  I insist that this smells like that white paste we used to use in elementary school, and which some kids—not me! –liked to taste.  As it sits and we chat, it develops a better taste and smell, with some good berry flavor.

  1. 2019 Mythology              $$42.99

This wine, and the two which follow, are categorized as reserve red wines, and normally cost an extra $4.00 per taste.  We are happy to try it, and find it good, drinkable, with nice tannins which make me think it could be cellared, but not worth the cost.

  1. 2019 Merlot Reserve      $34.99

This had typical merlot cherry flavor and aroma, though it is not as big a wine as one would expect from one labeled reserve.   

  1. 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve           $34.99

It seems we saved the best for last, as we all agree we like this one the most.  It has an intriguing aroma of forest floor and berries, and plenty of interesting dark fruit flavors. 

Windmill!

Reasons to visit:  informal tasting room, with lots of room at the bar and plenty of outdoor space; they allow picnics and dogs; the Premier Cuvée Brut, Sunflower Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (plus others we did not taste if you like sweeter wines); many different wines to fit different palates; if you live elsewhere, they ship to forty states.

They ship to forty states.

Palmer Vineyards:  Cozy Setting, Not So Warm Welcome

February 11, 2022

The tasting room is in here, not the first building you see from the road.

A break in the cold and snow, and a reduction in Covid rates, gave us the impetus to venture out for a tasting.  We decided to head to Palmer, which we hadn’t been to since 2018, because I was curious to see if its new ownership made any difference.  Fortunately, my favorite aspect of the tasting room—the cozy booths that remind us of our favorite London pubs—is still the same.  The service, however, was lackadaisical.  There were three workers in the tasting room, and we were the only customers (one hardy couple was seated outside), but the service consisted of one person setting our wines on the table, indicating the order in which to taste them, and referring us to the menu for all other information.  Did anyone stop by our table to ask how we liked the wines?  Nope.  When we finished, did anyone ask if we wanted anything else?  Nope.  I wanted a taste of the Albariño after we finished, but as I sat there with four empty glasses, while my tasting buddy visited the rest room, the server spent his time looking at his phone and carefully NOT looking my way until I was finally able to catch his eye.  Sigh.

No problem with social distancing!

In any event, the wines were all quite drinkable, and the pour was generous.  We opted for a tasting of four reds, for $25.  Our other options were a tasting of whites and a rosé, for $22, or a Reserve tasting, of their higher end wines, for $35.  Another page of the menu offers glass and bottle rates (the latter higher if you are consuming it on the premises) and a third page lists snacks, local beers, and coffee or tea.  They do not allow outside food.  There was a food truck parked in the parking lot, and I wanted to ask about it, but felt the servers had no interest in conversation.

  •  2016 Merlot     $25

“Pleasant and tasty,” said my drinking buddy.  If you like a very cherry merlot, this is not it, as it is not at all fruity, but it is somewhat interesting.  It smells of cherries and tobacco and fresh-cut wood, with some berry tastes and maybe a touch of vanilla.  Dry.

Can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc      $30

This one has a flowery aroma, and tastes like purple plums.  Like the merlot, it is dry, with some nice tannins, but no finish.  Last week we had some lovely little lamb chops from 8 Hands Farm, which I seasoned with the last of the sage from the garden and marjoram, and this would have gone well with them.

Cozy booth.
  • Weekend Red    $22

We actually considered buying this, our favorite of the flight, especially since Palmer offers a 5% discount if you buy three.  This is their Bordeaux blend—70% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% merlot.  I think it smells like red lollipops, but my husband disagrees.  However, we both like the taste, of black raspberry with a touch of cherry, and lots of tannins.

The decor includes these faux posters, some the worse for wear. Since we’ve been watching the Olympics, this one amused us.
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon           $30

I was wondering if I had nose fatigue, since I could barely get any aroma, but my tasting pal agreed.  He also said he was not impressed with it, as the initial fruit flavor quickly faded away.  I felt there was an unpleasant taste at the end.

Servers ignoring us.
  • 2021 Albariño   $30

I really wanted to try this, since I often like albariño, and not many Long Island wineries use this grape, or only use it in blends.  I did like this version, which had delicious aromas of lychee and flowers, and tastes of apples and nectarines, and was pleasantly tart.  When it came time to pay for our tasting, I reminded the server that I had had this extra taste, and he said, “No charge.”  Well, that was nice. 

Mystery food truck…

Reasons to visit:  cozy tasting room, plus an ample veranda and outside seating area; the Weekend Red and the Albariño; in the past, they allowed dogs at the outside tables, but I would ask before bringing Fido.

Plenty of room outside.

Pellegrini: A Brief Visit

http://www.pellegrinivineyards.com

Uh-oh. What happened to Rudolph?!

December 21, 2021

It was time, we were reminded in a phone call, to pick up our wine club selections for December, so we popped over to Pellegrini on a gray, chilly afternoon.  Inside, Teri gave us a warm welcome, remembering that we are in the “red only” category.  We decided to do a tasting, mainly sampling the wines in our box to see how we would use them, or whether we wanted more.

We also decided to try this iteration of the gewürztraminer for two reasons:  it is a grape I sometimes like and sometimes do not, depending on how sweet its wine is, and they were offering a special, that if you bought two bottles at $24.99, you got a third one free.  We did, and also bought a three-pack of the North Fork Project Merlot, the best wine bargain on the North Fork:  three big bottles of a very nice merlot for $30.

There were two other small groups in the tasting room, quietly enjoying their tastings, so social distancing was not a problem, and we all wore masks when away from the tables.

Since Teri had some free time, I asked her about a name for one of the wines, a white blend called REJOYCE.  I asked the right person!  It used to be called White Medley, until a winery in California got in touch and informed them that they already had a patent on that name.  Uh-oh.  What to call it?  So Pellegrini had a little contest to come up with a new name.  Teri thought of REJOYCE as a play on words, since Mrs. Pellegrini’s first name is Joyce.  She won three bottles of wine, and a bit of local fame.

  •  2019 Gewürztraminer $24.99

Delicious!  Sweet floral aroma, and tropical fruit tastes, with pineapple and mango predominant.  It would be great with spicy food, and it is not too sweet at all.

  • Steakhouse Red               $19.99

A non-vintage (so they can blend it for consistency) blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon and 28% merlot red, this is a tasty though somewhat light wine, with mouth-watering tannins.  We discuss whether or not this merits the name “Steakhouse,” since it is not the kind of big intense red one often thinks of to go with steak, but I think the tannins might do well to cut the fattiness of meat.  Maybe it would complement lamb chops.

  • 2015 Richmond Creek Cabernet Franc    $29.99

“Serviceable” is the term my tasting buddy applies to this pleasant, but not big red.  “Itsy-bitsy” is his next comment.  Nice tastes of fruit and spice.  We’ll be happy to drink it, probably with pasta. (After we got home, I remembered that Osprey also labels wines Richmond Creek, so I’ll have to ask about that next time.)

  • 2015 Regalo       $49.99

“Regalo” means gift, a good term for this blend of 50% petit verdot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc, because it is lovely.  We like this the most, and plan to put it in the cellar for special guests.  It is relatively complex, with good tannins and tastes of fruit and tobacco.

Reasons to visit:  what I’ve said in past reviews, plus this time all the wines we sampled, but especially the gewürztraminer and the Regalo.

Pugliese Vineyards: Memories of Italy

December 15, 2021

http://www.pugliesevineyards.com

As we drove up to Pugliese Vineyards, we admired the vine-wrapped pergola, and reminisced about a trip to the Puglia region of Italy.  While there, we stayed in a Masseria, actually a lovely resort located on a farm, and ate delicious fresh food and drank some good wines.  Unfortunately, only two of the wines we tried here lived up to our memories. 

The tasting room was empty on this warm December Wednesday, except for two members of the Pugliese family who were busy preparing gift baskets with their signature hand-painted wine glasses and bottles of wine.  We were immediately ushered into another space, where many little metal tables that seem to have escaped from someone’s garden were set up.  “We’re offering table service now,” we were informed, as we were handed several menus.  One was for the wines currently on offer for tastings, another gave the prices of the bottles with some information on each wine, and the third was for foods on offer.  Since we had just had lunch, we were not interested in cheese and crackers, so we just perused the wine list.

A tasting consists of any four wines from their list for $20, but since there were 23 wines on the list, we decided to order two tastings, so we could sample more of their offerings.  The tastes came in little plastic cups, and I’m not sure if it was because of the vessel, or because the wines were all too cold, or if they are just like that, but most of the wines had little or no aroma.  The pour was generous enough that we only emptied two of the glasses.  Our server wrote the name of each wine on the cups with black marker, which was fortunate, as you will see.

Pugliese is one of the vineyards that does a brisk business with limos in the summer, when their pretty grounds are generally teeming with crowds.  They also offer a roster of live music performances.  On the back of the price list we noted some deals, especially an offer of any six wines (excepting ports and sparklers) for $69.  Good deal, about which more later.

Our tastes came in these little plastic cups. It may be just me, but I think wine tastes better in glass.
  •  2012 Blanc de Noir        $25.99

This sparkling wine provided an auspicious start to our tasting.  Made from pinot noir grapes, it has a slight pink tinge, and a tasty, toasty, taste of pears.  Very nice.

  •  2015 Blanc de Blanc      $25.99

Tooth-achingly cold, this wine seems to have hardly any taste, though when we circle back to it, we get green apple.  It is crisp and refreshing, but a more or less generic sparkling wine.

  • 2016 Pinot Grigio            $17.99

I generally like pinot grigios, or their French cousin, pinot gris, but not this one.  It has an unpleasant metallic tinge to it.  My drinking buddy says it tastes like it came straight from the tap—the water tap.

The bottles do have pretty labels.
  • 2017 Veronica’s Rosé     $17.99

Like many rosés, this has a light pink color, and a slight taste of strawberry.  Unfortunately, it also has a slightly unpleasant metallic edge.

  • 2014 Sangiovese             $16.99

We move on to the reds, and find this one drinkable, a decent pizza wine, though it is rather light.  My husband opines, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, that there is “no there there.”

  • 2015 Merlot Reserve      $16.99

Perhaps they have made use of a “flavor extractor,” we joke, since this is an extremely light merlot, lacking most of the deep cherry flavor one usually gets with North Fork merlots. As my tasting pal notes, you can’t tell the players without a score card—or in other words, there’s not enough taste to tell what they are.

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc      $16.99

Whew.  This one is more to our liking, a pleasantly dry red with some hints of spice and berry.  It would be fine with food, though we are not much interested in sipping it on its own.

  • 2015 Sunset Meritage    $34.99

Finally!  Another wine we like.  A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, it is a very drinkable red, smooth, with pleasant berry flavors.  But is it worth $35 a bottle (I hate that whole 99 cents thing.)?  Our server makes an appearance, and I ask her if this is included in the 6/$69 offer.  Yes, it is.  Okay then.  We will take six of these!  We save about $140. And have a perfectly acceptable wine for everyday drinking.  When we order it, our server makes some comment about the holidays coming, and I laugh and say, we drink wine every day!

Hand painted glasses and a bottle of wine, all ready to give as gifts.

Reasons to visit:  pretty outdoor area for the warm weather, though you are also liable to encounter a crowd; the Blanc de Noir and the Sunset Meritage; some good deals on buying six or twelve bottles; they allow dogs outside; you can buy as a gift a wrapped set of two hand-painted glasses and a bottle of wine; they also sell very attractive large photographs of the North Fork.

Large artistic photographs of the North Fork are available for purchase.

Channing Daughters: Club and Cousins

December 7, 2021

In the midst of a week of unsettled weather, we took advantage of a sunny day to venture to the South Fork.  We had two goals in mind—to have lunch with cousins we hadn’t seen in years, and to pick up our wine club selections at Channing Daughters.  Lunch at Sant Ambroeus in Southampton was delicious, and we took home enough left-over pasta for dinner that night.  The cousinly meeting went so well, that our cousins decided to come with us to Channing Daughters, which they had never been to.  They enjoyed the tasting, so I hope this will not be the last time they trek there.

On the right, you can see two sculptures by Walter Channing, the founder of the vineyard.

Aside from liking their wines, we admire Channing for the wide variety of their wines, the unusual grapes they grow, and their willingness to experiment.  There are about thirty wines on their list, plus five different vermouths, an amazing amount for such a small winery (about 15,000 cases per year).  We also appreciate how generous they are at tastings for wine club members.  We had two tastings of four wines each, but then decided to try a number of other wines, plus a vermouth, and Laura, our server, was delighted to accommodate us. 

We had not been there since Covid, opting to have our selections sent to us, so it was interesting to see their adaptations.  The outside patio area is now enclosed in clear plastic, with propane heaters which quickly made sitting out there comfortable, though we kept our jackets on.  They request that you make a reservation most days, though Tuesday is not one of them, since they are a small space.  They also ask that you wear a mask inside the building, but, obviously, the masks come off when you sit for a tasting!  They have clever wire racks, which hold five glasses vertically, thus making the most of the limited table space, and they also offer a menu of snacks, which is new.  Our cousin picked up a bar of sea salt chocolate for us to share, since we hadn’t had room for dessert at the restaurant.

Before we left, we filled a case with a variety of additional selections, including the “Autumn” vermouth and three bottles of the Scuttlehole Chardonnay (our favorite), and our cousins bought two bottles of L’Enfant Sauvage and two of the Petit Verdot.  Though we encountered some traffic as we wended our way back to the North Fork (the “back road” I discovered years ago is now well known), we felt that the trip was well worthwhile.

A standard tasting is $28 for five tastes, free for wine club members, who may also get wines not yet on the list.

Our wine club bottles.
  •  2019 Sylvanus Petillant Naturel               $28

Starting from the top of the rack, we choose this bubbly white, made from 50% pinot grigio, 40% muscat ottonel, and 10% pinot bianco.  It is light, crisp, and refreshing, the sort of bubbly I could see pairing with charcuterie and some rich cheeses.  Lovely.

  • 2016 L’Enfant Sauvage   $38

Some years I really love this wine, fermented with wild yeast (hence the name) and aged in oak, and other years I do not.  This year’s version is…delicious.  We all like it.  I often don’t care for chardonnays aged in oak, but this one is not at all buttery.  It smells of apples and, according to the cousin, fresh cut grass, and tastes fruity and deep.  It might be nice to drink this with a dish of sauteed wild mushrooms, to match the wild with the wild.   

They have just a few varieties.
  • 2015 Envelope                $42

This is one of their orange wines, made by fermenting white grapes with their skins on, as I explain to the cousins.  As we chat, I realize that, over the years, I have gradually amassed a bunch of random facts about wine.  What a great way to get an education!  It may be psychological, based on the color, but I swear I taste Mandarin oranges plus lychees.  This is a fairly tart wine, and would be good with pork belly, to cut the fatty taste.

  • 2020 Lagrein                    $35

A young red that I think could use some aging, it nonetheless has a delicious aroma of fruit and tobacco.  I taste dark purple plums, and could see serving this with lamb chops.

  • Autumn Vermouth         $28

Spicy, fruity, complex, tasty—these are a few of the adjectives we share after I request a taste of this vermouth.  It is made from red wine, and includes a panoply of ingredients. It will be great as a light cocktail, on the rocks.

  • 2016 Research Cab         $40

Our cousin requests a taste of this, since, she notes, she likes cabernets.  Our server also brings a sample of the Petit Verdot, noting that it has more of the kind of fruity flavor those who like cabernets are looking for.  And she is right.  Though I like this blend of 68% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit manseng, 3% syrah, 2% barbera, 1% malbec, 1% petit verdot, 1% sangiovese, and 1% blaufrankish (I told you Channing likes to experiment!), the cousin does not.  It is quite tannic and dry, and could probably benefit from a few more years in the bottle.  The aroma includes berries and cherries (the merlot, I’m sure) and spice, as does the taste.

  • 2018 Petit Verdot           $38

Oh yes, very nice.  How smart she was to bring us this, as I buy a bottle as well.  It is deeply fruity, yet dry, with some notes of spice (anise?), cherries, and berries.   Just last week I had a petit verdot at Macari which I liked, and this compares well with it.  This may be my favorite red grape!

Reasons to visit:  you are on the South Fork and want to try a winery (you can skip Duck Walk;  Wölffer is also very good); the carved wooden statues by Walter Channing are worth looking at; knowledgeable servers who are generous with “extra” tastes; an astonishing array of wines and vermouths—plus they also carry some local gins and vodkas; L’Enfant Sauvage, Petit Verdot, Autumn Vermouth, plus most of the whites, rosés, and many of the reds; no outside food, but they do sell snacks.

Macari Vineyards: Fun with Friends

December 3, 2021

Friends who are also relatively new to the North Fork—actually, unless you can trace your ancestry back at least several local generations, you are considered a newbie—invited us to do a members’ tasting at Macari Vineyards with them.  We accepted happily, since Macari now requires reservations to do a tasting and we hadn’t bothered to do so.  The last time we were there was October of 2019, so it was certainly time to return.

The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was cold, so we hustled inside, where we were escorted to an enclosed porch area, well heated by blowers, with chairs draped with furry throws. 

Later in the afternoon, most of the tables filled up.

Each table was set with a placemat containing five circles listing wines, and three glasses.  As our friends explained, a tasting consists of any three of the five listed wines, with wine club members having a few additional choices.  Our waitress brought over all the wines currently on offer, and gave each of us our selected tastes, and then took our order for snacks.  We got truffled potato chips, crackers and hummus, and a little cheese tray, which she characterized as a single serving, but which, with everything else, was more than enough.  The chips are addictive, and the serving is large, so I definitely recommend them.  The hummus was also very good, liberally sprinkled with za’atar, but the cheese tray was rather small, consisting of a chunk of brie, three slices of cheddar, a tiny jar of fig jam, and a few Marcona almonds, slices of salami, and bread. 

As we sipped and munched, we engaged in getting to know each other better, and I learned to my astonishment that my new friends had been to wineries in all 48 contiguous states!  They hadn’t set out to do so, but after happening to visit wineries in eleven states a friend told them to keep going, so they did.  I was astonished to learn there was a winery in Wyoming, and many in Texas.  Mississippi? I asked. Yes.  Iowa?  Uh huh. I am sure there are many stories to come of their odysseys.  Meanwhile, we discussed the North Fork winery scene, and exchanged names of our favorites. 

We enjoyed the Macari wines, though, due to being caught up in conversation, my notes are a bit sketchier than usual.  I particularly liked the wines labelled “Life Force,” their descriptor for wines aged in concrete “eggs,” rather than wood.

  • 2020 Life Force Sauvignon Blanc              $28

Sometimes sauvignon blanc can be a bit sharp, but clearly aging in a concrete egg cures that.  This is a nicely rounded wine, with an aroma of honeysuckle, and smooth citrus tastes.  I like it.

  •  2019 Cabernet Franc     $38

This is a light, slightly spicy cab franc, with few tannins.  My friend noted it, “Left me flat,” and I agreed. However, my husband had opted for the Life Force Cabernet Franc, which I liked much better.

  • Life Force Cabernet Franc            $30

This was quite different, with more berry taste and aroma.  I would definitely choose this one.

The view out the window.
  • 2017 Dos Aguas $35

The name of this—and also a white blend—refers to the “two waters” of the North Fork, a factor both in the breezes we feel and the moderating of the climate.  This is a Bordeaux-type blend of 60% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 15% petit verdot, and 9% cabernet franc.  I would have easily guessed at the merlot, because it has a definite cherry flavor and aroma, plus a touch of tobacco from the oak aging.  Nice tannins, and a better than average North Fork red.

  • 2017 Syrah         $45

Though it has a very promising aroma, I found the taste somewhat disappointing, and commented that there was not much to it.

  • 2015 Petit Verdot (no price listed, since it is in short supply)

This was my favorite of the day, a wine aged two years in oak and quite delicious.  Petit verdot is most often used in a Bordeaux-stye blend, but I often like it on its own. It had some interesting depth of flavor, some nice spice and fruit taste.  We like it so much that we order a bottle while we continue chatting and snacking.

Snacks available for purchase. There’s also a little fridge with cheeses, etc.

Reasons to visit: pleasant porch seating with beautiful décor; nice view out to the vines; some good snacks, especially the truffled potato chips and the hummus; the Life Force wines, in particular the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet franc; the petit verdot, if it hasn’t sold out yet.

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.