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. 

RGNY: Many Changes

November 3, 2021

From the outside, the winery that used to be called Martha Clara looks much the same, but as soon as we stepped inside, we saw that it looks very different.  And once we tasted the wines, made by winemaker Lilia Perez, we knew that it was not at all the same.  I find it so interesting that the same grapes, grown in the same vineyard, can yield such different-tasting wines.  Martha Clara’s wines, for example, definitely tended to feature some sweetness, while the RG wines (named for the Rivero Gonzàlez family) we tasted were dry.

The shop inside the entrance used to have all sorts of items, including snacks, while now it is much simpler, with just the RG wines and a few Mexican items, such as baskets.  Then we walked into the large tasting room, which used to feature a huge bar, which more or less snaked through the entire room.  Now the bar is only on one side, with the rest of the space taken up by some small round tables with comfy chairs and some couches.  The walls are bare, and the overall effect is rather stark.  I think they could do more to warm up the space, and suggested to my husband that a pot-bellied stove would be a nice focal point.  He looked skeptical.  The side room (where the restrooms are located) is still pretty similar, filled with tables and chairs.    

We were greeted by a friendly server who asked us if we had a reservation.  We looked around the large room, empty except for one other couple, and asked in mock concern, “Oh no, should we have made one?  Will you have room for us?”  She laughed, as did we, and explained that she actually had three reservations for that afternoon, and so wanted to be sure that she honored the process.  (Quite a few wineries are continuing their pandemic-caused practice of requiring reservations, so be sure you check websites before you go.)  Then she presented us with a QR code to scan in order to read the menu.  

We had intended to sit at the bar, but found the chairs there not comfortable, and so moved to a table, where we liked the chairs very much.  We recently had been shopping for new dining room chairs, and my husband commented that these would have worked nicely.  The menu features three different flights, labelled Scielo, White, and RG.  The RG flight, for $22, seemed the most varied, so we opted to share it.  We were glad we were sharing, since the pour, of four wines, is quite generous, and we actually left over some wine!  There’s also a short but creative menu of food items, including chicken tacos, a Mexican PB&J, and paletas, which, Google informed me, are a kind of Mexican ice pop.

With our flight she brought a bottle of water and two cups, a nice touch, and asked if there was anything else we wanted.  We asked her to turn down the very loud music, which she immediately did.  Whew.  Then later, I asked about the vintages of the wines, since that information was not anywhere to be seen.

  •  2019 Sparkling Rosé      $30

Sometimes sparkling rosés are too sweet, but this one is just right, with a refreshing taste of strawberries and pink grapefruit and moderate bubbles.  We like this, and decide that if we wanted a celebratory pink wine, we might get this one.

  • 2018 Viognier    $33

Many of the wineries on the North Fork that grow viognier use it in blends, so I don’t often see it on its own.  Again, this is a dry wine, mouth-watering, with tastes of spice and pears.  The aroma is a bit funky, with some scent of stewed pears.  We like it.

  • 2018 White Merlot         $32

White merlot?  You may ask, I thought merlot was a red wine grape.  And so it is.  But if you ferment it without the skins, you get a white wine.  Anthony Nappa used to make a wine called Anomaly, a white pinot noir, which we liked very much.  This is also good, and is a nice, light, good sipping white, though not very interesting.  I say it tastes like gooseberries.  Some day I will buy gooseberries again and see if the taste I remember is correct…

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc      $37

Lovely aroma—chocolate covered cherries!  This is another easy to drink wine, with soft tannins, dry, and a flavor that makes me think of dried fruit compote, or maybe stewed prunes (which I happen to like very much). 

Reasons to visit:  large venue with plenty of room for groups, including outside areas; pleasant wines and a large pour; the sparkling rosé and the viognier, though all the wines were easy to drink; an interesting food menu.         

Mattebella Vineyards: Sunny Sunday in October

October 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2017 Steel Chardonnay $29

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

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $50

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

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

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

  • Famiglia Red      $35

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

  • 2011 Old World Blend   $65

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

  •  2013 Old World Blend  $91

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

  • 2015 Old World Blend   $78

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

https://castellodiborghese.com/

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All the leaves are brown…

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…and the sky is grey.

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

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

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

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Sometimes they have musical performances in this room.

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

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

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They give you a rather generous pour.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $20

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

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

  1. * 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $24

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

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  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $24

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

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  1. Rosé of Merlot $18

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

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  1. *2018 Pinot Noir $50

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

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44

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

  1. *2018 Merlot Select $35

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

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44

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

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Many of their wines have won awards.

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