Roanoke Wine Shop: Four for Four

October 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2021 The Wild                   $23

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

  • 2020 > (Greater Than)                   $25

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

  • 2020 Marco Tulio             $28

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

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

Chronicle Wines: A Family Story

August 25, 2022

The winery is in a storefront on Peconic Lane.

The last time we were at Chronicle Wines—back in 2019, when it was still called Peconic Cellar Door—the five-year-old daughter of one of the owners put in an appearance with her nanny, so it seemed like a good place to visit with a couple of granddaughters in tow.  And indeed it was.

The bar is a holdover from the Winemaker’s Studio.

Since our pre-Covid visit, Chronicle, helmed by Robin Epperson-McCarthy and Alie Shaper (both of whom were in the tasting room when we arrived, and gave us a warm welcome), has expanded into the next-door shop-front space previously occupied by Anthony Nappa’s Winemaker’s Studio.  Alie assured us that Anthony, who is the winemaker for Raphael, is still very much in the winemaking business, and continues to runs his wine club for the wines he makes separate from Raphael.  This new room is outfitted more like a lounge, with cushioned seats and small tables, plus the bar, while their original space has bigger tables.  Since there were six in our party (counting the two youngsters) we opted for the big table, promising Robin that we would ignore the stacked boxes of a recent delivery—which they soon began putting away.

The lounge area.

The tasting menu offers two options, a white and orange flight of five wines for $25, or a red and rosé flight of five tastes, also $25.  Since we wanted to try the full panoply of their wines, we decided to share one of each flight amongst the four of us, which turned out to work beautifully.  Alie brought to our table a chilled bottle of water plus a tray of empty glasses so we could share the wines without sharing a glass.  We also ordered a few snacks for the girls and ourselves—a box of cranberry almond crisps, a bag of North Fork potato chips, and a jar of olives—plus lemonades for the girls, and settled in.

Snacks!

While we waited for our flights to arrive, we examined the art on the walls, as Alie and Robin make a point of featuring local artists. Today’s paintings are by Cherryl K. Bradley. The granddaughters were quick to observe that “Queen of the Scrambled Brain” contained both a crown and some hearts, and wondered whether it showed the state of mind of someone who had difficulty with love.

The Queen of the Scrambled Brain
Follow the Sun

Both Robin and Alie stopped by our table from time to time to see if we had any questions and make sure we had everything we needed.  Although they work together, they each have their own brands of wines:  As If, Brooklyn Oenology (BOE), Chronicle, Haywater Cove, and Saltbird Cellars.  The tasting included some from each brand.

  •  2024 Chronicle Chardonnay Pét-Nat       $30

Sparkling wines are always a nice way to start a tasting, as they get one in a celebratory mood.  This one was no exception, having a pleasantly yeasty aroma, nice carbonation, and a taste we discussed as either lemon verbena or lemon pie.  One of our guests pronounced it “lively.”

  • 2018 BOE Pinot Gris        $15 (on sale)

Even though this one is on sale, we opted not to buy any, since we found it both thin and earthy, if that makes sense.  I sensed a bit of a metallic taste, or maybe minerality would be a better term.

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellar Sauvignon Blanc       $25

We sensed an aroma of lemon and green apple, and one guest opined that “it has some sort of fruit taste, but not sure which.”  We laughed over our shared tendency to guess gooseberry, though none of us is quite sure what a gooseberry tastes like.  This might go nicely with some gravlax.

  • 2014 As If Serendipity White Blend           $15

Our favorite of the whites, this is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, lightly oaked.  It has more body than the others, with a “nice roundness,” according to one guest, and a thyme honey taste, while still being tart.  We each buy a bottle.

  • 2020 BOE “Broken Land” orange wine     $30

You may be wondering about how the granddaughters—ages eleven and eight—are occupying themselves as we sit and sip.  They have their Kindles to read and snacks to munch, but they are also taking an interest in our discussions.  They sniff the wines appreciatively, and agree or disagree with our descriptions of the aromas.  Dad asks the eight-year-old, who, with her sister, has been helping him with some amateur basement winemaking, if she knows what an orange wine is.  She confidently and immediately replies, “It’s a wine made with white wine grapes, fermented on the skins.”  Overhearing this, Alie notes that if she were eighteen she’d hire her on the spot. Meanwhile, we sip this blend of gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris, and decide we like its aroma of orange blossoms or honeysuckle better than its flavor, which is a bit thin for us.

  • NV Haywater Cove Rosé               $15

Rosé makes a nice transition from whites to reds, since it is made from red wine grapes, but fermented with minimal skin contact.  This one is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, and is very much in the Provençal tradition of light, dry rosés.  We note that it is a good wine for hot weather, and could see drinking a nice chilled glass of this on the porch.  My tasting buddy likes its strawberry aroma and flavor.

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellars “Red Skies”               $30

Though we find this blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon pleasant, we don’t feel it is a $30 bottle.  The aroma is earthy, and the wine is light, with tastes of raisins and grapefruit peel.

  • 2020 Saltbird Cellars Merlot        $27

The aroma has a slight whiff of basement, and the wine is very dry and light, with a touch of cherry flavor.  One of us suggests it would go well with roast chicken, to which I reply, “What doesn’t?”  We have some difference of opinion over this one, which one guest pronounces sophisticated, but which I find unimpressive.

  • 2017 Saltbird Cellars “Harbinger”              $36

When a wine has a non-varietal name, that often means it is a blend, which this is: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot.  The night before, we bought steaks at Center Cuts and cooked them on the barbeque, so we were wondering whether any of the reds we tasted today would stand up to such steaks.  This one would not.  It has some cherry and dark fruit taste, but is again rather light, though one guest notes it has “chewy tannins.”

  • 2013 Chronicle Wines Red Blend, limited edition                              $40 (? Not sure)

Yummy aroma of dried fruits, delicious taste.  And yes, this wine could stand up to a big steak.  It has lots of dark fruit flavor, is dry, with a nice mouth feel.  This is a Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah, and petit verdot.  We both buy a bottle.

Reasons to visit:  Alie and Robin are eager to please, and will tell you all about their wines; pleasant small tasting room; the Pét-Nat, the As If Serendipity white blend, the Haywater Cove Rosé, and the Chronicle Red Blend; if you are interested in such things, they also sell canned wines and spritzers; dogs allowed outside. 

Raphael: Pretend You’re in Italy

July 15, 2022

Looking like a villa in Tuscany, the Raphael tasting room sits on the Main Road in Peconic.  A covered veranda in the back looks out onto the grape vines, and the warm weather this week made it really feel like Italy.  We drove in past the miniature villa gateposts, around the Italianate fountain, and parked in the lot.  Through heavy wooden doors that would not be out of place on a palazzo we went, entering a huge space where a disembodied voice said, “Welcome!”

The voice soon materialized into a young woman, who cheerily asked us if we wanted to sit inside or outside.  Noting that there was plenty of room to be socially distant from other tasters, we opted to sit inside at a table facing outside, where she left us with a couple of menus.

As we perused the menus, she returned with two bottles of Poland Spring water.  I no longer buy bottled water, but these would be convenient for the future.  It was lunch time, and on a previous visit we’d had very good flatbread pizzas.  However, they no longer have them (or at least, not during the week), and the menu features a selection of cheeses, crackers, hummus, etc., all a la carte (so if you want crackers with your cheese, you need to order them).  We also noticed that every tasting comes with a “snack.”  “What is that?” we asked.  “Sort of a grown-ups Lunchables,” she replied. Ah.  We decided to add a serving of hummus ($8) and tortilla chips ($10), most of which we ended up taking home, as the chips were a huge bag and the humus a 10-ounce container (very good, by the way). The snack was indeed quite mini, consisting of about four crackers and as many slices of bland cheese, plus some slices of spicy sausage. However, it did remind us of how in Italy one is often served some sort of snack with a glass of wine, like a dish of olives, or like the time in Bologna when there were three of us sharing a bottle of wine, and the waiter brought a plate of cheeses and sausages (no charge).

Meanwhile, we were debating over which flight to get, as they have six different options.  We could see by looking at other tables that the serving per taste is quite generous, but we wanted to try a panoply of wines, so we decided to just plan not to finish each glass, and get a flight of four whites for $25 and four reds for $25.  Both flights were brought to our table on labeled strips of paper.  Our waitress launched into her little scripted speech about each wine, enlivened by her personal preferences, with which we agreed.  For example, we had a little chat about riesling, which she noted she sometimes dislikes as too sweet, but felt the current iteration of Raphael’s riesling is one she likes.   I was a bit concerned when she described a couple of the reds as “summer reds,” and when I tasted them I saw why.

As we sat and sipped and munched and looked out at the vines, my tasting buddy said that Raphael gets an A+ for service and setting.  As to the wines…

  •  2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir               $30

Our server explained that this is a “true” rosé, made from red wine grapes treated like white grapes.  It is a pretty color, and had a pleasantly fruity aroma.  We liked the taste, too, with notes of citrus and black cherry, not too sweet, not too dry.  A good summer sipper.

The snack.
In an effort to counteract the blandness of the cheese and the spiciness of the sausage, I combined them.
  •  2021 Sauvignon Blanc                  $30

All their whites are fermented in steel, which sometimes leaves a slightly metallic aroma, which this has.  It is a touch petillant, crisp and light.  A little fruity.  Nice.

  • 2021 Pinot Grigio             $30

In France, they call this grape pinot gris.  We like this wine the best so far, with a taste of baked pears.  Not much aroma.  Good for sipping or with food, like roast chicken, or even pork chops.

  • 2021 Riesling      $30

Many rieslings have a smell described as “cat pee,” which, having had a cat in the past, I can say this one has, though faintly.  There is some sweetness here, but there is also a bit of a funkiness which takes the edge off the sweetness.  Pleasant.  Though my husband finds it too sweet for him, I think it would be fine with something spicy, like Thai food.

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc       $36

This is one of the wines she described as “summery,” and I think I know why.  It is soft and fresh and easy to drink, with slight tannins, a berry aroma, and tastes of ripe dark fruits.

  • 2019 Pinot Noir                $50

“Not a very exciting red,” opines my drinking pal, and I agree.  It’s not bad, just kind of mellow and soft.  When I tell him the price, he says, “We’re not getting it!”  He also thinks that people may not, in general, want strong reds, which would account for the popularity of a wine like this.

If you plan to go, check their website, and the winery is sometimes closed for private parties.
  • 2019 Estate Merlot          $30

As our waitress noted, we are in the middle of merlot country here, as that grape is “happy” on the North Fork.  This is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with nice cherry flavor, but ultimately meh.

The Malbec.
  • 2020 Estate Malbec         $36

This is my favorite of the reds, with a beautiful dark color, yummy fruit aroma, and dark fruit tastes—though again, no tannins.  “It’s not oomphy,” says my husband, and I agree.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful building and veranda, with vineyard views; attentive service; generous pour for the flights; the whites more than the reds, though all the wines were drinkable; the Rosé of Pinot Noir, the Pinot Grigio, the Malbec; nice place to come with a couple of friends.

There’s a fairly extensive gift shop, which may be another reason to visit.

McCall Wines: Here’s the Beef

June 24, 2022

If you check out the McCall wines web site and scroll down to the bottom of the shop page, you’ll see something unusual:  ground beef, $15.  Huh?  Yes, the McCalls raise Charolais cattle and sell the grass-fed beef, some of which can be found in the winery shop.  You might also spot the white cows in one of their fields as you drive along the Main Road.  As I was paying our bill after our tasting, Mrs. McCall urged us to come back on a Thursday or Friday, from 4-8, when they serve burgers made from their beef.  If I do, I’ll post about it!  And I already know which wine I’ll get a glass of to go with that burger: Ben’s Blend.

The outdoor setting is quite pleasant.

The turn-off to the McCall winery is rather subtle, and easy to miss, but it is basically across the street from Pellegrini.  You drive around back to a grassy parking area, where you see a lawn dotted with picnic tables and a rustic barn.  Inside, there’s a new bar, which wasn’t there the last time we came in 2018, and a couple of stalls with cozy seating areas.  Since it was a beautiful day, we opted to sit outside, and Mrs. McCall supplied us with menus.  In a few minutes, a server came by with glasses and a bottle of water, a nice touch. 

They have a fairly typical small menu of snacks, but we’d just had lunch, so we didn’t get anything.  The rest of the menu listed four different flights, of three or four wines each, so we decided to share two flights, so we could try a range of their wines.  Then we realized that there was some overlap, in that if we got the pinot flight ($23) and the reserve flight ($30), both included the “Hillside” pinot noir.  Could we sub in the estate merlot instead?  Sure.  And the reserve flight includes a chardonnay aged in oak.  Hmmm.  A discussion ensued, in which we were assured that the chardonnay is “lightly oaked.”  I really do not like those buttery, California-style oaked chards, so we shall see.

We enjoyed the dappled shade of the trees, but that might make this a bit hard to read!

Service is friendly and informative, and we chatted with one server about how they fared during the pandemic, since we had not been there since before it.  “We were busier than ever,” she informed us.  People just were grateful to have someplace to go, and were very respectful, masking if they got up from their tables, for example.  She noted that the outside tables are well-spaced.  The view is bucolic, as you look out onto the grape vines—though the sense of country peace was temporarily marred as a trimming machine was going up and down the rows.  Fortunately, it finished well before we did.

The noisy machine…well. it is a working farm.

Overall, my husband commented, the place got plus marks for setting, but he was not overly impressed with the wines, which we found drinkable but not special.  We did like the way the wines were served, especially since we were sharing the flights.  We each got a wine glass, and then the tastes were brought to the table in little carafes, set down in the order in which they should be tasted. 

Pinot Flight:

Our first flight.
  •  2021 Whole Cluster Rosé           $24

“Better than average,” opined my tasting buddy, as we sipped.  This has lots of strawberry aroma, though the taste is more lemony and tart than some rosés.  It definitely has some character.  I said it was mouth-watering.  Made from pinot noir grapes.

The warm day made our carafe of water quite welcome. We also used it to rinse our glasses between tastes.
  • 2015 Pinot Noir Estate   $30

This one had almost no aroma, and the taste was also somewhat thin.  Very dry.  I got some blackberry or sour cherry flavor.  My husband said it was “simple, not sophisticated.”  I think it would be fine with food, but it’s not a sipper.

  • 2014 Pinot Noir “Hillside”            $59

“Hillside” refers to the fact that this pinot is from a different area of the vineyard, with somewhat different terroir.  We like it better than the previous one, as there is more body to it.  The menu says “hibiscus,” but since I don’t know what that smells or tastes like, I can’t say if that’s accurate.  I do get some berry taste, and it is very dry.

Reserve Flight:

Our second flight, after we had poured the chardonnay back into the carafe and poured the merlot.
  1.  2018 Chardonnay Reserve         $39

As I feared, we do not care for this.  It smells and tastes very strongly of pineapple, and is too sweet for us.  It does have a pretty golden color.  We pour our tastes back into the carafe.

  • 2015 Merlot Estate         $24

This is our replacement for the Hillside pinot, and we like it better.  It’s a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with cherry aroma and taste, dry, with some tannins.

This is about half of what was in the carafe.
  • 2014 Merlot Reserve      $30

I always find it instructional to taste various iterations of the same grape, especially from the same winery.  This merlot is “more interesting,” according to my tasting pal, with aromas of cherry, leather, and tobacco.  It has lots of tannins, and we discuss that it is the opposite of “fruit forward.”  Fruit backward?

  • 2014 Ben’s Blend            $58

Named for their original winemaker, who sadly died too young, this is their Bordeaux blend, a mix of 30% each cabernet franc, pinot noir, and merlot, plus 10% petit verdot.  We like it the best of the day, appreciating its aromas of berries, leather, and tobacco, plus some nice blackberry fruit tastes.  It definitely needs food, however.

Our “extra” taste of the chardonnay, thoughtfully served with clean glasses.

Extra!  Mrs. McCall stops by our table and sees the almost full carafe of chardonnay.  You haven’t tried the chardonnay yet?  She asks.  No, we tell her, we tried it and didn’t care for it.  “Would you like to try our unoaked chardonnay?” she asks.  Sure!  So she brings over a carafe of it.  We like it much better.  It is crisp and refreshing, with tastes of citrus and green apple, and we buy two bottles, at $20 each.

Reasons to visit:  pleasant outdoor setting with a backdrop of the vines; cozy interior; they allow dogs, but call first to be sure there aren’t any other canine visitors; the Whole Cluster Rosé, the Unoaked Chardonnay, Ben’s Blend; no outside food Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so I assume it’s okay during the week; lovely service; Thursday and Friday burger nights, and you can buy the beef.

The trailer from which they serve burgers on Thursdays and Fridays.

Lenz Winery: Classic

April 8, 2022

You can enter through this archway or, if you’re feeling claustrophobic, go around it.

After days of rain, the sun came out and we decided to do our walk in Greenport, strolling up and down Front and Main Streets.  As we did, we noted the crop of newer restaurants we had not yet tried, and vowed to return if the pandemic allows.  On the way home, we stopped in to Lenz to do a tasting, and were glad we did.  Founded in 1978, Lenz is the second oldest winery on the North Fork, and both the tasting room and the wines are classic. 

The room has the barn-like country vibe of many North Fork tasting rooms, with several tables, plus a bunch of picnic tables in the outside courtyard.  Though it felt too chilly to us to sit outside, there was one couple out there, sharing a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers. Inside, two groups talked quietly as they sipped their wines.  The wines are, for the most part, good representatives of the local terroir.  We liked several of them in particular.

Tastings used to be primarily stand-up, at the bar, but now they show you to a table.  Lenz used to allow outside food, but now they have a menu of real foods, in addition to cheese and charcuterie items.  We were not hungry, but some of the sandwiches sounded good.  I almost went with the tasting menu of chocolates paired with wines…maybe next time. 

The tasting menu offers four options:  the Library Flight, of their most expensive wines, one taste for $20; the Spring Flight, of a variety of wines, five tastes for $25; the Grand Flight, of some of their higher end wines, five tastes for $30; and the aforementioned Chocolate Pairing, of five wines paired with five chocolates, for $35.  We decided to share the Spring Flight, as it seemed to promise the most variety and wines we might buy.  Our flight arrived on a well-labeled tray, and our server gave us her well-practiced spiel about the wines.

  •  2016 Estate Selection Gewürztraminer                 $20

Right from the first sniff, I loved the delicate floral aroma of this wine—orange flowers?  The taste is also delicious, not at all sweet but full of fruit flavor.  A few weeks ago, I had a guava, a flavor I found here, as well as perhaps a touch of nutmeg.  We liked it so much, we bought a bottle.

  • 2020 Firefly Rosé          $20

A blend of cabernet sauvignon and malbec, this is a really luscious rosé, with ripe melon and citrus flavors, dry.  The aroma is so faint, I likened it to driving past a strawberry field with the windows open.

Another area of the tasting room.
  • 2016 Estate Select Chardonnay $22

Our server went into some detail in her introduction to this wine, telling us how it is made from grapes half fermented in steel and half in medium French oak, and asserting it is her favorite white.  I disagree.  It has some pineapple taste, which is fine, but also something else I find unpleasant, sort of a chemical or metallic note.  I also don’t like the smell, which reminds me of plastics. My tasting buddy thinks it is fine. Chacun à son goût…

  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon           $25

Well, this is pleasanter.  I smell red lollipop, though my husband says, not that sweet.  Our server noted that this is her go-to red to bring to parties, and I can see why.  It is a soft, very unchallenging red, with fruity flavors of red plum and berries.  It would be fine to sip on its own, but would not stand up to steak.  A crowd pleaser.

There’s a small selection of gift items, primarily t-shirts.
  • 2015 Estate Selection Select Merlot                     $35

Although this is called a merlot, it is blended with some cabernet franc and petit verdot, which gives it more depth and complexity than a simple merlot.  It has some tannins, and I can taste the oak and some fruit.  Nice.

The courtyard will be a good place for tasting when the weather gets warmer.

Reasons to visit:  a classic old-school vineyard, with solid wines and no glitz; the gewürztraminer, the rosé, and the merlot; the cabernet sauvignon if you like soft, simple reds; reasonable prices but also some VERY high-end wines (as in $130 per bottle); nice menu of cheeses and also sandwiches. Note: my husband says the restroom is very small.

I appreciate it when bars have these hooks for one’s belongings.
The vines are still bare–no bud break yet!

Ev & Em Vineyards: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

March 11, 2022

The little sign attached to the big sign said “open,” so in we went.  Laurel Lake was one of the last vineyards we went to in 2020, pre-pandemic—on February first—so we were curious to see how the new owners had changed things.  From the outside, it didn’t look all that different, but as soon as we opened the doors we were amazed at the changes.  If you’ve ever watched “Restaurant Impossible,” you know how much a room can change, but this was huge.  The room even retained a faint smell of fresh paint.

From the outside it doesn’t look all that different.

Instead of having a warm, country vibe, the room has been transformed into a sleek modern space, with the old-fashioned hearth replaced by a gray stone fireplace.  The room seemed particularly bare because they have not yet gotten their furniture.  Supply chain issues, I assume.  I sympathize, since we recently bought a set of eight dining room chairs, only six of which were in the store.  Oh yes, we were told, we will have those other two chairs for you in a couple of weeks.  Three months later we ended up with two chairs of a similar design, which we put at the head and foot of the table to minimize the differences. 

We moved two wire chairs (I believe holdovers from Laurel Lake) from in front of the fireplace and put them next to a shelf display unit, to improvise somewhere to rest our glasses while we sat and sipped.

Even the wood floor looks different, as it is now a lighter color than before.
You can see the large porch area and the grassy field beyond it, where we once sat on a summer’s day.

 If you want to stand at the bar, there’s plenty of space, since it extends all along one side of the room.  And once summer comes, they will have a lot of room—assuming their furniture arrives! —on the covered porch and the grassy grounds.  Summer will also bring a food truck, at which point they will most likely no longer allow outside food.  At the moment, all they have on offer is North Fork Potato Chips, so they likely wouldn’t object if you came with a snack—though there are no tables on which to put it.  (By the way, they do allow dogs on leashes.)

We perused the menu, which had three categories:  the Ev & Em E2 flight, of four wines for $32; Whalebone wines, available by the glass or bottle; and Laurel Lake wines, which they will continue to sell until they are sold out, of four wines out of a list of thirteen, for $25.  Having tasted most of the Laurel Lake offerings, we decided to go for the E2 (E squared?) tasting.  Since the new owner has kept the same winemaker, we were curious as to how the E2 offerings would compare.  The new owner, by the way, is Dan Abrams, of ABC news fame, and the winery’s unusual name is a tribute to his two children.  His book, Kennedy’s Avenger, is for sale at the winery.

Of course, Dan Abrams’ book is for sale in the tasting room.

So we told Danielle, the friendly and chatty server, our choice, and she poured our first taste into a nice big glass.  Each time I got up to fetch our next taste, she and I chatted a bit, and she happily answered all of my questions.  I was wondering what the Whalebone Wine was about, and she said it had to do with an interview in a magazine of that name, on display in the tasting room, for which a couple of wines were created.

  •  2020 Chardonnay          $32

I could immediately tell this was an oaked chard, since it had that piney, woodsy aroma of oak. Fortunately, it was not too heavily oaked, so though it had a bit of an unctuous mouth feel, it also had some refreshing citrus notes and some minerality.  My drinking buddy pronounced it “drinkable.”    

We improvised a place to rest our wine glasses as we discussed our tastes.
  • 2019 Gewürztraminer   $32

Danielle and I had a bit of a discussion about this one, since she said she liked it better than the Laurel Lake version of this grape.  I found it too sweet.  It has a lovely flowery aroma, and tastes of peaches and nutmeg (peach pie, anyone?).  My husband thought it was monochromatic, and definitely too sweet for him.  I much prefer the One Woman gewürztraminer, which was, at least the last time I tried it, much more complex.  I guess this would be okay with spicy Thai food.

  • 2019 Merlot      $40

Would you like a clean glass?  Yes, I would.  Always a nice touch.  There are many, many merlots on the North Fork, and every different price point, starting with the North Fork Project’s one liter bottle for $10 (three for $30 at Pellegrini Winery), surely the best NoFo bargain.  The E2 merlot is at one of the higher price points, and not really worth it, though it’s not bad.  It has a slight fruit/cherry aroma, with soft tannins, and is dry with tastes of fruit and herbs.  Short finish, or as we like to say, the taste evanesces.

  •  2019 Cabernet Franc     $40

Although the winemaker has remained, he has, notes Danielle, tweaked the flavors of the new wines so they are different from the old ones.  We discuss what a nice guy Juan Sepúlveda is, as I once had a long and illuminating chat with him when I came for a tasting and he was hanging out in the tasting room.  In common with a tasting we had when this was Laurel Lake, the reds are still served too cold, so I warm it in my palm.  After it warms up, we quite like this red, with its aroma of berries and wood and tastes of red fruit and spice.  Dry, with some good tannins, which makes me wonder if it would age well. 

From the tasting room you can peek into the wine-making area. Here you can see the light fixtures reflected in the glass.

Reasons to Visit:  time to try a new place, though I suggest you wait until they get their furniture; pleasant outdoor spaces; they will have a food truck; the chardonnay, if you don’t mind some oakiness, and the cabernet franc; dogs are allowed; you’re a fan of Dan Abrams.

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.

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.