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.

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.