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. 

Peconic Bay Vineyards: Under New Ownership

October 21, 2021

I expect I will be able to use the subtitle “under new ownership” quite a few times this year, as recently a number of wineries have changed hands.  In some cases, already existing wineries have expanded by buying their neighbors, while in others new owners have entered the North Fork wine scene.  Peconic Bay is a case of the latter, as the Soloviev family has been actively investing in the North Fork over the past few years.  Peconic has been officially closed for about eight years, though we stopped in there in 2017 when it was briefly open, as the previous owner was, according to our server, trying to sell out his stock.

Since they have been closed, they have been selling their grapes to other local wineries, which is why they only have limited quantities of certain varieties.  However, we were told by Sam, our charming and chatty server, those contracts are about to end, so she is looking forward to seeing what their winemaker—who is the same one who worked at Peconic before—will come up with.  For now, they offer seven wines, though two of them—the sauvignon blanc and the merlot—are in such limited quantity that they are not selling them by the bottle. 

It was another beautiful warm day, so we planned to sit outside wherever we went, and when we walked into Peconic we were sure, as the inside area is quite small, with uncomfortable-looking stools at the bar.  Outside, however, featured a roomy patio, with nice wooden chairs (maybe they could add seat cushions in the future?) and comfy Adirondack chairs grouped around fire pits.  The fire pit areas, we were told, are all reserved already for “movie night,” when they will be showing Hocus Pocus.  They also plan to have live music at various times.  However, today we and one other couple were the only visitors, though Sam assured us it was busier on the weekends.

The menu offers a flight of three wines, called the “Crossroads Flight” for $18, and seemed to be limited to just the chardonnay, riesling, and red blend.  However, Sam told us we could substitute any other wines if we preferred, and after she described the riesling as semi-sweet, we did prefer—not to have it—so we opted for the viognier instead.  Good choice.  After we shared the small flight, we decided we would like to sit and enjoy the beautiful afternoon a while longer, so we shared a glass of the sauvignon blanc and a bag of North Fork potato chips.  The food menu features the usual cheese and charcuterie choices, as well as a chocolate tasting from Disset, a new fancy chocolatier in Cutchogue, and, on the weekends, local oysters.   As we contemplate the menu, Sam brings us a carafe of chilled water, always a nice touch.

  •  2020 Viognier   $22

I get a touch of kerosene and metal when I sniff, but fortunately it tastes of pineapple, not gas!  We like it.  It is dry with nice fruit tastes, refreshing, and different from most North Fork wines.

  • 2020 Chardonnay           $25

Sam informs us that this is the “musque” clone of chardonnay grape, which I have not knowingly encountered before.  In any event, the taste is quite distinct, a smooth, mellow sip that reminds me of thyme honey, though it is not sweet.  Most local chardonnays have a citrus flavor, but this does not.  The menu suggests pairing it with hard cheese, and I think it would go well with a truffle-infused pecorino we had from the Love Lane Cheese Shop recently.

  • Horizon Red Blend          $32

We decided to describe this as a “starter” red, or in other words a red for someone who is not yet into reds.  It is light and dry, with soft tannins, and tastes of wood and cherry.  Sam suggests calling it a “summer” red.  A blend of 73% malbec, 18% merlot, and 9% cabernet sauvignon, the aroma, of cherry, wood, tobacco, and coffee, promises more than the wine delivers.

  • 2020 Sauvignon Blanc

As I mentioned, we decided to share a glass of wine, and, based on a discussion with Sam, we opted for the sauvignon blanc, at $12 for a glass, plus a $4 bag of North Fork potato chips.  Again, this is a different-tasting sb than the usual out here.  It is mellow, not citrusy, with an almost thick mouth feel, and a trace of saltiness and fruit.  We chuckle over the observation that it actually goes very well with the chips.

Reasons to visit:  someplace new; nice outdoor area, with firepits for colder weather; local oysters on the weekend; the viognier and the sauvignon blanc; oh, and for $55 per person you can tour the vineyard in the Moke, an adorable electric vehicle that looks like a mini safari car, with tastings of three wines next to the vines where they grow.

The Moke!

Mattebella Vineyards: Sunny Sunday in October

October 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2017 Steel Chardonnay $29

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

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $50

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

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

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

  • Famiglia Red      $35

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

  • 2011 Old World Blend   $65

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

  •  2013 Old World Blend  $91

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

  • 2015 Old World Blend   $78

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

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

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

Pellegrini: Club Time Again

September 8, 2021

Many wineries offer visitors the opportunity to join their wine club.  We have limited ourselves to two—Channing Daughters and Pellegrini—but I’ve often read the brochures of other places.  I can certainly see the advantages of wine clubs, both for the members and the wineries.  As a member, you get a regular—usually quarterly—supply of wines from a winery you have liked, plus various perks, including free tastings and/or glasses of wine, reduced prices on bottles, and invitations to or reduced prices on various events at your chosen winery, such as musical performances or catered meals.  And the winery, obviously, has a guaranteed income stream, plus a loyal following.  Win/win.

 

Living on the North Fork offers the added convenience of needing only a short drive to pick up one’s wine club selections—though I think all of them also will mail your selections to you, subject to the laws in your state. 

Another perk of living on the North Fork is the fascination of watching the vines go from winter dormancy to spring bud break to fall ripening.  Right now, the vines are beautiful.  The little newsletter which came with our club choices describes what is happening to the grapes now:

“Veraison refers to the time when the grapes begin turning color and the vines start to transport their energy from their roots into the grapes.  During this period of ripening, the acid levels in the grapes fall (particularly malic acid which leaves tartaric acid as the primary acid) and hexose sugars (glucose, fructose) begin to accumulate in the grape.  The chlorophyll in the berries is replaced by carotenoids in white varieties and xanthophylls in the reds.  The end result is that the fruit begins to get more flavorful, colorful, concentrated, and sweeter, which is crucial to making delicious wine!”

We took our four tastes to what we now think of as “our” table, out on the front lawn, on this warm, breezy day, and had a pleasant time, despite the traffic going by on Main Road.  Two other small groups sat nearby, drinking glasses of wine.  The courtyard was tented yet again, and the server noted they’d had two weddings the past weekend, and another was scheduled for the weekend to come.  We took care to try wines we’d not had the last time—easy given the menu of fourteen wines.

*2019 Gewürztraminer $24.99

This is probably the hardest wine to spell, and also one that is not always easy to like.  I liked this one, but my tasting buddy did not, proclaiming it “too sweet.”  I insisted that what he was calling sweet was actually fruitiness, and said I tasted gooseberries.  He disclaimed any knowledge of what gooseberries taste like.  We both agreed that the aroma was agreeably fruity, and there was a definite citrus flavor, like a sweetish lemon.  I noted some minerality on the finish, and that it would be good with spicy food.

*2020 REJOYCE $24.99

A blend of 65% chardonnay and 35% sauvignon blanc, this wine has a pleasant smell of freshly cut grass plus metal.  It’s definitely not sweet, with flavors of lemon (a lot) and cucumber.  It would be good with oysters or clams.

*2015 Cabernet Sauvignon         $69.99

According to the description on the placemat, this wine spends 19 months in French oak—which might have been a bit too much.  It is quite oaky, with some berry taste, but I compared it to chewing on tree bark.  My husband said it was “tangy.”  The aroma is of sweet berries and tobacco.  Maybe it needs to age longer.

*2020 East End Select Barbeque Red      $24.99

Made from 100% petit verdot grapes, but aged in steel rather than oak, this is, as the name suggests, intended as a more casual wine.  I taste berries and plums, and assert it is dry.  My tasting buddy and I diverge again, as he insists it is too sweet.  I argue that he’s seeing fruit, once again, as sweetness.  “Not in my mouth!” he replies.  Well, that’s wine tasting for you.  Disagreement is perfectly acceptable.  He also notes that he could see drinking this with cheese during cocktail hour, but not with a meal.

Reasons to visit:  good all-around winery; snacks allowed; they also sell the North Fork merlot, chardonnay, and rosé, all well-priced reliable everyday wines ($30 for three big bottles); the gewürztraminer, REJOYCE, and BBQ Red.

Osprey’s Dominion: Easy to Drink

July 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

  1.  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $19

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

  • 2014 Gewurztraminer   $19

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

  • 2019 Rosé          $19

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

  •  2012 Merlot     $22

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

  • 2015 Cabernet Franc      $24

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

  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon           $22

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

  • 2017 Malbec     $30

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

  • 2014 Meritage “Flight”  $30

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

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

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

Pellegrini: In the Club

June 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

  1. 2019 Rosé          $24.99

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

  • 2019 Steel Chardonnay $19.99

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

  • Steakhouse Red               $19.99

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

  • 2015 Petit Verdot           $29.99

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

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

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

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

https://castellodiborghese.com/

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All the leaves are brown…

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…and the sky is grey.

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

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

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

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Sometimes they have musical performances in this room.

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

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

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They give you a rather generous pour.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $20

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

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

  1. * 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $24

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

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  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $24

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

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  1. Rosé of Merlot $18

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

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  1. *2018 Pinot Noir $50

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

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44

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

  1. *2018 Merlot Select $35

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

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  1. 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44

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

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Many of their wines have won awards.

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

RG/NY: A Shared Aesthetic January 17, 2020

https://rgnywine.com/

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Don’t be fooled by that blue sky–it was cold!

The starkly simple sign outside leads you into an entry area that is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. The tasting room is similarly pared down to essentials, as are the wines. Even the bottles share this aesthetic, looking like examples of modern art. Our friendly and well-informed server, Tina, tells us that an attractive stair-step design on the labels has a symbolic meaning. The wines are named “Scielo,” which a neon sign, the only décor in the tasting room, informs us means Heaven. The steps are a route to the heaven you find in the bottle.

The Rivero González family bought this winery and vineyard from Martha Clara in 2018, but they have been winemakers in Mexico since 1998. We had waited to check them out until we figured they had time to make their own wines, which they have. The only hold-overs from Martha Clara are some of the reds—and Tina herself, who greets arriving wine club members like old friends. She tells us that the new owners want to keep the family-friendly atmosphere of Martha Clara, while putting their own stamp on the wines and décor. For example, dogs will be allowed outside on the grounds (though today there is one in the tasting room! Well, it is certainly too cold to hang around outside.).

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This pooch was so well-behaved we didn’t even realize she was there until someone greeted her.

I ask Tina about snacks, and she shows me a menu which is available on weekends in the winter, and every day in season. (No outside food.) Meanwhile, there is a refrigerated case and various snack items in the shop area, so you can make a DIY snack. We decide we are not that hungry, and anyway, each tasting comes with a little dish of very tasty crackers.

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The snack menu, which is available on weekends in the winter.

The tasting menu offers a choice of three different flights: the Scielo selection of four wines for $17, four whites for $20, or RG Selection of higher-level wines, four for $22. The final choice on that menu is a Martha Clara red, but Tina, noting that we have been to Martha Clara, says she could substitute the RG Tinto if we prefer. We decide to go with the Scielo flight.

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  1. 2018 Scielo Chardonnay $25

I am happy to learn that this is a primarily steel-fermented chard, with just 2% oaked. I find in general that I prefer steel chards, but a little bit of oak adds depth and a nice mouth feel. It has an aroma of ripe apples and flowers, and tastes like a Granny Smith apple as well. There’s also a touch of lime. My tasting buddy insists that it is slightly sweet, but after some discussion we realize that his taste is influenced by some residual sweetness from the cracker he munched. He says this would be a good seafood wine, and I agree, though I think a seafood in cream dish would go best.

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  1. 2018 Riesling $24

Before we opted for this flight, I asked if the riesling was sweet or dry, and Tina reassured me that it was dry. She wasn’t kidding. It is bone dry, and very light. The aroma is of honeysuckle and metal, and there’s a touch of metal in the taste as well. Like touching your tongue to a pole? Well, I’m not that dumb. I also taste pears. We get into a discussion about how the new wines are very dry, whereas the Martha Clara wines tended to be more on the sweet side. Some former customers are unhappy with the new taste, while we prefer it.

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The stair step pattern on the label has a symbolic meaning.

  1. 2018 Scielo Rosé $22

Yum. This is a blend of 48% merlot, 32% malbec, and 20% cabernet franc, and the complexity of that blend shows up in the flavor, which is more interesting than a standard rosé. Tasty, says my husband. It has the strawberry aroma one would expect, and in addition to some strawberry flavor a definite note of lychee. We decide to get a bottle to go with the scallops we bought earlier at Braun’s.

  1. 2018 White Merlot $32

Power of the book—she was pouring this for someone else, so she offered us a taste of this white wine made from merlot grapes. Nice. It tastes like a cross between red and white, light and drinkable, with an aroma of wood and leather and white cherry taste.

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  1. 2018 Tinto $30

Our server compares this to a Beaujolais, and it is light like a Beaujolais, though it is made from a Bordeaux blend: 43% merlot, 37% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot, and 10% cabernet franc. I would guess that they were in a hurry to get out a red of their own, because we think this could benefit from more aging. It has a nice cherry aroma and taste, but no depth and some tannins. It is very young, and I could see drinking it with meatloaf or hamburgers.

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  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $37

There’s just a little bit left in this bottle, not enough to give anyone a regular taste, so Tina asks if we’d like a sip of this. Of course, we would. I get spice and leather, not much fruit. Again, I think this would benefit from more time, and we resolve to come back in a year or so to see how the wines have developed.

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There’s a very large side room.

Reasons to visit: A chance to try a new place; very roomy surroundings, in case you are with a group; the rosé, the White Merlot. One note—the bar has almost no overhang, so there’s nowhere to put your knees when you sit there, and the stools are rather uncomfortable. Perhaps they will fix that in the future.

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From the outside, you con’t tell that there are significant changes both inside the building and inside the bottles.

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But there are still some Martha Clara wines available for purchase.

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The gift shop has many fewer items than it used to have.