Chronicle Wines: A Family Story

August 25, 2022

The winery is in a storefront on Peconic Lane.

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

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

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

The lounge area.

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

Snacks!

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

The Queen of the Scrambled Brain
Follow the Sun

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

  •  2024 Chronicle Chardonnay Pét-Nat       $30

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

  • 2018 BOE Pinot Gris        $15 (on sale)

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

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellar Sauvignon Blanc       $25

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

  • 2014 As If Serendipity White Blend           $15

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

  • 2020 BOE “Broken Land” orange wine     $30

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

  • NV Haywater Cove Rosé               $15

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

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellars “Red Skies”               $30

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

  • 2020 Saltbird Cellars Merlot        $27

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

  • 2017 Saltbird Cellars “Harbinger”              $36

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

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

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

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

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.

Sparkling Pointe: Celebration Time

May 24, 2022

The lovely terrace was empty on this Tuesday.

There are certain people who make every get-together feel like a celebration.  So where better to take that couple than to Sparkling Pointe, where the sparkling wines make every sip feel like a party. In addition, one of our guests is a wine aficionado who has been to many wineries, so I wanted to take him somewhere unusual.  I made a reservation that was clearly superfluous, since we had the entire terrace to ourselves, but I wanted to be sure it was open, since we went on a Tuesday when many wineries, stores, and restaurants are closed (at least until after Memorial Day). 

The flute of Brut.

We settled ourselves on the flagstone terrace, commenting on how pretty the view out across the vines was.  Natalia, our lively and intelligent server, quickly brought each of us a welcoming flute of the 2017 Brut and explained the menu.  The bubbly wines—which can’t be called champagne because they are not made in the Champagne region of France—are made using the méthode champenoise, a labor-intensive process.  Some are dry, and some are sweet, with the Carnaval labels more on the sweet side.  Since one of our guests prefers sweeter wines, we decided that they would share the Flagship flight ($20, for three), which features two of the Carnaval wines, and we would share the Prestige Flight ($30, for three), which has drier sparklers.

We hungrily attacked the cheese board before I had a chance to take a photo.
We quickly finished the baguette slices and, though I like Taralli, they are not ideal as cheese holders.

Since it was lunchtime, we also ordered a cheese board, which included three cheeses, a little dish of jam, a tiny jar of honey, and some Taralli crackers and sliced baguette.  It was plenty for the four of us.  (Outside food is not allowed.) As we sipped and munched, we talked and laughed and told stories, and I sometimes forgot to take notes, we were having such a good time. 

Tastes are brought to your table one at a time, so the bubbles don’t dissipate, and Natalia quickly noticed that it was taking us longer than average to consume each one, so she allowed extra time between samples.  Then, I guess because there was no one else there, or because we were clearly serious about tasting, or because of my notebook, she brought each couple one additional taste.  As a result, I could theoretically tell you all about nine of their wines—but, as I said, we were having so much fun being together, my notes are a bit sketchy.  I list the wines more or less as we had them, not separated by who had which.

  •  2017 Brut          $31

Everyone gets a flute of this “welcome toast,” a very nice gesture.  It is made from a blend of 54% chardonnay, 33% pinot noir, and 13% pinot meunier.  You might note that two of those grapes are red, yet the wine is pale yellow.  That’s because the color in the wine comes from contact with the grape skins—and Sparkling Pointe does have some rosés and even a red sparkler—but this wine has no skin contact.  These three grape varieties, by the way, are the same ones traditionally used in the Champagne region of France to make champagne.  Anyway, we like it.  It is sophisticated and dry, and tastes very like a traditional champagne, though one guest notes it has fewer bubbles.

  • 2017 Blanc de Blancs     $48

As you might guess from the name, this is made from all white grapes—100% chardonnay—and has that zippy citrusy taste you might expect from a chard. 

  • 2016 Blanc de Noirs       $75

In contrast, this is made only from red grapes, 65% pinot noir and 35% pinot meunier.  This has a more complex fruity taste, maybe raspberry, and has a nice aroma of yeast, with a touch of something funky.  Dry.

  • NV Cuvée Carnaval Rosé              $36

If you examine the Sparkling Pointe menu, you will note that in addition to the usual descriptions of the wines, each wine also has the additional information of when it was disgorged and what the “dosage” of sugar is.  The sugar number is easy to decipher, since the higher the number the sweeter the taste.  This one has a dosage of 14 g/l, while the previous wine’s is 6.  The disgorgement date is the date when the yeast and sediment in the bottle are removed, ending the second fermentation, and giving you a good idea of exactly how old a wine is.  Since this is a non-vintage wine (NV), you might like to have that information.  A light pink blend of 50% pinot noir, 41% chardonnay, and 9% merlot, this is the bubbly equivalent of a still rosé, slightly sweet, with some strawberry taste.

  • 2019 Topaz Imperial Brut Rosé                 $44

I was concerned, looking at the pink color, that this blend of 50% chardonnay, 34% pinot noir, and 26% pinot meunier would be too sweet for my taste, but in fact I quite liked it.  It has the strawberry taste one expects in a rosé, but is more complex, with some lemon and bread notes.

  • NV Cuvée Carnaval Blanc             $30

The sweet wine lover in the group declared this to be her favorite, while her companion compared it to a prosecco.

  • 2011 Brut Seduction       $70

The usually very well-informed Natalia couldn’t tell me why this is called seduction (though I’ll bet she’ll know next time someone asks), but we speculated it could be because it is so good it seduces you.  This is the oldest vintage they have, though it was disgorged in 2020, so it aged for quite a long time.  It is complex and interesting, with layers of flavor, including some of the buttery flavor you get in an oaked chardonnay.  It has almost no bubbles.  54% chardonnay, 46% pinot noir.

A red sparkling wine is a bit unusual.
  • NV Carnaval Rouge         $36

This is unusual—a red sparkling wine.  It is almost startling to look at.  It smells like cranberry juice, and could almost be mistaken for a Cosmo, but, according to our friend, has almost no flavor.  “Tastes like wet paper, like a spitball,” he opines.  On the other hand, it is an “extra,” not included in the tasting, so no complaints.  The menu says it tastes like bubblegum!

  • 2016 Reserve Blanc de Blancs     $68

We are very happy with our extra, and in fact, it is my favorite of the day.  This is dry, lemony, with some warm pear tastes.  Very nice.

An array of unfinished glasses, which eventually we did finish!

Reasons to visit:  time to celebrate, as they only have sparkling wines, which most people consider as party wines; lovely terrace outside, and elegant room inside, with thoughtful table service; the 2017 Brut, the Blanc de Blancs, and the Blanc de Blancs Reserve, to my taste; the Carnaval Blanc if you like sweeter wine (the term “Carnaval” refers to the  owners’ love of Brazil, which can also be seen in some of the gift shop offerings).  

The “Bubbly Boutique” has a limited selection of items, which used to be bigger. You can see the Brazilian influence.

Castello di Borghese: Cherry Blossom Time

May 10, 2022

After a stroll through Greenport, admiring the blooming cherry trees and checking out which stores were open (many are closed on Tuesdays), we headed to the “Founding Vineyard,” Castello di Borghese. 

This painting in the Borghese gallery reminded us of the cherry-tree lined streets of Greenport.

The last time we were there was February 9, 2020, just before the world shut down.  When we shared this fact with our server, she told us about her experience of working in the tasting room during that time.  Right around St. Patrick’s Day, she recalled, they had a huge influx of people from the city, who all commented on how happy they were to find something open, where they could gather and socialize.  We were ready to close for the night, she remembered, but the people didn’t want to leave.  By the next day, she began to worry, and helped scrub down the place.  Then they closed, then reopened only for curbside pickup, when they actually had a very profitable time, as people were buying bottles and cases. 

Their solution to how to serve a flight.

When it was time to offer tastings again, they spent some time figuring out how to manage serving flights, since previously most of their service was to people standing at the bar, chatting and getting their tastes one at a time.  Finally, they decided to use little plastic baskets and clear plastic cups, with the variety written on paper inside the basket, under each cup.  She noted that she felt bad about all the plastic they were now using, and I suggested she look into the corn-based plastic used by Old Field, which she promised to do.

The room is large, but rather plain, though they have tried to enliven it with Christmas lights.

We were sitting at a table in the large room they now use for tastings, which was lined with paintings by local artist Patricia Feiler, whose paintings of seascapes and blossoming cherry trees felt very familiar.  Once again, we were the only customers—until, as we were leaving, another couple arrived—so we took our time to sip and discuss each wine.  Our server asked us if we would like some pretzels, and when we said yes supplied us with two little bags of them.  They do allow outside food.  They also seem to allow dogs, since as we entered, we met Herbie, the owner’s classic black dog, and very friendly he was indeed. 

Herbie!

They have two flight options:  Classic, of two whites, a rosé (picked from three options), and two reds; or the Red Flight, which has many of their more expensive reserve wines, of five reds.  We opted to share a Classic Flight, which she brought to us in a little plastic basket.  She also thoughtfully gave us each a glass so we could easily share each taste by pouring it into the glass.  Since it was a slow day, she treated us to all three rosés, which is why I can comment on them in this piece. 

  •  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $29

This is a fairly typical NoFo sauvignon blanc, with some citrus and almost-ripe pear taste, crips, dry, and summery.  It has a pleasant floral aroma with a touch of ginger.

  • 2020 Chardonnay           $25

My tasting buddy thinks this and the sauvignon blanc are a little sweet, but I counter that what he sees as sweet is fruity, and he says, “I’ll accept that,” then adds, “It borders on sweet.”  We agree that this steel-fermented chard is good, with tart peach flavor (they say nectarine and starfruit), but not outstanding. 

  • Fleurette Rosé   $18

The menu describes this blend of merlot and chardonnay as an “aperitif wine,” and “off-dry.”  I can agree with both descriptions, and could see sipping this somewhat sweet wine with charcuterie, where the sweetness of the wine would be balanced by the saltiness of the meat.  It is relatively complex for a rosé, with tastes of ripe cantaloupe and lemon zest.  It smells sort of melon-y, too.

  • 2020 Rosé of Merlot       $22

“I could see sitting on the deck and sipping this after a day at the beach,” opines my husband, and I agree.  This has the typical strawberry aroma and flavor of most local rosés, with again a touch of citrus.  I say that people who like sweet wine would not call this sweet, he adds “enough.”

I thought giving us each a glass so we could easily share was a nice idea.
  • 2021 Rosé Pinot Noir     $50

I had to check the price list twice, since I can’t see any reason why this rosé costs so much.  My buddy describes it as “zippy,” and I add that it is very dry and citrusy, with almost no aroma.  Sophisticated? Maybe.

You can just see the handwritten labels.
  • 2017 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon                          $25

Nice.  Is that damning with faint praise?  It is a light, bright, and pleasant red, with aromas of cedar and black cherry and tastes of cherry, too.  I think it would be better with food, like roast chicken.  Or a hot dog, offers my pal.

  • 2020 Reserve Cabernet Franc     $44

Like all the wines we have sampled today, this is very drinkable but not outstanding.  It has a delicious aroma of blackberry jam and spice, and has nice dark fruit tastes, with soft tannins.

This is a fairly typical painting by Patricia Feiler, at least one of whose paintings was featured on the cover of Dan’s Paper.

Reasons to Visit:  calm, laid-back place with pleasant wines; art gallery featuring various local artist shows; you can bring a picnic and your dog (certainly outside); the chardonnay, the Fleurette (though it is a bit sweet), and the merlot/cabernet sauvignon blend.

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.

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.

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!

Coffee Pot Cellars: Time for a Chat

October 15, 2021

Watch for the large dinosaur—excuse me—wine-o-saur on their lawn to find Coffee Pot Cellars’ tasting room.  Made from corks inserted into a wire frame, this not-yet-completed structure symbolizes the quirky charm of this little winery.  When you walk in, you will get an enthusiastic greeting from Laura Klahre, the wife of winemaker Adam Suprenant, and possibly also from their little black pug, Beasley.  Beasley, however, is less enthusiastic these days, as his age of fourteen has begun to take its toll, and he was fast asleep during our recent visit. 

Though we last visited Coffee Pot (named for the lighthouse near Orient Point—and no, they do not serve coffee) in November 2019, Laura immediately recognized us, and included us in the conversation she was having with another couple, who also had not been there for a long time, about an amusing incident they had witnessed.  Several new customers came in while we were there, and, since they all opted to sit outside on the wrap-around porch, we had Laura to ourselves for much of our visit.  For them, she set up their complete tasting on a labeled tray, while for us she poured each one separately, so we had time to chat. 

According to the chalkboard, a complete tasting includes six of their seven wines for $15: three whites and three reds, but not the rosé.  However, as Laura put it, to acknowledge the tough year we have all had, and because we are on vacation and shouldn’t have to make decisions, the six is actually seven, as she also pours the rosé.  At the moment, she is using “corn plastic”—which is compostable—rather than glass, because their dishwasher is broken.  It would, she confesses, “hurt my soul” to use regular plastic.  That’s because in addition to her work in the tasting room—which is open Friday-Monday—Laura is a beekeeper and environmentalist, and sells her Blossom Tree Farm honey in the tasting room.  She also makes award-winning jam—we bought a jar of blueberry—and has a project to plant milkweed to help stem the decimation of the monarch butterfly population.  On our last visit, Beasley was wearing little monarch wings to promote this last project, but he’s getting too old to parade around in a costume.

As we sipped and chatted, we noted how much we like the wines, as well as the conversation!  And when we left, we took with us, in addition to the jam, a bottle of the Meritage and another of the rosé.

  •  2019 Sauvignon Blanc                 $21.99

Aged in stainless steel, this has a lovely aroma of melon and flowers, and is quite tasty.  We get lemon/lime, but it is more fruity than tart, though it is dry.  As with most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this would be lovely with some clams or oyster.

  • 2015 Chardonnay           $19.99

I was a bit leery of this, since it is oak aged, but then Laura noted that it is aged in fourteen-year-old barrels—in other words, neutral oak—so I took a sip.  Very nice.  Though you do get a bit of that I -chewed-on-my-pencil taste, overall it is more lemony than oaky. 

  • 2017 Gewürztraminer   $21.99

Thanksgiving is coming, so we discussed what a good wine gewürztraminer is for that holiday, because it is so versatile.  It also has enough taste to stand up to turkey, cranberry sauce, etc.  This is a dry one, which is good for me, with lovely honeysuckle aromas and tastes of pineapple and nutmeg.

  • 2020 Rosé          $24.99

A blend of 95% cabernet sauvignon and 5% merlot, this is a rosé with more oomph than most, with lovely aromas and flavors of strawberry.  This is also dry, and we got into a conversation about dry versus sweet wines, since one person had come in asking, did they have any sweet wines.  I suggested that she could offer them this rosé because, though it is dry, it has lots of fruit, which might read sweet to some.

  • 2016 Beasley’s Blend     $21.99

Laura observed to another customer who had come in and opted to just taste the reds, that her husband loves making reds.  That shows, as all three reds are better than the average North Fork ones.  Beasley apparently likes Bordeaux wines, as this is a Bordeaux blend of 58% merlot, 31% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, and 5% cabernet sauvignon.  It smells like cherries, no doubt the effect of the merlot, and is a soft and very drinkable red, with tastes of plums and chocolate.

  • 2014 Merlot      $25.99

If you buy a bottle of this, they plant more milkweed to help the monarchs, as a little blackboard keeps track of them.  Aged 18 months in French oak, this is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with cherry flavor and aroma. 

  • 2015 Meritage  $28.99

Yum.  We bought a bottle of this to put in our cellar, as it is too good for just weeknight hamburgers.  A blend of 83% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 5% cabernet sauvignon, this has interesting tastes that include ripe cherries and cocoa and spice.

Reasons to visit:  a quirky little winery that has very good wines; Laura’s conversation and Beasley’s charm; you can also buy jam and honey and other interesting items; all the wines, but especially the rosé and the Meritage; you can bring your dog if you sit outside.

There’s an antique store next door, in case you want to browse.