Although we live on the North Fork surrounded by an abundance of wineries, we choose to belong to the wine club of one of the few wineries on the South Fork: Channing Daughters. Why? Aside from the excellence of their wines, they have the biggest variety of wines we’ve seen, and the most innovative ideas as well. They grow varieties of grapes no one else out here has, over two dozen varieties, according to their web site. Since they also blend them and use them in constantly varying ways, there is always something new to try. And if you are a wine club member, there is no end to the trying!
With a slight warming trend in the weather to encourage us, we drove over to Channing on a cold but sunny day to collect two shipments worth of club wines and try whatever was new. And try we did, ending up by tasting eleven wines—we started dumping after a few sips, just so we could keep up. Anthony, our server, seemed to know everything about every wine, and spoke reverentially about Christopher Tracy, the winemaker. When I looked up Christopher’s bio on the winey web page, I was interested to see that he had been a chef. Perhaps that accounts for his experimental, creative, and innovative approach to wine-making.
The tasting room is small, just a bar along one side and a few barrels where one could rest a glass while tasting, though there are tables outside in warm weather. No food, though a tray of crackers was on offer to cleanse our palates. No dogs, either, though we were enthusiastically greeted by a resident pooch named Rocky.
If you are not a wine club member, the standard flight of five wines plus one vermouth is $20. Though I expressed an interest in trying the standards, Anthony, noting the notebook, our membership, and the attention we paid to the wines, kept urging us to try various other wines. We were not loath to do so. (By the way, if you are a wine clubber you also get access to some wines not on offer to the general public. And because they are such a small winery, some varieties do sell out.)
- 2016 L’Enfant Sauvage $38
This “wild child” is an oaked chardonnay made with wild yeasts—“what Mother Nature provides,” noted Anthony. And she provided very well with this vintage. Although it is oaked, it is not at all buttery, instead having an aroma of pears and wild honey and a taste of ripe pears and, perhaps, cranberries. We tasted this at room temperature, which was just right for this flavorful white.
- 2018 Pinot Grigio $20
I’ve drunk a lot of pinot grigio, since that is often my go-to choice if I am getting wine by the glass. This one is unusual (no surprise). It smells of flowers and vegetables, with a taste that suggests roasted asparagus and wild thyme honey, while being also dry and minerally. I am not surprised when Anthony informs us that a small amount of the wine is fermented in neutral oak, which gives it some of those interesting characteristics.
- 2016 Tocai Friulano $24
I don’t think anyone else out here grows this grape, or if they do, I’ve not had their wine. Anthony informs us that it is related to sauvignon blanc, and in Europe it is called “sauvignon vert.” This one doesn’t have much aroma, and the taste is very green apple-y, and not at all citrusy. There’s some minerality in it as well. My tasting buddy likes it more than I do, though I think I’d like it better with food.
- 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $26
This is a dry, crisp, mineral-y, almost salty white, with some tastes of lime and grapefruit. It would go well with oysters, but again I don’t care to drink it on its own.
- 2016 Cuvee Tropical $23
What a contrast! This is a lush blend of 75% chardonnay, 10% pinot grigio, 9% tocai friulano, and 6% muscat ottonel, with some of the juice fermented in oak and some in steel, and I don’t know what else, but the result is yummy. I get notes of pineapple and guava and peaches, with just a trace of sweetness. This is a wine I could happily sip on its own, but I bet it would pair well with Thai food or other spicy, interesting cuisines.
- 2014 Meditazione $40
Orange! Not only is this an orange wine, I swear it tastes like kumquats. It is made by fermenting white wine grapes on their skins, like red wines, and fermenting it partially in oak and partially in steel. Made from 36% Pinot Grigio, 21% Muscat Ottonel, 14% Chardonnay, 13% Tocai Friulano, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Pinot Bianco and 4% Gewurztraminer, it is moderately dry and very tasty. According to the web site (which is worth visiting just for the descriptions of the wines), this is good with wild game birds. I could surely see having this with duck.
- 2019 Gewürztraminer Petillant Naturel $28
Though I’ve been dumping parts of most of the last few tastes, I can’t resist finishing this really delicious sparkling wine. In fact, I like it so much that we buy a bottle. It has a lovely tingle on the tongue, and some typical gewürztraminer tastes, like lychee and peaches. I could see having this as an aperitif with some nice charcuterie from 8 Hands Farm.
- 2018 Rosso Fresco $23
This is a lightweight red blend—of merlot, cabernet franc, dornfelder, and blaufrankisch (there’s a line-up you’re not likely to find anywhere else…)—that could be served slightly chilled, with barbequed chicken. It has a slight cherry flavor, and no tannins.
- 2017 Dornfelder $30
Noting that we were not enthusiastic about the Rosso Fresco, Anthony suggested we try the dornfelder, which includes 3% pinot noir and 2% pinot grigio. The aroma is rather funky, like that barnyard smell so many reds out here used to have, but fortunately the taste is better than the smell. We get blackberries, and nice acidity (which makes your mouth water). It may need more aging.
- 2017 Petit Verdot $38
This is a nice red, with a fruity aroma and some cherry tastes and smells (probably because it is 15% merlot), plus minerality and spice. Very drinkable, though at this point I only dare take a couple of sips. I could see this with hearty food, like steaks and stews.
- Muscat de Boom $30
We are getting ready to go, packing up the wines from our club shipment plus the extras we’ve bought, when Anthony realizes we haven’t tasted this dessert wine, which is one of our club selections. The small bottle contains an orange wine with a flavor Anthony compares to marzipan. I definitely get almond and oranges, and, though it is a sweet dessert wine, it is not too sweet. I taste baked apples and raisins as well. I could see sipping this while cracking walnuts after a big meal.
Reasons to visit: the widest and wildest variety of wines on Long Island; a great option on the South Fork, right near Sag Harbor, our favorite town on that fork (though it is increasingly Hamptonized, children favorites the Variety Store, Wharf Shop, and Blooming Shells are still there, as well as Canio’s Book Store plus plenty of restaurants); all the wines, but especially the Cuvee Tropical, the Meditazione, L’Enfant Sauvage, Petit Verdot, and Muscat de Boom; and I didn’t even mention the vermouths, which are as interesting and complex and original as the wines! I heartily recommend joining the wine club, though if you have the selections shipped to you in New York State you need to be home to sign for them, which is why we now pick ours up at the winery.
Addendum: Just tried the 2014 Dorn & Blau. It is a blend of 81% dornfelder and 19% blaufrankisch. A very dark, almost black red, it has an almost spicy aroma and taste, with lots of tannins, and some dark fruit tastes. It is lean and elegant, and we had it with one of our favorite winter meals, a thick soup plus bread and cheese.