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.

Kontokosta: For the Sophisticated

April 20, 2022

The exterior is deceptively rustic.

This time, our guests were a pair of sophisticated Manhattanites, who spend weeks at a time in Italy, where they often visit wineries, so we knew we needed to find a winery that was equally sophisticated.  We also needed a place where we could offer them lunch with their tasting, plus they had almost never been to the North Fork, and we wanted to give them a bit of a tour.  After some cogitation, we decided Kontokosta, just a little bit past Greenport’s Main Street, fit the bill in all particulars.

You can see the Long Island Sound in the distance.

They arrived before noon, giving us plenty of time before our reservation—which is required, and is held with a fee of $5 per person—to have a leisurely drive east.  (Reservations are via Tock, which seems to work about the same as Open Table, etc.)  As I drove, I pointed out the various wineries and other sites along Sound Avenue, giving a bit of information about each, feeling very much like a tour guide.  Our guests noted how rural it is out here, and admired the beginnings of spring blooms.

The inside is quite modern and sophisticated.

One aspect of Kontokosta I appreciate is their eco-consciousness.  They use a windmill to generate electricity, and serve their wines in those corn-based “non-plastic plastic” cups, also used by Old Field.  Snacks are served on bamboo plates, with bamboo utensils (though the bamboo knife did not do a great job of slicing the cheese).  They say they farm “sustainably,” whatever that means.

The outside of the tasting room is deceptively rural, looking like an old barn, while the inside is sleek and modern, in stark black and white.  We were greeted at the door, where our reservation was confirmed, and we were each given a wine glass to keep.  So I guess each glass cost $5!  We were directed to the bar, at the far end of the room, where a friendly server guided us to a snack menu and a tasting menu.  We ordered two cheeses, some crackers, and a plate of sliced salami while we perused the wines.

A tasting consists of three wines for $18, but on this day they added either of the rosés for free, since they are having a special sale on the rosés.  It was hard to choose from the menu of thirteen wines, but my husband and I and our guests decided each couple would share one tasting, and mostly got the same wines so we could discuss.  I may go back some time to try more of their wines.  Our tastings were delivered to our table in small cups, in a wooden holder, with each cup labeled as to the wine in it.  The taste is rather small.

We spent a pleasant afternoon sipping and tasting, and the snacks proved more than adequate for lunch.  Afterwards, we took our guests for a brief stroll around Greenport, and then drove home via Main Road, so they could see the towns of Southold and Cutchogue and Mattituck.

  •  2020 Orient Chardonnay            $22

We all liked this interesting chard, with its lovely flowery aroma and tastes of peach and citrus.  I mentioned that I thought it went very well with the cheddar and salami.  I used to think that cheese and charcuterie demanded red wines, but I have come to prefer whites.  My friend called it “vibrant.”  Nice description.

  • 2020 Viognier    $29

We differed on our second white, since they got the Field Blend.  I liked the viognier, too.  It has some taste of nectarine, and smells flowery.  It has a touch of lime at the end, and I think it would be good to have with seafood in a cream sauce.

  • 2020 Field Blend             $25

Our guests described this as “light and summery.”

  • 2020 White Merlot         $29 (half off if you buy six bottles)

We were somewhat disappointed in this wine, since white merlots are often quite tasty.  This was extremely light, and, as my tasting buddy noted, “monochromatic,” one of his favorite wine description words for wines he finds boring.  It tasted more like a white than a rosé, and even with a 50% discount, neither of us was interested in buying it.

  • 2016 Merlot      $29

Since merlot is the most characteristic red wine on the North Fork, we decided to have that as our final taste.  This is a fairly typical NoFo merlot, with cherry taste and aroma, dry, with a touch of oak/tobacco.  One guest called it “chewy.”

  • 2020 Rosé          $29
This is the glass of rose, which, unlike the white merlot, at least looks like a rose.

Since this rosé is also half off if you buy six, our guest decided to try a glass of it, pouring off a sip for us to taste.  We liked it better than the white merlot, as it has more strawberry taste and aroma, but not enough to get six bottles.

Hmm…whiskey? Maybe next time.

Reasons to Visit:  you want a winery close to Greenport; you want to have some snacks with your tasting; the Orient Chardonnay, the Viognier, and the Merlot; the property overlooks the Sound, and you can stroll down to a bluff overlooking the water.

They have plenty of outdoor tables, though it was a bit too chilly to sit outside when we were there. The Sound is in the distance.

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!

Duck Walk: Time to Par-tee

March 26, 2022

Our visiting pooch.

This time the only complicating factor—we thought—was the well-behaved pooch our visitors brought with them.  So we carefully planned to go to Jason’s Winery for a tasting, even though we knew Jamesport was holding a St. Patrick’s Day Parade that Saturday.  Looking at a map of the parade route, we thought we could get to Jason’s.  A couple of detours later, we got there—only to discover that it was the site of an after-parade party, with the grounds packed with cars.  Plan B.  We parked on a side road and called a couple of other tasting rooms.  No dogs; no dogs; okay for a dog, but there’s one here now, said the lovely woman at McCall’s, and the room is small.  We popped our heads in anyway, and were barked at.  Never mind.  Then I remembered that Duck Walk is owned by the same family that owns Jason’s and Pindar—the family of Dr. “Dan” Damianos—and is also “pet friendly.” 

Dr. “Dan” Damianos overlooks the tasting room.

Though the rain had commenced to fall heavily, we decided to head to Duck Walk as our last possibility, as the afternoon was slipping away.  In we went, to be greeted by a wall of sound. Though the live entertainment consisted of one man with a guitar, his amp and mic must have been set on the loudest settings, and the room is cavernous, so it was so noisy we could barely hear the woman at the cash register inside the door.  The noise was abetted by perhaps five or six bachelorette parties, easily identifiable by the woman in the midst of each wearing a white veil, including one group whose theme was “disco,” and who were dressed in sparkling outfits.  Should we stay?  We decided to stay. 

The bride-to-be is easily identifiable.
By the time we left, the sun was out. That’s March–if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.

The visiting pooch was a big hit with the bachelorettes, who had a great time petting him and receiving doggie kisses in exchange.  We also noted that Duck Walk allows outside food, and one party was happily consuming picnic lunches, most likely provided by the limo company.  Some bags of pretzels and popcorn are for sale, plus bottles of water.

We paid for two tastings, at $13 for four tastes, and received a little slip of paper to present at the bar.  You can also pay directly at the bar, as we observed.  However, considering how hard the two—later three—servers were working, I’m glad we didn’t give them that additional task.  After seating ourselves at a picnic table as far as possible from the music—which would have been fine at a lower decibel level—we headed to the bar and perused a menu.  There we were confronted with twenty-three possibilities on a complicated list which has the categories “white wine varietal,” “white blends and rosé,” “red blends,” “red wines varietal,” and “dessert & sparkling wines.”  Whew.  One guest prefers her wines on the sweet side, so she consulted with Matt, a superlative server, who kindly marked the sweeter wines—eight in all—on her menu.  Also on offer, they make Absenthe, the “traditional distilled spirit with wormwood,” for $5 per taste.  At the bar, I noted a couple of taps for Greenport Harbor beers.  As I went to get one of my tastes, a couple walked up to the bar and the young man told his companion, “I want a beer,” so I hope they were happy with what they found.

Not sure what the plastic cups are for. Our tastes, of about an ounce and a half, came in nice glasses.

We opted to get up and get each taste, since there was no way to carry all four to our table and we didn’t want to stand at the bar.  Matt did a great job of remembering me each time I came back, and helping me keep track of what we had had.  I’m not sure how he did it, with the crowd around the bar.

I’ll list the wines in the order in which I tasted them, indicating which were in our guests’ tasting with an *.

  •  2020 Reisling*  $21.95

Reislings can vary in their level of sweetness, which is why I rarely buy one I haven’t tasted, and this one is definitely on the side of sweeter.  Our guest compared the taste to “sucking on a lollipop.”  I smell honeysuckle; she tastes peach and butterscotch.

  • 2020 Sauvignon Blanc    $21.95

This is a light, dry sauv, with lots of citrus.  I say lemon/lime, and my tasting buddy says more on the lime-y side.

  • Windmill Red *                $18.95

Yuk.  This smells like dirt—and not the somewhat pleasant petrichor smell—and tastes worse.  It has no depth and an unpleasant taste.  None of us wants to drink it, so I return the glass to the bar, where Matt very kindly replaces it with a red he hopes we’ll like better, for no extra charge.

  • 2020 Pinot Grigio            $21.95

Finally, a wine we like.  This has a pleasantly peachy flavor, with lemon at the end.

  • 2019 Pinot Meunier *    $26.95

Matt gave us this as a replacement, probably thinking of my friend’s penchant for sweet wines.  “Shades of Manischevitz,” is the comment.  Yes, I agree, this tastes very like grape juice.

  • 2018 Merlot      $21.95

We have a brief discussion of merlot, and how it is so popular on the North Fork.  This is a fairly typical merlot, with some nice cherry flavor and good mouthfeel.  Nothing special, but drinkable.

  • 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon *        $21.95

“Not as good as the merlot,” is our consensus, “but okay.”  It is dry, with a hint of tannins, and some dark fruit flavor.

  • 2019 Pinot Noir               $38.95

I get a pleasant bramble aroma and taste, with very soft tannins.  I can see how someone who is put off by big reds would find this pleasant.  Just okay.

  • 2020 Aphrodite *            $21.95

Save this for last, counsels Matt.  Right.  It is, after all, a dessert wine, and comes in a slim, pretty 375 ml. bottle featuring a picture of the goddess of love.  But we don’t love it.  It’s too sweet even for my sweet-loving guest.  It tastes like a sugary fruit salad, though I guess if you paired it with foie gras or walnuts it would be tolerable.  The menu suggests pouring this gewürztraminer wine over vanilla ice cream.  Yes, it is that sweet.

Reasons to visit:  you need a place that welcomes dogs and/or outside food; you are with a group of bachelorettes; the pinot grigio and the merlot; you like sweet wine.

Disco-themed bachelorettes!

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.

Palmer Vineyards:  Cozy Setting, Not So Warm Welcome

February 11, 2022

The tasting room is in here, not the first building you see from the road.

A break in the cold and snow, and a reduction in Covid rates, gave us the impetus to venture out for a tasting.  We decided to head to Palmer, which we hadn’t been to since 2018, because I was curious to see if its new ownership made any difference.  Fortunately, my favorite aspect of the tasting room—the cozy booths that remind us of our favorite London pubs—is still the same.  The service, however, was lackadaisical.  There were three workers in the tasting room, and we were the only customers (one hardy couple was seated outside), but the service consisted of one person setting our wines on the table, indicating the order in which to taste them, and referring us to the menu for all other information.  Did anyone stop by our table to ask how we liked the wines?  Nope.  When we finished, did anyone ask if we wanted anything else?  Nope.  I wanted a taste of the Albariño after we finished, but as I sat there with four empty glasses, while my tasting buddy visited the rest room, the server spent his time looking at his phone and carefully NOT looking my way until I was finally able to catch his eye.  Sigh.

No problem with social distancing!

In any event, the wines were all quite drinkable, and the pour was generous.  We opted for a tasting of four reds, for $25.  Our other options were a tasting of whites and a rosé, for $22, or a Reserve tasting, of their higher end wines, for $35.  Another page of the menu offers glass and bottle rates (the latter higher if you are consuming it on the premises) and a third page lists snacks, local beers, and coffee or tea.  They do not allow outside food.  There was a food truck parked in the parking lot, and I wanted to ask about it, but felt the servers had no interest in conversation.

  •  2016 Merlot     $25

“Pleasant and tasty,” said my drinking buddy.  If you like a very cherry merlot, this is not it, as it is not at all fruity, but it is somewhat interesting.  It smells of cherries and tobacco and fresh-cut wood, with some berry tastes and maybe a touch of vanilla.  Dry.

Can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc      $30

This one has a flowery aroma, and tastes like purple plums.  Like the merlot, it is dry, with some nice tannins, but no finish.  Last week we had some lovely little lamb chops from 8 Hands Farm, which I seasoned with the last of the sage from the garden and marjoram, and this would have gone well with them.

Cozy booth.
  • Weekend Red    $22

We actually considered buying this, our favorite of the flight, especially since Palmer offers a 5% discount if you buy three.  This is their Bordeaux blend—70% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% merlot.  I think it smells like red lollipops, but my husband disagrees.  However, we both like the taste, of black raspberry with a touch of cherry, and lots of tannins.

The decor includes these faux posters, some the worse for wear. Since we’ve been watching the Olympics, this one amused us.
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon           $30

I was wondering if I had nose fatigue, since I could barely get any aroma, but my tasting pal agreed.  He also said he was not impressed with it, as the initial fruit flavor quickly faded away.  I felt there was an unpleasant taste at the end.

Servers ignoring us.
  • 2021 Albariño   $30

I really wanted to try this, since I often like albariño, and not many Long Island wineries use this grape, or only use it in blends.  I did like this version, which had delicious aromas of lychee and flowers, and tastes of apples and nectarines, and was pleasantly tart.  When it came time to pay for our tasting, I reminded the server that I had had this extra taste, and he said, “No charge.”  Well, that was nice. 

Mystery food truck…

Reasons to visit:  cozy tasting room, plus an ample veranda and outside seating area; the Weekend Red and the Albariño; in the past, they allowed dogs at the outside tables, but I would ask before bringing Fido.

Plenty of room outside.

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.