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.

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.

Mattebella Vineyards: Sunny Sunday in October

October 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2017 Steel Chardonnay $29

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

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $50

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

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

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

  • Famiglia Red      $35

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

  • 2011 Old World Blend   $65

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

  •  2013 Old World Blend  $91

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

  • 2015 Old World Blend   $78

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

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

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

Jamesport Vineyards: Lunchtime!

September 30, 2021

Our friends were coming to visit us for the first time since before the pandemic began, so we were eager to spend some time together.  Often, we’ve done a tasting and then gone out to dinner, but this time we decided to combine a tasting and lunch.  I’ve been wanting to try the pizzas from Little Oak Wood Fired Kitchen, within Jamesport Vineyard, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

I went online and made a reservation, which required a $5 deposit on my credit card per person (promptly refunded when we arrived), for 1:30 on Thursday, the last day of September.  It was a typical fall day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade, so we planned to sit outside.  However, shortly after being seated, we decided it was too chilly and decamped for a cozy table in an alcove within the tasting room.  The cheerful and attentive server quickly adjusted to our change.  The outside area was always very pleasant, and now it is really attractive, with more seating and pretty flower beds, so I was sorry not to sit out there, but we had a fine time inside, where we had the room mostly to ourselves.  (Outside there were a number of groups of people, including some children.)

We were handed two menus, one for wine and the other for food (the full menu is only available Thursday-Sunday).  I immediately noticed on the wine menu that our favorite Jamesport white, the Albariño, was sold out, as was our favorite red, Mélange de Trois.  Rats.  Our friends prefer whites, and I wanted to try the reds, so we each got a tasting of four wines, for $26, and they got whites and we got reds.  Then we asked for extra glasses so we could share tastes.  That does mean that we did not taste them in the recommended order, but we were served glasses of ice water, which served to cleanse our palates between tastes.

The food menu offers nine different pizzas, with options of additional toppings.  Our friends went with the traditional Margherita ($20), simply sauce, basil, and fresh mozzarella, while we opted for the Fun Guy ($24), topped with mushrooms (fungi, get it?), shallots, spinach, etc.  Both came with thin crusts, blistered around the edges, and were very tasty.  We also got an order of burrata and prosciutto to share to start with, which was delicious, though we had to request a knife so we could share it.  It sat atop a crispy slice of toasted sourdough bread.  They have some other intriguing options, like charred octopus, which I’d like to try some other time.

Burrata and prosciutto on toast

We were having so much fun with our friends, sharing stories of the past year or so, reminiscing about the past, that I have to confess my tasting notes are not as thorough as usual.  However, in general, all the wines were drinkable, but, alas, as is so common on the North Fork, somewhat high priced for the quality.  Here are the wines, in no particular order:

*2018 East End Cabernet Franc    $32

Unlike most reds, this one is fermented in steel rather than oak, which makes it a very light, clean-tasting wine.  This is a good red for someone who is not fond of reds.  Our server noted that it tastes more like a pinot than a cab franc.

The pour was generous enough that we were able to share all our tastes.
  • 2020 Estate Sauvignon Blanc      $37.75

Like most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this is citrusy and dry, a good accompaniment for oysters or clams.

The tasting room is rather small.
  • 2019 East End Field Blend White              $32.50

As I explained to our friends, the name field blend usually means that the grapes were all grown in the same field.  This blend of 32% sauvignon blanc, 32% riesling, 30% chardonnay and 6% albariño was our mutually agreed-upon favorite of the day.  It has a pleasant aroma of honeysuckle, and is both dry and fruity, with some tastes of pear and citrus.  This is a white you could drink with almost any chicken or fish dish, or even pork chops.

  • East End Syrah  $32

Syrah is one of those wines I sometimes like and sometimes do not.  This one falls sort of in the middle.  Our server informed us it has a bit of sauvignon blanc added in to lighten the taste, which it does, since sometimes syrah can be a bit overwhelming.  It has some plum taste, and almost no tannins.

  • 2019 “76” Chardonnay  $37.80

Before I could ask about the name, our server explained that the “76” refers to the particular clone of the chardonnay grape that is used in this wine, in contrast to the other chardonnay on the menu.  They age this in neutral oak barrels, which I explained means barrels that have been used before, so that they impart less of an oaky taste.  I liked this, though in general I prefer steel-aged chards, and found it pleasant, with some tropical fruit taste.

  • 2019 Estate Merlot         $35

Except for the price, I would characterize this as a good pizza wine, again, fairly light, dry, and slightly tannic.  If I came here to have a pizza and a glass of wine, this is the one I would choose.

  • 2019 “95” Chardonnay  $39.27

Ever have Werther’s butterscotch candy?  That’s what this wine reminded me of.  Too oaky for me!

  • 2019 Estate Cabernet Franc        $35

Unlike the earlier cab franc we had, this one is aged in oak, which gave it some nice tannins, but I wish it had more fruitiness. 

From the tasting room you can peer into part of the winemaking facility.

Reasons to visit:  good lunch place (no outside food allowed), with excellent thin-crust pizzas and an interesting menu of other snacks; pretty outside garden area, with plenty of room for children to run around; the Field Blend White, the Estate Merlot, and the two wines that were sold out, the albariño and the Mélange de Trois.

Lieb Cellars: Comfy Seating February 11, 2020

http://liebcellars.com/

IMG_7516

No sitting on the patio today!

Our dear friends had come for a rare visit, and we wanted to do a tasting where we could sit comfortably and chat while we sipped, so we braved the puddles on Oregon Road and headed to Lieb Cellars. Our friends were quite charmed with the room at Lieb, with its comfy couches and living-room-like groupings of seats around coffee tables. We spent a leisurely afternoon tasting and talking, a brief escape from the continuous rain of this February.

IMG_7517

The somewhat industrial style of the building makes the warm and welcoming interior a pleasant surprise.

We also enjoyed contemplating the art on the walls, which was for sale.  There is a separate room which could be a nice venue for a small party or a large group tasting.

We had the room to ourselves, except for a pair of women who ordered a cheese tray and glasses of wine. Lieb has a very nice list of meats and cheeses one can use to customize a snack board, but we had just had some delicious tomato soup from 8 Hands, and were not hungry. We were, however, happy to sip the water Jessica, the server, brought us in a chilled bottle.

The flight menu offers three options: four whites for $16, four reds for $16, or the Lieb Estate flight of five of their estate wines for $22. Since the first two flights include Bridge Lane wines which we have had at the Bridge Lane tasting room, on the corner of Cox Neck Road, we opted for the Lieb Estate flight, while our friend, who generally prefers reds, ordered the red flight. Our designated driver opted for a glass of non-alcoholic sparkling lemonade, which was served to him in a pretty champagne flute, and which he said was quite good.

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Sparkling lemonade!

  1. 2017 Sparkling Pinot Blanc $38

Our three whites came all on one round terracotta tray, with clear labels for the order in which to drink them. I wondered how long the sparkler had been open, since it barely bubbled. We had no guidance from the very pleasant server as to the details of each wine, but the website informs me that it is made using the méthode champenoise. We taste and smell green apples, plus something a touch woodsy and funky, with lemon at the end. Pleasant, but not as exciting as a bubbly wine should be.

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They give you a fairly generous pour.

  1. 2016 Pinot Blanc $24

This is a very, very light white; in fact, my husband describes it as “barely there.” I get lemon and minerals.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $28

Fermented in a combination of steel and neutral oak, this chardonnay has only a touch of butter. It is smooth, with lots of pineapple taste. Not bad at all.

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The reds from the estate flight (minus a couple of sips).

  1. 2017 Merlot $30

Now we get our three reds, again in a labeled tray, starting with the merlot. This is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with the expected cherry flavors and aromas, though there is a whiff of chemicals in the smell. It is soft and drinkable. Not at all a challenge.

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The red flight.

  1. *Red Blend $20

The Red Blend is part of the red flight, and we sip from our friend’s glass. It is a soft, fruity, very drinkable red, described on the website as a Bordeaux blend. Our friend characterizes it as a “cheese and crackers” wine, and my tasting buddy adds, “You could drink a lot of this before you fell over.” At Bridge Lane you can get this in a box as well as a bottle.

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It was nice to have chilled water to cleanse our palates between tastes.

  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $35

We get into a discussion, trying to characterize the aroma of this wine, and settle on something vegetal, though there is some disagreement over whether it is celery and fennel or Brussels sprouts. It is a dry red, with some tannins, dark fruit taste, a touch of nutmeg, and nice acidity. I like it the best of the wines we try.

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The array of Lieb Estate wines.

  1. 2018 Petit Verdot $45

Sometimes I like petit verdot, and sometimes it just doesn’t knock my socks off. This is the latter. We sniff and get forest floor, mint, and mushrooms. The taste includes blackberries and tobacco, but my husband opines it “lacks gravitas.” Since 2018 was a good year locally, I wonder whether it just needs more time to age. As we discuss our summary impressions, he adds that perhaps the winemaker is too conservative. The winemaker is Russell Hearn, who has his own label of Suhru wines, which we liked better. Perhaps he should bring some of that creativity and risk-taking to these wines, if the owners will let him.

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You can just tell from the labels that the Bridge Lane wines are meant to be taken less seriously.

Reasons to visit: comfortable and attractive tasting room off the beaten track; nice menu of cheeses and meats; the Estate Chardonnay, the Red Blend, the Estate Cabernet Franc. Note that they accept reservations, not a bad idea in the busy season, but certainly not needed during the week in the winter!

 

RG/NY: A Shared Aesthetic January 17, 2020

https://rgnywine.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  1. 2018 Scielo Chardonnay $25

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

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  1. 2018 Riesling $24

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

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

  1. 2018 Scielo Rosé $22

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

  1. 2018 White Merlot $32

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

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  1. 2018 Tinto $30

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

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  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $37

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

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There’s a very large side room.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Peconic Cellar Door: Women Rule December 20, 2019

https://www.peconiccellardoor.com/peconic-cellar-door

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Unlike most wineries on the North Fork, Peconic Cellar Door is owned and run by women: Alie Shaper and Robin Epperson-McCarthy. It is another of the very small tasting rooms, and in fact adjoins last week’s site, The Winemaker Studio, but is even smaller. Despite its small size, however, it offers quite an array of wines to taste, under four labels: As If Wines, Brooklyn Oenology, Haywater Cove, and Saltbird Cellars. All the wines are now under the umbrella name Chronicle, with the tag line, “Every bottle holds a story.” Ask Robin (or whomever is behind the counter) about the logo, because it tells a story, too.

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Robin was our server, and since there were no other customers, we had time to chat. There were a couple of visitors who came by just wish Robin and Alie happy holidays. Robin told us about her travels around the world to learn the craft and art of wine-making, particularly her six months in New Zealand, which influenced the style of some of her wines. She is clearly passionate about wine-making, and she and Alie have their own original ideas about it. We enjoyed all of their experiments.

The menu offers two flights, the Cellar Door flight, of five wines for $15, and the Signature Flight, of five higher-priced wines for $20. We decided to share the Signature Flight, and perhaps return for the Cellar Door, though Robin cautioned us that they change the options every month. Given that the price list includes 28 wines, I guess they can come up with quite a few permutations. We may have to go back more than once…

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Though they don’t allow outside food (or pets), the only snack on offer is packs of cookies from local baker Ali Katz. I do recommend a visit to her little bakery and food shop in Mattituck (only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). We’ve only been there a couple of times, but found her baked goods excellent.

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  1. 2014 As If Serendipity $35

If the name of this wine describes how it came to be, it was a fortunate accident indeed. A blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and viognier, it is aged more than one expects for a white, particularly on the North Fork, where most whites are from the most recent vintage. This wine has a floral and mineral aroma, and is nicely dry. Some notes of lemony citrus, but also more depth than one expects from a white. As we sip, I find the viognier taste, which I quite like, coming through.

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I thought this label was particularly pretty.

  1. 2017 Saltbird Migratus $27

Of course, I have to ask about the name of this wine, which comes in a bottle with a very pretty painting of birds in flight. Robin explains that it is a reference to her own migrations, away from the North Fork and back, but also to the birds she loves. The making of this wine was influenced by her time in New Zealand. Though plenty of cheap sauvignon blanc comes here from there, the wines they keep for themselves tend to be made like this one, spending six months on the lees and aged in oak. When I note a faint oak taste, she mentions that “one of the barrels” was new oak, so it came out a bit oakier than she wanted. Overall, it is a good wine, with a nice mouth feel and a taste my drinking buddy compares to “drinking flowers.” Well, it does have an aroma that combines something vegetal with flowers.

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This rose is almost like a light red.

  1. 2016 As If Courage $28

Robin calls this a rosé made from a Meritage blend. I guess it does take courage to make a rosé from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and syrah, a classic Bordeaux blend. She compares the aroma to buckwheat honey, and I agree. This is almost as much a very light red as it is a rosé. It has some strawberry and citrus tastes, but more depth (again) than your typical rosé. She suggests serving it with a pork roast, an excellent idea.

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  1. 2016 Saltbird Harbinger $36

A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, this is a wine they only make in good years, so there is no 2018 but will surely be a 2019. I’ve heard in several tasting rooms that this was a very good year on the North Fork, with the right amount of warm days and rain. It has some cherry taste, but is not really fruity, dry, with some tannins. Nice legs, if that means anything!

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The array of our tasting.

  1. 2014 As If Persistence $40

I’m glad they persisted with making this wine, a blend of cabernet franc, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Despite the price, we decide to buy a bottle to save in the cellar for a special occasion. I think it could age a few more years, but it is also delicious to drink now. Fruitier than the previous wine, it has some interesting flavors, and could stand up to a steak.

Reasons to visit: another small winery, where you can talk to the winemakers and learn about what inspired them and how they made each wine; we liked all the wines, but especially the Serendipity and the Persistence; they change their offerings periodically, so you can go more than once; though they don’t allow groups larger than six, if you happen to be with a group you can split up, with some going to the Winemaker Studio, connected by an open doorway and a window in the wall.

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Raphael: Beautiful Room December 7, 2019

https://www.raphaelwine.com/ 

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From the outside, the Raphael Winery looks like a villa in Tuscany, with its red-tiled roof and white walls, and the inside is similarly impressive.  From spring through fall, and then around Christmas, they are often closed for parties, as they have a big, beautiful facility.  At this time of year, they are decorated for Christmas, with lots of twinkling lights and greenery.  They also have a pretty nice selection of wine-related gifts.

As we walk up to the circular bar we are greeted by a gentleman who looks familiar.  Indeed, he turns out to be the same person who served us the last time we were there, back in February, 2018.  We have a nice visit with him, even as he works hard, serving several couples at the bar and a large group of women having a party at two long tables.

The menu offers five options:  four sweet wines for $16, four white estate wines for $16, four red estate wines for $16, four premium whites for $20, and four premium reds for $20.  Our server describes the premium wines as “heavier,” and when I ask what that means he clarifies that they are “more full-bodied.”  They are also pricier, but after some discussion with my tasting buddy we decide to go ahead and share the two premium flights.

There is a menu of snacks, which includes flat breads, and they don’t allow outside food. The pour is generous, and we end up opting not to finish several of the wines.  All four glasses of the flight are poured at once, so we could have taken them to a table, but we end up standing at the bar.

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  1.  2017 First Label Sauvignon Blanc     $39

This is primarily sauvignon blanc, with 10% semillon, steel fermented.  Served too cold, as is often the case.  It has a slight citrus aroma, and lots of lemon taste.  Also mineral.  It is rather tart, and we end up opting not to finish the glass.  Needs food, we decide.

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2.  2014 First Label Riesling     $39

Our server assures us that this is not a sweet riesling, and indeed, he is correct.  He also confides that at first he didn’t care for it, but now that it has aged a bit he likes it better.  We don’t.  The smell is a bit off-putting, with the chemical/gasoline aroma some rieslings have.  It is ultra dry, but not at all fruity to balance the dryness, and a bit of a metallic taste.  My husband says it is “monochromatic,” and I agree.  Again, we opt not to finish the glass.

3.  2012 White Primo Reserve    $39

This is doubly a blend, first of 31% sauvignon blanc, 20% semillon, and 49% riesling, and then aged 50/50 in steel and oak.  All that work leads to the white we like the best.  Though the aroma still has a trace of that gasoline smell, it also has a pleasantly funky note.  As we sip, we note that it combines lemon and butter (from the oak), and I wonder if it would be good to make a sauce for fish with lemon, butter, and a glug of this wine.  Could work.

4.  2016 Riesling Port     $40

Each of the premium flights ends with a port, in this case a white one with lots of the characteristics of the riesling, but balanced with sweetness.  It would be a fine after-dinner sipper.  However, we recently took inventory and realized that we have a number of after dinner sweet wines which we should probably try to use one of these days!

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5.  2014 Merliance     $72

Now we move on to the reds, which are once again lined up in front of us.  “Merliance” refers to a cooperative venture amongst East End wineries–in this case Raphael combined with Wölffer Estates and Macari–to make a blend of the best of their merlots.  As usual, it has aromas of cherries and oak, and cherry taste as well.  It is dry, with nice tannins, but a bit “thin” (says my tasting pal) for the price.

6.  2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve     $72

If not for the price, I might have considered getting a bottle of this, but it seems to me like a good burger wine.  It has pleasant forest floor, fruit, and spice aromas, and tastes like purple plums plus nutmeg.  Dry, slightly tannic, perhaps it needs to age a bit more.

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7.  2015 Primo Reserve     $72

This is their Bordeaux blend, of 58% merlot, 17% petit verdot, and 25% cabernet sauvignon, aged in oak.  It is good, but, observes my husband, “these prices are a joke.”  That may be a bit harsh, but they do seem out of line with the quality of the wines.  We have had the good fortune to taste high end Bordeaux, and this does not compete with them.  It has a fruity aroma, mostly cherry, and some tannins.  The taste is dry, with some fruit.  It might be nice with lamb.

8.  2014 Merlot Port     $45

Another dessert wine.  This smells strangely of olives, I say, and my husband agrees.  It is too thin to support the sweetness of the black raspberry taste, with a strangely sharp edge.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful room, and they have a pleasant outdoor patio for warm weather; a better than most gift shop;  the White Primo Reserve, the Riesling Port, and the Red Primo Reserve; they have good flatbreads (which we had last time we were there); knowledgable and friendly servers.

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We saw this sign of the season in the parking lot. Plenty of places to find Christmas trees on the North Fork!

Macari Vineyard: No Tricks, Several Treats October 30, 2019

http://macariwines.com/

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It was the day before Halloween, and oddly warm, when we drove over to Macari. We had the tasting room to ourselves, so it wasn’t surprising that there were no pre-made cheese trays available. (No outside food allowed.) However, we could have bought any package of cheese on display, plus some crackers, and our server would have supplied us with a knife and cheese board.  We decided to content ourselves with a bag of very tasty black truffle-flavored potato chips. Then I worried that they were interfering with the tasting, so I requested a glass of water, which was quickly forthcoming.

The tasting room on Bergen Road is large, with a beautiful stone fireplace on one side, and ample displays of their wines all around. There is also a second large room filled with tables, and seating on a veranda off to one side. We stood at the bar and shared an Estate tasting, of five wines for $30. The other flight is called Vintage, and also includes five wines for $30. My tasting buddy complained that it was a small pour, though I noted that the glass was large.

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The main tasting room.

When you stand at the bar you have a clear view of the huge steel vats in the wine-making area, and we watched with interest as a worker tethered himself with a safety harness before checking on one vat. Makes sense, I suppose. What a way to go, drowned in a vat of wine!

In general, we have liked Macari wines, and often buy a bottle with dinner in local restaurants. Today was no exception, though in general we liked the whites better than the reds, and really liked the rosé we tried.

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  1. 2018 Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc $24

Why Katherine’s Field? All our server could tell us was that the grapes for this wine all came from an area of the vineyard called Katherine’s Field, and that it is the part closest to Long Island Sound. Perhaps that closeness to the water accounts for the slight note of saltiness I detected. The wine is light and easy to drink, with tastes of green apple, mineral, and pineapple. Like many NoFo sauvignon blancs, it would go well with local oysters. Good.

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  1. 2017 Dos Aguas White $22

Dos Aguas is, of course, a reference to the two waters which surround the North Fork: the Sound and Peconic Bay. This is a blend of 52% grüner veltliner, 27% viognier, 10% sauvignon blanc, 7% pinot gris, 3% friulano, and 1% gewürztraminer. It smells very much like honeysuckle, which I think might be due to the grüner, and also gets some of its fruitiness from that. My husband thinks it is too sweet, but I argue what he’s tasting as sweet is actually fruitiness. It has some lemon taste, as well as gooseberry. I would buy it, and it would go well with spicy food, but he doesn’t like it as much as I do.

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Even visually, you can tell this rose is more robust than most.

  1. 2018 Lifeforce Rosé $28

The term “lifeforce” in the title of a Macari wine refers to the fermentation method used. Instead of steel or wood, these wines are fermented in a concrete “egg.” They used to explain that egg on their website, but I couldn’t find that information now. In any event, this rosé is made from cabernet franc grapes, and was described by our server as their “fall rosé.” It is heavier and darker than a typical rosé, and as we discussed it he told us that what had happened was that in 2018 they were not happy with the way the cabernet was turning out, so rather than make a red from it they decided to turn it into a rosé. We are happy they did, as we quite liked it. Though it has some typical strawberry aroma and flavor, it has more oomph than many rosés. We bought a bottle. I think it will go great with seared rare duck breasts, which we get at Bayview farm stand.

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By this time our server–a bright young man–had figured out how I like to pose these photos. We had a nice chat about how he has learned to like wine.

  1. 2014 Merlot Reserve $40

Our server tells us this in aged twenty months, 9% in new French oak, so it is not super oaky or tannic. It smells fruity, like black cherries. The taste is soft and pleasant, but rather unidimensional. At that price, I’d want a more exciting wine. However, it is quite drinkable.

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  1. 2016 Dos Aguas $35

This is another blend, this time a Right Bank Bordeaux blend of 62% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec, 8% petit verdot, and 6% cabernet franc. I like the aroma of red raspberries, but again the taste is good but not exciting. Dry, soft, with no tannins, this is an everyday type of red that you could even have with roast chicken. It would not stand up to a steak.

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Reasons to visit: spacious tasting room; the sauvignon blanc, the Dos Aguas white, and the Lifeforce Rosé; we often get the Sette in restaurants, a nice blend of half and half cabernet franc and merlot; no food allowed, but they do have a large selection of snacks and will do cheese trays on busier days.

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The grapes have been picked, and soon the leaves will be gone as well, leaving the vines bare until spring.