Chronicle Wines: A Family Story

August 25, 2022

The winery is in a storefront on Peconic Lane.

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

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

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

The lounge area.

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

Snacks!

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

The Queen of the Scrambled Brain
Follow the Sun

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

  •  2024 Chronicle Chardonnay Pét-Nat       $30

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

  • 2018 BOE Pinot Gris        $15 (on sale)

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

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellar Sauvignon Blanc       $25

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

  • 2014 As If Serendipity White Blend           $15

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

  • 2020 BOE “Broken Land” orange wine     $30

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

  • NV Haywater Cove Rosé               $15

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

  • 2019 Saltbird Cellars “Red Skies”               $30

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

  • 2020 Saltbird Cellars Merlot        $27

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

  • 2017 Saltbird Cellars “Harbinger”              $36

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

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

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

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

Raphael: Pretend You’re in Italy

July 15, 2022

Looking like a villa in Tuscany, the Raphael tasting room sits on the Main Road in Peconic.  A covered veranda in the back looks out onto the grape vines, and the warm weather this week made it really feel like Italy.  We drove in past the miniature villa gateposts, around the Italianate fountain, and parked in the lot.  Through heavy wooden doors that would not be out of place on a palazzo we went, entering a huge space where a disembodied voice said, “Welcome!”

The voice soon materialized into a young woman, who cheerily asked us if we wanted to sit inside or outside.  Noting that there was plenty of room to be socially distant from other tasters, we opted to sit inside at a table facing outside, where she left us with a couple of menus.

As we perused the menus, she returned with two bottles of Poland Spring water.  I no longer buy bottled water, but these would be convenient for the future.  It was lunch time, and on a previous visit we’d had very good flatbread pizzas.  However, they no longer have them (or at least, not during the week), and the menu features a selection of cheeses, crackers, hummus, etc., all a la carte (so if you want crackers with your cheese, you need to order them).  We also noticed that every tasting comes with a “snack.”  “What is that?” we asked.  “Sort of a grown-ups Lunchables,” she replied. Ah.  We decided to add a serving of hummus ($8) and tortilla chips ($10), most of which we ended up taking home, as the chips were a huge bag and the humus a 10-ounce container (very good, by the way). The snack was indeed quite mini, consisting of about four crackers and as many slices of bland cheese, plus some slices of spicy sausage. However, it did remind us of how in Italy one is often served some sort of snack with a glass of wine, like a dish of olives, or like the time in Bologna when there were three of us sharing a bottle of wine, and the waiter brought a plate of cheeses and sausages (no charge).

Meanwhile, we were debating over which flight to get, as they have six different options.  We could see by looking at other tables that the serving per taste is quite generous, but we wanted to try a panoply of wines, so we decided to just plan not to finish each glass, and get a flight of four whites for $25 and four reds for $25.  Both flights were brought to our table on labeled strips of paper.  Our waitress launched into her little scripted speech about each wine, enlivened by her personal preferences, with which we agreed.  For example, we had a little chat about riesling, which she noted she sometimes dislikes as too sweet, but felt the current iteration of Raphael’s riesling is one she likes.   I was a bit concerned when she described a couple of the reds as “summer reds,” and when I tasted them I saw why.

As we sat and sipped and munched and looked out at the vines, my tasting buddy said that Raphael gets an A+ for service and setting.  As to the wines…

  •  2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir               $30

Our server explained that this is a “true” rosé, made from red wine grapes treated like white grapes.  It is a pretty color, and had a pleasantly fruity aroma.  We liked the taste, too, with notes of citrus and black cherry, not too sweet, not too dry.  A good summer sipper.

The snack.
In an effort to counteract the blandness of the cheese and the spiciness of the sausage, I combined them.
  •  2021 Sauvignon Blanc                  $30

All their whites are fermented in steel, which sometimes leaves a slightly metallic aroma, which this has.  It is a touch petillant, crisp and light.  A little fruity.  Nice.

  • 2021 Pinot Grigio             $30

In France, they call this grape pinot gris.  We like this wine the best so far, with a taste of baked pears.  Not much aroma.  Good for sipping or with food, like roast chicken, or even pork chops.

  • 2021 Riesling      $30

Many rieslings have a smell described as “cat pee,” which, having had a cat in the past, I can say this one has, though faintly.  There is some sweetness here, but there is also a bit of a funkiness which takes the edge off the sweetness.  Pleasant.  Though my husband finds it too sweet for him, I think it would be fine with something spicy, like Thai food.

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc       $36

This is one of the wines she described as “summery,” and I think I know why.  It is soft and fresh and easy to drink, with slight tannins, a berry aroma, and tastes of ripe dark fruits.

  • 2019 Pinot Noir                $50

“Not a very exciting red,” opines my drinking pal, and I agree.  It’s not bad, just kind of mellow and soft.  When I tell him the price, he says, “We’re not getting it!”  He also thinks that people may not, in general, want strong reds, which would account for the popularity of a wine like this.

If you plan to go, check their website, and the winery is sometimes closed for private parties.
  • 2019 Estate Merlot          $30

As our waitress noted, we are in the middle of merlot country here, as that grape is “happy” on the North Fork.  This is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with nice cherry flavor, but ultimately meh.

The Malbec.
  • 2020 Estate Malbec         $36

This is my favorite of the reds, with a beautiful dark color, yummy fruit aroma, and dark fruit tastes—though again, no tannins.  “It’s not oomphy,” says my husband, and I agree.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful building and veranda, with vineyard views; attentive service; generous pour for the flights; the whites more than the reds, though all the wines were drinkable; the Rosé of Pinot Noir, the Pinot Grigio, the Malbec; nice place to come with a couple of friends.

There’s a fairly extensive gift shop, which may be another reason to visit.

McCall Wines: Here’s the Beef

June 24, 2022

If you check out the McCall wines web site and scroll down to the bottom of the shop page, you’ll see something unusual:  ground beef, $15.  Huh?  Yes, the McCalls raise Charolais cattle and sell the grass-fed beef, some of which can be found in the winery shop.  You might also spot the white cows in one of their fields as you drive along the Main Road.  As I was paying our bill after our tasting, Mrs. McCall urged us to come back on a Thursday or Friday, from 4-8, when they serve burgers made from their beef.  If I do, I’ll post about it!  And I already know which wine I’ll get a glass of to go with that burger: Ben’s Blend.

The outdoor setting is quite pleasant.

The turn-off to the McCall winery is rather subtle, and easy to miss, but it is basically across the street from Pellegrini.  You drive around back to a grassy parking area, where you see a lawn dotted with picnic tables and a rustic barn.  Inside, there’s a new bar, which wasn’t there the last time we came in 2018, and a couple of stalls with cozy seating areas.  Since it was a beautiful day, we opted to sit outside, and Mrs. McCall supplied us with menus.  In a few minutes, a server came by with glasses and a bottle of water, a nice touch. 

They have a fairly typical small menu of snacks, but we’d just had lunch, so we didn’t get anything.  The rest of the menu listed four different flights, of three or four wines each, so we decided to share two flights, so we could try a range of their wines.  Then we realized that there was some overlap, in that if we got the pinot flight ($23) and the reserve flight ($30), both included the “Hillside” pinot noir.  Could we sub in the estate merlot instead?  Sure.  And the reserve flight includes a chardonnay aged in oak.  Hmmm.  A discussion ensued, in which we were assured that the chardonnay is “lightly oaked.”  I really do not like those buttery, California-style oaked chards, so we shall see.

We enjoyed the dappled shade of the trees, but that might make this a bit hard to read!

Service is friendly and informative, and we chatted with one server about how they fared during the pandemic, since we had not been there since before it.  “We were busier than ever,” she informed us.  People just were grateful to have someplace to go, and were very respectful, masking if they got up from their tables, for example.  She noted that the outside tables are well-spaced.  The view is bucolic, as you look out onto the grape vines—though the sense of country peace was temporarily marred as a trimming machine was going up and down the rows.  Fortunately, it finished well before we did.

The noisy machine…well. it is a working farm.

Overall, my husband commented, the place got plus marks for setting, but he was not overly impressed with the wines, which we found drinkable but not special.  We did like the way the wines were served, especially since we were sharing the flights.  We each got a wine glass, and then the tastes were brought to the table in little carafes, set down in the order in which they should be tasted. 

Pinot Flight:

Our first flight.
  •  2021 Whole Cluster Rosé           $24

“Better than average,” opined my tasting buddy, as we sipped.  This has lots of strawberry aroma, though the taste is more lemony and tart than some rosés.  It definitely has some character.  I said it was mouth-watering.  Made from pinot noir grapes.

The warm day made our carafe of water quite welcome. We also used it to rinse our glasses between tastes.
  • 2015 Pinot Noir Estate   $30

This one had almost no aroma, and the taste was also somewhat thin.  Very dry.  I got some blackberry or sour cherry flavor.  My husband said it was “simple, not sophisticated.”  I think it would be fine with food, but it’s not a sipper.

  • 2014 Pinot Noir “Hillside”            $59

“Hillside” refers to the fact that this pinot is from a different area of the vineyard, with somewhat different terroir.  We like it better than the previous one, as there is more body to it.  The menu says “hibiscus,” but since I don’t know what that smells or tastes like, I can’t say if that’s accurate.  I do get some berry taste, and it is very dry.

Reserve Flight:

Our second flight, after we had poured the chardonnay back into the carafe and poured the merlot.
  1.  2018 Chardonnay Reserve         $39

As I feared, we do not care for this.  It smells and tastes very strongly of pineapple, and is too sweet for us.  It does have a pretty golden color.  We pour our tastes back into the carafe.

  • 2015 Merlot Estate         $24

This is our replacement for the Hillside pinot, and we like it better.  It’s a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with cherry aroma and taste, dry, with some tannins.

This is about half of what was in the carafe.
  • 2014 Merlot Reserve      $30

I always find it instructional to taste various iterations of the same grape, especially from the same winery.  This merlot is “more interesting,” according to my tasting pal, with aromas of cherry, leather, and tobacco.  It has lots of tannins, and we discuss that it is the opposite of “fruit forward.”  Fruit backward?

  • 2014 Ben’s Blend            $58

Named for their original winemaker, who sadly died too young, this is their Bordeaux blend, a mix of 30% each cabernet franc, pinot noir, and merlot, plus 10% petit verdot.  We like it the best of the day, appreciating its aromas of berries, leather, and tobacco, plus some nice blackberry fruit tastes.  It definitely needs food, however.

Our “extra” taste of the chardonnay, thoughtfully served with clean glasses.

Extra!  Mrs. McCall stops by our table and sees the almost full carafe of chardonnay.  You haven’t tried the chardonnay yet?  She asks.  No, we tell her, we tried it and didn’t care for it.  “Would you like to try our unoaked chardonnay?” she asks.  Sure!  So she brings over a carafe of it.  We like it much better.  It is crisp and refreshing, with tastes of citrus and green apple, and we buy two bottles, at $20 each.

Reasons to visit:  pleasant outdoor setting with a backdrop of the vines; cozy interior; they allow dogs, but call first to be sure there aren’t any other canine visitors; the Whole Cluster Rosé, the Unoaked Chardonnay, Ben’s Blend; no outside food Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so I assume it’s okay during the week; lovely service; Thursday and Friday burger nights, and you can buy the beef.

The trailer from which they serve burgers on Thursdays and Fridays.

Sparkling Pointe: Celebration Time

May 24, 2022

The lovely terrace was empty on this Tuesday.

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

The flute of Brut.

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

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

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

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

  •  2017 Brut          $31

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

  • 2017 Blanc de Blancs     $48

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

  • 2016 Blanc de Noirs       $75

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

  • NV Cuvée Carnaval Rosé              $36

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

  • 2019 Topaz Imperial Brut Rosé                 $44

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

  • NV Cuvée Carnaval Blanc             $30

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

  • 2011 Brut Seduction       $70

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

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

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

  • 2016 Reserve Blanc de Blancs     $68

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

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

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

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

Castello di Borghese: Cherry Blossom Time

May 10, 2022

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

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

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

Their solution to how to serve a flight.

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

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

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

Herbie!

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

  •  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $29

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

  • 2020 Chardonnay           $25

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

  • Fleurette Rosé   $18

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

  • 2020 Rosé of Merlot       $22

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2020 Reserve Cabernet Franc     $44

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

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

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

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!

Coffee Pot Cellars: Time for a Chat

October 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

  •  2019 Sauvignon Blanc                 $21.99

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

  • 2015 Chardonnay           $19.99

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

  • 2017 Gewürztraminer   $21.99

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

  • 2020 Rosé          $24.99

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

  • 2016 Beasley’s Blend     $21.99

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

  • 2014 Merlot      $25.99

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

  • 2015 Meritage  $28.99

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

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

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

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.

Bridge Lane: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

September 3, 2021

As though to compensate for all the heat and rain we encountered this summer, September is starting out pleasantly warm and dry.  It was a perfect day to go to a winery and sit outside, and, after some discussion and viewing of websites, we and our visitors decided to go to a winery in our immediate neighborhood, Bridge Lane.  Though we had all been there several times in the past, we hadn’t visited in a few years, and notably not since they did a lovely renovation of their outdoor area, with rainbow-striped tables, a pebbled surface, comfy Adirondack chairs, and a couple of shuffleboard courts.  A wooden wall and evergreen trees help screen the area from the cars whizzing past on Sound Avenue. 

Bridge Lane has several aspects that made it a good choice for us, besides its proximity.  It welcomes children, at least during the week, and has ample outdoor space for them to roam, and it also allows you to bring your own snacks.  By the way, it is right across Cox Neck Lane from a little shopping center which includes Wendy’s Deli, Pizza Rita (which has fantastic thin-crust gourmet pizzas, but is only open Thursday-Sunday—and not always then, check their Facebook page to be sure they’re not off doing a catering job), and Ali Katz Kitchen, which also has limited hours but has delicious baked goods as well as other interesting foods, such as quiche.  I think all of those places should work out a deal with Bridge Lane to offer coupons worth something off their food if you are doing a tasting or sitting there with a glass or bottle or can of wine! 

Yes, I did say can.  In what is becoming something of a trend out here, a number of wineries are offering their wines in cans, which hold about two glasses.  Bridge Lane goes further, and also offers boxes and even kegs of their wine.  This fits with their overall philosophy, which is that wine should be a fun, casual, inexpensive drink; all the bottles are $20 each.  Interestingly, they are affiliated with Lieb Cellars, which takes their wine very seriously. 

A few more comments—our visit was enhanced by the presence of Bunker, a sweet and friendly little white poodle, property of our server, who noted that they do allow dogs on the property, unlike many other wineries.  The children in our party fell in love with Bunker.  And in a nice touch, the server brought out to the tables bottles of water with paper cups.  They do have live music on weekends, but this afternoon recorded music of the Billy Joel type provided some background sounds.

If you look over the fence at the back of the tasting room and see huge metal vats, know they are not just there for Bridge Lane wines (though our server did inform us that they sell more wine than most other wineries on the North Fork).   The site also houses Premium Wine Group, which does the winemaking for a number of the smaller vineyards who don’t have their own winemaking equipment.

A tasting consists of all five of their wines for $15, and the pour is quite generous, so my tasting buddy and I were glad we had opted to share.  Our guests bought boxes of the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend to take home.

*White Merlot

I liked this the best of the wines.  It is a light, citrusy, floral white, a good summer sipper, and would have gone well with the oysters from Braun’s we had the night before.

*Sauvignon Blanc

The aroma of this wine is one I don’t care for, as it has hints of kerosene. Also a scent of cut grass.  Otherwise, this is a pleasantly dry white, which would go well with scallops or a fish in a creamy sauce.

*Chardonnay

This wine gave me the opportunity to teach some of the party the word petrichor, which is the scent of earth after rain—or that smell you get in the City when you walk past an apartment building on a hot day and the doorman is out there washing off the sidewalk.  One guest and I agreed that the taste of this was like a not-quite-ripe nectarine or yellow plum, with some pleasant minerality.  Again, this is a light, dry wine.

*Rosé

A couple of days ago we had local duck breast and drank a Channing Daughters rosé made from syrah grapes with it.  This rosé is not nearly as tasty.  It has a slight strawberry aroma, and is extremely light and dry, without much fruit flavor.  “It would be good in a kir,” observed one guest.

*Red Blend

So if you got a pizza from Pizza Rita, this would be the perfect wine to drink with it.  Like all the other wines, it is light and dry and easy to drink; it’s a good pizza/pasta wine.  It’s a good red for non-red-wine drinkers.

Reasons to visit:  pleasant outdoor seating areas; reasonably priced wine and tasting, with a generous pour; the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend; snacks are allowed; dogs are allowed; children are allowed; Bunker!