Jason’s Vineyard: Ahoy, Matey!

December 7, 2022

The nautical theme begins outside; note the roped pilings.

As we settled ourselves around Jason’s ship-shaped bar (mast and all), I joked, “And it’s not a pirate ship!”  I expected the server to agree, and explain that its design is a reference to the famous Greek ship, the Argo, whose captain was the hero, Jason.  Instead, he offered, “It’s a Viking ship.”  Assuming he was kidding, I laughed—but he wasn’t.  Though he’s worked for the Damianos family for years (They also own Pindar and the two Duck Walk tasting rooms.), no one had ever explained to him the mythological inspiration for the bar.  Jason Damianos, sadly, died in an auto accident not long after opening the tasting room, but the family continues to run it.  Though pleasant and attentive, our server was similarly not informed about the wines.  I hope after our gentle teasing he will be better informed for the next visitors.

The mast is designed like a classic Greek sailing ship‘s mast.

We had chosen to go to Jason’s because our visitors brought with them their very well-behaved pooch, and, according to the web site, they welcome dogs.  Then the sign on the door said, “No Pets.”  What to do?  I poked my head into the empty room, and asked, and the server welcomed us in, doggie and all. Whew. 

Our visiting pup.

We hadn’t been to Jason’s since February 2019, both due to the pandemic and because we had found the wines overall too sweet for our taste.  They seem to have partially corrected that, although Golden Fleece (a reference to the object of Jason’s quest), their most popular wine, is still much too sweet.  By the way, if you like to look at animals, you can stop outside to see the sheep and alpacas, another reference to the famous quest.  Oh, and the rest rooms are labeled Gods and Goddesses, reinforcing the mythological theme.

A tasting consists of four wines for $15, chosen from the list of eleven, served in little plastic cups on a labeled tray.  The servings were adequate for each couple to share a tasting.  We decided to mostly have the same wines, so we could compare notes, and all decided not to buy any wines to take home. They allow you to bring in snacks, and also sell a selection of crackers and cheeses.  Our guests bought a package of crackers as palate cleansers.

  • 2020 Viognier   $27.95

I often find viogniers quite pleasant, and this one was okay.  The aroma reminded me of fresh-cut grass, and the taste was somewhat grassy as well, with some herbal notes.  However, one guest found it somewhat vinegary, and too sharp for her taste.

The plate has an insert of numbers, and our server explained to taste them in a clockwise order.
  • 2021 Sauvignon Blanc    $24.95

Consulting my notes, I see that the last time we were here I characterized the sauvignon blanc as watery, and it still is.  It’s a very light white, with some notes of melon with lemon squeezed over it.

  • Golden Fleece    $18.95

Our guests ordered this one, and gave us a sip to taste as well.  A blend of chardonnay, seyval blanc, Cayuga, vidal blanc, and riesling—according to the tasting menu, though our server was unable to tell us in what proportions—this tasted mostly like a rather sweet riesling.  Not my type, though, as I mentioned above, this is apparently their most popular wine.

There’s an outside porch area, though not for a chilly rainy day.
  • 2019 Merlot       $34.95

“This is a competent merlot,” opined one guest, and I agree.  It is dry, with some cherry taste and aroma, somewhat light, with some notes of oak and smoke.  As we were sipping, we got into a discussion with our server, who by this time had exactly one other group to attend to, about how the Damianos family run three separate wineries.  He explained that, in addition to the eleven wines at Jason’s, the other two places offer thirty different wines each, with each meeting different requirements as to taste.  However, the same winemaker does them all.  That’s impressive, and part of why I find wine so fascinating.  The same grape, grown in the same area and type of soil, can end up tasting quite different, depending on time of harvest and after harvest treatment.

The bottles are adorned with an image of the Argo. It was manned by a group of heroes dubbed the Argonauts.
  • 2019 Meritage   $36.95

Although this is their Bordeaux blend (again, I don’t know proportions or grapes), it is thin, almost watery, with a slight taste of black olives.  Meh.

Reasons to visit:  you like to look at sheep and alpacas; you are fascinated by Greek mythology; you need to bring a dog with you (despite the sign on the door, the website does say, “Pets are welcome!”); you like sweet wine.

This alpaca seemed quite curious about us.

Suhru Wines: Early Return (Not Election Related)

November 12, 2022

This photo was taken in February, the last time I was here.

Because there are so many wineries on the North Fork, I generally don’t return to one more often than once a year.  However, my daughter and a group of her friends were having a little reunion of their group, and invited me to meet them at Suhru, which I had last been to in February.  How could I resist? 

Suhru was a perfect venue for the six of them (plus me) to get together, since they were able to sit comfortably at a table, the room was cozy and quiet, and the server combined just the right amount of service and letting be.  She started the afternoon off right by bringing us chilled bottles of water and glasses.

I still wasn’t going to blog this visit, but then I saw that the menus, both for drinks and food, had changed, so I fished some scrap paper out of my purse and jotted down a few notes.

The menu of flights has four possibilities:  Holiday Favorites ($19), Whites & Rosé ($14), and Red Wines ($19), each consisting of four tastes.  You could also put together your own four tastes for $19.  As it happened, everyone opted for the Holiday Favorites, with much discussion about who was hosting Thanksgiving and what wines would go with turkey.  We all agreed, as my daughter learned when she and her husband toured the Champagne region of France, that sparkling wines go with everything. 

The snack menu has also changed.  I was glad to see they no longer offered the measly portion of marcona almonds for $2.  The group, wanting to try local products, ordered the North Fork Cheese Plate, which, for $32, included a good-sized scoop of Goodale Farms herb chevre and a small slab of goat gouda, plus crackers, honey, and candied orange rind (all out of apricots).  They also got artichoke and lemon spread, a small container whose label we read to be sure it was okay for the lactose intolerant in the group, which came with (at least a dollar’s worth of) marcona almonds and crackers.  Plus two bags of North Fork potato chips.  It was plenty.

  •  NV Brut               $29

According to the tasting notes, this has won a number of medals, and I can see why.  It has a lovely bready aroma and tastes of ripe apple and minerals. Lots of tiny bubbles.  Everyone likes it.

  • 2020 Sauvignon Blanc                   $21

“Grassy,” says my daughter as she sniffs and sips this one, and I agree.  It reminds me of the smell of fresh-cut grass.  I also taste green apple and some minerality, and smell thyme honey.  Very nice.

  • 2021 Riesling                     $19

Our server explains that Suhru is a winery without a vineyard, and they buy all their grapes from various North Fork vineyards—except the riesling, which they buy from the Finger Lakes, a region famous for its rieslings.  I was glad this was a dry riesling, since I often find sweet rieslings undrinkable (except for dessert, or with very spicy food).  I explain the aroma, which some describe as “cat pee,” but for me reminds me of the smell of water that has had flowers in it for a bit too long.  Fortunately, it tastes better than it smells, with some stone fruit and flower notes.

  • 2021 Teroldego                $30

This and the sauvignon blanc are both new releases.  (The emphasis, by the way, is on the second syllable.)  This is an easy-to-drink red, and could go with turkey (as could all of the wines we tasted!).  It has notes of cherry and tobacco (from aging in oak), and is dry, with a touch of tannins. 

You can see how distracted I was by the lively conversation–I forgot to take a photo of the tasting until it was gone!

Reasons to Visit:  cozy, intimate tasting room with a beachy vibe; all the wines, including one I did not taste but others in the group tried, Ember; nice menu of snacks.

Roanoke Wine Shop: Four for Four

October 13, 2022

The entrance to the patio from the parking lot is well-shaded.

The sky was threatening rain, so I was glad I was able to park just steps from the back door of Roanoke’s Love Lane wine shop in the roomy parking lot off Pike Street.  Roanoke has two tasting rooms, but the one at the vineyard is for members only.  However, all are welcome to their Love Lane venue, a small but pleasant store front in the midst of Love Lane’s shops.  Love Lane, by the way, is a great destination for foodies, since in one small block you have the terrific Village Cheese Shop, the Sweet Shoppe and its gourmet chocolates, Ammirati’s sandwich restaurant with its many choices, Lombardi’s Italian market, North Fork Donut Company, and Love Lane Kitchen, where the lines outside prove its popularity.  Not to mention, just around the corner, Agora, a Greek market, and Good Food, where I get empanadas.

The view out the front window, where you can see Lombardi’s market, which has all sorts of prepared foods and pizza, as well as meats, etc.

Despite all these offerings on Love Lane, we and our guests had just had lunch at CJ’s Grill, in the Mattituck Marketplace, where the service was a bit slow, but the food was delicious and the servings were generous.  This was fortunate, since the pour at Roanoke is also generous, and it was good to have a well-lined stomach.  The tasting menu just has one flight listed for non-club members, of four wines for $16.  We liked them all so much, and the price was so reasonable, that I bought one each of all four wines, something I have never done before.

Roanoke does have a well-shaded patio in back, where we would have sat if the weather had cooperated.  However, it had turned chilly, so our party of five voted to sit inside.  We had the room to ourselves, which was nice, and our server and a friend of his who was hanging out at the bar helped us push two small tables together and rearrange the chairs so we were quite comfortable.  Each couple shared a tasting, with the designated driver supplied with a glass of water (which we all also got). 

Though we didn’t need any snacks, one of our guests asked for a cracker or two, and got a nice little basket of crackers.

As I was paying for our tastings and bottles, I noticed a small list of cheeses and snacks, but I forgot to ask about their policy for bringing in food.  I’ll assume dogs are probably allowed on the outside patio, but I would call and ask before coming.  By the way, Roanoke also carries Wölffer Estate wines, including their very popular rosé, Summer in a Bottle. 

As we sipped, one of our guests asked how this year had been, and our server told us that it looked likely to be a very good year for the harvest, as grapes enjoy the hot dry weather we had for most of the summer.  Something to look forward to!

The labels are quite attractive.
  •  2021 Sauvignon Blanc   $26

This is a steel fermented wine, with a bit of that mineral aroma steel-fermented wines get, plus a lovely floral scent.  We all like the crisp, lemon-lime taste, with more depth than many sauvignon blancs.  This is a very drinkable wine, and would be good with food, like a lobster roll.

  • 2021 The Wild                   $23

What’s so wild about this?  It uses wild yeast, which cedes some control over the result to nature, rather than using commercial yeasts.  Channing Daughters also uses wild yeasts—those occurring naturally in the air and soil—for their L’Enfant Sauvage.  As a result, the taste of the wine can vary from year to year.  This one worked out well.  A clone of chardonnay, with some muscat, it is steel-fermented, but is softer than some steel chards.  Instead of citrus, it has a toasted nut flavor and a long finish. Our guests buy two bottles.

  • 2020 > (Greater Than)                   $25

Why is the name of this Bordeaux-style blend the mathematical symbol for greater than?  There’s a story behind it.  Originally, this was called Bond, but it turned out a California winery also had a wine called Bond—a very high-end wine—and they had copyrighted the name.  Uh-oh.  So Roanoke asked its wine club members for alternative names, and someone came up with the idea of greater than, as in greater than the sum of its parts.  And indeed it is.  This is a blend of 67% cabernet franc, 19% merlot, and 14% cabernet sauvignon.  The aroma includes cherries (likely from the merlot) and spice.  I say nutmeg.  The tasting menu compares it to a Briermere cherry tart.  It’s not sweet, but it is soft, with no tannins, so it’s surely a drink-now wine.  I’d have it with mac and cheese—maybe the mac and cheese from Meats Meat, also in Mattituck, just around the corner on Main Road.

  • 2020 Marco Tulio             $28

There’s a story behind the name of this Bordeaux blend as well.  It is named for the father of one of the founders, who lived to be 99 years old, and died just short of his 100th birthday.  His photo adorns the bottle.  This one has much more of the cherry aroma and flavor, not surprising, given that this blend is 66% merlot, 21% cabernet franc, and 13% cabernet sauvignon.  This is drier than >, with some slight tannins.  I taste tart plums and a little spice.  I think I’d pair it with spaghetti carbonara.

Reasons to visit:  cozy tasting room conveniently located in the midst of Love Lane’s food mecca; all four of the tasting menu wines; a place to buy Wölffer Estate wines.

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.

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.

Duck Walk: Time to Par-tee

March 26, 2022

Our visiting pooch.

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

Dr. “Dan” Damianos overlooks the tasting room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  2020 Reisling*  $21.95

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

  • 2020 Sauvignon Blanc    $21.95

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

  • Windmill Red *                $18.95

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

  • 2020 Pinot Grigio            $21.95

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

  • 2019 Pinot Meunier *    $26.95

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

  • 2018 Merlot      $21.95

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

  • 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon *        $21.95

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

  • 2019 Pinot Noir               $38.95

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

  • 2020 Aphrodite *            $21.95

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

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

Disco-themed bachelorettes!

Macari Vineyards: Fun with Friends

December 3, 2021

Friends who are also relatively new to the North Fork—actually, unless you can trace your ancestry back at least several local generations, you are considered a newbie—invited us to do a members’ tasting at Macari Vineyards with them.  We accepted happily, since Macari now requires reservations to do a tasting and we hadn’t bothered to do so.  The last time we were there was October of 2019, so it was certainly time to return.

The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was cold, so we hustled inside, where we were escorted to an enclosed porch area, well heated by blowers, with chairs draped with furry throws. 

Later in the afternoon, most of the tables filled up.

Each table was set with a placemat containing five circles listing wines, and three glasses.  As our friends explained, a tasting consists of any three of the five listed wines, with wine club members having a few additional choices.  Our waitress brought over all the wines currently on offer, and gave each of us our selected tastes, and then took our order for snacks.  We got truffled potato chips, crackers and hummus, and a little cheese tray, which she characterized as a single serving, but which, with everything else, was more than enough.  The chips are addictive, and the serving is large, so I definitely recommend them.  The hummus was also very good, liberally sprinkled with za’atar, but the cheese tray was rather small, consisting of a chunk of brie, three slices of cheddar, a tiny jar of fig jam, and a few Marcona almonds, slices of salami, and bread. 

As we sipped and munched, we engaged in getting to know each other better, and I learned to my astonishment that my new friends had been to wineries in all 48 contiguous states!  They hadn’t set out to do so, but after happening to visit wineries in eleven states a friend told them to keep going, so they did.  I was astonished to learn there was a winery in Wyoming, and many in Texas.  Mississippi? I asked. Yes.  Iowa?  Uh huh. I am sure there are many stories to come of their odysseys.  Meanwhile, we discussed the North Fork winery scene, and exchanged names of our favorites. 

We enjoyed the Macari wines, though, due to being caught up in conversation, my notes are a bit sketchier than usual.  I particularly liked the wines labelled “Life Force,” their descriptor for wines aged in concrete “eggs,” rather than wood.

  • 2020 Life Force Sauvignon Blanc              $28

Sometimes sauvignon blanc can be a bit sharp, but clearly aging in a concrete egg cures that.  This is a nicely rounded wine, with an aroma of honeysuckle, and smooth citrus tastes.  I like it.

  •  2019 Cabernet Franc     $38

This is a light, slightly spicy cab franc, with few tannins.  My friend noted it, “Left me flat,” and I agreed. However, my husband had opted for the Life Force Cabernet Franc, which I liked much better.

  • Life Force Cabernet Franc            $30

This was quite different, with more berry taste and aroma.  I would definitely choose this one.

The view out the window.
  • 2017 Dos Aguas $35

The name of this—and also a white blend—refers to the “two waters” of the North Fork, a factor both in the breezes we feel and the moderating of the climate.  This is a Bordeaux-type blend of 60% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 15% petit verdot, and 9% cabernet franc.  I would have easily guessed at the merlot, because it has a definite cherry flavor and aroma, plus a touch of tobacco from the oak aging.  Nice tannins, and a better than average North Fork red.

  • 2017 Syrah         $45

Though it has a very promising aroma, I found the taste somewhat disappointing, and commented that there was not much to it.

  • 2015 Petit Verdot (no price listed, since it is in short supply)

This was my favorite of the day, a wine aged two years in oak and quite delicious.  Petit verdot is most often used in a Bordeaux-stye blend, but I often like it on its own. It had some interesting depth of flavor, some nice spice and fruit taste.  We like it so much that we order a bottle while we continue chatting and snacking.

Snacks available for purchase. There’s also a little fridge with cheeses, etc.

Reasons to visit: pleasant porch seating with beautiful décor; nice view out to the vines; some good snacks, especially the truffled potato chips and the hummus; the Life Force wines, in particular the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet franc; the petit verdot, if it hasn’t sold out yet.

Terre Vite: New Name, New Look, Mostly New Wines

November 17, 2021

We used to love to go to Diliberto, and went so often that Sal Diliberto greeted us as friends.  But, as is increasingly common on the North Fork, at some point he decided to sell his beloved vineyard, and it was bought by Jacqui Fusco and Greg Goodale, North Fork natives.  One aspect of the tasting room we loved was the trompe l’oeil mural that made you feel as though you were sitting in an Italian piazza.  Well, that is gone, but the room is beautifully re-done, decorated by one of the owners of Lumber + Salt, a salvage and antique store that specializes in reclaimed and repurposed items.  For example, the shelving behind the bar, which itself includes part of a gate, is made of hardware pieces from the 1940s. A gigantic lamp is made from the top of a windmill.

Giant lamp made from the top of a windmill!
As more and more wineries and restaurants are doing, they put their menu online, accessed through a QR code.

Is Sal’s pizza oven still in the kitchen, we asked, and our server said it was, but they were not currently offering pizza, though, she noted, Sal was very generous as he helped them take over his place.  Instead, they offer fairly standard cheese and charcuterie platters and a few other snacks.  We decided to try BobbySue’s nuts, which turned out to be a variety called “Nuts Over Olives,” but which we did not particularly like.  After we discussed the taste of them—a somewhat sweet amalgam of nuts and bits of olive—and admitted we did not care for them, she kindly offered us plain nuts, and then, when we declined, took the $5 bag of nuts off our bill.

We had the tasting room mostly to ourselves on this chilly November Thursday, but we noted that the renovation meant they have more seats, plus more tables and chairs on the porch and out on the lawn.  Cute touch—the chairs around the porch table were draped with cozy-looking blankets.  By the way, if you check out their web site you will see quite a few Italian words, honoring the new owners’ love of Italian culture, food, and wines.  They even have an espresso machine behind the bar.

Wanting to try the full array of their wines, we opted for two flights, one of whites and one of reds, for $22 and $24, respectively.  The tastes came to the table in sturdy wooden boxes, four round-bottomed glasses in each, filled with a generous amount of wine.  We didn’t finish most of them, not because we didn’t like them, but because it was more wine than we wanted to have.  Our server noted that the merlot and the Tre are still Diliberto’s wines, but the rest are their own.   Overall, we felt that the wines were pleasant, but not exciting.

  •  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $32

The tasting notes mention “white peach,” and I agree, plus lemon.  This is a light, dry, refreshing white, good to have with oysters (which I hear are offered here on weekends).

  •  2020 Sole Chardonnay $35

Our server noted that the name is Italian for sun—not fish, though it would be good with a nice filet of sole.  It is a light, steel-fermented chard, with a slightly piney aroma, some citrus, and what the tasting notes call “apple and guava.”  I would say, green apple.

  • 2020 White Merlot         $40

This category of wines—whites made from red grapes, with minimal skin contact, but not categorized as rosés—seems to be getting more popular.  This one is a pretty pale pink, with an aroma of cherries, a touch sweet, and easy to drink.

  • 2018 Reserve Chardonnay          $40

I’m often not fond of oaked chardonnays, but this one is not too oaky, so I don’t mind it.  The aroma is slightly funky and woodsy, and so is the taste.  My tasting buddy says it is “nice,” which is pretty much what we’ve sa;id of all the wines so far.

  • 2017 Cabernet Franc      $33

I smell peppercorns, and my tasting buddy agrees.  This is a light red, a bit peppery but mild, dry, a red one could drink with roast chicken.

The array of wines, including a couple of holdovers from Diliberto’s.
  • 2017 Mercato   $35 

A 50/50 blend of cabernet franc and merlot, we again categorize this wine as nice.  I know, not a very expressive term, but it seems apropos.  We taste some cherry from the merlot, and some spice from the cab franc, but, as my husband says, “there’s not much to it.”

  • 2015 Merlot      $42

This wine is still Diliberto’s bottling, and, in contrast to the above, my pal says “there’s something to it.”  I agree, that it is the most interesting wine so far today, with lots of typical merlot cherry aroma and taste, plus purple plum. 

  • Tre Blend            $45

As the name suggests, this is a Bordeaux-type blend of three wines—65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc.  This is actually one of the few wines we finish, as it is very pleasant to drink, and would go well with a cheese tray, if we had ordered one. I don’t know how much longer this will be available, since it is another one of Diliberto’s wines.

Reasons to visit:  fascinating décor, worth examining; intimate room; all the wines are easy to drink, though none are outstanding, but my favorites were the sauvignon blanc and the Tre; generous pour. 

Peconic Bay Vineyards: Under New Ownership

October 21, 2021

I expect I will be able to use the subtitle “under new ownership” quite a few times this year, as recently a number of wineries have changed hands.  In some cases, already existing wineries have expanded by buying their neighbors, while in others new owners have entered the North Fork wine scene.  Peconic Bay is a case of the latter, as the Soloviev family has been actively investing in the North Fork over the past few years.  Peconic has been officially closed for about eight years, though we stopped in there in 2017 when it was briefly open, as the previous owner was, according to our server, trying to sell out his stock.

Since they have been closed, they have been selling their grapes to other local wineries, which is why they only have limited quantities of certain varieties.  However, we were told by Sam, our charming and chatty server, those contracts are about to end, so she is looking forward to seeing what their winemaker—who is the same one who worked at Peconic before—will come up with.  For now, they offer seven wines, though two of them—the sauvignon blanc and the merlot—are in such limited quantity that they are not selling them by the bottle. 

It was another beautiful warm day, so we planned to sit outside wherever we went, and when we walked into Peconic we were sure, as the inside area is quite small, with uncomfortable-looking stools at the bar.  Outside, however, featured a roomy patio, with nice wooden chairs (maybe they could add seat cushions in the future?) and comfy Adirondack chairs grouped around fire pits.  The fire pit areas, we were told, are all reserved already for “movie night,” when they will be showing Hocus Pocus.  They also plan to have live music at various times.  However, today we and one other couple were the only visitors, though Sam assured us it was busier on the weekends.

The menu offers a flight of three wines, called the “Crossroads Flight” for $18, and seemed to be limited to just the chardonnay, riesling, and red blend.  However, Sam told us we could substitute any other wines if we preferred, and after she described the riesling as semi-sweet, we did prefer—not to have it—so we opted for the viognier instead.  Good choice.  After we shared the small flight, we decided we would like to sit and enjoy the beautiful afternoon a while longer, so we shared a glass of the sauvignon blanc and a bag of North Fork potato chips.  The food menu features the usual cheese and charcuterie choices, as well as a chocolate tasting from Disset, a new fancy chocolatier in Cutchogue, and, on the weekends, local oysters.   As we contemplate the menu, Sam brings us a carafe of chilled water, always a nice touch.

  •  2020 Viognier   $22

I get a touch of kerosene and metal when I sniff, but fortunately it tastes of pineapple, not gas!  We like it.  It is dry with nice fruit tastes, refreshing, and different from most North Fork wines.

  • 2020 Chardonnay           $25

Sam informs us that this is the “musque” clone of chardonnay grape, which I have not knowingly encountered before.  In any event, the taste is quite distinct, a smooth, mellow sip that reminds me of thyme honey, though it is not sweet.  Most local chardonnays have a citrus flavor, but this does not.  The menu suggests pairing it with hard cheese, and I think it would go well with a truffle-infused pecorino we had from the Love Lane Cheese Shop recently.

  • Horizon Red Blend          $32

We decided to describe this as a “starter” red, or in other words a red for someone who is not yet into reds.  It is light and dry, with soft tannins, and tastes of wood and cherry.  Sam suggests calling it a “summer” red.  A blend of 73% malbec, 18% merlot, and 9% cabernet sauvignon, the aroma, of cherry, wood, tobacco, and coffee, promises more than the wine delivers.

  • 2020 Sauvignon Blanc

As I mentioned, we decided to share a glass of wine, and, based on a discussion with Sam, we opted for the sauvignon blanc, at $12 for a glass, plus a $4 bag of North Fork potato chips.  Again, this is a different-tasting sb than the usual out here.  It is mellow, not citrusy, with an almost thick mouth feel, and a trace of saltiness and fruit.  We chuckle over the observation that it actually goes very well with the chips.

Reasons to visit:  someplace new; nice outdoor area, with firepits for colder weather; local oysters on the weekend; the viognier and the sauvignon blanc; oh, and for $55 per person you can tour the vineyard in the Moke, an adorable electric vehicle that looks like a mini safari car, with tastings of three wines next to the vines where they grow.

The Moke!