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.

Pugliese Vineyards: Memories of Italy

December 15, 2021

http://www.pugliesevineyards.com

As we drove up to Pugliese Vineyards, we admired the vine-wrapped pergola, and reminisced about a trip to the Puglia region of Italy.  While there, we stayed in a Masseria, actually a lovely resort located on a farm, and ate delicious fresh food and drank some good wines.  Unfortunately, only two of the wines we tried here lived up to our memories. 

The tasting room was empty on this warm December Wednesday, except for two members of the Pugliese family who were busy preparing gift baskets with their signature hand-painted wine glasses and bottles of wine.  We were immediately ushered into another space, where many little metal tables that seem to have escaped from someone’s garden were set up.  “We’re offering table service now,” we were informed, as we were handed several menus.  One was for the wines currently on offer for tastings, another gave the prices of the bottles with some information on each wine, and the third was for foods on offer.  Since we had just had lunch, we were not interested in cheese and crackers, so we just perused the wine list.

A tasting consists of any four wines from their list for $20, but since there were 23 wines on the list, we decided to order two tastings, so we could sample more of their offerings.  The tastes came in little plastic cups, and I’m not sure if it was because of the vessel, or because the wines were all too cold, or if they are just like that, but most of the wines had little or no aroma.  The pour was generous enough that we only emptied two of the glasses.  Our server wrote the name of each wine on the cups with black marker, which was fortunate, as you will see.

Pugliese is one of the vineyards that does a brisk business with limos in the summer, when their pretty grounds are generally teeming with crowds.  They also offer a roster of live music performances.  On the back of the price list we noted some deals, especially an offer of any six wines (excepting ports and sparklers) for $69.  Good deal, about which more later.

Our tastes came in these little plastic cups. It may be just me, but I think wine tastes better in glass.
  •  2012 Blanc de Noir        $25.99

This sparkling wine provided an auspicious start to our tasting.  Made from pinot noir grapes, it has a slight pink tinge, and a tasty, toasty, taste of pears.  Very nice.

  •  2015 Blanc de Blanc      $25.99

Tooth-achingly cold, this wine seems to have hardly any taste, though when we circle back to it, we get green apple.  It is crisp and refreshing, but a more or less generic sparkling wine.

  • 2016 Pinot Grigio            $17.99

I generally like pinot grigios, or their French cousin, pinot gris, but not this one.  It has an unpleasant metallic tinge to it.  My drinking buddy says it tastes like it came straight from the tap—the water tap.

The bottles do have pretty labels.
  • 2017 Veronica’s Rosé     $17.99

Like many rosés, this has a light pink color, and a slight taste of strawberry.  Unfortunately, it also has a slightly unpleasant metallic edge.

  • 2014 Sangiovese             $16.99

We move on to the reds, and find this one drinkable, a decent pizza wine, though it is rather light.  My husband opines, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, that there is “no there there.”

  • 2015 Merlot Reserve      $16.99

Perhaps they have made use of a “flavor extractor,” we joke, since this is an extremely light merlot, lacking most of the deep cherry flavor one usually gets with North Fork merlots. As my tasting pal notes, you can’t tell the players without a score card—or in other words, there’s not enough taste to tell what they are.

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc      $16.99

Whew.  This one is more to our liking, a pleasantly dry red with some hints of spice and berry.  It would be fine with food, though we are not much interested in sipping it on its own.

  • 2015 Sunset Meritage    $34.99

Finally!  Another wine we like.  A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, it is a very drinkable red, smooth, with pleasant berry flavors.  But is it worth $35 a bottle (I hate that whole 99 cents thing.)?  Our server makes an appearance, and I ask her if this is included in the 6/$69 offer.  Yes, it is.  Okay then.  We will take six of these!  We save about $140. And have a perfectly acceptable wine for everyday drinking.  When we order it, our server makes some comment about the holidays coming, and I laugh and say, we drink wine every day!

Hand painted glasses and a bottle of wine, all ready to give as gifts.

Reasons to visit:  pretty outdoor area for the warm weather, though you are also liable to encounter a crowd; the Blanc de Noir and the Sunset Meritage; some good deals on buying six or twelve bottles; they allow dogs outside; you can buy as a gift a wrapped set of two hand-painted glasses and a bottle of wine; they also sell very attractive large photographs of the North Fork.

Large artistic photographs of the North Fork are available for purchase.

Kontokosta Winery: Close to Greenport October 4, 2019

https://www.theharborfrontinn.com/kontokosta-winery

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The flowers are being blown sideways by the wind.

We had errands to run in Greenport (oil and vinegar at Vines & Branches, for one), so we decided to visit the closest winery to Greenport, Kontokosta. As we got out of our car, a gust of wind reminded us that the Long Island Sound is in sight of the tasting room, and we noted the vanes of the windmill spinning rapidly. No shortage of wind energy here!

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That’s my new notebook in the corner of the photo. I filled the old one!

The tasting room is large and airy, and, mostly empty on this October Friday, seemed somewhat echoey. Since we’d spent some time walking around Greenport, we decided we wanted to sit, so we took our tastes over to one of the long wooden tables. We also, feeling a bit peckish, ordered a round of St. Stephen’s 4 Fat Fowl cheese, which was $17, plus $2.50 if we wanted crackers with it. It seemed a bit chintzy to us to charge separately for crackers, but they do offer gluten free crackers as an option. No outside food allowed. The cheese was quite delicious, and more than enough for the two of us, so we had the server wrap up our leftovers to take home.

While in Greenport we amused ourselves by figuring out from what angle the pictures of Greenport were taken which appear in the new TV series “Emergence.” It’s mostly shot in New Jersey (one look at the beach where a plane crashes makes it clear it was not shot on the North Fork), but it is set in Southold and Greenport and uses shots of Front Street and Main Street for atmosphere.

A tasting consists of three one-ounce pours for $16, so we decided to do one tasting of three of the four whites, and another of three of the four reds. The servers gave us basic information on the wines, and the tasting menu had a few brief notes, but otherwise we were on our own.

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Our flight of whites.

  1. 2018 Orient Chardonnay $22

This is a fairly classic example of a North Fork chard, steel-fermented, with a floral aroma and a lemony, fruity, minerally taste. We also detected a slight salty note in this and some other wines, and wondered if the vineyard’s location so close to the Sound caused that. It went well with the soft, creamy cheese.

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That’s the Long Island Sound in the distance.

  1. 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $25

Another easy-to-drink white, this smells to me like thyme honey. The taste is a touch sweet, but not too sweet, with some pineapple taste. Sometimes sauvignon blancs have a lot of lemon taste, but this one does not. It does have a touch of minerality.

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Each glass was labeled with the wine in it, so we would know which we were tasting.

  1. 2018 Field Blend $22

As I’ve mentioned before, the name field blend implies that it is made from various grapes which all grow in the same field. This one is 50% riesling, 33% viognier, and 17% chardonnay. I detect the riesling in the aroma, which had a bit of that cat pee smell, as well as honeysuckle. We like it the best of the whites, as it is more interesting than most. I think it tastes like a Granny Smith apple, and he agrees.

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The reds.  We did not try the rose, which you can see off to one side.

  1. 2015 Cabernet Franc $29

I return our three empty glasses to the bar and order our three reds. To make sure we know what we’re drinking, the server uses a white marker of some sort to put the initials of each wine on the base of the glass. Clever. This is aged four months in Hungarian oak, she tells me. The aroma is jammy, like blackberry jam. The wine tastes like dark figs, with some nice acidity, but it is rather lean, with no finish.

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The cheese was delicious, and went well with the wines.

  1. 2015 Merlot $34

Typically, merlots around here taste and smell like cherries, and this is no exception. It has no depth, and is rather monochromatic, says my tasting pal. I agree that it would be a good pizza/pasta wine, if not for the price. I also note that it was served too cold, a common fault.

  1. 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon $29

Aged twelve months in Hungarian oak, this wine finally has some tannins. I smell black olives and pine, maybe something a bit funky. My poor husband is suffering from a major allergy attack, perhaps brought on by pollens blown on that brisk breeze, so he’s not much help in the what-does-it-smell-like department. His comment on this one is, “I can taste that it’s wine.” They do say that smell is a crucial element in taste. I taste purple plums, but I agree that it’s not very complex, though, like all the wines here, very drinkable.

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Perhaps if we’d stood at the bar we could have had more discussions about the wine.

Reasons to visit: it’s close to Greenport, which is getting quite popular these days; large tasting room with a view of Long Island Sound; menu of good cheeses (though I think the crackers should be included in the cost. What are you going to do, spread the cheese on your fingers?); all the wines are pleasant, if unexciting, but we especially liked the Field Blend white and the cabernet franc.

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Pretty view out the window.

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The grapes, covered with netting to keep critters out, look about ready to harvest. At some wineries we pass, they have already been picked.