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.

RGNY: Many Changes

November 3, 2021

From the outside, the winery that used to be called Martha Clara looks much the same, but as soon as we stepped inside, we saw that it looks very different.  And once we tasted the wines, made by winemaker Lilia Perez, we knew that it was not at all the same.  I find it so interesting that the same grapes, grown in the same vineyard, can yield such different-tasting wines.  Martha Clara’s wines, for example, definitely tended to feature some sweetness, while the RG wines (named for the Rivero Gonzàlez family) we tasted were dry.

The shop inside the entrance used to have all sorts of items, including snacks, while now it is much simpler, with just the RG wines and a few Mexican items, such as baskets.  Then we walked into the large tasting room, which used to feature a huge bar, which more or less snaked through the entire room.  Now the bar is only on one side, with the rest of the space taken up by some small round tables with comfy chairs and some couches.  The walls are bare, and the overall effect is rather stark.  I think they could do more to warm up the space, and suggested to my husband that a pot-bellied stove would be a nice focal point.  He looked skeptical.  The side room (where the restrooms are located) is still pretty similar, filled with tables and chairs.    

We were greeted by a friendly server who asked us if we had a reservation.  We looked around the large room, empty except for one other couple, and asked in mock concern, “Oh no, should we have made one?  Will you have room for us?”  She laughed, as did we, and explained that she actually had three reservations for that afternoon, and so wanted to be sure that she honored the process.  (Quite a few wineries are continuing their pandemic-caused practice of requiring reservations, so be sure you check websites before you go.)  Then she presented us with a QR code to scan in order to read the menu.  

We had intended to sit at the bar, but found the chairs there not comfortable, and so moved to a table, where we liked the chairs very much.  We recently had been shopping for new dining room chairs, and my husband commented that these would have worked nicely.  The menu features three different flights, labelled Scielo, White, and RG.  The RG flight, for $22, seemed the most varied, so we opted to share it.  We were glad we were sharing, since the pour, of four wines, is quite generous, and we actually left over some wine!  There’s also a short but creative menu of food items, including chicken tacos, a Mexican PB&J, and paletas, which, Google informed me, are a kind of Mexican ice pop.

With our flight she brought a bottle of water and two cups, a nice touch, and asked if there was anything else we wanted.  We asked her to turn down the very loud music, which she immediately did.  Whew.  Then later, I asked about the vintages of the wines, since that information was not anywhere to be seen.

  •  2019 Sparkling Rosé      $30

Sometimes sparkling rosés are too sweet, but this one is just right, with a refreshing taste of strawberries and pink grapefruit and moderate bubbles.  We like this, and decide that if we wanted a celebratory pink wine, we might get this one.

  • 2018 Viognier    $33

Many of the wineries on the North Fork that grow viognier use it in blends, so I don’t often see it on its own.  Again, this is a dry wine, mouth-watering, with tastes of spice and pears.  The aroma is a bit funky, with some scent of stewed pears.  We like it.

  • 2018 White Merlot         $32

White merlot?  You may ask, I thought merlot was a red wine grape.  And so it is.  But if you ferment it without the skins, you get a white wine.  Anthony Nappa used to make a wine called Anomaly, a white pinot noir, which we liked very much.  This is also good, and is a nice, light, good sipping white, though not very interesting.  I say it tastes like gooseberries.  Some day I will buy gooseberries again and see if the taste I remember is correct…

  • 2019 Cabernet Franc      $37

Lovely aroma—chocolate covered cherries!  This is another easy to drink wine, with soft tannins, dry, and a flavor that makes me think of dried fruit compote, or maybe stewed prunes (which I happen to like very much). 

Reasons to visit:  large venue with plenty of room for groups, including outside areas; pleasant wines and a large pour; the sparkling rosé and the viognier, though all the wines were easy to drink; an interesting food menu.         

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!

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.

Jamesport Vineyards: Lunchtime!

September 30, 2021

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

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

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

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

Burrata and prosciutto on toast

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

*2018 East End Cabernet Franc    $32

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

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

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

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

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

  • East End Syrah  $32

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

  • 2019 “76” Chardonnay  $37.80

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

  • 2019 Estate Merlot         $35

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

  • 2019 “95” Chardonnay  $39.27

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

  • 2019 Estate Cabernet Franc        $35

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

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

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

Pellegrini: Club Time Again

September 8, 2021

Many wineries offer visitors the opportunity to join their wine club.  We have limited ourselves to two—Channing Daughters and Pellegrini—but I’ve often read the brochures of other places.  I can certainly see the advantages of wine clubs, both for the members and the wineries.  As a member, you get a regular—usually quarterly—supply of wines from a winery you have liked, plus various perks, including free tastings and/or glasses of wine, reduced prices on bottles, and invitations to or reduced prices on various events at your chosen winery, such as musical performances or catered meals.  And the winery, obviously, has a guaranteed income stream, plus a loyal following.  Win/win.

 

Living on the North Fork offers the added convenience of needing only a short drive to pick up one’s wine club selections—though I think all of them also will mail your selections to you, subject to the laws in your state. 

Another perk of living on the North Fork is the fascination of watching the vines go from winter dormancy to spring bud break to fall ripening.  Right now, the vines are beautiful.  The little newsletter which came with our club choices describes what is happening to the grapes now:

“Veraison refers to the time when the grapes begin turning color and the vines start to transport their energy from their roots into the grapes.  During this period of ripening, the acid levels in the grapes fall (particularly malic acid which leaves tartaric acid as the primary acid) and hexose sugars (glucose, fructose) begin to accumulate in the grape.  The chlorophyll in the berries is replaced by carotenoids in white varieties and xanthophylls in the reds.  The end result is that the fruit begins to get more flavorful, colorful, concentrated, and sweeter, which is crucial to making delicious wine!”

We took our four tastes to what we now think of as “our” table, out on the front lawn, on this warm, breezy day, and had a pleasant time, despite the traffic going by on Main Road.  Two other small groups sat nearby, drinking glasses of wine.  The courtyard was tented yet again, and the server noted they’d had two weddings the past weekend, and another was scheduled for the weekend to come.  We took care to try wines we’d not had the last time—easy given the menu of fourteen wines.

*2019 Gewürztraminer $24.99

This is probably the hardest wine to spell, and also one that is not always easy to like.  I liked this one, but my tasting buddy did not, proclaiming it “too sweet.”  I insisted that what he was calling sweet was actually fruitiness, and said I tasted gooseberries.  He disclaimed any knowledge of what gooseberries taste like.  We both agreed that the aroma was agreeably fruity, and there was a definite citrus flavor, like a sweetish lemon.  I noted some minerality on the finish, and that it would be good with spicy food.

*2020 REJOYCE $24.99

A blend of 65% chardonnay and 35% sauvignon blanc, this wine has a pleasant smell of freshly cut grass plus metal.  It’s definitely not sweet, with flavors of lemon (a lot) and cucumber.  It would be good with oysters or clams.

*2015 Cabernet Sauvignon         $69.99

According to the description on the placemat, this wine spends 19 months in French oak—which might have been a bit too much.  It is quite oaky, with some berry taste, but I compared it to chewing on tree bark.  My husband said it was “tangy.”  The aroma is of sweet berries and tobacco.  Maybe it needs to age longer.

*2020 East End Select Barbeque Red      $24.99

Made from 100% petit verdot grapes, but aged in steel rather than oak, this is, as the name suggests, intended as a more casual wine.  I taste berries and plums, and assert it is dry.  My tasting buddy and I diverge again, as he insists it is too sweet.  I argue that he’s seeing fruit, once again, as sweetness.  “Not in my mouth!” he replies.  Well, that’s wine tasting for you.  Disagreement is perfectly acceptable.  He also notes that he could see drinking this with cheese during cocktail hour, but not with a meal.

Reasons to visit:  good all-around winery; snacks allowed; they also sell the North Fork merlot, chardonnay, and rosé, all well-priced reliable everyday wines ($30 for three big bottles); the gewürztraminer, REJOYCE, and BBQ Red.

Osprey’s Dominion: Easy to Drink

July 1, 2021

We celebrated summer by heading to Osprey’s Dominion, after spotting an osprey on his or her nest and taking it as an omen.  On this warm summer early afternoon, the capacious tasting room was empty, and only a couple of tables were occupied outside on the pleasant patio. They still seem to be operating on the pandemic model, with a bunch of tables in the tasting room taken up by a varied selection of gift items, many of them unrelated to wine.  Not sure why.

In general, we like their wines, and during lockdown we drank many bottles of their Richmond Creek label, a very reasonably priced and quite drinkable collection.  So this time we opted for other wines on their flight menu. 

Two hard-working gentlemen (they were busy taking phone reservations for groups and unpacking boxes, in addition to serving flights) behind the bar handed us a menu and a paper with circles, where we were to specify which wines we wanted in our flight.  I know to order tastes from lightest or driest to most flavorful, but not everyone does, so it’s too bad no guidance was offered.  The problem is, if you taste, for example, a wine like an oaked chardonnay before a light wine like their sauvignon blanc, the sauv will seem to have no taste. The tastings are $15 for five or $10 for three, your choice from a menu of 23 wines.  They also offer wines by the glass, and a small menu of snack items. One of those was a Boar’s Head platter, of sliced meats and chips, which we know was fresh because the truck had just pulled up outside.  However, we asked about chips, which they did not have, and instead offered us bags of Wheat Thins, which we took, and for which they did not charge us.  They do still allow you to bring your own picnic, and, apparently, dog, since we saw one on the patio.

Ten wines seemed like more than we wanted to drink, so we opted for two tastings, one of five and one of three.  As it happened, the tastes were so small that I think we could have handled five and five.  We carried our trays outside, where a slight breeze made it pleasant, as we listened to soft rock of the James Taylor variety on the loudspeakers.  They have a gazebo out in the garden, labeled cutely “Grand Ole Osprey,” where they have live music on the weekends and Friday evenings.

  1.  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $19

Our first taste was a perfect summer sipper, their light pleasant steel-fermented sauvignon blanc.  It has a sweet, flowery aroma and tastes of slightly sweetened lime.

  • 2014 Gewurztraminer   $19

You never know what you’re going to get with a gewurtz, as I’ve had both sweet and dry varieties.  This one is not sweet.  It has a bit of the cat pee smell one often encounters, plus some minerality.  My tasting buddy summed it up by saying it “wants to be sweet but isn’t.” Interesting.

  • 2019 Rosé          $19

Many rosés have lovely aromas of strawberries or other fruit, but this one has almost no smell.  However, it is a very drinkable dry rosé, with a touch of citrus, maybe Meyer lemon, and some tropical fruit, perhaps guava.

  •  2012 Merlot     $22

There are many, many merlots on the North Fork, and this one is similar to most, with its cherry aroma, but with another taste we couldn’t quite identify. It’s a simple, casual red, with some tannins. 

  • 2015 Cabernet Franc      $24

I insist this smells like macerated blackberries, at which my husband shrugs.  It is dry, with soft tannins, another easy-to-drink wine.  My husband says “tangy,” at which I shrug.

  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon           $22

We agree we like this one better, from the aroma of berries and flowers to the flavor of mixed berries.  Lots of tannins, so perhaps it could age even more. 

  • 2017 Malbec     $30

Despite the higher price, we would choose any of the preceding reds over this one, which we decide needs more oomph.  My tasting buddy observes that he wouldn’t have thought it was a malbec.  On the other hand, it is another drinkable wine.

  • 2014 Meritage “Flight”  $30

This is a blend, probably of cabernet franc and merlot, and a banner over the bar boasts that it has won awards, so I order it, though originally I was going to end with the petit verdot.  The aroma includes cherry and tobacco, and it tastes of cherries and oak, with more taste than smell.  This is one more in the list of unchallenging, easy-to-drink wines.

Reasons to visit: large tasting room and outside patio areas; all the wines are drinkable, if unchallenging; they allow you to bring a picnic and your pooch (outside), which many places no longer do; music on the weekends; we liked the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet sauvignon best.

Doggie!
I assume this outdoor bar is in anticipation of bigger crowds.

Croteaux: Back to the Garden

June 24, 2021

Friends often ask me which wineries they should go to.  My answer always is, it depends on what you like, but if they want to sit outside in a pretty setting and feel relaxed, Croteaux is my go-to recommendation.  Since I recommend it so frequently, I felt I needed to visit it early on in my renewed project to visit all the wineries!  As my husband likes to say, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Well, I am happy to report that Croteaux continues to be a good choice for the above reasons.  (I was concerned because the winery has new ownership.)

It was another beautiful June day, and we started by running an errand in Greenport and walking around town.  As they did last summer, the town has partially blocked off Front Street so that restaurants and stores can expand their seating and displays.  Lots of outdoor tables and minimal traffic make eating outside here an attractive prospect.  We will be back! 

Front Street in Greenport is now lined with outdoor tables.

The next decision was where to go for a tasting.  According to their website, we did not need a reservation for Croteaux, so off we went.  They have slightly revamped their entry and exit procedures, so you enter directly from the parking lot via the opening in a barn building, where a pleasant young woman walked us to a table.  She brought with her a bottle of water and two glasses, a nice touch. We sipped the water as we waited a short time for our waitress—it is all table service. When you leave and it’s time to pay, you go through a little vestibule which used to be both the exit and entrance, and would get quite crowded, but now was easy to navigate.  Checks are handed out tied to clam or oyster shells, a smart move, since this keeps them from blowing away.

The tasting menu, accessed via a QR code on the table, offered two choices—in addition to individual glasses.  You can try all six of their still rosés for $25, or their three sparkling rosés for $20.  They only make rosés, by the way.  We opted to share the still wines, plus a basket of sliced baguette and a soft Boursin-like cheese for $12, since it was lunch time.  They have a nice little menu of snacks, including some more substantial offerings like lobster roll sliders for $22 for two servings.  (The still wines are $35-$39 per bottle, and sparklers $45-$49.)

Our tastes arrived, three glasses each in two pottery saucers, with the varieties listed beneath the glasses, and we were instructed to taste counterclockwise from a particular spot—or not, depending on what we liked to do!  But I would recommend going in that order, from lightest to strongest, since otherwise a light wine might be overshadowed by a more forceful cousin.  As we sipped and munched, enjoying both our drinks and our snack, we watched the antics of two little dogs which a couple at a nearby table had brought with them.

  1.  Chloe

This is their lightest wine, barely tinged with pink, and is described on the menu as a “white wine drinker’s rosé,” which I can see.  It smells like honeysuckle, and has nice tropical fruit flavors.

  • Merlot 3

The name of this and a couple of other wines refers to the clone of merlot used to make them.  This has a flowery aroma that is quite pleasant, and is also tasty.  Like all their rosés, it is dry, in the French style.  I was trying to decide what I tasted when my tasting buddy suggested mandarin oranges.  Exactly.

  • Merlot 181

Unlike the previous two, this wine has barely any aroma.  It is light and refreshing, a good sipper for a warm day, with a slight strawberry taste and lots of minerality.

  • Merlot Sauvage

If you know French, you may wonder what could be wild about a wine.  The answer is, the yeast.  Instead of using the known quantity of a yeast they have bought, winemakers will sometimes use the indigenous yeast which is found on all grapes, giving them less control over the final product but often delicious results.  Channing Daughters makes a wine they call L’Enfant Sauvage, which uses wild yeast.  This one has a woodsy aroma, a light pink color, and a definite taste of watermelon (which reminded me of a recent taste I had of watermelon infused with a Negroni).  Mouth-watering.

  • Merlot 314

Not sure why, but the menu labels this “bistro-style.”  This is my husband’s least favorite of the day, though it is certainly drinkable.  It has hints of lemon/lime and tangerine.

  • Jolie

Pretty is an apt name for this deep pink wine, with lots of strawberry aroma and taste.  It has more depth than the other rosés, with touches of minerals and herbs, and reminded me of strawberries macerated with white wine.  The menu calls it a “red wine lover’s rosé.”

Reasons to visit: lovely garden setting; pleasant laid-back vibe (the speakers were playing reggae-inflected and soft rock music while we were there); lots of easy-to-drink rosés; nice menu of snacks; I especially liked the Chloe, the Sauvage, and the Jolie; dogs!

Pellegrini: In the Club

June 17, 2021

Quite a few years ago, on a gray wine-soaked winter afternoon, we joined the Pellegrini wine club, for reds only, because they tended to make better reds than some of the other East End wineries.  In general, that still holds true, though we were a bit disappointed in the current selections.  Due to the pandemic, we had not done a tasting at Pellegrini for two years, but we’ve been picking up our wine club bottles regularly, and most of what we’ve gotten has been fine, so I guess it was just this time’s two choices. 

As we parked in the lot, after having encountered a surprising amount of traffic, I started quoting James Russell Lowell’s famous lines, “And what is so rare as a day in June?/Then, if ever, come perfect days,” and commenting that it was about time they came true.  What a month, with the weather alternating between rainy and chilly and too hot to step outside, but this day was finally fine, which is why we decided it was time to sit outside and taste some wine.  Pellegrini has a small tasting room, but a large central patio—often tented for private celebrations—and tables out on their front and back lawns.  They do allow you to bring your own snacks, and no longer serve the little bags of oyster crackers that used to come with every tasting.

Another change is that they have a set menu for a tasting, of four wines for $16:  the 2019 Rosé, 2019 Steel Chardonnay, 2018 Cabernet Franc, and 2020 Barbeque Red.  Since we are in the club, I wanted to taste the wines that were in our current shipment, and so substituted the Steakhouse Red and 2015 Petit Verdot for the reds.  (Our tasting, of course, was free.)  You used to be able to choose from a large number of wines and try six or seven of them.  Change, as they say, is the one constant.

As we approached the door, an employee greeted us and directed us to a table on the front lawn, where I seated myself with my back to the traffic.  We gave her our order, and she brought us our four tastes on a tray, atop a labeled tray liner.

  1. 2019 Rosé          $24.99

This is a 77% merlot, 23% cabernet sauvignon blend, with a slight strawberry aroma with a trace of something metallic or chemical.  It’s a dry rosé, with some tastes of pineapple, which I like.  My tasting buddy says he detects a bit of a vegetable taste.  Maybe.  Nice, but I prefer the North Fork Rosé, also made by Pellegrini, which they sell for $30 for three one-liter bottles.  And while we’re on the subject, the North Fork brand also includes a very nice chardonnay and a merlot, both very good buys and quite drinkable.

  • 2019 Steel Chardonnay $19.99

No aroma at all!  I think I prefer steel-fermented chardonnays to oak-fermented, in general, but this one is a bit too austere.  Maybe what I actually like is slightly oaked chards.  This has a lot of lemon-lime flavor, which would make it a good accompaniment to coquilles St. Jaques.  As it sits and warms up a bit, I like it better.

  • Steakhouse Red               $19.99

A blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon and 28% merlot, this is a simple, dry red that would go well with burgers or meatloaf, but is not much fun to drink on its own.  It smells better than it tastes.

  • 2015 Petit Verdot           $29.99

Sometimes I like wines made from petit verdot, and sometimes I do not.  This is an “I do not.”  The aroma is nice, brambly, with maybe a touch of salt, but the wine is very dry and tannic, with almost no fruit flavor.  My husband sums it up as, “Just a glass of wine.”  Oh well.

Reasons to go:  pleasant outdoor area and intimate tasting room; well-priced wines; you can bring a snack; drinkable wines, though we were not excited about today’s selection.

The view to the courtyard, with my mask in the foreground. On the 17th, they were still asking visitors to wear a mask inside, until they were seated, but obviously I took it off in order to taste the wine.