The Old Field: In Touch with History June 28, 2014

The Old Field is a great place for photos, with lots of scenic farm buildings.

The Old Field is a great place for photos, with lots of scenic farm buildings.

Appropriately, The Old Field’s history matches its appealingly rustic look.  It can trace its roots as a farm back to the mid-1600s, when the land was bought from the Native Americans, according to its web site, and that’s not its only connection to history, about which more later.  We particularly enjoy coming here in the warm weather, when you can stand outside at the tasting bar or sit at a picnic table and enjoy the sight of ducks and chickens running around (the pair of ducks, by the way, are named Fred and Ethel, but I don’t know if their last name is Mertz), scenic old farm buildings, and the vineyards.  One of the owners is usually on hand as well, if you want to get into a deep discussion of the wines.  The overall vibe is relaxed and congenial, and we’ve often found ourselves conversing amiably with strangers as we sip.

The tasting bar, with its charmingly mismatched tablecloths.

The tasting bar, with its charmingly mismatched tablecloths.

The tasting menu offers three options:  A tasting of whites, four for $6; reds, three for $5; or a mixed group, four for $6.  They also offer wines by the glass—in which case you get an actual glass, rather than the somewhat unfortunate little plastic cup used for tastings—and the bottle, which we noted a group of picnickers enjoying.  We decide to share a white and a red, so as to sample all their wares.

The only thing we don't like here:  the plastic cups.

The only thing we don’t like here: the plastic cups.

1)       2012 Blush de Noir         $18

Our youthful and enthusiastic server informs us that this is a new release, a very light pink rosé made from pinot noir grapes.  It is so light that it looks like a white wine in the glass.  The aroma is mineral, with a touch of cut grass.  Very summery and pleasant, with only a little strawberry flavor, this is a nice summer drink I’d serve well iced.  $1 of the purchase price of every bottle sold goes to support an animal shelter.

2)      2011 Chardonnay             $20

Although this is primarily a steel-fermented chardonnay, a short time in oak gives it a bit of a vanilla aroma, along with what they describe as a “wet slate” smell.  If you’ve ever walked around Manhattan while the doormen are hosing off the warm concrete in front of their buildings you know the smell.  This is also a light wine, quite tart, with lots of lemon and grapefruit.  It would pair nicely with a tarragon chicken salad.

3)      2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay        $25

After six months in oak, this Chard has definite vanilla and burnt caramel aromas, and lots of pineapple taste, but is not too oaky.  Good picnic wine.

4)      2011 Cacklin’ Rosé                           $18

If you wanted to show someone how different two rosés can be, you could give them a taste of this and of the Blush de Noir, and they’d get the point right away.  Made from merlot grapes, with 24 hours on the skins, the Cacklin’ Rosé has a dark color and a distinctive smell that reminds me of cranberry juice.  Though the taste is a tad sweet for me, it is good and would make a hit as an aperitif on the porch in the summer.  I’d like it better if it had a little lemon or citrus taste.  (If you’re wondering about the name, Google Neil Diamond.)

5)      Rooster Tail                        $18

A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is their everyday pasta and pizza wine, and it is a good member of that club, dry, with some dark fruit tastes.  Their ‘09 Cabernet Franc, by the way, has sold out.

6)      2008 Merlot                       $25

Not much aroma, berry and cinnamon tastes, fairly light for a red:  we decide the Merlot is just okay.

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7)      2007 Commodore Perry                                $40

Really?  Commodore Perry?  What’s that about?  Wasn’t he the guy who opened up trade with Japan?  And why is there a somewhat Japanese-looking sea under that ship on the label?  Here’s the other link to history I mentioned earlier.  Commodore Perry is indeed an ancestor of the family who owns the vineyard, and so they honor him by only naming their best vintages after him.  ’07 was a great year, and this Merlot shows it, with lots of flavors of dark fruit and ripe figs plus good tannins.  We buy a bottle, planning to cellar it.  We are also entertained to learn that this wine is famous in Japan, due to the name, and that Japanese tourists get very excited when they come to Old Field and see it.  In fact, one was so intrigued that he offered to design the label!

Reasons to visit:  pleasant rustic setting, with picnic tables and roaming fowl; the 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay; the Cacklin’ Rosé; the ’07 Commodore Perry; the chance to hear stories about the history of the farm (including one cold winter day when we heard all about the resident ghosts).

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The Hidden Vineyard: Very Off the Beaten Path November 16, 2013

hidden house

Imagine you are driving along a back road in Italy when you see a hand-lettered sign that says “Wine Tasting” (in Italian, of course).  On a whim, you decide to follow the charmingly amateurish signs until you come to a dirt road off the country road.  Daringly, you turn onto it, ascend a hill past rows of grape vines, and at the top you see a large house.  Is this it, you wonder.  Park and enter, and you will be greeted by two older gentlemen who seem quite at home in the kitchen/family room of the house, and who will soon make you feel equally at home.

Oh, wait, this isn’t Italy, it’s Calverton!  You’re just off Exit 71 of the LIE, and you’ve followed the signs to The Hidden Vineyard.  You’ve been greeted by Pete DiBernardi and George Mancuso, and the house is actually where Pete lives.  But the feeling of being in Italy continues as they serve you wine directly from the oak casks and tell you their life stories.  Friends since their boyhoods in Brooklyn, they both became widowers rather suddenly within a short time of each other.  Pete had been building the house with his wife, and abruptly did not know what to do with it.  Both loved to make wine in the style of their forebears—from Sicily and Sardinia—and so, somehow, they found themselves in the wine business.

They will tell you proudly that they use no sulfites or other additives in their wines, nor do they filter them.  You get to drink each glass directly from the barrels, kept refrigerated at 55˚, and if you decide to buy a bottle they will fill the bottle from the tap, seal it, and make up a label just for you—with any message on it you like.

The taps from which your glass or bottle of wine will be filled.

The taps from which your glass or bottle of wine will be filled.

Though it was a warm sunny November day, we stayed inside, but they were eager to tell us that in the summer they do tastings outside, and are happy to have people bring their own picnics and buy a couple of bottles.  They’ve done quite a few parties, too, and point out their karaoke machine (happily not in use at the moment!).

They make six wines, all for $25 per bottle, and a tasting is $5 for three wines or $5 per glass.  Note that they do not accept any credit cards.  Cash only!  We opt to share two tastings, first the whites, and then the reds.  The pour is fairly generous.

hidden glass

1)       Pinot Grigio

None of the wines seem to have vintages, though George assures us that they never serve a wine until they like it.  All the wines, he says, spend at least a year in the barrels in the cellar of the house, which is also where they do their wine-making.  This smells and tastes a bit like wildflower honey, though it is dry.  I definitely taste the oak.

2)      Chardonnay

Tasty and toasty, we decide about this wine.  We smell the typical vanilla aroma of oaked chardonnays, with a bit of a cat pee smell.  Pretty good.  By the way, if you want to try their wines you’ll have to come to the tasting room, as they don’t produce enough to sell to stores or restaurants.

3)      Riesling

You can tell that this is not filtered, as it is a bit cloudy.  I think I smell wood shavings, but my husband thinks vegetables, maybe broccoli.  This is not a sweet Riesling, and again I taste the oak.  We get a fresh glass with each taste, which is a nice touch.

4)      Cabernet Sauvignon

I like this wine the best so far, and in fact George does too, as he has poured himself a glass in order to join us.  We smell the typical cherry/berry aroma of a Cab Sauv, and taste some pleasant fruit. This is a good wine for everyday, to go with pasta, etc.  Like all the wines so far, it is not complex but perfectly pleasant.

5)      Cabernet Franc

Nice deep ruby color for this wine, but the smell is a bit unpleasant, an almost chemical aroma. I’m not fond of the taste either, though it is somewhat grape-y, with a touch of sweetness at the end.  No depth.

6)      Merlot

This also has a dark color, but happily tastes better than the last one.  This is a nice everyday Merlot, light and refreshing, and would be fine with a roast chicken picnic dinner.

We buy one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot, and watch with interest as our bottles are filled from the taps, corked and sealed and labeled by the lovely young woman—a friend of the family, she says—who does “everything” that George and Pete don’t do.  In the midst of our tasting another couple came in who had actually been there before, though Pete was proud to take credit for all visitors as a result of the signs he painted by hand.  They do no other advertising.

One of the tables in the tasting room.

One of the tables in the tasting room.

Reasons to visit:  You are tired of the cookie-cutter aspect of other wineries, and want to go somewhere a bit different; you enjoy chatting with owners/winemakers; you feel that Calverton is far enough and don’t feel like venturing further onto the North Fork; you want to buy a couple of bottles as a gift with personalized labels on them; the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot.  But remember—cash only! 

hidden room

Lenz Winery 8/25/12

The first round at Lenz

After a 28-mile morning bike ride, we are ready for some refreshment, and so we head to the Lenz Winery, on the main road, one of a row of wineries.  They have an attractive barn-like tasting room, as well as some outside tables, and they sell some of the art that is on their walls as well as a small selection of wine-related tchatchkas.  A chalk board suggests one ask about their cheese tray, but we don’t.  There are two tasting menus, the Estate wines, 6 for $10, and the Premium wines, 5 for $14.  Being good at sharing, we order one of each, and our well-informed and bright server asks if we would like him to coordinate them so we can taste the wines in groups.  We do!

The first round consists of three wines, the 2010 Blanc de Noir ($15), the 2006 Cuvee ($30) and the 2008 Gewurztraminer ($20).

1)  The Blanc de Noir is a rose, with a sweet beginning and a tart finish, and a taste of green tomatoes.  It would work with oysters.

2) Champagne!  The 06 Cuvee is a methode champagnoise sparking wine that is quite good.  They use pinot noir grapes.  Although the aroma reminds us of cut grass that has been left in a pile for too long, the flavor is dry and good, with notes of green apple.  This wine, the server tells us, is aged for 6 months.

3) In the past we have liked their gewurz, but this one does not thrill us.  Neither here nor there, is one comment.  Some sweetness, some spice, a bit of ginger.

The second grouping lets us compare three chardonnays.  I love this type of tasting, since it is always so fascinating to see how the same grape can be so different depending on how it is treated.

4) 08 White Label Chardonnay          $12

This mostly steel fermented chard has a honeysuckle aroma, and though it is a bit sweet is is nicely balanced and not too citrusy.  Very buyable!

5) Gold Label Chardonnay         $20

This is an oak-aged chard, and has the expected vanilla/caramel notes with a roast pear aroma.  It starts tart and ends a bit acidic.  Though it has a bit too much flavor for simple foods, it might be really good with a seafood in cream sauce dish.

6) Old Vines Chardonnay          $25

“Old vines” because the vines are 25 years old, this variety is “only made when we have good grapes,” we are told.  This is in the tradition of a white Burgundy, with flavors of spice, pears, and some vanilla.  Excellent!

Now we move on to the reds, with a grouping of two cabernet sauvignons and a merlot/cab sauv blend, again facilitating fascinating comparisons.

7) 08 Cabernet Sauvignon          $23

The aroma reminds us of one of our favorite NoFo treats:  Briermere blackberry pie!  Soft, simple, and uncomplicated, this would make a pleasant sipping wine.  Good!

8)  08 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (plus other grapes) blend     $17

Another right bank Bordeaux.  We feel this could use more time to age, as it is very soft and dry, with no aroma.  Not bad for an everyday Bordeaux, however.

9)  2002 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon          $40

Yum!  The server tells us this wine has had 10 years in the bottle to “calm down,” an interesting way to put it.  He also says it could sit another 10-15 years, but we doubt that.  We go on to have a discussion of the cabernet sauvignon grape, which, he says, has thicker skins than other grapes, and so needs more time to ripen, meaning that it is also more subject to the vagaries of weather and thus more difficult to work with.  They’ve done a good job with this one, which has lots of fruit, an interestingly complicated aroma, but not much tannin.  Though expensive, this could be worth the price.

The last grouping pairs two merlots.

10)  07 Estate Select Merlot          $23

How can a wine smell like coconut suntan lotion?  I don’t know, but this one does!  Though it is dry, we taste lots of fruit and sense plenty of tannins.  We like this one, and buy two bottles, one for a friend and one for us.

11)  02 Old Vines Merlot          $55

We sense some of the earthy terroir aroma of the Long Island merlot, but only a little.  Again, this is dry, with tastes of black cherry and chocolate.  Though good, we don’t think it is worth the price.

Reasons to visit:  some good reds, especially the Old Vines Cab and the Estate Select Merlot; the chance to do some comparative tastings across grape types; the Old Vines Chard.

I’m No Oenophile

I’m no oenophile, nor am I a wino.  I just really like wine.

When my husband and I bought a second (future retirement) home on the North Fork, we quickly discovered the abundance of wineries.  After several weekends, we realized if we didn’t keep a record we would never remember where we had been or what we had liked.  That so many winery names begin with P is also not helpful.  Was that chardonnay we liked at Paumanok, Peconic, or Pellegrini?  Or maybe Pugliese or Palmer?  Perchance Pindar?  Hence the birth of the notebook.  Or as we call it, THE BOOK.   Since July of 2007, we’ve visited every winery, many of them multiple times—after all, every year there are new vintages—and I’ve kept a record.  What we had, what we liked or did not like, the look and atmosphere of the tasting room.

Now people ask me, “What winery should I go to? Which wine should I buy?”  Not easy questions to answer.  I have to find out, do you want to go with a big group in a limo to a place with a party atmosphere, or do you want to go with a few friends to a small winery where you can chat with the owner and learn about vintages and terroir?  Are you hoping to buy a bunch of “wine country” souvenirs?  Do you hope to sit outside, relax, and sip a glass of wine in relative peace and quiet?   Are you mostly interested in live music?  As to taste…well, I can tell you what the wines taste like, and you can decide whether or not that sounds good.

My notebook has now been transformed into a blog, so others can profit from my arduous research. Each entry includes a description of the tasting room, a listing of the wines I tasted with notes on each, including prices, and, at the end, a summary entitled “reasons to visit,” including which wines I thought were most buyable or which I liked the most.  I’d be glad for suggestions as to improvements!