Channing Daughters: The Best of the South Fork December 7, 2017

Channing Daughters: The Best of the South Fork

https://www.channingdaughters.com/

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The entrance to Channing Daughters.

It had been over a year since we’d been to one of our favorite wineries, so it was time to make the trek to the South Fork.  We took the ferry from Greenport to Shelter Island, and then from Shelter Island to Sag Harbor, as wind whipped the usually calm Gardiner’s Bay into waves and sea spray hit our windshield.  Despite the loss of the Sag Harbor movie theater to fire, the town looked much the same as ever, though new boutiques are gradually replacing some of the quirkier shops.  Happily, we noted that the Sag Harbor Variety Store and the Wharf Shop are still there.

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One of the wood sculptures made by Walter Channing.

And so is the Channing Daughters tasting room, down a pebbled driveway off Scuttlehole Road, sitting amidst vineyards and wood sculptures made by the owner.  The tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and no tables, though in the summer there are some outside.  A standard tasting is five wines for $16, or you can order a glass of wine for $15.  Simple crackers are put out as palate cleansers.

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This is the standard tasting–which is not what we had!

We had the room to ourselves on this sunny but blustery winter day, so we had the full attention of the genial and very well-informed server.  He was delighted to hear that, after having resigned from the wine club last spring due to various changes in our lives, we were ready to rejoin it.  The wine club involves accepting six shipments of two bottles each per year, and then you get free tastings of any wines you like to try plus invitations to various events during the year and discounts on other purchases.

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The tasting room is small, but augmented in the summer by outside tables.

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A view of the outside patio.

As a result of rejoining the club, our tasting was free, and we tasted quite a few wines—so many that we ended up dumping parts of the last few tastes, just so we could stay on our feet.  And even after trying eleven wines we had not begun to exhaust the panoply of wines on offer, a truly varied and impressive array for a small winery.  One of the reasons we love Channing, and rejoined their club despite living on the North Fork and having access to so many other wineries, is their willingness to experiment and try new ideas all the time.  Check out their web site to see all they offer and to read about their philosophy of wine making.  According to the web site, they make almost three dozen different wines!

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  1. 2016 Scuttlehole Chardonnay   $18

Of all the chardonnays on Long Island, this remains our favorite, a steel-fermented beautiful expression of the fruit.  We taste some pineapple and minerality, with aromas of pear and citrus.  Yum.

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Our favorite chardonnay. The upside down tree on the label represents one of Mr. Channing’s sculpture techniques, using an entire tree turned upside down.

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A sculpture made from an entire tree turned upside down.

  1. 2014 Sylvanus $24

A combination of muscat ottonel, pinot grigio, and pinot bianco, the name recalls the Roman god of the fields and agriculture (like Pan or Bacchus) for a very good reason.  It is what is called a “field blend,” which means it is a blend of various grapes all of which were grown together in one field.  So they share the same terroir, yet the taste varies from year to year, depending on how each variety grows.  As we discussed with our server, this is more like the way people grew grapes in the past, planting whatever vines they got wherever they fit.  And the vineyard in which it grows is named Sylvanus. In any event, this year’s iteration is quite good, a light, delicate dry white with just a touch of wood.  He thinks it would be good with appetizers, perhaps a charcuterie platter.

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An image of Sylvanus, god of fields and harvests.

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  1. 2015 Cuvée Tropical $23

This is another blend, of 78% chardonnay, 8% tocai friulano, 8% pinot grigio, and 8% muscat ottonel.  As I said, they like to experiment.  The name comes from the flavor, which has notes of tropical fruits, like lychee and guava and pineapple.  In the past I really liked the fruitiness of this wine, and this iteration is less fruity, a bit more austere, so though he recommends it with spicy food, I don’t think that’s necessary.

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I love the image on this label, of vines in the snow.

  1. 2014 Clones $29

Why Clones?  Because this wine includes ten different clones of chardonnay, plus gewürztraminer, tocai friulano, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc.  Now here comes the experimentation—some of the wine is aged on the skins for a little while, they use wild yeast, and it spends twelve months in old French oak barrels (plus maybe more I forgot…).  Another good one.  Dry, with just a touch of the oak, with citrus flavors of lime more than lemon, and some interesting complexity.  Our server recommends it with smoked trout or bluefish, and we recommend that he check out the North Fork Smoke House the next time he’s in Greenport.

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  1. 2014 Mosaico $29

Again, the name relates to how the wine was made. This is another field blend, but this time the vines are literally planted in a mosaic pattern, and include pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat ottonel, tocai friulano, and gewürztraminer.  Whew.  Another winner.  Aromas of celery, citrus, and herbs and maybe chamomile, and a complex flavor that includes pear, pineapple, and citrus.  Because the juice also spends some time on the skins, the color is a deeper gold than usual.

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  1. 2014 L’Enfant Sauvage

The “wild child” is a reference to the use of wild yeast, sometimes a risk for the winemaker, and this time, I have to say, not as successful for me as in the past.  I have loved earlier versions of this white, but this one is more minerally than fruity.  That’s not necessarily bad, but I liked the fruit in the past.  This is 100% chardonnay, aged in new French oak and also Slovenian oak, so maybe the Slovenian oak is a taste I don’t care for.  The aroma is of over-ripe apples and something chemical.  My husband says it has a “strong backbone.”

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Yes, this wine is orange.

  1. 2014 Ramato $25

You can only get this wine if you are in the wine club.  It’s an orange wine, which means it was fermented on the skins for quite a while until it has an orange hue, and was made from 100% pinot grigio.  Our server tells us the grape itself has a pinkish hue, which adds to the color.  It is tart and dry, with some taste of apricot.

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A sparkling wine you can open with a beer bottle opener!

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  1. 2016 Bianco Petillant Naturel $28

What is this, you wonder, especially as you look at the bottle, which is sealed with a bottle cap and has a layer of sediment on the bottom.  This is a lightly fizzy sparkling wine which does not taste at all like champagne, nor does it try to.  Instead of the méthode champenoise, this is the méthode ancestrale, in which the yeast remains in the bottle and is not disgorged.  This is a blend of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and tocai friulano and tastes like a great wine for a meal—light and fizzy and good to complement food.  That’s the way they drink Cava in Barcelona, where we saw people ordering an inexpensive bottle to go with lunch or a few tapas.

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I love doing side by side tastings of related wines.

  1. 2013 Dorn and Blau $28

At this point we said we would share a taste, so our server poured this red and the next one at the same time so we could compare them.  These German grapes—a combination of 62% dornfelder and the rest blaufrankish—are also grown in the Sylvanus vineyard.  If you’re thinking you haven’t heard of these grapes as growing on Long Island, you wouldn’t be mistaken.  As far as I know, Channing is the only one that has them.  This is a fairly light and dry red, with aromas of red fruit and tobacco and something funky.  It is another wine with more minerality than fruit.  I could see it with something rich, though my tasting buddy finds it a bit too austere.

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  1. 2014 Blaufrankish $28

Reverse the proportion of grapes, and you get 62% blaufrankish and the rest dornfelder, and then, just to see what happens, use grapes from a different vineyard, in this case the Mudd vineyard on the North Fork.  We like this one much better!  The aromas are of dark fruits plus minerals or wet rock, and the taste is of red berries and plums with layers of flavor, including some minerality.  Both of these wines have soft tannins, so I’m not sure how they would age, but they’d be fine to drink right now.

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  1. 2015 Petit Verdot $38

I often like petit verdots, and this one is no exception.  Though the aroma is somewhat smoky and funky, the taste is delicious, with depth of flavor, including blueberries, blackberries, and spice.  Our server is willing to keep going, but since we have to get back in the car we decline.

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An array of bottles and a view into the cellar.

Reasons to visit:  the most interesting wines on Long Island, with something new every year; the Scuttlehole Chardonnay, the Cuvee Tropical, the Clones, the Mosaico, the Blaufrankish…actually, you can’t go wrong with any of their wines; and we didn’t even get to the rosés, which we’ve had and enjoyed in the past; you’re looking for a winery in the Hamptons that’s less formal and pricey than Wölffer (which does have the advantage of tables where you can sit and snack on their cheese, etc.), and did I mention they also make really good vermouths, which are excellent just over ice as an aperitif.

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Vermouth!

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There are a few wine-related gifts for sale, though they no longer carry the bottle collars we like, which you put around the neck to catch drips.

 

 

 

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Osprey’s Dominion: And It’s Quite an Extensive Dominion            November 11, 2017

http://ospreysdominion.com/

 

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The entrance

We decided it would be fun to go to Osprey’s Dominion this week, having gone to Coffee Pot Cellars last week.  Why?  Because Adam Suprenant is the winemaker for both wineries, with Coffee Pot his own label.  Would there be differences between his personal wines and those he made for a larger entity?  We did find some differences, but both places have some really good wines.

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Just one side of the expansive tasting room.

In contrast to the cozy quarters of Coffee Pot, Osprey’s tasting room is quite large, and was fairly crowded for November, with a serpentine bar along one side and plenty of tables both inside and outside.  Despite the chilly weather, there were quite a few people sitting on the sunny terrace, enjoying some live music, a food truck, and a fire pit.  (They ask that you not bring food into the tasting room, and sell wine cupcakes, among other snacks.)

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Despite the chilly weather, plenty of people opted to be outside. Note the wind vane!

The tasting menu is quite extensive, reflecting their 90 acres of grapes.  A tasting is either three choices for $8 or five choices for $12, and you have the freedom to pick any you like from their menu.  With eight whites (including one sparkling wine), one rosé, nine reds, plus five reserve wines and four dessert options, we actually needed some guidance!  Our server kept good track of where we were in our tasting, providing a clean glass for each taste, and helped us choose when we asked.  We decided to share two tastings of five, starting with the whites.  Glasses of wine range in price from $6-$10, and if you’re heading outside with a glass, they give it to you in a plastic cup.

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Lots of options on the white wine menu.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc   $17

We started at the top of the whites menu with the steel-fermented sauvignon blanc, a dry wine with more acid than fruit.  My husband said it was “strong.” Although the menu opined that it tasted of melon, I tasted more grapefruit than melon, or maybe even sour apple candy.  That said, though it is not a sipper, it would probably pair well with chicken or fish in a creamy sauce, or with New England clam chowder.  We liked Coffee Pot’s sauvignon blanc better, but then, it is from a different year.

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  1. 2014 Fumé Blanc $17

Fumé blanc is basically sauvignon blanc that has been fermented in oak. I described this one as mouth-watering, with the acid balanced by some sweetness.  It didn’t have much aroma, though we detected a trace of vanilla from the oak.  I think it would pair well with escargots in garlic sauce, the thought possibly inspired by the French name of the wine.

  1. Regina Maris Chardonnay $13

Why the name, and why the ship under sail on the label?  Our server wasn’t sure, but did opine that the name had belonged to a ship that sailed out of Greenport.  In any event, this is a chardonnay that combines steel and oak fermented juice half and half.  The aroma is grassy, with a hint of wood.  Though it is not overly oaky we did find it too sweet for our tastes, comparing the tastes to apple sauce and honeydew melon.  My tasting buddy found it “cloyingly sweet.”  As a result, we asked for some guidance as to where to go next on the menu, and she suggested we look at the reserve menu.

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We liked the label more than the wine, though if you like a sweeter chardonnay you might disagree.

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The reserve menu

  1. 2016 Reserve Pinot Gris $24

Good choice!  Though it was served a tad too cold, as we warmed it in our hands we smelled a faint aroma of orange peel plus a touch of funk.  It is aged “sur lies” for six months, which may account for the layers of flavor we noted.  It has a nice balance of tart and fruit, with some tastes of tangerine.  It would be good with charcuterie.  I used to think you needed red wine with cured meats, but now I think certain whites work better.

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  1. Richmond Creek Red Blend $12

Rather than continue with the whites, which we were concerned might be too sweet for us, we decided to flip to the red side of the menu for the rest of our tastes.  We were particularly eager to try this one, since it was on special at $75 for a case, and we’re always looking for inexpensive reds for daily consumption.  This is a Bordeaux-style blend of 42% cabernet sauvignon, 11% pinot noir, 26% cabernet franc, and 23% merlot.  We could definitely smell the cherry from the merlot, plus a touch of something chemical—they suggest eucalyptus.  The taste is quite nice, combining cherry and other dark fruit with some spice, perhaps nutmeg, and maybe a bit of chocolate.  Good pasta/pizza wine, like with the pizza my husband made the other day, topped with eggplant and black olives.  Yum.  Definitely buyable.

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Go soon if you want to take advantage of the sale!

  1. 2013 Petite Verdot $28

We went back to the reserve menu for our next taste, guided as to its position in our tasting by our server.  Another good choice.  The aroma is of wood and dried fruit.  The wine is very dry, with lots of tannins, which made me think it could age well.  Though it does not have much fruit, it is very tasty, with enough acidity to cut through the fat of a steak or lamb chops.

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  1. 2012 Meritage “Flight” $28

Another Bordeaux-style blend, of 39% merlot, 36% cabernet franc, 17% carménère, 4% cabernet sauvignon, and 4% petit verdot, this is also a really good red.  Apparently, Wine Enthusiast agrees, giving it a grade of 90, we were told.  I never actually know what to make of those grades.  My husband felt the tannins “stick out,” so maybe it needs more aging.  It tastes of cherry and purple plum and spice.  We liked both this one and the Coffee Pot Meritage, which has a different composition and which we liked a little more.

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My husband’s home-made pizza, which tastes as good as it looks, and would go well with the Richmond Creek Red Blend.

  1. 2014 Carménère $28

I was eager to taste this one, since Osprey is the only vineyard on Long Island that grows this grape, and it is more usually used in blends.  The aroma is funky—basement, I say.  Fortunately, it doesn’t taste like a basement!  It is good—interesting, say my notes—very tannic, with spicy tastes of blackberry and pepper.  Not a big fruity wine, but with a nice amount of fruit.

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Some interesting information on the label.

 

  1. 2013 Malbec $28

The menu says this is a “tribute to the great wines of Cahors.”  To me it seems more like a Long Island merlot—which is not a bad thing.  Another good, tannic, dry red with some cherry flavors.

  1. 2014 Pinot Noir $40

Since this is the most expensive wine on the menu, we expected it to be something special, especially since we were informed that it won “Best Pinot Noir in New York State in 2016.”  To me, it seems comparable to a Beaujolais, a light, pleasant red.  Easy to drink, it would be okay with roast chicken, but I doubt I’d give it a medal (though I’d have to see how it compared with the competition).

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Reasons to visit:  big, social winery with entertainment and good wines; the Fumé Blanc, the Reserve Pinot Gris, the Richmond Creek Red Blend, the Meritage Flight, the Carménère; very reasonable prices, especially for Long Island reds, especially when they’re on sale.  We bought a case of the Richmond Creek Red Blend.

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We heard there was also beer on offer outside.

Coffee Pot Cellars: Fun Tasting, Serious Wines    November 5, 2017

 

Coffee Pot Cellars: Fun Tasting, Serious Wines

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The name “Coffee Pot” refers to the lighthouse out near Orient Point’s shape, hence the name of the winery. They don’t serve coffee. And that’s a wineasaur, made from corks.

http://www.coffeepotcellars.com/

https://www.etsy.com/shop/BlossomMeadow

As we entered the cozy tasting room of Coffee Pot Wine Cellars, we were greeted by Beasley, the sweet-tempered pug who graces one of the labels: “Because we decided if Beasley drank wine, he would be a red wine drinker,” jokes Laura Klahre.  Laura is the co-owner of Coffee Pot Cellars, along with her wine-maker husband Adam Suprenant, and she is also a beekeeper and bee enthusiast.

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The tasting room is in a building that was once a house, which seems appropriate since the owners make everyone feel at home right away.

Every time we come there we learn something new about bees from Laura’s lively explanations.  This time we learned about mason bees—not to be confused with carpenter bees—which like to nest in hollow grasses and are excellent pollinators (about which more later), though not honey makers.  That morning she had been harvesting mason bee cocoons, which she happily showed us.

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Beasley, the welcoming committee.

Meanwhile, she also gracefully served a bar full of people (some of whom had brought their own snacks), keeping track of where everyone was in the tasting of six—actually seven—beverages.  I say beverages because the listed tasting is of six wines for $12, but she adds in a taste of their Cyser, a champagne-like cider beverage made with apples and her own honey.  She was quite the busy bee!  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)  As to the delicious honey, we have bought it in the past and wanted to get more, but she was all out, as she needs to leave some for the bees for the winter.  Next time we’ll stop by in the summer to pick some up.  In the summer you can also observe a demonstration hive of bees as they busily go about their “beesness” behind a glass window.

The tasting room consists of a bar with bar stools plus shelves lining the walls, featuring Blossom Meadow bee-based products.  No tables.

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Some of the items for sale.

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The little figurines are beeswax candles.

Laura was excited we had come that day, since they had just released their latest merlot.  Adam is also the winemaker for Osprey’s Dominion, where he uses some space to make his own wines.  They buy their grapes, Laura explained, having decided they would rather stay small and control exactly what they wanted to make than expand to own a vineyard as well.

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  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc   $21.99

Spending six months in steel, this is a “nice and crisp” sauvignon blanc with aromas of mineral and honey and tastes of lime, melon, and mineral.  Nicely dry and very drinkable, it would be great with local oysters or scallops.

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You can clearly see the Coffee Pot lighthouse on the label.

 

  1. 2014 Chardonnay          $19.99

If you don’t care for an oaky chardonnay, but you find steel-fermented ones too tart, you might like this chard.  It spends six months in “neutral oak” barrels, which Laura explains to another guest is just a fancy way of saying “used,” so it is a little softened but has only a touch of wood.  I smell peach and rocks and taste citrus and maybe also a little peach.

  1. Cyser   $19.99

According to the tasting menu we should be having the gewürztraminer, but Laura suggests the Cyser works better at this point, and who are we to argue?  This is a hard cider which Adam makes into a sparkling wine using the méthode champenoise.  He only makes 90 cases, since it is very work-intensive to produce.  And the bees work hard, too, Laura explains.  The mason bees pollinate the apple orchard, and then the honey bees provide honey which is added to the cider.  Despite the honey, this is a dry drink, fizzy and fun, tasting like a green-apple-flavored champagne.  It is only 7 ½ % alcohol.

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  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $21.99

Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, we decide this gewürztraminer would be perfect with turkey.  Made with 12% riesling, it is nonetheless dry, with lots of tropical fruit flavors.  The tasting menu mentions lychee and pineapple, and I agree.  The aroma is fruity, with some vegetable notes.  Some gewürztraminers are so sweet that you would only want them as a counterpoint to spicy food, but this one is not.  Laura confides that when Adam makes roast chicken for dinner this is the wine she brings home to drink with it.  Sounds good to me.  We decide to bring home a bottle as well.

  1. 2012 Merlot $19.99

As we switch to reds, Laura gives us a fresh glass.  She also rinses glasses with a few drops of wine, which she then pours out into the dump bucket.  She noted that she works hard to keep those buckets cleaned out, since otherwise they attract fruit flies at this season, something we’ve noticed at other wineries.  This is a pleasant, simple, very cherry-flavored merlot.  It is nicely dry, with plenty of fruit, a good wine for pasta or pizza.

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Beasley want to know how everyone likes his Blend. Laura says that at home, when she is getting ready to come to the tasting room, Beasley follows her around so she won’t leave without him.

  1. Beasley’s Blend $21.99

Apparently, Beasley likes cabernet franc more than merlot, since this is a blend of 60% cabernet franc and 40% merlot.  Beasley has good taste, as we like this very much.  The aroma is of fruit, cherries and dark plums, and the taste is layered, with those fruits plus more.  Nice tannins.  We decide to get a bottle of this, too, to have with beefy entrees, such as pot roasts.

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Note the image of Beasley standing guard on the lighthouse.

  1. 2013 Meritage $25.99

A Right Bank Bordeaux blend, this is 56% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 11% petit verdot, and 11% cabernet franc.  As you might expect (though it’s not always true), this is a fairly complex wine, with tastes of dark fruits and spices such as nutmeg and lots of tannins.  Supposedly, one only makes a Meritage in a good year, and clearly 2013 was a very good year.

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Reasons to visit:  a chance to talk with Laura and/or Adam, both of whom are quite fun to talk with (though Adam had left before we got there that day); lots of bee and wine related gift items, including clever little beeswax candles; all the wines, but especially the Gewürztraminer and the Beasley’s Blend, also the Meritage; Beasley; the demonstration hive in the summer and monarch butterflies in the early fall; everything you ever wanted to know about bees.

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Laura in the midst of one of her lively discussions of bees.

 

Diliberto Winery:  Pizza Parlor or Winery?            October 27, 2017

Diliberto Winery:  Pizza Parlor or Winery?

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The entrance to the indoor space. They also have an outdoor patio.

 

http://dilibertowinery.com/

The yeasty, tomatoey scent of baking pizza filled the small tasting room at Diliberto winery.  Most of the people there seemed to have come for a glass or two of red wine and one of Sal’s thin-crust pizzas.   Well, it was around one p.m. on Friday, so I guess it was lunch time.  The pizza certainly smelled and looked good, and one of the customers told us as she was leaving that it tasted good, too, recommending that we get one.  However, we were not hungry, so we settled on just a tasting.

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I waited until people left so I could get a good shot of the mural.

The tasting room at Diliberto is small, but very pretty, with trompe l’oeil paintings on the wall to give you the sensation that you are sitting in an Italian piazza.  The Visions series films, aerial views of Italy, play on the flat screen TV over the piano, and when it is quiet you can hear music from Italian operas playing in the background.  What you won’t hear is the voices of children, since Diliberto’s has a strict “No one under 21” policy, with the addendum “including children.”  They also do not allow outside food, but since most people seem to come for the $19 pizza, that’s not a problem.  The menu includes a few other food items, and on Sundays they feature a full meal—details on their web page.

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The wine menu features six wines, at $4 per taste or $10 for any three tastes.  Wines are also available by the glass or bottle, with an additional charge if you want to drink the bottle in the winery.  (For example, the Chardonnay is $22 for a bottle, but $27 if you want to drink it there.)  The wines cost $8-$12 for a glass.  We decided to try all six wines, or two tastings, which the server brought to our table all at once.

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In the past, we’ve always spent time chatting with Sal Diliberto, but this time he was not in the winery.  The young woman who was waiting on the tables was very pleasant, but clearly her job was not to discuss the wines.  My guess is that he is there on Sundays, since the dinner includes a cooking demo, and he used to do those for free on the weekends.

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This sign reminded me of how my Italian friends like to reminisce about Sunday family dinners, always with “gravy”–a.k.a. spaghetti sauce.

  1. 2016 Chardonnay          $22

This is an oaked chardonnay, and, according to the menu, spends “five months in French oak,” so I was expecting lots of butterscotch and vanilla.  Not so.  I wonder if he mixes it with steel-fermented chardonnay, since it has a fair amount of citrus flavor.  My husband describes it as “refreshing.”  It is surprisingly tart, with only a hint of vanilla.  Very drinkable, and would be nice with some charcuterie.

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Our two flights were delivered all at once, and the server carefully pointed out which wine each one was.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $19

I would have put this first in the tasting, since it is steel-fermented and quite light.  It has some asparagus aroma, and tastes more like an orange or tangerine than a lemon.  It also has a fair amount of minerality and saltiness.  “Fire Island on the beach,” began my tasting buddy, waxing poetic as he sometimes does.

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  1. 2016 Rosé $17

Now it was time for the menu writer to get poetic, describing this wine as perfect for “life on the patio with friends.”  Well, yes, if your friends are not particularly interested in taste, since this rosé has very little.  There’s nothing objectionable about this light, minerally rosé, with its taste of unripe strawberry and citrus, but we felt the aroma and taste were equally undistinguished.

  1. 2013 Merlot $19

All along I’ve been complaining that it is hard to decide how the wine smells because the aroma of pizza is so strong.  Now I think this one smells like mushrooms, and I’d think it was because of the pizza, but there are no mushrooms on it.  In any event, this is an okay merlot, rather tannic and even a bit harsh, with some black raspberry and nutmeg flavor.  No cherry taste!  We must have gotten the last glass in the bottle, as our taste has some sediment at the bottom.

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There’s some sediment on the bottom of our glass of merlot.

  1. 2014 Cantina $22

Phew, this one is much better.  A 50/50 blend of merlot and cabernet franc, this has aromas of cherry and tobacco and tastes of fruit and spice—more spice than fruit.  Light and not complex, this is the sort of red that goes well with roast chicken (like the one I am planning to make with an 8 Hands chicken tonight) or pizza and pasta.

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At Diliberto, you don’t stand at the bar for a tasting. They bring it to your seat.

  1. 2014 Tre $26

According to the menu, this one is only made in the best vintage years, of a blend of 65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc.  I swear it smells like eggplant, though perhaps that’s because I’m trying to decide what I will make with the lovely eggplant I bought at a farm stand this morning.  Anyway, the wine is quite good, with lots of black cherry and purple plum tastes.  Dry, with some tannins, we think it might get better with age.  My husband says it has “the backbone to deal with food,” and I suggest osso buco as a possible dish.

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The flat screen TV shows scenes of Italy. I hear the piano gets used for various musical events.

Reasons to visit:  you have a hankering for a glass of red (I suggest the Tre) and a pizza; you want a quiet, intimate setting for a tasting; the Sauvignon Blanc and the Tre; you don’t mind that they don’t allow children or outside food; you like relatively simple but well-priced wines.

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The warm weather could fool you into thinking it is still summer, until you look at the vines and see that most of the grapes have been harvested.

Peconic Cellar Door:  New Kids on the Block         October 20, 2017

Peconic Cellar Door:  New Kids on the Block

https://www.peconiccellardoor.com/

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If you like the idea of chatting with a pair of passionately committed winemakers, Peconic Cellar Door is the place for you.  Alie Shaper and Robin Epperson-McCarthy are the women who own, run, and make the wines for the labels As If, Brooklyn Oenology, and Saltbird Cellars.  They are the ones behind the bar in their small, white-washed space on Peconic Lane (adjacent to Anthony Nappa’s Winemaker’s Studio), where they will happily talk to you as much as you like about their wines—or give you space to sip and discuss with each other.

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The menu is rather extensive, but not all the wines are available for tasting or by the glass.

And there was much to talk about, as we learned their ideas about wine-making, why certain wines have the names they do, and their past experiences in wineries.  We mostly talked to Robin, who, despite her youthful appearance, has spent many years traveling around the world, learning about wine-making techniques from New Zealand to California, and more.  Her label is Saltbird, and as a native North Forker she is certainly familiar with salt air and local birds!  Then Alie chimed in as we asked about her wines.  She is the founder of Brooklyn Oenology (founded in Brooklyn, and abbreviated BOE), whose beautiful labels sport removable reproductions of works of art by Brooklyn artists.  She also makes the As If wines, which are named Serendipity, Persistence, and Courage—some of the qualities she needed to make them.

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Their space is small, so they request no large groups.

The entire menu of wines includes about twenty-three choices, most of which are available for tastes at $3-$4 per generous taste.  However, they also offer a set menu of four tastes for $14, which they said would change periodically, “So you can come back and have a different experience…and so we don’t get bored.”  Most, but not all, of the wines are also available by the glass.  If you want a bottle to consume on the premises, they charge a $10 service fee.   (Also, they request that you not bring outside food, as they will soon have their own snack menu, and they also request no pets.)

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We opted for the Feature Flight, and then, since it was all whites, added three reds at Robin’s recommendation. So the first four are from the flight—and very good choices they were.

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  1. 2015 Saltbird Chardonnay         $20

We tend to like steel-fermented chardonnays, and this was no exception.  Robin informed us that it spends some time “on the lees,” which gives it more body and taste than your average chard.  I found the aroma sweet, with some notes of cut grass, while my husband scented Brussels sprouts.  “A seasonal smell,” he joked, as we are happily scanning the farm stands for the first sight of Brussels sprouts on the stem.  This is a tasty wine, dry, with some lemon but nice depth.  I think I could happily sip this with some brie or camembert.

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One of Brooklyn Oenology’s artistic labels.

  1. 2014 BOE Social Club White $17

Another winner, this blend of seven grapes—chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc, vidal blanc, riesling, gewürztraminer, and viognier—is steel fermented and dry.  Lots of tart grapefruity taste, but also some sweetness underneath.  If I had to guess, I’d bet that chardonnay is the predominant grape.  Very drinkable, especially with a seafood chowder.  We buy a bottle.

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  1. 2014 As If Serendipity $35

This is a blend of chardonnay, viognier, and sauvignon blanc, which is aged in neutral French oak.  The aroma reminds me of something sticky, though I’m not sure what.  The taste is tart, like a green apple.  It’s very good, but I don’t think it is worth the price.

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Very orange orange wine! That’s Alie in the background.

  1. 2013 BOE Broken Land $30

Broken Land?  According to Alie, that is the actual meaning of the Dutch name for Brooklyn.  Who knew?  You could also say it is a wine that breaks with tradition, as this is an orange wine made from pinot gris and gewürztraminer.  As Alie explains to us, orange wines are made by leaving white wine grapes to ferment with the skins (which are otherwise usually removed), and the particular grapes she chose have multi-colored skins, lending her wine a deep orange color.  It would be a great wine to serve at a Halloween party, especially if you’re serving Chinese food, as I think the flavors of lychee, ginger root, and other fruits would complement that.  The aroma reminds me of tangerines.

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It might be fun to buy the Motley Cru for a Motley Crue fan.

  1. 2012 BOE Motley Cru $35

Now we are done with the set flight, and we are given a fresh glass to try the reds, choosing some which happen to be open and on the counter.  The name entails another discussion, as it is not inspired by the rock group Motley Crüe!  Alie explains that it is made from a motley assortment of grapes—50% cabernet sauvignon, 28% malbec, 9%syrah, 8% petit verdot, and 5% corot noir—and then she added cru as a pun on the wine term.  The corot noir, by the way, is a new cold tolerant hybrid made by Cornell.  This is a fairly light red, with a pleasant aroma and soft tannins.  Not much fruit.  This would be a good wine to get if you have a group of people with varying entrees, as it could go with almost anything, from chicken to lamb, or even fish.

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Another really pretty label

  1. BOE Haywater Cove Merlot $18

Although this is a merlot, it has very little cherry flavor or aroma.  Robin agrees, and suggests it has more of a blueberry/bramble flavor, and we think she is right. This is a pleasant red, dry, with soft tannins.  The label tells us that Haywater Cove is an actual location on the North Fork, where “three creeks meet at the mouth of Cutchogue Harbor.”

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As If refers to Alie’s initials and also her approach to wine making.

  1. 2014 As If Persistence $40

Yum.  A blend of 60% cabernet franc, 25% petit verdot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon, this has a delicious fruity aroma and lots of dark fruit tastes.  For some reason, my tasting buddy says it is “like a new pillow.”  Okay.  Definitely a wine one could sit and sip, it would also go well with food.  I like it the best of the reds.

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This time of year they are open Friday through Monday only. It might be a good idea to call or check their web page before you go.

Reasons to visit:  a chance to chat with two charming and interesting winemakers; you want to try some new wines; some of the prettiest and most interesting labels around; the Saltbird Chardonnay, the Social Club White, the Broken Land orange wine, the As If Persistence red; they are right next door to the Winemaker’s Studio, so you can go to two tastings without driving (and Sannino Bella Vita is just a mile or so up the street, plus Greenport Harbor Brewing is just a little further at the corner). 

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Hudson Valley Visit:  Nofowineaux Takes a Trip October 7-13

We decided to take a trip north to see art museums and galleries, visit relatives, and take some hikes in the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside.  No surprise, we also made time for some tastings, visiting one brewery and two wineries.

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Storm King and DIA Beacon have both been on my bucket list for a while, so now I can cross them off.  Both are well worth the visit, Storm King in particular (but be sure to go when the weather is nice, and try to arrive early in the day).  We also enjoyed sauntering up and down Beacon’s main street, popping in and out of little galleries and antique/gift shops.  The Roundhouse Hotel is pricey for the area, but comfortable and well run.

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One view from Storm King.

Another place worth traveling to is Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, New York, where we hiked around the lake with my brother and sister-in-law.  It’s a beautiful place, with the garden aspects integrated into the natural landscape, providing scenic views at every turn.  And if you’re in Kingston, you should make time for the Maritime Museum, with its emphasis on the history of the boats and industries along the Hudson River.

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Innisfree Garden, an amazingly beautiful place.

Our final hike of the week was in the John Boyd Thacher State Park outside Albany, where the scenery reminded us very much of the movie Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  Alas, we did not see him running bare-chested through the trees.  If you go, be sure to stop into the new visitor center.

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So, now on to our tastings…

Hudson Valley Brewery, October 8, 2017

Beacon, New York

http://hudsonvalleybrewery.com/about-us

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Before they put out the tables, we had trouble spotting the brewery.

Finding the brewery was a bit of a challenge, as it is located in the midst of a huge parking lot behind an apartment building, and only a small sign on the door indicates that you have arrived.  We walked past before they opened, and then when we returned there were picnic tables set up outside and the garage-style door had been swung open.  Inside, it is very industrial chic, reminding us that Beacon is sometimes referred to as “Brooklyn north.”  The bar is not very long, so we decided to take our tastes to a picnic table across from it.  We would have sat outside, but all those tables were filled, primarily with a young crowd.

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Industrial chic room

They offer eight different beers, a four-ounce pour in attractive stemmed glasses at $2-$3 per taste.  The chipper server informed us that they only give two tastes per person per time at the bar, so we each took two and then returned for the final four.  We left our credit card to run a tab, thinking we would get a whole glass of whichever beer we liked best, but as it happened there were none we liked enough to get a glass of.  Their beers generally have a sour, fruity flavor profile, which is not a taste I like.

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  1. Pillow Hat IPA

The aroma is very grapefruity, with a touch of something funky.  The taste is super citrusy, and it is the kind of beer I could see downing on a hot day after working in the garden.

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Our second group of tastes

  1. Feel No Way Pilsner

Cement basement aroma, with a touch of sauerkraut.  The taste is sour, oaty and grainy, and reminds my husband of Kix cereal!

  1. Little Memory IPA

This one also smells like grapefruit juice, plus pineapple juice.  I dislike it so much that we don’t finish the taste. It is sour but also fruity.

  1. Plateaux IPA

Okay, this one we decide is like a beery orange juice or an over the hill cider that has gone sour.  If you don’t actually like beer, you might drink this with a burger.

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Our first group of tastes

  1. Amulet Sour Farmhouse

Blueberry pie aroma?  Certainly fruity.  The taste reminds me of very sour candy.  I say bleh; my husband says maybe after a run.  I’d rather drink water in that case!

  1. Flying Colors Sour Farmhouse

By this time, we have invested $2 in a bag of cracked pepper and sea salt chips, which helps us get through the tasting.  This is another fruity-tooty beer, and rather sweet.  As we discuss the tastes, my tasting buddy comments that we are treating this more like a wine tasting in terms of all the aromas and flavors we are finding, which is true.

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  1. Phase Delay Sour Farmhouse

This one smells like an IPA, very citrusy, and tastes rather like sucking on a lemon.  Super sour, say my notes.  At least this one is not objectionably sweet, and is drinkable if what you want is a beer-like lemonade.

  1. Silhouette Brunch Style Sour Beer

Their own tasting notes compare this to a Tropicana juice box, though I again think it resembles a sweet and sour lemonade.  I find it barely potable, and, as with several of the other beers, we don’t finish our taste.

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There are snacks one can buy. Our little bag of chips cost $2.

Reasons to visit:  you’re in Beacon and you want to go to a beer tasting (but I wish we had tried the other brewery in town); you don’t actually like beer that tastes like beer.  That evening we had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant on Main Street which had Singha beer on tap, and much preferred that to any of the beers we had at Hudson Valley.

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Benmarl Winery October 9, 2017

Marlboro, New York

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Entrance to Benmarl winery

http://benmarl.com/

Finding Benmarl Winery would also have been a challenge, if not for Google maps, which easily directed us to this mountain-top site, about twenty minutes outside of Beacon.  They are part of the Shawangunk Wine Trail (who knew?), which includes about fifteen wineries along the Shawangunk Mountains.  We considered visiting one or two more, but many of them were closed on Monday, and others were a bit further than we wanted to venture on this rainy, foggy afternoon.

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Resident kitty

Benmarl has a pleasantly rustic tasting room, and the servers were enthusiastic and chatty.  Outside we noted a large tent set-up, and learned that the day before they had had a special grape-stomping event.  Oh my.  Our server informed us that “Benmarl” means “Hill of Slate,” and the farm is allegedly the “oldest vineyard in America.”  On their 37 acres they grow Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Muscat, then get the rest of their grapes from the Finger Lakes and…Long Island!  The North Fork, to be exact.  Ha.  I had said as we were on our way there that I was interested in comparing their wines to Long Island wines, but, no surprise, they tasted rather familiar.

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For $10 you get to try six (out of 17 or more—they were out of some) of their wines, and since the pour was rather small for a shared tasting and I was curious to try it, we paid an additional couple of dollars to try the Baco Noir.  If you want to keep your glass, your tasting is $12.

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There were lots of options on the menu.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc   $20

The grapes for this wine are from the North Fork, and it has the characteristic honeysuckle aroma and a taste that combines citrus and minerality.  Good, though a tad sweeter than I like.

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  1. 2016 Stainless Steel Chardonnay $15

Our server told us about how she likes to recommend this wine to anyone who insists they don’t like chardonnay, since what they don’t like is probably the oak-aged buttery California style of chard.  We agree, and like this citrusy light white, with flavors of gooseberry and mineral.  Quite pleasant.  We buy a bottle, which matches well with a pasta and salmon dish my sister-in-law makes for us when we arrive at their house.  These grapes are from Seneca Lake.

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  1. 2016 Traminette $18

This is one of their sweeter wines, but not cloyingly so, with a candy aroma and some tropical fruit tastes.  I could see having it with spicy food.  Finger Lakes grapes.

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  1. 2016 Merlot $20

As we switch to the reds, she gives the glass a quick rinse with some of the wine.  This, I observe, tastes very like a North Fork merlot.  Not surprisingly, since that is where the grapes come from.  You can smell the oak (aged 16 months in French oak) and cherry, and it also has lots of cherry taste, plus maybe a bit of tobacco.

  1. 2015 Slate Hill Red $20

A Bordeaux blend, this is 48% North Fork merlot, 42% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 10% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 12 months in French oak.  The aroma is fruity, but also mushroomy, with a hint of something chemical—but that may be due to the cellar, the door to which was opened behind us as we stood there, and from which emanated a basement/chemical smell.  In any event, we didn’t much care for this wine, which had a sour aftertaste and not a lot of fruit.

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  1. 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve $33

Another blend, this is 30% North Fork merlot, 20% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 50% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 24 months.  We like it much better than the Slate Hill.  It has lots of fruit—dark plums, cherry, blackberry, coffee—and is pleasantly tannic and dry.

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  1. 2015 Baco Noir $35

I really wanted to try a wine made from estate-grown grapes, and this is all theirs, from vines first planted in 1958.  The aroma is great, with lots of fruit, very plummy, but the taste does not have as much fruit as the smell promised.  It is dry and tannic, but not particularly complex.

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Reasons to visit:  you are traveling up the Hudson Valley and want to do a wine tasting; the sauvignon blanc, stainless steel chardonnay, merlot, and Proprietor’s Reserve; pretty reasonable prices for a small winery; beautiful mountain setting; you want to support a winery that practices “sustainable” agriculture, with no spraying.

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Millbrook Vineyards and Winery October 11, 2017

Millbrook, New York

http://www.millbrookwine.com/

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After the flatness of Long Island, it was refreshing to be in the Catskill Mountains.  We enjoyed the various vistas as we traveled the back roads with my brother and sister-in-law to this winery with its spectacular views over the hills.  Although we felt we had gone rather far off the “beaten path,” a busload of tourists who arrived shortly after we did showed us that we were not as isolated as it had seemed.  Fortunately, Millbrook is well set up to handle a crowd, and we enjoyed our tasting.

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This is only one small part of the winery’s space.

Our bright and well-informed server informed us that John S. Dyson, the founder of the vineyard, was responsible for the “I (heart) NY” logo, which also appears on their glasses (which you get to keep after your tasting).  In addition to the property in Millbrook, the winery also owns vineyards in California (fortunately so far not affected by the fires) and Italy, which expands the varieties of wine they can offer.  One challenge of growing wines this far north is the winter.  They can get temperatures as low as minus fourteen, and anything lower than minus five can give certain grape vines trouble.

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A couple of the wines we did not get to try.

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The shop has a few items, many from Italy.

The Millbrook building is large and attractive, with various areas, including an upstairs lounge and balcony, where one can (and we did) take a bottle or glasses and look out over the scenery while sipping.  Not all of their wines are available for tasting every day, and on this week day our only option was the Portfolio Tasting, of six wines for $12.50.  You pay the cashier when you enter, and then are assigned a spot at one of the bars.

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  1. 2016 Hunt Country White          $16

This is their white blend, a mixture of riesling, tocai friulano, traminette, and pinot grigio, some of which comes from California.  The aroma is of apricots and minerals, and it tastes quite good, of peaches and melon, with a nice long finish.  My brother characterizes it as a “backyard wine,” and my sister-in-law says she has “no complaints.”

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  1. 2016 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve $18

According to our server, Millbrook was the first winery in the United States to grow this particular grape, which is related to sauvignon blanc.  We like it very much, with its aroma of roasted pears and soft tastes of pears and red grapefruit.  I think it is softer than an Italian tocai, which is flintier, but we like it enough to buy a bottle to take home.

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I peeked into a room where they store wine.

  1. 2015 Chardonnay $18

Just when I think I’ll finally get to compare an upstate chard with a North Fork chard, we are told that one third of the grapes for this wine come from Pellegrini Vineyard on the North Fork!  Other grapes come from the Finger Lakes and from Millbrook’s estate.  In any event, it is a typical not-too-oaky oaked chardonnay.

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  1. 2014 Villa Pillo Borgoforte $19

In case you’re wondering about the Italian name, it comes from Millbrook’s Italian vineyard near San Gimignano, a fascinating town not far from Florence.  This, we are told, is a “Super Tuscan,”  (whenever I hear that term I picture a wine bottle with a heroic cape flying out behind it), a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot grapes.  In any event, it is delicious, with lovely fruit aromas and complex tastes including dark fruits, tobacco, and more.  It is dry and tannic, and we buy two bottles, one to give to my other brother and another to bring to our daughter’s house when we go there for dinner.

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Italian wine in a New York State winery? Yes, when the owner of the winery also owns property in Tuscany.

  1. Hunt Country Red $18

Since this is their blend, it changes year to year, and the current iteration is a mix of 55% cabernet franc, 40% merlot, and 5% syrah, with again some grapes coming from California.  The server says he defines this wine as a wine to have on “any day that ends with a y.”  Ha.  It is their top selling red, and we can see why, as it is an easy to drink, fruity red, with lots of cabernet franc flavors like blueberry and plums.  I say a good pizza wine, and my brother says “good with stuff.”

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Looks like a hunt on the label…

  1. 2013 Merlot Proprietor’s Special Reserve $25

Pellegrini strikes again—all the grapes for this wine are from there.  We decide this is a wine that needs to be served with food, and just then our server brings out a little plate of bread cubes and olive oil (which they just happen to sell there).  Definitely better with food, but still rather earthy, with a chemical basement smell.  Not our favorite.

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We had the upstairs lounge to ourselves.

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The view from the upstairs balcony

Reasons to visit:  you are in the Catskills and you’d like to find a nice winery for a tasting; the Tocai Friulano, the Villa Pillo Borgoforte, the Hunt Country Red; a pleasant outdoor upstairs balcony where you can sip a glass of wine while looking at beautiful scenery.

Paumanok Vineyards:  Poetry and the Vines        September 29, 2017

https://www.paumanok.com/history.html

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As a lover of poetry, I can’t help but be attracted to a winery that not only uses the Native American name Walt Whitman adopted for Long Island, but also quotes his poetry on their labels.  Their pleasant outdoor deck overlooking the vines is another reason to go there, and some of the wines are not bad, either!

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It was a perfect day to sit on the outdoor deck.

We went there with my brother and sister-in-law and their large well-behaved dog on a warm sunny day in September, and were happy to discover that they allow leashed dogs on the deck.  Our table was next to a bush full of Monarch butterflies, and my sister-in-law informed me it was a butterfly bush.  Aha.  We did have to walk inside for each new taste, but that also gave us a chance to chat with the servers, who were all quite pleasant, including one young woman from France, who informed us that Paumanok has an internship program with her school in Toulouse.  So that explains why the last time I was there I also had a French server.

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If you look closely, you’ll see the butterflies all over this butterfly bush.

The menu offers a flight of four whites or four reds, each for $12, so we decided each couple would share a flight of the whites and then the reds.  Because my brother bought at least four bottles of wine, the tastings were free.  The menu includes other options, which let you taste their sweet wines, their rosés, and their “Grand Vintage,” or premium wines.  Almost all of their wines have screw tops, so if you are cork-averse, these are a good option.

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The servers were all quite pleasant and helpful.

We also decided to get the Lombardi cheese and salami board for $20, which included a small loaf of bread, olives, dried apricots, and fig cake.  They have a small menu of other snacks, and don’t allow outside food.

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Our snack tray, moment before we decimated it. No outside food is allowed.

  1. 2016 Chenin Blanc         $28

Our server proudly pointed out that this is their signature wine, and that theirs is the only completely estate-grown chenin blanc in New York State.  They have reason to be excited about this wine, which we all really liked.  The aroma is grassy and herbal, and the taste starts fruity with citrus at the end, plus notes of minerality.  My brother said it was “like a mountain stream running over granite.”  We decided it would be good with food, and found that to be true that evening when we had it with scallop ceviche and grilled striped bass.  We bought the fish at Braun’s, of course.

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  1. 2015 Festival Chardonnay $18.99

As I surmised, given its position in the flight, this is their steel-fermented chard.  My sister-in-law found the aroma sweet, and I thought maybe like orange blossoms.  My brother agreed, but added steel pipes.  It’s quite dry and light, and evanesces quickly.  I said like putting your tongue on a flagpole.  We had some disagreement as to how much we liked it, though we thought it would be good with food.  My husband suggested mac and cheese, I mentioned carbonara, and my brother said it reminded him of an Italian wine.  My sister-in-law didn’t like the after-taste.

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The menu says the pour is a half to one ounce, but it seemed more generous than that to me.

  1. 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $24

Because they use neutral French oak barrels for the eight months of fermentation, this is lighter and not as strongly butter-scotchy as some oaked chards.  We found if quite pleasant, with aromas of vanilla and butterscotch and a taste that we compared to caramel cone ice cream with a lemony finish.  Of course, it would go well with roast chicken.

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  1. 2016 Dry Riesling $22

One of the servers was particularly well-informed, and she let us know that this riesling has no residual sugars.  The shorter the fermentation time, she told us, the drier the riesling.  We liked this white, too.  The aroma combines honeysuckle with a touch of something chemical, perhaps camphor.  It hits the tongue with tart fruit, including greengage plums and some apricot.  You wouldn’t necessarily identify it as a riesling from taste alone, we decided, and you wouldn’t want it with spicy food.  But it might be very good with charcuterie.

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  1. 2015 Festival Red $19.99

Now we switched to the reds, which they poured into the same glasses we had used for the whites.  This is a blend of 52% cabernet sauvignon and 48% merlot, with aromas of cherry and black current, plus spice.  Nutmeg?  It’s very dry and light, and our comments included “not much there,” “not enough fruit,” and “no complexity.”  My sister-in-law detected something “chalky” at the end.  We were not excited, though it is drinkable.

  1. 2015 Cabernet Franc $28

Ooh, we liked this one much better.  Aromas of plums, leather, tobacco, and dark chocolate and tastes of complex fruits made this our favorite of the reds.  It has some tannins, and is elegant, not earthy.  We thought it would go well with venison, and my brother bought some bottles of it.

  1. 2013 Merlot $28

As usual, the merlot smells like black cherry and tastes like cherries and other dark stone fruits.  First my brother said it would be a good burger wine, but then he said, “The more I drink it the less I like it.”  My husband joked, “That doesn’t sound like a good business plan.”  The wine is light and rather monochromatic.

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  1. 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $28

The aroma is similar to the cabernet franc, but the taste is not as good.  No depth, we agree, and though it has dark fruit tastes there is no complexity.  My sister-in-law says it has a “watery” finish.  Meh.

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The tasting room is nice, but rather small.

Reasons to visit:  lovely outdoor deck with views over the vineyards; pleasant servers; the Chenin Blanc and, to a lesser extent, the other whites; the Cabernet Franc; you can bring your dog if you sit outside.

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The prettily rustic entrance

 

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Do the surroundings influence how a wine tastes? We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.

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We enjoyed the view across the vines.

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She’s much too polite to ask for any, but my sister-in-law and brother’s dog thought the cheese tray smelled pretty good.

Laurel Lake:  A Festive Day          September 23, 2017

http://www.llwines.com/

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The winery building is quite pretty.

We had been to the Greenport Maritime Festival, where we watched pint-size mermaids parade and cruised past booths offering art, food, lavender, and more.  Now it was time to continue the festive mood by bringing our guests to a winery, and we decided on Laurel Lake, which we had not been to in more than a year.  One reason we hadn’t been there sooner was that the last time we tried to go they were about to close for a wedding.  This time they were also going to close for a wedding, but we had more than an hour for our tasting, so in we went.

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The tent was being prepared for a wedding party.

The tasting room is pleasant, with an antique bar at one end and plenty of tables, all of which were empty.  We opined that everyone on the North Fork was probably at the Greenport Festival or apple picking at Harbes.  Then the server behind the bar suggested we seat ourselves near the outside bar, where we had never been.  Out we went, to find long tables in the shade, a few more customers, and a very genial server who timed his visits to our table perfectly.  A look at the attractively rustic setting made it clear why people favor Laurel Lake as a wedding venue.  A food truck run by CJ’s restaurant was parked near us, but we had already had lunch in Greenport.

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There is a food truck on the premises, so they request that you not bring your own food.

Laurel Lake offers an extensive menu, of seven whites and nine reds, and a tasting consists of four tastes for $15.  By some judicious selecting and sharing, our group of six was able to taste many of the offerings.  Each couple shared a tasting, and then we gave each other sips.  Overall, we tended to prefer the whites to the reds, but the reds do have the advantage, rare on the North Fork, of being mostly reasonably priced.  One nice touch—our server brought us clean glasses for each taste.  That’s such a great idea.  So often they either pour the next taste right into your glass, where it may be affected by the previous wine, or they rinse it with water, which runs the risk of wine that tastes like chlorine.  One other clever method is when they rinse your glass with a few drops of the next taste, though that seems a tad wasteful to me.  I hate to see wine being poured into a dump bucket!

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The tasting room.

  1. 2016 Pinot Gris              $22.99

We hadn’t yet settled on a sharing method, so two of us ordered this.  I tend to like pinot gris (a.k.a. pinot grigio), and this one was no exception.  It smells a bit like pineapple juice, and tastes a bit like it, too. It is tart, with notes of mineral and salt.  Our daughter-in-law, who is good at thinking about wine and food pairings, thought it would go well with something made with capers.  How about smoked salmon with capers, we asked.  Yes.  Very buyable.

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They give you a good-sized pour, so all six of us could share tastes.

  1. 2014 Chardonnay Estate Reserve $23.99

Their oak aged chard, this has the expected aromas of vanilla and wood or caramel, with some citrus flavors.  Interestingly, this one also tasted of pineapple, but in this case of very ripe pineapple.  Food pairing?  How about pork with pineapple.

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The outside bar.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

This new release is light, crisp, and lemony, with some tastes of grilled peaches.  A nice summer wine, it might pair well with a salad with grilled peaches.

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  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $22.99

Our server informed us that this is their “third sweetest white.”  Though I am not a fan of sweet wines, this one is well-balanced enough that, with, let us say, spicy Thai food, it would be fine.  I smell flowers and something metallic, and taste oranges.

  1. Moscato Sparkling $24.99

One member of our group prefers sweet wines to dry, and he was very pleased with this sparkler.  It is sweet, with strawberry and melon tastes and a candy-like aroma.  Perhaps one could drink it with a chocolate soufflé?

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  1. Wind Song Red $17.99

Fair warning—we are told this is their sweetest red.  Our server explains that they make it by blending all the leftovers from other wines, and it has no vintage because it could contain juice from various years.  I would say this was not a successful blend, as it has a somewhat medicinal taste, like Cheracol cough syrup.

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  1. 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve $29.99

Another newly bottled release, this was aged in used oak barrels, so it does not have the flavors you get from oak.  Some say the nice aspect of this is you get the pure taste of the grape.  We find it rather flat and one-dimensional, though not unpleasant.  Perhaps one could drink this with molé, as it is a light red.  Not caring for this or the previous red, our guests try their own blend, mixing the two.  Not a success.

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My favorite of these was the Syrah.

  1. 2012 Merlot Estate $19.99

Better.  Whew.  A pretty typical oak-aged merlot, with cherry aromas and taste and some tannins.

  1. 2013 Syrah $19.99

Two-thirds of us agree that we like this one.  It has tastes of plums, pepper, and nutmeg, plus some nice tannins.  Someone suggested pairing it with moussaka.  Sounds good to me.

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  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99

Interestingly, this is aged in steel.  It is an easy to drink, fresh-tasting pizza wine, with soft tannins, and fruity aromas and tastes.

  1. 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $25.99

As the afternoon progressed, our server became more and more chatty, and he described the interesting method used to make this wine.  They take two-thirds of the cab sauv to make rosé, and they take the skins from that plus the rest of the grapes to make this wine, which is then aged in used oak.  It has a “dark richness,” said someone, not sure who.  It is dry, not as fruity as you might expect given how it is made, with some nice tannins.  I wonder how it would age.

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They have a small selection of wine-related gift items.

Reasons to visit:  pretty setting, inside and out; the Pinot Gris, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Syrah, the Cabernet Sauvignon; reasonably priced wines for Long Island, especially the reds; food truck.

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Our server did a good job of explaining each wine.

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The top floor of the two-level outdoor area.

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Mermaids on parade!

Lieb Cellars: A Beautiful Setting                September 12, 2017

http://liebcellars.com/history/

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The Lieb Cellars tasting room is located on bucolic Oregon Road.

In many ways, September is the best month on the North Fork, and our guests agreed.  We had gone for a walk to Love Lane and a swim in the Peconic Bay, and now we were seated on the attractive patio of Lieb Cellars on Oregon Road, gazing out at beautiful farm fields.  Later we planned to barbeque chicken from 8 Hands, plus eggplant and zucchini and corn from a farm stand.  Perhaps we could cap off that menu with a bottle of wine from Lieb.  However, we didn’t find any wine that we wanted to take home for that meal.

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It was a warm day, so we appreciated the bottle of cool water we were given.

On the other hand, we enjoyed our tasting, if not so much the wines themselves, which was brought to us on trays so we could sit and sip and discuss and enjoy the lovely setting.  The very enthusiastic and well-informed server, a young man who is really studying wine, gave us a quick (maybe too quick!) rundown on the wines we had ordered, and then left us to ourselves, just checking back periodically to see if we had any questions.

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The menu includes snacks, plus drinks for your designated driver.

The menu offers three options:  four whites plus the rosé for $16, five reds for $18, or six Reserve wines for $20.  You can also get cheese and charcuterie plates, but we knew we had a lovely selection of cheeses from the Love Lane Cheese Shop waiting for us at home, so we opted not to get anything.  They don’t allow you to bring your own food, but they do permit dogs on the outside patio.  We decided to share one white flight and one red flight.  The good-sized servings came out in attractive round-bottomed glasses, and we also were given a bottle of chilled water plus glasses for the water.  Some of the wines are labeled Bridge Lane and others Lieb Reserve, which I abbreviate BL and LR.

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The whites and the rose. Each glass sits on a coaster which identifies the wine and the order in which to drink them.

  1. 2016 BL White Merlot   $18

This is a white wine made from merlot grapes by not giving them any time on the skins.  The aroma was nice—sweet, spicy, a bit minerally—but we found the wine itself lacked character.

  1. 2015 LR Pinot Blanc $22

They are very proud of their Pinot Blanc, but we were underwhelmed.  It is very citrusy and tart, with not much fruit and a slightly chemical aroma.

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We liked the patio, which we had to ourselves on this mid-week day. One time we arrived on a weekend and had to leave, as it was full.

  1. 2016 BL Unoaked Chardonnay $16

We like this the best of the whites, finding it had a better balance than the others, with some richness.  I liked it.  It has a honeysuckle aroma and nice lemony notes.  It would go well with food, though we felt it would not stand up to the spicy barbeque sauce we planned.

  1. 2016 BL Sauvignon Blanc $18

Our server cautioned us that this was not like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc.  It was not at all floral, and my brother pronounced it “tame.”  It smells almost like candy, with some minerality, and the taste is very light, almost evanescent.

  1. 2016 BL Rosé $18

Pink?  Not so much.  Another very light wine, this had no strawberry aroma.  It is available in an eight gallon box.

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  1. 2016 BL Red Blend $20

Our server was very proud that he could inform us this was like a right bank Bordeaux, a blend of 44% merlot, 22% cabernet franc, 13% petit verdot, 12% malbec, and 9% cabernet sauvignon.  You can sense in the taste that this spent a little time in oak—six months.  It’s very soft, with a taste in which cherry predominates.  I said it was okay for casual drinking, but my brother opined it was “completely uninteresting, like a person without a face.”  Ouch.

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Note the dogs in the background.

  1. 2015 LR Merlot $24

As we sipped this somewhat classic merlot, we got into a humorous discussion of the movie Sideways, and the damage it did to merlot sales.  Nothing wrong with a good merlot, I said, but my brother felt this was a “Kool-Aid version of merlot.”  Well, it would be fine with a burger.

  1. 2015 LR Cabernet Franc $30

I thought this cabernet franc was not bad, with dark fruit tastes of blackberry and plum, dry, with some tannins though overall rather soft.  But I had to agree with my brother that it had no depth.

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The Petit Verdot looks as good as it tastes.

  1. 2014 LR Petit Verdot $35

Finally, a wine we could agree on.  We all liked the petit verdot, made of 98% petit verdot and 2% “mystery grapes,” according to our server.   2014 was a hot season, so it was a good year for ripe red grapes.  This wine is interesting, with a distinctive earthy, piney aroma and layers of flavor.  We speculated that another brother would like it, since he favors “odd duck” wines.  Long finish.  If I were to sit and have a glass of wine here, this is the one I would get.

  1. 2015 LR Meritage $35

And here is their left bank Bordeaux style:  47% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot, and 2% malbec.  We made our server check the math!  It worked out.  The aroma is fruity, the taste less so.  Given the tannins, it may age into something better, but for the moment it is a bit disappointing for the price.  It would be okay as a $12 wine, opined my brother.  Well, that’s a problem with North Fork wineries in general—because of the small size of their production, they can’t achieve the economies of scale from other places.  Nevertheless, we like to support the local wineries.

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The inside room is attractive and comfortable.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful setting on a back road, surrounded by farm fields; the Unoaked Chardonnay, the Lieb Reserve Petit Verdot; you can bring your dog.

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Clovis Point: Good Things Come in Small Packages            September 3, 2017

http://www.clovispointwines.com/

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“We’re small,” said our very well-informed multi-tasking server, “only 3,500 cases per year.”  She added that they have just eight acres of vines, and we discussed the issues Croteaux is having with Southold town over how many acres you need to have in order to do a tasting room.  But Clovis Point is in the town of Riverhead, so no problem.  Small also describes the one-ounce pour (which she warned us about in advance), but not the reputation of this boutique winery, which has garnered a number of high ratings from wine judges.

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One view of the pleasant tasting room

The tasting room, a former potato barn, is a nice size, and there is also a covered porch to one side.  The walls are adorned with a display of art for sale, so the space functions as a gallery as well.  The flower garden leading to the door is also esthetically pleasing!

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The art on the walls is for sale.

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Some of the pretty flowers by the entrance

The menu offers two flights:  a Cold Flight of four wines for $13 and a Red Flight of four reds for $15, plus a few premium wines at $5 per taste.  We were with friends, and decided each couple would do all eight wines, given that the pour is so small.  We also bought a generous tray of Spanish cheeses and baguette slices for $12, plus an eight-dollar jar of delicious fig spread, much of which we took home.  While we often don’t order food with our tastings, it is true that having wine with food enhances the experience.

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We had pretty much decimated the cheese plate before I thought to take a picture. It was very good.

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Some nice options on the snack menu

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $28

“This is a seasonal wine,” our server informed us, “and we usually sell out of it by winter.”  I can see why, as it is a light, easy to drink summery wine, with a floral and mineral aroma and peach taste.  Steel fermented, it is tart and dry.

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  1. 2015 Chardonnay $25

Another steel-fermented wine, this chardonnay is mixed with 3% gewürztraminer, which might account for a touch of pineapple taste.  The aroma is mineral, earth, and pine, and our friend says it tastes like a Granny Smith apple to her.  We agree.  Our server explains that because it is steel fermented it does not undergo malolactic fermentation, and therefore gives you the “pure expression” of the grape.

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The arrowhead on the label is a Clovis point, a type of prehistoric arrowhead.

  1. 2015 Black Label Chardonnay $28

A nice touch—before each new taste, the server rinses the glass with a bit of the next wine.  This is better than when they rinse the glasses with water, as a little water always is left behind and can influence the taste of the wine.  And when they don’t rinse the glasses at all, you may get a bit of the previous wine mixing with your next taste.  In any event, this chardonnay is a mixture of steel and oak fermented wine, so it is not heavily oaked.  Not being fans of oaky chards, we are pleased with this one, which has lots of citrus taste and only a touch of vanilla.  It’s not fruity.

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You can see how small the pour is.

  1. Rosé $22.50

Also seasonal, according to our server, the rosé tends to sell out by the end of summer.  It is composed of 100% cabernet franc, and is made by the saignée method, where the grapes sit on the skins for three days.  This is such a light rosé that we agree one might, if tasting it with eyes closed, not know it was a rosé.  It’s steel fermented and quite dry, with only a faint strawberry aroma and a taste more like raspberry than strawberry.

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  1. 2014 Merlot $29

All the reds are aged in either French or Hungarian oak, we are told, as our server puts out fresh glasses for the red tasting.  A blend of 85% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 2% syrah, 2% malbec, 2% petit verdot, and 1% cabernet sauvignon, this is not as complex or deep as one would think given all the ingredients.  However, it is a good merlot, dry and pleasant to drink.  “It’s my after work wine,” notes our server.  Yes, it would be relaxing to sit and sip a glass of this, perhaps with some cheese.

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They have two bars for when the room gets busy.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc $35

Yum.  This time I agree with Robert Parker, who has given this wine a score of 90%.  A blend of 96% cabernet franc with 3% cabernet sauvignon and 1% petit verdot, this has fascinating aromas of mushroom, forest, and smoke, plus what our friend describes as “really ripe plums.”  It is delicious, dry at the end with some nice tannins, tasting of over-ripe cherries.  Nicely complex.  If I were here for a music event, this is the wine I would get by the glass.

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You can see how small the bottle is for the Syrah and the Malbec.

  1. 2014 Syrah $34

Syrah is usually blended with other wines, but Clovis Point decided to try bottling it by itself.  Since they didn’t have that much of it, they also decided to use 500 ml. bottles, so that price is quite high.  I insist that it smells like black olives, and my friend adds that it actually smells meaty.  It is dry, tannic, and spicy.  I like it.

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  1. 2014 Malbec $34

Meh.  Another 500ml. bottle, this is a blend of 94% malbec, plus 4% merlot, 1% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% syrah.  It has a nice fruity aroma, but the wine itself is rather light, with no depth.  “Flat,” says my friend.  I add that it lacks body.

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A view of the porch

Reasons to visit:  small winery with a nice room and some good choices; the 2015 chardonnay, the Black Label chardonnay, the 2014 Cabernet Franc; you are the designated driver but you want to taste the wines where the pour is small.

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The grapes are starting to ripen.

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