“March winds do blow/And we shall have snow…” Yes, indeed we shall. As flurries swirled around us, we drove along Route 48, trying to decide on a winery to visit. First we went past Vineyard 48, but the presence of no less than eight buses in the parking lot dissuaded us (but if you want a party, that might be the place for you) and so we headed on down the road to Castello di Borghese, Long Island’s oldest vineyard. It was originally started by the Hargraves, who then sold it to Prince Marco and Princess Ann Marie Borghese (hence the name castello=castle) in 1999.
The pleasant tasting room has two main areas, a nicely set up bar and gift shop area and a larger room with tables and chairs, where Marguerite Volonts was singing beautifully and playing guitar. When she segued from songs like “Autumn in New York” to some French cabaret songs we could imagine we were in Paris. The tasting menu offers two basic options, as well as separate tastings of their more pricey offerings, such as Meritage. You can taste four of their Estate wines for $9.00 or five of their Reserve wines for $12.00, so we opt for one of each. However, as Nancy our server notes our careful swirling and sipping and note-taking, she begins to suspect something, and when Ann Marie Borghese comes out from the back room she asks point blank if I am a blogger. They’re onto me! So we get some additional tastes, but I note that two other groups who also evince seriousness about wine are also given some extras. Borghese also offers an $18 cheese plate.
The following notes are in the order in which we tasted the wines, with the Estate wines marked with a *. Oh, and they were sold out of the Riesling which we wanted to taste.
- *2011 Estate Chardonnay $18
This is a fairly typical steel-fermented chardonnay, with aromas of vegetable, mineral, and pine sap. Though not for sipping, it is nicely tart, with notes of green apple and lemon, and would be a good summer wine, maybe with a rich seafood dish.
2. 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $26
Typical aromas of vanilla and oak greet our noses, but the wine itself is much less buttery than most oaked chards, is a bit too lemony for our taste, and the finish is weak.
3. *2011 Sauvignon Blanc $24
They are quite proud of their Sauvignon Blanc, which has won some competitions, and (having already ascertained that I am a blogger) they give us both tastes of this. I have to admit that it does not knock my socks off (and, as my husband notes, it is hard to knock my socks off), which seems to disappoint them, though it is a pleasant wine. There’s not much aroma, primarily of some minerality, but it tastes better than it smells, though it is very light. I could see having this with oysters (which would probably improve how much I like it), which would highlight the flavors of lemon and herb (thyme?).
The Borgheses are justifiable proud of their reds, and they give two reasons for why they are so good. One is that the vines are older than most others on the North Fork, and the other is that Cutchogue has a very favorable micro-climate, with more sunny days than anywhere else in New York State, giving the grapes more time and warmth in which to ripen. They are expecting great things of the 2012 vintage, since it was the warmest year yet, with a very warm spring followed by a hot summer and a harvest that came just before Hurricane Sandy.
4. *2008 Pinot Noir Estate $30
As we hold the glass up to the light, we comment on the pretty light ruby color of the wine. The aroma has some earthiness as well as sticky berry scents. Though there is not much tannin, the taste is very good, with a balance of sweet and dry and not-quite-ripe Bing cherry tastes. Nice long finish, too.
5. 2008 Pinot Noir Barrel Fermented $48
“The oldest Pinot Noir grapes on Long Island,” we are informed. Aroma? Cedar? Terroir? Pencil shavings! Fortunately, it tastes of berries, not pencil shavings, with nicely balanced tannins and a tart finish. Very good indeed.
6. *2007 Merlot Estate $25
The color of this is slightly darker than the Pinot, but also very attractive. A strong aroma of berries precedes tastes of sweet berry, cedar, and just a touch of tobacco, with a long fruity finish. Excellent, and very buyable, which we do.
7. 2007 Merlot Reserve $30
We love doing side by side tastings of two wines made from the same grape in the same year, but given different treatments. Interestingly, we like the Estate better than the more expensive Reserve, though this is also a very good wine. We again scent cedar and taste lots of fruit, and less sweetness than the Estate Merlot, so perhaps more balanced. The difference in treatment is that the Estate is aged for 13 months and the Reserve for 18, both in oak barrels.
8. *2010 Cabernet Franc Estate $27
Nice legs! No, we’re not being sexist, we’re just commenting on the way the wine forms “legs”—drips, essentially, along the sides of the glass when we swirl it. Aromas of plums and spice herald tastes of dark ripe cherry and spice, and the tannins promise room to grow. Nancy also points out that this has won awards, and would be a good wine to cellar. We agree, and buy two bottles of this as well.
9. 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44
Again, it’s interesting to taste two similar wines side by side. This Cab Franc has more fruit aroma than the other, with some notes of toast and earth but lots of delicious fruit. We taste blackberry, and they say mulberry (which we might agree with if we remembered what mulberry tasted like), and nicely balanced tannins. I’d love to have this with venison or some other lean game, maybe bison from North Quarter Buffalo Farm!
10. *2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $29
Okay, so if you’re counting you realize that our tasting should be done, but we never turn down extras (and we almost never spit, either). We smell pine tar and fruit, and then taste a dry red with a surprising hint of citrus at the end. We’re not liking this until Nancy offers us drinks of water to refresh our palates, at which point we find it tastes much better. This would be great with pizza or Italian pasta dishes.
11. 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44
Lovely aromas with lots of fruit, maybe currants, and not much earthy terroir, this is a good wine, but we’re not sure it is worth the price, since we’re not sure how well it would age. Again, we seem to prefer the Estate version.
12. Meritage $60
I have wandered off to peruse the few gift items, assuming our tasting is over, when I am called back for one last bonus tasting, the Bordeaux-style Meritage. This is a blend, 50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it would certainly give a French Bordeaux a run for its money (especially given its great legs). Beautiful color and nice legs, an aroma of mineral and spice, and a really delicious taste of berry and spice make this a wine I’d happily drink any time, though the price would limit when! If you go, definitely taste it, as it is worth the extra fee.
Reasons to go: pleasant room with well-informed and generous servers and the chance to chat with an owner; the red wines, many of which are better than the average Long Island reds (not so much the whites, though maybe the Riesling would have been an exception); avoidance of busloads; a pleasant room in which to sit and listen to music if they are offering that (check their web site).