“April is the cruelest month,” according to T.S. Eliot, and the weather has certainly borne that out, with a couple of warm days followed by cold and rain. Today is at least sunny, though a bit on the cool side, as we head over to Diliberto’s Winery, one of the places we’ve been to fairly frequently, though not recently. We look forward to sitting in his cozy tasting room with its trompe l’oeil mural of an Italian street scene, listening to Italian opera, and pretending we’ve gone to warm sunny Italy for a day.
The room is presided over by Sal Diliberto himself and his wife Maryann, though Sal is in and out of the room as he ducks into his big kitchen to prepare his homemade pizza and other treats. A table of wine club members is getting wines by the glass and two pizzas for a late lunch or early cocktail hour treat, and we know from past tastes that the pizza is good, with a crisp thin crust and fresh ingredients ($15, and there’s also a cheese platter available). Sometimes, especially in the winter, Sal (also a lawyer, with a practice in Queens) has held cooking classes, showing a room full of tasters how to make pizza, pasta, or gnocchi. He calls this “Sunday with Grandma,” though HE is “grandma”!
In the past we’ve also liked his wines, especially his reds, which tend to complement Italian food very well (no surprise). However, this time our response is rather mixed. Perhaps he’s had an off year or two, since we were last here in 2011—though he does recognize us. The drill here is to order at the small bar, then sit at one of the ten or so tables—more in the summer, when the patio is open—and wait while the server brings each glass. The menu lists four wines for $12, and/or two premium wines for $9, and we opt for one of each, and I’ve marked the premium wines with *. As we sip, we listen to Sal visit with the customers, many of whom are clearly regulars, and to recorded opera (sometimes Sal himself sings, or has a performer in) and watch “Visions of Italy,” a public television show that features aerial views of the cities and countryside of Italy. One could be in a sidewalk café in an Italian village, especially when he emerges from the kitchen with freshly made pizzelles, a little free treat.
- 2008 Chardonnay $19
An aroma of wet cardboard and acetone greets our nostrils, but we hope the wine tastes better than it smells. This is a very tart, lemony chardonnay, with some notes of unripe pineapple, making it a tough chardonnay to like, though it would probably be okay with oysters or with seafood in a rich white sauce.
2. *2007 Tre $39
A blend of three wines—hence the name—including 65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 15% cabernet franc, this should be similar to a Bordeaux. We had really enjoyed the 03 Tre, so we had high hopes for this one. Eh. Brambly aroma, some earthiness, a taste of prunes, some tannin.
3. 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon $25
Hmmm…is wet laundry a wine word? Because that’s what this wine smells like! It is dry, with some blackberry, but would not enter the pantheon of great cabernets, especially as the finish is somewhat sour.
4. 2009 Cantina $18
We’ve liked Cantina in the past, as it is a good Italian table wine, a blend of half merlot and half cabernet franc. A few years ago we signed up for a barrel tasting with Sal and found ourselves and our guests—my brother and sister-in-law—as the only customers. We got into such intense and interesting conversations about wine that my notes stop after the first barrel, the 07 cabernet franc, but we really liked that. However, we find this Cantina somewhat on the thin side, with some earthiness, some tartness, and some fruit. It would be better with pasta than as a sipping wine.
5. *2002 Merlot $31
The tasting menu proudly proclaims that this is a New York State Gold Medal winner, and indeed it is our favorite of the wines we’ve tasted so far, despite a definite aroma of acetone again. We note a good berry taste, nice legs, and not much tannin. It also seems to get better as it sits in the glass, and we like the second taste better than the first.
6. 2009 Syrah $20
This wine would also, we decide, be better with food than as a sipping wine, as it lacks some of the richness and depth one expects from a syrah. The aroma is metallic, and I taste pomegranate. However, we opt to buy a bottle of this and one of the Cantina, as buying two bottles means the tasting is free, and we often need reds to go with Italian food.
Reasons to visit: Sal’s cooking and the chance to chat with him about his wines or food or any other subject; a pretty tasting room; opera instead of the usual folk/rock/jazz music; the 2002 Merlot. An apple orchard is right down the street, and we highly recommend both their apples and their warm cider. One note: prominent signs indicate No Children and No One Under 21 Allowed, so be forewarned.