When a group of Nofo Wineaux’s friends and colleagues decided that the best way to have a celebratory get-together was to rent a limo and do a wine tour, she could not refuse to go along—especially since they asked her for some winery recommendations.
So that is how I found myself seated in a Hummer stretch limo with 14 wonderful women, traveling the North Fork wine country. And I did enjoy myself! Along the way, I noticed that each winery had its own method of handling a crowd, I taught some of my friends how to smell wine (stick your nose into the glass and open your mouth as you inhale), and I heard some new ways to describe wine tastes and smells.
Our limo was rented from Gold Star Limo Company, and John, the driver, was courteous and efficient, dropping us off and picking us up on schedule. The company took care of the logistics of reserving each winery and getting us sandwich and salad lunches catered by Farm Country Kitchen. There were a few reasons why I think our tasting tour went well. For one, as a group we were there to relax and enjoy each other’s company, with the wine tour as a means to that end, plus a number of us were quite interested in tasting and discussing the wines. Another reason was our judicious (if I do say so myself) selection of venues, and the fact that we limited ourselves to three places, spaced out from noon to five p.m. And finally, the weather cooperated—warm enough to sit outside, yet not so hot that we were uncomfortable.
First stop: Martha Clara
Our group organizer picked Martha Clara as a place she had been to and liked in the past, and it made a pleasant first stop (we got there about 12:15). A young woman with a clipboard greeted us, checked our reservation and, after a brief consultation with the driver, set us up around two sides of one of the long bars in the tasting room. She explained that they ran a tight schedule of groups, and requested that we take our places immediately. At each place were a glass and the tasting menu, featuring a flight of five wines. The servers assigned to us attentively filled our glasses as soon as they were emptied, and gave a brief spiel about each one. When I requested additional information, they were able to provide some. After we finished, we wandered outside to some picnic tables and shared a few snacks we had brought with us while some members of the group explored the pens of animals one can pet and feed. I think a few might have visited the extensive gift shop.
- 2013 Northern Solstice Blend $17
This is a blend, as the title suggests, of four whites: semillon, viognier, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. I described the aroma as mineral. One of my friends, newly introduced to the art of smelling wine, compared it to the smell you get when you open a bottle of vitamins, which I thought was quite right. This is a dry, crisp, lean, steel-fermented white which we all found quite pleasant.
- 2012 Estate Reserve Riesling $26
My friend with the newly enlightened nose senses a touch of rotting fruit. I agree, but also add orange blossoms. We all sip, and I note some apricot tastes, and also a bit more sweetness than I prefer. Nice finish.
- 2012 Estate Reserve Viognier $29
We had been discussing why some people think they dislike chardonnay because all they have ever tried were oak-fermented California chards when this barrel-fermented (nine months) wine was served, giving me the chance to note how different it is compared to the steel fermented blend we started with. You can definitely smell vanilla and also spice—perhaps cardamom. You can also get that “woody” taste you get with some oaked whites.
- 2010 Syrah $24
I often like syrahs for their rich fruit flavors, but I find this one a bit dry and thin. I also smell some of that barnyard scent North Fork reds sometimes get (though more rarely lately). It is aged 16 months in French oak.
- 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $29
This red is also aged in oak, for 12 months, and I also am not enamored of it. It’s not bad, but could use more fruit, though it is nicely dry.
Second Stop: Lieb Bridge Lane
Lieb actually has two tasting rooms, and we are at the one on Sound Avenue and Cox Neck Lane. I’m a bit surprised that we have come to this one, since the other is more spacious, but fortunately it is a beautiful day and we settle ourselves at several picnic tables adjoining some grape vines. The driver brings us the shopping bags filled with our lunches from Farm Country Kitchen and also offers us bottles of water from the limo. As we settle in with our choices—I got a grilled veggie sandwich with a small green salad on the side, and it was good—a lovely young lady from the tasting room comes around with glasses. Ah, we are to have the tasting as we eat our lunches. Nice—though I do note that food changes the taste of wine.
What is also pleasant is that we have the place mostly to ourselves, and it is a relaxing venue to sit and chat and enjoy our lunches. Martha Clara had been quite noisy, making conversation difficult except with the person next to one.
All the wines are from the Bridge Lane label, so I will abbreviate it BL. Also, because I did not see a tasting menu, I can’t tell you what the cost of these wines is per bottle.
- 2013 BL White Merlot
As our server explains, this is a white wine made from a red wine grape, and it is totally clear, having spent no time on the skins. It has a nice mineral aroma and a pleasant fruitiness. It would compare favorably with Anthony Nappa’s Anomaly.
- 2013 BL White Blend
This blend included chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling and viognier, and, like the blend we just had at Martha Clara, is steel fermented. Everyone agrees that we like this one very much, with its nice balance of sweet and dry and its mineral aroma and taste. It goes well with lunch!
- 2013 BL Chardonnay
For those who think they dislike chards, this is a good rebuttal: dry and tart, with lemon and grapefruit tastes and aromas. Steel fermented, of course.
- 2013 BL Rosé
After some discussion of how much rosés have improved in recent years, we try this blend of merlot and cabernet franc. Though I still maintain that Croteaux has the best rosés on the North Fork, this one is fine—slight strawberry aroma, very dry, but with no finish. I think it tastes a bit like unripe strawberries.
- BL 2013 Red Blend
I explain to my friends that this is a Bordeaux blend: 70% merlot, 15% each malbec and cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot. It is aged in neutral oak barrels, our server notes. I think it might improve with more age, since it has some nice tannins. Though it is not exciting, it is a very drinkable red.
Third and last stop: Pugliese
Everyone exclaims at the lovely scenery as we pull into Pugliese—the pond, the trees, the fountain. Charming. We troop into the tasting room, where we admire some artistic items, including pretty prints appropriate to our surroundings, such as sunflowers.
Our fearless leader soon finds us and hands each of us a sheet of four tickets, which we can exchange for tastes, and tells us to adjourn to the outside bar located under a tent next to the pond, where a musician is setting up. As a result, we scatter, and form into small groups at the bar. The menu is quite daunting, offering 22 choices from sparkling wines to dessert wines, with reds, whites and rosés in between. At first the servers offer no guidance other than, “You can choose any four.” (We expand our options by sharing a couple of tastes, which is why you see six wines mentioned here.) However, we then luck into a rather youthful server who seems to know more, and enjoys giving us information about each wine. My good friend is a white wine drinker who would like to learn to like reds, so we decide, after one white, to focus on the reds. For each taste we get a fresh glass—I mean small plastic cup.
- 2013 Pinot Grigio $17.99
This steel fermented pinot has not much aroma and a tart lemony taste, with no finish, which my friend insists on calling after taste. Which, after all, is what finish is! It would be better with food, I think.
- 2010 Sangiovese $16.99
Our server boasts that they are the only winery on the North Fork to use this grape, which is the gape used in Chianti. As we sniff, we note aromas of tobacco and some fruit. Then we taste, and promptly dump. Well, this wine is not going to make a red wine drinker out of my friend! Bad.
- 2010 Sunset Meritage $29.99
Whew. This one is better! A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon, this has nice ripe fruit flavors and is just tannic enough to add interest.
- 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $16.99
This would make a good, everyday table wine. It has lots of fruit and my friend likes it.
- 2012 Cabernet Franc $16.99
For a cab franc this is quite light, though it would be okay with lamb chops, as it has some tannins. It could use more fruit.
- 2007 Raffaello White Port $17.99 for 375 ml.
As my final wine of the day, I decide to go for dessert, and try their white port. Yes, it is sweet, but I think appropriately so, with lots of sweet orange, tangelo, plum, and apple flavors. At 20% alcohol, you wouldn’t want to drink much of this, but it would be nice with a cheese and nut course.
And so I finish my foray into the world of the limos standing on the shore of Pugliese’s pond, admiring the koi, listening to music, talking to my friends, and sipping sweet wine. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.
Suggestions for limo users: plan to go to just three wineries (maybe four at most, especially if you tend to dump part of each taste) and space them out over five hours so you can appreciate each one; try to go to at least one that doesn’t seem to specialize in big groups (like Lieb, which we thoroughly enjoyed); be sure to eat in between—or during—your tastes so you don’t get too drunk; take your time in each place to savor and discuss the wines; have fun.