Pindar Vineyards: Crowd Pleaser January 26,2019
We thought it was safe, on this cold day in January, to go to Pindar for a quiet tasting. Nope. When we entered, a group of young women were having a wonderful but excruciatingly loud time at one end of the bar. However, we could see that they were almost done, so we stayed and prepaid (as requested) for two tastings. Halfway into the first five tastes, they left—only to be replaced by two bus loads! Our server apologetically explained that one group had arrived early for their reservation, while the other arrived late, hence the crowd of almost forty women around the bar.
We decided we could see why Pindar is popular with the limo group. The pour is generous, the bottles are reasonably priced, and most of the wines are easy to drink and rather on the sweet side. That is also true of the other wineries owned by the Damianos family: Duck Walk and Jason’s. Though the founder, referred to fondly by staff as “Dr. Dan,” has passed, clearly his legacy lives on.
The tasting room is large, with several oval bars plus a number of tables, at one of which two women were attempting to enjoy their glasses of wine and a game of Scrabble. We commiserated about the noise. By the way, if you need the restroom you need to walk out of the tasting room and across the outdoor porch to find it.
A tasting consists of five wines for $12, selected from a list of over two dozen wines. We chose our ten tastes with some help from the well-informed but sorely over-worked server. He clearly would have liked to hang with us and discuss what we did and did not like, but once the third group arrived, he had plenty of work on his hands. Not wanting to prolong the experience, we decided not to order a cheese tray, which consists of a cheese you choose from their cooler plus crackers for $10.
- 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $16.99
I generally think of North Fork sauvignon blancs as perfect matches for Peconic Bay oysters. This one had a promising aroma of Granny Smith apples and lemons, and an initial tart flavor, also of lemon and green apple. However, it ended a bit too sweet. We liked it enough to imagine drinking it as an aperitif on a hot day, or pairing it with New England clam chowder, but it lacked that minerality we like with oysters.
- 2017 Viognier $21.99
Not that many NoFo wineries feature viognier, so we knew we wanted to try this one. The aroma was somewhat funky, and my tasting buddy compared it to wet cardboard. Fortunately, it tasted better than it smelled, though the taste was rather simple. “It tastes like white wine,” he declared. Ha ha. Basically, it has a sort of generic white wine taste, with some unripe peach flavor. The label is very pretty, a painting of flowers made by a quadriplegic patient of Dr. Dan. She made it by holding a brush in her mouth! Quite an achievement. Her art also adorns the Syrah.
- Autumn Gold $12.99 (or $18.99 for a quart)
Our server explained that this blend of seyval blanc, Cayuga, and chardonnay is “like a pinot grigio.” That sounded good, since I like pinot grigios. However, I felt it mainly tasted like a typical North Fork steel-fermented chardonnay, with a combination of citrus and a touch of peach. Drinkable.
- 2017 Rosé $16.99
Made from pinot meunier grapes, this is a rather sweet rosé. It has the typical rosé aroma of strawberries, though in this case it reminded me of the smell of a bunch of strawberries macerating in sugar in preparation for being made into strawberry shortcake. The taste also reminded me of strawberry shortcake, cut with a touch of lemon.
- Spring Splendor $12.99
I was curious to try this because the menu describes it as “fermented with natural American cranberry.” It has a pretty pink color, tastes like a slightly alcoholic cranberry juice, and I suppose one could use it to make a wine-based cocktail. Too sweet. We dumped the rest of our taste.
- 2016 Gamay Noir $18.99
If you are out to dinner and one person orders fish or chicken and the other orders meat, but you want one bottle of wine, this would work. It is a very light red, like a less fruity Beaujolais. It is dry, with no tannins, and rather mono-dimensional. Drinkable.
- Pythagoras $16.99
The name of this wine and the name of the winery are nods to the Damianos family’s Greek roots, in case you were wondering why a wine is named for that annoying theorem you had to memorize in high school geometry. This is their Bordeaux blend—cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot. The fragrance reminds me of stewed prunes, and the taste also has some purple plum notes. The wine is dry, with soft tannins, and is good but not deep or complex. My husband says it is a “teeny tiny Bordeaux.”
- 2015 Syrah $16.99
This one, as my grandma used to say with the birth of each grandchild, beats the bunch. Though our server apologetically explains that is it “not as bold or peppery” as some syrahs, we quite like it. I say it smells like blueberries, and my husband says blackberries. It tastes of those berries and plums, with nice tannins. It would go well with lamb—or, we decide, as we buy a bottle, with the eggplant parmesan I’m making for dinner.
- 2014 Cabernet Franc $18.99
I say it smells like “forest floor,” and my husband adds “auto repair shop.” Really? Then I sniff some more and get it: rubber, metal, some sort of chemical spray. Our server notes that he just opened the bottle, and it probably needed more time to breathe. (Given how many people he is serving at once, he could probably use some time to breathe as well!) It tastes pretty good, however. We get dark fruits, cherries, spice, and chocolate.
- 2014 Dr. Dan’s Signature Merlot $24.99
We get a new glass for this special wine, which is aged 32 months in French oak and made with grapes from 40-year-old vines. It smells delicious. It has the dark cherry taste of North Fork merlots, plus blackberry and a touch of vanilla. Though it is not complex, it is good. We decide overall we prefer the reds to the whites.
- Raspberry Bubbly (sparkling wine) $21.99
No, this is not a special extra because of the book. The menu highlights it as a free taste. It is listed as “’méthode champenoise with raspberry dosage,” and, having noted our likes and dislikes, our server offers this somewhat apologetically. It tastes like raspberry soda, and one sip is enough for us. We leave the rest of the taste in the glass, thank our server, and go buy a bottle of the syrah.
Reasons to visit: it is winter and you are hoping for a quiet tasting—but don’t count on it; the sauvignon blanc, the syrah, the cabernet franc, Dr. Dan’s Signature Merlot; they also serve you need a place that will accommodate a large group.
Duck Walk Vineyards: Quack Quack January 12, 2019
“We’ll have to stop quacking,” joked my husband, as we finished our tasting at Duck Walk Vineyards’ North Fork tasting room. You see, the last time we went, in 2009, we disliked almost all the wines, including a red that tasted like ashes, and I had an allergic reaction (something I almost never have to Long Island wines, for some mysterious reason). So we vowed never to return, and amused ourselves by quacking derisively as we drove past. No more. Though we didn’t like all the wines, there were plenty we did enjoy, and we had a great tasting experience.
Duck Walk, like Jason’s and Pindar, is owned by the Damianos family, and many of their wines are somewhat sweet for our taste, though numerous people like them. And it is a family affair, with even a third generation possibly getting ready to join the business, according to our chatty and well-informed server. It is always a plus to have a server who is really into the wines of the place where she works, and we appreciated our server’s enthusiasm for the wines and eagerness to share her preferences. She also was happy with our respectful approach to the wines, and gave us some extra tastes to show off the depth of their collection.
The tasting room we went into is to the right of the main entrance, where we had a tasting the last time, and is a smaller—though still quite large and airy—room. A long bar dominates one end, past which are French doors leading out to the vines. When we entered, a large group of young women were enjoying their tasting before heading back out to the limo, and the room became noticeably quiet when they left. In the summer, we have often seen whole fleets of limos and buses parked outside, as Duck Walk is a regular on the limo circuit (another reason we haven’t been back in a long time).
Aside from feeling it was finally time to go back, I also was intrigued to taste their Absenthe, their new after-dinner “traditional distilled spirit,” whose name echoes that of the famous Czech drink, absinthe.
Their website notes that they have snacks for sale, though we were not offered a menu, and they do allow you to bring in “light snacks.” It also says they are “pet friendly,” which I assume means in the summer, when you can sit outside.
A tasting consists of four tastes for $10, which you pay in advance. You then get four tickets, which the server collects after each drink. Since the menu includes seventeen red, white, and rosé wines, plus seven other drinks in the sparkling and dessert categories, we decided to do two tastings and share as we went along. Though you are free to choose any four, in any order, our server did give us the standard advice to drink whites before reds, and to follow the order of their listings on the menu.
- 2017 Chardonnay $16.95
Since chardonnay is so ubiquitous on the North Fork, I felt we should include it in our tasting. This is their steel-fermented chard, and at the moment they do not have an oaked chard, though our server says they have had one in the past. We agree that we both prefer steel to oak. This one has a bit of a barnyard smell, and is a touch too sweet for us. It has tastes of pineapple and guava with some minerality. My tasting buddy opines that it is “wine for the skittish,” by which he means it is easy to drink if you’re not a big wine drinker.
- 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $18.95
Nice. I get a cut grass smell which my husband describes as “woodsy,” plus some rock or mineral. The taste is fairly typical for North Fork sauvignon blancs, lemony and grapefruity, and would be fine with oysters.
- 2017 Rosé $16.95
We admire its pretty pink color and Gatsby-inspired label, which features a young woman in flapper dress standing in front of a mansion and a 1920s car. Her provocative pose has led the winery workers to dub her the “Hamptons hooker.” Made from the pinot meunier grape, this has a slightly funky aroma, plus the expected strawberry. The taste reminds me of a vodka-infused watermelon I once sampled at a party (I was young.), with some sweet strawberry and lemon notes. This would be a fine summer sipper, though it is a bit too sweet for us.
- Southampton White $14.95 for 750 ml, $18.95 for 1.5 l
According to the menu, this is made from the cayuga grape, which is often used upstate. As we feared, it is too sweet for us, while also being light and not complex. I contemplate dumping the rest of our taste.
- 2017 Pinot Meunier $29.95
Since Duck Walk is the only vineyard that grows this grape, we decide we need to start our tasting of the reds with this wine. My tasting pal and I agree that this smells like berries, though I say blueberry and he says raspberry. It is a light, fruity summer red, good with barbequed chicken. It reminds me of a Beaujolais. This label also features an upper-crust Gatsby-esque theme, with formally clad horse riders.
- 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon $18.95
This cab doesn’t have much aroma or taste. There is a slightly funky smell. The wine itself is light and dry, with some tannin. It would be okay with a burger, though I generally prefer beer with burgers.
- 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $38.95
Power of the book strikes again! Our server, with whom we have been having enjoyable conversations about the North Fork vs. the South Fork (where she often has to travel to work in the South Fork tasting room in Water Mill), gives us an extra, a taste of the high-end cab sauv. And it is really good! Lots of dark fruit taste, the kind of tannins that make me think it could age even more, and some depth and interest.
- 2015 Merlot $16.95
Again, the aroma is a bit funky, plus the usual cherry smell. This is a dry, drinkable merlot, not overpowering at all. My husband says there’s “not a lot of stuff going on.” It’s a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with some cherry taste. It would be fine with pasta.
- 2014 Merlot Reserve $38.95
Once again, we get an extra. This time, a taste of the reserve merlot. The aroma is complex, with notes of plum, cherry, and tobacco (which my husband calls ash). However, the aroma promises more than the taste delivers, though this is a good, dry, drinkable red. Not a lot of tannins.
- 2015 Malbec $16.95
Although malbec is most often used as part of a mixture of grapes, I tend to enjoy it on its own as well. The color of this is a beautiful dark red, and the aroma is also dark, of dark fruits like plums. We like the taste, which is dry and tannic, with enough fruit that it would be fine to sip or have with steak.
- 2010 White Port
I can’t tell you the price of this because it is not yet on the menu. Another extra treat! Duck Walk often features their blueberry port, which is actually made with blueberries, so this is a departure for them. The aroma is nutty, and it would actually taste good with nuts. I taste some gooseberry taste, (and then we decide that next summer when Briermere sells gooseberries we will have to buy them again). Nice after-dinner sipper.
- Absenthe $29.95, $5 per taste
We happen to have a bottle of absinthe we hand imported from the Czech Republic a while ago, so as I tasted this Duck Walk version, I looked forward to comparing it to the historical drink. Supposedly, absinthe used to be made with wormwood and was highly addictive as well as causing hallucinations. That’s no longer the case, so it is safe to sip. In the Czech Republic there is a whole ceremony to drinking absinthe, involving mixing sugar and a bit of absinthe on a spoon, igniting it, and then, as the sugar liquifies, blowing out the flame (important step!) and pouring it into the glass. No sweetening is necessary with the Duck Walk Absenthe, which is quite sweet, almost syrupy, and tastes very strongly of black licorice. If you like Sambuca, you’ll like this. After I went home—and recovered from all that drinking!—I tried our absinthe. It is not at all sweet or syrupy, though it does have a licorice taste plus a beautiful green color, and is quite strong (70% alcohol).
Reasons to visit: it is winter, and you want to check out a winery that is too crowded in the summer; the Sauvignon Blanc, the Rosé, the Pinot Meunier, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; they allow dogs (outside) and snacks; pretty labels; reasonable prices; beer on tap in case you’re with someone who doesn’t want wine (why?).
Clovis Point: First of the New Year January 4, 2019
All the leaves are gone from the vines, leaving the rows looking like lines of bent-legged dancers. For our first winery of the year, we decided to return to Clovis Point on a Friday afternoon. The tasting room was empty the entire time we were there, but on weekends, when they feature live music and artist talks, it is livelier.
Artist talks? Yes, every six weeks the winery invites an artist to come in and hang their works, setting aside one day when the artist can come in and talk to the people assembled there about the art. (Check their web site for times and performers.) We admired this week’s art, large photographs of natural scenery by Leonardo Vatkin, as we perused the menu.
The menu offers four options: Cold, $18 for four whites and a rosé; Red, $12 for three reds; Complete, $28 for all of Cold and Red combined; and Premium, three of their best reds (one is actually a port) for $5 per taste. We decided to share one Complete, which was plenty of wine for us both.
As we sipped and chatted, we also admired the roomy tasting room, still decorated with lights and poinsettias for the holidays. There’s also a large porch area off to one side, which is enclosed with plastic windows for the winter. They have a menu of snacks, which we only realized when our tasting was almost over and I happened to turn over the wine menu. Had our server pointed it out, we might have bought something. I was also surprised that she didn’t try to promote their wine club, which often happens when we reveal that we are locals.
- 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $29
This is a somewhat typical North Fork sauvignon blanc, which is not a bad thing. They say you should drink local wines with local foods, and this would go perfectly with a plate of Peconic Bay oysters. With aromas of minerals and rocks and tastes of green apple, lemon/lime, and minerals, this is a pleasantly refreshing white.
- 2015 Chardonnay $25
Although this is simply called chardonnay, it has 3% gewürztraminer, which adds a note of complexity. Steel fermented, it has a lemon drop candy aroma with a touch of funkiness. The taste also has some citrus, plus lots of pineapple and a bit of nutmeg. They recommend pairing it with melted brie. Sounds good to me. A popular party snack used to be melted brie coated with sliced almonds. Hmmm…
- 2016 Black Label Chardonnay $28
Although this is partially oaked, it is only 30% French oak fermented, so it is not too oaky. It smells like thyme honey, with a touch of something vegetal, plus some butterscotch. I think it would taste better with food, but my tasting buddy comments on its “freshness.” We like its combination of lemon zest and just a touch of butter. By the way, in a classy touch, our server rinses our glass with a bit of each new wine, so as not to contaminate the taste with the previous one.
- 2017 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $35
Oh, guess what, this is barrel fermented (I miss one closed winery’s creative nomenclature.). Although the aroma is VERY butterscotchy, the taste is not as buttery as I had feared. Instead, it is a comparatively light oaked chard, with tastes of honey and pineapple, balanced with citrus. Roast chicken with gravy, is what I’m thinking.
- 2017 Rosé $22.50
Made from 100% cabernet franc, this has a strong aroma of strawberry shortcake. My husband jokes that the smell is “presumptuous.” However, the taste is not super fruity. In fact, we agree that blindfolded, not seeing the pretty light pink color, you might not guess this is a rosé. It does finish with that characteristic strawberry taste, after initial impressions of minerality and citrus. I often like to pair rosés with Chinese food, but I think this would go better with charcuterie.
- 2014 Merlot $29
Now we get a fresh glass for the reds, starting with a wine listed simply as merlot, but which is 85% merlot, plus 8% cabernet franc, 2% syrah, 2% malbec, 2% petit verdot, and 1% cabernet sauvignon. The first thing that strikes me about this wine is the aroma, which is so strongly perfumed that I might be tempted to dab it behind my ears. Instead, we sip, and discover, in addition to the expected cherry taste, lots of tannins. Although this is already four years old, I think it might need more aging. The tasting notes assert it has an “unforgettable velvety finish.” We agree that “velvety” is not a word we would choose.
- 2015 Cabernet Franc $35
Again, this is a bit of a blend, 96% cabernet franc, 3% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% petit verdot. We sniff and get blueberries and a funky forest floor, mossy smell. The taste is pleasant, with, in contrast to the merlot, not a lot of tannins, and tastes of purple plums and other fruit. Though it is not complex or deep, it is good, and could go with a steak or lamb chops.
- 2015 Syrah $34 for 500 ML (a small bottle)
88% syrah, 10% merlot, and 2% cabernet sauvignon. Our server explains that this comes in a small bottle because they “don’t grow much” syrah. My tasting pal jokes that it “tastes like wine,” but I get what he means. It has sort of a generic red wine taste, with some tannins and a hint of pepper at the end. The aroma is a bit funky, with some pine. Though again not deep, it is good, and would go well with short ribs or other fatty meats. After this, the server asks if we want to buy a taste of any of the premium wines, but we decline, and decide, though we liked everything, not to buy any. Like many small wineries (they only have ten acres, and buy some grapes from other North Fork vineyards), they lack economy of scale, so their prices are a bit high for what you get. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, more consolidation of wineries happens.
Reasons to visit: pleasant tasting room; live music many weekends plus art shows; good wines, especially the sauvignon blanc, the Black Label Chardonnay, the merlot; if I were to get a glass to sip during a performance, I would get the cabernet franc, which is very drinkable on its own.