We were in Greenport to run an errand and stroll around town when my husband remembered that this was the first weekend for the Greenport Farmers’ Market, so we headed over to First and South (also the address of one of our favorite restaurants) to check it out. We found a sparsely populated room, but with some interesting vendors: a couple of cheese mongers, a fish market, some organic vegetables, the local jerky maker, etc. Then we noticed a stand for Surrey Lane winery.
I’d been noticing the colorful signs for the Surrey Lane Vineyard Orchard Farm for a couple of years now, but I also knew that they didn’t have a tasting room, so this seemed like a good chance to find out about their wines. Don, the friendly guy pouring free tastes of the wines, pointed out that he is also an artist and musician. We noted his drawings for sale behind him, and as we left we heard him start to entertain the room with some folk-y songs.
By the way, the link above to their website leads you to a basically blank page. If you want more information, click the link to their Facebook page which is about all that is on the web page.
I hadn’t planned to do a tasting, so I didn’t have my notebook, and we only tried three wines, but here are my brief impressions.
1. Sauvignon Blanc
Fairly typical mineral and citrus tastes, but also an intriguing smoky note.
Very good, with some lemon but also mandarin orange taste. Dry.
3. Merlot $23
A good example of a North Fork merlot, dry, with tastes and smells of cherry and some nice tannins. We bought a bottle.
If they ever open a tasting room I’ll be sure to check out the rest of their offerings.
Diliberto Winery: Pizza Parlor or Winery?
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, now on to our tastings…
Hudson Valley Brewery, October 8, 2017
Beacon, New York
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Benmarl Winery October 9, 2017
Marlboro, New York
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Millbrook Vineyards and Winery October 11, 2017
Millbrook, New York
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.
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.
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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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.
Roanoke Vineyards has a tasting room conveniently located on Love Lane in Mattituck, so you can browse the shops before or after your tasting. The shops include the excellent Love Lane Cheese Shop, the Sweet Shop, a toy store, a yarn store, an art gallery/framing store, a pet accessory store, a dress shop, Orlovsky’s Hardware store, Lombardi’s Market, and several restaurants. We decided to celebrate having seen a 70% solar eclipse with a wine tasting, while several members of our party (two of whom were too young to drink) cruised the shops. By the way, although there is parking on Love Lane, there is also ample free parking in the town lot to the west of the street.
The tasting room is small but attractive, and is augmented in warm weather by an enclosed patio in the back. We stood at the bar, which allowed us to chat with the very personable server. The menu offered two main options: The Summer Flight, of four wines for $14, or the Special Flight, of three wines for $12. The three of us decided to share one of each. The wines from the Special Flight are marked with an *. We also noted that the tasting room sells bottles of wine from two South Fork wineries—Channing Daughters and Wölffer Estates—and Red Hook. Good to know, since it is sometimes hard to find their wines in stores.
- 2016 Roanoke Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $26
We started out with this steel fermented white, tart and spicy with some creaminess. We had an amusing discussion with the server over the aroma of cat pee, which I would also describe as the smell you sometimes get when you have kept flowers in water for too long. Fortunately, the wine does not taste like the smell.
- *2016 R.V. The Wild $22
Wild refers to the use of “wild,” or indigenous yeast, or in other words the yeast that just occurs naturally, rather than a purchased yeast. I would imagine that it takes some courage to do this, since you risk that the wine might not come out well. Happily, this chardonnay did, with an aroma of gooseberry and a rather nutty taste—as in it tastes like nuts. We all like it, and our son-in-law buys a bottle to take home.
- 2016 Infinite Possibility $22
This one is also delicious, a blend of 66% chardonnay, 25% sauvignon blanc, 5% viognier and 5% albariño. We taste pineapple and honeydew in this steel fermented white. Our relative notes that this is the type of wine, “I could drink all day.” Perfect summer white.
- *2014 Single Acre Merlot $45
All the grapes for this merlot come from one particular acre, so it has a limited production, and all the pruning, etc., is done by hand. It has the typical merlot cherry aroma and flavor. Nice, but not worth a fuss.
- Colorfield $26
Extra! Noting my note-taking, and our engagement with the wines, the server says we need to try this one, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot blanc that is not on the menu. It is light and dry, and, we agree, another wine one could sip “all day.”
- 2015 R.V. ARC $34
Arc? Why? The server is not sure why this blend of 72% estate cabernet franc and 28% merlot has this name, but by the next wine, we have a theory. In any event, this is a dry, pleasant red that would go well with burgers. It has just a touch of cherry taste, plus blackberry and blueberry.
- *2014 Prime Number $59
Okay, there is a definite theme of mathematic-inspired names. The server notes that a retired teacher works for the winery, writing copy for the menu and helping come up with names. We theorize that the teacher must have been a math teacher, and our son-in-law buys a bottle for his father, who is both a retired math teacher and an oenophile. Perfect! We decide that he should cellar this wine, which has the types of tannins that make us think it would age well, though now it is “too tight” and “closed.” A blend of 82% cabernet sauvignon and 18% merlot, it had some interesting layers of flavor. I’d like to taste it in a few years (hint!).
- 2014 R.V. Cabernet Sauvignon $45
And here’s another wine that we decide would benefit from some aging—and we buy a bottle to store in our cellar. The aroma is slightly earthy, but mainly plummy, as is the taste. We tell our companion about how early on so many of the wines out here tasted earthy or barnyard-y, a trait the winemakers seem to have succeeded in ameliorating.
Reasons to visit: you want to do some shopping on Love Lane and need a respite; The Wild, Infinite Possibility, Prime Number, Cabernet Sauvignon; the ability to buy wines from Channing Daughters, Wölffer Estates, and Red Hook; a pleasantly intimate tasting room.
The weather man was predicting rain, so we decided to take our guests to Bedell, rather than opt for a winery where we would sit outside. As it happened, the sun came out, but we did not regret our choice. Bedell has some lovely and interesting wines, and the most artistic labels on Long Island. As we’ve been told before by servers, the owner is on the board of the Museum of Modern Art, and he commissions labels from various modern artists. Given the prices on the wines, maybe they could include little reproductions of the artwork with the purchase of each bottle!
The tasting room is small and simply elegant, with a high ceiling and a black and white color scheme. There is also a covered porch to one side. We settled down at a table for four and perused the flight menu—which didn’t take long, as they have simplified their options. Now there is only one choice—a flight of five wines for $20. Each couple opted to share a tasting, which worked out fine. They also have a small snack menu, with one unusual choice: an individual serving of North Fork honey. We had brought some mixed nuts, which helped us appreciate at least one of the wines, as you will see.
- Sparkling Rosé 2016 $45
What a perfect way to start our tasting, especially since we were also celebrating my husband’s birthday. A pretty pink—“Nice color for a bridesmaid’s dress,” opined our friend—with an aroma of strawberries, this is made from a mixture of 60% merlot and 40% cabernet sauvignon. Unlike the sparkling white we had here last time, this is made by injecting CO2, not by the méthode champenoise. While not complex, the taste is delicious, crisp and dry and fruity. One of us threatened to drink a whole bottle…
- Taste White 2015 $50
Our server informed us that this was the “wine of the month,” and was therefore on sale at half price. Noting the vintage, I opined that they wanted to clear out the stock to make space for a newer wine, as many whites are better drunk young, not aged. Both the blend of grapes and the aroma intrigued us. It is a combination of 65% albariño, plus chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, and is steel fermented. We kept sniffing and discussing the smell, which we described variously as mineral, burnt cork, funky, and garden mulch. The taste was equally complicated, with fruit, mineral, metal, and citrus notes. We liked it, but were wondering about food pairings, since it has an unusual flavor and would overwhelm something delicate, like sole. I’m thinking it might have gone well with the grilled swordfish topped with tomato relish my friend had later for dinner at ALure.
- Gallery 2014 $75
That’s quite a price for a Long Island white, and though we enjoyed the wine we did not feel it was worth it. A combination of 65% chardonnay and 25% viognier aged in oak, plus 10% steel-fermented sauvignon blanc, we thought it was slightly reminiscent of a California chardonnay, though not as oaky. The taste was complex, with notes of citrus and salt and mineral and some butterscotch. We felt it was a bit too sweet, though I think that may have been the fruitiness rather than the sweetness. When we ate some nuts and then tasted it again, we liked it better, so it is definitely a food wine.
- Merlot 2014 $35
We got clean glasses for the reds. Mmm, this smelled delicious, with lots of fruity, plummy, cherry aromas. It also tasted quite good, dry, but with lots of fruit and a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg. Nice tannins. It might age well. You could have this with steak and be quite happy. Or bison, which, as our server informed us, is what it was paired with in 2009 at a Presidential inauguration lunch.
- Cabernet Franc 2014 $45
“This sends nine months in neutral oak,” our server told us, and we felt pretty neutral about the wine as well. Just okay, was my judgement. Definitely tasted red plums and other fruits in this dry red, but it was not as full-bodied as the merlot, which we all preferred.
Reasons to visit: attractive tasting room and covered porch; the pretty labels; the Sparkling Rosé, the Taste White, and the Merlot. I also noted a trend I’ve seen in more and more tasting rooms—you can buy a bottle to drink there, but it will cost you more than if you buy a bottle to take home. $10 more in this case!
On the coldest day so far this winter, we ventured forth to do some errands and a wine tasting. We paid our final visits until spring to Bayview (potatoes and Brussels sprouts) and Briermere (last pie for months to come, a yummy blackberry apple), and then headed to Jamesport for a tasting. In the past, we’d been there in warm weather and had enjoyed sitting outside on their pretty patio, watching families frolic in the capacious back yard and enjoying oysters. Some day, we decided, we’d have to return to try the flatbreads from their outdoor wood-fired oven. But now it was winter, very quiet, and rather chilly. The only other occupants of the tasting room were a small party enjoying a bottle of wine at one of the tables. There are a few small tables and a long bar along one side. Not much is on offer by way of merchandise aside from the wines. We stepped up to the bar, and eventually the pleasant young woman behind it came over and asked us if we wanted to do a tasting.
We did, but first we needed some time to peruse the menu. A tasting consists of any five of their wines for $18, so we decided to share one, even though that meant we had to skip many of the wines. The menu offers nine whites (including one sparkling), seven reds (which includes a rosé, though some places list the rosé with the whites), two dessert wines, and a non-alcoholic verjus. No guidance from the server being on offer, we made up our own minds. As Christmas music tinkled in the background, we signaled her that we were ready for our first taste.
- 2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc $21.95
In the past we’ve enjoyed their steel fermented East End Sauvignon Blanc with our oysters, so we decided it was time to try their other sauvignon blanc, one that is also steel fermented but spends some time in “oak puncheons.” The aroma is mostly vegetal, with a hint of cat pee. The server describes it as “New Zealand style.” We sniff and sip. Nicely dry, with a touch of sweetness on the tongue. I taste pineapple, and my tasting buddy says he can taste the oak. Maybe a little.
- 2013 Estate Riesling (Dry) $25.95
Described on the menu as “trocken”—which means dry in the German style—and by our server as having “no residual sugar,” this is indeed quite dry. In fact, I find it rather sour. My husband disagrees, though he agrees with my assessment that this is not my favorite riesling. I think it smells somewhat chemical, with a whiff of apricot pits (arsenic, anyone?). I taste hard green apricots and not ripe apple. He likes it better than I do, though in general we both favor dry rieslings.
- 2014 East End Cinq Red $18.95
Now we move to the reds, and get a clean glass. By the way, we like their glasses very much—stemless and round-bottomed, they work well to warm the wines which, as in many places, are all served too cold. If you know French, you may already have guessed that this is a blend of five grapes—cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, and pinot noir. Our server disappears to take a phone call before we can ask her about the proportions. The bottle was just opened, which might account for a smell my husband characterizes as gasoline. I’m not sure I agree (we seem to have more differences of opinion than usual today!), but I do get a bit of a sweet chemical aroma in addition to the expected red fruit smells. We do, however, agree that the wine has more aroma than taste, and it is dry but not at all tannic. I think it is a bit unbalanced, though I like the slightly peppery note at the end. I would say just okay, a red you could have with roast chicken or lamb chops but not with Italian food or steak.
- 2014 Thiméo Reserve $74.95
“How is this pronounced?” we ask our server before she can disappear again, “And where did the name come from?” She replies, “Timeo, and it is named for the grandson of the French man who makes our barrels, Jean Louis Bossuet. We collaborated with him to make this wine.” While we have her, we ask about the grapes. “75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc,” she replies, and is off to the far end of the bar before we can ask her why this one is so expensive. Oh well. It smells good; we detect lots of cocoa and some of the oak. We try warming the glass in our palms to try to get a better idea of the taste, since we find it nice but not $75 nice. Lots of tannins, so perhaps it would age well. I decide to use a phrase I’ve seen lots of times, “It shows promise.” My husband says you’d have to have an awful lot of faith in promises to buy it at that price.
- 2014 East End Syrah $18.95
Finally, a wine I really like! The menu—and our server—describe this as having been made in the “feminine style,” and therefore “not jammy.” The aroma is of warm spices, like cardamom, and dark fruit, the taste is dry but fruity. This would also pair well with lamb chops (maybe from 8 Hands Farm), but you wouldn’t want it with a very strong-flavored entrée, since it would be overwhelmed. If we needed a red, I could see getting a bottle of this.
Reasons to visit: come in the summer, when you can sit outside and enjoy music and snacks, like their wood-oven-baked flatbreads; the East End Syrah; in the past, we’ve liked their East End Sauvignon Blanc.
What a difference a year makes! Last fall we visited Waters Crest’s tiny tasting room in a drab strip of shops around the corner from the Southold town dump and had the room to ourselves; this fall we encountered a limo full of 20-somethings on their way into a cozy cottage on the Main Road that had been transformed into a comfortable bar and groupings of tables and chairs. Over near the windows, a group was celebrating one person’s birthday, cake and all. Next to us at the bar we got into a conversation with two men who turned out to also be bloggers and a very friendly young woman who owns a nearby bed and breakfast (the Sunny Side Up Bed and Breakfast, closed now for the season, but check them out next June), who is also quite knowledgeable about local wine and food.
The advantage of being the only ones in the tasting room last year was that we had the exclusive attention of Adam, the very well-informed server who gave us all sorts of information about the wines. This time, we again encountered Adam, and had occasion to admire his ability to multi-task as he handled the crowd (with the help of Mrs. Waters and her daughter), and, after things calmed down a bit, again talked with us seriously about the wines, about which he is clearly passionate. And he has much to be proud about, as we liked all the wines, some more than others. Jim Waters doesn’t have his own vineyard, but produces his wines from grapes he buys from various growers, such as Jamesport. Clearly, he chooses well.
The tasting menu offers eight different wines—four whites and four reds—all of which you can sample for $20, a bargain. Or you can pick only a few, at $4 per taste. Since I have a cold, and we wanted to try all eight, we decided the way to share a tasting was to get two glasses and have my husband pour half the taste into my glass. Once Adam realized what we were doing, he very courteously shared out each tasting between the two glasses, and we certainly had plenty to drink.
- 2015 Dry Rosé $24.99
According to the menu, the rosé is made from a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc using the “saignée” method, in which the juice is taken from red grapes at an early stage, when it is still light in color, and can then be mixed with white grape juice. We note a faint aroma of unripe strawberries and then sip. If I was blindfolded, opines my tasting pal, I would think this was a sauvignon blanc. I see what he means, because this is quite dry with a bit of a citrus edge, but also some strawberry flavor like a rosé. It would certainly pair well with oysters.
- 2015 Dry Riesling $24.99
This is just the type of riesling we like—dry, crisp, and mineral. I think it smells like honey, and my husband adds leather. The taste reminds me of a nice crisp pear, and I think it would be perfect with lobster bisque.
- 2014 Reserve Chardonnay $23.99
If you are ambivalent about whether you like your chards oaked or unoaked you might like this one. The wine is fermented in steel, then spends three months in used French oak, so it gets just a hint of the vanilla the oak imparts. This particular wine is already sold out (except for what they keep for the tasting room) and I can see why. The little bit of oak smooths out the edges of the wine, which is dry with green apple tastes and some minerality and really nice acidity. Lemongrass “on the nose,” as they say.
- 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $24.99
Adam explains that this is actually an orange wine, which means that though it is a white it has a faint orange tone from the grape skins. If you’re expecting an Australian-style sauvignon blanc you’ll be disappointed, but if you come with an open mind you’ll probably be happy. It has a bit of a butterscotch taste and aroma, and would complement a plate of charcuterie beautifully.
- 2014 “5” Red Blend $29.99
As we transition to the reds, Adam rinses both our glasses with a bit of the red, a good idea. This bottle has my favorite label, a version of the famous Charles Demuth painting of the “Great Number Five” which was inspired by a poem by William Carlos Williams (check out the painting for “secret” clues to their friendship). It is almost all merlot, with 11% cabernet sauvignon and 4% malbec. We enjoy it, but my husband adds, “This wine lacks gravitas.” Yes, it is a rather light red, with some aromas and tastes of plum jam. Good for casual drinking, maybe with roast chicken.
- 2013 Merlot “Grand Vin” $59.99
This is one of a number of Waters Crest’s wines with high ratings from Wine Enthusiast. Personally, as a retired teacher, I am not into assigning grades, but if you find that helpful, there it is. Adam suggests that this wine, though it has been aged 22 months in new French oak, would benefit from further aging. There are plenty of tannins, so I think he had a point. Both the aroma and the taste have notes of spice, and if you drank it now I would pair it with lamb chops. I recommend you check out the meats from Eight Hands Farm—all pasture raised and quite delicious.
- 2013 Cabernet Franc “Grand Vin” $59.99
You could age this one for ten years, suggests Adam, but if you bought it you probably would drink it sooner than that. It is quite delicious, and our new friend-with-the-bed-and-breakfast’s favorite of the wines. After aging 22 months in new French oak, it has lots of dark fruit tastes, plenty of tannins, plus notes of chocolate, leather, raspberries, and spices. It could stand up to a steak, maybe from Wayside Market.
- 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon “Grand Vin” $59.99
We discuss the season of 2013, which was a long hot one, leading to lots of ripeness in the reds. This one smells to me like chocolate bark with almonds and berries, and the taste is more blackberry than chocolate. Though Adam says again this could be aged 15 or more years, we find it quite smooth, almost velvety. This one spent 23 months in American oak before being bottled.
Reasons to visit: pleasant new tasting room conveniently located across the street from Wickham’s Fruit Farm stand and Touch of Venice (where, if you bring a bottle of Waters Crest wine, they waive the corkage fee);they have a roomy parking lot in the back; the Dry Riesling, Reserve Chard, and Sauvignon Blanc among the whites; the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon “Grand Vins”; Adam if he’s serving in the tasting room; the pleasant back yard (in the warmer weather).
The parking attendant waved us on to the “additional parking” area, so we had a good view of the activities going on in back of the Martha Clara tasting room and barns. Children and dogs were running around, a couple played Frisbee, many people tossed beanbags into a whole line of targets, and a wagon hitched to horses waited to give rides. The delicious smell came from an old-fashioned Airstream camper that had been turned into a food truck. And that was a good thing, since Martha Clara no longer allows you to bring in outside food, preferring that you buy your own from their menu, catered by Noah’s Restaurant in Greenport.
We were there with a friend who is a member of the Marth Clara wine club, so we first headed to the Tasting Barn with its sign outside limiting it to wine club members. However, it was full, so we headed on into the main building and, not feeling like standing at the bar in the crowded main tasting room, sat at a table in the table service area. At first the server said we’d have to pay full price, but after assuring her that we had been turned away from the members-only barn she said okay—which resulted in a significant saving for our four tastings.
The sleekly bound menu offers four options for tastings, plus a variety of wines by the glass or bottle, and a bunch of snacks. The four flight menus are labeled Aromatic, Sustainable, Northville, and Vintners, and range from $14-$17 for five generous tastes (or $5-$7 for wine club members). The tables were all set with napkins, wineglasses, and water glasses, which we used both for water from the large bottle the server delivered to our table and as a dump bucket. But more on that later.
I opted for the Northville flight, mostly because it included their Syrah, a wine I often like. The two men in the party chose the Vintage flight, and our friend the wine club member decided on the Aromatic because it is all whites, and that’s what she was in the mood for. The Sustainable has a combination of reds and whites, as do the other options. I will tell about my tasting first, and then about the other wines, not all of which I tried myself.
- 2014 Gewürztraminer Estate Reserve $27
Gewürztraminers are tricky, because they can be very sweet or dry, with a lot or not much fruit, depending on how they are handled. This one is steel fermented, so I had hopes, but then the server explained that it was on the sweet side, and she liked it as an after dinner drink or with “spicy Thai food.” The aroma combines flowers, mineral, and creosote—you know, that smell you get from the railroad tracks on a hot summer day. Fortunately it doesn’t taste like what I imagine creosote would taste like, but rather like lychees in sugar syrup with some minerality at the end. This wine also began the Vintage tasting, and we all found it too sweet. In fact, we all dumped at least part of our serving. But if you like a sweet wine, you’d probably like this one.
- 2012 Cabernet Franc $27
A light ruby color, this wine is also light in body, with a red candy and wet rock aroma, and a plum taste. It would be a good burger or roast chicken wine. Aged 14 months in oak.
- 2013 Merlot $24
Merlot does well on Long Island, and this is no exception, a nice, light, dry red with some fruit. I like it. It smells rather oak-y, even though it only spends 12 months in oak.
- 2012 Syrah (Cote Rotie Style) $24
I would be very happy drinking a full glass of this one. It has aromas of red fruit and pepper, with lots of red fruit tastes, some tannins, and a dry finish. It could pair well with lamb or duck. It’s my favorite of the day, too.
- 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $30
Again, you can definitely smell the oak. This is somewhat dry, with lots of cherry taste and a nice long finish.
And that was the end of my tasting. However, here are some notes on the other flights.
- 2013 Estate Reserve Chardonnay $27
Lots of aromas on this one, including vanilla and nutmeg, which is the first on the Vintage list. It is aged “sur lie” for ten months. If you like a smooth buttery chard, this is one for you.
- 2014 Northern Solstice Blend $18
I liked the bottle for this, featuring an image of a sun, which my friend saw as appropriate for this first on the Aromatic list, since it is, she said, “a perfect summer sipper.” It is a blend of about four or five grapes which the server rattled off too quickly for me to catch. We all sniffed it and agreed that it smelled like ripe pineapple, and my friend said it was “crisp and refreshing” with just a touch of sweetness.
- 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $22
This is a pretty typical North Fork sauvignon blanc, with honeysuckle aroma and lemon tastes, though it is a touch sweeter than some sauvignon blancs.
- 2014 Pinot Grigio $22
And this is another great summer wine, said my friend, with some peach tastes and a touch of bubbles on the tongue. It was her favorite of her tasting.
- 2013 Estate Reserve Riesling $26
We were all intrigued by the smell of this one, identifying vanilla sugar cookie (even though it is steel fermented) and wet rock. Unlike the gewürztraminer, this escapes over-sweetness, and is a light and almost bubbly with some mineral taste. The Aromatic tasting should have ended with the Gewürztraminer, but my friend decided to forego it since she had already tasted it and felt she had had enough wine. As I said, the pour is generous, and we actually dumped some tastes we liked.
- 2014 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir $37
The Vintner tasting includes some of their higher priced wines, and we got into a discussion of value vs. cost, which I may revisit some time this winter when I don’t have a winery to review. My husband informed us that this was a Burgundy-type wine, but a bit sharp for a Burgundy. It had aromas of plum and prune, and a somewhat grapey (I know, shocking) taste. Good, but not complex.
- 2013 Northville Red (Bordeaux style) $27
Again, the server listed the grapes in this too quickly for note taking, but it is a Bordeaux-style blend we all liked very much. In fact, my notes include “yum,” “delicious,” “very drinkable,” “layers of flavor,” and “really nice.” We were happy when our friend bought us a bottle!
- 2013 Estate Reserve Merlot $35
The menu informs us that this was rated a 90 by Wine Advocate. Maybe. It has a touch of that barnyard smell we always used to get from local merlots and hardly ever sense any more, but it tastes nice, with good fruit, some cherry flavor, and is dry.
Reasons to visit: Lots of space to play and a relaxed, welcoming vibe; some agritainment; the Northern Solstice Blend, the Pinot Grigio, the Syrah, the Northville Red; lots of choices ; catering by Noah’s (We didn’t have any, but I like the food in the restaurant!).
Castello di Borghese: Oldie but Goodie July 30, 2016
“Yes,” our server said, “these grapes come from our 43-year-old vines.” In North Fork terms, that’s ancient history, and since the older the vines supposedly the better the wines, we were quite interested in the Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc. The Hargraves were the first to see the potential of grape vines on the North Fork, (then the Borghese family bought their vineyard) and wow, did they ever start something. But in the wine business there is no resting on one’s laurels (or vines), so let’s see how they are doing today.
The pleasant tasting room, with several areas, including a very large room which I would assume is mostly used for parties and such, offers two menus, of Estate and Reserve wines. You can taste four of the Estate wines for $10 or five of any of their wines for $15. Since there are quite a few choices on both menus, including reds, whites, rosés, and dessert wines, it took us a while to choose. In fact, we could easily go back and do a completely different tasting in the near future. We finally settled on one 5-sample tasting, of two whites and three reds. Our server, though at first somewhat tentative about recommendations, began to give us some helpful guidance as we progressed.
Another neat feature of the tasting room is their ever-changing display of art works. They have a small selection of snacks for sale, but you can bring your own picnic and settle in at the outside tables. Glasses of wine go for $9-12, depending on which you choose.
- Chardonette/CDB White $12
Since we are always on the lookout for inexpensive whites for weekday meals, especially in the summer, we decided this would be a good place to start. We were right. A mixture of mostly chardonnay with some sauvignon blanc, this is a perfect light summery white, with aromas of herbs and minerals and a crisp taste with some acidity. This is steel fermented, so don’t expect any buttery-ness. The menu suggests matching it with hummus or “smoked beef tartare,” whatever that is. I think it would be a nice aperitif, well iced, with some charcuterie and cheese, on the porch, in the summer. We buy two bottles.
- 2013 Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc $29
What a contrast! The Chardonette is a very non-serious white, while this one is quite serious. Complex, with aromas of butter and honeysuckle, this is a combination of oaked and un-oaked sauvignon blanc, with the oaked portion spending two months in new French oak. There’s a touch of citrus at the end, plus interesting layers of flavor, including gooseberry (which, now that I bought some at Briermere a few weeks ago, my husband agrees it tastes like).
- 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve $50
The menu said 2013 Pinot Noir, but they were sold out of that, and after we discussed that change with our server he confessed that this was his favorite of their wines. He does have expensive taste! He brought us a new glass for the changeover to red. “Mmmm,” said my husband. Anything more enlightening to say, I asked? We smell some cherry candy, taste dark fruits such as plums, plus nice tannins, and perhaps a trace of nutmeg. This is a Burgundy, so we decide it would go well with Boeuf Bourguignon. Making that according to Julia Child’s recipe is an all-day affair, so I guess if I put that much work into a dish it would warrant a bottle of this wine.
- 2013 Merlot Reserve $33
Our server informs us that this spends 14 months in French oak, which probably accounts for the trace of smoke we smell. We also get plum and black cherry. The wine is dry, with lots of tannins and good fruit, so it would be a good counterpoint to a fatty meat such as lamb. My husband observes that it is very well balanced, with a good finish. “Yum,” I add.
- 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44
As we discuss which wine to have to end our tasting, our server volunteers that this one is quite interesting, so we go with it. He’s right (again). We sniff and get fruit and a trace of tobacco, then sip and decide the taste is rich. We taste dark cherries with a trace of smoke at the end, but not overwhelming, plus good tannins. They suggest pairing with game, and I could see it with venison steaks.
Reasons to go: A nice calm tasting room plus picnic tables outside; the Chardonette, the Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Noir Reserve; art on the walls.