It’s been a quiet, damp winter out here on the East End of Long Island. The farm stands have all been closed since Christmas, some restaurants have signs reading “See you in the spring,” and there’s no traffic on the roads. On the other hand, the Riverhead Farmer’s market on Saturday was quite lively and busy, and we were happy to find our favorite pickle man there, as well as fresh eggs and other treats. It’s a nice time of year to visit the wineries—though you do need to check they are open, particularly during the week—since you can often have the undivided attention of your server. On the other hand, if you want a livelier atmosphere, you can check out the Winterfest web page (https://longislandwinterfest.com/) to see where you can find musical performances.
We decided to head to Castello Borghese, which we hadn’t been to since August 2018. It is now under the control of Ann Marie and Marco Borghese’s son, after their untimely deaths in 2014. We were very sad when we heard that news, especially since we had had some pleasant chats with Ann Marie in the tasting room. However, Peter, our server, more than made up for that loss, by being very well-informed and passionate about the wines. It didn’t hurt our experience that, charmed by our discussion of our likes and dislikes and by my notebook, he gave us several extra tastes.
The main tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and a couple of barrels for extra stand-and-taste space, with an adjacent room with small tables and chairs and a large party space. Outside, there are a few picnic tables. It is very much a winery for serious tasters, and Peter described with some amusement how it served as a refuge for those who accidentally went to Vineyard 48 (since closed for being an out of control party place).
The menu offers five different flights: five whites for $20, five reds for $25, three rosés for $15, a “Classic Flight” of a variety of wines for $20, or “Battle of the North Fork,” a comparison of two whites and two reds. As we discussed which option to take, I announced that I often did not like oaked chardonnays, which Peter took as a challenge, and led to our first “extra.” We decided on the Classic Flight. (I’ve marked the extras with an asterisk.)
- 2018 Chardonnay $20
The flight starts off with the 2018 chardonnay, a fairly classic North Fork chard, with aromas of pear, flowers, and minerals and tastes of green apple, mineral, and lemon. It’s very good, and would be perfect with oysters, like the ones we had here one time in the summer.
- * 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $24
“Try this,” urged Peter, “it may change your mind.” Well, not totally, though I liked it more than I thought I would, which was explained when I learned it was aged in neutral oak (which means old oak, rather than new, and so is less oaky). It didn’t have that big buttery taste I have come to dislike. Peter told an amusing story about a woman who ordered a glass of this chard, took it outside to drink with her friends, and came back in to complain that she’d been given the wrong wine. Turned out she was from California, where the chardonnays tend to be big and buttery, but Peter was able to match her with a wine she liked. Anyway, this is a bit woodsy, with an aroma of crushed ferns, rather lean and elegant.
- 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $24
I’m not counting this as an extra, but it is not the SB on the flight menu, but rather a different one that Peter thought we’d prefer. Meanwhile, this is light and bright, tart and lemony, with an aroma of cucumbers and a touch of funkiness. I could see pairing it with scallops.
- Rosé of Merlot $18
Peter offers us brief descriptions of each rosé, and we decide to stick with the one on the flight menu. Ever since the changes at Croteaux, we have been on the lookout for good NoFo rosés. This is pretty good, with a slight aroma of strawberry and the flavor of macerated strawberries. It is nicely dry, and we buy a bottle to drink some time in the near future.
- *2018 Pinot Noir $50
“You have to try the Pinot Noir,” says Peter, and we do not disagree. It is a French style pinot, he explains, lean and dry rather than big and jammy like a California pinot. We like it, and if not for the price might have bought a bottle. It has a dark fruit aroma and taste, with slight tannins.
- 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44
This has a lovely garnet color, but a slight chemical odor which one sometimes gets with reds out here. However, the taste is fine, though at the end it evanesces. We taste dark berries and cherries and tobacco, with some nice acidity. We wonder whether this would improve over time.
- *2018 Merlot Select $35
Now we discuss the popularity of merlot and the influence of the movie Sideways, which led to a dip in sales. It is the most popular red grape on the North Fork, and with good reason. This has aromas and tastes of cherry, with a taste that lingers after you sip. 2018 was a very good weather year locally, and so growers expect good things from this vintage. This is also dry, with some tannins. I suggest pairing it with lamb, Peter suggest rib eye, and my husband agrees with us both.
- 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44
Good way to end our tasting, this is another tasty red, with lots of fruit and some minerality. I like it a lot. Like all their wines, it tends to be elegant and lean rather than big and very fruity. It could also stand up to a steak, or even go with roast pork.
Reasons to visit: serious tasting room with serious wines; the chardonnay, the Rosé of Merlot, the pinot noir, the cabernet sauvignon reserve; a generous pour.