Peconic Cellar Door: Good Things Come in Small Packages December 7, 2018

Peconic Cellar Door: Good Things Come in Small Packages            December 7, 2018

https://www.peconiccellardoor.com/

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This sign shows the way to Peconic Cellar Door.

I recently picked up a postcard with a map of North Fork wineries which labeled them as either “petit” or “grand” wine houses.  Peconic Cellar Door is definitely one of the most petit of the petit places, a sliver of a storefront with room for a couple of tables and a narrow bar with four stools.  A sign on the door warns that they will not accept groups of more than six, adding, “Sorry, arriving in more than one car doesn’t count as separate groups.”  I suppose what you could do is have one part of your group go to the Winemaker Studio, which is right next door, connected to Cellar Door by an open doorway.

 

That’s not a bad idea, actually, since both tasting rooms offer similarly intimate experiences, and the ability to taste some interesting boutique wines.  Peconic Cellar Door is something different on the North Fork, as it is one of the few wineries owned and run by women (One Woman is the only other one I can think of, since Comtesse Therese closed a few years ago.).  In fact, if you go on their web page and click on “Meet the Cru,” you might notice that the entire crew is female.

When we entered on a chilly Friday afternoon, we were warmly greeted by Robin Epperson-McCarthy, who remembered that we’d been there before (a year ago), and introduced us to her charming three-year-old daughter, who soon left in the arms of her baby-sitter.  No one else was there, so we had a lovely time chatting with Robin and exchanging bits of wine country gossip as well as in-depth discussions of the wines.

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This is literally half the room.

She and her partner, Alie Shaper, have four different labels between them:  Saltbird Cellars, Brooklyn Oenology, As If, and Haywater Cove.  Alie is gradually transitioning her label to almost all Haywater Cove, a reference to a place on the North Fork, though she will continue to make a couple of her most popular Brooklyn Oenology (BOE) wines.  Robin explained that they don’t have a reserve label, so the As If line functions somewhat like that.  And Saltbird is Robin’s label, named for the sea birds she loves.

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There are twenty-five (!) wines on the menu, plus a new sparkling wine that isn’t even there yet, but they offer a “Winemaker’s Flight” of five wines for $18, highlighted on the menu in blue ink, so we decided to go with those choices.  However, the first item on the menu, a keg wine called Fizzi Rosé, was not available, so Robin instead gave us a taste of the newest As If wine, Gratitude, which is also a sparkler.

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The name of this wine is, among other things, an homage to Alie’s mother, who died last year.

  1. 2018 As If Gratitude      $28

This is a petillant naturel, which goes through some of its fermentation in the bottle and is sealed with a bottle cap.  Interestingly, it is made from gewürztraminer grapes, which I don’t recall ever seeing before, which are fermented into an orange wine before it becomes a bubbly.  The color is a cloudy yellow with a slight orange tint.  It has a sweetish aroma, like flowers, but also something like pickle juice.  It’s a light, refreshing, sparkler, which, we agree with Robin, would go well with charcuterie.

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Saltbird Chardonnay and its creator.

  1. 2017 Saltbird Chardonnay $20

I discuss with Robin my—and her—preference for steel-fermented chardonnays, and she tells how she has served this wine to people who think they don’t like chardonnay, not realizing that what they don’t like is an oaked chard.  They like her Saltbird chard.  I smell gooseberries and lots of minerality, plus some citrus.  She explains that part of the fermentation happens “sur lies,” which means on the dead yeast or bits of grape particles, which adds some depth to the taste.  It is very dry, and has plenty of mineral taste.  I think it needs food, like something in a cream sauce.

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  1. 2016 As If Courage Rosé $28

Alie named her wines Serendipity, Courage, Persistence, and Gratitude to chart her progression in the wine business—the way serendipity led her into winemaking as a career, the courage it took to continue, the persistence it took to stick with it, and the gratitude she feels for being able to do this.  It takes no courage to drink this French-style rosé, a dry pink wine with tastes and aromas of strawberries and minerals.  Like most North Fork rosés, this is a good summer wine, and would go well with a salade niçoise or some nice Catapano goat cheese.

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Now that’s orange!

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This is the art on the BOE label. Can’t tell what it is? Neither could we. Apparently, it’s a box.

  1. BOE 2014 Broken Land $30

As we learned the last time we were there, broken land is a reference to the original Dutch meaning of Brooklyn.  This is an orange wine, made with gewürztraminer grapes from the Finger Lakes region.  It sits on the skins for ten days, Robin tells us, which gives it that lovely orange color.  I wonder whether it is the color that makes me think it tastes like blood oranges, but Robin assures me that she tastes orange too, though she thinks of tangerines.  The label, like all BOE wines, features a work of art by a Brooklyn artist.  This one is a representation of a box.

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For the red we switched to this elegant glass.

  1. Saltbird Cellars 2016 Harbinger Red Blend $36

A blend of 80% merlot and 20% cabernet sauvignon, this has the cherry aroma and flavor we have come to expect of North Fork merlots, somewhat ameliorated by the cabernet sauvignon.   It’s a light, bright red which Robin says benefits from a bit of aeration.

Reasons to visit:  an intimate setting in which to taste some nice wines and chat with the winemakers; the Broken Land orange wine (we buy a bottle), the Gratitude sparkling wine; it’s right next door to the Winemaker Studio, so you can do two tasting in one stop.  The tasting room is on Peconic Lane, so you could do a winery walking tour by adding on Sannino Bella Vita (which may be moving in the future), ending in the Greenport Brewing Company restaurant on the corner for lunch or a snack and a sampling of excellent brews.

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Lenz Winery: The Older the Better January 11, 2018

https://lenzwine.com/

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Lenz is justifiably proud of being one of the oldest wineries on the North Fork.

“We’re the second oldest winery on Long Island,” our server proudly told us.  Most people know that certain wines improve with age, but I’ve also learned that grape vines do, too.  As the vines get older, their roots go deeper and get stronger, and the grapes also get better.  The first modern winery on the North Fork was Hargraves, now Castello di Borghese, founded in 1973.  Lenz started in 1978, but didn’t harvest their grapes for wine until 1988.  Now in their fortieth year, they have some really good wines on their list.

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Plenty of room at the bar during the week in the winter.

We had been housebound by snow and cold, and it was still rather chilly when we set out to do a tasting.  A quick walk around Greenport revealed a very quiet town, with many stores and restaurants closed for the season or open with limited hours or days.  However, we were able to stop into the book store to pick up a copy of On Tyranny and into The Weathered Barn to drop off dead light bulbs for recycling.

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One side of the tasting room.

Then we headed back west to Lenz.  The barn-like Lenz tasting room was quiet as well, as we were the only customers.  However, that meant we were able to have some in-depth discussions with our server on wine and the tastes of the ones we chose.

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And the other side.

The menu offers two choices: five Estate wines for $14 or five Premium wines for $18.  She also offered to customize an all red or all white tasting for a dollar or two more, and described the Estate choices as “lighter.”  We decided to share a tasting of the Premium wines, and were quite happy with all six of the wines we tried (Thanks to the power of the book, we got a sixth taste!).

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Lenz also has some wine-related items for sale, and a small gallery of art, also for sale.  They offer Catapano cheese for a snack, and do allow people to bring their own snacks.

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  1. 2015 Blanc de Noir Rosé            $24

We always compare rosés to Croteaux, and this one can stand up to the comparison.  It’s made from pinot noir grapes and has an aroma of strawberry.   It’s dry, but mouth-watering, with some nice citrus tastes.  I think blood orange, rather than lemon.  It’s not really a rosé for sipping on its own, but would be great with food.

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Cute label, too.

  1. 2014 Tête à Tête $25

As a blend, this changes from year to year.  This is a good one.  It blends 45% sauvignon blanc, 35% chardonnay, and 20% gewürztraminer for a dry, minerally and lemony white that would be great with lobster or Peconic Bay scallops.  We joked about gooseberries and other more obscure fruit comparisons, but I insisted that it did smell like gooseberries.

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  1. 2013 Old Vines Chardonnay $30

Lenz makes three different chardonnays, so at some point I’ll have to try their others, one of which is steel fermented and the other spends eleven months in oak.  This is sort of in the middle of those two, spending three months in neutral oak.  You can smell a bit of the oak, and also a light floral aroma.  This might be a good wine for someone who finds steel chards too lemony, but doesn’t like that big oaky taste of oaked chards.  Although there is a slight note of vanilla, what I mostly taste is green apple, plus some other flavors that make this a relatively complex white.  We decide it would be perfect with bluefish, or some other assertive fish.

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  1. 2010 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon $50

We get a clean glass as we move on to the reds.  Cabernet sauvignon is a grape that takes longer to ripen than, say merlot, so it doesn’t do well every year.  However, 2010 had a long warm season, and was a good year for North Fork reds—including this one.  Blended with merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec, this is a very dark red with lots of dark fruit flavors including black cherry and a touch of tobacco.  It was aged two years in French oak.  It has the tannins to stand up to steak or roast lamb.  Another good one.

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  1. 2010 Old Vines Merlot $65

We like this one, too, though not as much as the cab sauv.  It is somewhat austere, a bit light for a red at this price point, with a purple plum and cherry flavor.  Not much aroma.  Our server tells us this could age 20 years, and tells about some of the older Lenz wines she has tasted.  We get the last of the bottle, so there’s a bit of sediment at the bottom of the glass. They don’t filter their wines.

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The one we took home.

  1. 2014 Estate Select Merlot $30

Extra!  Having noticed our preferences in the wines we’ve tasted, our server offers us a taste of her favorite of their reds, a new release.  Good move, as we buy a bottle and date it to be drunk in a few years.  The merlot is blended with cabernet franc and petit verdot and aged in French oak.  We like it much better than the Old Vines Merlot, and especially prefer the price.  It has more fruit, layers of flavor, and good tannins.

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Reasons to visit:  lots of good wines; a good compromise between the big commercial wineries and the smaller boutique ones, as it has characteristics of both; in the summer, they have an outdoor courtyard; the Estate Select Merlot, the Tête à Tête, and the Old Vines Chardonnay in particular, but we liked all the wines.

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Sometimes the vines in the snow remind me of dancers. In this case, they are hip deep in old snow.

Lenz Winery: A Matter of Style December 4, 2016

http://www.lenzwine.com/Home.htm

In warmer weather, this courtyard might be a nice place to relax.

In warmer weather, this courtyard might be a nice place to relax.

“Eric,” said our server, referring to Eric Fry, the winemaker for Lenz, “prefers a more austere style, with salty minerality.”  We agree.  If you want to understand the difference a winemaker’s choices can make, then you should definitely include Lenz in your tastings.  For example, back in October we tasted Pugliese’s 2010 Blanc de Noir Nature, a rosé made from pinot noir grapes, and at Lenz we tasted their 2014 Blanc de Noir, also made from pinot noir grapes.  Of course, they are different vintages, but look at the difference in taste:  my notes for Pugliese (just down the street from Lenz) note a vegetable taste and aroma, while my notes for Lenz highlight a smell of minerals and salt and mushed up fruit and a taste of red grapefruit.  Same grape, same “terroir,” different winemakers, different tastes.  Both, I might add, quite good.

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The Lenz tasting room is in an attractive wooden building with a long bar along one side and a nice array of wine-related gifts and art for sale along the other sides.  They have room for tables, but don’t have any, which might be a good addition, though I did note some picnic tables in the courtyard.  On this sunny winter Sunday, there were several small groups and couples at the bar, tasting the wines, chatting, and listening to the soft jazz and pop music on the sound system.  I heard Frank Sinatra, among others.

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Some of their gift options

Some of their gift options

The tasting menu features an Estate tasting of five wines for $12 or a Premium tasting of five of their better wines for $15, plus a few additional wines available for individual tastes, such as their sparkling wine and the rosé.  Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable server suggested that he could also do an all white and/or all red tasting for us, and we decided that it would be perfect to share an all white and then an all red tasting.  Together the two were $27.

Pretty color, too.

Pretty color, too.

  1. 2014 Blanc de Noir Rosé               $24

As I noted above, we smelled a salty minerality plus mushed up fruit (a description I’m sticking to, even if that’s not a “wine word”) and agreed that this is a very dry, French-style rosé with nice acidity and a citrusy taste like red grapefruit.  Though you wouldn’t want to sip it on its own, it would be a very nice summer aperitif with a cheese tray, especially if you had some brie and creamy goat cheese on it, perhaps from Catapano.

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  1. 2012 Pinot Gris $25

Our server describes the style of this white as “Alsatian, with no residual sugar.”  I get the idea of austere here also, as this is a very dry wine with a vegetal aroma and an almost cabbage-y taste.  My husband compares it to Brussels sprouts, one of his favorite vegetables.  Again, though not a sipping wine, this would go well with certain foods, such as a charcuterie platter.  Nice acidity.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Gewürztraminer $30

And now, as they say, for something completely different.  2010 was a hot dry year, and, according to our server, a good year for gewürztraminer.  He may be onto something.  This is a delicious wine, with lots of aromas including lychees in syrup and tropical fruits.  This is again a dry wine, though gewürztraminers are often somewhat sweet, and it has some sweetness and a taste like roasted pear.  I observe that it would be perfect with turkey, and then flash on a memory of a number of years ago when we came to Lenz in order to buy several bottles of their gewürztraminer for Thanksgiving.

You can buy hand-decorated bottles to bring to a friend's house.

You can buy hand-decorated bottles to bring to a friend’s house.

  1. 2013 White Label Chardonnay $15

Two years ago when we came here we bought a couple of bottles of their White Label Chard, which was $15 then, so it is quite the bargain now.  This is a steel-fermented chard, with an almost candy-like aroma and a dry, crisp, gooseberry taste, with a touch of pineapple.  You could sip this with or without food, and it would go with any white-wine friendly dish.

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  1. 2013 Old Vines Chardonnay $30

When Lenz says “old vines,” they’re not kidding, as they first planted their grapes in 1978, which makes them practically ancient by Long Island standards.  Our server says that Eric wants you to “taste the year,” so ages the wine in neutral oak barrels.  This is a good chardonnay to give someone who thinks they don’t like chardonnay, as it is a lovely wine.  The aroma is of peaches with some vanilla, and the taste is crisp and dry with just a bit of sweetness and a taste of not-quite-ripe pear.

Lovely dark color

Lovely dark color

  1. 2013 Estate Selection Malbec $40

We get a fresh glass and switch to the reds.  This is a “pre-release” wine, not yet on the tasting menu.  Lots of wineries use Malbec in their blends, but not as many use it by itself.  The label notes it is “unfined and unfiltered,” as are several of their reds, which goes along with the philosophy on their website of trying not to interfere too much with the natural process of turning grapes into wine.  We smell lots of fruit aromas plus an undercurrent of something my husband describes as medicinal and I think of as Band-aids.  Mouth-watering taste, with lots of tannins, dry, with dark ripe prune plum taste.  Their tasting notes say chocolate, but I’m not getting that.  Yum.  Interesting wine.

  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $25

Now I get chocolate—this one smells like those chocolate-covered cherries.  This is also good, with lots of dark fruit tastes and a nice acidity that would complement lamb very well.  The tasting menu mentions cedar, and my tasting buddy objects, “I hate eating cedar.”  Ha.  I do get some woodiness.  Not complex, but good enough that if we had room in our cellar we would buy some to hold for a couple of years.

Unlike some places, the labels actually give you information about the wine.

Unlike some places, the labels actually give you information about the wine.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon $50

This one also could use some aging, though it is already very good, with a slightly funky aroma that is mostly of red fruit.  As we sip we note a complexity, with layers of flavors, including raspberry and other dark fruits.  2010 was a good year for reds, and this one is no exception.

  1. 2012 Estate Selection Merlot $30

Though this is mostly merlot, it also has some cabernet franc and malbec and petit verdot in it.  We get the typical cherry aroma and taste of Long Island merlots.  Judging by the tannins, we think this could also age well.  Good.

  1. 2010 Old Vines Merlot $65

Always fun to taste the same grape from different years to see how they compare.  Our server enthuses that the ’93 and ’97 merlots are still very good, noting that this one should also age well.  “Don’t drink it right away,” he warns, if you buy it.  We don’t—not convinced it is worth the price—but I think it would be hard to resist drinking it sooner than later, as it is another winner.  Aromas and tastes of chocolate and cherry and tobacco greet us, but it is not a “fruit bomb.”  Nicely dry.

You can see some of the paintings for sale, and also a sign on the beam that never fails to amuse my husband.

You can see some of the paintings for sale, and also a sign on the beam that never fails to amuse my husband.

Reasons to visit:  a nicer than usual selection of gifts, including original paintings; a lovely calm setting and knowledgeable and enthusiastic servers; all the wines if you like them dry, but especially the Old Vines Gewürztraminer, the Old Vines Chardonnay, the Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Old Vines Merlot. 

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You can enter and exit the courtyard through this tunnel--or go around it!

You can enter and exit the courtyard through this tunnel–or go around it!

That time of year thou mayst in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs...

That time of year thou mayst in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs…