Jason’s Vineyard: No, It’s Not a Pirate Ship           June 24, 2017

http://www.jasonsvineyard.com/

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Ancient Greek ships, like the Argo, had painted on eyes to help navigate.

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The ship-shaped bar even has a mast and sail, and the ceiling is painted to look like the sky.

Anyone unfamiliar with Greek mythology could be forgiven for thinking, when they sighted the ship-shaped bar, complete with mast and furled sail, that it was supposed to resemble a pirate ship.  However, the design of the bar—and of the ship on the wine labels—is meant to evoke the great ship the Argo, which set off with its crew of heroes, led by Jason, to find the Golden Fleece.  Jason Damianos, the son of the owner of Pindar and Duck Walk, was clearly quite pleased with his namesake hero, and not only designed his bar to resemble the Argo but also named some of his wines after elements of the heroic voyage and opted to raise sheep (golden fleece, get it?) on his property.  Sadly, Jason was killed two years ago in a car accident.  However, the family has continued to own and run his vineyard and his small herd of sheep (plus at least one llama).

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The llama–and the sheep, we were told–had all recently been shorn.

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Jason’s is a fairly large facility, with an expansive outdoor covered porch where a singer was entertaining guests the day we came (but so loudly that we opted to stay inside).  The servers keep track of your tasting by giving you a pile of tokens, taking one away each time they serve a taste.  That works well for large groups, which they do welcome.  The menu offers a flight of five wines for $10.  Since they have thirteen different wines, we decided to do two tastings, one of whites and then another of reds, which we clarified with our server after a bit of discussion.  As we thoughtfully considered each wine, our server became more and more enthusiastic about helping us, pouring a couple of “extras.”  As a result, the only wines we did not try are the two rosés.

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One view of the porch.

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There were no signs about whether or not they allow outside food, so I assume they do.  They also had a small selection of cheeses and crackers in a refrigerated case.  By the way, I only have vintages for a few of the wines.  The menu doesn’t mention them and neither did our server, who whisked most bottles away before I could check.

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The winery building is quite attractive.

  1. Golden Fleece                 $18.95

Apparently, this was a wine Jason meant to be his signature one, a blend of 41% chardonnay, 24% seyval blanc, 21% Cayuga, and 9% vidal blanc.  Noting this unusual collection of grapes, we asked if any of them came from Upstate.  Yes, said our server, she thought the Cayuga did, but wasn’t sure about the rest. However, according to the winery web page the Cayuga is actually grown locally. Tasting it, we were wondering whether this would be a collection of wines we would even want to taste, as it was much too sweet for us.  The menu describes it as “crisp,” but it made me think of candied or canned pears in syrup.  The aroma had combined minerality with floral and cat pee notes, so I was hoping the wine would be more interesting than it proved to be.IMG_3926

  1. Sauvignon Blanc $24.95

I have to say that this had a rather unpleasant smell, like rotting garbage, but fortunately it tasted better than it smelled.  That’s one of the aspects of wine that fascinates me—how the smell and the taste can be so different.  Anyway, this one WAS crisp, and rather nice, dry, with tastes of lemon and mineral.  It would pair well with oysters.

  1. Pinot Blanc $34.95

We liked this one, too. The smell combined a funky, forest-floor element with a metallic scent, and the taste had lots of citrus.  I was thinking blood orange, with end notes of pineapple, and found it mouth-watering.  It would complement spicy food nicely, like maybe a shrimp fra diavolo.

  1. Chardonnay $29.95

In general, I’m not a fan of oaked chardonnays, and this one did not convert me, though it was not too heavily oaked.  As my tasting buddy said, “It’s neither here nor there.”  Aromas of vanilla and almonds, tastes of butterscotch and lemon, and a rather thin mouth feel.  Our server informed us that this was the last of the 2012 vintage, on sale for only $12.95 a bottle, or $100 a case.  A good buy, but not enough to tempt us.

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The servers use these tokens to keep track of how many tastes you get.

  1. White Riesling $27.95

What, we wondered, is a white riesling?  Aren’t all rieslings white?  Our usual server was occupied elsewhere, and the cheerful young lady who poured this one for us had no idea why this one was labeled “white.”  In any event, we dumped most of the glass, as it was unpleasantly sweet.

  1. 2006 Merlot $26.95

The servers rinse your glass with water between tastes, which is nice—except when they don’t dump out all the water.  This is a pretty typical North Fork merlot, with scents of cherry, wood, and tobacco and a taste of cherry, though with a somewhat bitter finish.

  1. 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon $12.95

The cabernet sauvignon is aged 24 months in new French oak, “unfined and unfiltered,” according to the menu.  Though the aroma is lovely, of black cherry and dark chocolate, the taste is disappointing.  My husband characterizes it as a pizza wine, though I would prefer a nice Chianti. We think it is at the end of its useful life, and so must the winery, since this is also on sale for $100 a case.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $25

This is our first “extra.”  Our server suggests we compare it to the 05, and is interested to see what we think of it.  Much better!  The aroma has hints of something spicy, like maybe A-1 sauce, and the wine is dry, with lots of tannins, and a taste that reminds me of a dried fruit compote.

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Hercules…and…

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Hercules! The wine is named for this cute pooch.

  1. Hercules $28.95

According to the menu, this is a unique wine, a “late harvest blend of merlot and cabernet.”  “Late harvest” would imply great ripeness and sweetness, and the label calls it a “sweet red.”  However, it is not as sweet as we were afraid it would be, and we actually liked it.  I said it was sweet on top and tart on the bottom, which I know makes no sense, but that was what I felt.  We agreed we’d love to try it with a nice piece of chocolate cake.  Hercules, by the way, is named not just for the great hero who went on the Argo (in addition to his famous twelve labors), but also for Jason Damianos’s dog.  Check out the photo…

  1. Meritage $28.95

Meritage is the North Fork’s version of Bordeaux wines, a blend in this case of merlot, cabernet, malbec, and pinot noir.  Very nice—not surprising, since Jason studied wine-making in France.  It smells pleasantly of sweet dark fruits, and tastes like cherries, other fruits, and some pepper.

  1. 2010 Malbec $28.95

As my Grandma Ruthie would say, “This one beats the bunch.”  Definitely the star of the day, this has a delicious aroma of dark fruit, plums, and chocolate and tastes quite fruity as well, while still being dry.  If we had decided to sit on the porch and listen to the singer, this is the wine I would have chosen to have in my glass.

  1. Dessert Wine $28.95

Yes, that is what it is called on the menu.  Our server offers us this “on me,” she says, having enjoyed serving people who are interested in the wine and not just in “getting drunk.”  Thanks!  At 19.5% alcohol, this is definitely an after-dinner drink, really a Port wine, with its sweetness balanced by dryness.  Quite yummy, it would be pleasant to sip this while cracking walnuts and almonds.

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Some snacks are available for purchase.

Reasons to visit:  fun to see the bar shaped like a ship; the pinot blanc and the malbec; the Hercules and the Dessert Wine are good if you’re looking for an after-dinner sweet sipper; you can see—but not feed—the sheep and the llama.

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A portrait of Jason Damianos hangs on the wall. We met him a number of years ago, before he opened the winery, at a shop on Love Lane. We got into a discussion and he told us how excited he was to open his own winery. Nice guy. We were sad to hear he had died.

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Peconic Bay: Not your Typical Tasting April 29, 2017

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This sign lured us in.

The last time we went to Peconic Bay for a tasting was in 2008.  Then it closed.  Or did it? They continued to make wines, marketing them through the store they opened in Tanger Mall, Empire State Cellars.  We loved that store, which was amply stocked with wines from many of the Long Island wineries, as well as beers and liquors and other items from all over New York State.  Unfortunately, they closed.  Or did they?

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The door was open, so we walked in.

Recently we noticed that Peconic Bay had hung out a sign saying “Open,” and touting a new sparkling wine, so we decided to check it out.  We walked into an empty tasting room on a sunny day when every winery we drove past seemed to have a large complement of limos and cars.  We were enthusiastically greeted by a woman who seems to be the manager of the place as well as its only employee.  Over the course of our tasting, we learned various bits of information about Peconic Bay, but not why it closed and opened—and may or may not close again.

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The ciders we could have tasted.

The tasting, which includes four wines, is free.  (!) Each taste is small, served in tiny plastic cups.  They also offer a tasting of ciders for $5, but we decided not to do that.   On the counter were also a dish of Backyard Brine bread and butter-style pickles and another of pretzel sticks with Herlocher sweet mustard for dipping.

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As we sipped, we learned that the tasting room had been re-opened by the owner with the mission of selling out his stock of wines.  Then they decided to recreate a mini-Empire State Cellar experience, and stocked a variety of New York State beers and other products, including Twin Stills moonshine, an apple-based gin, Greenhook Gunsmith whisky, various ciders, and more.  Now they may or may not have “switched gears,” in the words of our friend behind the counter, to continue to sell Peconic Bay wines and other local drinks—or not.  We’ll keep our eyes on them!

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We were sorry when they closed.

  1. 2012 Peconic Bay Riesling          $10

Riesling is a wine I never want to buy unless I’ve tasted it, since it can be sweet or dry or somewhere in between, and taste good or…not so good.  This is a very nice riesling, dry, with a bit of that cat pee smell, and a taste of grapefruit and unripe peach.  Not to be sipped on its own, but it would be fine with food, and the price is certainly alluring.

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  1. 2011 Blanc de Blancs $25

This sparkling wine, made using the sparkling wine bottle-sealing facility at Lenz, is made from their own chardonnay grapes.  It has a bit of a yeasty caramel aroma and is pleasant, dry, and not complex.  They make it using the méthode champenoise.

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  1. Atwater Estate Bubble Pinot Noir $16

From an upstate Seneca Lake winery, this is a pink sparkling wine made from 85% pinot noir and 15% Cayuga grapes.  It has a bit of the strawberry taste you’d expect from a rosé, and is less sweet than I had feared.  It’s light, and would be a fine casual wine if you wanted to take a sparkler on a picnic.

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  1. Brotherhood New York Red       $10

Another upstate wine, this one from the Hudson Valley area, this is a light, steel-fermented red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and baco noir (which I had to ask her to spell for me).  She described this as a “Beaujolais style picnic wine,” and I agree.  It would be perfect with a croque monsieur, for example, and I think I would like it chilled.  You can taste the cherry from the merlot, and also a somewhat piney taste.

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  1. 2014 Saperavi $30

Yes, I said four wines, but given our interest and seriousness, she felt we should try one additional wine.  A silver medal winner from Standing Stone winery, this is a light, pleasant red, dry, with some tastes of pomegranate and other fruits.  It’s a dark red, so I expected it to be richer than it was, but maybe it needs more aging.  I researched the grape a bit, and learned it is a cold-weather tolerant grape, originally from Georgia—the country, not the state.

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Reasons to visit:  a quiet place (unless others figure out that they’re open again); a free tasting; some very inexpensive wines (we bought both the riesling and the Brotherhood New York Red for everyday drinking, which she gave us in a nice canvas Empire State bag); a large choice of a variety of artisanal beers and other New York State drinks.  Note:  don’t depend on finding them open!  It they’re closed, I recommend you go across the street to Coffee Pot Cellars.

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We had the room to ourselves.

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Some of the many brands available there.

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Pindar: Sunshine on a Cloudy Day February 20, 2016

http://www.pindar.net/

It was a cloudy day as we headed to Pindar.

It was a cloudy day as we headed to Pindar.

A beautifully deep rich voice singing “sunshine on a cloudy day” greeted us as we entered Pindar’s large tasting room, and that seemed like an appropriate message.  It was a cloudy day, and, as the French say, “A day without wine is like a day without sunshine.”  Pindar often offers musical entertainment, and is often crowded.  Today, however, there were only a few couples at the bar and the tables in a room that, according to their web site, can accommodate 3,000 (!).  Because of the crowds, we hadn’t been there in a few years, but this visit reminded us that we like many of their wines, though not all.  Their prices also are quite reasonable, which may have something to do with the economies of scale, as they say they are the largest vineyard on Long Island.

We quite enjoyed her singing.

We quite enjoyed her singing.

The menu offers 5 tastes for $10, out of 14 choices, including four characterized as “sweeter” and two dessert wines, plus another list of three “limited” wines at $3 per taste, and a sparkling wine.  The list is further divided into reds, whites, and “proprietary blends,” so it took us a while and some discussion to decide what to do.  We finally decided to share two tastings, first the whites, including two of the proprietary blends (marked with an * in my review), and then five of the reds.  We chose to skip the rosés, as we tend to find no one’s measure up to Croteaux’s.   Since the pour is rather generous, we were glad we chose to share.  They also offer a selection of cheeses and crackers, and do not allow outside foods.

One view of the bar--one of the bars!

One view of the bar–one of the bars!

  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc    $14.99

In general, we feel Long Island sauvignon blancs tend to go better with food, as they tend to be too lemony to just sip, and that’s true of this one as well.  The aroma is of mineral and peach.  Very refreshing, I could see having this with lobster, as its tartness would offset the crustacean’s richness.  My husband notes that the end is too lemony for too long for his liking, especially sans food.

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  1. *Autumn Gold $10.99

This is a blend of Cayuga, Seyval, and chardonnay grapes, our server informs us, as will be our next choice, though in different proportions and different residual sugar amounts. We ask if the Cayuga is from upstate, since it is an upstate grape, and are informed that they grow all their grapes in their own vineyards.  We like this better than the first wine.  It has a touch of sweetness and a bit of funkiness which are well balanced with green apple and citrus tastes.  I also smell some minerality.  This is a very buyable wine, and we get a bottle of it to take home.

  1. *Winter White $10.99 for 750 ml., $17.99 for 150 ml.

“Our most popular white,” notes our server as he pours this blend.  We smell tropical fruits, and are ready to like this one but find it much too sweet for our tastes. The menu describes it as “semi-dry,” which makes us wonder about the wines they categorize as “sweeter.”   You could serve it to someone who actually would prefer soda—or maybe with Thai food.  We dump it.

The mysterious peacock, which may be a reference to Hera's favorite bird.

The mysterious peacock, which may be a reference to Hera’s favorite bird.

  1. 2013 Peacock Chardonnay          $9.99

There’s a pretty peacock on the label, so we ask (as we did two years ago) about the name of the wine.  Still no answer!   This spends eight months in French oak, and we do smell a bit of that woody smell.  We don’t really care for this one, either.  The taste reminds me of over-ripe bananas plus a really tart grapefruit—they say “citrus rind”—and then too much sweetness.  We don’t dump, but we also are not fans.

  1. 2013 Sunflower Chardonnay Special Reserve $18.99

Why sunflower?  This time we get an answer—a sunflower appeared spontaneously in the midst of the vineyard.  The menu describes this as “100% new barrel” fermented, from a “special 3.9 acre vineyard block.”  Sniff—vanilla and grape juice.  This has more body than any white so far.  I say nice.  My tasting buddy says it is “not offensive at the end.”  One could sip this, and it would also be good with a seafood diavolo, since it has some sweetness to it, but not too much.

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  1. 2013 Cabernet Franc $21.99

Now we switch to reds, and get a new glass.  Our server tells us this was just released.  Hmmm…smells good.  Berries, forest floor, maybe wet leaves.  Tastes light, more of a roast chicken or game bird red than a steak red. It would have gone well with the quail from Feisty Acres we bought at the Riverhead Farmer’s Market and had for Valentine’s Day dinner.  But it is soft, pleasant, and quite drinkable.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $18.99

Another pretty label, this one with Pegasus, the flying horse, on it, reminds us that Pindar is named for the Greek poet and owned by the Damianos family, who are Greek.  The wine spends two years in American oak barrels, and has just been out for six months.  I like the aroma, which has a bit of a black olive smell.  This is another fairly light red, dry, with some tannins and tastes of stewed prune and spice, maybe allspice.  My husband thinks it could use more time.

Pegasus, the flying horse

Pegasus, the flying horse

  1. 2013 Merlot $18.99

Merlot is the most popular red wine grape around here, and this is a fairly typical example of a merlot, though with more of a café au lait aroma than most.  My tasting buddy says it reminds him of Hopjes candy.  I’m thinking mocha.  Again, nice and soft, dry at the end, with some nice fruit flavor, but not particularly interesting.

Another Greek reference--the Argo, Jason's chip.

Another Greek reference–the Argo, Jason’s ship.

  1. 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $34.99

“This,” says our server enthusiastically, “is my favorite!”  Yes, I can see why.  It is quite good.  Oak (two years in French oak), cherry, and tobacco aromas, with lots of berry tastes, this would have gone well with the lamb chops we had last night.  Very drinkable.

  1. 2010 Reserve Merlot $34.99

The menu informs us that these grapes were hand-picked and the wine spent two years in French oak.  We smell black cherry and dark plum and taste lots of dark fruit tastes.  Yes, it is better than their other merlot.  Then again, everyone says 2010 was a very good year, especially for reds.

Lots of snacks

Lots of snacks

Reasons to visit:  big room that accommodates a crowd (which might also be a reason not to go!); frequent music performances; good prices for Long Island; the Autumn Gold, Sunflower Chardonnay, 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2010 Reserve Merlot; they sell cheese and crackers and other snacks; lots of choices; wines that non-wine drinkers may prefer.

Plenty of room at the bars

Plenty of room at the bars

Me

Pretty stained glass window

Pretty stained glass window

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Clearly they've won lots of awards.

Clearly they’ve won lots of awards.