It’s a hot Friday afternoon, but in Croteaux’s shady garden it is just pleasantly warm. We settle into the pair of Adirondack chairs the hostess indicated, and peruse the simple menu. We have plenty of time to do so, since service is a bit overwhelmed by what is clearly a larger-than-expected crowd in the garden, but when our waitress appears we order two tastings of all six of their still rosés for $15 each, plus a basket of delicious herbed goat cheese and fresh baguette slices for $10. They have a few other snack items as well, which is good since they don’t allow outside food. We could have ordered a tasting of three of their sparkling rosés, also $15. The first three on the list are $20 per bottle and the last three are $25.
In case you hadn’t noticed, all they make is rosé. The name also hints at the style of rosé, which is lean and flinty and dry, in the manner of French rosés. All their wines are steel fermented and made to be drunk young. We just finished the last of the case we bought last year, and we are here to decide whether or not to get a case this year. As you will see, vintage clearly matters, as we found some of the wines quite different from last year. Another difference—they used to have a rather extensive boutique with clothes, jewelry, etc., but that is no longer so.
- Merlot 181 (Pomerol)
“181” refers to the clone of merlot used for making this, the lightest of their rosés. The aroma has a hint of strawberry, and also flowers and, believe it or not, asphalt. No, really. There is a distinct chemical smell. The wine itself is dry, mineral-y, and salty, with not a lot of fruit. It is very refreshing, with a long finish of the mineral and salt flavor, but not our favorite.
- Merlot 314 (St. Emilion)
Sniff. “Auto repair shop,” opines my tasting buddy. I counter with one of my favorite aromas, though not one usually associated with wine: “hardware store.” For the last few years 314 has been our favorite rosé on the North Fork and we’ve bought cases of it. Not this year. It’s not bad, despite that aroma, but it is very tart and subdued, with very little fruit. Some might even say sour.
- Merlot 3
This is a blend of three clones: 181, 314, and 3. More fruit “on the nose,” as wine people like to say, though it always conjures for me an image of someone balancing a glass of wine on his or her nose. It would be a mistake to limit your use of this wine to a balancing act, as it is quite nice. Still there are notes of mineral and salt, but not overwhelmingly so, with nice strawberry flavor. “More interesting than the usual rosé,” says my husband. I agree that it has layers of flavor, and we both agree that we’ll get a case of this.
- Sauvage (Merlot 181)
“Sauvage” means wild, or savage, and this wine is made with wild yeasts. We like it better than the other 181. Though it has a touch of that chemical smell, it is much fruitier and sweeter than the other wines, with just a touch of minerality. Red candy, I say. It would pair well with spicy food, like Thai duck salad.
- Chloe (Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Franc skins)
The menu describes this as a “white wine lover’s rosé,” and indeed it is more like a sauvignon blanc than like a rosé. It has a sweet pine smell, like a Christmas tree, and tastes a bit like pine as well. Quite dry, it would pair well with oysters, which gives us an idea. When Happy Hour comes we will head to the Old Mill Inn for their dollar oysters and $3 glasses of wine.
- Jolie (Cabernet Franc)
Bright pink, this looks more like what one expects a rosé to look like than the other types. The aroma is somewhat vegetal, maybe like a salad, but also with some fruit. The wine is still dry, but with a fuller flavor. A “red wine lover’s rosé,” they call it. There’s a touch of Meyer lemon on the finish. I like it, but my tasting companion does not. I think you could sip this by itself, though of course it would be fine with roast chicken (as are many wines).
Reasons to visit: all rosé all the time; a very pleasant garden setting where you can relax and sip at your leisure; better-than-average snacks; prettiest bottles on the North Fork; they allow dogs; the Merlot 3 and the Jolie.