Osprey’s Dominion: Good Place to Perch February 22, 2020

https://ospreysdominion.com/

On this warm, sunny Saturday, we drove east on Main Road, passing wineries with almost-full parking lots. We theorized that it was the combination of the end of the February vacation and the beautiful weather that had drawn the crowds, plus the promise of music in many of the tasting rooms. I had checked the Winterfest web page before we left home, but it was soon clear that many places had live music they had not bothered to register with the Winterfest page. So I suggest that if you are looking for music, you check individual winery web pages to see what they have scheduled—or just head out to the North Fork and look for the “Live Music” signs.

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Many people were relaxing and enjoying the food they brought with them and the music. We would have preferred if Erich Glaubitz had lowered his volume, though we liked the music.

Fortunately, we liked the folky music the singer/guitarist, Erich Glaubitz, was playing at Osprey’s, because otherwise his overly loud amp would have been unbearable. The loud music did make it hard to converse, but we managed. We stood at the bar; however, the room was filled with people who had brought snacks with them, sharing bottles of wine as they sat at tables and enjoyed the sun-filled space. Osprey doesn’t offer much in the way of food, though a sign on the bar offered the “best guac dip EVAH!”—an assertion with which my husband begged to differ, since he makes an awesome guac. We noticed a number of canine companions, so this is a place you can bring your doggy friend.

We enjoyed an instant rapport with our server, who noted that she also kept a notebook for her tastings, and recommended that if we are ever in Windham we look for a terrific wine bar she found there. She helped us with our choices from the list of many wines, after some discussion of our likes. One tasting option is five wines for $12, which was plenty for us to share. We could also have chosen four of their “Library” wines—aged wines that they have just released—for $15. Then we had to figure out which five wines. There are five whites, one rosé, eight reds, and five Reserve Collection wines, a combination of whites and reds. Not to mention three dessert wines.  Oh boy.

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One thing I like about this winery is that they have a variety of wine prices.

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She set us up with two tastes at a time, and urged us to ask anyone for help if she didn’t happen to be available.

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As I drive around the North Fork, I love spotting the osprey nests, which are huge constructions on the top of poles.

  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $19

I like to start with a sauvignon blanc, because they tend to be light and dry, and work well with whatever follows them. This was no exception. Our server noted that she tastes grapefruit, and we agree. My tasting buddy thinks it may be a touch sweet, while I find it tart, and then we decide what is reading as sweet to him is a bit of melon taste when you first sip it. Good with light fish dishes.

  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $19

Certain North Fork wineries make what I consider exemplary versions of particular wines, and for me One Woman makes the best local gewürztraminer. This one, which also contains some riesling, is not as good as hers. The aroma is interestingly complex, including petrichor and gooseberries. We find it a bit too sweet, especially at first sip, though then it ends quite tart, almost acid. It’s not bad, but I find something a bit off-putting about it.

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  1. Richmond Creek Red Blend $14

Richmond Creek is their less expensive label, but we like these wines just fine, and often buy them at Vintage, the wine store in Mattituck. This one is a Bordeaux-style blend, of 42% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 23% merlot, and 11% pinot noir. The aroma is lovely, combining cherry, mint or eucalyptus, cedar, and tobacco. It is very dry, with some tannins, and nice fruit. This is a good everyday red, a burger or pasta wine.

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  1. 2014 Carmenere $30

I was interested to try this wine, since Osprey is the only winery on the North Fork to grow this grape. The 2008 Carmenere is on the list of Library wines, so clearly they feel this is a good wine for aging. I think the 2014 could use more time. The aroma is of dark berries, and it tastes like red plums. Lots of tannins—my tongue feels dry. This would match nicely with a rich beef stew, maybe a boeuf bourguignon.

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  1. 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $39

Our server urges us to try this one, which she categorizes as their best red, having won many awards. She adds that it is blended with some merlot and petit verdot. It is quite good, full-bodied, with lots of dark fruit flavor and mouth-puckering tannins.  It might benefit from further aging. I could see having this with lamb chops.

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I didn’t expect to like this, but I did. Nice way to end our tasting.

  1. Warm Spice Wine $16

Smiling, our server brings us this “extra” at the end of our tasting, urging us to try it. This is not a wine I would have chosen, but I find it surprisingly pleasant. It is seasoned with orange peel, anise, and cinnamon, with the taste of orange predominating. I thought it would be too sweet, but it is not at all. If I still skied, I could see sipping this by the fire after a day out on the slopes. Essentially, it is glogg, the Swedish mulled wine. Delicious.

Reasons to visit: pleasant large room, with options to stand at the bar or sit at a table; you can bring your own food—and pup; nice selection of gifts, augmented on this day by a woman selling hand-made jewelry; the sauvignon blanc, the Richmond Creek Red Blend, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; and, surprisingly, the Warm Spice Wine. We also like the Richmond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which we often buy for everyday drinking at our local wine store.

On the way home, we stopped at the North Fork Doughnut Company and bought these doughnuts for dessert.  On the right is Peach Cobbler, and on the left is Hound Dog, which, since it includes peanut butter and bacon, I assume is an homage to Elvis. Yum.

North Fork Brewing Company: Who Let the Dogs Out? February 17, 2020

https://www.northforkbrewingco.com/

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The logo represents a barn swallow, which has several symbolic meanings.

After the fourth or fifth dog entered, owner in tow, our son-in-law turned to us and said, “I feel as though we should have brought a dog with us.” We had arrived at the North Fork Brewing Company tasting room around lunch time, and almost every person who entered seemed to have a sweet, well-behaved dog with them. (I stopped counting when I got to six!) The room is well adapted to canine visitors, since the brewery is located in a former fire station, with concrete floors and an industrial vibe. Many of the visitors were having a glass of beer and a sandwich, from the food truck outside, while others, like us, had opted for a tasting.

The last time we went to North Fork was exactly a year ago, and that time, too, it was with our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters after a couple of hours at the Safari Play Space in Riverhead. The girls settled in with coloring books and books, and split a root beer (which W. said went very well with her orange lollipop from Safari), while we tasted and discussed. We decided that the beers had improved over the year. The last time we felt that while we appreciated the creative choices they were making, there was also no beer we wanted to just sit and drink. In contrast, this time there were several we could see getting in a growler, and in fact our son-in-law took home a growler of “It Must Have Been Light, But It’s Darker Now.”

A flight is four glasses of your choice from a list of eleven beers on tap for $9, and comes in a little muffin tin. You write your choices on a little card, and they are put in the pan in number order, with the numbers on the bottom of each spot.

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The number in the bottom of the muffin tin which holds your tastes.

After a little while, we got sandwiches from the food truck, which had a limited menu because, we heard the person in it explain, they had not expected to be open this day. Our daughter is lactose intolerant, so she was delighted to try the vegan cheese and pesto sandwich, which was very tasty ($10). My husband and I shared a grilled cheese sandwich, which was a rather ordinary offering of grilled cheddar on white ($6). The brewery also sells bags of North Fork potato chips for $3.

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In between sips, I chatted with the server, who explained that the logo represents a barn swallow. The barn swallow symbolizes their commitment to be a farm brewery—they grow many of their own hops—and also was a tattoo sailors would get to symbolize their home-coming.

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  1. It Must Have Been Light, But It’s Darker Now 5% Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

This is a dark beer for someone who is making the transition from being a light beer drinker to darker beers. It is dark in color, with a caramel aroma, pleasantly bitter, with a refreshing, complex flavor, lighter than most dark beers. A German bock style, our son-in-law says it compares favorably with bocks he’s had in Germany.

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The flight I shared with my tasting buddy.

  1. Change (In the House of Hops) 9%

Change indeed. This IPA smells and tastes like mandarin oranges. My daughter and I agree on what to drink it with—I say a po’boy sandwich and she says a basket of fried clams.

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They have their own food truck, called the North Fork Chewing Company, parked right outside the tasting room.

  1. Dark Side of Maple 6%

I have liked porters ever since I first tasted one in an English pub many years ago, but I think this one is a bit too sweet. Another of our group says it is “a good porter.” I think it needs more body. You can definitely smell and taste the maple syrup used in making it.

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The menu is sometimes more extensive, but they hadn’t expected to be open on a Monday. I suppose they forgot it was a holiday.

  1. Gaffer’s Hearth 9%

On the other hand, I really like this stout, which is also brewed with maple, plus North Fork Roasting Company coffee. It had a delicious coffee flavor and aroma, with just the right amount of bitterness. Our son-in-law describes it as a “breakfast stout,” and reminisces about a place he went to when he was in college that would serve at breakfast a glass of stout with an egg beaten into it. Really? Much discussion ensues over whether that is a good idea or not.

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The other flight our group had. You can see how cloudy Run the Juice is.

  1. Hold Me Closer Tiny Lager 5%

I’m at the end of my flight, but our daughter and son-in-law have a couple of different choices in their flight, and this is one of them. This is a light, fizzy, German pilsner. Refreshing, but not to be sipped on its own.

  1. Run the Juice 4%

Like many IPAs, this smells and tastes like grapefruit, though this one also has a touch of funkiness. It is cloudy in color. Refreshing.

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You can peek into the brewery itself.

Reasons to visit: you want to go out for a beer and not leave your dog at home alone; all the beers, but especially It Must Have Been Light, But It’s Darker Now; Gaffer’s Hearth; Hold Me Closer; they have their own food truck; convenient to downtown Riverhead.  Note:  Google map directions are not accurate!  They tell you you have arrived when you are actually around the corner from the parking lot.

Lieb Cellars: Comfy Seating February 11, 2020

http://liebcellars.com/

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No sitting on the patio today!

Our dear friends had come for a rare visit, and we wanted to do a tasting where we could sit comfortably and chat while we sipped, so we braved the puddles on Oregon Road and headed to Lieb Cellars. Our friends were quite charmed with the room at Lieb, with its comfy couches and living-room-like groupings of seats around coffee tables. We spent a leisurely afternoon tasting and talking, a brief escape from the continuous rain of this February.

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The somewhat industrial style of the building makes the warm and welcoming interior a pleasant surprise.

We also enjoyed contemplating the art on the walls, which was for sale.  There is a separate room which could be a nice venue for a small party or a large group tasting.

We had the room to ourselves, except for a pair of women who ordered a cheese tray and glasses of wine. Lieb has a very nice list of meats and cheeses one can use to customize a snack board, but we had just had some delicious tomato soup from 8 Hands, and were not hungry. We were, however, happy to sip the water Jessica, the server, brought us in a chilled bottle.

The flight menu offers three options: four whites for $16, four reds for $16, or the Lieb Estate flight of five of their estate wines for $22. Since the first two flights include Bridge Lane wines which we have had at the Bridge Lane tasting room, on the corner of Cox Neck Road, we opted for the Lieb Estate flight, while our friend, who generally prefers reds, ordered the red flight. Our designated driver opted for a glass of non-alcoholic sparkling lemonade, which was served to him in a pretty champagne flute, and which he said was quite good.

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Sparkling lemonade!

  1. 2017 Sparkling Pinot Blanc $38

Our three whites came all on one round terracotta tray, with clear labels for the order in which to drink them. I wondered how long the sparkler had been open, since it barely bubbled. We had no guidance from the very pleasant server as to the details of each wine, but the website informs me that it is made using the méthode champenoise. We taste and smell green apples, plus something a touch woodsy and funky, with lemon at the end. Pleasant, but not as exciting as a bubbly wine should be.

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They give you a fairly generous pour.

  1. 2016 Pinot Blanc $24

This is a very, very light white; in fact, my husband describes it as “barely there.” I get lemon and minerals.

  1. 2018 Chardonnay $28

Fermented in a combination of steel and neutral oak, this chardonnay has only a touch of butter. It is smooth, with lots of pineapple taste. Not bad at all.

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The reds from the estate flight (minus a couple of sips).

  1. 2017 Merlot $30

Now we get our three reds, again in a labeled tray, starting with the merlot. This is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with the expected cherry flavors and aromas, though there is a whiff of chemicals in the smell. It is soft and drinkable. Not at all a challenge.

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The red flight.

  1. *Red Blend $20

The Red Blend is part of the red flight, and we sip from our friend’s glass. It is a soft, fruity, very drinkable red, described on the website as a Bordeaux blend. Our friend characterizes it as a “cheese and crackers” wine, and my tasting buddy adds, “You could drink a lot of this before you fell over.” At Bridge Lane you can get this in a box as well as a bottle.

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It was nice to have chilled water to cleanse our palates between tastes.

  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $35

We get into a discussion, trying to characterize the aroma of this wine, and settle on something vegetal, though there is some disagreement over whether it is celery and fennel or Brussels sprouts. It is a dry red, with some tannins, dark fruit taste, a touch of nutmeg, and nice acidity. I like it the best of the wines we try.

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The array of Lieb Estate wines.

  1. 2018 Petit Verdot $45

Sometimes I like petit verdot, and sometimes it just doesn’t knock my socks off. This is the latter. We sniff and get forest floor, mint, and mushrooms. The taste includes blackberries and tobacco, but my husband opines it “lacks gravitas.” Since 2018 was a good year locally, I wonder whether it just needs more time to age. As we discuss our summary impressions, he adds that perhaps the winemaker is too conservative. The winemaker is Russell Hearn, who has his own label of Suhru wines, which we liked better. Perhaps he should bring some of that creativity and risk-taking to these wines, if the owners will let him.

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You can just tell from the labels that the Bridge Lane wines are meant to be taken less seriously.

Reasons to visit: comfortable and attractive tasting room off the beaten track; nice menu of cheeses and meats; the Estate Chardonnay, the Red Blend, the Estate Cabernet Franc. Note that they accept reservations, not a bad idea in the busy season, but certainly not needed during the week in the winter!

 

Castello Borghese: On a Winter’s Day February 9, 2020

https://castellodiborghese.com/

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All the leaves are brown…

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…and the sky is grey.

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.

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For most of the time, we had the tasting room to ourselves.

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.

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Sometimes they have musical performances in this room.

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.)

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They give you a rather generous pour.

  1. 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.

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We were fascinated by the difference in color between the two chardonnays. The one on the left is oaked.

  1. * 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. *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.

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  1. 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.

  1. *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.

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  1. 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.

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Many of their wines have won awards.

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.

Laurel Lake: Not Their Fault, But… February 1, 2020

http://www.llwines.com/

We have had several prior visits to Laurel Lake which we enjoyed, including once in the early fall when we sat outside with some friends and experienced good table service and a leisurely afternoon, and another time in the winter when we had the tasting room mostly to ourselves and had a lovely chat with the winemaker. However, this time a very noisy crowd of women having a bachelorette party, succeeded by an even noisier group celebrating a birthday, made it hard for us to relax and enjoy our tasting. Part of the problem is that the room is all hard surfaces, promoting echoing sounds. Not anyone’s fault, but it did color our appreciation of the wines.

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The room looks empty, but off to the left there’s a large and rather noisy group.

There’s plenty of room for groups—which must reserve ahead—at Laurel Lake, especially if you include the outside area, but the main tasting room is a middle size. We decided to sit at a table, and get up to ask for each of our four tastes. The menu offers four tastes for $16, from a menu of six whites and eight reds (minus the sauvignon blanc, which was used up). With some guidance from the servers—one of whom, Maureen, amazingly recognized us from our visit over a year ago—we chose our four.

 

  1. 2018 Pinot Gris $23.99

A good place to start, this is a relatively simple, direct white, the French version of pinot grigio. The wine doesn’t have much aroma, just perhaps a touch of flowers and minerals. It is dry, with tastes of unripe pear, salt, and minerals. It would be fine with a delicate fish dish.

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  1. 2018 Gewürztraminer $23.99

The menu wisely includes a little pronunciation guide to this wine, which people might otherwise hesitate to order! And order it they should, as it is very likely a crowd pleaser. It has enough fruit to make it easy to drink, but not so much sweetness that we were put off by it. The aroma is of thyme honey and oak, and it tastes like peaches and apricots. It would be fine to sip on its own, but even better with kung pao chicken.

  1. 2015 Cabernet Franc $22.99

I was thinking of getting their red blend, called Wind Song Red, but the server warned me that it is “semi-sweet.” So, no. Instead I got the cab franc, which had a very promising aroma of fruit, leather, nutmeg, and plums. It is, she informed me, their most popular red. We found it pleasant, but one-dimensional, light-bodied, with slight tannins and nice acidity. I taste purple plums and maybe a touch of black olive. I could see how people would find it easy to drink. The tasting notes suggest pairing it with grilled tuna, and I agree.

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  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $29.99

The word “reserve” can mean anything a winery wants it to mean, but generally it denotes their higher end wines. All of Laurel Lake’s wines are moderately priced, with this the most expensive one on the menu. It is a dry, smooth, pleasant (there’s that word again—am I damning with faint praise?) red, with light tannins, tasting of dark fruits and berries. The menu describes it as having an “intense aroma,” but we thought not. Interestingly, the last time we were here we tried the 2012 iteration of this wine, and liked it very much. Just shows the importance of tasting each vintage.

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Reasons to visit: pleasant tasting room, if it’s not filled with noisy groups; nice outside area for warm weather; at the moment they allow outside snacks; the gewürztraminer and the cabernet franc, small selection of amusing wine-related gifts.

 

RG/NY: A Shared Aesthetic January 17, 2020

https://rgnywine.com/

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Don’t be fooled by that blue sky–it was cold!

The starkly simple sign outside leads you into an entry area that is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. The tasting room is similarly pared down to essentials, as are the wines. Even the bottles share this aesthetic, looking like examples of modern art. Our friendly and well-informed server, Tina, tells us that an attractive stair-step design on the labels has a symbolic meaning. The wines are named “Scielo,” which a neon sign, the only décor in the tasting room, informs us means Heaven. The steps are a route to the heaven you find in the bottle.

The Rivero González family bought this winery and vineyard from Martha Clara in 2018, but they have been winemakers in Mexico since 1998. We had waited to check them out until we figured they had time to make their own wines, which they have. The only hold-overs from Martha Clara are some of the reds—and Tina herself, who greets arriving wine club members like old friends. She tells us that the new owners want to keep the family-friendly atmosphere of Martha Clara, while putting their own stamp on the wines and décor. For example, dogs will be allowed outside on the grounds (though today there is one in the tasting room! Well, it is certainly too cold to hang around outside.).

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This pooch was so well-behaved we didn’t even realize she was there until someone greeted her.

I ask Tina about snacks, and she shows me a menu which is available on weekends in the winter, and every day in season. (No outside food.) Meanwhile, there is a refrigerated case and various snack items in the shop area, so you can make a DIY snack. We decide we are not that hungry, and anyway, each tasting comes with a little dish of very tasty crackers.

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The snack menu, which is available on weekends in the winter.

The tasting menu offers a choice of three different flights: the Scielo selection of four wines for $17, four whites for $20, or RG Selection of higher-level wines, four for $22. The final choice on that menu is a Martha Clara red, but Tina, noting that we have been to Martha Clara, says she could substitute the RG Tinto if we prefer. We decide to go with the Scielo flight.

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  1. 2018 Scielo Chardonnay $25

I am happy to learn that this is a primarily steel-fermented chard, with just 2% oaked. I find in general that I prefer steel chards, but a little bit of oak adds depth and a nice mouth feel. It has an aroma of ripe apples and flowers, and tastes like a Granny Smith apple as well. There’s also a touch of lime. My tasting buddy insists that it is slightly sweet, but after some discussion we realize that his taste is influenced by some residual sweetness from the cracker he munched. He says this would be a good seafood wine, and I agree, though I think a seafood in cream dish would go best.

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  1. 2018 Riesling $24

Before we opted for this flight, I asked if the riesling was sweet or dry, and Tina reassured me that it was dry. She wasn’t kidding. It is bone dry, and very light. The aroma is of honeysuckle and metal, and there’s a touch of metal in the taste as well. Like touching your tongue to a pole? Well, I’m not that dumb. I also taste pears. We get into a discussion about how the new wines are very dry, whereas the Martha Clara wines tended to be more on the sweet side. Some former customers are unhappy with the new taste, while we prefer it.

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The stair step pattern on the label has a symbolic meaning.

  1. 2018 Scielo Rosé $22

Yum. This is a blend of 48% merlot, 32% malbec, and 20% cabernet franc, and the complexity of that blend shows up in the flavor, which is more interesting than a standard rosé. Tasty, says my husband. It has the strawberry aroma one would expect, and in addition to some strawberry flavor a definite note of lychee. We decide to get a bottle to go with the scallops we bought earlier at Braun’s.

  1. 2018 White Merlot $32

Power of the book—she was pouring this for someone else, so she offered us a taste of this white wine made from merlot grapes. Nice. It tastes like a cross between red and white, light and drinkable, with an aroma of wood and leather and white cherry taste.

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  1. 2018 Tinto $30

Our server compares this to a Beaujolais, and it is light like a Beaujolais, though it is made from a Bordeaux blend: 43% merlot, 37% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot, and 10% cabernet franc. I would guess that they were in a hurry to get out a red of their own, because we think this could benefit from more aging. It has a nice cherry aroma and taste, but no depth and some tannins. It is very young, and I could see drinking it with meatloaf or hamburgers.

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  1. 2018 Cabernet Franc $37

There’s just a little bit left in this bottle, not enough to give anyone a regular taste, so Tina asks if we’d like a sip of this. Of course, we would. I get spice and leather, not much fruit. Again, I think this would benefit from more time, and we resolve to come back in a year or so to see how the wines have developed.

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There’s a very large side room.

Reasons to visit: A chance to try a new place; very roomy surroundings, in case you are with a group; the rosé, the White Merlot. One note—the bar has almost no overhang, so there’s nowhere to put your knees when you sit there, and the stools are rather uncomfortable. Perhaps they will fix that in the future.

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From the outside, you con’t tell that there are significant changes both inside the building and inside the bottles.

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But there are still some Martha Clara wines available for purchase.

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The gift shop has many fewer items than it used to have.

 

 

Peconic Cellar Door: Women Rule December 20, 2019

https://www.peconiccellardoor.com/peconic-cellar-door

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Unlike most wineries on the North Fork, Peconic Cellar Door is owned and run by women: Alie Shaper and Robin Epperson-McCarthy. It is another of the very small tasting rooms, and in fact adjoins last week’s site, The Winemaker Studio, but is even smaller. Despite its small size, however, it offers quite an array of wines to taste, under four labels: As If Wines, Brooklyn Oenology, Haywater Cove, and Saltbird Cellars. All the wines are now under the umbrella name Chronicle, with the tag line, “Every bottle holds a story.” Ask Robin (or whomever is behind the counter) about the logo, because it tells a story, too.

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Robin was our server, and since there were no other customers, we had time to chat. There were a couple of visitors who came by just wish Robin and Alie happy holidays. Robin told us about her travels around the world to learn the craft and art of wine-making, particularly her six months in New Zealand, which influenced the style of some of her wines. She is clearly passionate about wine-making, and she and Alie have their own original ideas about it. We enjoyed all of their experiments.

The menu offers two flights, the Cellar Door flight, of five wines for $15, and the Signature Flight, of five higher-priced wines for $20. We decided to share the Signature Flight, and perhaps return for the Cellar Door, though Robin cautioned us that they change the options every month. Given that the price list includes 28 wines, I guess they can come up with quite a few permutations. We may have to go back more than once…

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Though they don’t allow outside food (or pets), the only snack on offer is packs of cookies from local baker Ali Katz. I do recommend a visit to her little bakery and food shop in Mattituck (only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). We’ve only been there a couple of times, but found her baked goods excellent.

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  1. 2014 As If Serendipity $35

If the name of this wine describes how it came to be, it was a fortunate accident indeed. A blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and viognier, it is aged more than one expects for a white, particularly on the North Fork, where most whites are from the most recent vintage. This wine has a floral and mineral aroma, and is nicely dry. Some notes of lemony citrus, but also more depth than one expects from a white. As we sip, I find the viognier taste, which I quite like, coming through.

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I thought this label was particularly pretty.

  1. 2017 Saltbird Migratus $27

Of course, I have to ask about the name of this wine, which comes in a bottle with a very pretty painting of birds in flight. Robin explains that it is a reference to her own migrations, away from the North Fork and back, but also to the birds she loves. The making of this wine was influenced by her time in New Zealand. Though plenty of cheap sauvignon blanc comes here from there, the wines they keep for themselves tend to be made like this one, spending six months on the lees and aged in oak. When I note a faint oak taste, she mentions that “one of the barrels” was new oak, so it came out a bit oakier than she wanted. Overall, it is a good wine, with a nice mouth feel and a taste my drinking buddy compares to “drinking flowers.” Well, it does have an aroma that combines something vegetal with flowers.

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This rose is almost like a light red.

  1. 2016 As If Courage $28

Robin calls this a rosé made from a Meritage blend. I guess it does take courage to make a rosé from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and syrah, a classic Bordeaux blend. She compares the aroma to buckwheat honey, and I agree. This is almost as much a very light red as it is a rosé. It has some strawberry and citrus tastes, but more depth (again) than your typical rosé. She suggests serving it with a pork roast, an excellent idea.

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  1. 2016 Saltbird Harbinger $36

A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, this is a wine they only make in good years, so there is no 2018 but will surely be a 2019. I’ve heard in several tasting rooms that this was a very good year on the North Fork, with the right amount of warm days and rain. It has some cherry taste, but is not really fruity, dry, with some tannins. Nice legs, if that means anything!

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The array of our tasting.

  1. 2014 As If Persistence $40

I’m glad they persisted with making this wine, a blend of cabernet franc, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Despite the price, we decide to buy a bottle to save in the cellar for a special occasion. I think it could age a few more years, but it is also delicious to drink now. Fruitier than the previous wine, it has some interesting flavors, and could stand up to a steak.

Reasons to visit: another small winery, where you can talk to the winemakers and learn about what inspired them and how they made each wine; we liked all the wines, but especially the Serendipity and the Persistence; they change their offerings periodically, so you can go more than once; though they don’t allow groups larger than six, if you happen to be with a group you can split up, with some going to the Winemaker Studio, connected by an open doorway and a window in the wall.

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Winemaker Studio: Nappa, not Napa December 15, 2019

http://winemaker-studio.com/

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Note the wine geeks sign, pointing to the entrance to Peconic Cellar Door, which we are also due to visit.

Anthony Nappa may have the perfect name for a winemaker, but I do wonder how often he has to explain that his name is not a reference to the famous wine region in California. In actuality, he is both the winemaker for Raphael Vineyards and for his own label, which he sells in the Winemaker Studio, a small tasting room which adjoins Peconic Cellar Door, another small label, in a shopfront adjacent to the LIRR train tracks on Peconic Lane. Like several other winemakers, he seems to enjoy making his own wines, even though his “day job” is making wine.

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Maybe some day he’ll add some comfortable seating!

According to our very knowledgeable and informative server, Nappa buys his grapes from several different vineyards, including Raphael. This year he is offering several wines made from organically grown grapes, but may not in the future, since the grower has decided to make his own wines. We were just at Raphael on December 7th, so it was interesting to compare the two places. We decided that we much prefer the styles of the wines Nappa offers under his own label. But, as we discussed with our server, taste in wine is a very personal thing, so my preferences clearly are not those of other people.

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Shared Table Farm belongs to Anthony and Sarah Nappa, who have added kimchi, honey, and jam to their wine offerings.

Our visit this year proves yet again that it is a good idea to try each year’s vintage, since wines can be quite different from harvest to harvest. This is particularly true here, since Nappa clearly likes to experiment and try varying combinations. For example, his sparkling wine, labeled Frizzante, is quite different from previous years.

A tasting consists of any five wines from a menu of twelve for $15. We consulted with our server over our choices and, power of the book, got two extra wines for an intriguing side-by-side comparison of different vintages. That turned out to be a good move, as we bought a bottle of one of the extras!

  1. NV Frizzante $20

The last time, several years ago, that we tried Nappa’s sparkling wine, it was made from pinot noir, riesling, and gewürztraminer and was a rather conventional yellow color. This time it is composed of 51% pinot noir and 49% viognier, and is an orange wine with a pleasant fizz. The aroma is somewhat vegetal—Brussels sprouts, maybe?—and yeasty. The taste is pleasantly dry, with a touch of fruitiness. I don’t know if the color is influencing my thoughts, but I think it tastes a bit like oranges, maybe kumquats. At this price, one could drink it as an everyday wine, and I think it would go well with charcuterie. (NV means non-vintage.)

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The sauvignon blanc is light in both color and taste.

  1. 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $22

This wine uses sauvignon blanc grapes from Raphael for 88%, and 12% semillon from another vineyard. The aroma is somewhat floral, unlike the Raphael sauvignon blanc, which was citrusy. This does have a tart, lemon/lime flavor, similar to Raphael’s, but is lighter in both color and flavor. It would be better with food, like a nice dish of local oysters or scallops. Alas, the scallop harvest this year is dreadful, as there was a die-off earlier in the season, when the water was too warm. Darn global climate change.

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  1. 2018 La Strega               $29

Made from organic malbec grapes, this is called the witch because malbec is notoriously difficult to deal with here. Aged mostly in steel, and only six months in French oak, this is a very light red, with fruity aromas of currents and blueberries. No tannins. When our server asks, I say I would characterize this as a red wine for white wine drinkers, and he concurs, noting that he had actually bought a bottle for someone who usually only drinks whites and she had liked it.

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  1. 2014 Quattordici Cabernet-Merlot $35

A blend of 63% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 25% cabernet sauvignon, this Bordeaux-style wine is quite lovely. I smell cherries, black licorice, and fruit salad, and taste black raspberries and maybe a touch of black olives. My tasting buddy disputes that last assertion, but adds that it has a “lotta fruit.” We agree on that. It has a surprisingly long finish. I could see this with a nice slice of rare leg of lamb.

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I feel like I learn so much about wine when we do one of these parallel tastings.

  1. 2012 Merlot $48

Now comes the treat! Because he happens to have a bottle of the 2012 merlot open for wine club members, with one of whom we have been having a pleasant chat, our server asks if we would like to taste the three different vintages of merlot they have on offer. Of course we would! They are encouraging the wine club members to drink this wine now, and I can see why. It still has the merlot cherry aroma and taste, but the taste has become more minerally, with few tannins. No finish. It’s fine—and we like it better than any of the Raphael $72 bottles of red—but definitely is at the end of its life.

  1. 2014 Merlot $40

In 2014, they got their merlot grapes from Shinn, unlike the other two vintages. This is also dry, with more tannins, and an aroma of cherries and olives.  It does have a mouth-watering acidity, and could go well with barbequed pork chops.

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This window allows easy communication with the next-door tasting room, which included some friendly banter.

  1. 2015 Reserve Merlot $40

This one “beats the bunch,” as my grandma would say with the birth of each new great-grandchild. It has an interesting complexity of flavor, and the type of tannins that makes us think it would do well after a couple of years.  Of course, it has cherry flavors and aromas, but there is more to it that just cherry, more depth. We decide to buy a bottle and put it in the cellar for a couple of years, “we should live so long,” as my grandma would also say.

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Reasons to visit: intimate setting where you can discuss and savor the wines at leisure with a well-informed server (he remembered we had been there before); well-priced wines; the Frizzante for casual sparkling wine drinking; the Quattordici, the 2015 Reserve Merlot. Note that they used to be connected to a store which sold cheeses, etc., but it is now another tasting room, the Peconic Cellar Door. Next time we’ll try the rosés and the other reds.  They also have for sale honey, jam, and kimchi made at their Shared Table Farm.

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We bought a jar of their kimchi, which turned out to be quite excellent.

Raphael: Beautiful Room December 7, 2019

https://www.raphaelwine.com/ 

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From the outside, the Raphael Winery looks like a villa in Tuscany, with its red-tiled roof and white walls, and the inside is similarly impressive.  From spring through fall, and then around Christmas, they are often closed for parties, as they have a big, beautiful facility.  At this time of year, they are decorated for Christmas, with lots of twinkling lights and greenery.  They also have a pretty nice selection of wine-related gifts.

As we walk up to the circular bar we are greeted by a gentleman who looks familiar.  Indeed, he turns out to be the same person who served us the last time we were there, back in February, 2018.  We have a nice visit with him, even as he works hard, serving several couples at the bar and a large group of women having a party at two long tables.

The menu offers five options:  four sweet wines for $16, four white estate wines for $16, four red estate wines for $16, four premium whites for $20, and four premium reds for $20.  Our server describes the premium wines as “heavier,” and when I ask what that means he clarifies that they are “more full-bodied.”  They are also pricier, but after some discussion with my tasting buddy we decide to go ahead and share the two premium flights.

There is a menu of snacks, which includes flat breads, and they don’t allow outside food. The pour is generous, and we end up opting not to finish several of the wines.  All four glasses of the flight are poured at once, so we could have taken them to a table, but we end up standing at the bar.

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  1.  2017 First Label Sauvignon Blanc     $39

This is primarily sauvignon blanc, with 10% semillon, steel fermented.  Served too cold, as is often the case.  It has a slight citrus aroma, and lots of lemon taste.  Also mineral.  It is rather tart, and we end up opting not to finish the glass.  Needs food, we decide.

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2.  2014 First Label Riesling     $39

Our server assures us that this is not a sweet riesling, and indeed, he is correct.  He also confides that at first he didn’t care for it, but now that it has aged a bit he likes it better.  We don’t.  The smell is a bit off-putting, with the chemical/gasoline aroma some rieslings have.  It is ultra dry, but not at all fruity to balance the dryness, and a bit of a metallic taste.  My husband says it is “monochromatic,” and I agree.  Again, we opt not to finish the glass.

3.  2012 White Primo Reserve    $39

This is doubly a blend, first of 31% sauvignon blanc, 20% semillon, and 49% riesling, and then aged 50/50 in steel and oak.  All that work leads to the white we like the best.  Though the aroma still has a trace of that gasoline smell, it also has a pleasantly funky note.  As we sip, we note that it combines lemon and butter (from the oak), and I wonder if it would be good to make a sauce for fish with lemon, butter, and a glug of this wine.  Could work.

4.  2016 Riesling Port     $40

Each of the premium flights ends with a port, in this case a white one with lots of the characteristics of the riesling, but balanced with sweetness.  It would be a fine after-dinner sipper.  However, we recently took inventory and realized that we have a number of after dinner sweet wines which we should probably try to use one of these days!

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5.  2014 Merliance     $72

Now we move on to the reds, which are once again lined up in front of us.  “Merliance” refers to a cooperative venture amongst East End wineries–in this case Raphael combined with Wölffer Estates and Macari–to make a blend of the best of their merlots.  As usual, it has aromas of cherries and oak, and cherry taste as well.  It is dry, with nice tannins, but a bit “thin” (says my tasting pal) for the price.

6.  2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve     $72

If not for the price, I might have considered getting a bottle of this, but it seems to me like a good burger wine.  It has pleasant forest floor, fruit, and spice aromas, and tastes like purple plums plus nutmeg.  Dry, slightly tannic, perhaps it needs to age a bit more.

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7.  2015 Primo Reserve     $72

This is their Bordeaux blend, of 58% merlot, 17% petit verdot, and 25% cabernet sauvignon, aged in oak.  It is good, but, observes my husband, “these prices are a joke.”  That may be a bit harsh, but they do seem out of line with the quality of the wines.  We have had the good fortune to taste high end Bordeaux, and this does not compete with them.  It has a fruity aroma, mostly cherry, and some tannins.  The taste is dry, with some fruit.  It might be nice with lamb.

8.  2014 Merlot Port     $45

Another dessert wine.  This smells strangely of olives, I say, and my husband agrees.  It is too thin to support the sweetness of the black raspberry taste, with a strangely sharp edge.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful room, and they have a pleasant outdoor patio for warm weather; a better than most gift shop;  the White Primo Reserve, the Riesling Port, and the Red Primo Reserve; they have good flatbreads (which we had last time we were there); knowledgable and friendly servers.

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We saw this sign of the season in the parking lot. Plenty of places to find Christmas trees on the North Fork!

Suhru: A Warm Welcome November 16, 2019

https://www.suhruwines.com/

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Another tasting room housed in a former house, Suhru similarly has a warm family vibe.

Like our last tasting, at Coffee Pot Cellars, Suhru is located in what was formerly a house and has a similarly welcome, family vibe. Susan Hearn is behind the bar, and is quick to explain, as she hospitably offers glasses of water, that the name of the winery is composed of her name, her husband Russell’s name, and the initial of their last name.

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Ask Susan and she will explain exactly how they came to add the H to the name.

The last time we were there happened to coincide with their grand opening, and featured a spread of cheese and charcuterie from Touch of Venice, just across the street. No such luck today, but Susan offered that we could order snacks from Touch of Venice and they would be delivered within fifteen minutes. Though the options looked good, we were not hungry, but I do wonder why more of the wineries don’t have similar arrangements, especially the ones that are close to restaurants. A number of them do feature snacks catered by local restaurants, which they keep on the premises.

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The “Shared Plates” come from Touch of Venice, and will be delivered in about 15 minutes.

On this sunny but cold November Saturday, there was a steady trickle of guests in the tasting room, including a large group when we arrived, and then a few couples, all of whom seemed very happy to have found Suhru. The room is small but nicely set up, with a bar at which one can stand, comfy couch seating areas, and tables featuring bottles of water and glasses. We decided we’d like to sit, so Susan brought our flights to the table for us, and gave us a thorough run-down of each wine.

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There are three flight choices: Fall Favorites, of four wines for $14; White Wine of four whites for $12; and Red Wine, of four reds for $15. One could also choose from the entire panoply of offerings of Suhru and T’Jara wines (The T’Jara label is owned with another couple and honors Russell’s Australian roots.) and put together a tasting, or get a glass or a bottle. We also noticed that if one bought a bottle of the wine of the month—the Shiraz—one of the tastings would be free.

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Russell is one of the founders of Premium Wine Group, a facility at the corner of Cox Neck Lane and Sound Avenue, where a number of the smaller wineries make their wines, taking advantage of state-of-the-art facilities, which they would otherwise not be able to afford. For example, Susan pointed out, they use screw caps on all their wines, and without the expensive machine at Premium they would have to use corks.

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1. Non-vintage Brut $29
They did not have their sparkling wine ready for the opening last year, as it takes two years to make, so we were happy to have a chance to taste it today. Made from 85% chardonnay and 15% pinot noir, using the méthode champenoise, this is a creditable sparkler, with tiny bubbles and a delicious taste of fruit and mineral. Susan said it smells like roasted pears and toasted brioche, and we agreed—though we probably would have just said toast! Nicely dry and crisp.
2. 2018 Pinot Grigio $18
The aroma is a bit funky and foresty, but pleasant. The wine itself is quite delicate, with what the menu describes as tastes of Granny Smith apple, bosc pear, and lemon peel. Susan laughs as she says this, and admits that most people are happy to just say apple and pear. I think one needs to drink this with food, but something light, like a flounder fillet, rather than something heavy, which would overwhelm the wine.

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Susan in motion behind the bar.

3. 2018 Sauvignon Blanc $19
My tasting buddy and I agree we like this better than many North Fork sauvignon blancs, the second most popular local grape, after chardonnay. The menu prose is a bit over-the-top, describing “aromas of passionfruit jumping out of the glass.” We chuckle at the image of aromas jumping, but quite enjoy the wine, which has the lemon one expects but more fruit than many. It would certainly be good with oysters.
4. 2018 Dry Riesling $18
I’m somewhat wary of this, since I’ve had so-called “dry” rieslings that were anything but. However, this is a really good one, with deep enough flavor to stand up to big tastes, like a lobster fra diavolo, and tastes of stone fruit and citrus. It could also make a nice sipper on its own, though my husband notes if you opened it to have with one meal it might not go with the next day’s dinner. I guess you’d just have to finish the bottle. Susan suggests that it is a good Thanksgiving wine, and I tell her that this year we’ll probably be drinking sake with our turkey, since our theme is Japanese food. But we decide to get a bottle anyway. By the way, they source all their other grapes on the North Fork, but the riesling is from the Finger Lakes.

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5. 2014 Shiraz $23
Because Russell is Australian, they call this wine shiraz, rather than syrah, which is the same grape. He is particularly happy to make this wine, because the terroir of the North Fork reminds him of Western Australia, with its cool maritime setting. They aim to make all their wines food-friendly, and we can see that. This is a medium-bodied red, not a big fruity syrah-style wine. It smells to me like purple plums, and has some fruit tastes. It is the kind of red, like a Beaujolais, that could go with roast chicken or pizza. She says it would also be good for Thanksgiving. We decide to get a bottle, and not just because one of our tastings will be free.
6. 2017 T’Jara Cabernet Franc $25
This and the next two reds are aged in Hungarian oak, while the Shiraz is aged in American oak. I suppose some day, with enough education, I could tell the difference…Anyway, cab franc has become the second most popular grape on the North Fork, after merlot, and though at first it was primarily used in blends, it is now often featured on its own. The aroma is lovely, with notes of nutmeg and minerals as well as dark fruits. It tastes good, too, like purple plums. Again, not a big red, but one with enough acidity that it could go with something like the yummy short ribs and mashed potatoes I had at Jamesport Manor during Restaurant Week.

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One side of the tasting room.

7. 2015 T’Jara Merlot $25
Cherry taste and aroma, as typical of merlots around here, but not very fruity. Minerality. Not bad, just not exciting.
8. 2013 Suhru Ember $20
Why Ember, I ask? Susan explains that they just called this “red,” and their wine club members objected that it was too good a wine to have such a meh name, so they had a contest to name it, and ember won. She feels like it captures the warmth of sitting around a fire and sipping this Bordeaux blend. It is 49% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, and 4% each petit verdot and malbec, though they may vary the proportions from year to year, depending on the qualities of each grape’s juice. Again, we get a slightly funky, forest floor aroma, plus tobacco. She says it has a long finish, but we don’t find that. I taste blackberries. We think this either needs more or less time to age—not sure which!

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This little patio abuts the rather large parking lot, and there is a back entrance to the winery off to the side.

Reasons to visit: pleasant intimate setting, where you can talk to the owner and learn about the winemaking; you can take your tastes to a table, all at once on a carefully labeled tray in nice round-bottomed glasses; snacks from Touch of Venice, a restaurant whose food we like; a cute little outdoor patio area for warm weather; we liked almost all the wines, but especially the shiraz, the sauvignon blanc, and the dry riesling.