Channing Daughters: SoFo, So Good September 14, 2018

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https://www.channingdaughters.com/

Friends often ask me, “What’s your favorite winery?”  I have various answers—rosés at Croteaux, whites at One Woman, reds at Pellegrini, Mattebella for sitting outside, Sherwood for the fireplace in the winter, etc.—but really, Channing Daughters is my favorite.  Unfortunately, it is on the South Fork, so we don’t get there as often as we like.  However, we had an errand that could only be done in Southampton, so off we went.  The errand finished, we took a walk around Sag Harbor, got a bite of lunch at the Golden Pear (really good sandwich), and headed to Channing Daughters.

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This line-up of bottles shows just some of the wines Channing Daughters makes.

So why do we like this winery so much?  It is the most creative, interesting winery on Long Island, growing about two dozen different grapes and mixing and matching them in unusual ways.  And we like almost all their wines. That’s why we joined their wine club, despite the inconvenience of having to be home to sign for the UPS delivery.

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Part of the outside area.

The tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and a few barrels on which to rest your tastes, plus some outside tables in the summer.  They carry a small selection of wine-related gifts, and offer some plain crackers as palate cleansers.  However, we’ve never been there without having interesting conversations with both the people at the bar and the servers, who are very well versed in the wines and eager to share what they know. For really complete analyses of the wines, check out their web site.

 

A tasting consists of six wines for $18, and though the wines in the tasting are listed on a chalkboard, we overheard the servers customize tastings for people based on what they like or don’t like.  As wine club members, we could have tasted any wines, but I wanted to taste the two wines which had just come in our shipment.  So we did the standard tasting plus those two.  Although we each could have had our own tasting, we decided to share in the interests of sobriety.

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The upside down tree is their logo, and references one of Walter Channing”s skills, which is carving.

  1. 2015 Vino Bianco           $20

A blend of 36% Pinot Grigio, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Tocai Friulano and 23% Chardonnay, this is a basic good white wine.  Dry and refreshing, it has, observed my husband, “lots of taste.”  Citrus, flowers, spice, fruit—I agree.  They age some of the wine in steel, some in old oak, some in new oak, then blend it all together.  As I said, they are creative!  We buy two bottles, and think about having some the next time we buy oysters.

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  1. 2016 Rosato di Sculpture Garden $25

This is one of the rosés they make.  A number of years ago, they had seven, the result of late heavy rains which made them reluctant to use the red wine grapes for reds, as the flavor would be too diluted.  So instead they made rosé.  Good move.  The rosés were so popular, they now make a bunch every year.  This one is a field blend, of 91% merlot, 6% teroldego, and 3% blaufrankisch.  Really nice.  The aroma is somewhat earthy and minerally, and it has the strawberry taste you expect plus a really nice minerality and maybe some nutmeg.  Good.

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Orange wine!

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  1. 2014 Meditazione $40

Pronouncing the name with Italian verve, our server explained all about orange wine.  This is a white wine made using the red wine method of fermenting the juice with the skins, hence the orange color.  A blend of 36% Pinot Grigio, 21% Muscat Ottonel, 14% Chardonnay, 13% Tocai Friulano, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Pinot Bianco and 4% Gewurztraminer, this is not an easy wine to drink on its own.  We have it with a couple of crackers, which improves the experience.  It smells like baked oranges and tastes like apples and spices.  They suggest pairing it with game birds or sausages, and that makes sense to me.

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  1. 2017 Rosso Fresco $22

Fresh red?  Yes, because this is a light, bright red, more along the lines of a Beaujolais.  I could see serving on the deck with hot dogs.  It’s another blend, of 76% Merlot, 11% Syrah, 8% Blaufrankisch, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Teroldego, and is barely aged.  They even suggest serving it slightly chilled.  It would make a great summer red.

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  1. 2017 Petillant Naturel Rosato $28

I usually eschew sparkling pink wines.  Fortunately, I did not skip this one.  Wow, is it good!  Mouthwatering, bubbly, dry, with some strawberry aroma and flavor, this wines makes a good case for never dismissing any type of wine before you taste the iteration in front of you.  The servers were going into great detail on the methods used to create this wine, which included freezing the tank at one point and fermenting it in the bottle.  Just another Channing Daughter original.

 

  1. VerVino Vermouth (500 ml) $28

Yes, the tasting ends with one of the vermouths they make.  This is a somewhat sweet one, and would make a fine aperitif or dessert wine.  There’s a somewhat chemical aroma—maybe petroleum? —but fortunately the vermouth doesn’t taste like gasoline.  I get sweet apples, pears, and other fruit flavors.  Vermouth is made by adding various herbs and other ingredients to wine, and at Channing they vary them by season.  This one includes such fall produce as apples, Asian pears, pumpkin, butternut squash, calendula, sage, borage etc.

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The “wild child” name references the use of wild yeast.

  1. 2015 L’Enfant Sauvage $38

This is one of the wines in our current shipment, so I added it to the tasting.  A chardonnay made with wild yeasts, this wine has varied over the years.  Sometimes it’s my favorite, and other times…not so much.  This iteration is yummy.  Although it spends fifteen months in French oak, it doesn’t have that buttery taste I dislike in oaked chards.  I do detect a bit of that woody flavor, which reminds me of when I was a kid and I would sometimes bite my pencils, but I also get lime and baked pear.  You could have it with very assertive dishes, like spicy Chinese food, or even as an aperitif.  We buy a bottle to add to the one we already have, aging in our cellar.

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  1. 2016 Dornfelder

I wonder if this is a wine which would improve with age, since of all the wines we tried today this is my least favorite.  But they do suggest aging it in the bottle, so we will see.  A blend of 85% dornfelder and 15% pinot noir, it has red fruit aromas and flavors, but is not a really deep big red.

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Lots of choices!

Reasons to visit:  some of the best and most creative wines on Long Island; the Vino Bianco, the Rosato, the Petillant Naturel Rosato, L’Enfant Sauvage, and more; there’s always something new to try; one of the few wineries on the South Fork, so well worth a visit if you find yourself in Sag Harbor.

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Mr. Channing’s sculpture’s decorate the tasting room and the grounds.

 

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Suhru Tasting House: New(ish) Kid on the Block June 10, 2018

https://www.suhruwines.com/

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We arrived in time for the grand opening!

Although Suhru wines have been around for a while (We first tasted them at The Winemaker’s Studio.), they didn’t have their own tasting room—until now.  They have opened up their own place in the small building in Cutchogue which briefly housed Waters Crest’s tasting room.  As soon as we walked in, we noticed that they had done a very nice job of renovating the space, expanding the room and decorating it in a breezy, beachy style.  Our server informed us that they soon hope to be able to display work by local artists.  They also have a small outdoor area in the back, which faces their parking lot.

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The back yard

We happened to enter during the Grand Opening, so a table in the rear of the room held cheese and bread and sausages from Touch of Venice, which we were urged to sample.  In the future, they hope to have a menu of snacks from that restaurant, which is right across the street.  Good idea!

Suhru—the name is an amalgam of Susan, Russell, and Hearn, for Susan the owner, Russell the winemaker, and Hearn, their last name—joins the club of wineries which are the personal products of winemakers who work for large wineries, like Coffee Pot Cellars and Anthony Nappa.  They also have another label, T’Jara, which they own with another couple.  That name is a nod to where they are from, which is Australia, and literally means “place where I’m from” in the aboriginal language.  By the way, they are careful to emphasize the “h” in the winery’s name, since Suru is the name of a Japanese saki company! We were given all this information by our cheery and friendly server—who also happens to be Susan and Russell’s daughter.  She was helped at the bar by her mother, so this is quite a family affair.

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In future iterations of the label, the H (which now looks like a football goalpost) will be in white, to emphasize that it is part of the name.

The menu offers several options:  a tasting of three Suhru wines for $9, a tasting of two whites and a rosé from both labels for $8, or a red wine tasting of three, again combining both labels, for $11.   But, we said, we want to try all eight varieties on offer (two wines are not available for tasting, only by the bottle).  No problem, Ms. Hearn replied, and carefully set us up with two tastings of three each, plus one extra of each, which would cost less than buying eight individual tastes.  Wines are also available by the glass.  She also delineated the order in which to taste the wines and made useful comments on each.

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We liked the calm, beachy décor. The other end of the tasting room has some comfortable couches.

  1. 2016 Pinot Grigio           $24

“This is the wine which started it all,” said Ms. Hearn.  I can see why.  It is a light, bright, dry white with tastes of citrus and green apple and a pleasantly flowery aroma.  I felt it needed food, and a bite of bread and cheese showed me that I was right.  It would also be good with charcuterie.

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We were so deep in conversation, I forgot to take a picture until we had drunk everything except the rose. The reds are served the same way.

  1. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc $26

Her parents met while hiking in New Zealand, so this is a nod to the New Zealand style of sauvignon blanc, noted Ms. Hearn, though it is not exactly like them.  After all, the climate and terroir here are different.  The aroma has a whiff of chemicals, but the wine itself is quite nice, dry, with some citrus, though my husband finds it a bit too fruity for him.  Again, it benefits by being tasted along with a bite of bread and cheese.

  1. 2014 Dry Riesling $25

The grapes for the riesling come from the Finger Lakes region, she tells us, and we get into a discussion of the relative merits of grapes from the two areas.  Susan Hearn joins in, and I tell them how last fall we were in Beacon and went to a winery which used some grapes from Long Island!  This riesling also includes some gewürztraminer.  It is very dry, not at all sweet, and tastes of ripe pear and minerals.  Cat pee aroma, I note!

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  1. 2017 T’Jara Rosé $25

A combination of 80% merlot and 20% cabernet franc, this is a very light, almost watery rosé, not fruity or at all sweet. Though it is a refreshing summer drink, it would not replace Croteaux for us.  (By the way, the Croteaux tasting room is closed, due to a problem with the town, though you can still buy their wines online or at local stores.)

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  1. 2012 T’Jara Cabernet Franc $33

Now we move on to the reds, and a new tray of nice, round-bottomed glasses.  The labels for T’Jara wines, by the way, feature designs inspired by aboriginal art.  The vineyard for the reds is in Mattituck, where Bordeaux grapes are grown.  This is a very drinkable red, with soft tannins and dark fruit tastes, dry, with very little aroma.

  1. 2012 Ember $27

This is their Bordeaux blend, predominantly merlot plus cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and petit verdot.  I really like this, and we buy a bottle.  Again, very drinkable, food friendly as Ms. Hearn says, with red current aroma and some minerality as well as dark fruits.  It would be good with a beef stew.

  1. 2012 Shiraz $30

Again, this name is a nod to their Australian roots, since the grape is called shiraz in Australia and syrah elsewhere, so in America winemakers can choose either.  She tells us this is a “cool climate inspired” wine.  It’s good, but fairly light for a shiraz.  I wouldn’t pair it with a steak, but maybe with veal or pasta.  Again, it has soft tannins and lots of fruit.

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The array of reds. Note the aboriginal art-inspired designs on the T’Jara labels.

  1. 2015 T’Jara Merlot $33

Unlike most North Fork merlots, this one has no cherry taste.  It is more like a cabernet franc, I would say.  I think it might improve with age, but right now it is quite young and not particularly distinguished.

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Lucky us, the grand opening included free snacks!

Reasons to visit:  pretty little tasting room that so far is not crowded (We had started out to go to Shinn, but couldn’t even get into the parking lot!); the pinot grigio, the Ember, the sauvignon blanc, the cabernet franc; the chance to chat with the owners and get deeply into the wines; they serve your tastes on a tray, so if you are with a group you can take it to a table and sit and sip; snacks (at some point soon) from Touch of Venice.

Pugliese Vineyards: Crowd Pleaser March 10, 2018

http://pugliesevineyards.com/

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The pergola and pond make a pretty outdoor setting–but not in the winter!

We’ve driven past Pugliese many times in the summer, noting the crowds at the outdoor tables and the many limos (by appointment only) in the parking lot, and given it a pass.  But we figured a March Saturday would be safe, and indeed, when we entered, there was only one other couple there.  However, as we were leaving the first of what the servers told us would be several groups arrived, a bunch of bachelorettes in matching burgundy sweatshirts emblazoned with wine-related quips, with the bride-to-be in a matching white sweatshirt.  “Rise and wine,” read the one on a cheery woman, who informed us that this was already (at 2 PM) their third winery.

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The limos were starting to gather.

If we hadn’t been on our way out, I would have recommended that they start with the sparkling Blanc de Noir, which was one of the wines we did like, and would have been a suitably festive start to their tasting.  But I would guess that many of the wines on the Pugliese menu are crowd-pleasers, as they are generally un-challenging and easy to drink, as well as moderately priced.

 

For $12 you can choose any four wines on their extensive menu of four sparkling wines, seven whites (including one rosé), seven reds, and five dessert wines.  We decided to share two tastings, trying one sparkler, the rosé, two whites, and four reds.  As we sipped we admired the view out the window of Pugliese’s pretty grounds, with a vine-covered pergola and a fountain-centered pond.  It would be a nice place to bring a picnic in the summer, though they discourage food in the tasting room itself (and a sign on the door admonishes “No Pets”).  (One server remembered a group that brought a huge cake with them, and left “crumbs everywhere.”)

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One view of the tasting rooms.

The tasting room itself is not huge, but there is a side room with tables.  That space is lined with tables laden with gift baskets, which feature the pretty flower-decorated bottles of Pugliese wines and hand-painted wine or champagne glasses, all wrapped up in cellophane.  If you need to pick up a gift basket in a hurry, this is the place.  They also have a selection of matted photographs, mostly of local nature scenes, for sale at reasonable prices.

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Nice bubbles in the bubbly

  1. 2010 Blanc de Noir Nature         $25.99

Made from 100% pinot noir grapes (all their grapes are grown on their estate, we were informed), this has the typical yeasty aroma of a champagne.  It is a pleasant sparkler, not complicated, with nice bubbles and a bready flavor.  It would work for a toast (no pun intended!).

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We enjoyed the view as we sipped.

  1. 2014 Pinot Grigio $17.99

At first, I didn’t detect any aroma, but on a second sniff I decided it smelled like clover honey, plus minerals.  It also tastes a bit like honey that has somehow had the sweetness removed from it, or like a tart dish that has been flavored with honey.  My husband complained that it was “watery,” and I agreed that it was very light.  Not a sipper, it needs to go with food, maybe charcuterie, though it has so little flavor most food would overwhelm it.

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  1. 2015 Veronica’s Rosé $17.99

Why Veronica?  “I wanted to name a wine after my niece,” said one server, who was most likely a member of the Pugliese family, since they are generally in the tasting room.  This is another light, dry wine, with typical strawberry aroma and flavor, again not complex.  It has a pretty pink color from the merlot grapes.

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I commented on the pretty labels, and was thanked. On a previous visit I was told that Pat Pugliese painted the design.

  1. 2016 Chardonnay Gold $14.99

They have an oak-fermented chard, but we decided to go with the steel, since we tend to prefer those.  I was also thinking if we liked it we’d buy a bottle, to go with the fish we planned to buy at Braun’s later.  However, we cancelled the trip to Braun’s when we realized we’d be stuck in the Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day parade, and, though we found the chardonnay pleasant, we didn’t like it enough to buy it.  (Instead we stopped at 8 Hands Farm and picked up some of their delicious bratwurst.)  Though the chard is a bit sweet, it is balanced by good fruit flavors of citrus, mango, and pineapple.  My tasting buddy says it would have gone well with a dish I made a couple of days ago, called Chicken Veronique, chicken breasts cooked with grapes and mushrooms.

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The grape is the one used to make chianti, but this is not a very chianti-like wine.

  1. 2012 Sangiovese $16.99

I was interested to taste this, as it is advertised on the menu as “Long Island’s only chianti.”  I like chianti.  I wouldn’t have necessarily identified this as a chianti, however, and, considering that 2012 was supposed to have been a good year for reds on the North Fork, this was a rather disappointing wine.  However, it is drinkable, with no tannins, very light and dry.  Not much fruit.  My husband says it has “no oomph,” sort of a “generic wine.”  It would be okay with pizza.

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  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc $16.99

Their reds certainly are reasonably priced for the North Fork.  This is another light, easy to drink wine, with no tannins.  You get a bit of fruit with the first sip, but the taste soon evanesces.  You could pair this with pasta with a not-powerful sauce.

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  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $16.99

Nice aroma of dark fruit and berries precedes a taste also of dark fruit and berries, with a touch of tannins.  It’s the best red so far, but again has no depth and is rather light.

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  1. 2013 Sunset Meritage $34.99

Why sunset?  “It’s just a name.”  You need a non-varietal name for a blend, which this is, a mixture of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.  It’s the best red of the day, which is not saying much.  Again, it is a relatively simple, light wine, “tame,” according to my drinking pal.  It is pleasant, but not worth the price.

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Entrance–the little signs say no food inside and no pets inside–which I assume means both are okay outside.

Reasons to visit:  pretty setting for sitting outside; very crowd-friendly if you’re coming with a limo (which I actually did one time); lots of choices on the menu; the Blanc de Noir, the Chardonnay Gold, the Sunset Meritage; you prefer light, easy-to-drink wines with no complexity; lots of gift baskets and hand-painted glasses.

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Channing Daughters: The Best of the South Fork December 7, 2017

Channing Daughters: The Best of the South Fork

https://www.channingdaughters.com/

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The entrance to Channing Daughters.

It had been over a year since we’d been to one of our favorite wineries, so it was time to make the trek to the South Fork.  We took the ferry from Greenport to Shelter Island, and then from Shelter Island to Sag Harbor, as wind whipped the usually calm Gardiner’s Bay into waves and sea spray hit our windshield.  Despite the loss of the Sag Harbor movie theater to fire, the town looked much the same as ever, though new boutiques are gradually replacing some of the quirkier shops.  Happily, we noted that the Sag Harbor Variety Store and the Wharf Shop are still there.

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One of the wood sculptures made by Walter Channing.

And so is the Channing Daughters tasting room, down a pebbled driveway off Scuttlehole Road, sitting amidst vineyards and wood sculptures made by the owner.  The tasting room is small, with a bar along one side and no tables, though in the summer there are some outside.  A standard tasting is five wines for $16, or you can order a glass of wine for $15.  Simple crackers are put out as palate cleansers.

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This is the standard tasting–which is not what we had!

We had the room to ourselves on this sunny but blustery winter day, so we had the full attention of the genial and very well-informed server.  He was delighted to hear that, after having resigned from the wine club last spring due to various changes in our lives, we were ready to rejoin it.  The wine club involves accepting six shipments of two bottles each per year, and then you get free tastings of any wines you like to try plus invitations to various events during the year and discounts on other purchases.

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The tasting room is small, but augmented in the summer by outside tables.

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A view of the outside patio.

As a result of rejoining the club, our tasting was free, and we tasted quite a few wines—so many that we ended up dumping parts of the last few tastes, just so we could stay on our feet.  And even after trying eleven wines we had not begun to exhaust the panoply of wines on offer, a truly varied and impressive array for a small winery.  One of the reasons we love Channing, and rejoined their club despite living on the North Fork and having access to so many other wineries, is their willingness to experiment and try new ideas all the time.  Check out their web site to see all they offer and to read about their philosophy of wine making.  According to the web site, they make almost three dozen different wines!

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  1. 2016 Scuttlehole Chardonnay   $18

Of all the chardonnays on Long Island, this remains our favorite, a steel-fermented beautiful expression of the fruit.  We taste some pineapple and minerality, with aromas of pear and citrus.  Yum.

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Our favorite chardonnay. The upside down tree on the label represents one of Mr. Channing’s sculpture techniques, using an entire tree turned upside down.

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A sculpture made from an entire tree turned upside down.

  1. 2014 Sylvanus $24

A combination of muscat ottonel, pinot grigio, and pinot bianco, the name recalls the Roman god of the fields and agriculture (like Pan or Bacchus) for a very good reason.  It is what is called a “field blend,” which means it is a blend of various grapes all of which were grown together in one field.  So they share the same terroir, yet the taste varies from year to year, depending on how each variety grows.  As we discussed with our server, this is more like the way people grew grapes in the past, planting whatever vines they got wherever they fit.  And the vineyard in which it grows is named Sylvanus. In any event, this year’s iteration is quite good, a light, delicate dry white with just a touch of wood.  He thinks it would be good with appetizers, perhaps a charcuterie platter.

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An image of Sylvanus, god of fields and harvests.

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  1. 2015 Cuvée Tropical $23

This is another blend, of 78% chardonnay, 8% tocai friulano, 8% pinot grigio, and 8% muscat ottonel.  As I said, they like to experiment.  The name comes from the flavor, which has notes of tropical fruits, like lychee and guava and pineapple.  In the past I really liked the fruitiness of this wine, and this iteration is less fruity, a bit more austere, so though he recommends it with spicy food, I don’t think that’s necessary.

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I love the image on this label, of vines in the snow.

  1. 2014 Clones $29

Why Clones?  Because this wine includes ten different clones of chardonnay, plus gewürztraminer, tocai friulano, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc.  Now here comes the experimentation—some of the wine is aged on the skins for a little while, they use wild yeast, and it spends twelve months in old French oak barrels (plus maybe more I forgot…).  Another good one.  Dry, with just a touch of the oak, with citrus flavors of lime more than lemon, and some interesting complexity.  Our server recommends it with smoked trout or bluefish, and we recommend that he check out the North Fork Smoke House the next time he’s in Greenport.

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  1. 2014 Mosaico $29

Again, the name relates to how the wine was made. This is another field blend, but this time the vines are literally planted in a mosaic pattern, and include pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat ottonel, tocai friulano, and gewürztraminer.  Whew.  Another winner.  Aromas of celery, citrus, and herbs and maybe chamomile, and a complex flavor that includes pear, pineapple, and citrus.  Because the juice also spends some time on the skins, the color is a deeper gold than usual.

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  1. 2014 L’Enfant Sauvage

The “wild child” is a reference to the use of wild yeast, sometimes a risk for the winemaker, and this time, I have to say, not as successful for me as in the past.  I have loved earlier versions of this white, but this one is more minerally than fruity.  That’s not necessarily bad, but I liked the fruit in the past.  This is 100% chardonnay, aged in new French oak and also Slovenian oak, so maybe the Slovenian oak is a taste I don’t care for.  The aroma is of over-ripe apples and something chemical.  My husband says it has a “strong backbone.”

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Yes, this wine is orange.

  1. 2014 Ramato $25

You can only get this wine if you are in the wine club.  It’s an orange wine, which means it was fermented on the skins for quite a while until it has an orange hue, and was made from 100% pinot grigio.  Our server tells us the grape itself has a pinkish hue, which adds to the color.  It is tart and dry, with some taste of apricot.

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A sparkling wine you can open with a beer bottle opener!

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  1. 2016 Bianco Petillant Naturel $28

What is this, you wonder, especially as you look at the bottle, which is sealed with a bottle cap and has a layer of sediment on the bottom.  This is a lightly fizzy sparkling wine which does not taste at all like champagne, nor does it try to.  Instead of the méthode champenoise, this is the méthode ancestrale, in which the yeast remains in the bottle and is not disgorged.  This is a blend of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and tocai friulano and tastes like a great wine for a meal—light and fizzy and good to complement food.  That’s the way they drink Cava in Barcelona, where we saw people ordering an inexpensive bottle to go with lunch or a few tapas.

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I love doing side by side tastings of related wines.

  1. 2013 Dorn and Blau $28

At this point we said we would share a taste, so our server poured this red and the next one at the same time so we could compare them.  These German grapes—a combination of 62% dornfelder and the rest blaufrankish—are also grown in the Sylvanus vineyard.  If you’re thinking you haven’t heard of these grapes as growing on Long Island, you wouldn’t be mistaken.  As far as I know, Channing is the only one that has them.  This is a fairly light and dry red, with aromas of red fruit and tobacco and something funky.  It is another wine with more minerality than fruit.  I could see it with something rich, though my tasting buddy finds it a bit too austere.

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  1. 2014 Blaufrankish $28

Reverse the proportion of grapes, and you get 62% blaufrankish and the rest dornfelder, and then, just to see what happens, use grapes from a different vineyard, in this case the Mudd vineyard on the North Fork.  We like this one much better!  The aromas are of dark fruits plus minerals or wet rock, and the taste is of red berries and plums with layers of flavor, including some minerality.  Both of these wines have soft tannins, so I’m not sure how they would age, but they’d be fine to drink right now.

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  1. 2015 Petit Verdot $38

I often like petit verdots, and this one is no exception.  Though the aroma is somewhat smoky and funky, the taste is delicious, with depth of flavor, including blueberries, blackberries, and spice.  Our server is willing to keep going, but since we have to get back in the car we decline.

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An array of bottles and a view into the cellar.

Reasons to visit:  the most interesting wines on Long Island, with something new every year; the Scuttlehole Chardonnay, the Cuvee Tropical, the Clones, the Mosaico, the Blaufrankish…actually, you can’t go wrong with any of their wines; and we didn’t even get to the rosés, which we’ve had and enjoyed in the past; you’re looking for a winery in the Hamptons that’s less formal and pricey than Wölffer (which does have the advantage of tables where you can sit and snack on their cheese, etc.), and did I mention they also make really good vermouths, which are excellent just over ice as an aperitif.

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Vermouth!

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There are a few wine-related gifts for sale, though they no longer carry the bottle collars we like, which you put around the neck to catch drips.

 

 

 

Hudson Valley Visit:  Nofowineaux Takes a Trip October 7-13

We decided to take a trip north to see art museums and galleries, visit relatives, and take some hikes in the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside.  No surprise, we also made time for some tastings, visiting one brewery and two wineries.

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Storm King and DIA Beacon have both been on my bucket list for a while, so now I can cross them off.  Both are well worth the visit, Storm King in particular (but be sure to go when the weather is nice, and try to arrive early in the day).  We also enjoyed sauntering up and down Beacon’s main street, popping in and out of little galleries and antique/gift shops.  The Roundhouse Hotel is pricey for the area, but comfortable and well run.

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One view from Storm King.

Another place worth traveling to is Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, New York, where we hiked around the lake with my brother and sister-in-law.  It’s a beautiful place, with the garden aspects integrated into the natural landscape, providing scenic views at every turn.  And if you’re in Kingston, you should make time for the Maritime Museum, with its emphasis on the history of the boats and industries along the Hudson River.

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Innisfree Garden, an amazingly beautiful place.

Our final hike of the week was in the John Boyd Thacher State Park outside Albany, where the scenery reminded us very much of the movie Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  Alas, we did not see him running bare-chested through the trees.  If you go, be sure to stop into the new visitor center.

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So, now on to our tastings…

Hudson Valley Brewery, October 8, 2017

Beacon, New York

http://hudsonvalleybrewery.com/about-us

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Before they put out the tables, we had trouble spotting the brewery.

Finding the brewery was a bit of a challenge, as it is located in the midst of a huge parking lot behind an apartment building, and only a small sign on the door indicates that you have arrived.  We walked past before they opened, and then when we returned there were picnic tables set up outside and the garage-style door had been swung open.  Inside, it is very industrial chic, reminding us that Beacon is sometimes referred to as “Brooklyn north.”  The bar is not very long, so we decided to take our tastes to a picnic table across from it.  We would have sat outside, but all those tables were filled, primarily with a young crowd.

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Industrial chic room

They offer eight different beers, a four-ounce pour in attractive stemmed glasses at $2-$3 per taste.  The chipper server informed us that they only give two tastes per person per time at the bar, so we each took two and then returned for the final four.  We left our credit card to run a tab, thinking we would get a whole glass of whichever beer we liked best, but as it happened there were none we liked enough to get a glass of.  Their beers generally have a sour, fruity flavor profile, which is not a taste I like.

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  1. Pillow Hat IPA

The aroma is very grapefruity, with a touch of something funky.  The taste is super citrusy, and it is the kind of beer I could see downing on a hot day after working in the garden.

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Our second group of tastes

  1. Feel No Way Pilsner

Cement basement aroma, with a touch of sauerkraut.  The taste is sour, oaty and grainy, and reminds my husband of Kix cereal!

  1. Little Memory IPA

This one also smells like grapefruit juice, plus pineapple juice.  I dislike it so much that we don’t finish the taste. It is sour but also fruity.

  1. Plateaux IPA

Okay, this one we decide is like a beery orange juice or an over the hill cider that has gone sour.  If you don’t actually like beer, you might drink this with a burger.

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Our first group of tastes

  1. Amulet Sour Farmhouse

Blueberry pie aroma?  Certainly fruity.  The taste reminds me of very sour candy.  I say bleh; my husband says maybe after a run.  I’d rather drink water in that case!

  1. Flying Colors Sour Farmhouse

By this time, we have invested $2 in a bag of cracked pepper and sea salt chips, which helps us get through the tasting.  This is another fruity-tooty beer, and rather sweet.  As we discuss the tastes, my tasting buddy comments that we are treating this more like a wine tasting in terms of all the aromas and flavors we are finding, which is true.

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  1. Phase Delay Sour Farmhouse

This one smells like an IPA, very citrusy, and tastes rather like sucking on a lemon.  Super sour, say my notes.  At least this one is not objectionably sweet, and is drinkable if what you want is a beer-like lemonade.

  1. Silhouette Brunch Style Sour Beer

Their own tasting notes compare this to a Tropicana juice box, though I again think it resembles a sweet and sour lemonade.  I find it barely potable, and, as with several of the other beers, we don’t finish our taste.

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There are snacks one can buy. Our little bag of chips cost $2.

Reasons to visit:  you’re in Beacon and you want to go to a beer tasting (but I wish we had tried the other brewery in town); you don’t actually like beer that tastes like beer.  That evening we had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant on Main Street which had Singha beer on tap, and much preferred that to any of the beers we had at Hudson Valley.

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Benmarl Winery October 9, 2017

Marlboro, New York

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Entrance to Benmarl winery

http://benmarl.com/

Finding Benmarl Winery would also have been a challenge, if not for Google maps, which easily directed us to this mountain-top site, about twenty minutes outside of Beacon.  They are part of the Shawangunk Wine Trail (who knew?), which includes about fifteen wineries along the Shawangunk Mountains.  We considered visiting one or two more, but many of them were closed on Monday, and others were a bit further than we wanted to venture on this rainy, foggy afternoon.

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Resident kitty

Benmarl has a pleasantly rustic tasting room, and the servers were enthusiastic and chatty.  Outside we noted a large tent set-up, and learned that the day before they had had a special grape-stomping event.  Oh my.  Our server informed us that “Benmarl” means “Hill of Slate,” and the farm is allegedly the “oldest vineyard in America.”  On their 37 acres they grow Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Muscat, then get the rest of their grapes from the Finger Lakes and…Long Island!  The North Fork, to be exact.  Ha.  I had said as we were on our way there that I was interested in comparing their wines to Long Island wines, but, no surprise, they tasted rather familiar.

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For $10 you get to try six (out of 17 or more—they were out of some) of their wines, and since the pour was rather small for a shared tasting and I was curious to try it, we paid an additional couple of dollars to try the Baco Noir.  If you want to keep your glass, your tasting is $12.

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There were lots of options on the menu.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc   $20

The grapes for this wine are from the North Fork, and it has the characteristic honeysuckle aroma and a taste that combines citrus and minerality.  Good, though a tad sweeter than I like.

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  1. 2016 Stainless Steel Chardonnay $15

Our server told us about how she likes to recommend this wine to anyone who insists they don’t like chardonnay, since what they don’t like is probably the oak-aged buttery California style of chard.  We agree, and like this citrusy light white, with flavors of gooseberry and mineral.  Quite pleasant.  We buy a bottle, which matches well with a pasta and salmon dish my sister-in-law makes for us when we arrive at their house.  These grapes are from Seneca Lake.

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  1. 2016 Traminette $18

This is one of their sweeter wines, but not cloyingly so, with a candy aroma and some tropical fruit tastes.  I could see having it with spicy food.  Finger Lakes grapes.

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  1. 2016 Merlot $20

As we switch to the reds, she gives the glass a quick rinse with some of the wine.  This, I observe, tastes very like a North Fork merlot.  Not surprisingly, since that is where the grapes come from.  You can smell the oak (aged 16 months in French oak) and cherry, and it also has lots of cherry taste, plus maybe a bit of tobacco.

  1. 2015 Slate Hill Red $20

A Bordeaux blend, this is 48% North Fork merlot, 42% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 10% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 12 months in French oak.  The aroma is fruity, but also mushroomy, with a hint of something chemical—but that may be due to the cellar, the door to which was opened behind us as we stood there, and from which emanated a basement/chemical smell.  In any event, we didn’t much care for this wine, which had a sour aftertaste and not a lot of fruit.

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  1. 2014 Proprietor’s Reserve $33

Another blend, this is 30% North Fork merlot, 20% Finger Lakes cabernet franc, and 50% North Fork cabernet sauvignon, aged 24 months.  We like it much better than the Slate Hill.  It has lots of fruit—dark plums, cherry, blackberry, coffee—and is pleasantly tannic and dry.

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  1. 2015 Baco Noir $35

I really wanted to try a wine made from estate-grown grapes, and this is all theirs, from vines first planted in 1958.  The aroma is great, with lots of fruit, very plummy, but the taste does not have as much fruit as the smell promised.  It is dry and tannic, but not particularly complex.

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Reasons to visit:  you are traveling up the Hudson Valley and want to do a wine tasting; the sauvignon blanc, stainless steel chardonnay, merlot, and Proprietor’s Reserve; pretty reasonable prices for a small winery; beautiful mountain setting; you want to support a winery that practices “sustainable” agriculture, with no spraying.

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Millbrook Vineyards and Winery October 11, 2017

Millbrook, New York

http://www.millbrookwine.com/

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After the flatness of Long Island, it was refreshing to be in the Catskill Mountains.  We enjoyed the various vistas as we traveled the back roads with my brother and sister-in-law to this winery with its spectacular views over the hills.  Although we felt we had gone rather far off the “beaten path,” a busload of tourists who arrived shortly after we did showed us that we were not as isolated as it had seemed.  Fortunately, Millbrook is well set up to handle a crowd, and we enjoyed our tasting.

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This is only one small part of the winery’s space.

Our bright and well-informed server informed us that John S. Dyson, the founder of the vineyard, was responsible for the “I (heart) NY” logo, which also appears on their glasses (which you get to keep after your tasting).  In addition to the property in Millbrook, the winery also owns vineyards in California (fortunately so far not affected by the fires) and Italy, which expands the varieties of wine they can offer.  One challenge of growing wines this far north is the winter.  They can get temperatures as low as minus fourteen, and anything lower than minus five can give certain grape vines trouble.

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A couple of the wines we did not get to try.

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The shop has a few items, many from Italy.

The Millbrook building is large and attractive, with various areas, including an upstairs lounge and balcony, where one can (and we did) take a bottle or glasses and look out over the scenery while sipping.  Not all of their wines are available for tasting every day, and on this week day our only option was the Portfolio Tasting, of six wines for $12.50.  You pay the cashier when you enter, and then are assigned a spot at one of the bars.

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  1. 2016 Hunt Country White          $16

This is their white blend, a mixture of riesling, tocai friulano, traminette, and pinot grigio, some of which comes from California.  The aroma is of apricots and minerals, and it tastes quite good, of peaches and melon, with a nice long finish.  My brother characterizes it as a “backyard wine,” and my sister-in-law says she has “no complaints.”

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  1. 2016 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve $18

According to our server, Millbrook was the first winery in the United States to grow this particular grape, which is related to sauvignon blanc.  We like it very much, with its aroma of roasted pears and soft tastes of pears and red grapefruit.  I think it is softer than an Italian tocai, which is flintier, but we like it enough to buy a bottle to take home.

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I peeked into a room where they store wine.

  1. 2015 Chardonnay $18

Just when I think I’ll finally get to compare an upstate chard with a North Fork chard, we are told that one third of the grapes for this wine come from Pellegrini Vineyard on the North Fork!  Other grapes come from the Finger Lakes and from Millbrook’s estate.  In any event, it is a typical not-too-oaky oaked chardonnay.

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  1. 2014 Villa Pillo Borgoforte $19

In case you’re wondering about the Italian name, it comes from Millbrook’s Italian vineyard near San Gimignano, a fascinating town not far from Florence.  This, we are told, is a “Super Tuscan,”  (whenever I hear that term I picture a wine bottle with a heroic cape flying out behind it), a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot grapes.  In any event, it is delicious, with lovely fruit aromas and complex tastes including dark fruits, tobacco, and more.  It is dry and tannic, and we buy two bottles, one to give to my other brother and another to bring to our daughter’s house when we go there for dinner.

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Italian wine in a New York State winery? Yes, when the owner of the winery also owns property in Tuscany.

  1. Hunt Country Red $18

Since this is their blend, it changes year to year, and the current iteration is a mix of 55% cabernet franc, 40% merlot, and 5% syrah, with again some grapes coming from California.  The server says he defines this wine as a wine to have on “any day that ends with a y.”  Ha.  It is their top selling red, and we can see why, as it is an easy to drink, fruity red, with lots of cabernet franc flavors like blueberry and plums.  I say a good pizza wine, and my brother says “good with stuff.”

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Looks like a hunt on the label…

  1. 2013 Merlot Proprietor’s Special Reserve $25

Pellegrini strikes again—all the grapes for this wine are from there.  We decide this is a wine that needs to be served with food, and just then our server brings out a little plate of bread cubes and olive oil (which they just happen to sell there).  Definitely better with food, but still rather earthy, with a chemical basement smell.  Not our favorite.

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We had the upstairs lounge to ourselves.

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The view from the upstairs balcony

Reasons to visit:  you are in the Catskills and you’d like to find a nice winery for a tasting; the Tocai Friulano, the Villa Pillo Borgoforte, the Hunt Country Red; a pleasant outdoor upstairs balcony where you can sip a glass of wine while looking at beautiful scenery.

Pugliese: Choose Your Time Carefully October 28, 2016

http://www.pugliesevineyards.com/

In the summer, on a weekend, all of these seats would be filled.

In the summer, on a weekend, all of these seats would be filled.

We’ve driven past Pugliese Vineyards many times and not stopped in, because the parking lot was clearly full, as were the outdoor tables under an awning next to their pleasant fountain-centered pond.  However, on this blustery fall Friday there were only a couple of other cars in the lot, so in we went.

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We were immediately greeted by a friendly server behind the bar, who turned out to be a member of the Pugliese family (and also a neighbor of ours), and who pointed out “Mom,” who was busy decorating glasses with her signature flower paintings (which also adorn the attractive bottles).  She explained that the tasting consisted of any four tastes from their extensive menu for $12.  “This will take some time,” we laughingly informed her, so she gave us some space to discuss.  The menu offers tastes in four categories:  four Sparklings, seven Whites, seven Reds, and five Desserts.  We decided to each do a tasting so we could sample as many different wines as possible.  And we could easily return and do a completely different tasting!  Our server carefully pointed out which of the pair of tastes we should start with, and answered our questions about the wines, rinsing our glasses with water between tastes.

Two sparklers.

Two sparklers.

  1. 2010 Blanc de Noir Nature           $25.99

Since today is my birthday, it seemed appropriate to start with some sparkling wines, so we chose the first two on their list.  “This is a completely dry wine, with no residual sugar, made from pinot noir grapes,” we were told.  She wasn’t kidding.  Many American champagne-type wines err on the side of too much sweetness, but this one is totally crisp and very dry, with some vegetable aromas and tastes.  Nice acidity.  I don’t think I’d want this for a toast, but it would be good with soft flavorful cheeses (like a nice runny brie) or foie gras.

  1. 2010 Blanc de Blanc Brut $25.99

We like this one better, as is more complex with more fruit flavors, though still relatively dry and light.  It seems fizzier than the first, though this may be a consequence of how often each bottle was opened.  This would work fine if you were pouring sparkling wine for a toast.

Two whites. Note the attractive bottles.

Two whites. Note the attractive bottles.

  1. 2014 Pinot Grigio $17.99

This has more tropical fruit and pineapple aromas than I would expect from a pinot grigio, with some minerality, which we also find in the taste.  My husband says it has a “citrusy tingle.”  I think it would go well with something fatty, like pork belly.  “Really?” he says.  Yup.

  1. 2013 Riesling $14.99

By the way, notice the prices.  One reason this winery is so popular may be the reasonable prices on most of the wines.  The aroma is pleasantly flowery, with maybe a touch of mint.  I worry rieslings will be too sweet, but this one is not, with nice fruit and a touch of Meyer lemon at the end.  My tasting buddy waxes poetic, “Nice sitting-outside-kick-your-feet-up-easy-drinking wine.”  I think he’s already nostalgic for summer and sitting outside on the porch.

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  1. Bella Domenica $10.99

Since we often have pasta for dinner, we’re always on the lookout for reasonably priced reds, so we decide to try this one.  A blend of merlot and cabernet, it has nice aromas of dark plums, but the taste is both tart and light with not a lot of fruit.  It would be ok with burgers, but there’s not much to it.  “An excellent value,” says the menu.

  1. 2012 Sangiovese $16.99

“Long Island’s only Chianti,” says the menu about this wine, so of course we have to try it.  Meh.  We would not have said Chianti if we had tried it without the label, as it is rather light with not much to it.  Perhaps this is a grape that does not do well on Long Island.

Our final two tastes.

Our final two tastes.

  1. 2010 Merlot Reserve $16.99

Merlot, however, does do well, and this is a good example of that.  The aroma is a touch funky, with some forest floor and what my husband identifies as asparagus, but the taste is quite good.  Dark plum, we decide, dry, with nice acidity.  I could definitely see having this with pasta Bolognese, or perhaps some Neapolitan-style pizza (especially as the Pugliese family is originally from Naples).

  1. 2010 Sunset Meritage $34.99

50% merlot, 25% cabernet franc, 25% cabernet sauvignon=a Right Bank Bordeaux style.  2010 was a good year on Long Island, and this blend does not disappoint.  Again the aroma is a touch funky, but the taste is good, with plenty of tannins which make us think it could continue to age well.  Though it has the most interesting flavors of any wine we’ve had today, we feel $35 might be a bit more than we’d want to pay for this one.

Past the room with the tasting bar is a large room with gift items.

Past the room with the tasting bar is a large room with gift items.

Reasons to visit:  Good all-purpose winery with lots of room outside for groups; the Blanc de Blanc Brut, the Riesling, the Meritage; reasonable prices and a wide variety of wines many people will like; the creative gift packages of hand-painted glasses and bottles (which can be customized to order).

Photos of local sights are an unusual winery gift item.

Photos of local sights are an unusual winery gift item.

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Martha Clara: Playground or Winery? September 3, 2016

https://www.marthaclaravineyards.com/

The capacious "backyard" of Martha Clara.

The capacious “backyard” of Martha Clara.

Plenty of room for dogs and children.

Plenty of room for dogs and children.

The parking attendant waved us on to the “additional parking” area, so we had a good view of the activities going on in back of the Martha Clara tasting room and barns.  Children and dogs were running around, a couple played Frisbee, many people tossed beanbags into a whole line of targets, and a wagon hitched to horses waited to give rides.  The delicious smell came from an old-fashioned Airstream camper that had been turned into a food truck.  And that was a good thing, since Martha Clara no longer allows you to bring in outside food, preferring that you buy your own from their menu, catered by Noah’s Restaurant in Greenport.

Food truck!

Food truck!

Noah's menu

Noah’s menu

We were there with a friend who is a member of the Marth Clara wine club, so we first headed to the Tasting Barn with its sign outside limiting it to wine club members.  However, it was full, so we headed on into the main building and, not feeling like standing at the bar in the crowded main tasting room, sat at a table in the table service area.  At first the server said we’d have to pay full price, but after assuring her that we had been turned away from the members-only barn she said okay—which resulted in a significant saving for our four tastings.

No room in the Members Only barn

No room in the Members Only barn

The bars were pretty crowded, too.

The bars were pretty crowded, too.

We were happy to find a table in the corner, near the windows.

We were happy to find a table in the corner, near the windows.

The sleekly bound menu offers four options for tastings, plus a variety of wines by the glass or bottle, and a bunch of snacks.  The four flight menus are labeled Aromatic, Sustainable, Northville, and Vintners, and range from $14-$17 for five generous tastes (or $5-$7 for wine club members).  The tables were all set with napkins, wineglasses, and water glasses, which we used both for water from the large bottle the server delivered to our table and as a dump bucket.  But more on that later.

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I opted for the Northville flight, mostly because it included their Syrah, a wine I often like.  The two men in the party chose the Vintage flight, and our friend the wine club member decided on the Aromatic because it is all whites, and that’s what she was in the mood for.  The Sustainable has a combination of reds and whites, as do the other options.  I will tell about my tasting first, and then about the other wines, not all of which I tried myself.

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  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer Estate Reserve   $27

Gewürztraminers are tricky, because they can be very sweet or dry, with a lot or not much fruit, depending on how they are handled.  This one is steel fermented, so I had hopes, but then the server explained that it was on the sweet side, and she liked it as an after dinner drink or with “spicy Thai food.”  The aroma combines flowers, mineral, and creosote—you know, that smell you get from the railroad tracks on a hot summer day.  Fortunately it doesn’t taste like what I imagine creosote would taste like, but rather like lychees in sugar syrup with some minerality at the end.  This wine also began the Vintage tasting, and we all found it too sweet.  In fact, we all dumped at least part of our serving.  But if you like a sweet wine, you’d probably like this one.

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  1. 2012 Cabernet Franc      $27

A light ruby color, this wine is also light in body, with a red candy and wet rock aroma, and a plum taste.  It would be a good burger or roast chicken wine.  Aged 14 months in oak.

  1. 2013 Merlot $24

Merlot does well on Long Island, and this is no exception, a nice, light, dry red with some fruit.  I like it.  It smells rather oak-y, even though it only spends 12 months in oak.

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  1. 2012 Syrah (Cote Rotie Style) $24

I would be very happy drinking a full glass of this one.  It has aromas of red fruit and pepper, with lots of red fruit tastes, some tannins, and a dry finish.  It could pair well with lamb or duck.  It’s my favorite of the day, too.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $30

Again, you can definitely smell the oak.  This is somewhat dry, with lots of cherry taste and a nice long finish.

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And that was the end of my tasting.  However, here are some notes on the other flights.

  1. 2013 Estate Reserve Chardonnay $27

Lots of aromas on this one, including vanilla and nutmeg, which is the first on the Vintage list.  It is aged “sur lie” for ten months.  If you like a smooth buttery chard, this is one for you.

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  1. 2014 Northern Solstice Blend $18

I liked the bottle for this, featuring an image of a sun, which my friend saw as appropriate for this first on the Aromatic list, since it is, she said, “a perfect summer sipper.”  It is a blend of about four or five grapes which the server rattled off too quickly for me to catch.  We all sniffed it and agreed that it smelled like ripe pineapple, and my friend said it was “crisp and refreshing” with just a touch of sweetness.

  1. 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $22

This is a pretty typical North Fork sauvignon blanc, with honeysuckle aroma and lemon tastes, though it is a touch sweeter than some sauvignon blancs.

  1. 2014 Pinot Grigio $22

And this is another great summer wine, said my friend, with some peach tastes and a touch of bubbles on the tongue.  It was her favorite of her tasting.

  1. 2013 Estate Reserve Riesling $26

We were all intrigued by the smell of this one, identifying vanilla sugar cookie (even though it is steel fermented) and wet rock.  Unlike the gewürztraminer, this escapes over-sweetness, and is a light and almost bubbly with some mineral taste.  The Aromatic tasting should have ended with the Gewürztraminer, but my friend decided to forego it since she had already tasted it and felt she had had enough wine.  As I said, the pour is generous, and we actually dumped some tastes we liked.

  1. 2014 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir $37

The Vintner tasting includes some of their higher priced wines, and we got into a discussion of value vs. cost, which I may revisit some time this winter when I don’t have a winery to review.  My husband informed us that this was a Burgundy-type wine, but a bit sharp for a Burgundy.  It had aromas of plum and prune, and a somewhat grapey (I know, shocking) taste.  Good, but not complex.

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  1. 2013 Northville Red (Bordeaux style) $27

Again, the server listed the grapes in this too quickly for note taking, but it is a Bordeaux-style blend we all liked very much.  In fact, my notes include “yum,” “delicious,” “very drinkable,” “layers of flavor,” and “really nice.”  We were happy when our friend bought us a bottle!

  1. 2013 Estate Reserve Merlot $35

The menu informs us that this was rated a 90 by Wine Advocate.  Maybe.  It has a touch of that barnyard smell we always used to get from local merlots and hardly ever sense any more, but it tastes nice, with good fruit, some cherry flavor, and is dry.

Here's something not every winery has--a Tiki Bar!

Here’s something not every winery has–a Tiki Bar!

Also, horse and wagon rides.

Also, horse and wagon rides.

Reasons to visit:  Lots of space to play and a relaxed, welcoming vibe; some agritainment; the Northern Solstice Blend, the Pinot Grigio, the Syrah, the Northville Red; lots of choices ; catering by Noah’s (We didn’t have any, but I like the food in the restaurant!).

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The gift shop has a bunch of local products.

The gift shop has a bunch of local products.

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Martha Clara, Lieb, and Pugliese: Group Think June 6, 2015

Our limo at the first stop:  Martha Clara.

Our limo at the first stop: Martha Clara.

When a group of Nofo Wineaux’s friends and colleagues decided that the best way to have a celebratory get-together was to rent a limo and do a wine tour, she could not refuse to go along—especially since they asked her for some winery recommendations.

So that is how I found myself seated in a Hummer stretch limo with 14 wonderful women, traveling the North Fork wine country.  And I did enjoy myself!  Along the way, I noticed that each winery had its own method of handling a crowd, I taught some of my friends how to smell wine (stick your nose into the glass and open your mouth as you inhale), and I heard some new ways to describe wine tastes and smells.

Our limo was rented from Gold Star Limo Company, and John, the driver, was courteous and efficient, dropping us off and picking us up on schedule.  The company took care of the logistics of reserving each winery and getting us sandwich and salad lunches catered by Farm Country Kitchen.  There were a few reasons why I think our tasting tour went well.  For one, as a group we were there to relax and enjoy each other’s company, with the wine tour as a means to that end, plus a number of us were quite interested in tasting and discussing the wines.  Another reason was our judicious (if I do say so myself) selection of venues, and the fact that we limited ourselves to three places, spaced out from noon to five p.m.  And finally, the weather cooperated—warm enough to sit outside, yet not so hot that we were uncomfortable.

First stop:  Martha Clara

The menu at Martha Clara

The menu at Martha Clara

Our group organizer picked Martha Clara as a place she had been to and liked in the past, and it made a pleasant first stop (we got there about 12:15).  A young woman with a clipboard greeted us, checked our reservation and, after a brief consultation with the driver, set us up around two sides of one of the long bars in the tasting room.  She explained that they ran a tight schedule of groups, and requested that we take our places immediately.  At each place were a glass and the tasting menu, featuring a flight of five wines.  The servers assigned to us attentively filled our glasses as soon as they were emptied, and gave a brief spiel about each one.  When I requested additional information, they were able to provide some.  After we finished, we wandered outside to some picnic tables and shared a few snacks we had brought with us while some members of the group explored the pens of animals one can pet and feed.  I think a few might have visited the extensive gift shop.

We gathered around the bar at Martha Clara.

We gathered around the bar at Martha Clara.

  1. 2013 Northern Solstice Blend                    $17

This is a blend, as the title suggests, of four whites:  semillon, viognier, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.  I described the aroma as mineral.  One of my friends, newly introduced to the art of smelling wine, compared it to the smell you get when you open a bottle of vitamins, which I thought was quite right.  This is a dry, crisp, lean, steel-fermented white which we all found quite pleasant.

  1. 2012 Estate Reserve Riesling $26

My friend with the newly enlightened nose senses a touch of rotting fruit.  I agree, but also add orange blossoms.  We all sip, and I note some apricot tastes, and also a bit more sweetness than I prefer.  Nice finish.

limo mc bottle

  1. 2012 Estate Reserve Viognier                 $29

We had been discussing why some people think they dislike chardonnay because all they have ever tried were oak-fermented California chards when this barrel-fermented (nine months) wine was served, giving me the chance to note how different it is compared to the steel fermented blend we started with.  You can definitely smell vanilla and also spice—perhaps cardamom.  You can also get that “woody” taste you get with some oaked whites.

  1. 2010 Syrah $24

I often like syrahs for their rich fruit flavors, but I find this one a bit dry and thin.  I also smell some of that barnyard scent North Fork reds sometimes get (though more rarely lately).  It is aged 16 months in French oak.

limo mc red

  1. 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $29

This red is also aged in oak, for 12 months, and I also am not enamored of it.  It’s not bad, but could use more fruit, though it is nicely dry.

Second Stop:  Lieb Bridge Lane

The entrance to Lieb, though we didn't go inside.

The entrance to Lieb, though we didn’t go inside.

Lieb actually has two tasting rooms, and we are at the one on Sound Avenue and Cox Neck Lane.  I’m a bit surprised that we have come to this one, since the other is more spacious, but fortunately it is a beautiful day and we settle ourselves at several picnic tables adjoining some grape vines.  The driver brings us the shopping bags filled with our lunches from Farm Country Kitchen and also offers us bottles of water from the limo.  As we settle in with our choices—I got a grilled veggie sandwich with a small green salad on the side, and it was good—a lovely young lady from the tasting room comes around with glasses.  Ah, we are to have the tasting as we eat our lunches.  Nice—though I do note that food changes the taste of wine.

Our view as we sipped our wine and ate lunch.

Our view as we sipped our wine and ate lunch.

What is also pleasant is that we have the place mostly to ourselves, and it is a relaxing venue to sit and chat and enjoy our lunches.  Martha Clara had been quite noisy, making conversation difficult except with the person next to one.

All the wines are from the Bridge Lane label, so I will abbreviate it BL.  Also, because I did not see a tasting menu, I can’t tell you what the cost of these wines is per bottle.

  1. 2013 BL White Merlot

As our server explains, this is a white wine made from a red wine grape, and it is totally clear, having spent no time on the skins.  It has a nice mineral aroma and a pleasant fruitiness.  It would compare favorably with Anthony Nappa’s Anomaly.

  1. 2013 BL White Blend

This blend included chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling and viognier, and, like the blend we just had at Martha Clara, is steel fermented.  Everyone agrees that we like this one very much, with its nice balance of sweet and dry and its mineral aroma and taste.  It goes well with lunch!

  1. 2013 BL Chardonnay

For those who think they dislike chards, this is a good rebuttal:  dry and tart, with lemon and grapefruit tastes and aromas.  Steel fermented, of course.

  1. 2013 BL Rosé

After some discussion of how much rosés have improved in recent years, we try this blend of merlot and cabernet franc.  Though I still maintain that Croteaux has the best rosés on the North Fork, this one is fine—slight strawberry aroma, very dry, but with no finish.  I think it tastes a bit like unripe strawberries.

Wine and a picnic.

Wine and a picnic.

  1. BL 2013 Red Blend

I explain to my friends that this is a Bordeaux blend:  70% merlot, 15% each malbec and cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot.  It is aged in neutral oak barrels, our server notes.  I think it might improve with more age, since it has some nice tannins.  Though it is not exciting, it is a very drinkable red.

Third and last stop:  Pugliese

The pond at Pugliese

The pond at Pugliese

Everyone exclaims at the lovely scenery as we pull into Pugliese—the pond, the trees, the fountain.  Charming.  We troop into the tasting room, where we admire some artistic items, including pretty prints appropriate to our surroundings, such as sunflowers.

From the gift shop

From the gift shop

limo pug

 

Our fearless leader soon finds us and hands each of us a sheet of four tickets, which we can exchange for tastes, and tells us to adjourn to the outside bar located under a tent next to the pond, where a musician is setting up.  As a result, we scatter, and form into small groups at the bar.  The menu is quite daunting, offering 22 choices from sparkling wines to dessert wines, with reds, whites and rosés in between.   At first the servers offer no guidance other than, “You can choose any four.”  (We expand our options by sharing a couple of tastes, which is why you see six wines mentioned here.) However, we then luck into a rather youthful server who seems to know more, and enjoys giving us information about each wine.   My good friend is a white wine drinker who would like to learn to like reds, so we decide, after one white, to focus on the reds.  For each taste we get a fresh glass—I mean small plastic cup.

The rather lengthy menu at Pugliese.

The rather lengthy menu at Pugliese.

  1. 2013 Pinot Grigio            $17.99

This steel fermented pinot has not much aroma and a tart lemony taste, with no finish, which my friend insists on calling after taste.  Which, after all, is what finish is!  It would be better with food, I think.

Pugliese serves the wine is small plastic cups.

Pugliese serves the wine is small plastic cups.

  1. 2010 Sangiovese             $16.99

Our server boasts that they are the only winery on the North Fork to use this grape, which is the gape used in Chianti.  As we sniff, we note aromas of tobacco and some fruit.  Then we taste, and promptly dump.  Well, this wine is not going to make a red wine drinker out of my friend!  Bad.

  1. 2010 Sunset Meritage                 $29.99

Whew.  This one is better!  A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon, this has nice ripe fruit flavors and is just tannic enough to add interest.

One view of the tent and the pergola.

One view of the tent and the pergola.

  1. 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $16.99

This would make a good, everyday table wine.  It has lots of fruit and my friend likes it.

  1. 2012 Cabernet Franc $16.99

For a cab franc this is quite light, though it would be okay with lamb chops, as it has some tannins.  It could use more fruit.

My last ticket.

My last ticket.

  1. 2007 Raffaello White Port $17.99 for 375 ml.

As my final wine of the day, I decide to go for dessert, and try their white port.  Yes, it is sweet, but I think appropriately so, with lots of sweet orange, tangelo, plum, and apple flavors.  At 20% alcohol, you wouldn’t want to drink much of this, but it would be nice with a cheese and nut course.

And so I finish my foray into the world of the limos standing on the shore of Pugliese’s pond, admiring the koi, listening to music, talking to my friends, and sipping sweet wine.  There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.

No fishing!

No fishing!

Suggestions for limo users:  plan to go to just three wineries (maybe four at most, especially if you tend to dump part of each taste) and space them out over five hours so you can appreciate each one; try to go to at least one that doesn’t seem to specialize in big groups (like Lieb, which we thoroughly enjoyed); be sure to eat in between—or during—your tastes so you don’t get too drunk; take your time in each place to savor and discuss the wines; have fun.

limo finale

Lenz Winery: Lots of Lovely Options December 7, 2013

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

In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

In the summer grape vines cover the facade.

It’s that time of year on the North Fork when most farmstands have closed, and those that are open feature Christmas trees and firewood, plus a few frost-touched Brussels sprout stalks and cauliflower heads.  However, most of the wineries are still open, at least on the weekends, and there are still plenty of limos wandering the streets.   When we saw five of them in the parking lot of Lenz we almost turned around, knowing their tasting room was on the small side, but I’m very glad we did not.  The vibe inside was mellow rather than frenetic, and by the time we finished our leisurely and very enjoyable tasting we had the room to ourselves.

For some reason Lenz funnels arriving parties through a small wooden archway, but you can get to the vine-covered tasting room directly from the end of the parking lot as well.  The room itself is rustic, with wooden beams like a barn, and tables around the perimeter offer a variety of wine-related gifts.

Some of the gift items.

Some of the gift items.

They offer two tastings, the Estate Flight is of their wines which are produced every year, and is $10 for five generous tastes, and the Premium Flight is $14 for five of their wines produced “only in years our winemaker feels they are good enough.”  We opt to share one of each, and our knowledgeable and enthusiastic server helps us alternate, suggesting which to taste first of each pair.  She not only knows lots about each wine, she is clearly a fan of the vineyard, and talks about her visits to it before she actually became an employee.  They will soon be releasing a Malbec—not, alas, in labeled bottles yet—and her positive review of it causes us to decide we will be sure to pick up a bottle once it is released.

Lenz is one of the older vineyards on the North Fork, and many of its better wines are labeled Old Vines.  In general, their winemaker, Eric Fry, goes for a French style of winemaking, and the results are overall excellent.  We only had one wine we didn’t care for.  I’ve marked the Premium wines with an *.

1)      2008 Gewürztraminer                                    $20

A few years ago we went to several wineries looking for the best Gewürztraminer for our Thanksgiving dinner, and settled on Lenz.  It’s still a good choice.  This is a dry Gewürztraminer, with floral and spice aromas—cardamom, says my husband, and I agree—and plenty of fruit.  It was allowed to age in the bottle, our server points out, and is made in the Alsatian style.

Lenz white

2)      *2010 Pinot Gris                                               $25

This is, of course, the French version of Pinot Grigio, which is my go-to choice when I have to get a glass of house wine, but this is so much better than most Pinot Grigios!  We scent aromas of mineral and lime, maybe clementine, and taste pear and apple.  The wine is dry but not tart, with a creamy mouth feel.  The server says the Pinot Gris tastes like wine while Pinot Grigio tastes like water!  I’d be happy sipping this on its own, or with seafood.

3)      *1999 Cuvee RD                                               $60

The price tag is a bit steep, though this is a lovely sparkling wine, with that slightly green-olive scent I find in many Champagnes.  If you like lots of bubbles, however, you’ll be disappointed, as the bubbles dissipate quickly, though it is a bit petillant on the tongue.  Lots of layers of flavor to this dry wine.

4)      2010 White Label Chardonnay                   $15

Steel fermenting means this is a clean crisp chard, with a honey candy aroma and a citrus taste—maybe pink grapefruit?  Very food friendly, we agree.

5)      2010 Gold Label Chardonnay                      $20

Though I often don’t care for oaked chards, this one is very well done.  It spends ten months in French oak barrels, we are told, and we do smell the vanilla aroma of oak, plus some pumpkin spice smells.  Taste?  Baked apples and pears!  This could be a lovely aperitif wine, or it would pair well with most chicken dishes, especially ones that combined chicken and fruit.  Our server notes that this is one of their few California-style wines, but it is not overly oaked as some of those are.

6)      *2010 Old Vines Chardonnay                                     $30

In contrast to the previous chard, this one is in the Burgundian style, our server informs us, and is aged in neutral oak barrels.  She does a great job, by the way, of giving us time to chat with each other while also being attentive to when we are ready for the next round.  Though we agree the wine has good balance, my husband notes there are “no fireworks.”  There’s also a bit of a chemical taste at the end, and we have a discussion with the server about what exactly we are sensing.

7)      2009 Cabernet Sauvignon                                            $23

At this point everyone else has left, and the servers outnumber the customers, which does not faze us one bit.  Though this wine has an attractive aroma of raisins and chocolate—Goobers, we exclaim—we find the wine itself thin and disappointing and actually dump the rest of the glass.

Lenz red

8)      *2007 Old Vines Cabernet                                           $40

What a contrast.  We love this one!  Aroma of dried cherries in brandy and a lovely dark color precede a taste of dried fruits and intense berries.

9)      2008 Estate Selection Merlot                                     $24

This is much better than the average 20-something dollar Merlot, and indeed was made from wine that had been intended for a premium bottling, but then didn’t meet the winemaker’s exacting specifications.  Lucky us.  We smell coffee, chocolate, and a bit of a floral aroma, with none of that barnyard smell so common out here.  Delicious taste, too, with plenty of dark fruit.  Very buyable.

10)   *2007 Old Vines Merlot                                                                $60

Old vines indeed, our server notes, as these grapes come from vines first planted in 1978—ancient history for Long Island wines!  Lots of lovely aromas, cherries, layers of dark fruit, very mouth-filling.  This could age for twenty years, our server informs us.  I bet it could.

We buy several bottles as gifts and may come back to get more for ourselves when we deplete the cellar.

Lenz board

Reasons to visit:  nine out of the ten wines are very drinkable, and quite a few are excellent; pleasant rustic barn-like setting; enthusiastic and well-informed servers; the Estate Selection Merlot and the Pinot Gris and the Gold Label Chardonnay and the Old Vines Cabernet and the Gewürztraminer and—you get the picture.

Lenz room

Pugliese: Limos Galore November 23, 2013

http://www.pugliesevineyards.com/

pug place

We thought we were safe.  Random November Saturday, chilly weekend following a drizzly Friday, just a little after noon—surely Pugliese would be quiet!  And indeed, when we arrived, there were only two limos in the parking lot, and several large parties clustered outside around the picnic tables.  We had passed Pugliese many times during the summer and opted not to go, given the crowded look of the place.  It’s not that we’re misanthropes; it’s just that we prefer to do our tastings in a calm, peaceful atmosphere.  Actually, the grounds around the tasting room are quite pretty, with a scenic pond down in a hollow near the outside tables.

We scanned the menu:  4 tastes for $7.00, $8 for a glass, sangria (from a large vat at one end of the bar) $10 per glass, and beer on tap.  Also they have a cheese tray for $13.  There were many choices—four sparkling wines, four whites, seven reds, and five dessert wines.  The sparkling wines seemed to be very popular with the groups of women, and we heard at least one young man become quite happy at the prospect of having a beer instead of wine.  We decided to share eight different tastes, which our server agreed was a good choice, and she noted that the fourth white was quite sweet, and would probably not be to our taste.  Good call.  I also noted that they had many gift baskets on offer, including hand-painted wine glasses, t-shirts, and other small items, plus the inevitable bags of North Fork potato chips.

1)      2012 Pinot Grigio                             $17.99

In general, I like Pinot Grigios.  This one was just okay, with a vegetable aroma, perhaps asparagus, and a dry, grassy taste.  Not much finish.  When I admire the pretty label, the server notes that another woman there designed them.

We admired the pretty bottles.

We admired the pretty bottles.

2)       2012 Chardonnay Gold                 $12.99

Though this is a steel-fermented Chard, it has a bit of a creamy taste, with nice fruit and a dry finish.  I would say, especially given the price, it is quite buyable.

3)      2012 Riesling                                     $13.99

The honeysuckle aroma is there, but faint.  I wouldn’t actually have realized right away that this is a Riesling, but I did guess (correctly!) that it included grapes from upstate.  Not sure how to describe that upstate flavor, but it is a bit sweet and…grape-juicy.  Just okay.

pug white

4)      Bella Domenica                                                $9.99

We were going to skip this one, but our server—as she rinsed our glasses between each taste—recommended that we try it.  People don’t choose it because of the price, but it’s actually a very nice wine, she said.  And she was right.  It is described as a red table wine, a Merlot/Cabernet blend, and is a perfectly acceptable everyday red.  It would be fine with pasta, or as a picnic wine.  A summery red, with a cherry aroma and nice berry taste, this is a simple wine (as are most of their wines.  Nothing complex or layered here.)  I was about to ask the story behind the name when several large parties suddenly arrived, changing the atmosphere from calm to loud and boisterous.

5)      2009 Sangiovese                              $16.99

We had to try this one, as they are the only vineyard on the North Fork to grow the Sangiovese—a.k.a. Chianti—grape.  The color is a light red, and the taste is similarly light.  Not much to it, my husband notes.  Although it is also an acceptable everyday wine, you wouldn’t necessarily peg it as a Chianti, as it is less robust than you’d expect it to be.

The Sangiovese

The Sangiovese

6)      2009 Cabernet Franc                       $16.99

As with all their wines, we feel this one is also underflavored and relatively simple.  We smell a bit of damp forest, maybe some red candy.

7)      2006 Sunset Meritage                    $24.99

Since we’ve been somewhat disappointed so far, we decide to skip to their pricier—though still reasonably priced for Long Island—reds, and move to their Bordeaux blend:  Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yay, finally, a wine with something to it!  But not a lot.  The color is nicely dark, the aroma is berries and fruit, and the taste is also of berries with a trace of oak, but compared to other Bordeaux we’ve had this has no depth or layers of flavor.

8)      2007 Merlot Reserve                      $29.99

No sulfites, boasts the tasting notes.  Very dark color, black cherry flavor, no barnyard aromas; this wine may not be worth $30, but it is quite good.

They are having a sale, a case of Bella Domenica for only $75.99.  We are in need of some everyday reds, so we get a case.  No reduction in the tasting fee, by the way, and our server points us to a pile of cartons and suggests we help ourselves, after first checking to be sure the case we take actually has 12 bottles.  By this time we are ready to leave, for the room has become quite noisy as more groups arrive.  But as our server pointed out, without the groups we’d be the only ones there, so they do depend on the limo crowds.  In addition, we discussed the fact that these young people may be developing a lifetime affection for wine, and could be customers for Pugliese in the future.

Lots of limos

Lots of limos

Reasons to visit:  you want to sit outside in a pretty setting; the reasonable prices for the wines; the Chardonnay, the Bella Domenica, the 07 Merlot Reserve; you like a boisterous party atmosphere.

Pretty pond

Pretty pond