“So first you’re going to try the 2009 chardonnay and the 2013 steel chardonnay,” our charming server explains, pointing out the ways in which they compare. She also sets down in front of us two pieces of baguette topped with double cream brie, about which more later. Mattebella gives you the opportunity to make side by side comparisons of their wines, and in the process you can learn some interesting aspects of wine making, which I’ll tell you along with my discussion of each wine. We started to compare our experience with doing a fun science experiment.
Another attractive feature of the winery is their beautiful outdoor patio setting, with a variety of comfortable seating surrounded by lush hydrangea and rose bushes. The tasting “cottage” itself is quite small, so this is a place we reserve for beautiful days when we can sit outside and relax while being served. Others clearly think so, too, for though the patio was very quiet when we arrived, several groups walked in shortly after we did and all seemed to be enjoying the experience, including one group of young people who entered into a lively discussion with Mr. Tobin, the owner (with his wife, who was also there) of the winery. It is quite a family place, as evidenced by the active participation of the owners in the tasting room, the name of the vineyard—named for their two children—and the name of most of their wines: Famiglia, Italian for family.
Service is warm and personal, and the wine tasting includes some small tastes of food, since they believe that food affects how wines taste. The menu has two main options: the Light Flight is $17 for 6 whites and 2 rosés, or the Red Flight, $19 for five reds. (Note—they do not accept American Express, though they take other cards.) You can also order individual tastes for $2-$6, glasses of any of the wines, or a glass of their wine cocktail or sangria for $14. Non-drinkers can order their house-made lemonade or water. We decide to share one of each flight, so we can try all the wines. Though there are a lot of tastes on the menu, our server tells us that it is a one ounce pour, so we figure we can handle it!
- 2009 Chardonnay $21
We thought the server might have been a little confused when she set two glasses down on the table, but she soon explained that she was serving two wines side by side so we could compare them. The 09 is an oaked chard from a cold season, she noted, which made it fairly “crisp and sharp” and an interesting foil for the 2013 steel-fermented chardonnay. She also set down a pretty pottery plate with two pieces of baguette topped with double cream brie. She recommended that we experiment by tasting each wine, then taking a bite of the cheese, and then sipping the wine again to see how having it with the creamy cheese changed the effect of the wine. Okay! The ’09 has a perfume-y aroma of pear and citrus, with, says my husband, “a fair amount going on.” Once we take a bite of the cheese, we note more vanilla and baked pear tastes, as well as a surprising amount of citrus for an oaked chard. On to the ’13.
- 2013 Steel Chardonnay $21
The aroma is faintly grassy, the taste good, with some fruit but fairly dry, maybe a touch of bitter orange. We don’t see as much change with this one after the bite of cheese as the other, but it is a good complement to the cheese. Usually I think of red wine with cheese, but with a soft rich cheese I will now consider whites as well.
- 2010 Chardonnay $21
Now we are asked to consider another pairing of the same grape, treated similarly (both lightly oaked, this one 20% oak and 80% steel fermented), but from very different years. 2010 is generally considered to have been a very good year on the North Fork, with warm dry weather which led to great ripening of the grapes. No surprise, this is a lovely rich chard, with great depth of flavor, the aroma grassy, fruity, and sweet. If we needed a white at the moment, we’d buy it.
- 2011 Chardonnay $21
In contrast, 2011 was a very rainy year, and so the grapes contain a lot of water. Wow—this wine is waterier! Although it is only 5% oaked, the taste has lots of oak in it, perhaps because there’s not as much chard taste to counteract it. We smell the expected woodsy vanilla aroma, and the taste is quite light, almost evanescent. Our server characterizes this as a sipping wine. I think if you put an ice cube in it on a hot day you could almost forget you were drinking wine.
- Famiglia 2012 $21
Now we get to try two wines from the same vintage year, same grape, but treated differently. This is fun, we tell each other. 2012 was another good year. The Famiglia is 20% oaked, with aromas of vanilla, baked pear, and butterscotch. It is lighter than one might expect of an oaked chard (so for those of you who say “I don’t like chardonnay,” you need to try a bunch of differently treated chards), with some sweetness at first taste which then dissipates. Fine, but we like the 2010 better.
- Reserve 2012 $28
This chardonnay has been 38% aged in French oak, and we have no trouble telling which is which just on appearance, since this wine has a darker gold color than the other. Mmm…smells good and tastes good, too. Lots of oak and fruit tastes, mouth-watering, “softer and sweeter,” opines my drinking pal. Very easy to drink. It would be good with spaghetti and fresh clam sauce or sautéed scallops, though you wouldn’t want it with anything too creamy.
- 2014 Rosé $20
Mrs. Tobin stops by to say hello and give us a bit of background on the rosé. It is 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc and chardonnay, she tells us; the merlot is a Pomerol, the 181 clone also used by Croteaux. The grapes are picked when they are still “crunchy.” We smell and taste strawberry, green apple, and a touch of lime. Very light.
- 2014 Sparkling Rosé $27
We get a new glass for the sparkling rosé, a tall slim one. This is a fun wine, Mrs. T. tells us, not at all serious, and the syrah grape juice accidentally spent too long on the skins, hence its dark pink color. Lots of over-ripe strawberry smells and tastes, almost soda-pop-y, this is much too easy to drink. I decide to dub it the bachelorette party wine, and indeed I observe the young woman at the next table order a full glass of it, while her companion opts for a glass of sangria.
- Famiglia Red $23
In 2012 we bought the Famiglia Red for $15, and last year it was $21, but prices do tend to rise, even on the non-vintage wines, though this is still a bargain compared to their other reds. This is a good everyday wine, and goes with pizza and pasta, as our server tells us. It spends a year in French oak, and then is put into steel to stop the aging. (By the way, Mattebella is one of the vineyards that uses the facilities at Premium Wine Group to produce their wines.) We smell leather and fruit, taste some cherry.
- 2008 Old World Blend $44
With this wine a small plate arrives with pairs of treats—fig jam and gorgonzola on baguette, bacon jam and grana cheese on baguette, and little bits of brownie—which we are advised to pair with our next wines. These are all Bordeaux blends, with varying percentages of the grapes. The ‘08 is 86% merlot, 7% cabernet franc, and 7% cabernet sauvignon (The petit verdot didn’t ripen in time, we hear.) We smell dark fruits, though the wine is on the light side. The taste improves after a bite of the yummy fig jam and gorgonzola, a combo I will definitely try at home.
- 2009 Old World Blend $41
Since I asked about the percentages on the last wine, our intelligent server makes sure to tell me these: 93% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot, 1% cabernet sauvignon. Remember, this was a cold, rainy year. The wine is fairly tannic, with aromas of earth and minty candy, not very complex. Having it with a bite of bacon jam and grana cheese does help. Then again, what wouldn’t be helped by bacon jam!?
- 2010 Old World Blend $48
If you come here for a tasting, you will definitely understand the difference a year makes. We tend to forget that winemaking is farming, dependent on earth and weather, but this progression of vintages makes that clear. If their “biodynamic” farming methods are as effective in the fields as they are on the huge hydrangeas we are admiring, they must work amazingly well. The blend here is 88% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 3% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% petit verdot, and we are also advised that this could be cellared for 4-5 years. We smell dark fruits, taste lots of cherry, a touch of chocolate, good tannins, though not a lot of complexity. It is good with the brownie!
- 2007 Old World Blend $63
84% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, 2% cabernet sauvignon, 2% petit verdot. Of course, they saved the best for last—and also the costliest. The aroma is delicious and so is the taste, with a “nice mouth feel,” says my pal. It is very good, but we have had the privilege of tasting world-class Bordeaux, which this is not—on the other hand, it doesn’t cost as much as they do, either!
Reasons to visit: a beautiful outdoor setting with friendly table service; the fun of experimenting with tasting wine with and without food (and where else is food included in your tasting?); the fun of comparing vintages and methods of winemaking; a chance to learn about the influence of weather on grape crops and hence on the wines; the 2010 chardonnay; the 2012 Reserve Chardonnay; the 2014 Sparkling Rosé for a fun party drink; the Famiglia Red; the 2010 Old World Blend.