The Winemaker Studio: Experimental Success April 15, 2017

http://winemaker-studio.com/index.html

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To celebrate April 15 NOT being tax day, we decided to return to The Winemaker Studio, where winemakers who work for some of the big wineries experiment with their own labels. It does fascinate me that people whose job is winemaking feel the need to express more of their ideas about wine with their own experiments—but when the results are as good as this, why not?  On this day, the Studio was featuring the wines of Anthony Nappa, who owns the place and is also the winemaker for Raphael, and Russell Hearn, who is the winemaker for Lieb.  Hearn actually has two different labels available:  Suhru for one line, and T’Jara for wines whose grapes all come from one vineyard.

We stood at the bar and enjoyed chatting with our server, who seemed to know everything about all the wines.  On that day, the menus offered any five of Nappa’s ten wines for $15, and all five of Hearn’s wines, also for $15.  We decided to do one of each, alternating as we went, with some guidance from our server as to sequence and choices from Nappa’s list.  We could also have ordered cheese or other snacks, which come from the little food store attached to the tasting room.  Before we started, the server gave us glasses of chilled water, which he regularly replenished.

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The room is simple. The tables are sometimes inside and sometimes outside.

One other couple entered, and we enjoyed chatting with them about where they had been that day and their love of Key West.  Then a large group came in, and though they don’t usually permit groups without a reservation, since it was so quiet the server agreed to take care of them, and seated them in the food store room.  We were concerned we’d lose our source of information, but he competently took care of everyone!

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The sign seems clear enough…

  1. 2016 Suhru Sauvignon Blanc      $20

We decided it was best to start with what was likely the lightest of the wines, and we were right.  This is a really nice light sauvignon blanc, with some aromas of cat pee and asparagus.  It’s a bit fruity for a sauvignon blanc, and also has lots of minerality and some saltiness.  Very refreshing.  Good summer sipper, or to have with clams or oysters.

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  1. 2016 Nappa White Pinot Noir   $19

White pinot noir?  Isn’t that the wine that used to be called Anomaly?  Well, yes.  Apparently there was some sort of allegation of copyright infringement from a winery in Napa Valley, so Anthony Nappa had to rename his wine.  The first time we had this we really liked it, then not so much the next time, but this time it was back into the plus file.  The aroma combines strawberry—like a rosé, which this basically resembles—with a touch of funkiness that adds some interest.  The wine is somewhat dry, with some strawberry taste as well.  It would pair well with a stinky cheese, like an aged blue.

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  1. 2014 Suhru Dry Riesling               $18

Not sure why, but my tasting buddy insisted the smell reminded him of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  It is a strong aroma, with a touch of mineral or metal.  If you like a dry riesling, this is for you.  The server noted that it had .7% residual sugar, quite a contrast to the Nappa riesling we were going to taste next.  I always enjoy these side by side tastings, where you try the same grapes made in different ways.  Like the Suhru sauvignon blanc, this also has a bit of a salty tang, with some gooseberry taste.

  1. 2016 Nappa New York Riesling   $18

So different!  Made with grapes from upstate’s Sheldrake vineyard, this riesling has 1.9% residual sugar.  Although it is much sweeter, it is well balanced, and would be fine with something really spicy, like Thai food.  “Almost candy,” says my husband, but I get tropical fruit and spices like nutmeg, and a complex aroma that is rather alluring.

  1. 2012 Suhru Shiraz           $25

Although the scent promises lots of dark fruit, the wine itself is rather light for a shiraz.  I could see this with roast chicken, not steak.  Nice tannins, so maybe it will age well.

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  1. 2016 Nappa Bordo Antico           $22

If you care about such things, you might like to know that this wine is certified organic.  It is made from cabernet franc grapes, steel fermented.  It smells like forest floor, with a bit of a mushroomy funk.  The taste is good, fruity, direct and simple.  I might pair it with duck breasts.

 

  1. 2012 T’Jara Cabernet Franc         $30

Here we go again—same grape, different preparation—though this is a bit of a blend, 87% cabernet franc with 10% merlot and 3% cabernet sauvignon.  This is oak fermented, and has lots of fruit tastes like dark plums, and a long finish.  Delicious.  It would complement lamb chops.

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  1. 2014 Nappa Nemesis Pinot Noir               $35

Why “Nemesis”?  We learn that pinot noir is notoriously hard to work with, so the danger is that it could prove to be the winemaker’s nemesis.  Not in this case, though it is not our favorite of the day.  Made with grapes from Macari and Peconic Bay, this is a light, dry, slightly fruity red.

  1. 2013 T’Jara Merlot         $28

A blend of 92% merlot, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 2% cabernet franc, and 2% malbec, the wine is aged 20 months in Hungarian oak and tastes to us more or less like a typical North Fork merlot, with lots of cherry flavor.  Very nice.

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Both the design on the label and the name of the label come from Australian Aborigines. Hearn is from Australia.

  1. 2013 Nappa Tredici        $35

Tredici?  As in three grapes:  67% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, and 18% cabernet sauvignon?  Nope, as in 2013—named for the year.  And why not, since it was a very good year.  We smell cherries, and the taste is very much of the merlot, but with more interesting flavors than the Hearn blend.  It has lots of tannins, and if we had room in the wine cellar (we really must drink more of our wine!) we might have bought a bottle to age for a few years.

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There are wines from a variety of winemakers available for purchase.

Reasons to visit:  a chance to taste wines you won’t find elsewhere; an intimate setting with knowledgeable servers (not just this time, but every time we’ve come); the Nappa White Pinot Noir (formerly Anomaly) and Tredici; the Suhru Sauvignon Blanc and T’Jara 2012 Cabernet Franc; lots of availability of magnums, if you happen to want to buy one!

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Lots of magnums!

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The Studio is on Peconic Street, where you will also find a nice little food store and a gift shop.

Raphael: Better for an Event than a Tasting? December 26, 2015

IMG_2346http://www.raphaelwine.com/

With their beautiful building, modeled after an Italian monastery, and spacious tasting room, Raphael is often in use as a venue for private events.   This time of year the room sparkles with Christmas lights, so it is no surprise to note that it will be closed New Year’s Eve for such an event.  In fact, if you plan to go for a tasting make sure to check their web page first to make sure they are open.  You may also choose to go or not depending on whether they have musical entertainment planned.  The performers we heard were all quite talented and we liked their music, but not the sound level, which made conversation difficult.  The other difficulty we encountered was that the servers were clearly understaffed, having to cater to a crowd around the circular bar plus many people sitting at the tables, drinking glasses of wine and listening to the music.

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The menu lists 18 choices, all priced by the taste, glass, or bottle.  We happened to have a coupon for two free tastings, which entitled us to three tastes each, which would have cost us $17 for the six tastes.  Since we knew we already liked the Portico—which proved to be a popular after-Thanksgiving-dinner drink—we decided to focus on the standard whites and reds, skipping the reserves, the rosés, and the dessert wines.  The menu mentions ratings by both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate in the high 80s and low 90s for a number of the wines.

The pour is fairly generous.

The pour is fairly generous.

  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc                   $22

We decided to start by trying their two sauvignon blancs side by side, and our request for information about the wines was referred by our server to another one who was more knowledgeable.  This is the less expensive of the two, steel fermented for a shorter time, and not the preference of our server.  We agree, though it is a fine example of Long Island sauvignon blanc, with lots of minerality and soft lemon taste at the end, and a refreshing acidity.  It would go well in the summer, or well-iced with oysters.

  1. 2014 First Label Sauvignon Blanc             $28

The tasting menu informs us that this one is “made from our oldest sauvignon blanc vines,” and it is fascinating to see that it is quite different from the previous wine, with more interesting aromas and flavors.  We smell a touch of funk in the aroma, plus various fruits.  The taste is complex, with a touch of sweetness at the end but plenty of mouth-watering acidity.  It would complement pasta with cream sauce, we decide.

  1. 2014 Chardeaux $22

A mixture of 80% chardonnay and 20% sauvignon blanc, this wine is more interesting than a straight chardonnay, with lots of citrus and minerality, and some tastes of unripe peach.  It’s a good chard for people who think they don’t like chard, and would go well with chicken kabobs.

Not sure if you can tell from this picture, but the two rieslings looked quite different.

Not sure if you can tell from this picture, but the two rieslings looked quite different.

  1. 2013 First Label Riesling $26

There are two rieslings on the menu, and since one is described as “semi-sweet” we order the other one, not being a fan of sweet wines (except when we’re talking dessert wines).  As we take our first sniffs and tastes we note a chemical aroma and that it is quite sweet for a supposedly dry riesling.  We get the attention of the more knowledgeable server and discover that, indeed, we have accidentally been served the sweet riesling.  We put that glass aside and happily enjoy the correct pour.  Really good, with kumquat orange tastes and some leather notes in the aroma.  My husband—whose identification of the first pour as the wrong wine has deeply impressed our server—notes that he would not buy this for our usual use for a riesling (to go with spicy food), but that though he likes it he would prefer a riesling with more interest.

La Fontana and the fountain

La Fontana and the fountain

  1. 2012 La Fontana $28

Now we switch to reds, and by the way we get a new glass with each taste, a practice I appreciate.  La Fontana is their Bordeaux blend—merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc—but no one has information on the proportions, including the web page.  A glance at the Raphael label will give you a cue as to the source of this wine’s name—a drawing of the fountain which graces the middle of the parking lot in front of the entrance.  We like this one, too.  The smell reminds me of cassis—the menu says blackberry and eucalyptus –and I taste some nice fruit, with oak at the end and some layers of flavor.  However, compared with a French Bordeaux this is a bit on the thin side.

  1. 2010 First Label Merlot $40

Like the Fontana, this is aged 18 months in French oak, and you can smell the oak when you sniff, as well as cherries.  As it sits in the glass we start to like it better.  It is fairly dry and tannic but with nice fruit.  By the way, I would have liked a cracker to cleanse my palate between the whites and reds but, although there are bowls of them around the bar, there are none anywhere near us and no one offers us any.  As I said, they’re busy.

The fountain--and the Italian flag!

The fountain–and the Italian flag!

Reasons to visit:  you like to admire a beautiful room; the well-stocked gift shop; the First Label Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardeaux, the First Label Merlot, the Portico.

Tis the season

Tis the season

Father Christmas was guarding the well-stocked gift shop, which included food items as well.

Father Christmas was guarding the well-stocked gift shop, which included food items as well.

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Another view of the bar

Another view of the bar

 

 

Raphael: Serendipity November 15, 2015

The last few times we drove past Raphael Winery thinking about going in for a tasting, we noted they were “Closed for a Private Event.”  It’s no surprise that that happens there fairly frequently, since they have a beautiful facility with plenty of room for large parties.  But instead of us going there, Raphael came to us!  We walked into our favorite Nassau County wine store to find a manager from Raphael busily setting up a free tasting.  The tiny sips and short time were not conducive to an in-depth review, so here are just a few quick notes.  At some point this winter we hope to get there when the room is not being used for a wedding or other event to do a more in-depth assessment.

We tried the cabernet franc, the merlot, the sauvignon blanc, and the Portico, an unusual white port.  We like all three wines, but we especially enjoyed the 2013 Portico, made from a combination of grappa and sauvignon blanc grapes.  It is sweet without being at all cloying, and I could see it as going well with paté or dark chocolate—a little taste of which the manager was able to provide.  Mmm…yes, it did go well.  We bought a bottle, planning to offer it as an after dinner drink on Thanksgiving.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The La Fontana fountain at Raphael the last time we were there.

The La Fontana fountain at Raphael the last time we were there.

P.S.  The manager also gave us a schedule of their free concert series, scheduled for Sundays through January.  Check their website to confirm:  www.raphaelwine.com.

Raphael: A Trip to Italy December 21, 2013

http://www.raphaelwine.com/

Note the Italian flag, which flies to one side of the winery.

Note the Italian flag, which flies to one side of the winery.

62 degrees on the first day of winter felt quite appropriate as we approached Raphael’s Italian-style tasting room, with its red tile roof and light stucco walls.  The welcome inside, through the propped-open door, was as warm as the day.  We hadn’t been to Raphael in a long time, partly because every time we went past we saw a sign that they were closed for an event, which is not surprising given the expansive size of the attractive tasting room, with its central bar and dramatic staircase.  Indeed, as we were doing a tasting we noted a prospective bride and groom being given a tour of the place, and our server remarked that an additional room can hold up to 200 guests and that from spring through fall they are often closed for weddings.

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We also had not been enthusiastic about the wines, but they seem to have improved over the past several years, and we liked some of them quite a bit.  In addition, we could easily return and taste a completely different group of wines, as the list includes five whites, two rosés, six reds, and a dessert wine.  We limited ourselves to seven tastes, about as many as we can handle, especially because the pour is quite generous.  There is no set menu for a tasting.  The server hands you a list of wines, and you pay for your choices by the taste, which vary from $2.00 to $4.00 each.  Glasses of wine go for $7 to $15, with most around $8.  Both servers were very knowledgeable and chatty, and we enjoyed the afternoon with them.  Our server was also very accommodating.  Since I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on, we didn’t want to share a glass, so he kindly provided a fresh glass for each taste.

After the tasting, we browsed a bit in their larger than usual gift shop, which has many wine-related items, including some that were quite nice.

The gift shop items included this oversized flask and glass.

The gift shop items included this oversized flask and glass.

1)       2012 Chardeaux                               $24

Yes, that is a made-up word, but Nofowineaux likes it!  This blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and refreshing steel-fermented white, with aromas of citrus and mineral.  We also taste lemon and mineral, plus some unripe pear.  The server compares it to a Pinot Grigio.  Maybe.  In any event, it would go very nicely with a plate of local oysters.

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2)      2011 First Label Sauvignon Blanc              $26

Why “First Label”?  Because it is made from fruit from some of their older vines.  Though this, like the previous wine, is served too cold, once it warms up a bit we quite like it.  We smell some kiwi in the complex bouquet, as well as citrus and herbs.  The taste also includes some citrus and herbs, and is pleasantly complex, especially for a steel-fermented wine.  “Not a simple sipper,” my husband observes, and adds that it would go well with a veal and peppers dish I sometimes make, or perhaps an array of Italian cheeses.

3)      2012 Riesling                     $28

I find it fascinating that Rieslings can taste so different from one vineyard to another, even when they are in close geographic proximity.  Raphael’s Riesling has a complex aroma of flowers and minerals, and is dry, though with a bit of sweeter citrus at the finish, and one wouldn’t immediately peg it as a Riesling.  We must be hungry, because I keep thinking about what foods to have with each wine, and I’m thinking about a simple pork chop dish with this one.

4)      2010 La Tavola                   $20

Now we move over to the reds, and opt to start with their basic table wine, which is a Bordeaux blend, though it is mostly—70%–Merlot.  It also has 6% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot, and 4% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.   There’s a bit of smoke in the aroma, but also lots of dark fruit.  It smells really good!  The taste is pleasant, but rather light for a Bordeaux, and this is, as the server noted, a good pizza and pasta wine.  I’m thinking roast chicken on a picnic…told you I was hungry.

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5)      2010 La Fontana                                $30

We decide to try this wine next, as our server points out that it will make an interesting comparison with La Tavola, since it usesmostly the same grapes, though in different proportions:  36% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  Very interesting, indeed.  This one “could pass as a real Bordeaux,” my husband notes, sipping it appreciatively.  When it is my turn to try, I note a lovely aroma with a trace of smoke and forest floor and taste delicious dark fruits.  “Nice legs,” we note, and good tannins too, and we decide to buy a couple of bottles to cellar for a few years.  (I ask our server if this is named for the elaborate fountain out front, and he nods yes.)

The La Fontana fountain.

The La Fontana fountain.

6)      2010 Estate Merlot                          $22

Long Island Merlots do tend to have a bit of a barnyard smell, and so does this one, but not overly so.  We also smell some tobacco and blackberry.  The tasting notes say “thyme,” but my husband jokes he can’t smell time.  This is fermented in a combination of oak and steel, and I would say it is a typical North Fork Merlot.

7)      2010 First Label Merlot                 $38

2010 was a great year for North Forth wines, and we can see that in all the 2010 wines we’ve tried, including this one.  Aged 18 months in oak, this new release has mineral and dark fruit aromas, with no trace of barnyard, and has lots of fruit tastes.  I bet this one would age well, too.

8)      2007 Primo Winemaker’s Edition

Yes, I said we’d do seven tastes, but, seeing our serious devotion to the tasting process, the servers give us a small taste of this special wine, as there is only a small amount left in the bottle anyway.  Wow, read my notes, and wow again.  This is a wine you can only get if you are a member of the wine club, and we are briefly tempted to join, but no, there are only so many clubs one can join!

Primo is primo

Primo is primo

Reasons to visit:  an attractive and roomy tasting room; a good gift shop; interesting wine choices, especially the Chardeaux and the La Fontana; you’re scouting locations for a large party or wedding; you like having lots of tasting options.

Decorated for the season

Decorated for the season

Dramatic chandelier over the central bar

Dramatic chandelier over the central bar

Which Wineries to Visit: A Summary

After several recent requests for specific guidance as to which winery to visit, I realized that, while my blog does detail my week-by-week impressions, I had given no summary of recommendations.  So, here are some suggestions:

If you are going East with a group, and you are interested in a party atmosphere, with a likelihood of live music (though many places now feature live performers, some are more likely to than others—check their web sites), two good choices would be Peconic and Vineyard 48.  Both have some good wines and both are often quite crowded on the weekends, with a number of vans and buses in the parking lot.  The last time we were at Peconic (in February of 2011) we liked the La Barrique Chardonnay 07 and the 08 Merlot.  We also visited Vineyard 48 that February, and liked the Sauvignon Blanc and the 05 Merlot Reserve.  We tend to visit these crowded places in the winter, as you may deduce.

If you will have children with you, Martha Clara is probably your best bet, as they do quite a bit of agritainment and they have a farm with interesting animals—llamas!—you may visit.  We haven’t been there in a few years, so I can’t really recommend any wine in particular, though I do remember being favorably impressed with their sparkling wines.  Pellegrini would also be okay, if it is nice weather, as you may take your tray of tastes outside and the children can play on the lawn.  A few wineries, such as Diliberto’s, specifically say no children.

If it is a beautiful day and you would like to relax in a pretty courtyard setting—and you like rosés (though if you’re not, Croteaux may make a rosé convert of you)—Croteaux is a lovely place to spend some time.  French music plays in the background, and it has comfortable Adirondack chairs and a laid-back atmosphere.  Another good outdoors spot is Old Field, with its mis-matched calico tablecloths and country farm background, though seating is not as comfy.

On the other hand, if what you are interested in is possibly chatting with the winery owner or a server who is very knowledgeable about the wines, and you like a small intimate setting, there are several wineries we like very much.  One is Diliberto’s, which we have been to frequently, though not recently.  It is just down Manor Lane from an apple orchard, so you can combine apple-picking (or just buying a bag of apples and a pie) with your winery visit.  On occasional Sundays, “Grandma” (a.k.a. Sal Diliberto himself) does cooking demos, making pizza or pasta, tastes of which he then distributes. He also sometimes has a singer and/or musician in. The room is small, painted in trompe l’oeil fashion to resemble the town square of a little Italian town, and we tend to like his reds.  Water’s Crest, which I have reviewed in the blog, is also a small intimate space, as are One Woman, McCall’s, Sannino Bella Vita, and Mattebella.  Though we’ve never encountered an owner at Shinn’s, it also has a cozy tasting room a bit off the main roads, though we only liked a couple of their wines.

Jamesport has some nice whites, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, and often sells local oysters to consume with them.  We have been there on nice days when it feels like a big family party, with children playing on the lawn and musicians performing under a tent.  One time we were there and the guitarist played Blues Sonata, one of my favorite jazz pieces.

There are a couple of wineries I do NOT recommend (lest you think I like everything).  One is Duck Walk, which despite multiple tasting rooms on both the North and South Forks and the presence of crowds every weekend, had several wines we actively disliked, and a rather coldly commercial atmosphere.  The other is Raphael, which has a beautiful tasting room they often rent out for weddings and other parties, but which again had wines we did not particularly care for.  However, they do have a nice selection of wine-related gifts.  Baiting Hollow, also not one of our favorites, sells real food and lots of gift items, if that is what you are looking for.

Finally, there is one rather all-purpose winery which is probably our favorite:  Pellegrini.  We like most of their wines, and they tend to do a rather better job with reds than many North Fork wineries.  In addition, you can either stand at the bar and talk with the servers (especially Judy, who is quite passionate about the wines and knows everything about them) or take your carefully arranged tray of tastes to an inside or outside table.

To me, an ideal fall day on the North Fork would start with breakfast at Erik’s, go on to pumpkin or apple picking at Harbes or another farm and/or a stroll on a beach (Even if you’re not a resident, you can now park since it is after Labor Day. Head south on Cox Neck Road, go towards Cooper’s Farm stand—best eggs ever—and on to Breakfront Beach for a good walking beach.), then lunch at Love Lane Kitchen, a visit to a winery such as Diliberto’s, a walk around Greenport to check out the galleries and antique stores, and then another winery stop at Pellegrini’s or Old Field before stopping at Briermere to buy a pie and then heading home—or to Riverhead for dinner at Tweed’s.

Well, there’s much this leaves out, but you get the idea!  Enjoy.