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.

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Castello di Borghese: A Perfect Pairing     July 8, 2017

https://castellodiborghese.com/

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The Harvest Moon Shellfish Company truck is a sign that you should stop by Castello di Borghese for some oysters and wine.

I headlined this entry “A Perfect Pairing,” thinking about the Harvest Moon oysters we had with the Borghese 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, but it could also apply to the couple we went there with—our son and daughter-in-law.  We all enjoyed the oysters, which are on offer every weekend until October 1, for $28 a dozen, and the wine, which went perfectly with them.  The oysters were small, but sweet and briny and creamy, and the lemon in the wine complemented them beautifully.  It was a perfect July day, and we were happy to sit outside near the vines and enjoy our bottle of wine and plates of oysters.  Unfortunately, they don’t do tastings outside, so we had to go in when we decided we wanted to do a tasting as well.  (I also would urge the winery to install an attractive fence to screen the hose, etc., along the wall of the building.)

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A view of the outside seating area.

When we went in to examine the tasting menu, we found two options:  five Estate wines for $15, or five Reserve wines for $25.  We decided each couple would share one of each, so we could taste most of their wines, though we did miss a few.  Our server was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, happy to share both what he knew and what he liked about each wine.  The tasting room is about medium in size, with a bar along one wall and barrels with tops one can stand around on the other, so if you want to sit for a tasting this is not your place.  Also, they don’t allow outside food (at least at the moment, when they are featuring the oysters).  This is a winery which takes its wine very seriously, and is happy when visitors do the same. After all, the Borgheses bought the vineyard from the Hargraves, who were the first to plant a vineyard on the North Fork, back in 1973.  The Estate wines are marked with an *.

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The expert shucker from Harvest Moon.

  1. .* 2015 Chardonnay $18

A good place to begin a tasting is this steel fermented chardonnay which is so light and lemony you might mistake it for a sauvignon blanc.  We smelled mineral and peach and toast aromas and one of us suggested it tasted like star fruit.  Our daughter-in-law, who is thoughtful about food and wine pairings, thought it would go well with Greek food or a corn salad.  We agreed.

  1. 2016 Founder’s Field Sauvignon Blanc $29

This is not the Sauvignon Blanc we had with our oysters—that one is cheaper and we actually liked it better.  This one is fermented half in oak and half in steel.  It is light and dry, with some citrus and melon tastes and a long finish.  “Blue cheese,” we agreed, would go well with it.

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  1. .*2014 Riesling $26

Not unexpectedly, this smells like flowers and cat pee.  Though our server described it as “off dry,” we all found it too sweet for our taste.  Our son and daughter-in-law said it tasted just like “sweet lime,” which I’ve never had, but I trust their taste buds, and thought it could pair well with watermelon juice and tequila in a margarita-type cocktail.

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  1. 2014 Pinot Noir Select $50

We switched to the reds on the Reserve list, as there were no other whites we wanted to try and they have quite a few reds.  The aroma is nice, of dark fruits, and the taste is also pleasant, with some notes of black pepper as well as plums.  It reminded us a bit of a Chianti, and so we thought it would go well with pasta.

  1. .*Rosé Pinot Noir $20

At the urging of our server, our tasting companions sampled this rosé (we had been given a sip of another one as we were trying to choose a wine to go with our oysters).  However, they were “not excited” about it.  Steel fermented, this is an uncomplicated dry rosé, with a taste of macerated strawberry that, I said, “evanesces.”   We then began to apply that word to all sorts of things.

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  1. 2015 Merlot Reserve $36

We found lots of aromas in this one—spice, pomegranate, charred wood, prunes, and, believe it or not, barbequed chicken were some of our comments.  So then of course we decided it would pair well with barbequed chicken, one with a fruity sauce.  Nice finish.

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  1. .*2014 Cabernet Franc $35

Good one!  With aromas of prune plum and cedar, and tastes of blueberry and spice, this one got us thinking of food pairings again.  We thought lamb chops, and then our daughter-in-law offered flank steak with chimichurri sauce or spiced chick peas (for vegetarians).  Also good ideas.

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  1. .*2015 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon $25

A Bordeaux-style blend of 53% merlot, 44% cabernet sauvignon, and 3% pinot noir, this is, according to our server, a very popular wine.  We can see why.  The aroma is earthy and herbal, with scents of chestnuts and fruit, and the taste is equally appealing, with lots of fruit, and just the right amount of dryness.  Food pairing?  How about spaghetti with mussels in a tomato sauce.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc Reserve $44

You can definitely smell that this was aged in oak, with its cedar/oak aroma, plus fruit, spice, and something funky like mushrooms.  I decide it is mouth-watering.  It has lots of flavor, with dark fruits, and would go well with duck.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $44

Our server now gets into the whole food pairing thing we’ve been doing, and suggests this would go well with “a porterhouse on the grill.”  We talk it over, and once again our daughter-in-law has the perfect pairing idea—hamburger with truffle fries.  One of us compares the aroma to “dusty closet.”  Not sure about that.  However, this is another pleasant red, with nice fruit, though not very complex.

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The winery also has an art gallery.

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The art in the gallery.

Reasons to visit:  a place to get serious about wine; oysters from Harvest moon until October 1; the winery also has an art gallery where you can view and buy local art; the Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Noir Select, the Cabernet Franc, the Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the Cabernet Franc Reserve.

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Jason’s Vineyard: No, It’s Not a Pirate Ship           June 24, 2017

http://www.jasonsvineyard.com/

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Ancient Greek ships, like the Argo, had painted on eyes to help navigate.

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The ship-shaped bar even has a mast and sail, and the ceiling is painted to look like the sky.

Anyone unfamiliar with Greek mythology could be forgiven for thinking, when they sighted the ship-shaped bar, complete with mast and furled sail, that it was supposed to resemble a pirate ship.  However, the design of the bar—and of the ship on the wine labels—is meant to evoke the great ship the Argo, which set off with its crew of heroes, led by Jason, to find the Golden Fleece.  Jason Damianos, the son of the owner of Pindar and Duck Walk, was clearly quite pleased with his namesake hero, and not only designed his bar to resemble the Argo but also named some of his wines after elements of the heroic voyage and opted to raise sheep (golden fleece, get it?) on his property.  Sadly, Jason was killed two years ago in a car accident.  However, the family has continued to own and run his vineyard and his small herd of sheep (plus at least one llama).

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The llama–and the sheep, we were told–had all recently been shorn.

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Jason’s is a fairly large facility, with an expansive outdoor covered porch where a singer was entertaining guests the day we came (but so loudly that we opted to stay inside).  The servers keep track of your tasting by giving you a pile of tokens, taking one away each time they serve a taste.  That works well for large groups, which they do welcome.  The menu offers a flight of five wines for $10.  Since they have thirteen different wines, we decided to do two tastings, one of whites and then another of reds, which we clarified with our server after a bit of discussion.  As we thoughtfully considered each wine, our server became more and more enthusiastic about helping us, pouring a couple of “extras.”  As a result, the only wines we did not try are the two rosés.

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One view of the porch.

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There were no signs about whether or not they allow outside food, so I assume they do.  They also had a small selection of cheeses and crackers in a refrigerated case.  By the way, I only have vintages for a few of the wines.  The menu doesn’t mention them and neither did our server, who whisked most bottles away before I could check.

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The winery building is quite attractive.

  1. Golden Fleece                 $18.95

Apparently, this was a wine Jason meant to be his signature one, a blend of 41% chardonnay, 24% seyval blanc, 21% Cayuga, and 9% vidal blanc.  Noting this unusual collection of grapes, we asked if any of them came from Upstate.  Yes, said our server, she thought the Cayuga did, but wasn’t sure about the rest. However, according to the winery web page the Cayuga is actually grown locally. Tasting it, we were wondering whether this would be a collection of wines we would even want to taste, as it was much too sweet for us.  The menu describes it as “crisp,” but it made me think of candied or canned pears in syrup.  The aroma had combined minerality with floral and cat pee notes, so I was hoping the wine would be more interesting than it proved to be.IMG_3926

  1. Sauvignon Blanc $24.95

I have to say that this had a rather unpleasant smell, like rotting garbage, but fortunately it tasted better than it smelled.  That’s one of the aspects of wine that fascinates me—how the smell and the taste can be so different.  Anyway, this one WAS crisp, and rather nice, dry, with tastes of lemon and mineral.  It would pair well with oysters.

  1. Pinot Blanc $34.95

We liked this one, too. The smell combined a funky, forest-floor element with a metallic scent, and the taste had lots of citrus.  I was thinking blood orange, with end notes of pineapple, and found it mouth-watering.  It would complement spicy food nicely, like maybe a shrimp fra diavolo.

  1. Chardonnay $29.95

In general, I’m not a fan of oaked chardonnays, and this one did not convert me, though it was not too heavily oaked.  As my tasting buddy said, “It’s neither here nor there.”  Aromas of vanilla and almonds, tastes of butterscotch and lemon, and a rather thin mouth feel.  Our server informed us that this was the last of the 2012 vintage, on sale for only $12.95 a bottle, or $100 a case.  A good buy, but not enough to tempt us.

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The servers use these tokens to keep track of how many tastes you get.

  1. White Riesling $27.95

What, we wondered, is a white riesling?  Aren’t all rieslings white?  Our usual server was occupied elsewhere, and the cheerful young lady who poured this one for us had no idea why this one was labeled “white.”  In any event, we dumped most of the glass, as it was unpleasantly sweet.

  1. 2006 Merlot $26.95

The servers rinse your glass with water between tastes, which is nice—except when they don’t dump out all the water.  This is a pretty typical North Fork merlot, with scents of cherry, wood, and tobacco and a taste of cherry, though with a somewhat bitter finish.

  1. 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon $12.95

The cabernet sauvignon is aged 24 months in new French oak, “unfined and unfiltered,” according to the menu.  Though the aroma is lovely, of black cherry and dark chocolate, the taste is disappointing.  My husband characterizes it as a pizza wine, though I would prefer a nice Chianti. We think it is at the end of its useful life, and so must the winery, since this is also on sale for $100 a case.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $25

This is our first “extra.”  Our server suggests we compare it to the 05, and is interested to see what we think of it.  Much better!  The aroma has hints of something spicy, like maybe A-1 sauce, and the wine is dry, with lots of tannins, and a taste that reminds me of a dried fruit compote.

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Hercules…and…

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Hercules! The wine is named for this cute pooch.

  1. Hercules $28.95

According to the menu, this is a unique wine, a “late harvest blend of merlot and cabernet.”  “Late harvest” would imply great ripeness and sweetness, and the label calls it a “sweet red.”  However, it is not as sweet as we were afraid it would be, and we actually liked it.  I said it was sweet on top and tart on the bottom, which I know makes no sense, but that was what I felt.  We agreed we’d love to try it with a nice piece of chocolate cake.  Hercules, by the way, is named not just for the great hero who went on the Argo (in addition to his famous twelve labors), but also for Jason Damianos’s dog.  Check out the photo…

  1. Meritage $28.95

Meritage is the North Fork’s version of Bordeaux wines, a blend in this case of merlot, cabernet, malbec, and pinot noir.  Very nice—not surprising, since Jason studied wine-making in France.  It smells pleasantly of sweet dark fruits, and tastes like cherries, other fruits, and some pepper.

  1. 2010 Malbec $28.95

As my Grandma Ruthie would say, “This one beats the bunch.”  Definitely the star of the day, this has a delicious aroma of dark fruit, plums, and chocolate and tastes quite fruity as well, while still being dry.  If we had decided to sit on the porch and listen to the singer, this is the wine I would have chosen to have in my glass.

  1. Dessert Wine $28.95

Yes, that is what it is called on the menu.  Our server offers us this “on me,” she says, having enjoyed serving people who are interested in the wine and not just in “getting drunk.”  Thanks!  At 19.5% alcohol, this is definitely an after-dinner drink, really a Port wine, with its sweetness balanced by dryness.  Quite yummy, it would be pleasant to sip this while cracking walnuts and almonds.

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Some snacks are available for purchase.

Reasons to visit:  fun to see the bar shaped like a ship; the pinot blanc and the malbec; the Hercules and the Dessert Wine are good if you’re looking for an after-dinner sweet sipper; you can see—but not feed—the sheep and the llama.

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A portrait of Jason Damianos hangs on the wall. We met him a number of years ago, before he opened the winery, at a shop on Love Lane. We got into a discussion and he told us how excited he was to open his own winery. Nice guy. We were sad to hear he had died.

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Peconic Bay: Not your Typical Tasting April 29, 2017

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This sign lured us in.

The last time we went to Peconic Bay for a tasting was in 2008.  Then it closed.  Or did it? They continued to make wines, marketing them through the store they opened in Tanger Mall, Empire State Cellars.  We loved that store, which was amply stocked with wines from many of the Long Island wineries, as well as beers and liquors and other items from all over New York State.  Unfortunately, they closed.  Or did they?

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The door was open, so we walked in.

Recently we noticed that Peconic Bay had hung out a sign saying “Open,” and touting a new sparkling wine, so we decided to check it out.  We walked into an empty tasting room on a sunny day when every winery we drove past seemed to have a large complement of limos and cars.  We were enthusiastically greeted by a woman who seems to be the manager of the place as well as its only employee.  Over the course of our tasting, we learned various bits of information about Peconic Bay, but not why it closed and opened—and may or may not close again.

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The ciders we could have tasted.

The tasting, which includes four wines, is free.  (!) Each taste is small, served in tiny plastic cups.  They also offer a tasting of ciders for $5, but we decided not to do that.   On the counter were also a dish of Backyard Brine bread and butter-style pickles and another of pretzel sticks with Herlocher sweet mustard for dipping.

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As we sipped, we learned that the tasting room had been re-opened by the owner with the mission of selling out his stock of wines.  Then they decided to recreate a mini-Empire State Cellar experience, and stocked a variety of New York State beers and other products, including Twin Stills moonshine, an apple-based gin, Greenhook Gunsmith whisky, various ciders, and more.  Now they may or may not have “switched gears,” in the words of our friend behind the counter, to continue to sell Peconic Bay wines and other local drinks—or not.  We’ll keep our eyes on them!

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We were sorry when they closed.

  1. 2012 Peconic Bay Riesling          $10

Riesling is a wine I never want to buy unless I’ve tasted it, since it can be sweet or dry or somewhere in between, and taste good or…not so good.  This is a very nice riesling, dry, with a bit of that cat pee smell, and a taste of grapefruit and unripe peach.  Not to be sipped on its own, but it would be fine with food, and the price is certainly alluring.

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  1. 2011 Blanc de Blancs $25

This sparkling wine, made using the sparkling wine bottle-sealing facility at Lenz, is made from their own chardonnay grapes.  It has a bit of a yeasty caramel aroma and is pleasant, dry, and not complex.  They make it using the méthode champenoise.

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  1. Atwater Estate Bubble Pinot Noir $16

From an upstate Seneca Lake winery, this is a pink sparkling wine made from 85% pinot noir and 15% Cayuga grapes.  It has a bit of the strawberry taste you’d expect from a rosé, and is less sweet than I had feared.  It’s light, and would be a fine casual wine if you wanted to take a sparkler on a picnic.

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  1. Brotherhood New York Red       $10

Another upstate wine, this one from the Hudson Valley area, this is a light, steel-fermented red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and baco noir (which I had to ask her to spell for me).  She described this as a “Beaujolais style picnic wine,” and I agree.  It would be perfect with a croque monsieur, for example, and I think I would like it chilled.  You can taste the cherry from the merlot, and also a somewhat piney taste.

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  1. 2014 Saperavi $30

Yes, I said four wines, but given our interest and seriousness, she felt we should try one additional wine.  A silver medal winner from Standing Stone winery, this is a light, pleasant red, dry, with some tastes of pomegranate and other fruits.  It’s a dark red, so I expected it to be richer than it was, but maybe it needs more aging.  I researched the grape a bit, and learned it is a cold-weather tolerant grape, originally from Georgia—the country, not the state.

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Reasons to visit:  a quiet place (unless others figure out that they’re open again); a free tasting; some very inexpensive wines (we bought both the riesling and the Brotherhood New York Red for everyday drinking, which she gave us in a nice canvas Empire State bag); a large choice of a variety of artisanal beers and other New York State drinks.  Note:  don’t depend on finding them open!  It they’re closed, I recommend you go across the street to Coffee Pot Cellars.

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We had the room to ourselves.

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Some of the many brands available there.

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Mattebella: Food Friendly Wines April 23, 2017

http://mattebella.com/main

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A view to the outdoor patio, which is even prettier in the summer when the hydrangea are in bloom.

The sun finally appeared, so we decided to head to one of our favorite outdoor tasting areas.  In fact, Mattebella is almost all outside area, so I suggest that you only go there in nice weather. They have a small tasting cottage and another small indoor area, plus some covered gazebo-like seating places, but most of their seating is on the rustic patio, where you are immediately greeted, shown to a table, and handed a menu.

As soft rock played in the background (think James Taylor), we perused our choices.  There are three flights:  Red, which is five tastes for $20; Light, which is seven whites, a rosé, and a sparkler for $20; and Total Vertical Red, which is the same as the red flight with the addition of their most expensive red, for $26.  We decided to share the basic red and the light, starting with the light.

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Our very well-informed server brought a tray to our table with nine glasses on it, six of which he turned right side up in order to pour our first six tastes.  He also set down a little slate tray with two slices of baguette covered with double cream brie.  As far as I know, Mattebella is the only winery around here to give you actual food to go with your tasting—not just a few crackers.  What’s nice about this is that you can think about how well each wine goes with food.  We concluded that Mattebella’s wines are very food friendly, even the ones we were not too sure of on their own.  It’s a good idea to ration your nibbles, so you can experiment with how each wine goes with the cheese and baguette.

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First snack.

The first six tastes are all chardonnays, but from different years or treated differently in terms of steel or a combination of steel and oak.  Our server also explained that for the chardonnay grape there’s not a lot of difference year to year, so the ways the wines vary totally depends on how they are treated.

(Two FYIs:  they don’t take American Express cards, and the restroom, at least for the moment, is a port-a-pottie.)

  1. 2014 Steel Chardonnay              $21

A sniff reveals scents of mineral and cucumber, and the taste is very tart and sour lemony.  We immediately decided this wine needed food, and after a bite of brie we liked it much better.  I could see having it with something like Coquilles St. Jacques, while my husband theorized that lobster thermidor would also work.

  1. 2012 Famiglia Chardonnay         $21

This one and the next one are both fermented 20% in oak, and the rest in steel, so if you don’t like oaked chardonnays this one will be just fine.  It has a slight aroma of honeysuckle and what my tasting buddy insisted was shoe polish.  Mineral or metal, maybe.  The taste is somewhat citrusy, not sweet, and rather subtle.  Again, not a sipper, but would go well with food.

  1. 2013 Famiglia Chardonnay         $23

We like this one better.  It has more aroma and tastes of fresh mandarin orange (when you bite into the whole fruit, rind and all), mineral, and salt.  Again, not too oaky.  “A wine to think about,” opined my husband.

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  1. 2012 Reserve Chardonnay          $28

The next three wines are all fermented 40% in oak, so they are definitely oakier than the former two, though still not too oaky.  It has a pleasant aroma of apricots and butterscotch candy with lots of tastes.  I decide on bosc pear and gala apple!

  1. 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $29

This one has a slightly funky smell and the taste is just okay, with still plenty of minerality despite the oak.  Again, this one benefits from being sipped with a bite of brie.

  1. 2014 Reserve Chardonnay          $29

I would say pretty much the same comments about this wine as the previous one, just adding that it smells a little like sweat, though not in a bad way, and has more of a citrus flavor that that one.

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The sparkling wine is in front.

  1. 2014 Riesling     $22

Now our server comes out with another three bottles (carried in a milkman-like metal carrier) and fills our next three glasses.  This is their first riesling, and he explains that the winemaker wanted to make a dry riesling, but found the brix content of the grapes to be too high.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brix )  As a result, he decided on an “off-dry” riesling.  We don’t particularly care for this one, which is both too sweet for us but also has a metallic taste I don’t like—like touching your tongue to steel or iron.  Maybe next year’s vintage will be better.

  1. 2015 Rosé          $21

Pleasant, we agree, is the word for this rosé, made from merlot grapes.  It spends 5-6 hours on the skins, we are informed.  I think it has a bit of a smell like parmesan cheese!  We taste citrus, strawberry, salt, and mineral.  Crisp and nice.

  1. 2015 Off-Dry Sparkling Rose       $28

If you follow me at all, you can probably tell just by the name that I’m not going to care for this sparkler, and you would be right.  Too sweet!  Made from syrah grapes, it has a distinct green vegetable aroma, maybe fresh peas, plus some chocolate.  The taste reminds me of sweet cherries.

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Bottle carrier

Now we order a red flight, and get a fresh tray with five little glasses on it.  Again, the wines are very similar, all being blends in varying proportions of some combination of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and/or petit verdot.  With this round we each get a little plate with two slices of baguette, one topped with balsamic fig jam and gorgonzola cheese, and the other with bacon jam and grana padana, plus specific instructions on which goes with which wine.  Yum.

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  1. Famiglia Red     $24

As their non-vintage selection, Mattebella aims for consistency with this wine, trying to have it taste pretty much the same year to year.  Not a bad goal, since we like this wine very much.  It’s a perfect spaghetti/pizza wine, with characteristic merlot cherry tastes, dry yet fruity.

  1. 2011 Old World Blend   $43

We smell cherry, like a merlot, though this is a blend.  2011 was a difficult year, because of Hurricane Irene, but since Mattebella harvests by hand, they were able to pick and choose and get enough grapes to make their wine, though fewer cases than usual.  I would say this is fairly straightforward, with soft tannins, and very pleasant to drink.

  1. 2012 Old World Blend   $40

This one has no cabernet sauvignon, and instead more petit verdot, making it spicier and more interesting as far as I’m concerned.  Definitely we smell and taste cherry, but also red blackberry and some minerality.  Another good one.

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Second round of snacks!

  1. 2008 Old World Blend   $48

No petit verdot in this one!  We are instructed to have it with the balsamic fig jam/gorgonzola-topped baguette slice, which is a great pairing.  The wine is good, but better with the food.  We smell and taste chocolate and tobacco in addition to some cherry and dark fruit.

  1. 2009 Old World Blend   $46

Now we get to have the other baguette with jam and cheese, also a nice pairing.  This wine definitely smells like a Bordeaux, with lots of interesting fruit.  The taste has dark fruit and a touch of earthiness, and we like it very much.  Excellent!

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The winery is named for the owners’ children, pictured on the label.

Reasons to visit: an attractive outdoor seating area; the chance to compare the same grape or grapes over different years or treatments; free snacks!; the 2013 Famiglia Chardonnay; all the reds.

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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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Kontokosta Winery: Sounds Good to Me January 17, 2016

http://kontokostawinery.com/

Windows line the walls of the tasting room.

Windows line the walls of the tasting room.

It was time to revisit Kontokosta Winery, with its lovely location overlooking the Long Island Sound, and we found the perfect reason to go there.  We recently learned that old friends of ours had bought a house near Greenport, but, what with work on the house and not much time for other activities, had yet to visit a winery.  Well, we said, it is high time to remedy that situation, and they were happy to go with Nofowineaux to a winery so close to their house.

Proving that you can’t rely on last year’s review, a major change in the menu switched the Anemometer white and red from their least expensive wines to their priciest—and they weren’t even on the regular tasting menu, but needed a supplement of $5 each to taste.  So I can’t tell you if they’re worth it, but many of the other wines are.

Our server was proud to point out that they had won some gold medals.

Our server was proud to point out that they had won some gold medals.

The menu offers five whites for $15 or four reds for $15, so we opted to share one of each, and our friends chose to follow our lead.  Since it is a carefully metered one-ounce pour, that was fine.  They also have a menu of snacks and sweets and non-alcoholic drinks (called “Sound Bites,” a play on their location and their motto of “Sound Wines”), and forbid outside foods.

The tasting room is a high-ceilinged large space, with tables and a bar, where we opted to stand.  Considering it is January, we were impressed by how many people were there, but it was a three-day weekend.  Our server did a good job of keeping track of where we were in our tasting, and, as she saw our seriousness, began to give us more information on each wine.

A few gift items, including olive oil, are offered.

A few gift items, including olive oil, are offered.

  1. 2014 Orient Chardonnay              $22

Like many North Fork tastings, this one began with their steel-fermented chardonnay, which our friend compared to a “non-sweet Limoncello.”  Not a bad comparison, since this had plenty of lemon flavor and aroma, plus some nice minerality, and maybe even a salty tang.  Good.

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  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc $25

As we sniffed the aroma of mango and citrus, one of our friends compared it to “Joe Malone perfume.”  Not being familiar, I can’t confirm or deny this, but the wine does have a lovely flowery scent.  The taste is equally pleasant, with good grapefruit and pineapple and other tropical fruits, plus mouth-watering acidity.  When we comment that this would be good with oysters, a discussion of North Fork oysters and where to get them ensues.  When the Old Mill Inn re-opens in the spring, we’ll have to meet there for their happy hour oysters.

  1. 2014 Viognier $25

Getting into the spirit of commenting on each wine, our friends describe the viognier as “more restrained and less dramatic” than the first two wines, and we agree.  The aroma is a bit sweet, with some mineral or rock and maybe a spice.  Cinnamon?  Nutmeg?  We can’t decide.  But this is another very drinkable wine, again on the tart, dry side, and would be good with creamy clam chowder.

  1. 2014 Field Blend $22

63% viognier and 37% sauvignon blanc.  Why?  Because they had that much of each left over last year, and only one vat in which to ferment them!  Nice to be able to drink your experiments, though we don’t like this as much as the previous wines.  It is quite light, and smells just like the viognier.

  1. 2014 Riesling $22

Dry!  Just .2% residual sugar, says our server, and we believe her.  It tastes more like a sauvignon blanc than their sauvignon blanc, very tart, with lots of acidity.  If you like a fruity somewhat sweet riesling, or even if you are thinking of a riesling to complement spicy food, this is not it.

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  1. 2008 Blum Merlot $19

A year ago we had the 07 Blum Merlot, and was told this was the last of it, but I guess they had one more year of these vines before Ray Blum’s vineyard was sold to Sparkling Pointe, which tore out the merlot vines.  The aroma has lots of sweet cherry in it, and none of the barnyard which we detected in the 07.  Our friend thinks there’s a bit of a whiff of creosote, which is possibly from the French oak it was aged in.  It tastes less fruity than it smells, with some woody notes but no vanilla.  We get new glasses for the reds, by the way.

  1. 2013 Estate Merlot $34

We like this merlot much better, and all agree that we taste and smell lots of blackberry, plus minerals and flowers.  “Easy on the tongue,” opines our friend.  That may be the tannins, since the end taste is quite dry.  This one is aged in Hungarian oak, as are the rest of the reds.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $29

As our server pours this, she brings out another bottle and two fresh glasses and pours us another wine, the 2012 Cab Sauv (about which more in a moment).  Our friends are impressed with what I call the power of the book.  Often, when wineries see you are serious about the wine, they give you a little something extra.  Sometimes it is another taste of a wine not on the menu, or other times just some extra attention and more stories about the making of the wine.  I appreciate both.  We like this one, as it has lots of rich fruit flavors and aromas but is still pleasantly dry.

Our special extra taste!

Our special extra taste!

  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $29

I should really label this 8A, since it is an “extra.”  Our server explains that she thinks we should try this, as there are only a few cases left, and she thinks it is really excellent.  She’s right.  It is similar to the ’13, but mellower and smoother and fruitier.  We buy a bottle.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Franc $40

“Hmmm,” muses our friend, “I think I detect a note of Robitussin.”  Ha ha.  But it does taste of dark fruits, perhaps plums, again with some nice minerality and some promising tannins.  We get into a discussion of the meaning of “terroir,” and wonder if Kontokosta’s wines have more minerality than some others because of their location on the Sound, which we can see out of the windows.

Yes, that is the Long Island Sound in the background.

Yes, that is the Long Island Sound in the background.

Reasons to visit:  you are in or near Greenport and don’t want to travel too far; almost all of the wines, but especially the Orient Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Estate Merlot, and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (but hurry before they sell out); the location on the Sound (maybe some time we’ll get there in the warm weather so we can stroll towards the water).

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The day was cold and grey, with the first snow of the season, but the welcome was warm.

The day was cold and grey, with the first snow of the season, but the welcome was warm.

Macari: Still a Good One January 2, 2016

http://www.macariwines.com/

The entrance

The entrance

For our first winery of the new year, we headed to Macari, which we had last visited when it boasted the award of “Best Winery of 2014.”  We would have been back sooner, but cancelled our visits when the attractive tasting room proved too crowded and noisy for us.  This time, in the doldrums of January, there were still plenty of people, including a large group in the room off to one side, but we found a place at the bar and a smart and attentive server.

Plenty of space for large groups in the side room.

Plenty of space for large groups in the side room.

The menu offers three options—Estate, of four of their lower priced wines for $10; Cuvee, of five for $15; and Vintage, of five of their best wines for $20.  Since none of the lists overlapped, we decided to share two tastings, one of the Cuvee and one of the Vintage.  Because both menus included whites and reds of varying types, we wanted to alternate so as not to try to follow a riesling with a sauvignon blanc.  Why?  As we’ve learned, if you try to taste a light dry wine like a steel-fermented sauvignon blanc after a sweeter, more substantial wine like a riesling, you won’t be as able to appreciate the lighter wine.

Our server first wanted to pour our two tastings simultaneously, but after we explained the philosophy behind our preference she quickly caught on, and made sure to pour the wines in an order that made sense.    We were particularly impressed with her ability to keep track of what we were doing since she also was serving other customers and running off to the side room as well.  She also was enthusiastic about the wines, sharing her preferences and knowledge about the wine, only once having to resort to a “cheat sheet” to give us information we requested.

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As we sipped, we admired the nicely done holiday decorations and the attractive labels on the wines, and afterwards we browsed the small but good collection of wine-related gifts. Note they don’t allow outside foods, and sell a variety of snack and cheese items.   I’m listing the wines in the order in which we had them, marking the Vintage wines with an *.

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  1. Sauvignon Blanc ’14       $24

This is a steel –fermented sauvignon blanc, with an aroma that reminds me of the water in a vase after the flowers have begun to decay—which doesn’t sound all that appealing, but is fine when combined with citrus.  Good, we decide, nicely crisp, but delicate, with a touch of sweetness—perhaps more Meyer lemon than lemon.  Of course it would pair well with local oysters or clams, but if you had it with shrimp I would leave out the cocktail sauce, which would overwhelm this wine.

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  1. Sauvignon Blanc ’14 (concrete egg) $27

Ooh, this is just the sort of exercise I love: Trying two wines side by side, made from the same grapes, but treated differently.  In this case, “concrete egg” refers to the egg-shaped concrete cask they use to ferment the wine, our server explains, and adds that since concrete is more porous than steel but less porous than wood, and without the flavor added by a wood cask, the results are quite different and, she thinks, better.  We agree.  The aroma is complex, with perhaps a hint of nutmeg or other spices and a taste that is a touch sweeter without being too sweet, with some acidity and a taste of greengage plums.  No finish.  Mysteriously, the label bears the word “Lifeforce.”

  1. *Dos Aguas ’13 $27

“Dos Aguas” refers to the two waters between which the vineyards are located:  Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound.  Many people feel that these “two waters” contribute to the North Fork’s excellence as a grape-growing region, since they have the effect of moderating the climate.  This is a blend of chardonnay, viognier, riesling, and sauvignon blanc, and is another good wine.  The aroma makes me think of sticky fruits and the taste includes minerality, figs, and tangerines.  Though the riesling does contribute some sweetness, it is well balanced with some acidity.  It would go well with one of my favorite dishes, pasta tossed with a variety of seafood.

  1. *Riesling ’13 $23

Ah yes, we are definitely glad that we tasted this one last of the whites, as its sweetness would have interfered with appreciating the others.  This is the only wine, our server informs us, that uses grapes not grown on the estate, since the riesling grapes in this come from the Finger Lakes region (not unusual for Long Island wineries, as upstate is known for its good riesling).  The aroma is honey, the taste like a green apple on the sweeter side, like a Mutsu, not a Granny Smith.  “Toot suite,” jokes my husband, as he complains that this wine is sweeter than he likes.  It is sweeter than a dry riesling, but I don’t find it unpleasantly so.  With spicy food you’d welcome that flavor.

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  1. Merlot Estate $15

Burnt sugar?  Cinnamon toast?  We discuss the smell, which in any event is not typical for a Long Island merlot.  Our server lets us in on the secret that although this wine is more than 80% merlot it also has some syrah, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon, which may help explain the aroma.  It may also explain the taste, which is quite good for an inexpensive merlot, and makes this a good choice for a table wine.  It is fairly soft, with no tannins and some acid, and would go well with veal or pork, rather than steak.

Full disclosure:  We already knew we like Sette.

Full disclosure: We already knew we like Sette.

  1. Sette NV $19

We are quite familiar with Sette, since we often order it in local restaurants.  In fact, we just shared a bottle of it at Michelangelo’s last week, when it went well with eggplant parmesan and pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe.  This is a blend of 50/50 merlot and cabernet franc (not of seven wines, as you might assume from the name, which instead refers to the town Settefratti, which was the home town of the Macari family).  The smell is warm, with some spice and wood, the taste cherry with again some acid but not much tannin.

Cute drawing on the Dos Aguas.

Cute drawing on the Dos Aguas.

  1. *Dos Aguas Red Blend ’10 $30

Blend?  Yes, of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.  We smell wet hay and wood, taste pleasant dark fruits. This is a soft, easy to drink red, and would be good, I opine, to sip while cooking—and ruining the food? theorizes my husband.  Ha.

  1. *Merlot Reserve ’10 $36

After aging 26 months in French oak, this wine has more tannins than the previous reds, with a typical merlot aroma of cherry plus oak.  Not powerful, but pleasant, this is a good wine if you want to introduce someone to Long Island merlots.

Apparently the Bergen Road is also available in a huge bottle.

Apparently the Bergen Road is also available in a huge bottle.

  1. *Bergen Road ’10 $46

Since I ask, our server looks up the proportions of this red blend:  56% merlot, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 13% cabernet franc, 3% malbec, and 2% petit verdot.  A Right Bank Bordeaux.  The color is quite dark, and so is the taste, with plenty of tannin and acid and delicious dark fruits.  Yum.

Block "E" looks and tastes very like a sherry.

Block “E” looks and tastes very like a sherry.

  1. Block “E” ’12 $32 (for a small bottle)

Ice wine is supposed to be made with grapes picked after the first frost, but since that frost tends to come pretty late on the North Fork (as in it just happened), instead the grapes are picked fairly late, when they have developed quite a bit of sugar, and then frozen before being made into a dessert wine.  In both color and taste this reminds us of a semi-sweet sherry, with a bit of a honey aroma.  When I ask, we are informed it is made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and malbec grapes.  Good dessert wine, it would be nice with some almonds.

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Reasons to visit:  good all-around winery, with plenty of tasty options and a big room with tables for groups; nice selection of gifts; reasonable prices (if we didn’t have all the wine we need at the moment we would have bought several of the wines); the “concrete egg” Sauvignon Blanc, the Dos Aguas white and red, the Merlot Estate, the Sette, the Bergen Road.

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Shinn Estate Vineyards: Country Road December 20, 2015

http://shinnestatevineyards.com/

The Farmhouse B & B

The Farmhouse B & B

As we drove slowly along Oregon Road I began humming “Country roads, take me home…”  We had just paid our first of what I hope will be many visits to the East End Mushroom Company, and two baskets of mushrooms sat in the back seat, awaiting culinary inspiration.  Meanwhile, we were enjoying the bucolic scenery along Oregon Road, on our way back to Shinn’s tasting room after more than a year away.

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I like the cozy rustic look of the tasting room, and today we had it to ourselves for a while, and then later a few other small groups arrived.  No buses are allowed here, and limos or groups of more than six by appointment only, which makes sense, given the small room.  Check out their web site for info on their B and B in the adjoining farmhouse.

But we are here to taste some wine.  The menu offers four wines for $14 out of a menu of 16, plus a few other choices which cost $7 per taste, including their brandy, about which more later.  We decided to do one tasting of whites and another of reds, not sharing tastes because I have a bit of a cold.  I’ll tell you about the whites first, then the reds.  We sit at a small table for two and are served each wine as we choose it.

  1. Sparkling Brut 2012                        $40

Given the festive season, I decided to start with their sparkling wine, made in the Méthode Champenoise and fermented in the bottle.  The first pour is from a bottle that has been open and is clearly somewhat flat, so our server quickly opens a fresh bottle.  Ah, nice frothy bubbles!  Typical yeasty aroma, then a nice dry light taste, with good acidity.  I recently learned that acidity is what makes your mouth water, and this one does.  I like it better than Sparkling Pointe’s sparklers.

I liked the glasses.

I liked the glasses.

  1. Coalescence 2014           $16

I liked Coalescence, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and a touch of riesling, the first time I had it, then didn’t care for it the second time, and now I have to say third time is not the charm.  Although it has a pleasant aroma of gooseberry and honey, the taste has a funky forest floor edge that does not appeal to me.  Not that it’s bad, and I think it would be nice with a plate of salumi, but it’s just not for me.

  1. Pinot Blanc 2014 $35

I’m happy that the server gives me a new glass, since I don’t want the taste of Coalescence to influence the next one, which turns out to be a happy choice, since I like it very much.  This wine spends eleven months in new oak, we are informed, and it has a bit of that oaky vanilla scent.  However, the taste is quite nice, with some interesting layers of flavor, a bit tingly on the tongue.  It has just a touch of sweetness, especially at the end, and is sippable on its own, but would be even better with some Catapano goat cheese.

An explanation of the sherry and their label.

An explanation of the sherry and their label.

  1. Veil “Sherry” 2009 $48 (for a small bottle)

Why is sherry in quotation marks, I wonder?  Because it is not fortified, they can’t actually call it a sherry, we are told.  However, it does taste very like a medium dry sherry and smells like sherry, too.  Made from late harvest savoy, sauvignon blanc, and semillon grapes, it is fermented for so long that a “veil” forms on the top of the wine, hence the other part of the name.  19% alcohol, this would make a great aperitif.  I would drink it!  It has tastes of baked pear and a bit of oak, and would be perfect with some toasted almonds or manchego cheese.

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  1. Estate Merlot 2012       $26

My husband admires the beautiful dark color of the wine, which seems to be typical of all their reds.  Not much aroma, he says, and a spicy tart taste, ending with black cherry.  Somewhat mono dimensional, he adds, with not much tannin and over the top on acid.  (Acid does not mean bad, remember!)

  1. Estate Merlot 2009 $32

Always fun to compare different vintages of the same grape, we say, and our server agrees.  This merlot has more aroma than the 2012, with some notes of forest and wood, plus sweet cherry, with more tannin and less acid.  It would be good with a meat that was not too flavorful, like a filet mignon.

  1. Wild Boar Doe 2012 $32

Say the second two words quickly and you’ll get the joke.  Yes, this is a Bordeaux blend, of 40% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc, aged in oak for 20 months.  When my tasting buddy sniffs, he says he smells toast, which must come from the oak aging, plus some fruit.  Again, it has a beautiful dark color, but, he adds, it lacks gravitas.  If you compare it with a French Bordeaux, he says, you’ll say the French is better, but there’s nothing wrong with this.  It would pair well with a veal chop, since it does not have too much acid or body.

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $40

This has just been released, we are told, and again, this is a pleasant if not complex wine.  There’s “more at the end,” my husband notes, than the other reds.  Overall, I think the whites fare better than the reds.

The brandy

The brandy

  1. Julius Drover Alembic Brandy $75

We have some discussion about this additional taste ($7), since there are several “hard” liquor options to try, and settle on this brandy.  It is named for owner David Page’s maternal grandfather, who was a farmer/bootlegger in Wisconsin during Prohibition.  Since it is 86 proof, we are perfectly happy with the very small taste, which I give my companion first.  Mmm, mellow.  Smells like brandy, with some vegetable and wood aromas.  Dried fruit taste.  Warms the cockles (whatever those are) I say.  Doesn’t bite you back, says my pal.

Another view of the room

Another view of the room

Reasons to visit:  a chance to drive down a country road; the Sparkling Brut, Pinot Blanc, Wild Boar Doe, Veil “Sherry,” and Julius Drover Alembic Brandy; a winery that is quiet and relaxing; their use of wind and solar power and biodynamic farming (check out their web site for details); the chance to taste some types of drinks not made in other places, like the brandy, eau de vie, and “sherry.”  And do stop and get some mushrooms from East End Mushroom Company on Cox Lane: http://www.theeastendmushroomcompany.com/ .

Stop in to East End Mushroom and they'll tell you all about how they grow their shrooms.

Stop in to East End Mushroom and they’ll tell you all about how they grow their shrooms.

Signs like these line the walls of the tasting room.

Signs like these line the walls of the tasting room.

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Sannino Bella Vita: Small Place, Big List June 27, 2015

This used to be the Ackerly Pond Vineyard, and, though none of the wines are labeled Ackerly, the sign is still there.

This used to be the Ackerly Pond Vineyard, and, though none of the wines are labeled Ackerly, the sign is still there.

http://www.sanninovineyard.com/

The sign outside Sannino Bella Vita says no groups of over six without a reservation, and that’s a good idea, because this small venue really can’t handle a big influx, as we saw when a group with a Groupon and another group there for Anthony Sannino’s wine tour arrived at the same time.  However, the cheerful and hard-working tasting room staff did their best to compensate, and we were in no hurry anyway.  Our youthful server was new to the winery, and actually learned a few facts from us, but she was so charming we didn’t mind at all.

Anthony Sannino off to give a tour.

Anthony Sannino off to give a tour.

This is a great spot if you hope to interact with an owner, as Anthony Sannino is usually on site.  In addition, for a small winery they have an interesting range of choices, with a menu of eleven different wines to choose from for a tasting.  Since their standard tasting is six wines for $18, we decided to share two tastings, thus getting to sample all the wines (except one that is off the menu).  They generally set up all of your tastes on a tray, but with the influx of the groups they asked if we would mind getting our tastes one at a time, since they were worried they would run out of glasses!  No problem.  We also could have ordered a cheese and meat tray for $18.

One side of the room

One side of the room

We opted to sit on stools at the bar, but most other people sat outside on the side patio.  The room has, according to one of the servers, “a certain rustic charm,” and we agree.  There’s also a small selection of amusing wine-related gifts, and the Sanninos run a B and B next door to the winery.  They are just down the street from Greenport Harbor Brewery’s Peconic location, where mass quantities of people were flocking for a barbeque cook off.  We decided to give it a miss.

Some gift items

Some gift items

bella bib

  1. 2014 Chilly Day Chardonnay $18

There’s an interesting vegetable aroma which we note in several other of their wines.  Maybe asparagus?  Also a touch of baked pear, even though this is a steel-fermented chard.  The taste is a touch sweet for a steel chard, but ends with a tart lemony flavor.  Nice, and quite buyable.  We also note that the whites are served at a good temperature—not too cold.

  1. 2013 Off-Dry Riesling                    $17

“Bronze Medal in the FLI,” says the menu, which we later learn stands for Finger Lakes International.  We’re somewhat iffy on rieslings, but this one is quite nice, with green plum aromas and tastes, plus a touch of citrus.  It’s not too sweet, and would be a nice chilled summer sipper or an accompaniment to Thai food.

bella bottles

  1. 2014 Sauvignon Blanc $22

“I’d definitely have this with oysters,” I say.  Lots of not-overly-ripe pineapple taste, tart, lemon at end, with a touch of cabbage in the aroma.  Also worth buying, I think.

  1. 2014 Chardonnay $20

The menu says this is “fermented in steel and accented in oak,” and though at the moment there was no one to tell us exactly what this meant, we can figure it out, as this is an only lightly oaked chard.  We smell honey and almond butter, but the taste is dry and crisp.  If you find steel chards a bit too crisp and oaked chards too buttery, you’d probably like this one.

Pretty color

Pretty color

  1. Bianca White Merlot $16

This is a rosé, of course, so, as always, we compare it to Croteaux.  The color is a pretty dark pink, with sweet strawberry aromas with again a touch of that vegetable scent.  It’s good, though sweeter than Croteaux’s 314, and with less going on.

  1. 2014 Bianca Dolce $15

Our server confidently informs us that this is their sweetest wine, and notes that “people come in just for it.”  I get that.  This has a lighter color than the Bianca, and is quite sweet, almost enough to be a dessert wine.  However, it is light and not cloying. Might be nice over ice.

bella second

  1. 2nd Bottle Red $20

Why 2nd Bottle?  Because this is a wine you serve second, because “nobody cares by the second bottle.”  A non-vintage blend of varietals, this is a fine barbeque wine, with no depth and not a lot of fruit, but quite drinkable.  Something in the aroma reminds me of a black olive tapenade, like the one we sampled earlier in the day at Vines and Branches in Greenport.

  1. 2012 Merlot $25

Another FLI Bronze Medal winner, this 100% merlot spends 22 months in French and Hungarian oak.  We smell plums and a hint of smoke and taste cherry.  Neither sweet nor dry, this is a passable merlot, though my husband says he “would not go out of my way for it.”

  1. 2012 Prima Rossa $34

50% cabernet sauvignon, 33% cabernet franc, 17% merlot, we inform our eager-to-learn server, means this is a Left Bank Bordeaux-type blend.  It’s also quite good, with aromas of coffee, cigars, and grape juice and lots of dark fruit tastes.  This one is also aged for 22 months in French and Hungarian oak.

  1. 2012 Cabernet Franc $34

Ooh, this wine won a Silver Medal in the FLI.  The menu describes it as “elegant.”  Well, there is something restrained about it.  Quite dry, with a bit of a woody aroma, it would be okay with lamb, but we liked the Prima Rossa much better.

Our favorite of the reds

Our favorite of the reds

  1. 2012 Spotlight Petit Verdot $42

We opt to get two tastes of this one, to complete our twelve, and decide that was a good choice, as we like this the best of the reds.  A blend of 85% petit verdot and 15% cabernet sauvignon, aged 22 months in French and Hungarian oak, this wine has lots of dark fruit aromas with just a touch of smoke, and tastes very good.  Lots of fruit, maybe some jam—I could see this with the Crescent Farm duck breasts I served with a strawberry-rhubarb sauce last week.  It certainly merited its Silver Medal in the FLI.

This serious-looking canine statue stands guard over the parking lot.

This serious-looking canine statue stands guard over the parking lot.

Reasons to visit:  you like an intimate setting, with the chance to chat with an owner (if he’s not giving a tour—or you could sign up for the tour!); the Chilly Day Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Prima Rossa, the Spotlight Petit Verdot; a cute selection of gifts.

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The vines are in full leaf now.

The vines are in full leaf now.