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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Laurel Lake:  A Festive Day          September 23, 2017

http://www.llwines.com/

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The winery building is quite pretty.

We had been to the Greenport Maritime Festival, where we watched pint-size mermaids parade and cruised past booths offering art, food, lavender, and more.  Now it was time to continue the festive mood by bringing our guests to a winery, and we decided on Laurel Lake, which we had not been to in more than a year.  One reason we hadn’t been there sooner was that the last time we tried to go they were about to close for a wedding.  This time they were also going to close for a wedding, but we had more than an hour for our tasting, so in we went.

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The tent was being prepared for a wedding party.

The tasting room is pleasant, with an antique bar at one end and plenty of tables, all of which were empty.  We opined that everyone on the North Fork was probably at the Greenport Festival or apple picking at Harbes.  Then the server behind the bar suggested we seat ourselves near the outside bar, where we had never been.  Out we went, to find long tables in the shade, a few more customers, and a very genial server who timed his visits to our table perfectly.  A look at the attractively rustic setting made it clear why people favor Laurel Lake as a wedding venue.  A food truck run by CJ’s restaurant was parked near us, but we had already had lunch in Greenport.

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There is a food truck on the premises, so they request that you not bring your own food.

Laurel Lake offers an extensive menu, of seven whites and nine reds, and a tasting consists of four tastes for $15.  By some judicious selecting and sharing, our group of six was able to taste many of the offerings.  Each couple shared a tasting, and then we gave each other sips.  Overall, we tended to prefer the whites to the reds, but the reds do have the advantage, rare on the North Fork, of being mostly reasonably priced.  One nice touch—our server brought us clean glasses for each taste.  That’s such a great idea.  So often they either pour the next taste right into your glass, where it may be affected by the previous wine, or they rinse it with water, which runs the risk of wine that tastes like chlorine.  One other clever method is when they rinse your glass with a few drops of the next taste, though that seems a tad wasteful to me.  I hate to see wine being poured into a dump bucket!

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The tasting room.

  1. 2016 Pinot Gris              $22.99

We hadn’t yet settled on a sharing method, so two of us ordered this.  I tend to like pinot gris (a.k.a. pinot grigio), and this one was no exception.  It smells a bit like pineapple juice, and tastes a bit like it, too. It is tart, with notes of mineral and salt.  Our daughter-in-law, who is good at thinking about wine and food pairings, thought it would go well with something made with capers.  How about smoked salmon with capers, we asked.  Yes.  Very buyable.

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They give you a good-sized pour, so all six of us could share tastes.

  1. 2014 Chardonnay Estate Reserve $23.99

Their oak aged chard, this has the expected aromas of vanilla and wood or caramel, with some citrus flavors.  Interestingly, this one also tasted of pineapple, but in this case of very ripe pineapple.  Food pairing?  How about pork with pineapple.

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The outside bar.

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

This new release is light, crisp, and lemony, with some tastes of grilled peaches.  A nice summer wine, it might pair well with a salad with grilled peaches.

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  1. 2014 Gewürztraminer $22.99

Our server informed us that this is their “third sweetest white.”  Though I am not a fan of sweet wines, this one is well-balanced enough that, with, let us say, spicy Thai food, it would be fine.  I smell flowers and something metallic, and taste oranges.

  1. Moscato Sparkling $24.99

One member of our group prefers sweet wines to dry, and he was very pleased with this sparkler.  It is sweet, with strawberry and melon tastes and a candy-like aroma.  Perhaps one could drink it with a chocolate soufflé?

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  1. Wind Song Red $17.99

Fair warning—we are told this is their sweetest red.  Our server explains that they make it by blending all the leftovers from other wines, and it has no vintage because it could contain juice from various years.  I would say this was not a successful blend, as it has a somewhat medicinal taste, like Cheracol cough syrup.

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  1. 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve $29.99

Another newly bottled release, this was aged in used oak barrels, so it does not have the flavors you get from oak.  Some say the nice aspect of this is you get the pure taste of the grape.  We find it rather flat and one-dimensional, though not unpleasant.  Perhaps one could drink this with molé, as it is a light red.  Not caring for this or the previous red, our guests try their own blend, mixing the two.  Not a success.

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My favorite of these was the Syrah.

  1. 2012 Merlot Estate $19.99

Better.  Whew.  A pretty typical oak-aged merlot, with cherry aromas and taste and some tannins.

  1. 2013 Syrah $19.99

Two-thirds of us agree that we like this one.  It has tastes of plums, pepper, and nutmeg, plus some nice tannins.  Someone suggested pairing it with moussaka.  Sounds good to me.

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  1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99

Interestingly, this is aged in steel.  It is an easy to drink, fresh-tasting pizza wine, with soft tannins, and fruity aromas and tastes.

  1. 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $25.99

As the afternoon progressed, our server became more and more chatty, and he described the interesting method used to make this wine.  They take two-thirds of the cab sauv to make rosé, and they take the skins from that plus the rest of the grapes to make this wine, which is then aged in used oak.  It has a “dark richness,” said someone, not sure who.  It is dry, not as fruity as you might expect given how it is made, with some nice tannins.  I wonder how it would age.

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They have a small selection of wine-related gift items.

Reasons to visit:  pretty setting, inside and out; the Pinot Gris, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Syrah, the Cabernet Sauvignon; reasonably priced wines for Long Island, especially the reds; food truck.

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Our server did a good job of explaining each wine.

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The top floor of the two-level outdoor area.

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Mermaids on parade!

Lieb Cellars: A Beautiful Setting                September 12, 2017

http://liebcellars.com/history/

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The Lieb Cellars tasting room is located on bucolic Oregon Road.

In many ways, September is the best month on the North Fork, and our guests agreed.  We had gone for a walk to Love Lane and a swim in the Peconic Bay, and now we were seated on the attractive patio of Lieb Cellars on Oregon Road, gazing out at beautiful farm fields.  Later we planned to barbeque chicken from 8 Hands, plus eggplant and zucchini and corn from a farm stand.  Perhaps we could cap off that menu with a bottle of wine from Lieb.  However, we didn’t find any wine that we wanted to take home for that meal.

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It was a warm day, so we appreciated to bottle of cool water we were given.

On the other hand, we enjoyed our tasting, if not so much the wines themselves, which was brought to us on trays so we could sit and sip and discuss and enjoy the lovely setting.  The very enthusiastic and well-informed server, a young man who is really studying wine, gave us a quick (maybe too quick!) rundown on the wines we had ordered, and then left us to ourselves, just checking back periodically to see if we had any questions.

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The menu includes snacks, plus drinks for your designated driver.

The menu offers three options:  four whites plus the rosé for $16, five reds for $18, or six Reserve wines for $20.  You can also get cheese and charcuterie plates, but we knew we had a lovely selection of cheeses from the Love Lane Cheese Shop waiting for us at home, so we opted not to get anything.  They don’t allow you to bring your own food, but they do permit dogs on the outside patio.  We decided to share one white flight and one red flight.  The good-sized servings came out in attractive round-bottomed glasses, and we also were given a bottle of chilled water plus glasses for the water.  Some of the wines are labeled Bridge Lane and others Lieb Reserve, which I abbreviate BL and LR.

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The whites and the rose. Each glass sits on a coaster which identifies the wine and the order in which to drink them.

  1. 2016 BL White Merlot   $18

This is a white wine made from merlot grapes by not giving them any time on the skins.  The aroma was nice—sweet, spicy, a bit minerally—but we found the wine itself lacked character.

  1. 2015 LR Pinot Blanc $22

They are very proud of their Pinot Blanc, but we were underwhelmed.  It is very citrusy and tart, with not much fruit and a slightly chemical aroma.

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We liked the patio, which we had to ourselves on this mid-week day. One time we arrived on a weekend and had to leave, as it was full.

  1. 2016 BL Unoaked Chardonnay $16

We like this the best of the whites, finding it had a better balance than the others, with some richness.  I liked it.  It has a honeysuckle aroma and nice lemony notes.  It would go well with food, though we felt it would not stand up to the spicy barbeque sauce we planned.

  1. 2016 BL Sauvignon Blanc $18

Our server cautioned us that this was not like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc.  It was not at all floral, and my brother pronounced it “tame.”  It smells almost like candy, with some minerality, and the taste is very light, almost evanescent.

  1. 2016 BL Rosé $18

Pink?  Not so much.  Another very light wine, this had no strawberry aroma.  It is available in an eight gallon box.

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  1. 2016 BL Red Blend $20

Our server was very proud that he could inform us this was like a right bank Bordeaux, a blend of 44% merlot, 22% cabernet franc, 13% petit verdot, 12% malbec, and 9% cabernet sauvignon.  You can sense in the taste that this spent a little time in oak—six months.  It’s very soft, with a taste in which cherry predominates.  I said it was okay for casual drinking, but my brother opined it was “completely uninteresting, like a person without a face.”  Ouch.

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Note the dogs in the background.

  1. 2015 LR Merlot $24

As we sipped this somewhat classic merlot, we got into a humorous discussion of the movie Sideways, and the damage it did to merlot sales.  Nothing wrong with a good merlot, I said, but my brother felt this was a “Kool-Aid version of merlot.”  Well, it would be fine with a burger.

  1. 2015 LR Cabernet Franc $30

I thought this cabernet franc was not bad, with dark fruit tastes of blackberry and plum, dry, with some tannins though overall rather soft.  But I had to agree with my brother that it had no depth.

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The Petit Verdot looks as good as it tastes.

  1. 2014 LR Petit Verdot $35

Finally, a wine we could agree on.  We all liked the petit verdot, made of 98% petit verdot and 2% “mystery grapes,” according to our server.   2014 was a hot season, so it was a good year for ripe red grapes.  This wine is interesting, with a distinctive earthy, piney aroma and layers of flavor.  We speculated that another brother would like it, since he favors “odd duck” wines.  Long finish.  If I were to sit and have a glass of wine here, this is the one I would get.

  1. 2015 LR Meritage $35

And here is their left bank Bordeaux style:  47% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot, and 2% malbec.  We made our server check the math!  It worked out.  The aroma is fruity, the taste less so.  Given the tannins, it may age into something better, but for the moment it is a bit disappointing for the price.  It would be okay as a $12 wine, opined my brother.  Well, that’s a problem with North Fork wineries in general—because of the small size of their production, they can’t achieve the economies of scale from other places.  Nevertheless, we like to support the local wineries.

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The inside room is attractive and comfortable.

Reasons to visit:  beautiful setting on a back road, surrounded by farm fields; the Unoaked Chardonnay, the Lieb Reserve Petit Verdot; you can bring your dog.

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Clovis Point: Good Things Come in Small Packages            September 3, 2017

http://www.clovispointwines.com/

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“We’re small,” said our very well-informed multi-tasking server, “only 3,500 cases per year.”  She added that they have just eight acres of vines, and we discussed the issues Croteaux is having with Southold town over how many acres you need to have in order to do a tasting room.  But Clovis Point is in the town of Riverhead, so no problem.  Small also describes the one-ounce pour (which she warned us about in advance), but not the reputation of this boutique winery, which has garnered a number of high ratings from wine judges.

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One view of the pleasant tasting room

The tasting room, a former potato barn, is a nice size, and there is also a covered porch to one side.  The walls are adorned with a display of art for sale, so the space functions as a gallery as well.  The flower garden leading to the door is also esthetically pleasing!

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The art on the walls is for sale.

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Some of the pretty flowers by the entrance

The menu offers two flights:  a Cold Flight of four wines for $13 and a Red Flight of four reds for $15, plus a few premium wines at $5 per taste.  We were with friends, and decided each couple would do all eight wines, given that the pour is so small.  We also bought a generous tray of Spanish cheeses and baguette slices for $12, plus an eight-dollar jar of delicious fig spread, much of which we took home.  While we often don’t order food with our tastings, it is true that having wine with food enhances the experience.

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We had pretty much decimated the cheese plate before I thought to take a picture. It was very good.

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Some nice options on the snack menu

  1. 2016 Sauvignon Blanc $28

“This is a seasonal wine,” our server informed us, “and we usually sell out of it by winter.”  I can see why, as it is a light, easy to drink summery wine, with a floral and mineral aroma and peach taste.  Steel fermented, it is tart and dry.

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  1. 2015 Chardonnay $25

Another steel-fermented wine, this chardonnay is mixed with 3% gewürztraminer, which might account for a touch of pineapple taste.  The aroma is mineral, earth, and pine, and our friend says it tastes like a Granny Smith apple to her.  We agree.  Our server explains that because it is steel fermented it does not undergo malolactic fermentation, and therefore gives you the “pure expression” of the grape.

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The arrowhead on the label is a Clovis point, a type of prehistoric arrowhead.

  1. 2015 Black Label Chardonnay $28

A nice touch—before each new taste, the server rinses the glass with a bit of the next wine.  This is better than when they rinse the glasses with water, as a little water always is left behind and can influence the taste of the wine.  And when they don’t rinse the glasses at all, you may get a bit of the previous wine mixing with your next taste.  In any event, this chardonnay is a mixture of steel and oak fermented wine, so it is not heavily oaked.  Not being fans of oaky chards, we are pleased with this one, which has lots of citrus taste and only a touch of vanilla.  It’s not fruity.

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You can see how small the pour is.

  1. Rosé $22.50

Also seasonal, according to our server, the rosé tends to sell out by the end of summer.  It is composed of 100% cabernet franc, and is made by the saignée method, where the grapes sit on the skins for three days.  This is such a light rosé that we agree one might, if tasting it with eyes closed, not know it was a rosé.  It’s steel fermented and quite dry, with only a faint strawberry aroma and a taste more like raspberry than strawberry.

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  1. 2014 Merlot $29

All the reds are aged in either French or Hungarian oak, we are told, as our server puts out fresh glasses for the red tasting.  A blend of 85% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 2% syrah, 2% malbec, 2% petit verdot, and 1% cabernet sauvignon, this is not as complex or deep as one would think given all the ingredients.  However, it is a good merlot, dry and pleasant to drink.  “It’s my after work wine,” notes our server.  Yes, it would be relaxing to sit and sip a glass of this, perhaps with some cheese.

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They have two bars for when the room gets busy.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc $35

Yum.  This time I agree with Robert Parker, who has given this wine a score of 90%.  A blend of 96% cabernet franc with 3% cabernet sauvignon and 1% petit verdot, this has fascinating aromas of mushroom, forest, and smoke, plus what our friend describes as “really ripe plums.”  It is delicious, dry at the end with some nice tannins, tasting of over-ripe cherries.  Nicely complex.  If I were here for a music event, this is the wine I would get by the glass.

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You can see how small the bottle is for the Syrah and the Malbec.

  1. 2014 Syrah $34

Syrah is usually blended with other wines, but Clovis Point decided to try bottling it by itself.  Since they didn’t have that much of it, they also decided to use 500 ml. bottles, so that price is quite high.  I insist that it smells like black olives, and my friend adds that it actually smells meaty.  It is dry, tannic, and spicy.  I like it.

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  1. 2014 Malbec $34

Meh.  Another 500ml. bottle, this is a blend of 94% malbec, plus 4% merlot, 1% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% syrah.  It has a nice fruity aroma, but the wine itself is rather light, with no depth.  “Flat,” says my friend.  I add that it lacks body.

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A view of the porch

Reasons to visit:  small winery with a nice room and some good choices; the 2015 chardonnay, the Black Label chardonnay, the 2014 Cabernet Franc; you are the designated driver but you want to taste the wines where the pour is small.

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The grapes are starting to ripen.

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Old Field Vineyards:  Counting their Chickens      August 11, 2017

http://www.theoldfield.com/

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If you want to feel as though you are really out in the country, head almost all the way to Greenport and stop into the Old Field Vineyards, through the gate, past the barn and the Port-a-Pottie, to the rustic tasting room and open porch.  Old Field is one of our favorite wineries to bring guests when the summer weather cooperates, since their porch is a charming place to sit and have a tasting as you look out onto the capacious lawn and watch children and chickens running around.  Yes, chickens—and also roosters and a rather charismatic duck—have free rein of the place during the week (on weekends, when it is more crowded, they tend to be kept in the coop), and they sometimes will wander up onto the porch, where they thought my cousin’s hat straw might have been edible.

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Off in the distance you can see the picnic tables and kids running around.

It wasn’t, but the wines were quite potable.  The menu offers several options:  Sample our Rosés (2) for $4.00, Sample our Chardonnays (2) for $6.00, Sample our Reds (4) for $12.00, or Sample our Everyday Mixed Flight (4) for $10.00.  We had just eaten many oysters in Greenport at the Little Creek Oyster Farm, so we didn’t need snacks, but this is one place where you may bring a snack, or even a picnic.  One cousin, S., wanted to try one rosé and one chardonnay, and the friendly and accommodating server told her that was no problem.  The other cousin, R., opted for the red tasting, and we chose the mixed one, so we were able to try all the wines—plus one extra which was not included!

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I hope people heed this sign.

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One rooster.

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Another rooster.

We chatted with our server about the fowl, and he noted that they actually serve a purpose, providing both pest control, as they gobble up bugs, and fertilizer for the vines.  If you go on their web site, you will see that this is not the only part of their dedication to all things natural.  The vineyard also has an interesting family history, so it is worthwhile to ask about it. We were busy chatting amongst ourselves this time, so we didn’t get into those stories.  Also note that the following descriptions of the wines are not exactly in the order in which they appear on the menu, but are rather in the order in which we tasted them.

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  1. 2014 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay      $28

This was one cousin’s first taste, and she liked it.  The aroma is butterscotch-y, but the taste is not too buttery, since it is a blend of oak and steel fermented chards.  It has some light citrus notes as well.

  1. Blush de Noir $18

Our tasting began with this rosé made from pinot noir grapes.  We all agreed it was very light, with lots of grapefruit aroma and not a lot of fruit taste, and surprisingly lemony for a rosé.  My cousin thought it could go with the pesto I had made a couple of nights ago, or seafood in a rich sauce, like scallops Alfredo.

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This chicken was quite sure my cousin’s hat was edible.

  1. 2014 Rooster Tail $20

My other cousin’s tasting started with this red, a blend of mostly merlot with a little cabernet franc.  “Nice, potable, everyday wine,” was his judgment, and we all concurred.  The aroma combines cherry and tobacco with a bit of funkiness and the taste is dry, with cherry and not a lot of fruit.  We got this one in our tasting as well.

  1. 2014 Mostly Steel Chardonnay $23

Comparing this chardonnay with the other one led to lots of conversations about oak vs. steel, and their various virtues and shortcomings.  Overall, we thought this was the preferable chard here, clean and refreshing, with some green apple taste and lots of citrus. R commented on its “up front flavor.”  S laughed that she had said the other chard smelled “woody” and this one smelled “metallic.”

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The Cacklin’ Rose is quite dark, compared to their other rose.

  1. 2014 Cacklin’ Rosé $16

Venturing on her second taste, S commented that this smelled pleasantly like “old library.”  It spends 24 hours on the skins, so is a more flavorful rosé than the other one.  We all liked it, and I noted that it tastes like macerated strawberries.

  1. 2013 Merlot $26

The server mentioned that this was made from two clones of merlot, so we asked him to explain what that meant.  They used to have two different clones of merlot, each grown in a separate field, but they discovered that one grew better than the other, so the weaker one was ripped out.  As a result, this particular mixture ends as of 2015.  Too bad, because it was quite yummy.  In fact, we bought two bottles of it.  It has lots of fruit, and S said she tasted cranberry, and we added yes, and also ripe cherries.

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I love the mis-matched table clothes on the bar.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Franc $38

We all agreed that this, from R’s tasting, was the weakest of the reds, described by R as “watery.”  It evanesces, I added, making use of my favorite word this summer.  It has an aroma of red fruits and forest floor.

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  1. 2010 Commodore Perry $38

Named for the illustrious ancestor of the current owners of the vineyard, this is a wine they only make in good years.  Cherry, tobacco, chocolate, thyme, juniper or bay leaf were some of the taste descriptors we used for this merlot.  Also, “serious legs” and “very good.”  We also learned that it was quite appropriate to name a wine for Commodore Perry, since he was known to carry wine with him on his voyages to give as gifts.

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  1. 2015 Sauvignon Blanc

Speaking of gifts, after we paid for our tastings and the two bottles we bought, our cousin gave our server a very nice tip, at which point he offered did we want to taste anything else?  We looked over the menu and realized that we had tasted every wine on it (nine in all, counting Rooster Tail twice).  Ah, he said, but how about this one that is not on the tasting menu, producing a bottle of Charging Goose Sauvignon Blanc.  S, noting that she had grown up on a farm, said it smelled like straw.  We all liked this, too, and decided its lemon flavor would have gone well with those oysters we had eaten earlier.

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Charging Goose? Maybe that’s why they have chickens and ducks, but no more geese.

Reasons to visit:  you want to really feel as though you are out in the country; you want a place where you can bring a picnic and let children run around; you like chickens; the Rooster Tail, the Mostly Steel Chardonnay, the Cacklin’ Rosé, the 2013 Merlot, the Commodore Perry.

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The netting on the grapes prevents the birds from eating them.

 

Bedell Cellars: Artistic Elegance  July 6, 2017

https://www.bedellcellars.com/

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The weather man was predicting rain, so we decided to take our guests to Bedell, rather than opt for a winery where we would sit outside.  As it happened, the sun came out, but we did not regret our choice.  Bedell has some lovely and interesting wines, and the most artistic labels on Long Island.  As we’ve been told before by servers, the owner is on the board of the Museum of Modern Art, and he commissions labels from various modern artists.  Given the prices on the wines, maybe they could include little reproductions of the artwork with the purchase of each bottle!

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Each label is also a work of art.

The tasting room is small and simply elegant, with a high ceiling and a black and white color scheme. There is also a covered porch to one side.  We settled down at a table for four and perused the flight menu—which didn’t take long, as they have simplified their options.  Now there is only one choice—a flight of five wines for $20.  Each couple opted to share a tasting, which worked out fine.  They also have a small snack menu, with one unusual choice:  an individual serving of North Fork honey.  We had brought some mixed nuts, which helped us appreciate at least one of the wines, as you will see.

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Their menu of snacks.

  1. Sparkling Rosé 2016      $45

What a perfect way to start our tasting, especially since we were also celebrating my husband’s birthday.  A pretty pink—“Nice color for a bridesmaid’s dress,” opined our friend—with an aroma of strawberries, this is made from a mixture of 60% merlot and 40% cabernet sauvignon.  Unlike the sparkling white we had here last time, this is made by injecting CO2, not by the méthode champenoise.  While not complex, the taste is delicious, crisp and dry and fruity.  One of us threatened to drink a whole bottle…

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  1. Taste White 2015 $50

Our server informed us that this was the “wine of the month,” and was therefore on sale at half price.  Noting the vintage, I opined that they wanted to clear out the stock to make space for a newer wine, as many whites are better drunk young, not aged.  Both the blend of grapes and the aroma intrigued us.  It is a combination of 65% albariño, plus chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, and is steel fermented.  We kept sniffing and discussing the smell, which we described variously as mineral, burnt cork, funky, and garden mulch.  The taste was equally complicated, with fruit, mineral, metal, and citrus notes.  We liked it, but were wondering about food pairings, since it has an unusual flavor and would overwhelm something delicate, like sole.  I’m thinking it might have gone well with the grilled swordfish topped with tomato relish my friend had later for dinner at ALure.

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  1. Gallery 2014 $75

That’s quite a price for a Long Island white, and though we enjoyed the wine we did not feel it was worth it.  A combination of 65% chardonnay and 25% viognier aged in oak, plus 10% steel-fermented sauvignon blanc, we thought it was slightly reminiscent of a California chardonnay, though not as oaky.  The taste was complex, with notes of citrus and salt and mineral and some butterscotch.  We felt it was a bit too sweet, though I think that may have been the fruitiness rather than the sweetness.  When we ate some nuts and then tasted it again, we liked it better, so it is definitely a food wine.

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There are not many wineries where the wine labels could also double as art museum labels.

  1. Merlot 2014 $35

We got clean glasses for the reds.  Mmm, this smelled delicious, with lots of fruity, plummy, cherry aromas.  It also tasted quite good, dry, but with lots of fruit and a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg.  Nice tannins.  It might age well.  You could have this with steak and be quite happy.  Or bison, which, as our server informed us, is what it was paired with in 2009 at a Presidential inauguration lunch.

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  1. Cabernet Franc 2014 $45

“This sends nine months in neutral oak,” our server told us, and we felt pretty neutral about the wine as well.  Just okay, was my judgement.  Definitely tasted red plums and other fruits in this dry red, but it was not as full-bodied as the merlot, which we all preferred.

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One side of the bar.

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A table, with a view out to the porch.

Reasons to visit:  attractive tasting room and covered porch; the pretty labels; the Sparkling Rosé, the Taste White, and the Merlot.  I also noted a trend I’ve seen in more and more tasting rooms—you can buy a bottle to drink there, but it will cost you more than if you buy a bottle to take home.  $10 more in this case!

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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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Kontokosta Winery: Absorbing the Crowds May 28, 2017

http://kontokostawinery.com/

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The grey skies meant many people opted for wineries rather than beaches.

We should have known better than to try to go to a winery on a non-beach Sunday over Memorial Day weekend.  But we had friends visiting, and we wanted to take them to Croteaux for a tasting.  As we headed east, we passed winery after winery where the parked cars had spilled over onto lawns and roadsides.  Uh oh.  And indeed, Croteaux was filled, with Michael Croteau outside, waving off cars trying to cram into his small lot.  Where to go?  Our friends hadn’t been to Kontokosta since shortly after it opened, and we figured that as far east as it is, and as big as the tasting room is, we would be able to get in there.

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There was plenty of room when we arrived, but by the time we left all the seats were filled.

We were right, and even though parking there had also extended to a grassy area, there was room at one of the long tables in the tasting room for us to sit and enjoy our tasting.  However, by the time we left, it was SRO!  We also observed many people who had chosen to take a glass of wine out onto the expansive lawn and wander down to the Long Island Sound, visible in the distance.

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You can see the Long Island Sound in the distance.

A tasting consists of any three wines from the menu for $12, so we decided to get three whites and three reds, not tasting the rosé or a few of the others, while our friends opted to share a tasting.  Maybe next time we’ll check out the others.  We also got a couple of bags of my favorite chips—North Fork Potato Chips.  If you haven’t tried them, do.  They are crispy kettle-fried chips, and totally addictive.  Kontokosta also has a menu of cheeses and charcuterie, plus non-alcoholic drinks.  The server poured out our nine tastes, explaining each one, and we took our glasses to a table.

  1. 2015 Sauvignon Blanc   $25

We were talking about getting some oysters later, so we decided to start with what is often a perfect oyster wine.  This wine smelled great—like mango and flowers—and tasted pretty good, too.  We found it tart, with some nice kiwi and vegetable tastes, with a pleasant finish.  One nice detail—it was not served too cold!

  1. 2015 Viognier    $25

Sometimes I think I like to order this wine because the name is fun to say.  In any event, I don’t think I would choose this particular viognier.  My husband’s first judgement was “restrained flavors,” to which I added “undistinguished.”  It has a bit of a wet basement smell, though also some minerality.  The taste is very light and uncomplicated.

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The server lining up our tastes of the whites.

  1. 2015 Field Blend             $22

Our friend also ordered this one, and she immediately categorized it as a “dessert wine.”  It is on the sweet side, though not cloyingly so.  A blend of 47% riesling, 41% viognier, and 12% sauvignon blanc, it has a candy and honeysuckle aroma and tastes like peaches.  We decided it could go with spicy Thai food, where the fruit of the wine would match well with the coconut and peppers of Thai, but not so well with Indian dishes.  You could also have it with charcuterie.

  1. 2014 Merlot      $34

The server tipped the end of the bottle into our glass, which meant we ended up with a fair amount of sediment.  Oh well.  This is a pretty typical North Fork merlot, with lots of cherry tastes, pleasantly dry, with some tastes of tobacco and chocolate.  Nice.

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The reds (of course).

  1. 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon           $29

We liked this one better, with lots of dark fruit tastes like purple plums and berries, plus some tannins.  It is more complex than the merlot, though the finish is quite short.  Dry.

  1. 2014 Cabernet Franc Reserve     $40

Though, as is often the case with Long Island reds, we felt it was not worth the price—and our friends, who also tried this, agreed—it is very nice indeed, with fruity aromas and soft tannins.  We tasted raspberries and a touch of spice, like pepper.  If I were to get a glass with which to wander down to the water, I would choose this.

  1. 2013 Anemometer Red                $50

Our friends also tried this one, and said it was very good.  A Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot, it has lots of oak and cherry tastes.

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Snack menu. I highly recommend the North Fork Potato Chips!

 

Reasons to visit:  a pretty location next to Long Island Sound, walking distance from Greenport; the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet sauvignon; an attractive modern tasting room with a soaring ceiling and long tables; usually not too crowded, even on busy days—except not this past weekend!

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In the background you can see their wind turbine, an increasingly frequent sight on the North Fork.

 

 

McCall Wines: Feeling Rustic May 21, 2017

http://mccallwines.com/

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Although they are right off Main Road, when you pull around to the back you feel as though you are in the country.

Although they are right off the Main Road, there is a rustic feeling to the McCall Wines tasting room and property, a sense of peace and quiet—at least when it is not crowded.  Part of this is due to the tasting room itself, located in a former horse barn, with the stables repurposed as tasting alcoves, and the other part is the lawn outside, dotted with picnic tables and adjacent to the vines.

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Inside tasting area, in a repurposed horse stall.

On this sunny afternoon, we shared the place with several other couples and small groups.  We could have stood at the bar or sat inside at a table, but we decided that the sun had been making a rare enough appearance that we needed to sit outside and enjoy the pretty day.  Mrs. McCall brought us our tastes, except when we decided to pop in and get them ourselves.  She served them two at a time, in a two-ounce pour that felt quite generous.

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Part of the outside area, with a view of the vines.

The menu offers four choices:  Blancs, four whites for $12; Corchaug, four reds for $16; Premium, a mixture of two whites and two reds for $14; and Estate, four of their higher priced wines for $20.  They also offer a small menu of cheese and crackers, and request no outside food on Fridays-Sundays.  We decided to do a shared tasting of the whites and then the Corchaug reds (named for the Native American name for Cutchogue).  We had high hopes for the reds, since McCall had started out only making red wines, but we were also pleasantly surprised by how much we liked the whites.

  1. 2016 Marjorie’s Rosé    $18

Yesterday we attended a Case Club event at Croteaux Vineyards, our standard for North Fork rosés, so we had a recent comparison in mind when we tasted this mostly merlot pink wine.  It was quite different from the two Croteaux wines we had sampled, but fine in its own way.  The aroma had almost as much minerality as strawberry smell, and the taste also balanced minerals and sweetness, though a bit sweeter than we like.  My husband said it reminded him of pancakes with strawberry syrup.  Well, maybe not that sweet.  This is a rosé one could enjoy sipping well-chilled, though I prefer the leaner style of Croteaux.  (The wine is named for Mr. McCall’s mother.)

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  1. 2015 Sauvignon Blanc    $24

Mrs. McCall informed us that this was made in the French style, like a Sancerre wine (think sauvignon blanc=Sancerre and chardonnay=Chablis).  Good choice.  Although it did not have much aroma, it had some lovely tastes of citrus and kiwi and maybe gooseberry as well, plus some minerality and even a bit of salt.  Refreshing, was my tasting buddy’s summation.  We liked it.

  1. 2015 Chardonnay Unoaked        $18

This is a pretty typical North Fork steel-fermented chardonnay, with citrus tastes and just a touch of sweetness.  The aroma reminded me of wet rocks, with almost a chemical note.  It’s a fairly tasty steel chardonnay, and might overpower a delicate fish.  However, it would have gone well with the fillets I made the other day which were topped with an anchovy and onion sauce (thank you, Marcella Hazan and Braun’s fish store).

  1. 2014 Chardonnay Reserve          $39

Not surprisingly, the oaked chardonnay smelled like Werther’s butterscotch candy, and tasted rather butterscotch-y as well.  Not my favorite, but I could appreciate that it has layers of flavor.

  1. 2013 Pinot Noir               $30

When I told my husband this was a light red that would pair well with roast chicken, he told me I needed to think of another food pairing.  Okay, I said, pork chops.  This reminded me of a Beaujolais, a picnic wine, though it has a bit of a tannic tingle that makes it a touch more interesting.

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These two Pinot Noirs look similar, but taste different.

  1. 2013 Pinot Noir Hillside               $39

When Mrs. McCall brought us our first red tastes, along with fresh glasses, she explained that this one is called “Hillside” because…the grapes are grown on a hillside.  Really.  But that’s not as simplistic as it sounds.  Because of the hilly location, this part of the vineyard has better drainage, which concentrates the flavors of the grapes.  Although it is similar to the other Pinot, the aroma is stronger and the taste features more dark fruit and is somewhat mellower, with a longer finish.  My husband noted that he wasn’t wearing socks, but if he were, they would not have been knocked off by this wine.  Good, but not exciting.

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  1. 2012 Merlot Reserve     $24

Does anyone still know what Cheracol is?  It was a cherry-flavored cough syrup I became quite familiar with in my pre-tonsillectomy youth. Fortunately, though this merlot smells like Cheracol, it doesn’t taste like it!  The wine is dry, with lots of tannins, and not a ton of fruit, with a long finish.  We’re thinking it could even use more time to age, and, as my tasting buddy opined, it “shows promise.”  If we had room in the cellar (well, we just bought a case of Croteaux rosé), we might have bought a bottle to keep for a few years.

  1. 2010 Merlot Reserve     $39

2010 has a reputation as a great year on the North Fork, especially for reds, and Mrs. McCall was quite enthusiastic about this wine—deservedly so.  I think the technical term is “yummy.”  The tannins are relatively soft, so my guess is one should drink it now.  The aroma is of cherry tempered by wood, and the taste has lots of complex fruits, while still being dry.  If we had stayed on and ordered some cheese to go with a full glass of wine, this would have been my choice (Instead we went home and sat on our porch with wine—a lovely Meritage from Coffee Pot Cellars–and cheese from Love Lane Cheese shop!).

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The tasting barn.

Reasons to visit:  lovely bucolic setting; calm place that limits groups; unusual tasting room; the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010 Merlot Reserve; nice picnic tables for during the week if you want to bring some snacks.

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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.