I’ve never met Pellegrini Vineyards’ winemaker Russell Hearn. But through his wines, I feel a certain welcome familiarity. From my very first sip of his Vinter’s Pride Encore – a rich, complex blend of red varietals – a few years ago, I’ve been a member of his fan club, and I’ve enjoyed numerous visits to the Pellegrini tasting room ever since.
Australian born, Hearn began his winemaking career at the age of 16 and brought his substantial talents to the North Fork in 1991 when Pellegrini Vineyards first opened. By combining traditional methods with some of the East Coat’s most advanced equipment, he consistently makes top quality wines, including chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
And his rosé, a blend of cabernet and petit verdot grapes, was my favorite in a Long Island pink wine blind tasting I hosted last February.
But Pellegrini is much more than just wine. The tasting room is one of my favorites, with a beautiful courtyard that is the perfect place to host a large party or wedding, and a separate vine-side patio, with just a few tables, that is one of my favorite spots in our local wine country on a weekend afternoon.
Let’s not forget about the wines though. Last week I tasted two of Hearn’s current releases – a satisfying red that is welcome on my table any time, and a full-flavored dessert wine.
The Pellegrini Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Franc ($18) is a deep, plum color in the glass and offers raspberry, black cherry and spice in an impressive, expressive nose. Relatively low in tannins and somewhat juicy, the palate is ripe with raspberry accented by spicy white pepper, faint oak notes and mint on a elegant, slightly lingering finish. As I often say, merlot is pushed as our region’s preeminent varietal, but I’ll take a cab franc like this one any day. Serve it with spice-rubbed grilled porterhouse or other well-seasoned meats.
Next, I tasted Pellegrini Vineyards Finale Bin 1331 ($26), a deep golden-hued ice wine made from frozen Gewurtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Even with a small pour, this dessert wine is richly aromatic with lychee, honey and candied orange peel aromas that burst from the glass. The acidity cuts through the sweetness, keeping it from being cloying, while honey, citrus and vanilla flavors fill and mingle in the mouth. Drink it only slightly chilled and while it would probably go well with toasted nuts and simple, less-sweet desserts, I prefer it alone.
This summer, Pellegrini and Juan Micieli-Martinez, the production winemaker, have also started the “Pellegrini Vineyards Wine Education Series” with the first session: “Sensory Training, Tour and Tasting.” I plan to attend an upcoming class to tour the facilities, speak with Micieli-Martinez, taste the wines and maybe sharpen my nostrils and palate a little bit.
Each class is about two hours and participants get 20 percent off wine purchases. At $25 per person, it’s really a steal. Most wine tasting classes cost more than double that and don’t offer the discount. Reservations are required. Call 734-4111.
(This story appeared originally in the 8/5/05 issue of Dan's Papers)