I tell anyone who will listen that they should try new wines whenever possible. That’s how we learn about new regions, grapes and winemakers. It’s how we expand our wine knowledge and grow as wine drinkers.
But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t — and shouldn’t — come back to long-time favorites as well.
Pellegrini Vineyards — and its Vinter’s Pride Encore — are just the kind of favorites worth coming back to. It was one of the first red blends I tasted on Long Island and remains one that I enjoy every time I taste it, regardless of vintage.
Pellegrini’s winemaker, Russel Hearn, was born in Australia. He started his winemaking career at the age of 16 and brought his skills and experience to the North Fork in 1991 when Pellegrini Vineyards first opened. He combines traditional methods and sensibilities with some of the most advanced equipment on the East Coast to consistently craft quality wines at reasonable prices in this sometimes-pricey market.
Several of Hearn’s new and upcoming releases seem extremely well suited to the harvest dinner table — and for the upcoming holidays as well.
Pellegrini Vineyards 2006 EastEnd Select Chardonnay ($15) is among the best vintages of this entry-level white that is fermented 70% in stainless steel tanks. It offers a fresh, fruity nose of juicy pear, clementines, lemon and just the faintest hints of vanilla. The palate is mostly crisp apple flavors with clean acidity and just a little tartness on the finish. While not really a fall-oriented wine or particularly interesting, it’s a serviceable aperitif. (2.5 out of 5 | Average-to-Very Good)
Two other chardonnays, Pellegrini Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay ($18) and Pellegrini Vineyards 2005 Vinter’s Pride Chardonnay ($35), bring a lot more oak to the table. The standard bottling has the expected apple, pear and citrus character with an interesting marzipan note and subtle brown spice. Overall, it’s a nice value if you like the style. (2.5 out of 5 | Average-to-Very Good)
Available only to wine club members, the Vinter’s Pride is creamy and beautifully textured, though perhaps a bit pricey. On it’s own it didn’t excite, but with chicken braised in the EastEnd Select, some apple cider and lemon juice, it was delicious. (3 out of 5 | Very good, Recommended)
If it’s red wine that you crave, skip the 2003 EastEnd Select Merlot ($15) and head right to the 2004 Cabernet Franc ($20). Restrained fruit, mostly plum and black cherry, is joined by tarragon and oregano on an expressive nose. Medium-light bodied, black cherry and blackberry flavors mingle with a minty-herbal note, subtle peppery spice and ripe, supple tannins. Simply delicious. (3 out of 5 | Very good, Recommended)
Though available only to the wine club, Hearn’s 2005 Petite Verdot ($35) is certainly worth seeking out — and not just for its novelty. Looking at its deep purple color that is almost black at the center, it’s easy to see why this variety is used to give Bordeaux-style blends color. But it’s not just a pretty wine. It offers black cherry, blueberry, black pepper and smoke flavors with subtle aromas of violets as well. A little short on the finish, it’s still a unique, interesting wine to be sure. (3 out of 5 | Very good, Recommended)
Though it’s been released for some time, the latest vintage of my long-time favorite — the 2001 Vinter’s Pride Encore ($40) — delivers. It is characterized by fresh crushed and preserved blackberries joined by light smoky oak, spice and minerals. This wines spreads widely over the palate with ripe, smooth tannins and a minty finish. Though mature and tasting beautifully now, this wine has plenty of time left. It should improve for several more years. It’s a wine that I’ll keep coming back to, no matter how much vinological exploring I do. (3.5 out of 5 | Very good-to-Delicious).