August 03, 2005

Channing Daughters Winery 2004 Tocai Friulano

Channing_tocaifriulano_1If you've been reading LENNDEVOURS for a while, you've no doubt read at least a little bit about Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, NY. The CDW wine club is one of the two we're members of -- and with good reason. Not only are the wines among the best and most unique on Long Island, but they are small production and if you aren't in the wine club, you simply won't get your hands on the wines.

In fact, this wine, which was in the club shipment in July is already sold out.

Continue reading "Channing Daughters Winery 2004 Tocai Friulano" »

August 01, 2005

A LENNDEVOURS Favorite in the New York Times

Richie1_1I don't always agree with Howard Goldberg's opinions when it comes to Long Island wine -- but that's true of any wine writer and his/her readers. Regardless, I read him every Sunday in the New York Times.

But yesterday, Howard got it 100% right. He highlights Roanoke Vineyards in Roanoke Landing, NY and owner Rich Pisacano's three current releases. I've written before about his 2000 Merlot several times (1|2|3) and I suggested it in an email to Eric Asimov (also of the NY Times) after he had less-than-great things to say about the reds in his mis-guided tasting.

I've only tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon mentioned as a barrel sample...but I'm not surprised by Howard's praise. Richie's rose was still very tight (almost dead really) when I first tasted it in May...but I tasted it at the tasting room two weeks ago and it had already unfurled nicely. That visit was also when Richie told me Howard had tasted the wines and enjoyed them. His excitement was obvious...and well earned.

Beyond the wines themselves, Richie and his wife Soraya are two of the most friendly people you'll ever meet in our local wine country. Each and every time we visit, we're welcomed like a part of their family...and he almost always has something interesting for me to try.

They sell Wolffer Estate wines, which is great for those of us on Long Island's northern coast (saves us the hour trip to Wolffer) and also wines from Atwater Estate Vineyards in the Finger Lakes. Richie used to work with Atwater's winemaker at Wolffer and that friendship led to the arrangement.

And, Roanoke Vineyards is doing something I'd like to see more of with "Wine till Nine" every Saturday night. So, on your way home from the North Fork wineries, stop by for one last glass out on their beautiful new patio.

Tasting Table -- Ending 07.30.05

Tastingtable_8105_1

As you can see, it was a busy tasting week in the Thompson household, mainly because I was behind in my tasting after our wedding and honeymoon. It's hard work, but someone has to do it.

  • Pindar 2001 Merlot: B-
  • Pindar 2000 Merlot Reserve: A-
  • Wolffer Estate 2002 Reserve Merlot: B-
  • Long Island Meadery Blueberry Mead: N/A
  • Long Island Meadery Strawberry/Raspberry Mead: N/A
  • Long Island Meadery Peach/Apricot Mead: N/A
  • Wolffer Estate 2002 Reserve Chardonnay: B
  • Pellegrini Vineyards Finale Bin 1331 (Ice Wine): B+
  • Wolffer Estate 2004 Late Harvest Chardonnay: B
  • Pellegrini Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Franc: B+/A-
  • Wolffer Estate 2001 Brut Sparkling Wine: B
  • Wolffer Estate 2004 Pinot Gris: A-

Not pictured: Curious Grape Aromatic 2000 (courtesy of Andrew): B/B- (full review coming soon)

July 29, 2005

It's Good to Be Back

(This column appeared in the 7/29 issue of Dan's Papers)

As you may have read in this space last week, I got married a few weeks ago. We had a perfect ceremony on a covered bridge in bucolic upstate New York, which was followed by a fun and lively reception filled with the best of friends and — of course — Long Island wines. In fact, instead of table numbers, we used Long Island winery names and wine from each was placed on the tables.                   

Needless to say, our guests loved the idea and hardly a drop of wine was left at the end of the evening.

After taking a day to recoup, we hopped on a plane bound for tropical Jamaica. We spent eight glorious days soaking up the sun (and one dodging Hurricane Emily in our room) on the island’s southern coast. The newly opened all-inclusive resort was beautiful and we had a great, relaxing and romantic time snorkeling, kayaking and just lounging around the pools.

But the food was disappointingly mediocre and the wine…the wine was just horrid. By the end of our trip, we couldn’t wait to get back home to get some great food and local wines.

Continue reading "It's Good to Be Back" »

July 27, 2005

Le Clos Therese: A Tale of Two Merlots

Merlot is often touted as Long Island’s “signature” grape — the varietal and the wine that is going to put the region on the world wine stage. I’m not one hundred percent sold on that notion — some of the Cabernet Franc here is just too good — but the consistency and ripe-ability of Merlot makes it somewhat of a safer choice.
 
At Le Clos Therese in Aquebogue, owner and winemaker Theresa Dilworth, makes two interesting and decidedly different merlots with good results. These wines, along with her cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and rose are produced at Premium Wine Group, the custom-crush winemaking facility in Mattituck. In my experience, Dilworth always shows a deft hand and desire to make truly hand-crafted wines.
 
Her recently released Comtesse Therese 2003 Hungarian Oak Merlot ($16.50) spent 14 months in Hungarian and French oak (mostly Hungarian) and begs to be enjoyed with food. Ruby red in the glass, it has an aromatic nose of black cherries, raspberries, black pepper and smoky burnt sugar. Soft and spicy, with gentle tannins and a little acidity, its smoky and peppery-sweet berry flavors accented by almost floral notes make this a great wine for with burgers, BBQ chicken and even pepperoni pizza. Only 130 cases were made, so make sure you pick some up for your Labor Day BBQ.
 
Dilworth’s Comtesse Therese 2002 Traditional Merlot ($18) is a wine of a totally different color — both literally and figuratively. Much darker in the glass, the differences brought about by four extra months in mostly French oak (with a little American thrown in) are obvious. The nose is less peppery, but still fruit-driven with blackberries and cherries dominating. On the palate, it’s denser and more substantial with more, fuller tannins framing its berry flavors. The finish, while long, offers some still-raw oak character that will likely fade with more aging. Drink this red with more substantial red meats, like steak, lamb or venison. 188 cases were made.
 
I’ve long been a fan of Dilworth’s rose, because she always avoids overuse of sulphur dioxide in the winemaking process, leading to a wine lush with fruit flavor. The Comtesse Therese 2004 Rose ($14) continues this tradition. While many roses are bright, Kool-Aid pink, this one is an appealing salmony orange color. The nose is light and straightforward, with lime and strawberry aromas. The first sip is a little tight (this is a young wine) but with time it opens up nicely revealing strawberry, apricot and cherry soda flavors. The acidity is lively but not abrasive, resulting in a well-balanced summer sipper. I think you can drink good rose with most any food, and this certainly qualifies. 150 cases were made.
 
The Tasting Room, in Jamesport and in Peconic, carry these and other Comtesse Therese wines. Visit www.tasting-room.com for more information.
 
For more information about Le Clos Therese and Comtesse Therese wines, visit www.lctwinery.com or call 871-9194. Dilworth also plans to open a small French bistro in Aquebogue. The menu will feature Long Island wines, locally grown produce, New York State cheese and even Long Island-brewed beers. She’s hoping to open sometime in 2006.

July 26, 2005

Must-Stop Destination in LI Wine Country -- Village Cheese Shop (Mattituck, NY)

Dscn3846Sunday afternoon, Nena and I were feeling a bit restless...summer-time cabin fever really. It was a beautiful day and after spending the morning unpacking our wedding gifts and finding room for the various wine glasses, serving dishes, etc...we wanted to get out and enjoy the day.

So, we hopped in the car and headed out east to the wineries (shocking, right?)...with no particular plan in mind.

For as long as we've been visiting Long Island wine country, we've heard about the cheese shop in the region -- the Village Cheese Shop on Love Lane in Mattituck. And, until Sunday, we'd never visited.

Now, it's going to be an integral part of any trip out east.

It's a small shop, but their selection seems amazing and they even have a few tables and a small menu for them. The menu is mostly different cheese samplers, broken down by region, country, etc. But, they also have a few different fondues...something Nena was interested in and a future choice I'm sure.

On this day, we picked up their Italian sampler (complete with sliced baguette and imported olives) and a hunk of local herb-coated goat cheese from Catapano Dairy Farm. The selection of cheese was a bit overwhelming because we're fine cheese neophytes, so we took the "easy" way out this time.

Dscn3847Then, we headed to one of our favorite little wineries, Lieb Family Cellars, to enjoy our cheese and bread lunch with a bottle of their 2003 Pinot Blanc ($17). Almost every time we take a picnic lunch to the wineries, we stop and get a chilled bottle of this, their signature varietal.

So there we sat among the cabernet franc vines, sipping, nibbling and enjoyinga  great afternoon together. At the risk of sounding like an Old Milwaukee commercial, I thought to myself several times as the wine and cheese disappeared "It doesn't get any better than this."

As we talked, Nena and I agreed that we'd both like to learn more about cheese. So that's my next project, finding some good books about cheese before our next trip to the Village Cheese Shop (631.298.8556).

July 22, 2005

Taste the North Fork in Westhampton Beach

WineboutiqueThanks to one Long Island wine veteran and one of the region’s rising stars (not to mention a personal favorite), visitors to the South Fork can get a taste of the North Fork without taking the ferry or driving around Peconic Bay.

Ray Blum, founder of Peconic Bay Vineyards in 1979 (now Peconic Bay Winery under new ownership) and owner of Ackerly Pond Vineyards, and Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery have teamed up to open the Hamptons Wine Boutique, located at 118 Main Street in Westhampton Beach.

And, to help promote the local wine industry, and differentiate themselves as more than just another wine shop, Blum and Waters are only selling Long Island wine – from eight of the region’s best producers. Currently wines are available from Castello di Borghese, Waters Crest Winery, Ackerly Pond Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards, Cutchogue Cellars and Schneider Vineyards from the North Fork, Red Fern Cellars (the Island’s sole Kosher winery) in Queens and Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack

They are also selling locally made furniture, gifts and gourmet foods as well as prints and paintings by artist Doug Reina.

I haven’t had a chance to visit the store yet, but I did recently taste a couple of Blum’s wines, and while they aren’t going to unseat the Island’s best, they are good and food-friendly.

The Ackerly Pond Vineyards 2003 Chardonnay ($16) is a medium-to-light yellow and crystal clear in the glass. After a quick swirl, the nose offers fruity pear and tropical aromas with hints of vanilla custard. Flavors range from pear to pineapple and vanilla cream. This is a fresh, refreshing wine with good acidity for balance. A great food wine, I’d serve it with salmon or lobster dishes or as an aperitif. It’s not a great value at 16 bucks, but not preposterously over-priced either.

A Silver Medal winner at the 2005 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the Ackerly Pond Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($19) is a relatively low tannin wine that offers a light nose of black fruit, cedar and a little smoke. Medium-bodied and somewhat rustic, its palate is filled with spicy plum and blackberry fruit flavors and smoky oak. I found the brief finish disappointing and a little tart-sour. I’d probably not drink it without food, so sip alongside grilled meat dishes.

Ackerly Pond Vineyards also makes a rosé made with Pinot Noir grapes and the mandatory Long Island Merlot, and all of Blum’s wines are bottled using synthetic corks.

If you find yourself in Westhampton this summer, check out the Hamptons Wine Boutique. It’s the best way to get a taste of Waters Crest Winery’s Riesling and Gewüürztraminer, Sherwood House Vineyards Chardonnay and the only kosher wines made with Long Island Grapes – without spending a day driving.

For more information, visit www.hamptonswineboutique.com or call 288-5015. And as always, visit www.liwines.com for more information on Long Island wineries.

July 03, 2005

Long Island Whine

Long Island Whine: Are LI Wines Really Over-Priced? Or are We Looking at Them From the Wrong Perspective?

Just like the wines we drink, any discussion of wine prices and price-to-value ratios is always a complex and layered one. There are dozens of factors that help a winery’s management decide what to charge for its wines, including land costs, labor costs, market pressures, and supply and demand. The list goes on and on. The idea of “value” is even tougher to pin down as it’s so subjective and affected by things like the media, mood and personal perception.

So before we can even tackle the question, “Is Long Island wine over-priced?” there are a few points that need to be made.

First, wine on Long Island varies from winery to winery and year to year. Richard Olsen-Harbich, managing director and winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, said it best in an email to me last week. “As in most areas producing wine, you have good value, you have great wines and you also have poor value and bad wines -- and because we are not that large a (wine-producing) area, it gets magnified.” Rich went on to say that he doesn’t even like talking about Long Island wine in general terms.

Next, when I contacted several winemakers and winery managers in the area, I found that very few customers actually complain about wine prices in winery tasting rooms themselves. “Interestingly enough," Olsen-Harbich noted, "the tasting room provides an overall wine experience that people are typically very satisfied with. The biggest complaints we hear are that we don’t have enough white wine – or that our wine isn’t sweet enough.”

Wine that isn’t 'sweet' enough is a topic for another time, but the “overall wine experience” point is very important. I personally am willing to pay more for a bottle of wine if the setting, the friends I’m with and the overall experience is memorable.

So now we know that we can’t generalize about Long Island wines and that people rarely complain about the prices in tasting rooms (even though they are almost always higher than at local wine shops). But people do complain about L.I. wine prices – just not in tasting rooms.

Continue reading "Long Island Whine" »

Lenz is a Lenn’s Favorite

Lenz_2(This column appeared in the 7/1/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Over the Barrel...With Lenn Thompson


Contrary to popular belief (okay, maybe just in my own wine-induced fantasies), I don’t own Lenz Winery in Peconic. That would be Lenn’s Winery anyway, even if the “z” would be a much more MTV-esque spelling.

Lenz Winery is one of the North Fork’s most respected producers and employs one of the regions most gifted and charismatic winemakers – Eric Fry. If you’re at the Lenz tasting room and see a guy in overalls with a long ponytail and beard, that’s Eric. Say hello and, if you’re lucky, as my fiancé Nena and I have been, you’ll spend an afternoon talking about and tasting different vintages of sparkling wine.

I’ve written several times before about Fry’s spectacular sparklers, so we’ll not uncork that topic today. But know that Fry has a hand in much of the Island’s best bubbly – both at Lenz and at the other wineries that hire him to make their sparkling wines.

Last week, I had the pleasurable opportunity to sample several of Lenz Winery’s current releases, and Fry’s ample talent shines through in each.

Continue reading "Lenz is a Lenn’s Favorite" »

Music Among The Vines

Roman_1

Power. Grace. Complexity. These words, often used to describe our favorite wines, are also used to depict the nuances and wonders of great music. Standing alone, wine and music are two of life’s great pleasures, but blend the two and you have an event and experience with few peers.

Last Sunday night Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack hosted just such an event: “Salon at Wölffer Estate – A Romantic Liederabend to Benefit the Music Festival of the Hamptons.” Those in attendance enjoyed glasses of Wölffer’s award-winning wines as Katya Sonina, an extremely talented pianist and student at Julliard, played selections from Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Chopin and Scriabin. And as if that weren’t enough, Wölffer Estate’s very own Roman Roth, known throughout the region for his considerable winemaking talents, shared yet another gift with the crowd, his wonderful tenor voice, as he sang six Schubert songs.

While there probably aren’t many other singing winemakers on Long Island (outside of their showers, anyway), many wineries understand and embrace how live music can enhance the wine tasting experience. And, with a variety of winery music options available – from classical to jazz to folk music – there’s something virtually for everyone.

For some wineries, including Jamesport Vineyards, Peconic Bay Winery, Palmer Vineyards, Osprey’s Dominion Winery and Martha Clara Vineyards, live music is an every weekend or nearly every weekend occurrence, with local soloists and bands performing every Saturday and Sunday, usually outside near the vines. Visitors can bring a picnic lunch, buy some wine and enjoy the show.

Other wineries, however, go well beyond weekly vine-side entertainment. Below are some summer music highlights in Long Island wine country.

Continue reading "Music Among The Vines" »

The Greenport Garagiste

(This story appeared originally in the 07/01/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Ternhaven_winesIvy League Professor-Cum-Winemaker Harold Watts’ Approach: Small Production, Big Wines   

Garagiste, translated from the French, means “garage owner,” not something usually associated with wine country. But it’s a term often used in regions like Bordeaux to describe a winemaker who produces small lots of high-quality, handcrafted wines – sometimes right in his or her own garage.

Harold Watts, Ternhaven Cellars’ owner and winemaker, also started out at home, but instead of making wine in his garage, Watts made wine in his Manhattan apartment. Today, with an unintentional though amusing nod to the European description, Watts literally is a garagiste: his winery and tasting room are in a renovated service station, a former garage, on Front Street in Greenport.

In 1994, Watts, a retired economics professor who taught at Yale and Columbia Universities, bought five acres of land on Alvah’s Lane in Cutchogue. He initially leased the land a local potato farmer but eventually planted merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes himself. In 1997, Ternhaven Cellars was born when Watts’ tasting room opened.

When asked about the origins of his winery’s name, Watts replied with a chuckle. “I enjoy watching terns at work catching fish here on the East End. I know they nest around here, and the name sounds sort of warm and fuzzy and maybe a bit ‘green.’ So I just grabbed it out of the air and it ‘terned’ out to be registerable.”

While his winery and production levels are small, fewer than 1000 cases per year, Watts’ wines are not. Last summer, at the New York Wine & Food Classic, he won a double gold for his 2000 Merlot, a silver for his 2000 Claret D’Alvah and a second silver for his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Continue reading "The Greenport Garagiste" »

June 24, 2005

Sure Bets at Sherwood House Vineyards

                   

Sherwoodhouse

As the resident wine aficionado (or geek) at Dan’s Papers, I’m “forced” to taste several wines each and every week. In just under a year with the paper, I’ve already filled up one whole notebook with notes and comments and have started another. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it, right?

                  

Through hundreds (thousands?) of sips, I’ve learned that when I taste a winery’s new releases, I can almost always find at least one I enjoy. Just about every winery on Long Island has at least one noteworthy bottling, or at least something that shows potential. It’s truly rare that I dislike everything I try. This week, as I sampled wines from Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattituck, something even more rare and extraordinary happened – both were remarkable and delicious. In fact, for the first time, each release scored an A- in my blind tasting.

                  

Owned and operated by Charles and Barbara Smithen, Sherwood House Vineyards is the manifestation of an intense passion for both wine and the East End. A cardiologist and vintage jewelry dealer, respectively, they purchased their 1860 farmhouse in 1996 and planted their vines soon after. In 1999, after selling off their grapes to local wineries for a few years, the Smithens decided to make their own wine, a Chardonnay. Since then, they’ve focused solely on Merlot and Chardonnay, and have developed a bit of a following among those who have tasted them. After tasting these wines, I’m a believer, too.

                  

The Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Merlot ($22) is a well-extracted and rich example of Long Island’s showcase varietal. The nose offers ripe raspberry aromas with a mineral background and light oakiness. On the palate, the raspberries are joined by vanilla cream and more minerals. This medium-bodied wine is highlighted by sultry tannins, a soft-but-rich mouthfeel and an indulgent, lingering finish. 600 cases were produced.

                  

While garnering the same grade in my tasting, the Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Chardonnay ($20) is even better. A light, shimmering gold in the glass, its nose is refined and light, offering Bosc pear, vanilla and hints of toast. Full-bodied but far from heavy, this exceptionally balanced chardonnay displays lithe pear flavors with hints of tropical fruit as well as butter, toast and minerals. I don’t think there’s a better 20-dollar chardonnay on the North Fork and few will cellar as well, either. 645 cases were produced.

                  

Because they don’t have their own tasting room yet, these wines are available for tasting and purchase at both The Tasting Room locations, one in Jamesport and one in Peconic, or at www.tasting-room.com. The Smithens do have plans for their own tasting room however, opening in the next 18 to 24 months.

                  

Sherwood House Vineyards will also be releasing its 2002 Chardonnay in the fall and a 2002 Merlot in the early winter. They are also working on their first Cabernet Franc bottling, which will be released sometime in 2006.

                  

For more information on Sherwood House Vineyards, visit www.sherwoodhousevineyards.com or call 298-2157.

June 17, 2005

A "Sideways" Look at Laurel Lake Vineyards

Laurellake_00cf(This column appeared in the 6/17/05 issue of Dan's Papers) 
Ever since the release of the movie Sideways, pinot noir has been the “it” wine. Even here on Long Island, I’ve been told stories about customers walking into a tasting room and buying bottle after bottle of pinot noir – without even tasting it or knowing how much it costs.

As difficult as Pinot Noir can be to grow and make (well), that sort of impulse buying seems a little silly to me. But of the handful of Long Island wineries that make it, most do it well, including Castello di Borghese, Broadfields Wine Cellars (under the Tasting Room label) and Wolffer Estate.

Laurel Lake Vineyards in on Main Road in Laurel can now be added to the list. The 2003 Laurel Lake Vineyards Pinot Noir ($30), the winery’s first pinot noir release, offers classic aromas of wet earth, grilled mushrooms and cherries. In the mouth, this seductive wine is velvety and smooth with stylish cherry flavors. The finish is lengthy, and as these vines (planted eight to ten years ago) age, I expect Chilean winemaker Claudio Zamorano to craft wines that are even more complex and intriguing. He only made 100 cases this time around, so make sure you try it before it’s gone

While the pinot is the standout of the wines I tasted, Zamorano’s 2002 Chardonnay Estate Bottled Reserve ($16) isn’t far behind. It is complex on the nose with tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and papaya mingling with hints of toasty oak, vanilla cream and spice. Medium-to-full bodied, it displays a nice balance between clean fruit character and toasty oak influence on the palate. The finish, which starts with pineapple and cream, finishes with hints of sweet spices. At $16, this is a very good buy and at $11, the 2003 Chardonnay is an even better one if you like less oak and more pineapple and citrus flavors.

The 2000 Cabernet Franc ($15), slated for a July release, is a little rough and angular right out of the bottle, but with a few hours to breath, its substantial tannins open up some to reveal spicy, peppery cherry flavors underneath. A year from now, I plan to taste this one again.

A respectable 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) is fuller bodied and fruit forward with raspberry and blueberry flavors, but I found the finish to be a little raw with oak, though it was also sprinkled lightly with cinnamon.

It’s not a new release, but the Laurel Lake Vineyards 2002 Syrah ($19) is a promising, full-bodied red that is another varietal to watch at Laurel Lake Vineyards. It’s one of the best ones made locally.

In a few years, I also look forward to trying the first Laurel Lake Vineyards sauvignon blanc. They just planted four acres this year.

Laurel Lake will be hosting two harvest festivals this fall – one on Saturday, September 25, and another on Saturday, October 5. Festivities include a gourmet lunch, special vineyard tours, hay rides, barrel tastings, grape clippings and cheese pairings.

For more information on Laurel Lakes Vineyards, its wines or its harvest festivals, visit www.liwines.com or call 631-298-1420.

June 10, 2005

Diliberto Winery -- Truly and Individual Winery

(This column originally appeared in the 6/10 issue of Dan's Papers)
Diliberto2

In a recent issue of Wine Spectator, columnist Matt Kramer wrote a thoughtful piece discussing large wineries versus smaller ones, concluding (convincingly) that smaller really is better. Though Kramer doesn’t define what a “small” winery is, you can take my word for it – most, if not all, Long Island wineries qualify.

Of course, being a small winery doesn’t automatically mean your wines are any good. Anyone who has tasted wines from some of our lesser local wineries can attest to that. After all, doing the wrong things in the vineyard or in the cellar will lead to poor wines, regardless of how big your operation is.

Salvatore Diliberto, owner and winemaker of Diliberto Winery in Jamesport, is doing all the right things – and doing them himself. He’s truly a one-man winemaking show.

He planted his first vines in 1998 and first harvested fruit in 2001, a locally well-regarded vintage and one that led to two of the three gold medals he won at last summer’s New York Wine & Food Classic. Diliberto isn’t new to Long Island fruit, however, having used it to make wine in his Queens basement since 1986.

I tasted all four of his current releases, all reds, and found each of them appealing and extremely food friendly. The Diliberto Winery 2002 Merlot ($20), one of the gold medal winners, is a charmingly soft and straightforward wine with plum, cherry and light raspberry flavors. It’s medium bodied with fairly low tannins and a slightly lingering finish that offers faint hints of vanilla. I’d serve this with pasta and red sauce and similar Italian fare.

While still relatively simple, the Diliberto Winery 2001 Merlot ($22) is richer and more extracted in the glass. Rustically elegant, it is fuller flavored and offers more intense cherry and raspberry flavors with earthy notes in the background. The tannins are firmer than in the 2002, but still well integrated. This wine, another award winner, has better aging potential and can stand up to more serious meat dishes. This was my favorite of the lot, getting a B+ in my notes.

The last of the gold medal wines, the Diliberto Winery 2001 Tre ($25) is a Bordeaux-style red blend that offers a bit more complexity. Though still offering black cherry flavors, this wine shows a spicy, black pepper character that makes it stand out. I think this blend would benefit from another year or so in the bottle to round out its flavors and tannins.

The Diliberto 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), while maybe overpriced, is another enjoyable, food-friendly wine. I enjoyed its nose, which offers raspberries, blueberries and vanilla. On the palate, it’s fuller bodied than Diliberto’s other wines and while nowhere near a California Cabernet, it out-flavors many local bottlings.

Until their tasting room opens in early 2006, you can contact Diliberto directly to set up an appointment to taste and purchase his wines. Call 722-3416 or email diliberto1@msn.com.

May 30, 2005

Long Island's Family-Friendly Wineries

(This story appeared originally in the 5/27 issue of Dan's Papers)


Some teetotalers might disagree, but to many, Long Island wine country is the perfect destination for any sunny afternoon – whether you’re single, a couple, or a family. But with so many events and happenings planned all summer, some wineries are much more family friendly than others.

What makes a winery family friendly? Donavan Hall of Rocky Point says, “the key for a successful winery visit with our two-year-old son, Trevor, is wide open spaces and plenty of verjus (unfermented grape juice) and cheese,” when talking about his family’s favorite destination, Jamesport Vineyards. “Trevor had something like four glasses of verjus while we were tasting (wines). We stayed at Jamesport for almost two hours, talking with people and playing with Trevor. The atmosphere there was very friendly. They even turned up the tunes and we started dancing, something Trevor loved.”

Jamesport Vineyard’s owner, Ron Goerler, takes pride in his winery’s family-friendly approach. “We have a big back yard where families can bring picnic baskets and Frisbees and hang out amongst the vines. We also have live music on the weekends, which families love.”

Continue reading "Long Island's Family-Friendly Wineries" »

Taking the Heat -- Grapes With Grilling

(This story originally appeared in 5/27 issue of Dan's Papers)

Takingtheheat_2Beer. Lager. Ale. It’s what most Americans serve with grilled fare at their weekend BBQs, and with good reason. It’s cold, refreshing and a great thirst quencher on a steamy summer day. Beyond beer, you might serve margaritas or maybe even sangria, but wine in its pure state doesn’t make much of an appearance when we fire up our grills.

Maybe the outdoor setting, the primitive pleasure of open fire cooking, and the macho image of grilling pushes wine into the background. But why not serve it? Wine isn’t a snobby, pretentious luxury item, and wine can be the perfect match for grilled food. Plus, it’s not as filling as beer, or as potent as a margarita.

So now that you’ve decided to serve wine at your next barbeque, which ones do you choose? Like any other meal, it really depends on what you’re grilling. Generally though, you shouldn’t serve delicately nuanced wines with foods from the grill. The wine needs to stand up to the bold, fresh flavors found in most rubs and marinades and the charred flavor of grilled meat can overpower a wine’s complexities. Most of the time, it’s best to stick with flavorful, aromatic wines that are fruit forward and generally not heavy on the tannins.

Continue reading "Taking the Heat -- Grapes With Grilling" »

May 26, 2005

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling...from Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards

Charles is among my favorite people and thinkers in Long Island Wine Country. He's always great for an insightful, frank quote.

I particularly like these comments...especially because they consider the customers' side of things too.

"In my opinion this is more about personal liberty and freedom. As adults we do not need anyone in a free society to tell us how we should behave. When you can purchase a weapon on the Web it is silly that you cannot purchase a bottle of wine in the same manner.

The argument about teenagers is bogus as we all know. Jim Trezise (of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation) gave me a reference to a study by the FTC that dealt with that definitively.

In our case, one can properly ask what would we get out of it since we are selling all of our production anyway. In the near term, not much new business, however we want to be responsive to our customers. For instance, when someone who visited us from Connecticut wants to reorder our wine we want to be able to resupply that wine and not turn away repeat business. As we all know much of what we do is to earn the repeat business and so it hurts when you cannot be responsive because the law has been hijacked to the benefit of the liquor lobby.

In the long term, and we have just planted 12 acres, we want to expand our business as our children work here and they are as passionate about wine as we are. And in order to properly support them, we need to grow. One aspect of growth is to tap into our large base of out of state visitors who have been trying to have us ship wine to them. Also we will more aggressively grow our wine Club. Bottom line it is good for all small wineries since they have no chance to have the distributors sell their product."

-- Charles Massoud, co-owner and winemaker, Paumanok Vineyards

May 25, 2005

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling...from Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese Winery

"I think it will be good for the region as a whole.  For example, at the moment I cannot ship wine to my Pfizer colleagues who live in New Jersey or Connecticut. It's a felony to even cross state lines with wine in the car. I have gotten requests from people from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas, who came to Long Island for a visit, tried the wines, and then wanted to order some from my website once they get back home - in the past I had to turn these people down, but in the future I will be able to ship to them.

Also, it has been said that magazines with a nationwide distribution have been reluctant to review wines that are not readily available nationwide.  I am not sure if this is true or not, but with the new legislation, it should be possible for a New York winey to ship wine directly to the interested consumer in Chicago or California or wherever without going through a national distributor.  The large national distributors simply do not carry small winery's wines.

I think in general, anything that encourages free trade is a good thing."

-- Theresa Dilworth, co-owner and winemaker, Comtesse Therese Winery (and a corporate lawyer for Pfizer)

May 24, 2005

Winemaker Profile: Roman Roth, Wolffer Estate Vineyards

(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)

R_rothRoman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, started his winemaking career at an age when most of us are focused on getting our drivers licenses and, if we're lucky, our first cars. But, it was a natural thing for the German native.

"I was 16," he says. "My father was a cooper and a winemaker before starting a wine and beer merchant business. As a result, both of my parents were wine lovers and collectors. Wine always played a special part in any occasion. I was intrigued by the winemaking process and all the different [wine] regions in the world. The creative aspect and the opportunity to travel ultimately made me stay in the business."

And travel he has. After his initial three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil, Roth left Germany for the U.S. in the summer of 1986. He worked briefly at Saintsbury Estate, a respected winery in Carneros, Calif. known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, before heading "down under" to work at an Australian winery you've probably heard of—Rosemount Estate.

Continue reading "Winemaker Profile: Roman Roth, Wolffer Estate Vineyards" »

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling...from David Page of Shinn Estate Vineyards

"The Supreme Court ruling is a grand step in the right direction. Soon our loyal customers throughout the country will be able to enjoy the simplicity of picking up the phone or going online and ordering our wines direct without the burden of the antiquated three tier system. This will have a profound and positive effect on our ability to expand our marketplace beyond our tasting room."

-- David Page, Co-Owner, Shinn Estate Vineyards

Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling...from Trent Preszler of Bedell Cellars

There's been a lot written about the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to deem the ban on direct wine shipping unconstitutional. So much has been written, in fact, that I decided not to write something in my Dan's Papers column last week. But, because I did all the leg work for the story and interviewed/emailed with several Long Island winemakers and winery owners, I figured I'd not let that work go to waste.

So, I figured I'd share some of their thoughts with you. Keep a look out over the next few days...I'll post them individually to break them up a bit (some are pretty long).

First, here's what Trent Preszler of Bedell Cellars and Corey Creek Vineyards had to say:

"We're still waiting for the NYS legislature to resolve its position, however there's no question this is a monumental week for wine consumers and small farm wineries around the country.  At Bedell Cellars and Corey Creek Vineyards, a positive resolution of the state and federal positions will no doubt have an economic impact on our business.  Wherever possible, of course, we work very closely with our wholesale distributors around the country to satisfy customer requests. 

However, as a small farm winery it's not cost effective to maintain distributor relationships in every state, nor would we have enough wine to do so.  As such, direct marketing programs are increasingly important.  We host tens of thousands of visitors in our tasting rooms each year -- many of whom live far away or in states where our wines are not distributed, so they join the Wine Club to receive regular shipments.  Others simply want the convenient service of being able to send their purchases back home.  The Supreme Court ruling puts us in a stronger position to more adequately meet the needs of a rapidly changing and geographically diverse customer base."

-- Trent Preszler Vice President, Operations Bedell North Fork, LLC

May 20, 2005

Savoring the Flavor -- 10 L.I. Can't-Miss Wine Tasting Rooms

(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)
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Long Island is home to 30-plus wineries, from tiny places making artisan fine wines to large producers (by LI standards) pumping out gallon after gallon of sweet-ish, almost jug-style wines. It can be tough for anyone heading east for the first time (or even the first five times) to know which tasting rooms to visit. Here are 10 LI tasting rooms you shouldn't miss.

Continue reading "Savoring the Flavor -- 10 L.I. Can't-Miss Wine Tasting Rooms" »

Winning Riesling at Peconic Bay Winery

Dscn3132(This column appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of Dan's Papers)

Peconic Bay Winery has always been a bit of an enigma to me. On one hand, they make sweetish blends that appeal to the masses and some hit-or-miss varietal reds. On the other, I love their Steel Fermented Chardonnay and their Riesling. I guess it’s smart to appeal to the widest audience possible, but I think it’s possible that serious wine drinkers get turned off by the plonk at the top of the tasting list.

Last weekend, I tasted four recent and new releases, with positive results overall. Maybe Peconic Bay Winery is just hitting its stride?

Peconic Bay Winery’s 2004 Riesling ($15) is bone dry, racy and deliciously crisp. Citrus dominates the nose with faint hints of stone fruit and a grassiness I wasn’t expecting. It’s simple, light and a perfect summer sipper. As always, winemaker Greg Gove hits the mark with my favorite of all white grapes. It wasn’t bottled all that long ago, and I expect it to be even better with a little more bottle time, giving the stone fruit flavors time to step forward. This is a terrific summer wine.

Continue reading "Winning Riesling at Peconic Bay Winery" »

Hamptons Wine Guide: What's "Old" Is Good

(This article originally appeared in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)

Lip_wolfferIn many ways, the Hamptons are all about the "new"—new restaurants, new superstars and new money. But not everything in the Hamptons is defined this way. Two of the top wineries on the East Coast can be found there, making wines that are much more Old World than New.

Old World wines, typically those made in France, Italy and Spain, tend to be low-alcohol wines that are higher in acidity and feature more non-fruit flavors, like minerals, leather, wet stones or even tar. They also tend to show less obvious oak flavors than their New World brethren.

New World wines, like those made in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and the U.S., are often much higher in alcohol content, fuller bodied and very ripe with fruit flavors and more obvious use of oak.

LI's top wines, while technically made in the "New World," are often compared to those made in France, specifically in Bordeaux, because our climate closely matches the cooler growing conditions there, but not exactly.

"The Long Island climate is close to Bordeaux when compared to the hot climates of Australia or California," says Roman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, "but Long Island is unique. We are much further south."

Continue reading "Hamptons Wine Guide: What's "Old" Is Good" »

May 13, 2005

Two Firsts and a New Old Favorite from Raphael

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(This column originally appeared in the 5/13 issue of Dan's Papers)

Two Firsts and a New Old Favorite from Raphael
Located on sixty gently sloping acres in Peconic, Raphael is best known among North Fork wine trail junkies for its magnificent tasting room. Overflowing with Mediterranean style and offering spectacular views of the vineyard, the popularity of the facility is easy to understand.

Behind this aesthetic splendor, I’ve always found the tasting room staff friendly and the wines good. The focus is Merlot, but I’ve always liked the Rose and Sauvignon Blanc as well.

In fact, Raphael’s Sauvignon Blanc was one of the first white wines I fell for when I first moved to Long Island six years ago. Richard Olsen-Harbich, managing director and winemaker at Raphael, describes North Fork Sauvignon Blanc as “Literally a hybrid between New Zealand and Graves (Bordeaux). This style is driven by intense citrus fruit – lemon and grapefruit – with faint grassy overtures. It is neither as fruity and tropical as NZ nor as austere and earthy as Graves. The North Fork Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely the perfect wine for local seafood.”

While the Raphael Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($20) doesn’t display the mouth-puckering, aggressive acidity found in some Sauvignon Blanc (or even previous Raphael vintages), it is crisp, fresh and filled with kiwi and grapefruit and a little mineral character. It’s hard to argue that this wine was made for Long Island’s seafood bounty.

You should open this ten to fifteen minutes before drinking to let a slight sulphur smell subside. Sulphur is used to prevent oxidation, don’t let it scare you.

If you’re one of the people that complain that Long Island wines aren’t good values (I disagree, but that’s an argument for another column), I challenge you not to like Raphael Estate Merlot 2002 ($12). The first second-label Merlot from Raphael, it’s made with fruit from younger vines, but is super soft, with substantial blackberry and black cherry flavors with hints of spice and toasty vanilla.

Olsen-Harbich echoes my challenge saying,” this wine is made using the same artisanal techniques as our First label Merlot – hand harvesting, sorting, gravity flow, basket pressing, etc. At this price range, made under these techniques at this level of production (600 cases) I’ll put this wine up against anything from anywhere. And, for those critics of Long Island’s price/quality ratio – this wine’s for you.”

He has the wine to back up such a statement. This is a great value that would make a great “house red.”

If you find Long Island Cabernet Franc to be inconsistent from year to year and producer to producer (I know I do), you owe it to yourself to try the Raphael Cabernet Franc 2001 ($40). From the ballyhooed 2001 vintage, it’s the first release of labeled Cabernet Franc from Raphael (it usually ends up in their La Fontana blend or Bel Rosso). Spicy and peppery, this dense, black cherry-rich red is intense but refined. It features full, chewy tannins and a lingering finish that’s nearly addictive.

Raphael is committed to making this wine only in the best growing years, so Olsen-Harbich says “unfortunately this (wine) is something I don’t think we can do very often – once every ten years would be a good guess.” They only made 50 cases, but this is what Long Island Cabernet Franc can be. I can only hope I don’t have to wait another ten years for the next one.

For more information on Raphael and their wines, visit www.raphael.com or call 765-1100.

May 06, 2005

New (And More) Releases From Shinn Estate Vineyards

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Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck has been one of my favorite North Fork producers ever since my first visit last fall. Then, they only had two wines available for tasting, a great value Chardonnay and a tremendous 2002 “young vines” Merlot, which was touted recently as Long Island’s best red in a New York Times article by Eric Asimov.

I don’t agree with how Asimov came to this conclusion (no matter how good the wine is) but let’s get back to Shinn Estate Vineyards, which debuted four new wines at Windows On Long Island on April 25.

I’ve written several times about my love of Long Island Sauvignon Blanc, and I have a new crush – Shinn Estate Vineyards 2004 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon ($18) With a refined nose of grapefruit and lemongrass, green apple flavors highlighted with fine mineral character, and tongue-tingling crispness, this blend (which features 3 percent Semillon) is well balanced, and the ideal counterpart to fresh Long Island shellfish. It reminds me a bit of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc without the over-the-top herbaceousness.

Owners Barbara Shinn and David Page, with consulting winemaker Roman Roth, only produced 67 cases of Shinn Estate Vineyards 2004 Rose ($14), and believe me – it’s not going to last long. 100 percent Merlot, it’s a gorgeous salmon color and offers a lightly fruity nose and crisp Fuji apple flavors accented by hints of strawberry. This is a real thirst quencher, so try it as an aperitif this summer or with a picnic lunch.

The 2003 Shinn Estate Vineyards Merlot ($24) is a smooth, medium-bodied red that is eighty-eight percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Sauvignon, four percent Cabernet Franc, two percent Malbec and one percent Petit Verdot. The nose is enchanting with faint plum aromas and vanilla while the
palate offers more plum and dark berry flavors with smooth tannins and well-integrated oak providing structure. This wine is every bit as good as the previous vintage and may even prove better with additional bottle aging. The label no longer carries the name “young vines” because the vines are four years old now.

While the 2003 Merlot only spent ten months in French oak, the Shinn Estate Vineyards’ 2002 “Six Barrel” Merlot ($34) spent a full twenty-two months in just six small French barrels, resulting in 151 cases of wine. Full-bodied and rich, the wine is ninety-two percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Sauvignon and three percent field blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Its nose shows much more than mere fruit and oak, offering a layered fusion of plums, berries, cinnamon, allspice and toasted oak. Full, round tannins balance similarly complex flavors in this generous, extravagant red. This is my favorite of the new releases and it has aging potential (likely up to ten years).

The Shinn Estate Vineyards tasting room is now open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends but I recommend calling 631-804-0367 to reserve a spot in their vineyard tours (3 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays). You’ll spend half an hour walking through the vineyard with the owners and then head to their beautifully rustic tasting room to sample wines. For more information, visit http://www.shinnestatevineyards.com/.

May 02, 2005

10 Sips...With Louisa Thomas Hargrave

Louisa_hargraveIn the interest of bringing the many faces and personalities of New York wine to my readers, I've decided to start doing bi-month (or so) posts about the amazing number of interesting, intelligent and supremely talented people in the New York wine world.

For the first "bottling" I've chosen Lousia Thomas Hargrave,
who I often call the "founding mother" of Long Island wine. She was the co-founder of Long Island's first vineyard, Hargrave Vineyards, planting the first wine grapes on the North Fork in 1973. She is also a founder and a member emeritus of the Long Island Wine Council and is one of the most respected an influential people in our wine region.

After 26 years running Hargrave Vineyard, she sold her winery in 1999 and became a writer, columnist, wine judge and consultant
. She is the wine writer for the Suffolk Times and The News Review, and a columnist for the Wine Press. In 1986, she authored “The History of Wine Grapes on Long Island” for the Long Island Historical Journal. Her memoir, The Vineyard was published by Viking Penguin in May, 2003.

In October, 2004, Louisa was also named Interim Director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food and Culture, which is how our paths crossed. I was invited to attend one of the many classes/lectures the center holds and we met there. She is an extremely warm, knowledgable woman with an instense drive and passion for wine. I learn something every time I talk to or email with her.

Louisa received her B.A. in 1969 from Smith College and Harvard University and her M.A.. in education from Simmons College in 1971. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Dowling College in 1998.

Continue reading "10 Sips...With Louisa Thomas Hargrave" »

New Wines From Old Vines at Vineyard 48

Vin48 Route 48 on the North Fork is home to some of our region's best wineries. Now, it shares a name with one of the newest.

A year ago, Italian-born Rose Pipia purchased the former Bidwell Winery in Cutchogue, Long Island’s second oldest vineyard, and has renamed it Vineyard 48.

                    I never liked Bidwell’s wines much, so this is great news.

Pipia and her son, Joseph Pipia, the winery’s general manager, are obviously dedicated to turning the winery around, having hired some Long Island wine heavyweights to help exorcise the demons of bad Bidwell wines past. Steve Mudd of Mudd Vineyards has been brought in to get the vineyard healthy while Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate is serving as technical consultant to winemaker Mathew Berenz, formerly of Pindar Vineyards.

Mr. Pipia, true to his family’s Old World roots, takes a very hands-on approach, taking part in planting, pruning, spraying and harvesting in the vineyard. In the cellar, where new barrels and equipment have been installed, he’s been working side-by-side with Roth and Berenz.

The six wines set for release at this Saturday’s grand opening, the first under the Vineyard 48 label, are actually old Bidwell stock that has been “tweaked” for release. As you’ll read, I found them to be a bit hit and miss.

The Vineyard 48 White ($10) is a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that is a little weak in the nose but offers some sweet vanilla and subtle buttery flavors on the palate. It was wanting a bit in the fruit department, however.

Vineyard 48’s 2002 Riesling ($15) is an extremely aromatic white with a floral, almost perfume-like nose and concentrated peach and apricot flavors. Lush and fruity, a bit more acidity would really elevate this wine into something unique and special. With a focus on this varietal and the winery’s old vines, I expect great things from future vintages.

Sauvignon Blanc is becoming an increasingly popular (and good) wine on the East End, but I found the 2003 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) from Vineyard 48 to be a little off target. Super tart, it’s a bit one dimensional for my taste.

The clear winner among this set of whites is the 2003 Chardonnay ($14). While not as refined as a quality Chablis, that’s clearly the goal here. Light, fresh and crisp, it delivers toasty vanilla on the palate. I particularly enjoyed the finish, which is slightly creamy and lingering.

If you’re looking for an every day, easy-drinking red to serve with pizza or even burgers, the Vineyard 48 Red ($10) is a nice option. A non-vintage blend of fifty percent Merlot, twenty-five percent Cabernet Franc and twenty-five percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s soft and filled with berries, sweet oak and even a little cocoa. In fact, I prefer the blend to their 2002 Merlot ($20) which isn’t as complex or nuanced as some other 20-dollar Merlots produced on Long Island.

Vineyard 48 plans to craft “new wines from old vines” that display elegance, balance and concentration all while appealing to both everyday wine lovers and connoisseurs alike. The inconsistency found in these first releases doesn’t worry me one bit. With the team they’ve got in place, I expect some delicious, sophisticated wines in the future — starting with the 2004 vintage.

April 10, 2005

Long Island Wine Written Up by Eric Asimov in the New York Times

I got quite a few emails last week asking if I saw the pieces in the New York Times on Long Island wines. Of course I did!

For those of you that didn't, however, the two main links are:

I read Asimov every week and I'm beyond pleased to finally see him turn his eyes just slightly east to Long Island. But, as someone who drinks and writes about Long Island wines a few times a week, I'd like to comment on some things he says in these two pieces.

Opinions are like tastebuds of course, everyone has different ones, but there are a few thingsworth discussing. (By the way, I'm also planning to contact him directly (once I can acquire his email address!) about some of the things I'm going to mention here.)

Continue reading "Long Island Wine Written Up by Eric Asimov in the New York Times" »

March 17, 2005

Watch Wine (via the Vine) Grow...

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Carolyn of The Ultimate CA Wine Blog sent me a link to her latest project (well, this is the 2nd year for it, but you know what I mean) -- a blog that gives you a vines-eye view of the vineyard life cycle.

Check it out. Should be fun to watch. After all, a lot of winemakers say you really grown wine...not make it.

I'll have to do a comparison picture the next time I'm out at a Long Island vineyard. Let's just say ours are still covered with snow at present time.

Yes, you could say our growing season is a lot shorter.

March 16, 2005

Who Knew Chardonnay Could Age So Well?

Whew. Last night's vertical tasting of estate selection chardonnay at Wolffer Estate was an absolute blast and highly educational. I've got piles of notes that I need to wade through for a full post (along with some pictures) so stay tuned.

Any time that you have the winemaker and the vineyard manager in the same room, it's fascinating to hear both perspectives.

I have to say, I was a little surprised when I walked it an the winemaker, Roman Roth, told me we'd be starting with a 1992 vintage. Conventional wisdom says we were in for some not-so-good wines early on...but I can honestly say that not a single one of the wines was over the hill or flat out shot. In fact, the 1992 was the only one that showed any signs of age at all really...and even then it was just on the nose, which had hints of petrol.

Continue reading "Who Knew Chardonnay Could Age So Well?" »

March 14, 2005

From Bottling Line to Making Wine

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Jamesport Vineyards owner Ron Goerler Jr. and new winemaker Les Howard (right).

From Bottling Line to Making Wine

Eleven years ago, Les Howard had a summer job at Pindar Vineyards on the bottling line, spending most of his time packing cases with just-labeled bottles. A month ago, he was named head winemaker at Jamesport Vineyards. He’s come a long way.

“Les has seen 11 vintages of Long Island wine. He knows the region and its climate. He knows the grapes,” said Ron Goerler Jr., Jamesport Vineyards’ owner and vineyard manager. “He’s seen it all. And, his talent and experience are things we can continue build Jamesport Vineyards on.”

Sign_1 Goerler’s father, Ron Goerler Sr., was only the fourth person to plant vines on Long Island, starting the vineyard in 1981. But now with Howard on board, Jamesport Vineyards’ lineage goes back even further – all the way to the 1600s, in fact, when his ancestors were granted large plots on the North Fork by the King of England.

And when Howard’s great grandfather passed away and the family sold his potato farm, they sold it to cousins. The North Fork is truly in Howard’s blood.

Even so, Howard “never thought of being a winemaker” when he first started at Pindar Vineyards. It was only when Pindar’s winemaker at the time, Mark Friszolowski, told him that he’d make a good winemaker that Howard considered it as a career option. Friszolowski has since moved on to Childress Vineyards in Lexington, North Carolina, but Howard will never forget working with him.

“I owe Mark a lot. He’s the one that really got me started in this business.”

Continue reading "From Bottling Line to Making Wine" »

March 03, 2005

Wine...In Its Birthday Suit

Two of my favorite wine bloggers, Beau and Bill, have recently discussed wines that have a "sense of place"...and the "vin nature" movement on their respective blogs.

Please check out their posts...I'm not going to rehash them in their entirety.

As for my own thoughts...I think that terroir-driven wines are some the most interesting wines you can try. But it's pretty easy to understand why more producers don't make them a priority or even a goal.

I don't have any actual research to support this, but I'm guessing that at least 95% (propbably 99% actually) of wine drinkers just don't care about terroir. They don't want to think about the wines they drink. If they like it, and it gives them a buzz, they are happy. And you know what, if that's what makes them happy...I'm cool with that.

Even for those of us that do enjoy thinking about the wines we drink (okay, I'm obsessed, let's be honest here) the issue of terroir still isn't always front of mind. Maybe it's because I drink a lot of wines from a still-young wine region (the oldest vineyards are only 30 years old) or maybe it's because there are very few winemakers here that focus on terroir...but I don't always think about it either (please don't shun me o mighty wine blogging community!).

I will say that the "vin nature" wines that I've tasted were some of the most interesting...they have a uniqueness that is difficult to define. They seem more "real." But, I will admit to wondering if this is because of the wine itself, or because the winemaker TOLD me that they focused on terroir when making them. And, does this "terroir" come from the land/grapes/region...or does it really come from the winemaker himself (or herself)?

That question leads leads us into Tom's discussion over at Fermentations. I'll admit it, I don't quite know.


February 27, 2005

A Visit to Jamesport Vineyards

SignJamesport Vineyards is one of the older vineyards on Long Island. In fact, founder Ron Goerler Sr. was the forth person to plant vines here...back in 1981. For years, they provided grapes to other winemakers, but, in 1986, Goerler purhased a 100+ year old barn and converted it into a winery and tasting room.

Jamesport Vineyards released its first wines in 1989.

OutsideRon Goerler Jr. now runs the show, and in late January he hired Long Island native Leslie "Les" Howard as his new winemaker.

Howard started his career 11 years ago as a bottle boy for Pindar Vineyards, spending a lot of his time packing cases. Back then, it was a summer job and Les didn't have aspirations of becoming a winemaker. But, while at Pindar, the winemaker at the time, Mark Friszolowski (who is now at Childress Vineyards in North Carolina) saw something in Les, and told him so.

Ronles1Eleven years later, after stops as assistant winemaker at Osprey's Dominion, Wolffer Estate and Bedell Cellars, Jamesport Vineyards snactched him up at age 30. Les is pictured at right, on the right with Ron Goerler Jr.

I've written a piece on his hiring for Dan's Papers that will be printed next weekend...and of course I'll post it here with some tasting notes of their current releases.

Continue reading "A Visit to Jamesport Vineyards" »

February 08, 2005

Chardonnay Vertical Tasting at Wolffer Estate Vineyards

WolfferestatechardDetails are still a bit scant, but I've been invited to attend a private vertical tasting of Estate Selection Chardonnay (their "reserve" stuff) at Wolffer Estate Vineyards on March 15th at 7:30 p.m.

It's being hosted and run by their winemaker, Roman Roth. And, as far as I know I'm one of only ten or so invitees.

I wonder how many years back we'll go...

Should be a great evening. I can't wait...especially since it might be a last hurrah of sorts before I have my tonsils removed and can't drink for a couple weeks.

The Results -- Long Island "Pink" Wines

RosesWell folks, LENNDEVOURS' first wine tasting event went off pretty much without a hitch. We ended up with 14 wines from 12 Long Island wineries and one Finger Lakes winery, and 12 tasters.

It was interesting to see how different people reacted to different wines. For the most part, Nena and I tended to like similar wines (not a surprise) but there were only a few that everyone liked. Similarly, there was only one (maybe two) that everyone disliked.

Easily the most entertaining part of the evening (and the next morning) was reading everyone's comments. One friend in particular, we'll call her Jenn for our purposes (and becuase it's her name), had some extremely funny notes, which will be shared later in the post.

Everyone was asked to give each wine a letter grade (A through F) and after I "crunched the numbers" I can proudly say that the average grade for all wines overall was a C...which is...well...average. Nicely done people.

I'm not going to devote an entire post to each wine...but here's at least a little something on each:

Continue reading "The Results -- Long Island "Pink" Wines" »

January 19, 2005

Introduction to Waters Crest Winery

For a few months now, I've been trying to schedule a meeting and tasting with Jim Waters, founder of Waters Crest Winery. Sunday, without scheduling a thing...we finally met and I got to taste his wines.

Jim is a great story and should be an inspiration to any home winemaker with designs on making it a career. He worked for years as a manager for large trucking companies all the while making wine at home (and winning some awards for it as well). He was, and still is, a volunteer fireman as well and without that, I'm not sure he'd be a full-time winemaker.

Jimwaters After the tragedy of September 11th, he found himself at Ground Zero, working side-by-side with other firemen...and he realized that life was too fragile and fleeting to not make a change. Not long after, he quit his job with the trucking company and opened his own winery.

His production runs are small (he made only 50 cases of his sold-out Meritage) but every last bottle is important to him. "I can honestly say that I've touched every single bottle of wine I make," he added as we chatted over tastes of his current Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay (and a barrel sample of his Cabernet Franc).

Charming and engaging, we spent about an hour talking about his wines, his story and the Long Island wine region. This is the kind of winemaker that people need to knwo about. He's not from "old money" or even from "new money." In a land of CEO- and royalty-owned wineries, Waters Crest stands out...for any number of reasons.

I don't have complete notes on the wines (but I did buy them all...so they'll be coming) but here are some quick notes:

Continue reading "Introduction to Waters Crest Winery" »

December 06, 2004

Wine Tasting Preview: Spencer Roloson Winery

SpencerFriday evening, when I got home after work, I was greeted with a package from Spencer Roloson Winery in San Francisco. Inside? Four bottles of wine.

They emailed me a few weeks ago, wanting to introduce my to their wines and after reading a bit about them online, I welcomed the idea with open arms.

The winery, founded by Sam Spencer and Wendy Roloson in 1998 "stives to make wines that reflect and illuminate the inherent beauty of the fruit that comes from unique vineyards. Sam and Wendy firmly believe that great wines are gently coaxed out of the fruit, not forced. No tricks, no crutches, no smoke and mirrors. To that end, the winery works with growers who share its own vision and hands-on management style to create exceptional wines. Both Sam and Wendy spend extensive amounts of time in the vineyards with their growers to ensure crucial farming decisions are made cooperatively and the highest quality standards are maintained."

I've read a bit about the winery on Vinography, a great site maintained by Alder Yarrow, a California wine lover. Alder loves Cali's small producers...so if he thinks we should "keep an eye out" for a winery...listen up.

Anyway, they sent me:

  • 2003 Viognier, Sueno Vineyard, Clements Hills, Lodi ($26)
  • 2002 Tempranillo, Madder Lake Vineyard, Clear Lake ($25)
  • 2002 Syrah, La Herradura Vineyard, Napa Valley ($35)
  • 2002 Palaterra Red Table Wine (a blend of Carignane, Syrah and Valdigue) ($16)

I had to admit, I'm excited about each and every one of them.

I don't think I've ever had a wine with Validgue (that blend is 33% of each varietal). Anyone out there had Validgue?

I will feature each of these wines individually, so keep an eye out for the reviews.

November 22, 2004

Macari in the New York Times

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Macari's 2004 Early Wine on our table at Azafran in Philadelphia

Even though I don't always agree with his thoughts on Long Island wine, I read Howard Goldberg's New York Times column "Long Island Vines" every Sunday.

This week, however, he talks about one of my favorite whites, Macari Vineyards' Early Wine. I love this so much that I even wrote about it in my recent story on host/hostess gifts for the holiday season.

It really is "charming" as Howard puts it...and we picked up a bottle to take north with us for Thanksgiving. I think some of my future in-laws will really like it.

Peconic Bay Winery 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Barrel Tasting

Pbwshot On Sunday, November 21, Peconic Bay Winery hosted its 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Barrel Tasting, just east of the tasting room on the Main Road in Cutchogue, to honor a founding father of American cuisine and to raise money to help the next generation of chefs. Larry Forgione of An American Place restaurant was the guest of honor and proceeds from the event went to a scholarship fund for NYIT’s Culinary Arts Program.

With the usual tasting room closed for the day, Peconic Bay’s staff set up a huge tent on its grounds, large enough to house tables featuring food from a dozen or so top area restaurants, live music, and, of course, barrels of wine for sampling.

Not long after arriving, I decided to head to the front of the tent to try some of the winery’s still-in-the-barrel 2003 vintage, which was being siphoned off by winemaker Greg Gove. One barrel was 2003 Cabernet Franc and the other barrel was 2003 Merlot. Both wines will spend another six months or so in barrels and then another two years in bottles before release.

As a wine lover who considers himself fairly knowledgeable about wine, I appreciated both wines as they are now – young and aggressive – with an eye toward the future. From a marketing/sales perspective, however, I’m a little surprised that they wanted “the masses” tasting them now. The Merlot was still pretty astringent and the fruit really wasn’t showing through very well yet at all –both the result of the wine’s immature tannins. The Cabernet Franc, for my palate, is much closer to being “ready” though it still needs time to develop some. Its fruitiness was still a little masked by oak, though its tannins were light and muted.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many people at the event would realize and understand that this is just a part of making wine, and that both could very well be quite tasty as finished products.

For me, the real highlight of the event was the food. Top chefs offered tastes of amazing, interesting and innovative food, served with some of the winery’s ready-to-drink wines. Restaurants represented included Tierra Mar, Coolfish, Polo Restaurant, Amuse, Eleven Madison Park, Fiddleheads, The River Cafe, The Bellport and Starr Boggs.

My favorite wines of the day were the 2003 Riesling ($13) and the 2000 Cabernet Franc ($22), which paired very well with pumpkin wontons with chili-lime dipping sauce and smoked Long Island duck with honey Dijon drizzle and fresh mango chutney, respectively.

My favorite “bite” of the day was River Café’s slow-roasted suckling pig with vanilla bean whipped sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows. It was sweet and savory, hearty and delicate all at once, and paired nicely with the 2001 Merlot ($24), which is a well-made wine, but not as complex or sophisticated as other Long Island Merlots at the price.

James Ahearn of Deer Park was the $3000 scholarship winner for his duck confit roasted pumpkin ravioli with apple 2002 Peconic Bay Dry Riesling butter sauce, while Cesare Bonventre of Brooklyn and Karen Boughtin of Bay Shore each received $1000 scholarships for their entries.

For upcoming events at Peconic Bay Winery, visit www.peconicbaywinery.com

November 19, 2004

Holiday Host/Hostess Gifts: What Wine Should You Bring?

(This articled appeared in the 11/19 issue of Dan's Papers)

WinegiftsWith Thanksgiving less than a week away, “the season” is almost here.

No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving Day itself or any other specific holiday. I’m talking about holiday party season. You know exactly what I’m talking about, too – because chances are you’ll be invited to at least a few parties between now and the beginning of 2005. It’s a great time of year and offers ample opportunities to enjoy good food and good wine with the best of friends.

Personally, I never go to a party empty handed, not because I feel obligated but because I love sharing wine with my friends. Wine is a great gift, whether for a small, intimate dinner party or a large holiday open house celebration.

But what wine should you take?

Continue reading "Holiday Host/Hostess Gifts: What Wine Should You Bring?" »

Gold Coast Grapes--Old Brookville Vineyards Survive Despite Natural Disasters

(This article appeared in the 11/19 issue of Dan's Papers)

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There are many environmental factors that can adversely affect or even destroy a vineyard’s grape crop. From extreme temperatures to phylloxera to animals eating the fruit, vineyard managers have a lot of things to worry about. And over the past several years, Old Brookville Vineyards, the only commercial vineyard in Nassau County, has succumbed to more of these factors than any other Long Island vineyard.

Continue reading "Gold Coast Grapes--Old Brookville Vineyards Survive Despite Natural Disasters" »

Thanksgiving Barrel Tasting at Peconic Bay Winery

This Sunday afternoon, Nena and I are heading out east to Peconic Bay Winery for their 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Barrel Tasting.

I'm covering it for Dan's Papers and have a column due the next day...so I guess I can't have too much wine when we're there!

I'm looking forward to it. It's outside in a heated tent and we'll be tasting barrel samples of their 2003 Merlot, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Cabernet Franc along side some great food made by some of the top local chefls. I'd also like to meet winemaker Greg Gove and their new Culinary Director, Michael Meehan.

It's been a while since we've had any wines Peconic Bay Winery, but they are usually pretty good, though I don't remember ever being wowed. I think the last time was over the summer when we stopped there to eat our picnic lunch. They have great tables and Adirondack chairs right next to their vines.

We usually get a bottle of their Riesling when we're there. Honestly, I don't remember the reds much at all...so this weekend should be interesting.

Best of all, proceeds from the event will create a scholarship for a student attending NYIT's Culinary Arts Center in Central Islip, NY.

Pictures and a write up will definitely make their way here to LENNDEVOURS.

November 18, 2004

Beaujolais Nouveau is Here!

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2004's first shipments of Beaujolais Nouveau have arrrived...and, despite how many wine snobs feel about this ultra-young, ultra-juicy wine, I plan to get a few bottles this weekend.

This was a good year for Gamay grapes (which are what's used for BN) if the experts are to be believed, so I look forward to tasting the freshest of wines.

BN is an easy, fun wine that isn't meant to be scrutinized or analyzed. And, while it seems to become more and more about the "hype" every year...I'll never give up on it. It's still an event and any excuse to drink wine is a good one if you ask me.

Besides...Beaujolais Nouveau will always have a special spot in my heart. Why? Because it's the first red wine Nena ever liked...

When we first started dating almost four years ago, she was a pink wine girl (with some Pinot Grigio gulped as well). Had I known such things before I fell head over heels for her, I probably would have moved on right away (just teasing honey).

But, having already been hoooked, I realized I'd just have to teach her about the joys of red wine.

With it's fruity, grapey flavor and zero tannins, BN is the perfect "gateway" red for people who don't think they like it. Start there...then move to Pinot Noir or maybe a California Zin...and you're well on your way to red wine lust!

Now, I can offer Nena a glass of big, "pow" Cabernet...and she'll snatch it up.

And for that...I'm grateful.

Thank you Beaujolais Nouveau.

November 08, 2004

Shinn Estate Vineyards

Dscn2175_1 Saturday, I finally had a chance to head out to Mattituck for the vineyard tour and tasting at Shinn Estate Vineyards, a fairly new vineyard that is owned and operated by David Page and Barbara Shinn, who also own Home restaurant in Greenwich Village. I haven't been to Home, but after the great time I had at the vineyard, I can't wait to check it out.

I've visted just about every vineyard/winery on Long Island, and I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed a tour like I did at Shinn. First of all, very few vineyards let you out walking among their vines...but Barbara and David encourage it. They want you to walk as they tell you about their vines, their farming practices (sustainable largely organic) and their wines.

These two love their vineyard more than anyone I've ever known...they glow as they talk about how they nurture their land and vines. They focus on their terroir and preserving it by not using herbicides, using almost all organic fungicides and using liquified fish in lieu of traditional chemical fertilizers.

Dscn2157_1 The two of them do all of the vine pruning, all 22 acres, themselves by hand. Even if it takes them "most of the winter" I get the impression they wouldn't have it any other way.

As they work to build a winery on their grounds, Roman Roth of Wolffer Estates fame is making their current vintage, including their first Rose and a Sauvignon Blanc that was just harvested a couple weeks ago. Eventually, David and Barabara will take over the winemaking duties as well.

Their hands-on, artisanal style results in at least two delicious wines, which I got to try Saturday.

Dscn2142_1I wrote an Over the Barrel...with Lenn Thompson column for Dan's Papers on my afternoon at Shinn and the wines that will appear in this week's issue. I'll be sure to post it once it's finalized...and I'll also devote a post to each of the wines as well.

November 05, 2004

Heading to Shinn Estate Vineyards

Shinnmap_1 Tomorrow at 3 p.m. I'm meeting Barbabar Shinn and David Page, owners of Shinn Estate Vineyards for a tour of their vineyard in Mattituck and to taste their wines, including a few reds and a Chardonnay.

I've been trying to schedule this tour/tasting for a while...so I'm glad that I can finally make it happen. Of course, it's on a weekend that Nena has class...so I'll be going solo instead of with my favorite wine tasting partner.

I'll be writing a column for Dan's Papers on my experiences Saturday...so keep an eye out for it.

David and Barabara are also the owners of Home Restaurant in the Village in NYC. Another place I'd like to check out sometime. They serve mostly New York State wines with a few Virginia vinos for good measure....

October 18, 2004

An Evening With Comtesse Therese

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Bernard Cannac, consultant winemaker, Lisa Julian Cannac, assistant winemaker, and Theresa K. Dilworth, Esq., owner and winemaker of Comtesse Therese Winery before our tasting began.

It's not every day that you get to spend an entire evening with the people that make some of your favorite local wines.

I'm lucky enough to say that it happened to me and Nena on Saturday night.

After a quick tour of Premier Wine Group (the custom-crush winemaking co-op where they make their wine) and her vineyard, Theresa Dilworth, owner and winemaker of Comtesse Therese, hosted a tasting of their new releases...inside an old house she's rennovating and turning into a wine country bistro.

I'm working on a column about the exeperience, so I won't let the cat out of the bag too much...but we had a spectacular time. And, we got to taste the first releases of two different wines (along with the new releases of several others). We also got to share some amazing cheeses and cured meats as well.

It's rare to find wineries where you like EVERY wine on the list.

For me, Comtesse Therese is one such winery.

October 14, 2004

From the Vine: Castello di Borghese 2003 Riesling

BorgheserieslingOpening a bottle of Riesling is always fun for me, especially if it's one I've never tried before. I love Riesling...and I'm always curious to see what direction a particular winemaker takes this grape in. Will it be bone floral, flinty and bone dry? Will it be fruity and off-dry? Plus, for the most part, they're quite affordable and, I think anyway, always much more interesting than a Pinot Grigio.

New York State and the Finger Lakes Region in particular are well known for making great Rieslings. In fact, many wine "experts" think that some of the Finger Lakes Rieslings are the best made in the U.S.

Long Island has some nice Rieslings as well, even if its best wines are Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Recently, Nena and I had a bottle of Castello di Borghese 2003 Riesling ($12). Most anyone familiar with the Long Island Wine scene knows the story of Borghese. In 1999, Ann Marie and Marco Borghese (an Italian noble) bought Hargraves Vineyard, Long Island's first vineyard, which was founded in 1973.

I'm honestly not sure why Nena and I have never tried their wines before. We did stop at their tasting room once, but it was extremely busy and we weren't treated all that well, so we moved on and never went back.

Continue reading "From the Vine: Castello di Borghese 2003 Riesling" »

October 05, 2004

Cool New Law in New York State

If you go to a restaurant...and can't finish your meal, you get to take the leftovers home right? Well, until now, the same coudln't be said about a bottle of wine.

It's never happened to me, but if you go out with someone who isn't a big drinker and order a bottle of wine, chances are you have two choices:

1. Leave an un-empty bottle at the restaurant
2. Drink the entire thing down and drive when you probably shouldn't

That's all changed now though...and it really does benefit everyone involved.

There's a new law in New York state that lets you take the wine home...as long as it's recorked and in a sealed bag.

The lovely ladies of Wine Whys have a post today about it...check it out...

It is also in today's New York Times.

October 04, 2004

Interesting Wine Writer Fact

I grabbed this from Vinography, a great wine blog that I check almost every day (even if many of the wines Alder discusses are from Cali and nearly impossible for me to get).

Not-so-amazingly (damn that patriarchy) 76% of wine writers are male, but perhaps more surprisingly 91% are over 40 years of age and a full 60% are over 50! If we ever needed a reason why wine is still considered a stuffy upper-class drink, look no further. I'm happy to represent the (hopefully growing) segment of wine writers under 40.

With those kinds of numbers...there should be plenty of jobs opening up for a wine writer under the age of 30 (I'll be 29 until the end of April!).

It really does bother me that wine is still considered an upper-class beverage...there is absolutely no reason for this to be the case.

What can we do about this people? I try to write with a very down-to-earth style and attitude in my wine writing...I love bringing new wine drinkers into the fold...and I love dispelling all the high-brow myths about wine.

I drink wine that is under $12 all the time. Anyone who tells you that you can't find a good wine in that price range is a wine snob...and I'm not saying that in a good way.

I love "fine" wines...those that are 50 bucks or even higher (priciest I've tried was in the 80s)...but there is perfectly good wine available for ten or twelve...and PILES of VERY good wine in the 20 dollar range.

From the Vine: Amazing Experience at Lenz Winery

Sparkling_1
This past weekend, I had three stories to write for Dan's Papers, one on Long Island winery weddings, a profile on a local winemaker and a story on Long Island bubbly. (I'll post final versions of the stories either today or tomorrow once they are approved).

On our last stop for the bubbly story, we went to Lenz Winery...and what an amazing experience.

I printed up some quick business cards Saturday morning, just so I had something to hand over to tasting room staff as I tasted the sparklers. Well, when we got at Lenz and I talked to the woman at the bar, she said she would go see if the winemaker was busy.

The winemaker?!?! I was just looking to taste their well-known bubblies and write about them...I never imagined I'd get to meet Eric Fry!

This guy is amazing...his knowledge and passion are obvious beyond words.

When we were lead into the back of the building, there he was, in overalls, watching as his first-picked Chardonnay grapes were crushed and the juice pumped into one of their huge 600+ liter tank. Even as he sprinted here and there, making sure everything was going according to plan, he found and made the time to talk to us about the harvest, about what he was doing at that moment, and, of course, about sparkling wine.

Having worked in France and in California (at Mondavi and Jordan no less) this guy knows his wine...and spending any time someone like that is a real treat.

Then he started popping open sparkling wines that aren't available to the public.

We got to go down into the cellar where he ages the bubbly...handing Nena and I each a bottle to carry upstairs. We had to carry them vertically (cap down--and it's a beer cap!) to keep the yeast in the neck so Eric could clear it out upon opening it.

Then...as an amazing treat, we got to taste some that was still fermenting. It was cloudy (looked like lighter apple cider) and had a cidery taste to it as well. It was delicious though...which surprised me. The residual sugar smoothed out any strong yeasty flavor...I could have sipped that all day too.

Then, because I had never had one of their Cab Savs before and asked how they were...he popped open a bottle of that as well...and it was awesome (we bought a bottle of that).

It was the perfect afternoon...and I'm now sold on Lenz sparking wine...and Eric Fry has a new disciple.

If only he would have sold us a bottle of the 1990 Cuvee! Not that I blame him...it will be even better five years from now...

September 28, 2004

Over a Barrel: Do You Hate Chardonnay?

(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)

Over a Barrel... With Lenn Thompson

White
"I don't like Chardonnay."

I hear this all the time when I talk to friends, family and even strangers on the street about wine. I've even said it to myself as I choked down a heavy, buttery, oak-filled chard…usually hailing from California. These wines are difficult to pair well with food and, unless you enjoy the flavor of American, French or some other region's oak trees, it's no wonder you don't like them.

Fact is, you've probably never really tasted this most noble of all white wine grapes. Through barrel fermentation and excessive aging in new oak, many wine makers so manipulate Chardonnay's pure, fruity character that it's nearly unrecognizable. It's like making a hamburger from center-cut filet mignon…and drowning it with condiments--tasty to some, but at what point is it not really filet mignon anymore?

Luckily, some talented wine makers on Long Island believe in the purity of this grape's true character. Through more judicious use of oak, or by not using it at all, they make some truly unique Chardonnays that are unlike any you've wrapped your tongue around.

If you really think you don't like Chardonnay, and are sick of drinking Savignon Blanc, Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, Long Island offers several Chardonnays you should try. Remember, however, that any "Reserve" Chardonnay is probably going to be oaky and you should avoid those if it's the fresh and the fruity that you crave.

So leave your ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) membership cards at home and try a couple of these.

Macari Vineyards' 2003 Early Wine ($12) is 100% Chardonnay but I bet you'd never have guessed. Harvested in late September, bottled around Halloween and released just before Christmas, it is one of the crispest, freshest whites you'll ever drink. With gentle lime flavor, green apple tartness and just a hint of sweetness, it's extremely easy to drink. Just 400 cases were made and the 2003 vintage has sold out, but the 2004 is on its way this December.

Another excellent example of an unoaked Chardonnay is offered by Peconic Bay Winery. Their 2002 Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($13) is fruit forward with lemon and lime--simple with just the right amount of acidity. It's a great wine with food.

Two of my favorites are made by Channing Daugthers Winery--Channing Daugthers 2003 Scuttlehole Chardonnay ($14) and Channing Perrine 2001 Mudd Vineyard Cuvee Tropical Chardonnay ($17). The Scuttlehole is fermented in stainless steel and features elegant citrus and mineral character. It's an excellent example of cold climate Chardonnay.

The Cuvee Tropical is one of the most unique Chardonnay experiences you'll ever have. Made with the musque clone of Chardonnay, it is overflowing with exotic fruit, including mangoes and pineapples that linger on the tongue.

Yet another Chardonnay that dodges the adulteration of oak fermentation is the 2003 Bridge Lane Chardonnay ($13) from Lieb Family Cellars. Made in an approachable style, it's even fruitier and more refreshing than the 2002 release, it's delicious by itself or paired with lobster or shrimp.

These wines, along with many other Long Island Chardonnays are available both at the various vineyard tasting rooms and in local wine shops. Note that many of them are great buys and that's because they don't spend much, if any, time in expensive oak barrels. Cheaper to make means cheaper to buy.

September 19, 2004

An Exciting $7.99 Find

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Nena probably thinks I'm insane (okay, I'm sure she does) for being so excited about a wine I bought for $7.99, but I found a bottle of the 2001 Hacienda Merlot we had at Paul and Sara's rehearsal dinner.

Saturday morning, during the monsoon-like rains we had (the remnants of Ivan), I drove up the street to a nearby wine shop that I hadn't checked out yet...and there it was.

I know...how can I be so excited over this wine? It's simple...it was delicious and I would have thought it cost much more. I bought their last bottle of the 2001...but they have a whole bunch of the 2002. If the 2002 is as good, or even close, we may have our new house red.

The other cool thing is that Paul and Sara are driving up from Philly Friday night for the weekend. They're wine lovers just like we are...so we'll have a blast at the wineries Saturday. And, as a fellow Pittsburgh native (who I met in college) we'll be finding a bar to watch the Steelers game as well.

From the Vine: 2002 Argyle Pinot Noir

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Maybe it's the changing weather (it only got up to 65 here today!) or just the usual ebb and tide of a winelover's tastes, but I've really been into Pinto Noir lately. I've had some nice ones lately, but the one Nena brought back from me from Buffalo (the wine store was in Buffalo, the wine's not made their obviously) was real good today -- 2002 Argyle Pinot Noir ($15).

She picked it up because of all the notes that were taped around it on the shelf...including a 90 rating from Wine Spectator...and it definitely lived up to the advance billing.

Featuring a nifty screwcap closure, we cracked it opened on this chilly, windy day and enjoyed sipping it throughout the day as we watched football (me), cleaned up around the house (Nena) and cooked dinner (me again). A well-known, consistent producer (it's amazing even to me that I've not tried this...I've seen their wines around forever), the 2002 was chock full of cherry fruit and well balanced. Soft and almost seductive I could, I think, drink this one every day. Great value too. Plus, I always dig the screw caps.

September 16, 2004

From the Vine: Tannins 101

In my almost-daily perusal of several great food and wine sites, I came up on a great post on tannins from the ladies of Wine Wise. It's sort of a Tannins 101 post...it's great for people not all that familiar with tannins or who just want to know more.

I have to admit that I've never waited a whole day for the tannins to mellow in a bottle that seemed too tannic at first...but I'm willing to try the next time.

September 13, 2004

From the Vine: Top New York Wine From Hudson Valley Winery Made Right Here In Mattituck

(This article appeared in a previous issue of Dan's Papers)

Rivendell
Top New York Wine From Hudson Valley Winery Made Right Here In Mattituck
By Lenn Thompson

By defeating 635 other wines from across New York State, Rivendell Winery's 2003 Dry Riesling captured the Governor's Cup at the 19th annual New York Wine and Food Classic this summer at the Inn at East Wind in Wading River. In doing so, it earned the title "New York's Best Wine."

When I heard that, I knew I needed some time in New Paltz for a little R&R – Rivendell and Riesling. And, a couple weeks later, I got my chance.

As my future wife and I drove down the New York State Thruway, heading back to the Island after a weekend visiting her family outside of Albany, we decided to pull off at exit 18 and get a taste of gold medal winner for ourselves.

Just a short drive later, we pulled into Rivendell Winery, located on 50 bucolic Hudson Valley acres. As we stepped into the hardwood-floored, glass-enclosed tasting room, we were greeted by friendly, knowledgeable staff and an impressive list of more than 75 wines from throughout New York State, including several from Long Island.

Rivendell's owners, Robert Ransom and Susan Wine, have a passion for New York wines, also running two Vintage New York Storesin Manhattan that offer New York wines exclusively – 200 of them.

But it was the Riesling that brought us to Rivendell… and it was phenomenal. Made at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck from grapes grown in the Finger Lakes, New York's top wine was extremely complex and seemed to change with each sip. Bone dry and full of mineral character, as I tasted it began to burst with pineapple and citrus. Simply spectacular. At $12.99, it's a steal, and I should have bought a few more bottles because it has since sold out.

Along with the Riesling, we tried several of the other Rivendell offerings ($3 for 5 tastes). The Trilogy Chardonnay was a nice find – tropical and juicy – and at $10.99, a nice, every day Chard.

A simple, easy-drinking Merlot under their other label, SoHo Cellars, was fruity with just a hint of toasty oak ($5.99 for a half bottle), while the Rivendell Reserve Merlot ($23.99) was berry forward but much richer and concentrated, with just a little spice and a long, elegant finish.

One of the most charming wines of the lot was the City Cab by Rivendell. A blend of Long Island Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it was much more interesting and complex than you'd expect for $9.99.

For more information on Rivendell Winery, visit www.rivendellwine.com. or, to order wine (except the Riesling of course) visit www.vintagenewyork.com or stop in at one of the Vintage New York shops, at 482 Broome Street or 2492 Broadway (at 93rd).

Lenn Thompson is a freelance food and wine writer living in Sound Beach.

September 03, 2004

From the Vine: Merlot With a Mission -- Lieb Family Cellars Produces Wine to Commemorate 9/11

septmission_600_800(Note: This article originally appeared in the 9/3 issue of Dan's Papers)

Merlot With A Mission
Lieb Family Cellars Produces Wine For 9/11 Nonprofit Foundation
by Lenn Thompson

Lieb Family Cellars has teamed up with September’s Mission – a nonprofit foundation that funds educational and cultural programs in remembrance of the victims of 9/11 – to help the many families affected by the tragedy.

To commemorate the three-year anniversary of 9/11, the Mattituck winery has produced 6,300 bottles of a special 2002 Merlot, which is available at its tasting room for $9.11 and is also available for resale to wine shops and restaurants in New York State.

By donating 91.1 cents from each bottle sold to September’s Mission, winery owners Mark and Kathy Lieb hope to raise close to $6,000 for the foundation. Both worked on Wall Street prior to 9/11 and lost friends and former colleagues in the World Trade Center attacks.

“We wanted to contribute in our own way to ensure that the tragic events of 9/11 are never forgotten,” said Mark Lieb. “The commemorative wine gives our winery, as well as restaurants and individuals, the opportunity to participate in the annual observance and to support September’s Mission.”

The special Merlot is the brainchild of Gary Madden, general manager of Lieb Family Cellars.

“Through the ages, wine has had religious and ceremonial significance, so it is fitting that it play a role in the annual remembrance of 9/11,” said Madden. “We hope restaurants and wine shops will join us in honoring the memory of those who lost their lives and help support September’s Mission by offering this wine to their customers.”

Monica Iken, who founded September’s Mission after losing her husband in the 9/11 tragedy, is deeply appreciative of the donation.

“Whoever purchases this special wine will not only be remembering the heroes and innocent victims of that terrible tragedy, but will be supporting our efforts to develop programs at the future memorial site, as well as a 9/11 ‘Living Memorial,’ our Internet project that will be accessible to everyone.”

The young, clean Merlot, blended with a just a little Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in French oak, is made exclusively of grapes grown on the North Fork and features aromas of blackberry, plum and black currant.

The 2002 Commemorative Merlot is available at the Lieb Cellars tasting room located at 35 Cox Neck Road in Mattituck, at www.liebcellars.com, or by calling the winery at 631-734-1100. Restaurants and wine shops in New York State can purchase the wine directly from Lieb Cellars.

August 30, 2004

The 1st BBQ in the New House

sbbbqNena and I love to have BBQs from April until about Halloween. But, since we've spent a good chunk of this summer either preparing to move, actually moving or settling in, we haven't had nearly as many as either of us would like.

Before I go on...I'm using the word BBQ to refer to an outdoor dinner party basically. I don't need any of you BBQ traditionalists giving me a hard time!

Anyway...my parents are in town from Pittsburgh, and after enjoying a couple of meals out, we decided to have a quick and easy outdoor dining experience Sunday night.

chickensaladbeansThe food was simple. I marinated some boneless chicken breasts in lemon, fruity olive oil, rosemary and lemon zest/juice. Along side, Nena cooked some delicious green beans that we picked up out east at a farm stand...and one of my favorites--tomato, onion and mozzy salad. And, of course, both the tomatoes and the onions were grown here on the island.

Now, we certainly can't have any kind of meal around here with a little vino, so we had to go into the wine vault (okay, it's just a wooden rack in our living room) to find some. Because my parents haven't been to any of the wineries on the Southern Fork of Long Island...I brought a little of it to them, serving two great offerings from Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton.

channingfreshredmerlotFirst, we started a bottle of their smooth and fruity 2002 Fresh Red Merlot. Perfect for serving with grilled foods, this is a simple, easy drinking red that reminds me a bit of Beaujolais Noveau. I think this is a great red wine to serve to people who don't think they like reds...it's low tannins and strong cherry/berry flavors will win them over.

channingtropicalchardOnce we polished off that bottle (isn't it amazing how quickly 4 people can plow through multiple bottles of wine) we drank 2001 Mudd Vineyard Cuvee Tropical Chardonnay. One of the most unique chards I've ever tasted, the tropical name fits perfectly. Made from the musque clone of Chardonnay, this steel-fermented treat features exotic, fruity aromas and a finish of mango and pineapples.

Even though summer is winding down...we won't let it go easily!

August 29, 2004

From the Vine: The Making of Mr. Merlot

(This article will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)

The Making Of Mr. Merlot
Winemaker Kip Bedell Pours History Into 17 Glasses, One Year At A Time

By Lenn Thompson

bedell_dansI’ve been lucky enough over the past several years to attend some noteworthy wine tasting events at various venues on our beautiful North Fork. They are always deliciously wonderful experiences and I’m always on the lookout for bigger and better events. So when I was invited to Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue for its “17 Years of Merlot” tasting, I knew this would be a benchmark experience for this still-young region.

After navigating the Riverhead traffic to get to this 50-acre former potato farm, my fiancée Nena and I were a little hungry and beyond eager to begin tasting. A vineyard’s entire Merlot history awaited us, and this was no regular, run-of-the-mill Merlot. This was Merlot handcrafted by “Mr. Merlot” himself, Kip Bedell, founder and winemaker of Bedell Cellars.

A few nibbles of assorted cheeses and a glass of the 2003 Viognier greeted us as we settled into our chairs beneath a large tent, looking out over the sun-drenched vines on a spectacular August Sunday. The Viognier, a rich, melony example of this increasingly popular Chardonnay alternative was a delightful and refreshing prologue to our 17-chapter journey through the history of Bedell Merlot, which could really be called the Making of Mr. Merlot.

As the last sips of the Viognier were enjoyed, 17 vintages of Mr. Merlot’s namesake wine – from the 1987 all the way up to a 2003 barrel sample that is at least two years away from being released – were brought out. Just seeing all the bottles, a slice of Long Island wine history, was a thrill. But this was only the beginning.

Obviously, when tasting over a dozen different wines in a single sitting, the pours are small – just an ounce or two. Just enough to properly admire a wine’s color, study its aromas as it twirls in your glass, and finally, savor every nuance as it dances along your tongue.

While all of the wines were tasty and well made, it didn’t take long at all for one of them to reach up out of the glass and take hold of me. The 1988, made in a year Bedell dubbed “probably our most outstanding year,” was pure pleasure. Brick red and less fruity than the 1987, the 1988 was well balanced, smooth and full of plummy spice with an exacting amount of oak.

“A very good year,” the 1991 vintage was actually helped along by the heavy rains Hurricane Bob dumped on Long Island that August. A darker, slightly more concentrated wine, it filled my nose with earthy cedar before giving way to well-balanced tannins and dark berry.

Bedell feels that one of my three favorites, the 1993, is “still developing” and if that is true, I can’t wait to try it again in a few years. Dark and inky in the glass, this was an extremely dramatic wine. A touch drier than most of the others, it also displayed blueberry and chocolate spice. When the tasting was over and the wines were left on the table for us to enjoy with lunch, this is the wine I made a beeline for first.

The 1995, called a “benchmark Merlot” by noted wine author Jancis Robinson in the Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America, was even bigger and more concentrated than the 1991, with a boldness and long finish that reminded me a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. The next truly remarkable wine that we tasted, from 1997, was another favorite and another I enjoyed with my lunch. A cherry crimson in the glass, its tannins and blackberry flavors were balanced and enhanced by a unique vanilla-caramel flavor. It was outstanding and, if I had to pick a single favorite, this would be it.

The last of my three favorites, the 2000, was “saved by our best October ever.” Also the youngest of the Merlots currently available for purchase, it featured spicy oak aromas followed by cherry and cocoa flavors and a smooth, rich finish.

The final three wines of the flight, 2001, 2002 and 2003, are not yet available for purchase, and their youth was evident. The 2001, which will be released this fall, is very close to being ready and it promises to be a charmer. Concentrated cherry as a youngster, I think it will be delightful as it ages. Keep an eye out for its release.

The 2002 grapes were almost lost to frost when the buds broke ten days earlier than usual. Still suffering from a touch of bottle shock, its fruit was subdued and it was very tannic up front. 2002 was a “nice year” for growing grapes, so I expect this wine to balance out and be delicious.

The final chapter of this flight through the Bedell world of Merlot, a 2003 barrel sample, was light and, funky from fermentation, today it is dry and tannic. But, despite a less-than-perfect growing season, Bedell believes that his experience handling poor growing seasons will result in a good wine.

Most wine lovers know that certain years of certain wines are better than others, but a tasting like this one really drives that idea home. Moving from year to year, with changes in weather serving as the primary variable, I learned more about wine in an afternoon than I could have imagined. I found it remarkable just how profound a difference the weather can make in the end results.

Mr. Merlot’s passion for wine and extensive knowledge is indisputable, even though Eric Frye, the extraordinary winemaker at neighboring Lenz Winery, wore a shirt with “Kip Bedell’s Winemaking Coach” written on the back as he tasted along with us at the next table over. Kip Bedell, with or without a coach, has earned his title. And on a recent Sunday afternoon he also earned a new devotee of his wines – me.

Bedell Cellars is located at 36225 Main Road in Cutchogue and its tasting room is open daily, year-round. To find out more about upcoming events, visit www.bedellcellars.com.

August 24, 2004

From the Vine: 17 Years of Bedell Cellars' Merlot

17merlotsA few weeks ago, when my wine editor at Dan's Papers asked me if I wanted to to go Bedell Cellars to attend a special event celebrating 17 years of Merlot, I jumped at the chance.

Kip Bedell, founder and winemaker, is known throughout L.I. wine country as "Mr. Merlot" and in tasting 17 vintages, he has certainly earned the title. Even the early vintages, made when he admits he knew "only a fraction of what he does now" about grape growing and winemaking, were delicious.

I'll not give away too much information here, I do have to write an article for the paper after all (which will also appear here when finalized). It was a highly educational experience to taste such an extensive flight...with the winemaker there with us, telling us about the weather each particular year and how it shaped the wines flavor, color and character.

My favorites where the 1988 and the 1993...and both were good years weather-wise.

I guess I had always known that the weather and "year" was important to the quality and character of an individual wine. But, until I got to taste my way through 17 years...I never realized just how vast and significant an impact these elements have on wine.

In addition to the delicious wines, we were treated to an equally delicious lunch catered by Christopher Michael Catering.

We had a delightful time on a gorgeous North Fork afternoon. Our tablemates, Greg, Louise, Marissa and Ron were fun and funny. Marissa is even a fellow wine journalist...so it was a fun time all around.

(For more pictures, visit my Long Island Wineries Photo Album)

August 19, 2004

From the Vine: 2002 Hay Shed Hill Cabernet Merlot

137-3707_IMGAnother great Aussie enjoyed at Tanglewood, this Cabernet-Merlot blend was an even bigger treat...because you can't buy it outside of Australia apparently.

A friend of my future in-laws had just visited the land down under before going to the broadcast with us, and she brought it along.

Again, this would have been much better along side some sort of animal flesh, but I'm certainly not complaining.

Exhibiting the fruitiness you'd expect from an Aussie red, it's plummy juiciness was tamed by elegant tannins but little of of the spice in the 1999 Holy Trinity we tried just before this one.

80% Cab and 20% Merlot and aged in French Oak, it's truly an elegant, upscale pour.

An interesting note that serves as evidence for an upcoming trend...this high-class vino has a screw top.

From the Vine: 1999 Grant Burge The Holy Trinity (Barossa)

holyA spectactular blend from a premier Australian wine region, the 1999 Holy Trinity is regarded as one of, if not the best editions. 47% Grenache, 27% Shiraz and 26% Mourverde, the 1999 features intense fruitiness with blackberries and rasberry overtones balanced well with peppery spice and enough tannins to be a serious wine.

With a long finish, this is of the most complex wines I've ever tasted. Truly an impressive wine, I wished that I had more than just the single bottle.

I actually enjoyed this one on the lawn at Tanglewood listening to Garrison Keillor's live broadcast. In some ways this was a waste, because the Trinity would have been terrific with full-flavored grilled pork, or ideally lamb.

The blend changes every year, but clearinly Grant Burge knows what it's doing.

Delicious. One of my top ten wines ever.

August 17, 2004

From the Vine: A Great "Excuse" for Drinking Wine

Alger over at Vinography has a great post arguing (with scientific support) that we are evolutionarily predisposed to drink.

I can't argue one bit. As a matter of fact...I'll use this often as my "excuse" for drinking.

Like I need one anyway.

August 13, 2004

From the Vine: Coming Soon -- Lebanese Wines

lebA friend of mine at work is heading to Lebanon today to visit her husband's family for two weeks...and she was nice enough to agree to bring back a couple bottles of wine for me!

I know very little about Lebanese wines, but I know that other wines in the region (Israel mostly) are starting to be recognized as tasty and great values, so I'm looking forward to trying them. She's bringing back one red and one white...depending on what her family recommends.

She was telling me yesterday about the great olive oil she brings home that is made from olives grown on her family's land and about the national drink, arak, which she compared to Greece's ouzo and Italy's sambuca. Pretty interesting stuff...and you know I'll share my thoughts on the wine when she returns.

August 02, 2004

From the Vine: 2002 Solaris Pinot Noir

solarisI really love finding great wine values...and this tasty Pinot Noir fits the bill. Well under ten dollars, this Napa Valley Pinot is deep red, much darker than some Pinots I've had, but it was full of the intense cherry nose with just a hint of spice that any good Pinot Noir seems to have.

Quite fruity and not at all complex, this was a nice, cheap example of Pinot Noir. While delicious, it did lack some of the complexity that makes Pinot Noir one of my favorite varietals. With this much fruit, the tannins were a bit of a pleasant surprise, creating a nice balance in this great value wine.

Grilled pork (loin, chops or even ribs) would be a great pairing with this juicy medium-bodied red.

From the Vine: 2003 Vina Blanca

vina-blanca-penedesBeing the good little red wine drinker she is, Nena only brought back two bottles of white wine from her recent trip to Spain...two bottles of this 2003 Vina Blanca from Penedes (one for us and one for our friend Liz).

I can't wait to start sipping my way through all the reds she brought back...but at the end of the day yesterday, when we were all sweating and exhausted from lugging our stuff from Sayville to Sound Beach, no one wanted red wine (out of the six people helping, two don't drink wine of any sort...unless it's made with barley and hops!). I just had a few beers...but Nena and Liz decided to open our bottle of this downright cheap Spanish wine.

I only had a brief taste...but it was nice and refreshing...well chilled, dry and just a little fruity on this humid day. The bottle didn't last long...but it kind of reminded me of a Pinot Grigio a little bit. It was a straightforward, easy to drink white...which is exactly what the occasion called for.

July 27, 2004

Proposal for a Wine Blogging Day

Many of you have either heard of or participated in Is My Blog Burning? -- a monthly blog cooking event that is the brainchild of Alberto over at Il Forno. It's grown and grown over the past few months and it's has me thinking...can we do something similar with wine?

Now, when it comes to wine...there isn't nearly as much flexibility as there is with a theme like, say, soup. But, I think with a little creativity, we can come up with something that will be fun and a learning experience for all the oenophile bloggers out there!

The first "press" of the World Wide Wine Blogging Wednesday will take place on Wednesday, September 1st (it may take some time to get the word out, so let's start it a little over a month from now).

The theme: Inexpensive New World Merlot that is not from the United States

The rules...don't spend more than 15USD on the bottle. It must come from a New World wine nation that isn't the U.S., which leaves you places such as Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and Chile. Once you drink the wine (hopefully with friends!() you should post a picture of the bottle/label and write a little blurb with your impressions of the wine, what food you either did or would pair with it and, if possible, post an "official" tasting note for the wine. You can often find those online. I like to read those first and then compare it with what my palate tastes. It's a good way to learn as well.

Who's with me?

If you're up for it, and I hope you are, leave a comment and when you post on September 1st, email me a link and I'll write a wrap-up on the 2nd.

And remember all are welcome -- newbies, experts and winos. Wine is supposed to be fun...not snooty or snobby!

July 12, 2004

From the Vine: Abadia Retuerta Rivola Ribero Del Duero 2001

DSCN1350This wine was one of the highlights of our July 4th weekend in upstate New York. A gift from his brother, Charlie was kind enough to let us pop this one open.

I don't know all that much about Spanish wines...at least not yet. Nena leaves tomorrow for Barcelona and is planning on picking up some wine during her ten-day singing tour of the Iberian country. I can't wait!

60% Tempranillo and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged for 10 months in French and American, this Rivola could have been cellared for years, but it was also extremely tasty now! It was bursting with berry flavors, with a nice oakiness...and had a vanilla spice finish that I really liked.

An interesting note on this wine...the winery that produced this great, affordable ($10-12) vino is owned by Novartis. Yup...the pharmaceutical giant.

From the Vine: Long Island Winery Pictures

DSC_0032Because Nena and I drag our friends and family out to the wineries at least once a month, I thought it about time to set up a winery photo album.

This weeks update actually has pictures from when Nena's parents were here a couple weeks ago and from my parent's visit this past weekend.

Macari wines are quickly becoming a new favorite...

July 01, 2004

The Club Scene -- Long Island Wine Clubs (from Dan's Papers)

(This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2004 issue of Dan's Papers)

The Club Scene
LI Is Home To Golf Clubs, Country Clubs, Nightclubs. What’s New? Wine Clubs.
By Lenn Thompson

The Reserve Club. Club North Fork. The Wine Circle. No matter the name, the hottest thing in Long Island wine this summer isn’t even wine – it’s wine clubs. What exactly is a wine club and what’s in it for you? If you’re a Long Island wine lover, there’s a magnum full of reasons to join one at your favorite winery.

Specific benefits and perks vary from winery to winery, but at the heart of every club is wine (typically two or three bottles) shipped directly to your home either monthly, quarterly or seasonally. Membership is free for most wine clubs, so you just pay for the wine at a discount (anywhere from 10-20 percent) plus any shipping costs. You get your favorite vino shipped to you at a discount – not a bad deal already, right?

None of the wineries stop there, though. Often, the wines you receive aren’t the “everyday” wines that just anybody can buy either at the winery or in their local wine shop. As a member, you usually get first crack at new releases and exclusive access to winemaker “library selections” – older vintages that Joe Wine Drinker just can’t buy off the street. Heard that your favorite winery is bottling a new Merlot? Join their wine club, and you’ll get it before anyone else does. Does it get any better than that?

Continue reading "The Club Scene -- Long Island Wine Clubs (from Dan's Papers)" »

How Sweet It Is -- Long Island Dessert Wines (from Dan's Papers)

(This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2004 issue of Dan's Papers)

How Sweet It Is
Dessert Wines: The New Ice Cream? Charting New Territory In LI Wine Country
By Lenn Thompson

You’ve probably heard of, and maybe even sampled, Spanish Port or Italian Moscato D’Asti dessert wines. But did you know that Long Island winemakers are making quality dessert wines right here in our own backyard? As someone who is relatively new to these after dinner beverages, I decided I needed to dive headfirst into what our region has to offer. What did I find? Quality, tasty wines that are truly Long Island in character.

Dessert wines can be expensive – from $25-60 for a 375ml half bottle – and sometimes it’s difficult or impossible to sample them in a winery’s tasting room. In fact, some will only let you try one if there’s already a bottle open. Even though I didn’t get to try a couple of the ones I wanted, including Macari’s 2002 Block E, I still found some unique offerings.

Continue reading "How Sweet It Is -- Long Island Dessert Wines (from Dan's Papers)" »

June 28, 2004

From the Vine: Creating Wine Fans

charliesnifNow, my future stepfather-in-law, Charlie, has always liked wine (or at least as I've known him). But, in the three years we've known each other, his appreciation for finer vino has grown and grown--and I like to think that I'm at least a little responsible.

After his first trip to the Long Island wineries this past weekend, I think I've found a TRUE believer buried under all that Franzia and jug wine.

I mean, come on...is this a picture of a man that will drink wine from a box ever again? (okay, he might, but he'll at least know what he's missing!)

June 23, 2004

From the Vine: Top 10 Favorite Long Island Wineries (Part 1)

Given all the wineries on Long Island's east end (both the north fork and south fork), it's hard to pick five favorites...so I'm extending it to ten. Some are favorites for their great wines. Some are listed because they have great tasting rooms or are manned by great people. Regardless, I wouldn't steer you wrong...so if you're going out east, check these ten out. Note: It's really impossible for me to put them in any sort of real order...the group is so diverse...and they are all good, or they'd not make my list.

Continue reading "From the Vine: Top 10 Favorite Long Island Wineries (Part 1)" »

June 22, 2004

From the Vine: Raphael's 1998 Bel Rosso (Review)

A while back, we opened (and quickly finished) a bottle of 1998 Bel Rosso from Raphael Vineyards here on Long Island. Nena made chicken cacciatore for dinner and we wanted a nice red to go with it (she also used some while cooking too).

We were not disappointed. In fact, I want to get back out to the north fork soon to buy a few bottles of this light, fruity red that is just complex enough to be interesting.

Primarily merlot with just a touch of cabernet franc, this would make a great house red for anyone throwing a party or a BBQ...which is why I'm going to buy a few bottles. They'll be perfect with the vittles that come off of my new grill and we can take them to other BBQs as well.

And...at $14.00, it's a steal.

(Note: This review appeared originally on Slingin' Ink)

From the Vine: 2001 Broadfields Cabernet Franc (Review)

BroadfieldsCabFrancThis wine, from a small producer on Long Island's north fork, was a new find the last time we went for a drive out to the wineries. We came upon the Tasting Room quite by mistake...and what a tasty mistake it was. The Tasting Room is a co-op that offers up wines from some of the smaller wineries out east, including Broadfields.

I actually opened this bottle on New Years Eve as I prepared dinner for our guests...and it was absolutely spectacular. If you think you aren't a big fan of cab franc...please do yourself a favor and try this one.

According to the label, 2001 was a great year for this grape on Long Island...and after tasting this I certainly can't argue. It was intense but not overpowering...full flavored without being raw.

It was a delicious choice as I prepared dinner...so good, in fact, that much of the bottle was gone before our guests even arrived.

(Note: This review appeared originally on Slingin' Ink)

From the Vine: 2001 Knapp Dry Riesling

Simply put, this wine makes me want to take a few days off and tour the Finger Lakes region of NY to sip all along every body of water...including Cayuga Lake, where this is made.

We first encountered this wine in Schoharie, NY at a fairly new cafe called Sweet Thyme right on picturesque main street. It was great with our lunch (delicous sandwiches) and we were tempted to have a second bottle.

The next day we set out to find it in a local wine shop...and we were in luck. We picked up a few bottles and the bottle we just had was the last of them.

When we poured it into glasses this time, we both noticed that it is so light that it is almost colorless. It smelled great and tasted even better. This is a great, affordable ($7), wine that would be even better in the summer on a hot day.

Again, if you're not in upstate NY, you may have a hard time finding this one (we've not seen it anywhere else)...but if you can get your hands on a bottle or six...you definitely should.

(Note: This review appeared originally on Slingin' Ink)

June 14, 2004

From the Vine: Lieb Family Cellars Winery Tour & Barrel Tasting

Merlotgrapes3As members of the Lieb Family Cellars wine club, we get three bottles of wine shipped to us three times a year at a 20% discount...not a bad deal at all considering how great the wine is.

If you've tried some of the more "mainstream" Long Island wines and have found them sweet, flat or just plain terrible, do yourself a favor and find a bottle from Lieb....particularly the Pinot Blanc or Reserve Merlot (though they are all good). You will not regret it.

Another perk we get as wine club members: invitations to several members-only events. Unfortunately, we always seem to miss said events. They seem to always be on holiday weekends when we're out of town (or hosting our own parties) or we already have plans long before we know about the Lieb event.

This was our first Lieb club event...and we are very glad we could finally attend.

Continue reading "From the Vine: Lieb Family Cellars Winery Tour & Barrel Tasting" »

June 09, 2004

From the Vine: 2000 Wölffer La Ferme Martin Merlot

merlotWe discovered Wölffer wines for the first time a few weeks ago...on the same trip that led us to Channing Daughters Winery. We liked Wölffer enough to join their wine club...and this bottle was part of the most recent shipment.

We opened this bottle (and drank most of it) last night with some grilled chicken I marinated in plain yogurt, scallions, lots of garlic and coriander seed...and it paired better than I expected. It's medium to dark red in color and full of berry aroma with just a hint of sweet oak. It's gentle acidity balaced well against the full fruit flavor...and it has just enough tannins to be well-rounded.

We loved this wine...and it's not even one of Wölffer's better offerings. I can't wait for next month's shipment!

June 08, 2004

From the Vine: Two Brothers Big Tattoo Red 2002

bigtatredI love finding obscure, interesting wines...and this one qualifies on both counts. It's a great, bold New World red (the grapes are Chilean)...for a great cause...Two Brothers Big Tattoo Red 2002.

Two brothers (thus the name), one a wine importer, the other a tattoo artist, produce and market this wine in homage to their late mother by donating a percentage of the proceeds to cancer research (50 cents per bottle).

If you ask me, that's enough reason right there to at least give this wine a shot...but guess what? The wine is just as good as its cause. It is dark crimson in your glass and when you taste it...it fills your mouth with ripe blackberry, plum and black cherry. It's 50%Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah and 10%Merlot.

My second glass (after letting it breathe for an hour or so) was even better than the first...so you might want to decant this wine to let it mellow.

This is another Costco find...retails in the 9 to 12 dollar range...and I got it for I think 7.

From the Vine: Goldwater 2003 Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

For basically eight months out of the year, I hardly even touch white wine...if I want an easy drinking glass of wine, I'll have a cheap Aussie grenache blend or something like that. And, because I don't really eat seafood, food pairing with red is never much of a challenge either.

But, come mid-May, my taste for crisp, un-oaked whites does blossom. More to the point...I start to enjoy quality white wines...and on my last wine shopping excursion to Costco (yes, Costco...more on that in a moment) I found a new favorite: Goldwater 2003 Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (from New Zealand).

It's no shocker that this top quality sav blanc hails from New Zealand. NZ is known for its sav blanc...but this one was particularly interesting to me...mainly because it was complex enough to keep my attention. While almost all sav blancs are grassy and herbaceous, this one had subtle melon and peach notes that helped to balance the wine's acidity. It was refreshing while still having a richness about it that truly made it a pleasure to drink.

Now back to the joys of Costco wine shopping. This wine got a 90 rating from Wine Spectator and usually retails for around 20 bucks. At the local Costco however, it's $12.99! Costco is full of great wine buys...and you'll be reading about more of them to be sure. Costco doesn't have the greatest selection (not shocking) but they sometimes have some great wine...and the prices are always tough to beat.

Get to Costco...and get this wine and enjoy it all summer.

From the Vine: Hacienda Merlot (2001?)

haciendaA couple weeks ago at Paul and Sara's rehearsal dinner at Davio's (the one in Philly), they served a tremendous example of affordable Merlot, Hacienda Merlot from Sonoma.

At most functions such as this, you get some mass produced, watered down wine that is a Merlot in name only...but not this time around. This one had a striking scarlet color...and it was fruity while being softly tannic (maybe even a hint of rasberry) with lots of vanilla at the end. This was not a wimpy, watered down Merlot...as my new-found friend Rob noted as we gulped this down...it was a classic Merlot but had a little California Zinfandel in it.

Being the foodie nerd that I am, I struck up a conversation with the bartender, inquiring about the wine...not really expecting him to know much beyond what the label already told me.

Boy was I wrong, this guy (I don't think he was a day over 25) knew all about it...knowing enough to tell me that the year I was drinking (I think a 2001) was even better than the 2000. He said he could find it in the area for nine bucks. I was shocked...I knew it wouldn't be a 30 dollar bottle (several of us were drinking it in quantity) but I figured it was a 15-dollar bottle.

Nine bucks. If you see this wine, get it. And if you are on Long Island and you see it...please tell me where!

June 02, 2004

On the Road: Paul and Sara's Wedding

Last weekend, Nena and I travelled to Philly so I could be in my friend Paul's wedding to the lovely Sara. We had a wonderful time in Philly (my first time there!). I've posted some pictures from our weekend.

We ate some great food and enjoyed some truly delicious wines...stay tuned for more about them.

May 26, 2004

From the Vine...to your front door?

freegrapeEver been to a winery outside of your home state and wanted a case of their wine sent to your house? If so, you no doubt know that you can't (without some 'creativity'). Why? Basically because wholesale wine distributors want their cut...and there are laws in place that protect that cut. The war is on...consumers vs. wholesalers...

To find out more...check out Free the Grapes. You can fax your legislators online (real easy) and keep up to date on the happenings.

FREE THE GRAPES!

May 18, 2004

From the Vine: 2001 Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir

pinotThough a bit darker and powerful than some Pinots I've had, this was truly a delicious wine...full of cherry and plums with an almost smoky character that paired well with the grilled pork chops we were eating. Think of it as a super-charged Pinot that is much more interesting and powerful than your average cherry spice Pinot (which I love as well).

May 17, 2004

From the Vine: Channing Daughters Winery

Recently, Nena and I decided it was high time we try some of the wineries on the south fork of Long Island. We love the north fork wine trail...we've found some great wine there and there are many more wineries...but on the south fork, quality almost makes up for the lack of quantity.

Driving out through the Hamptons, the first winery you come to is Duck Walk. If you're new to wine, or into sweeter, mass-market vino...give it a go. When we got there, we just kept driving...just like when we drive past Pindar on the north shore. Both wineries have their place in the wine world...but that's not our place anymore. If that makes me a wine snob...that's a title I'm okay with.

channingOur first stop of the day was at Channing Daugthers, a picturesque winery amongst the farms in Bridgehampton. Because we were out there a month or so before the weekend crowds are unbearable, we had the tasting room to ourselves! We tasted six wines (for $5 per person) and enjoyed our time speaking with the knowledgeable woman pouring for us (I'm sorry that I can't recall her name!). Here are the wines we tasted...and some notes:


2003 Sauvignon Blanc
They bill this sav blanc as "spring in a glass" and right they are. It was bright, refreshing and spilling over with citrus...grapfruit most of all. We bought a bottle of this one...really tasty.

2003 Scuttlehole Chardonnay
As you've probably noted from past posts, we don't care for many chards...especially note ones from California. Well, this one was terrific! The flavors of oak and butter just don't exist in this fruity example of cold climate chardonnay. Great fruit flavor.

2001 Cuvee Tropical Chardonnay
Okay...they had one chard we liked...could there possibly be a second? Yes. This was probably my favorite wine of the day...because it was just so completely and utterly unique. Tropical is a great name for this wine...which is made from the Musque clone of chardonnay. The finish is pure tropical fruit...I picked up on a lot of mango and even some pineapple. A definite experience.

2001 Brick Kiln Chardonnay
Could they go three-for-three with the chards? Yes. While this one did have some oakiness...it remained fresh and spicy rather than overly buttery and heavy. Lemon roasted chicken would go great with this one I think.

2002 Fresh Red Merlot
Fresh. Fresher. Freshest. This merlot (a recent favorite varietal) is packed full of berry and cherry and is very very merry (okay, that was cheesy, but aren't a lot of wine review phrases?). This is a great, easy drinking wine and was our other purchase for the day...and it will be great at one of our upcoming BBQs. They bill this wine as being in the "Beaujolais style"...but I think it's much more interesting than that.

2002 Mudd Vineyard Merlot
Channing Daughter's Mudd Vineyard is on the north fork...and is one of the oldest on the island. This merlot actually reminds me of some of the ones we've tasted up in that neck of the woods. It's more complex and is more plummy and spicy than the first merlot.


I think Channing Daughters is the first winery we've visited where we enjoyed every single wine. Every last one was delicious. We wanted to buy one of everything on the spot.

May 09, 2004

From the Vine: 1999 Jordan Chardonnay

jordanThis bottle was a gift from a friend who attended our engagement party this past November. I'd never had it before, but I did have a glass of Jordan cab once...and it was powerful, in-your-face and delicious.

Unfortunately, Nena and I really just don't like chard that much...particularly California ones, which are always piled high with oak and butter. Tasting this, I could taste winemaking talent and quality...but it just isn't for me (or for Nena). I love oaky reds...but I just don't like oak in my white wines...I prefer the crisp acidity or the dry fruit of non-oaked whites.

I can, however, appreciate a quality wine...and this definitely is one. I can also see where it would go great with a meal of roasted chicken, potatoes...and maybe some haricot verts. It strikes me as an autumn wine...and I almost never drink white outside of the summer. I don't eat fish and prefer light reds with chicken most often...only drinking whites in the summer for refreshment.

If you DO like Cali chards...this has got to be a favorite...but it's just not up my alley.

April 28, 2004

From the Vine: 1995 Vietti Barolo

1995viettibarolo2Wow. That's really the best way to start my review of this vino. I got this bottle a few years ago as part of the Xmas case I get every year from my Aunt Pam. I knew this was one of the better bottles and I also remember reading somwhere that it's better to age barolo a while...up to ten years.

Well...as a 1995, we got to nine years and I just couldn't wait anymore! I'm glad we did wait though...again, WOW.

True to the barolo style, this was a powerful, tannic wine...but the time in my "cellar" really mellowed it out...balancing the tannins with dark cherry flavors for a truly spectacular wine. Nena even liked it...and I have a feeling if it were a younger barolo...she wouldn't have.

Thanks Pam...thanks for getting me this great bottle...and I think you even showed me the article about holding onto barolo for a while. A great wine experience. It's times like this that I can see why some people only drink fine Italian wines. This one was utterly charming and delicious.

From the Vine: Easy Drinking French Red

beauFor many years, I practically avoided French wines completely, not because of my disdain for most everything French, but rather because it's hard for me to remember the names I read about or see in my local wine shop. Call my a stupid American if you like...but I don't buy a lot of Italian wine for the same reason, usually sticking to U.S. and Aussie vino instead.

However, the last time I went to the wine shop, I shunned LT tradition and picked up this bottle of 2002 Beaujolais-Villages (at the recommendation of the shop owner). I've had Beaujolais Noveau before (and used it as an entry into red wine for several white wine lovers!) but I've never explored the grape fully. This wine, while not complex or particularly interesting...was good and easy-drinking. It's definitely slurpable and would be nice to have on hand for parties...it's cheap (think this was 6 or 7 bucks) and even people that are red wine-phobic could enjoy it.

April 13, 2004

From the Vine: Easter Wine Review

Here's a quick rundown on the wines we had over Easter weekend.

Le Champ Martin Chinon 2002
From Best Cellars: Fans of earthy, medium-bodied red wines will fall like autumn leaves for Le Champ Martin's estate-grown Chinon. Made exclusively from Cabernet Franc, it offers Francophiles with a fondness for the Loire an abundantly drinkable — and surprisingly complex — combination of cassis and black cherry flavors twined with the scents of cedar and smoke.

My Notes: I definitely enjoyed this wine...but I was the only one (not because it was bad, just that no one else likes Cabernet Franc). I love the woody/smoky character of Cab Franc...and this was a nice example...especially for under 13 bucks! A definite "buy again" performance.

Valdivieso Pinot Noir 2001
From BC: If you can find better Pinot Noir under ten bucks, we'd love to know where we can get some — for this cherry Chilean number has us prancing over its price/value rapport. It's on the fruitier side of this sought-after grape's taste profile, but aromatic spices — from cloves to nutmeg — abound. Very impressive for the dinero!

My Notes: I didn't get a chance to drink this one--I was drinking Guiness when it was opened. But, the girls enjoyed it...so I'd consider this one a winner well. I think Liz really starting to enjoy Pinot Noir...maybe it's because it has Pinot in the name.

Marques de Vizhoja 2002
From BC: Hailing from the seafood-lovin' land of coastal Galicia in northwest Spain, Marques de Vizhoja's tasty, tangy Albariño blend offers fin fans and shellfish scoopers a mouthwatering answer to their salt-sprayed request for vinous refreshment. Ten bucks never tasted so good!

My Notes: I only got a little taste of this one as well...but that's because it was so good that it didn't last long. Even the non-wine drinkers enjoy this one. It was light to be called medium bodied I think, but it was easy to drink...and a great buy.

Le Petit Duc Sauvignon de Touraine 2003
From BC: This "country wine" from the Jardin de la France belies its humble origins. A lower-rent version of a high-priced Sancerre, this elegantly wrought white combines zesty, green-grass refreshment and surprising depth in one happy glass of mid-Loire Sauvignon Blanc.

My Notes: Again, I only had a few sips out of someone else's glass, but this one was probably the most impressive of the batch--light, crisp and much more complex/interesting than I had expected. Everyone tasted a peachy/citrus flavor and, once again, this is a great buy. This could become our summer 'house' wine.

April 09, 2004

From the Vine: Our Easter Wine Preview

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Because my family is 8+ hours away and Nena's family will be in Florida, we're going to be spending Easter with Liz and John and Liz's family in upstate New York. As with any trip of this sort, we're taking wine (any excuse to wine shop I'll take). Because it's been a busy week, I ordered a few interesting bottles online via FreshDirect, which is a really cool service here at my office where I can order groceries and pick them up on Friday after work in our parking lot. I'll have to dedicate a post to some of the great finds to be had on FreshDirect...but we're talking wine today.

A few months ago, FreshDirect started offering wine through their service via Best Cellars, which is a great website (they have a couple stores as well...including one in D.C. and one in NYC). The guys at Best Cellars scour the wine world for hidden gems...and most of their wines are 15 bucks or less. I like them because you can get your hands on lots of wines you'd never find otherwise.

For variety, I ordered two reds and two whites. To learn more about them...

Continue reading "From the Vine: Our Easter Wine Preview" »